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Saturday, May 25, 2024

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Bill, I look forward to seeing how persuasively Trump makes the heart of your case tonight at the LP convention, which C-SPAN will cover. The LP hasn't put forward a serious alternative to the regime's CEO since Ron Paul, MD, gold standard and gun rights advocate and 12-term constitutionalist congressman. To have voted for him instead of Bush in 1988, McCain in 2008, and Romney in 2012 was not obviously irresponsible, if it was at all. Those globalists were not obviously preferable to Dukakis or Obama, if they were.

Bill

If I may dilute the seriousness of your post with a concentrated relevant truth of our times in 15 seconds video clip: https://x.com/TRUMP_ARMY_/status/1794406711031398623

With apologies to clinical NeverTrumpers -- I can relate, I can't stand his personality too. But life is not chess and there are only two choices for the American voters for now. Pick the lesser evil.

Dmitri,

We agree, and thanks for that clip which sums up the situation very well. If Trump loses, it is the end of the USA, and very bad news for the rest of the world.

>>Pick the lesser evil.<< I take your point. But I prefer the language of "better or worse." If DJT is the lesser of two evils then he is evil -- but what could you or anyone point to in the four years of his presidency that deserves to be called evil?

Tony,

I would argue that Ron Paul had no real chance of being elected and that therefore those who voted for him inadvertently supported Dukakis and Obama, and that McCain and Romney, as awful as they were, were yet better than Dukakis and Obama, respectively. Or at least the pussy-wussy Romney would have done less damage than Obama.

But I grant you that none of this is very clear. Did you read my Third Parties Substack post? https://williamfvallicella.substack.com/p/third-parties-discussion-societies

Bill,

"Pace Barack Hussein Obama, progress is not change; progress is change for the better."

Agreed, of course. (And I imagine BHO would agree as well!) The problem is at the next level down: the meaning of "better".

Confucius saw this coming:

"A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect."

Hi Bill
> If DJT is the lesser of two evils then he is evil -- but what could you or
> anyone point to in the four years of his presidency that deserves to be called
> evil?

The biggest: failure to deliver on the promise of sealing the southern border (not to mention "Mexico will pay for it" bravado). He could have done it and prevent, or at least weaken, the flood of illegal immigrants. Saboteurs and spies among them.

Malcolm sez: >>The problem is at the next level down: the meaning of "better".<<

That is indeed the more pressing problem. But before we get to that, we need to apply the logico-linguistic stick to the heads of leftist language-hijackers who aim to subvert language -- I call it the mother of all subversion -- by, in this instance, collapsing the distinction between change as such and change for the better. You will recall that Obama was always puking his guts out about change, Change, CHANGE!

Now in the present situation what would be a change for the better? A greater influx of illegal aliens or a lesser influx? The latter, obviously, as could be easily shown -- and you would agree.

Therefore, on this issue as on many others, anyone who supports the Dems is a fool who has no clue as to his own long-term, best, self-interest. And the same goes for anyone who votes for an unelectable nobody such as Chase Oliver.

You agree with that, right? I will come back eventually to the franchise question where we disagree most interestingly. I know you are a good man and that your views on this question do not spring from misogyny or racism or the like.

Thanks for that wonderful Confucius quotation! Was he prophesying the coming of rap, do you think? You know my line: "Listen to that rap shit and you will end up with a rap sheet."

HI Bill,

That quote is usually referred to as "rectification of names".

Regarding the franchise -- glad to discuss if you like, when you get around to it. Meanwhile, just for tone, here's a comment I just posted today at my place:

"Democracy, at best, can only work in a cohesive, high-trust, relatively virtuous society with a carefully resticted franchise — and even then only with constraints and limitations. We are no longer anywhere close to being in such a situation here in America, which is more like a rotting corpse lying in a forest than a healthy nation."

Malcolm,

Great post on Floyd. At the end you say, >>and perhaps more generally against democracy itself.<< That reinforces my view of where you are really heading: toward the idea that any input from the people is contrary to good gov't. We of course agree that the franchise must be restricted. But how far will we go? Suppose only white, male, adult, citizen, property-owners and tax-payers are allowed to vote. Would that satisfy you? But surely a proper subset of them is a bunch that doesn't belong in a voting booth.

Bill,

"Suppose only white, male, adult, citizen, property-owners and tax-payers are allowed to vote. Would that satisfy you?"

It would certainly be an improvement. Can you imagine that we wouldn't be better governed?

"But surely a proper subset of them is a bunch that doesn't belong in a voting booth."

No argument there, which means, at the very least, that the franchise would still require further filtering to find the "sweet spot".

