Not in the mood
(Note: comments begin here
. And the discussion has continued
on October 3, with Mencius’s reply to me.)
Mencius Moldbug, from whom I haven’t heard in many moons (here is our previous exchange, in which I shot him down so decisively I thought he had given up writing to me), sent me a comment on the “How is a return to a traditional society possible?” thread. I took a look at it I wrote back to him:
A thousand word comment? Which starts off with your exhausted and discredited trope that I am a liberal because I don’t believe in Renaissance-style despotism? I don’t know. First I have to be in the mood to read it. Maybe you should pay me….
I forwarded the e-mail to Alan Roebuck, who writes back:
Pay me, Mencius. I read it first!
Funny thing is, MM doesn’t know what you’re saying, Larry. He thinks you’re proposing standard-brand conservatism. Says Moldbug:
Therefore, my program is to find the truth first and the power later….
You say X, and Moldbug reads it as non-X. He’s known for his excessive verbiage, so maybe your style—brief, obvious, to the point—renders you unintelligible to Moldbug.
I would rather have ten people, all in possession of the same absolute truth, than ten million tea partiers who agree on nothing but glittering lies and myths.
… your ten million have no real collective identity at all. Even if they grow to a hundred million and elect all the politicians in Washington, actual power will elude them, the bureaucrats will wrap them around their fingers, and they will evaporate, disappear, and become jokes, like all 20th-century American conservative movements.
Here is Mencius’ e-mail, which, again, I haven’t yet read.
- end of initial entry -
“As happens so often when readers ask how a re-traditionalized America could come into being, you seem to assume that I am advocating some program that would make this happen, and you are wondering what this program could be. I have no such program. I have no idea of forcing America to change. The change from the historical America to the hyper liberal America today was, above all, a change in thought. If the traditional America of 50 or 100 years ago could change into the hyper liberal America of today through a change in thought, then hyper liberal America could change into a re-traditionalized America through a change in thought. But such a change can only begin through a change in the mind and soul of each one of us. If that change could occur in one person, or in ten people, then it can occur in a thousand people, or in a million people.”
What a liberal way to think! I can almost hear John Lennon singing “Imagine.” You could spend ten thousand years and never beat liberalism with liberalism. This is not cultural liberalism, of course—it is political liberalism. But the two cannot be separated. Cultural liberalism is an inevitable consequence of political liberalism.
Power drives thought. Seize power and thought will change itself. When the Allies conquered Germany in 1945, all Germans were Nazis. It took the occupation authorities no time at all to replace Nazi jargon with liberal jargon. It took about 20 years before the change was sincere. Now Germany is the most liberal nation in the world. In 1933, of course, the Nazis pulled the same trick in the same way. And this is just the 20th century. “Cuius regio, eius religio” is a much older rule.
It’s because you believe in the (liberal) American theory of government that you believe no such thing can be done. But the American system of government has failed—which means the American theory of government has failed. Moreover, as we know, the American system of government (or what it has become) is constantly using these very same Orwellian techniques to re-educate not just Germans, but also Americans. Government leadership of public opinion is an immutable fact of all human political arrangements. Without it, nature abhors a vacuum, and power over both public opinion and the State is seized by the likes of Journolist.
The question all conservatives, libertarians and reactionaries need to be asking themselves: how do we organize to seize power? For me, the winning combination is the combination of absolute government with absolute truth. A regime in power can afford to mix its propaganda with noble lies. Seizing absolute power is very difficult, not to mention illegal—“who draws his sword must throw away the scabbard.” Creating absolute truth is almost as difficult. It demands the rigorous and searching honesty of a 12-step program: Liberals Anonymous. “My name is Larry Auster, and I am a liberal.” Pure truth is not, however, illegal—at least in this jurisdiction. And it is a weapon of immense power.
Therefore, my program is to find the truth first and the power later. This means that counting heads—one, ten, a thousand, a million—is for the present entirely superfluous and irrelevant. Counting heads is building democratic power—which is, essentially, military power. I would rather have ten people, all in possession of the same absolute truth, than ten million tea partiers who agree on nothing but glittering lies and myths. For my ten is a viable government in exile—if they somehow gained power, they would keep it—whereas your ten million have no real collective identity at all. Even if they grow to a hundred million and elect all the politicians in Washington, actual power will elude them, the bureaucrats will wrap them around their fingers, and they will evaporate, disappear, and become jokes, like all 20th-century American conservative movements.
