How to Look at the World Like a Neoreactionary, Part 7
John Stuart Mill, that prototypical synthesis of English sensibility and Enlightenment philosophy, forwards a maxim to the effect that we should generally leave people alone to their own will save in the case their behavior has a negative effect on other people. Translated in the language of classical liberalism, this is the harm principle: people are free to do what they will so long as it does not bring harm to others. This means that, even if people are doing something harmful to themselves, they should be left to themselves, since it is a greater cost to violate this person’s right to self-determination than for this person to suffer harm at their own poor judgment.
That is, at least, the intent of Mill’s harm principle. It must be seen in a far more pervasive sense.
The harm principle trades on the intuition that another person’s behavior is in some sense ours to decide so long as that person’s behavior has a level of determination on our own outcomes. A person wielding a gun is obviously trying to effect a particularly brutal determination on another person, i.e. ending their life, and so it is clear that it is permissible to use force against this person. The cost, i.e. the violation of their right to autonomy, is overridden by the benefit, which is preserving an individual’s right to life who has not threatened coercion.
There is a curious consequence which arises if we accept his harm principle. The very integration and dependence of individuals on the complexity of the society around them. All means available to us for getting along in the world depend upon someone else in the world working a steady job. There are all these levels of order which we depend upon that, though we don’t tend to think about it, are actually done by someone at some point. Someone is standing at a factory making sure your food is getting processed properly, and someone is having all those children which we’re putting through school. Society depends upon being being reliable and acting in a regulated manner.
It is generally impossible to act without this having some level of influence over another person’s outcome. If I buy bananas, this has the theoretical effect of making the price of bananas be higher in the future then they would otherwise be, which has an effect on how many bananas you are actually able to consume in the future. Considering the numerous economic effects at play, and granted it is microscopic, the decision to buy bananas has an external effect.
Given Mill’s harm principle, it follows that the decision of others to buy bananas, or not, falls under the set of behaviors which may be technically regulated.
But let us back off for a moment. It is too simplistic to think of “regulation” only in terms of state policy. The state is a part of society; it is not the entirety of it (at least not presently), nor is it even best to think of it as “on top” of society. It is an integral part which cannot be left out, but it isn’t the only structure with causal influence over society. In the distribution and structure of power, it has its power via networks of dependency by others on it. But it is likewise dependent on networks of advocacy and capital which it does not produce only by its own effort. Policy, or legal regulation, is only one means of changing society. Regulations may be enforced only by increasing the cost of an associated behavior. Want to decrease racism? A level of stigmatization of racist behavior may help with that. State enforcement may be unnecessary.
So, if we’re thinking through the application of the harm principle outside of the paradigm that only new laws can achieve social change, then it becomes apparent we can perceive two different kinds of causality in play. There is the influence of policy by social norms, which is rather memetically direct. The ideas of society define the boundaries of how policy may be articulated. Policy, on the other hand, has a more indirect means of influence.
Policy, understood as laws and regulations which enforce certain limits of interaction between individuals (e.g. a minimum wage law which prohibits employers from offering or employees from accepting an hourly wage below a certain threshold), has systematic effects on the way social interactions are structured. Given a new structure, the means by which individuals may act in order to procure their desired ends are likewise shifted. Certain actions become more costly, certain actions become less costly. What is penalized becomes less frequent, what is subsidized becomes more frequent.
And this whether the consequences are political or legal in nature. The institutionalization of certain attitudes in the populace can achieve a more selective influence on populations which cannot be separated on the basis of income, race, or some other section which could exist on a government form. You need a microscopic enforcement of social norms. It isn’t perfect, but it nets more gain than policies acting on the macro scale could because it is less costly. Society is able to work because of the prevalence of de facto systematic treatment of particular qualities in society, in order that, to some extent, those traits which have negative externalities are mitigated, and those traits which have positive externalities are promoted. In other words, norms.