But there is so much more to all this than just winnowing the democratic franchise. I see government, first and foremost, as an engineering problem -- and I certainly don't see any particular type or system of government as an end in itself, as we are so deeply conditioned to regard Democracy these days. (I just want to be governed as well as possible, and if that even meant nobody voting at all, or perhaps only voting on local matters, I'd be fine with it!) Does Democracy really have such a great track-record? Usually it's a buttered slide to mob rule and tyranny. (It gave us Hitler, for example.)

So, like any engineering problem, we have to start with what our specs are, and what materials we have to work with. (As always, the form must suit the matter.)

- Who is to be governed?

- What system of government is best for the particular people we seek to design a system for?

- How virtuous are they, and how capable of the individual self-government that makes popular government, and civil liberty, possible in the first place?

- How much do the people agree on moral and social and metaphysical axioms? (A tribal and fractious society will always be at one another's throats, and can only be ruled by a strong hand.)

All these questions, and so many more, mean that the solution to optimal government varies extravagantly from time to time, people to people, and place to place. So it's a big topic!

You make an excellent point, Malcolm: >> I certainly don't see any particular type or system of government as an end in itself,<<

I agree: no form of gov't is an end in itself; every form is a means to the end of the flourishing of the people governed both individually and collectively. So if no form of gov't leads to that end, then we are better off with no gov't.

Unfortunately, good order cannot arise spontaneously because people are not wholly virtuous. None of us are, although some of us are better than others. So gov't is needed, and there cannot be gov't without coercion.

But the practical prospects for the USA are dim because of the DEI insanity which is so well-entrenched that a Trump victory will not overturn it but only slow its spread.

"Progress is a comparative, of which we have not settled the superlative.” GK Chesterton. "The business of progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected."
Also GK Chesterton.
'Ism's are a problem as an end in themselves, since they are all dead ends. It is a 'live coal' that must inform our American future.
"Every freedom always predicates discipline and asceticism and always perishes if these are lacking." Nikolai Berdyaev
America's founders understood that, and tried to structure a government capable of self-restraint, fitted to a virtuous people, the enfranchised virtuous people.
It could still serve that purpose, were virtuous people's hands on the tiller, but they aren't. I tend to agree with your skepticism, Bill. For a third party to succeed, it must grow organically from within the party it must subsume. It would then still be a 2-party system, but with a reinvigorated Republican identity. Or else.
"Ever hearing but never understanding, ever seeing, but never perceiving.
Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.” (from Isaiah 6)

Dmitri,

Trump tried hard to secure the border and made some progress but faced overwhelming opposition. https://cis.org/Arthur/Why-Trumps-Border-Security-Didnt-Last-Part-3

Bill,

"Unfortunately, good order cannot arise spontaneously because people are not wholly virtuous. None of us are, although some of us are better than others. So gov't is needed, and there cannot be gov't without coercion."

Yes, I wholly agree that government of some kind is necessary. (Men, as Madison reminded us, are not angels!) I hope you don't think that I'm in any way suggesting that we can do without it.

This enlightening discussion on the flaws inherent in democracy in the modern age led me to reread an email that I sent to Bill in August of 2020 and that he posted on this site. I do not claim that it anything more than a quick, imperfect glimpse of a enormously complex problem, but I think that it introduces an aspect of the problem that has not so far been highlighted, the contradiction between contemporary corporate capitalism, global in its reach and loyalties, and the deformation of a form of political governance, the original, restrained democratic republicanism of the founders, that was created during and far more harmonious with an earlier period in the history of this mode of production. I quote a portion of it below:

“I am increasingly convinced that we on the Right are caught up in a set of contradictions of our own making, in that we wish to uphold, on the one hand, a particular political, social, and cultural inheritance and, on the other, an economic system, which in the past was largely supportive of or at least conducive to the former but which now, that is, in the form that it has attained in the last century, its principal solvent. The capitalism of which we often so glowingly speak on the Right is long-gone, along with the social classes and modes of life tied to it. How do we not fall into the trap of denouncing the latter while upholding the former? I see this as the hardest of puzzles to solve, and it may well mean that something is at work deep in the American social formation that deprives us on the Right of a firm footing in existing reality, which would explain why the Left has succeeded in conquering one political and cultural institution after another: The nature of contemporary capital, not merely its economic nature but the ways of life and cultural norms that arise from it, is inherently antagonistic to the nation state, classical liberal polities and rights, and traditional forms of civic society and belief systems. If this is so, then the Right has the unenviable task of opposing all forms of collectivist organization and control, public and private (that is, corporate), the latter of which is the inevitable form of corporate [global] capitalist development today, while proposing some viable alternative, one that would inevitably result in a direct challenge to the dominance of the present ruling class. This is a very contradictory situation for the defenders of order, since we ordinarily do not seek to undermine the leading institutions of society….”

Malcolm,

I don't think you are heading toward anarchism, but I fear you are inclined to adopt some form of gov't that allows no democratic input. The people must be allowed some say in the gov't that rules them, and does so, of necessity, coercively. I hope you agree that no non-anarchist government is conceivable without some degree of coercion.