When you have a viable program for ruling and a government in exile (ie, a real political party—every real political party is a government in exile), you have a structure which, unlike the tea parties, exudes *potential* power. It is off—completely out of power—but if you turned it on, it would work. This is naturally attractive to human beings, who all lust for power. Power is always fashionable. Fashion is always powerful. As a recent Rasmussen poll revealed, only 23% of Americans believe their government enjoys their consent—so why does it remain? Because there is no alternative. Create a viable alternative, and power will flow to it as water runs downhill.
To pursue in any such program, of course, you have to completely abandon your liberalism. You have to stop believing in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers, the Pledge of Allegiance, the Flag, and all that crap—the entire American political pantheon. This is not to be replaced with nihilism, of course, but with an understanding of the deeper, older European tradition.
As it is, the Left, which does not believe in the Constitution or the Flag any more than I do, uses them as sticks to beat you with—laws to be discarded when they would suit your purposes, but which are sacred when they suit liberal purposes. Such a law is no law; it cancels itself. The best way to uphold the Constitution is to burn it, for it has long since become a mockery of itself; its authors would tolerate no such fate. Your enemies believe in naked power. When they croak the Constitution at you, answer them with a gun butt to the jaw. It is their own secret language, which they understand perfectly. But not, of course, until you have thrown away the scabbard and seized the power they now hold. That day is far from now—but the only way to advance it is to stop believing now.
[end of Moldbug comment]
Dean Ericson writes:
I read it, here’s what I got: We’re all a bunch of bloody libs. The only effective way to destroy the libs is to seize power in a non-lib, naked-power-lunch revolutionary movement of Arthurian reactionar—no wait, Arthur was a bloody lib too—a revolutionary movement modeled on the Tudors. Once they seize power the libs are liquidated and the sheeple are re-programmed as compliant serfs fed on Absolute Truth. I have debited Mr. Moldbug’s PayPal account $14.95 for this synopsis. It’s unclear whether we shall have to dispense with Christianity along with our liberalism, but let’s assume that to be the case. It might be interesting to see a copy of the constitution of this proposed new Naked-Power-Tudor-Clean-Slate State. But only if the reader has to charge Moldbug $2.95 or less for reading it.
It is a bit amusing, to see Lawrence Auster, scourge of conservatives who are actually liberals, being criticized from the right for being too liberal. I wish Moldbug could better discipline himself to write with clarity and concision. He has interesting ideas, but his judgment often seems questionable. Perhaps that is mostly youth and inexperience, and he may develop into a serious leader. Mencius Moldbug Tudor.
Or Henry IX.
Here is one of my replies to Mencius last March when he first brought up Henry VII as his model:
And, by the way, as a pro-Yorkist, I see the man you treat as the model for us to follow, Henry VII, as the man who by defeating and killing Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets, brought to an end the medieval order of England and introduced Renaissance style despotism, which was expanded by his son Henry VIII into the first all-out modern style despotism, overturning the historical and religious order of the society. So it looks as though you haven’t gone far back enough in time. You’re hung up in modernity and the worship of power, not in the traditional, tripartite order of human society that you appeal to but which is contradicted by your liking for total destruction and despotism.
Caleb Cooper writes:
Let’s see if I can cut to a heart of the matter:
To Moldbug, American government is irreparably broken, and its collapse is inevitable. (I would agree with him on this) The most important political task is thus for people to stop trying to fix the government within its own framework, and to build something outside the liberal framework that can take over the reins of power when USG shambling corpse inevitably collapses under its own moribund weight. (I also agree with this, but only believe it will be practical on a regional scale)
For Moldbug, the biggest obstacle to accomplishing this is people’s loyalty to the liberal democratic tradition, so the democratic/authoritarian political axis is the most salient to him. This is why he calls you a liberal: you do not come down explicitly on the authoritarian side of this left/right spectrum. From this point of view, his classification is correct. I don’t think he means it to be as insulting as it sounds, and I hope you’ll forgive his youthful abrasiveness. For the record, I agree with Moldbug that you won’t be able to defeat USG within the democratic tradition of bottom up education and voting, but fall to the left of his despotism. Your quote on the medieval order represents my ideal of small regions governed aristocratically with due balance given to local tradition, law, and virtue.
I think what Mencius could give you is more consideration of paths to power outside the liberal tradition of education and democracy. Hopefully you can give him a softening of his utopian belief in absolute power (it doesn’t exist) based on absolute truth (it exists, but it’s hubris to believe we humans can obtain it).
Mencius Moldbug writes:
Alas, the less time I have the more wordy I am. I get a spare 45 minutes away from my two-week-old, start reading VFR and that’s the result—typed straight out, like Jack Kerouac. So much for “short attention-span conservatism.” To be fair, Fox News is a lot shorter.