There are two kinds of norms, each facilitating, under normal conditions, an equilibrium effect on the stagnation and formation of newly adapted social institutions. The first is a norm which promotes openness to new social arrangements via an orthodoxy: more emphasis on right thought, less on right practice. The second is an antithetical norm, which promotes the maintenance of received traditions via an orthopraxy: more emphasis on right practice, less on right thought. These contrasting norms for approaching the fabric of power at the micro scale on the whole balance out, allowing an ideal mix of maintaining the generation of social capital while inculcating a fringe where experimentation in social norms occurs allowing for more dynamic social responses to environmental factors. This is, at least, highly adaptive if this process is highly demotic, i.e. influenced by the mass of the people, given a tribal environment. Otherwise, the demotic process becomes maladaptive, as it too generally favors particular psychologies over others, which is correlated to an increasing openness, a hyper-orthodoxy that comes at the expense of any sensible orthopraxy.
An execution of power which allows for this orthodoxy-orthopraxy dialectic to go on, optimizing for experimentation and preservation of sustainable generation of social capital, goes on best in environments which allow the facilitation of tribe-like affiliations by the power wielders among themselves, so that on balance government does not systematically tend to the left ceaselessly (it is less difficult to tend to the right ceaselessly; the lack of orthodoxy enforcement which is the conservative norm entails that increasing rightness entails an increasing insistence on preserving institutions as they are according to a received image of right practice).
It might be pointed out that progressives advocate certain behaviors, while conservatives advocate certain arguments, which is certainly true. It is a matter of emphasis. Conservatives promote some particular vision, e.g. the family, while progressives promote some general vision, e.g. an openness to sexual practices outside the norm. Both visions come at the expense of the other. Less orthopraxy means a diffusion of social norms and the breakdown of vulnerable institutions. Less orthodoxy means less freedom to experiment with new arrangements.
Yes, science is a progressive phenomena, at least relative the conservative emphasis on previous ways of knowing. However, science remains a progressive phenomena only so long as it serves to displace and disrupt our means of justifying the received social order. Science ceases to be progressive as soon as conservatives come around to it and are able to provide the argument, here as elsewhere, that societies existed and developed as they did because they were highly adaptive to their environment. We are now founding out from a bevy of many forms of evidence, be that sociological and anthropological studies which document surprisingly narrow distributions of political sentiment within large populations to the utilization of economic and evolutionary theory to motivate a healthy respect for human nature and what forms of interaction it is optimized for.
There is latent in all this foregoing a justification of natural slavery. No, banish from your mind visions of antebellum South, this is not a notion of slavery that need involve actual ownership of the individual like property. Chattel slavery is a species of slavery, not the whole of it. Slavery as a kind of relationship involves a dependency, such that he on whom the one is dependent cannot structure his own access to resources except through this other person. Those who are more dependent, through having less immediate access to resources, i.e. a mediated and/or enabled access by some intermediary person or institution they rely on, are more slave-like. The master-slave is not a binary, but a continuum. Below some point of mastery, one is entirely dependent; this includes all those who would be unable to make a living of the kind they enjoy by their own means, such as children. Power structures enslave.
However, this means not that power structures are innately evil. Far left thinkers are right to diagnose the structures which hold over us as instances and kinds of slavery, but where they take this to mean power structures must everywhere be destroyed, this is an inversion of their argument. Slavery is natural and innate to the human condition. One cannot eliminate one without eliminating the other. To eliminate the human condition, I think should be plain, would be to eliminate humans.
In reality, all instances of rights have been a modernist means of smuggling in natural slavery to society. The distributed set of mutual obligations between people is an appropriation of each other’s resources which can only be justified in the case we are all, in some way, slaves of each other. Obviously, this entails that he who is beholden to no one is not a slave; this is either the complete social outcast, who makes his way without depending on anyone (this more frequently reduces an individual to a miserly, hermetic existence, since it involves completely dropping out of society), or the king, who has no essential social obligations to anyone (sometimes).
