Policies of the deep right
"The only way for democracy to defeat oligarchy is to elect a monarchy."
In a since-deleted tweet, Matthew Yglesias asks, over that Tablet oil painting—what are these “new-right” freaks even for? Like, what are their ideas?
I feel like I'm not smart enough to understand things at this level of abstraction and need someone to tell me at some point what specific things these people actually want to do.
I love it when people younger than me sound like such boomers. He maybe even read all about the principles of the deep right—and still didn’t get it, of course.
How could he? Honestly it is hard to blame the poor guy. It’s hard to see how most of this stuff even makes any sense in his frame of reference. It’s like trying to explain acid to a Mormon. But let me try…
Oligarchy and relative public policy
Of course I have no “ideas” at all—not in Yglesias’s sense of the term, at least.
The model of political discourse in which public-policy ideas are relevant because they are prestigious and prestigious because they are relevant is the mode of discourse fundamental to the ordinary liberal pundit’s frame of reference. Ideas outside this cycle do not matter and cannot be either relevant or prestigious. They are not “ideas.”
A key aspect of this model is the relative nature of the idea. An idea is a change or delta from the present state of affairs. The greater this delta, the less relevant.
We see can speak of an art of relative public policy—which describes not what the state should do, but what it could change to do (often not very realistically). Matthew Yglesias is a certified “wonk” in this fine, important art of relative public policy.
But relative public policy is specific to the second of the three Aristotelian forms of government— which makes sense, as that form happens to be the form we have now.
This second form is called oligarchy (the rule of the few). Confusingly, its proponents call it “democracy.” This should not be enough to make you confuse it with the third Aristotelian form, democracy (the rule of the many), which everyone calls “populism.”
Democracy is politics—it means putting politicians in charge of the government. To the ordinary liberal pundit, no idea is more horrifying. Imagine giving the President power to hire or fire, fund or defund, organize or reorganize any department in DC. Imagine making Donald Trump the literal CEO of the executive branch. Okay, this is exactly what it says in the Constitution—but come on. Isn’t it a living Constitution?
Instead, when we want a foreign policy, we consult—respected foreign-policy experts. Professors—professors at top schools, of course. Who should we consult? Plumbers? Hotel entrepreneurs? Duh. Such is oligarchy, the hereditary creed of Matthew Yglesias.
Are these “top schools” mentioned in the Constitution? Enumerated, even? Why, of course not—why would they need to be? Cease to talk to us of your “Constitution.” We have one of our own—and ours actually says what it means. “Hier ist kein warum.”
Monarchy and absolute public policy
But oligarchy and democracy are only two of Aristotle’s three forms. The third is the first form—monarchy (rule of the one), which we call “dictatorship.” Which is bad. Bad!
Even though monarchy is the most common political form in history, it is invisible from within our present historical bubble—it does not fit in our “Overton window.” Hm. Is the problem with the thing? Or with the window? It does make one think…
Both oligarchy and democracy are traditionally hostile to monarchy. However, monarchy and oligarchy can be united by a shared contempt for democracy; and monarchy and democracy can ally to defeat a rapacious oligarchy. Any alliance is possible. Any two of the firms, together, will usually defeat the third.
In any case, the transition from oligarchy to monarchy is not accomplished by the victory of monarchical ideas in the oligarchic marketplace of ideas. Because no regime change happens by itself, the idea of monarchy must compete (somehow) in either or both of the oligarchic and democratic marketplaces. A hard trick indeed.
Monarchical public policy, however, is irrelevant until monarchy is established. Its ideas cannot be expected to succeed in the oligarchic marketplace. Nor is any such success the way in which monarchy comes about.
History shows that the marketplace of ideas is never flat. It is always tilted toward power. Monarchies, oligarchies and democracies promote different kinds of ideas. While oligarchical regimes do in a sense argue themselves into public policies, it is useless to argue monarchical policies in an oligarchical marketplace of ideas. They will look like bad ideas. In a sense, they are bad ideas—under the current form.
So our first idea has to be a change of form—a regime change. A regime change is always relevant, because a regime change is always possible—though never safe.
The only form that can power a regime change is democracy. But the only form that can operate the next regime is monarchy. Therefore, the process of a legal regime change must involve electing a monarchy—not unlike the election of FDR in 1932.