Honestly, how could any admirer of FDR deny liberalism? There is a terrible, hubristic arrogance in all our contemporary attempts to struggle against what Maistre called “la secte,” while disowning, denying, or simply remaining ignorant of everyone else who lived, died, and fought the same fight before 1960 or so. Or worse, treating them simply as soundbites. You think I’m long? Read some Maistre! And if you don’t know why these people lost, how can you possibly expect to win? What, exactly, makes you better than them?
Here’s an exercise you can try: go to regulations.gov and see the real DC. “Notice to the Public that the Service Continues Review of the Pacific Walrus.” “Glyphosate-Tolerant Alfalfa Events J101 and J63: Request for Nonregulated Status.” Then go watch a video of a tea party. How exactly does the latter, with its flags and soundbites, intend to overcome the other? It’s like my two-year-old expecting to drive my car.
But my two-year-old, at least, is growing. American conservatism, if anything, grows more infantile over time. The whole movement exists in this fairy-tale land of make-believe—or, worse, in the Powerline world of Abramoff lobbyism. Which is at least, though sordid, real.
History is reality. Those who forget reality are doomed to repeat it. In history, conservatives lose. If you want to change that, you have to know history. Yes, this is actually some work.
It’s not worth reading your thousand-word comment because you have nothing useful to contribute. Your only message is negativism. As I pointed out in our last exchange six months ago, at the very moment that American freedom is hanging by a thread, and there is a chance to stop or repeal Obamacare, you will not support that movement, because the people opposing Obamacare are not “right-wing” enough for you. Thus you would abandon America to its enemies. Your position is analogous to that of the French Right leading up to May 1940: they despised the ruling left so much that they wouldn’t t lift a finger to help their country against the Nazis. You despise the ruling liberalism so much that you won’t lift a finger to help the people trying to stop the statist takeover of America.
I am always interested to read Mr. Moldbug’s ideas but am left ever unsatisfied in the end. Much depth of thought comes from his erudite reading, like a mole working his way through grubs and succulent roots over forest and glade. It is good of him to share these treasures with us, but does he ever come up for air and to look around? My impression is that he is focused almost exclusively on strategy and logistics, which leaves the question of faith in any transcendent force. His ideals are antithetical to the notion of higher consciousness in man.
Well we don’t have to speculate on that point or depend on impressions. Moldbug endorses Richard Dawkins’s view of the human mind as a mindless, purposeless collection of “memes” which are selected and become dominant because they “work.” But it’s even worse than that. As I wrote in April 2009:
[Mencius] agrees with Dawkins that religion is a “parasitic memeplex,” that is, a collection of ideas that, as I just said, has its own life and uses human beings and human society as its host to carry the meme forward, just as parasites use the bodies of their hosts to continue their own life. For Dawkins and Mencius, the highest products of mankind, the source of the highest human values, the entire basis of human life as we’ve known it, are a “parasitic memeplex,” of which man is the tool and puppet.
See also the discussion, “Can people who deny the existence of consciousness applaud truth speakers?”
Mencius Moldbug replies to LA’s earlier reply to him:
The statist takeover of America? The statist takeover of America (ie, the transition from limited to unlimited government) happened in 1933. It’s impossible to resist it, because it already happened. As Garet Garrett wrote in 1938, “the revolution was.” You might as well resist the fall of Rome. 1938! In 1938, my grandparents were in their twenties.
The Old Republic no longer exists. It’s impossible to resist its destruction. It was destroyed long before either of us was born. Those who destroyed it, just like those who destroyed the Roman Republic, preserved its forms. This was the best way to make sure it stayed destroyed. Because it ensured a steady supply of amnesic conservatives who would waste all their energies doing the impossible—trying to revive a corpse. Imagine an alien lifeform which takes over your mother and father, eats their brains, and transforms them into terrifying monsters. What would your real mother and father say, if they could be brought back to life? They would say: kill the parent-monsters, for they are not us.
What does this mean, concretely? It means that America is no longer a democracy based on popular sovereignty, because real power belongs to permanent bureaucracies of Progressive design, in both judicial and executive branches, which are insulated by law from the popular will. Moreover, the controlling legal authority in America is “constitutional law,” a body of precedent which has diverged completely and irreparably from the actual written Constitution. Thus, Republicans can win every election until doomsday, and gain no real power at all. Look at what happens in Arizona—the people make a feeble, symbolic attempt to exercise a basic political function, and some random judge bitch-slaps them.
