How the World Works, Part II

Once again, I present these in the spirit of Martin Luther’s theses: As starting points for reasonable discussion among learned men.

Part I discussed those of our social assumptions that are so wrong they’re backwards.  This one discusses Things that are (Merely) Wrong.  As that’s a loooooong list, let’s start with:

Governments of laws, not men.  We’re told that this is what the “social contract” gives us.  It’s the goal, we learn, of Classical Liberalism.  But — as you might expect from a philosophy that rests on a glaring falsity (“all men are created equal”) — Classical Liberalism is wrong. All governments are governments of men.  The very best you can do is to arrange the laws and institutions such that they incentivize bad men to do good, or at least less harmful, things.

The Founders understood this.  Alas, they assumed a proposition at least as wrong as “all men are created equal.”  To wit: History stops.  It’s not their fault — it’s pointless to warn against teleology, or decry “Whig history,” because all history is Whig history. The realization that things were different in the past carries with it the implication that the present is inevitable.  Whether you see now as a product of degeneration from a golden age (all history up to the 18th century), or the past as nothing but darkness (the technical definition of “Whig history”), the notion that things could not have been different than they are right now rides with it, like a birth defect.  We should be able to see beyond this, but we can’t.  Therefore, the institutions that worked for a rough frontier society in 1783 were creaky by 1823, moribund by 1853, and dead by 1863 – a single human lifetime.

In truth, sovereignty is what Carl Schmitt says: “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.”  This, in turn, rests on Hobbes’s insight that “the power of the mighty hath no foundation, but the belief and opinion of the people” (Schmitt was a profound Hobbes scholar).  Witness the exception-deciders of our own age: Hawaiian Judges and the Media.  The same people who say walls don’t work have massive walls of their own, plus armed guards, because they understand that they’re sovereign.  They also understand the “opinion and belief of the people” part….

… at least, they did.  But see above: That situation is not inevitable.  Present trends never continue.  Institutions change as men change.  The men who realize the changes first are the ones who find themselves in power.

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6 thoughts on “How the World Works, Part II

  1. Reluctant Reactionary

    All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. A limited government of laws is a nice concept, but reality intrudes. I suspect that most of the founders were highly skeptical of the “All men are created equal” concept. Franklin certainly was… A key takeaway in all of this is that the very concept of rights is wrong. Unless you are a sovereign on some island in the middle of nowhere, you only have the rights that the people with real power allow.

    1. Pickle Rick

      When the rebel provincial leaders got together to institute a government of laws amongst themselves, “all men” was construed to mean free white men of good character, capable of bearing arms. Not slaves, not servants, not women or children. Men like themselves.

  2. Maus

    I have no quarrel with the idea that the rule of law is waning. Mao said power grows from the barrel of a gun. If Hobbes was right, then human opinion regarding the future is driven by either hope or fear. These are mutually exclusive emotional states, and hope seems on the wain whilst fear waxes.

    1. Maus

      So, did the American revolutionaries create their “exception” by picking up their flintlocks in hope or in fear? And how are seeds of hope planted in a climate of fear? Without transcendent values, hope has no history of taking root and becoming the kudzu of human opinion needed to choke out fear.

      1. Pickle Rick

        They weren’t revolutionaries when they picked up their arms. Eventually, they came to that pass, but at first it was to redress the grievances at being denied the natural rights of Englishmen. So initially, it was out of fear of losing those rights and hope of restoring them within the prior relationship with our mother country that we went to war. It was only after it spiraled out of control that the revolutionary mindset came to the fore, but what made our revolution unique was the conservative nature of the men who led ours, rather than the bloody minded Jacobins or Bolsheviks.
        It’s a very English revolution.

  3. Pingback: How the World Works IIb: “Created Equal” | Rotten Chestnuts

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