Operationally, monarchy is required because regime change is hard, and everything hard that works in this world—running a company, directing a movie, cooking a meal—is done by a unified authority with a single leader at the top. That is: a monarchy.
Politically, democracy is required because only democracy has the political power to put a monarchy in place. That is: winning an election, with a mandate to truly rule. (Of course the current oligarchy has the power—but the opposite of an incentive.)
But it is not even just that democracy is a terrible way to manage anything—populist democracy, in the age of the apathetic, uninformed voter, is not even strong enough to keep the power in its hands, let alone do the right thing with it.
Monarchy, however, is well known for being able to keep the power in its hands. Thus the only way for democracy, today, to defeat oligarchy is to elect a monarchy. What’s cool is that this is actually completely legal. Even if it wasn’t, we could do it any time.
Like FDR or even Caesar, the next monarch may not call himself a king and probably should not. People will call him a dictator. People will call him whatever. It is what is.
But it is worth noting that in the American system of government, which combines monarchy, oligarchy and democracy, electing a dictator is the law of the land. By our own ancient Constitution, the voters elect the chief executive of the executive branch.
It is an old tradition that the President automatically defers to the other branches in managing his executive branch. But this deference is just a tradition. It is not in the Constitution itself. If a tradition is not working for us, why are we obliged to keep it? Even if Marbury v. Madison is two centuries old, might not it be wrongly decided? Every historian reads Justice Marshall’s coup as a coup, not some divine exegesis.
Any such change of form will bring a new market for public policy. The newly elected monarch is elected in vain unless he can completely revise the standards, practices, policy, personnel, philosophy and organization of the old regime. In most cases, he will probably not even start from the status quo—he will create a new structure from scratch. Only minimal continuity of staff is required, mainly in the security forces.
In this alternative reality, relative public policy is of no interest at all. The only form of public policy that offers any interest is absolute public policy—the policy choices that are available to any new regime, regardless of the old regime’s standards, practices, policy, personnel, philosophy and organization. In general, absolute public policy is the natural accompaniment to absolute regime change.
Historical instances of absolute public policy are not hard to find—even in the lives of those now living, and even those regarded as good. One example is the US occupation of Germany after the war—AMGOT.
AMGOT, which begat modern Germany—say what you want about modern Germany, but it is at least in some senses a success—had absolutely no interest in preserving the Third Reich’s standards, practices, policy, personnel, philosophy or organization. In some cases it did. It certainly never wanted to. And for the most part—it didn’t. And AMGOT was as absolute a regime as the Third Reich itself—it even burned books.
Furthermore, politics is the art of the possible. And until the art of absolute policy in the modern world is at least mapped, if not yet explored (there is a limit to how far it can be explored “in the lab)”—a democratic-monarchical regime change is impossible. Since it has no policy roadmap, it will fail. Since it will fail, it will never even happen.
While thinking about monarchical absolute policy in an oligarchical, relative reality might seem quixotic, history reminds us that realities change. And intellectual work, by making it possible for our own reality to change, can make itself useful in practice.
Stranger things have come to pass! And needless to say, all this absolute policymaking is very legal—and very cool. As Bill Ayers once put it, “America is a great country.”
Salus populi suprema lex
What does this absolute public policy look like, anyway? Many readers presumably still think I am dodging this important question of what I am for. And maybe I am.
Before the age of legalistic oligarchy, manuals of absolute public policy were widely published. They were called mirrors for princes—Gray Mirror comes from this term. Machiavelli’s The Prince is technically in this genre, though its ironic and amoral tone is very atypical—more medieval works are very sincere, moralistic and even spiritual. Anyone seeking a program for a 21st-century monarchy would do much worse than to consult these kinds of sources, rather than 20th-century economics and social science.
But the prerevolutionary consensus on the purpose of government is quite consistent. It fits in a Latin motto, salus populi suprema lex: the health of the people is the supreme law. By salus populi we might as well say “common good”—the favorite mantra of another corner of the “new right.”
The purpose of a king is to preserve and improve the health of the people—not just their physical health, but their spiritual health—their general well-being. The general well-being of the population is the sum of the individual well-being of each subject. (Oligarchies and democracies have citizens—who either have political power, or (more often) the semblance of power. Monarchies have subjects—who look after themselves.)