The elected (“political”) arms of government are in the position of a figurehead monarch, like the old Emperors of Japan, or the Merovingian kings under the Mayors of the Palace—a roi faineant. Popular sovereignty in America is almost entirely symbolic. Public opinion still has a veto, and can block some things like amnesty. This is the last stage of eroding power—totally reactive. The future can be seen in Europe, where even this veto has disappeared. There is little or no remaining trace of any substantive democracy.
By participating—and encouraging others to participate—in this charade, you’re simply endorsing it. By opposing Obamacare through the ballot box, you may do a little bit to slow the advance of the glacier, but you’re doing a lot to prop up its legitimacy. If even a right-wing extremist like Larry Auster says that Washington, DC is the real, Constitutional, democratic government of America, it must be true.
How do you restore the power of a figurehead—whether monarch or People? It’s not easy. But history tells us one thing—it can’t be done gradually. You can destroy gradually, but not construct gradually. And it can’t be done without despotism, at least in the neutral sense of a (non-tyrannical) unitary executive. Let Machiavelli, in the Discourses on Livy, tell you why.
Or do you think that politics in 2010 in America inherently transcends the logic of Machiavelli? Machiavelli has nothing to offer us? If so, some believer in European civilization you are. Machiavelli is certainly quite wordy—I’ll give you that.
Here Mencius Moldbug reveals the utter uselessness and destructiveness of his position. He has decided, or rather he knows, that the worst has already happened. Therefore there can be no worse. Therefore any conservative resistance to the worse is delusional. And therefore he will not help, but he will do his best to shoot down, any effort to resist the worse.
When he says that the statist takeover of America took place in 1933, he displays, in the manner of a European intellectual, a frozen conceptualism that separates itself from reality, that refuses to look at reality. It is not true that the statist takeover of America took place in 1933. The statist takeover of America has been an ongoing process. Obamacare would turn America into a statist society in a sense infinitely worse than any statism we’ve had before this. But because, in his frozen, vain conceptualism, he believes that the statism is already fully in place, he devotes his mental energies to mocking those who are seeking to repeal Obamacare.
As I said in a recent entry:
And why don’t they [the paleocons and Alt-rightists] believe in the good? Because they feel that their world is already lost and cannot be regained. The Jews, the neocons, the modern Provider State, have destroyed their world. Therefore all they want to do is strike back in vengeance at that which they think has ruined their world. It is the psychology of cultural despair, it is the psychology of Satan in Paradise Lost.
I then quoted Satan’s great soliloquy in Book IV, in which, after a moment’s doubt, he reconfirms himself in his course of rebellion against God. But here is another line from that speech which I did not quote, one of the few true lines in that speech. It is one that might serve as a corrective to Mencius’s disastrously wrong-headed view that the worst has already happened:
And, in the lowest deep, a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven.
Leonard D. writes:
Mencius Moldbug did not say that the worst has happened, and that is not his position. Rather, he believes that America is declining and will continue to decline. In fact he said this to you in your last discussion: “on the historical scale of tyrannies to be endured, Washington remains a 3 out of 10. Maybe with [Obamacare], it’s gone from a 3 to a 4. 4 is endurable. When it goes from 4 to 5 to 6 to 7, you’ll be praying to God to get your 4 back.” I agree with this assessment. There is a lot of ruin in a nation.
There can be worse, and we shall almost certainly see it. Alas!
Mencius does, of course, believe that a fundamental break has happened, which has placed us on the road to ruin. That was the progressive coup (or whatever you might call it) in 1933-1945. (I don’t agree that 1933 was the only year worth discussing, but if you want a metonym for the FDR revolution, “1933” is the best.) In 1933, the old constitution which was, pretty much, the Constitution, was replaced with the new living constitution. Can this be corrected? Mencius clearly says no, impossible. I am not quite as certain about that, but I do think the answer is no.
Let me suggest an analogy of America to a speeding car. You and Mencius agree that in 1933, the driver went crazy, and veered off the road. Mencius sees the terrain to the side as a cliff. Our momentum is great, so we will be going over the edge eventually even though we are not there yet. So the thing to do now is not to try to wrestle away the wheel from the maniac progressive driver. It is to jump out, abandoning our beloved car to the hijacker, and probably getting quite a beating. By contrast, you see the terrain to the side as a big field of corn. Some bumps, perhaps, but plenty of time to wrestle the maniac away from the driver’s seat, throw a straightjacket on him, and grab the wheel. Nothing to stop us from getting back on the road once that is accomplished.