Example. I may not as a private citizen detain you, put you in cuffs, etc. but some agents of the gov't in certain circumstances may legitimately do precisely that.

We need the vox populi as a check on gov't power. The Founders understood this.

Vito,

Thanks for reminding us of this other side of the problem. You write:

>>The nature of contemporary capital, not merely its economic nature but the ways of life and cultural norms that arise from it, is inherently antagonistic to the nation state, classical liberal polities and rights, and traditional forms of civic society and belief systems. If this is so, then the Right has the unenviable task of opposing all forms of collectivist organization and control, public and private (that is, corporate), the latter of which is the inevitable form of corporate [global] capitalist development today, while proposing some viable alternative, one that would inevitably result in a direct challenge to the dominance of the present ruling class. This is a very contradictory situation for the defenders of order, since we ordinarily do not seek to undermine the leading institutions of society….”<<

I wonder if you would unpack that a bit for us. Elaborate on the first sentence so that we better understand the antagonism. And then explain why the second sentence follows from it.

Bill,

Just how much of a "say in the gov't that rules" you do you feel like you actually have?

Somebody in the early days of NRx once said that "Just as pornography can stimulate the human sex drive without providing any actual sex, democracy can stimulate the human power drive without providing any actual power." (How did the last election go?)

(A penetrating analysis of this was made by Sir Henry Sumner Maine in his 1885 book Popular Government, which I excerpted briefly ten years ago over at my place.)

Another thing is that wherever there is sovereign power, there is the possibility of abuse, and of tyranny -- whether by a corrupt king, or, in democracies, a corrupt (or stupid) people. You say that vox populi is necessary as a check on power; but I say we should just as reasonably tremble at the idea of the populares getting hold of sovereign power, just as we worry when the baby gets hold of a hammer.

All I want is liberty, order (without order, there can be no liberty!), and a future predictable enough for citizens to be able to consider it worth investing in. If my government can give me that, then I don't care at all about having a "say" in it.

But no form of government can guarantee any of this. At present, for example, we have a practically infinite democratic franchise, and all of those desiderata (liberty, order, stability) are vanishing before our eyes.

All we can hope for, I think, is to find whatever kind of government does the best job of optimizing liberty, order, etc., as well as possible -- and what kind of system that might turn out to be depends very sensitively on what sort of people are to be governed, and under what pre-existing, current, or inevitable conditions.

Having said all that, I think you and I would agree very closely, from a purely performative stance, on what good government would look like. So the question between us is sharpened, perhaps:

What matters most? The principles of government, and of how our rulers are chosen -- or what kind of result we get?


With regard to the first sentence, I have in mind the structural economic and social changes, all with profound political and cultural consequences, of the last five or six decades and that have as their driving force the process of capital development. Without going into excessive detail, these include the extreme concentration of the asset share of the top 10 percent of American companies, which is now 88 percent, versus 47 percent in the 1930s. Inherent in the nature of capitalism, this process of concentration extends to many sectors of the economy, and in particular to finance, manufacturing, mining, services, trade, and utilities. The material interests above all the relentless search for greater market share and profit--of these giant corporate entities, often global in scale, have seriously harmed the nation’s competitive economic advantage (the massive export of manufacturing jobs, the systematic transfer of industrial knowledge and technologies to hostile foreign states, the sustained support of massive immigration, legal or otherwise). In terms of the nation’s social health, over 7 million skilled and better paying manufacturing jobs have, for instance, been lost since 1980, many of which were transferred overseas, principally to Communist China. Parallel and linked to this process is the decline of small, independent businesses, a decline which began in the 1950s and 1960s with the arrival of malls and chain stores and which intensified with the arrival of giant retailers, such as Amazon, on the Internet. Thus, while in 1982, 1.2 million small independent businesses (fewer than 100 employees) accounted for ½ of all retain spending, today half that number account for just ¼ of such spending. The decline in traditional classes, both industrial wage earners and small proprietors, has led to the shrinkage of the middle-income households, which accounted for 61 percent of all household in 1971 but only 50 percent in 2021. Tied to decrease of this sector of the productive population is the weakening of the social and cultural values, once central to the nation, that it has long upheld: familial and civic stability and safety, the work ethic, honesty, religiosity, and so on. At the same time, the social divisions the nation, which are reflected in the political and cultural contempt that the rich and those near rich have for their less advantaged compatriots grew to alarming proportions, as the elite capitalist class, their corporate managers and a bevy of highly paid white-collar employees in the new sectors (finance, high-tech, media, etc.) monopolized the benefits of capitalist profit, with the top 1/1000 percent of all American households now owning 14 of all household wealth, the top 1 percent owning 31 percent, and the top 10 percent 67 percent of it. Whether owners of capital or highly paid servants of the ruling class this section of the American people are effectively segregated as never before by wealth, geography, education, and culture, forming the one of the key components, along with massive class, dependent on the state, and increasingly including foreign nationals, of the progressive political alliance that is now hegemonic in the federal state, the universities, high-tech, the media (90 percent controlled by six corporations), entertainment, and so on. (I leave aside here other disruptive aspects of capitalism, and especially commoditization, that have undermined traditional institutions and values: nothing is sacred if profit can be gained from it.)