The salus populi or “common good” sounds boring and obvious. It is not boring or obvious. Taken seriously, it is alien and revolutionary.
The purpose of a regime is to preserve and improve the health of its own people. To take an interest in improving the rest of the world is to create a conflict of interest—just as the manager of your condo complex’s homeowner association, if he sends the landscaping funds to Yemen to feed starving toddlers, remains an embezzler. A HOA is not a charity. Neither is a government.
Any such conflict of interest creates an incentive for the regime to act against its own subjects. This is a bad habit for governments. As for the people of Yemen, they should be looked after by the government of Yemen—which should not be a dependency, satellite or protectorate of the US—or of any nation northwest of, say, like, Egypt.
In 20th-century terminology, therefore, a healthy US monarchy will be “isolationist.” It will abandon its current empire—not at all unlike Gorbachev discarding the Soviet empire—and lovingly tend its own garden.
And defend itself if need be. The idea of a military attack on the US remains comical. But only the dead have seen the end of war. Certainly, space remains an active field of international conflict. As does drone warfare—but America’s main defense job today, which it is of course screwing up, is to achieve the permanent domination of orbit. With Musk’s giant rocket, we might still have a chance. Go America!
20th-century regimes, with mostly terrible results, embraced the weird economic idea that the purpose of an economic planner is to maximize the total consumer price of all the goods and services that the economy produces. This is called the “GDP” and an increase in it is called “growth.” To paraphrase Edward Abbey—tumors also grow.
The purpose of economic management is this “growth.” And once it has been adjusted for the growth in prices, then adjusted again to reflect “hedonic” changes in price-quality ratio, it is the much-desired “real growth.” This form of numerology was never known before the 20th century—yet weavers still span, and farmers still raised pigs.
The theory of “real growth” is that it “measures” the amount of utility that producers produce—as Wikipedia tells us, “a measure of pleasure or happiness.” When we measure GDP, we are measuring—literally, in numbers—the quantity of total human desire that all the producers in the country satisfied that year.
Of course, some desire food, whereas others desire caviar—and what is their ratio of value? By the kilogram, how much better are sturgeon eggs, than chicken eggs? How much more valuable would chickens be, if genetically engineered to lay beluga? This would be “growth” indeed—to see how much “growth,” just check the market price. Yet the caloric value of these commodities is roughly equal…
What is especially interesting about this “GDP” frame is its relationship to another California craze of the 20th century: Buddhism. As everyone knows, the Buddha too spoke of desire. In fact, Buddhists believe—just like modern macroeconomists—that the purpose of life is to conquer desire. And the only true way to conquer desire, the Buddha said, is to satisfy it completely—
Oh, wait. He didn’t—he actually didn’t say that. More like—the opposite? But anyway. Where were we?
Of course the appeal of metrics like “GDP” is their quantitative, measurable quality. They suggest what Thomas Carlyle called “a government carried on by steam.” There is real merit in quantitative governance—but not if, when gamed, it creates a disaster.
Government by “GDP,” invented in the UK and US, has led both nations to rationally destroy their own industrial bases—like the bombing of Germany, but self-inflicted. At least no white phosphorus was used—though, in some places in the “Rust Belt,” one might think it was. A well-managed economy does not have a “Rust Belt”—QED.
One alternative which might persuade the next regime is a human asset model. The government literally treats itself like a corporation whose assets are human robots.
If (besides the land and buildings) the assets of this corporation are human beings, the goal is not to maximize the hedonic production of the corporation—that would be like a CEO running a company to maximize revenue.
Sometimes this is right. But only by accident. It is more right to maximize profit—but even this can be a management mistake. The real goal is to maximize valuation—and, when choosing between real capitalization and mere market price, choose the former. The company is worth the things it owns. The more they are worth, the more it is.
When these “things” are human beings, they should still be as valuable as possible. Without an active slave market, there is no way to measure human value. But any way of measuring human value will look at least similar to our goal—the salus populi.
Consider, for instance, the question of work. According to both macroeconomics and Reddit, the value of work is negative. Work is defined by disutility. So the less work Americans do, the better.