As for what Mencius would have us do: well, he has written quite a bit about that. So you are not correct in saying he is only negative. (For readers with patience, here is the best example.) Unfortunately, this writing is quite long: some 8500 plus words by my quick count. It is also not very concrete at this point. I wish it were otherwise, but such is the nature of the beast. If it were easy to defeat progressivism and democracy, someone would have done it.
Mencius Moldbug writes:
The worst! Larry, we are nowhere near the worst. Have you ever been to the Third World? Do you read the news from South Africa? I live in a clean, attractive First World city where I can walk from point A to point B, unarmed, more or less safely, for any A or B where I’d want to go. Moreover, I can easily obtain adequate employment for my skill set, and my children can reasonably expect the same. On any sane historical basis, this earns the Washington of today at least a B- on the scale of governments throughout history. Anything but the worst.
My concern is that this system is degrading monotonically. In the lives of those now living, it provided A or at least A- service. Furthermore, we know exactly what C government, D government, and F government look like, because we see them all around us in current history. I do have posterity, and I want to secure the blessings of good government for them. I don’t want to see them raped and killed by human orcs.
Your reply exposes the basic nature of our disagreement. I see the contest for sovereignty, ie, control of the government, as a fundamentally material and physical contest. What agency is in ultimate command of the police and military? Either that command chain is producing good government, or bad government. If it is producing bad government—loosing orcs on its peaceful hobbits, for instance—it needs to be replaced. This is regime change—the goal of any political organization. If VFR is not a political organization, what is it?
But no. For you, the contest is entirely metaphysical. Thus, when I argue that the USG we have is hosed and needs to be replaced by an entirely different command chain, you perceive this as a basically spiritual statement—presumably because USG is, in a sense, a spiritual agency for you (like an established church). I grew up as a dependent of USG. It is clearly anything but a spiritual agency.
You’re saying that I speak of thoughts as being ultimately determinative, while you see things in terms of power. But of course I see things in terms of power. I’ve read Burnham’s The Machiavellians, and while I don’t accept Burnham’s nihilist metaphysics (there is no truth, there is only power), I still was influenced by his understanding of the realities of power and how on the practical level power it is decisive.
At the same time, belief in power without truth can achieve nothing positive or enduring. The American revolutionists didn’t just have power on their side—in fact they didn’t have power on their side, Britain was far more powerful. But they did have truth on their side, and that gave them the conviction to endure through many terrible difficulties and ultimately to acquire power as well.
Face it Mencius. Your entire approach is simply outside the American experience. It is outside the Western Secular Democratic Experience. It is outside the Western Classical Christian experience. You are speaking a language outside our entire society, our entire tradition, in ANY of its incarnations. This is why I feel it is a waste of time reading you. You’re like an alien from Alpha Centauri, who lands in Washington and says, “Earthlings! Your entire belief system and social system for the last thousand years have been wrong. Follow me!”
Mencius Moldbug writes:
Is this guy a nihilist too? I endorse just about everything he says, though he’s obviously a Christian and I’m obviously an atheist:
I believe it’s incorrect to call me a nihilist, but it is understandable and not unfair. If CWNY is a nihilist, I’m an orangutan.
I loved this:
“Earthlings! Your entire belief system and social system for the last thousand years have been wrong. Follow me!”
Here is the graphic that sprang to mind:
Marvin the Martian
That’s perfect. It captures Mencius’s alien quality, and his insistent, peremptory “power” quality (“You earthlings must give up everything you have ever known, and build a society based on nothing but dictatorial force”), and also, oddly, his humorous, fantastical, not-really-to-be-taken-seriously quality.
And it’s also funny, as I once compared Mencius to “Astro Man,” based on the 1970 Jimi Hendrix song:
And he agreed with me there was something to it.
Flyin’ across the sky
Two times higher than that old fashioned Superman
He’s tryin’ to blow out the rest of your mind
He’s gonna blow out the rest of your mind
Talkin’ about living with a little peace of mind
Astro man will leave you a piece of it.
And now you call him Marvin the Martian (whom I never heard of before).
And notice that Marvin the Martian, who stands here for Mencius Moldbug, is carrying a broom (or rather he’s either carrying it in his left hand or it’s attached to the top of his helmet, it’s hard to tell which). He’s going to sweep away everything we know, everything we are, all our history, because according to him all of it is wrong and none of it works. In emulating Henry VII and sweeping away Richard III, the Last of the Plantagenets, he’s going to become the First of the (New) Plantagenets. (Plantagenet means broom.)
Marvin the Martian was always trying to blow up the earth. He would set up on some planet and aim a giant death gun, and Bugs Bunny would save the day.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 02, 2010 08:55 AM | Send