I have gone on too long, but I hope that the negative impact of these developments for the nation’s founding intuitions, beliefs, and values are clearer. The existence of these was dependent on the existence a different social fabric, a different people if you like, one reflective of an earlier, now vanished form of the emerging capitalist mode of production.

As for second sentence, I will just say that since socialism in all its variants is a far worse system than the present one, we who seek to regain something of the Old Republic are confronted not simply by powerful, authoritarian, and vicious political opponents but also by largely unseen long-term economic and social processes that work against us.

Vito, that's a sobering overview.

Technology has surely accelerated these changes, by dematerializing capital and making it so much fungible and portable. Something like Amazon never could have existed a hundred years ago -- the closest thing was the Sears catalogue, but it moved so slowly that small business could easily compete.

As bad as the concentration of wealth is, we should also remember that it isn't a zero-sum game; all boats have risen, and the percentage of people in extreme poverty is far lower than it used to be. (The poor used to be thin! Now only the rich can afford to be.)

What's truly died in our time is the worthiness of our aristocracies, and their connection to their place and their people; I think this in turn can be blamed, in large part, on the death of the West's foundation of transcendent metaphysics.

But what is to be done? Is this something that the right sort of government could solve, or is it "a disease of the heart"?

Malcolm,

As to “what is to be done,” I have no satisfactory answer. Leaving aside the current political and cultural battle with the Left, where our strategy, if you can call it that, is to engage in a series of rear-guard actions, we on the Right are in no way prepared in theory or in practice to confront the deep structural tendencies of capitalism to which I briefly called attention. We are caught in a dilemma that perhaps has no solution, even if the terms of the problem were evident to conservatives, which they are not, since most remain enamored by variants of laissez-faire thinking of an earlier period, and since the unacceptable price of any systemic adjustments and reforms would probably involve statist/collective remedies that we would, correctly, shun. Historically, the deep trends in modes of production that underlie social reality are of long duration are, at best, mitigated by political interventions, other than those that overturn one system and replace it with another. In brief, I simply want to call attention to the fact that the very system that we embrace, given that the alternatives to it are far worse, is a powerful corrosive force to traditional institutions and values.

Is this “a disease of the heart”? I would say, ultimately, it is, like all the woes of history.

Malcolm asks me: >>Just how much of a "say in the gov't that rules" you do you feel like you actually have?<<

Not much, but that is not the question. The question is whether a just form of gov't can exist that allows the governed no say in their governance.

We'll come back to this in later threads.

Hi Bill,

"The question is whether a just form of gov't can exist that allows the governed no say in their governance."

Everything's a tradeoff. I agree that "just" is nice, but it's not so easy to pin down exactly what that word means, when it comes to government. Is it "just" to give imbeciles a say who will bring the whole thing crashing down on everyone's head, including their own?

As someone once said, "Politics is not theoretical; it is practical."

>>As someone once said, "Politics is not theoretical; it is practical."<<

And I insist on it. But don't confuse politics with political philosophy. My question is a question in political philosophy."The question is whether a just form of gov't can exist that allows the governed no say in their governance."

I say No. I am trying to get you to concede a very obvious point. Abe Lincoln: a just govt' is "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Now focus on "for the people." Will you concede that a just gov't exists for the benefit of the governed, and not for the benefit of the governors -- except insofar as they too are part of the governed?

Hi Bill,

If I understand you correctly (and I admit, sometimes I don't, for which I apologize!), you are separating the philosophical question of justice in government from the messy practicalities of real-world politics. But shouldn't any useful political philosophy include in its premises the actualities -- the "crooked timber" -- of human nature? (The political philosophy of the Founders certainly did.)

I will, of course, agree that a just government exists for the benefit of the governed. What I'm trying to get at is that the benefit to the governed is what ought to be maximized, and whatever form accomplishes that is arguably what is most just.

"Of the people": yes, of course. "For the people": yes, that should be paramount. But "by the people" is where it gets tricky, because "by the people" can (and often does) end up flushing "for the people" down the loo.

This is a dauntingly broad and difficult topic, and one I've been stewing over for decades now, and I'm sure that if we really get "into it" we're going to spill a lot of ink. But this post and thread are already far down the page, so I think, if it's OK with you, that I'll respond in a new post over at my place in the next day or two.

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