According to this Reddit-Harvard-libertarian theory of government, if the Chinese are willing to do all the work of making our stuff, in exchange for pieces of green paper, they are suckers and we should let them. We get all the utility. They get the disutility, and some paper. What’s not to like?
This idea conflicts with both traditional common sense and the human asset model. Common sense tells us that work is good for the human soul. The human asset model tells the regime that work (in most cases) is good for the human asset—it increases the productive powers of the asset. Which may not be quite exactly the salus populi—but it at least correlates with the “common good” better than the satisfaction of desire.
And on the scale of the nation, producing increases the nation’s productive power—obviously making the nation stronger and more valuable. Whereas any nation that consumes but does not produce can be just dropped on its face by the producers.
Imagine America if Chinese container ships just sailed to the International Date Line, dumped the containers in the Marianas Trench, and stamped their own green paper.
What would change for the Chinese? The stamps on their bonds (China, of course, invented paper money). What would change for the Americans? Without either consumer goods—or an infrastructure to manufacture consumer goods? Hopefully at least you have a gun… probably no shortage there…
Preliberal economists considered the basic task of an economic planner to be the equalization of labor supply and demand, in such a way that production satisfied the human needs of all consumers, and consumption created demand for the human labor of all producers. The goods should fit the consumer; the work should fit the worker. Ideally, everyone is working up to, and developing, the limits of their human ability. Of course, not all humans are born with the same talents and/or limits.
The goal of matching supply and demand is often easily accomplished by restricting supply—for example, by restricting trade (mercantilism) or restricting technology (Luddism). An especially promising approach to the creation of labor demand is restricting old technology—for example, textile automation—thereby creating a market for high-quality, high-dignity artisanal labor. Obviously, a skilled artisan is by any metric a more valuable asset than a welfare client or a “bullshit job” paper-pusher.
Needless to say, this kind of policy makes no sense to 20th-century liberal economists. This is why flying from Shanghai to New York feels like flying from New York to Rio. There is a “zeroth world,” and you don’t live in it. Instead you live in free-trade hell—or heaven, if you happen to work for Apple.
One way to understand the impact of technology on economics is to compare tech to a natural resource—like oil. Economists know the “resource curse” that afflicts a nation in which five guys can pump the entire national GDP up from a hole in the ground. Similarly, WhatsApp once served almost a billion users with a mere thirty engineers.
As technology advances, every labor market loses labor demand—even engineers. And there is no force of nature which guarantees every human a positive marginal product. People can simply be worthless—not just the very young, the very old and the very sick, but great swathes of physically healthy society. The final implication of liberal economics is genocide, figurative or literal. If you look at the “Rust Belt,” you see it. Hiroshima is certainly looking a lot better than Detroit these days.
If it ever came—every time we fondle our benjamins, we should remember Obi-Wan “Ben” Franklin’s racist anti-German rants—the time for a homogeneous America is over. Our continent is as mongrel as the pound. It’s not exactly Iceland. And without getting our hands very messy indeed, it never will be.
And the real Iceland is probably rife with anti-Eskimo prejudice, or something. Man… humans, man. But will a sensible regime, a government that genuinely loves and cares for and wants to nourish its precious human assets, work with human nature? Or will it try to change human nature? Well… if it’s the 20th century…
North America is full of many different kinds of people. Some of these kinds of people are organized in well-delineated cultural communities. Some are not. But whatever your culture, a capable regime will value and cherish and respect it—not try to wreck it or homogenize it with some other culture.
For example, one crucial mark of a successful polycultural regime is that it respects the right of every culture to educate its own children, by default and without penalty, in its own ways and traditions. Violating this principle is not exactly the Holocaust—but it does fit Raphael Lemkin’s original definition of “genocide.” Just to let you know.
In general, a culture should be governed by its own members under its own rules. Strict geographic separation is not needed for this millet or pillar system, though it tends to develop anyway—there is little to be gained by geographic, but not cultural, homogenization of disparate populations. But it is perfectly possible for human beings to live cheek by jowl with other human beings who are governed differently.
The relations between all these cultures should be amicable and financially neutral. Economic exchange between cultures should have a neutral “trade” balance—easily implemented by distinguishing between internal and external currencies. No culture should be dependent on, or dominant over, another—financially or otherwise.
One of the most important cultures in any nation today is the postcultural “globalist” culture. This is the most valuable of all cultures in human-asset terms—also, the most dangerous. It is just as important to treat these people well, as to keep them in check. The regime that fails at either of these tasks has numbered its days.
Globalists are just another religion or culture. They are not special. In the oligarchy, their belief system became a state religion—almost a total religion. It was as if we had been ruled by Byzantine monks, and declaring that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son could get you kicked off Twitter or out of elementary school.
Well… every private religion can become a state religion—and vice versa. Not only is there nothing wrong with these people—when they are bad, they are very bad; when they are good, they are really quite good—but power is a hell of a drug. Excluding them from power will clear their heads and even cure many of their strange doctrines. It may seem like a harsh treatment—to the addicted, withdrawal is punishment by definition—but in the long run, it will even be good for their souls. The salus populi.
And does any group of people have any right to political power over any other group? The short answer is “no.” Mormons have a right to rule themselves. They do not have a right to rule you. You do not have a right to rule them. This stuff is pretty simple…
The accountable monarchy
It is easy to describe the purpose of a good king. But why should the king be good? What keeps a good king good? What if he is crazy—or worse, goes crazy?
One answer is simply to note that for some reason, monarchies (“dictatorships”) in the 20th century had an unusually bad record of bad behavior. We could discard this run of data as an outlier produced by some pattern related to time rather than form, or we could obsess over it. And after all, even if this pattern is unrelated to form, why should it not still be operating today? Understanding the 20th century, a long conversation to say the least, is the only way to untangle this puzzle.
But if we discard the 20th century as an outlier, we see that most monarchs are rather sane. Rarely do they go crazy and start executing whole swathes of their population. They may not be good at preserving the salus populi, but they usually at least try. They are often too into war—a failure mode worth noticing.
It is also possible to do much better at monarchical succession than in olden days—if nothing else, because of fertility medicine. The Henry VIII situation need never recur.
This is a modest answer which acknowledges the frailty and imperfection of human affairs—and demands recognition of the extreme perfection, and clear deterioration, of present affairs.
But I also have my own design for building a technically accountable monarchy—a sovereign version of corporate governance, implemented (sadly) on the blockchain. Summarizing this novelty here, though, would be tiresome and distracting.
In any case, the question is not open, because the law is clear—the American system of government, as outlined in the Constitution, is an elective dictatorship, in which the voters select the next absolute dictator for the next four years. Is it perfect? No. But this country has muddled its way through the imperfect before.
It may not be the perfect way to hold a national CEO accountable—but if the changes that every voter sees with their own eyes, over four years (as long as it took to win WWII!), do not amaze and impress them—maybe this is not the right national CEO for our nation after all. “Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes on you…”
Another great piece, Curtis, but please I have a few questions that you may wish to consider, perhaps even answer.
The USA, like all regimes, has no choice but to shape, direct and gratify the psycho-affective forces of those who rule and those who are ruled. These are essential for securing loyalty. A degree of charisma is required for anything as personal as a monarchy, even one that is modelled on the position of CEO.
Much of the unhappiness of the USA today derives from the rapidly diminishing ability of the masses to identify with those they serve, let alone bond with them.
This problem is going to be especially acute for a CEO-styled monarchs. The trouble with CEOs is that the culture of the depersonalised institutions from which they emerge chills and disgusts.
The artificial social psychologies of such institutions is revolting and distinctly uncharismatic.
With all this in mind, what would the psycho-affective landscape of an American monarchy look like?
How would any member of the current, or any viable real-world, elite bond with the US masses?
How could a CEO-style monarch (possibly recruited from a racially diverse Coastal elite) do to bond with the Future Alawites of America in their redoubts in Idaho or the yeomen and kulaks of the Rustbelt across the Midwest?
Conversely, could a Muad'dib style CEO that was minimally attractive to the Red State Fremen secure the personal respect/loyalty of Covid-compliant Blue State SJWs?
For anyone curious about the Matt Yglesias tweet that was deleted, here is the archive https://web.archive.org/web/20220429164022/https://twitter.com/mattyglesias/status/1520080412801912832