The institution of taxation is a prime example of how society makes us all kinds of slaves. It doesn’t make much sense to think of taxation as merely theft, since taxation is but one of many other things government elects the power to do to/for us. The state has the just power not only to appropriate for itself the product of our labor, but also to regulate our lives and decide for us, to some extent, what we shall do and how we shall live. The master-slave relationship is the best model of that between state and citizen and, assuming the justice of slavery under certain conditions, gives a delightfully simple, yet anti-modern, justification for all that the state does in society.
The right to rule is the might to rule, and vice versa. Given agents who are under bounded rationality acting by their best knowledge to maximize the return on what they value, society as it actually is is society at its optimal equilibrium. This is the panglossian dilemma.
This is not to say the future could be made better than otherwise through the careful application of wisdom. But this is really only analytic. No one disagrees with this. However, it dissolves a fascination over reconciling rights to each other. If the whole edifice of social obligations and social roles can be justified through a master-slave paradigm, the social-metaphysical necessity of existential representation by the masses in the influence of the system becomes pointless. If democracy does not promote the flourishing of first world Western societies, then it should simply be abandoned. And how can it, articulated as it is through abstract “rights” without reference to actual abilities? It only appears a sensible interpretation that someone immature to the exercise of freedom will be made worse off by having freedom. A child is better off ruled by his parents, and we have no reason to suppose many people are much more than children with adult appetites. “Inferiors” are better off ruled, in other words; this is only what we mean when we understand that children need a parent and strong guidance by the community to be brought to maturity. Socialization has not the effect of diminishing our autonomy, but of cultivating our social senses and giving it a sophisticated expression through personality.
The problem of civilization is less equality and making sure that it will go on. The two virtues of continuity are stability and sustainability. When a society maintains priorities higher than these, those societies are quickly reduced and overtaken by outsiders who practice a more stable and sustainable social order. At one time, Rome ruled without parallel, but it was eventually carved up by barbarian tribes when the social capital Rome had generated was not re-invested sufficiently, but the people became more worried with making sure their own lives would be better off than they were with making sure their children’s lives would be better off. The wealth of future generations is literally robbed from them before their time, sold into bondage to foreigners. I’m speaking not only of the actual bills, but the social costs. Higher social costs decrease coordination, where coordination itself decreases social costs. This puts society in a feedback loop where decreasing formation of social institutions makes it more difficult to form social institutions.
There is a saying in philosophy, that one man’s modus ponens is another’s modus tollens. Modernism and neoreaction are opposed to each other in this sense. Where modernism sees an incompatibility between equality and human nature, it chooses to make human nature conform. Neoreaction makes the opposite choice. It bootstraps itself out of the modernist paradigm of thought by finding that dangerous what if. What if Malthus was right about the growth of population, but Darwin was right about the evolution of population? Neoreaction doesn’t even disagree that a society with high downward mobility is oppressive, but that doesn’t mean a regulated rate of failure (i.e. failure to reproduce and all that entails) isn’t still good for the society as a whole. The good of individuals is not identical to the good of that group of individuals; the fallacy of composition should make one see the potential for dissociating the two. What if the good of individuals comes at the expense of the good of the group, and vice versa? A healthy tradeoff between the two seems the best way to promote human flourishing.
What if rule by the most has different properties from rule by the best? Nothing in principle guarantees that the massed decisions of people about a subject they are entirely ignorant of, and frequently misinformed on, will on the whole work themselves out to a moderately positive return. What if it really works its way out to a moderately negative return? What if not only the Soviet children were indoctrinated, but we were too?
Most already here have made it by asking simpler, more innocuous seeming questions. What if race really exists? What if men and women really are different? What if we’re in decline?
Neoreaction will be interpreted as broadly conservative. Maybe there is some truth to this, at least in terms of constituency. It is perhaps fair to admit most of us tend right more than left. However, it still seems that the right-left heuristic has little relevance within neoreaction. The implicit meta-analysis of innate psychological orientation entails a view of institutions that seeks to capture a benefit from the expenditure of conflict between those left-oriented and right-oriented. It is not “How can the conservatives win and make sure they never lose again?” but “How can society maximize for stability, sustainability, and flourishing?” The political is within the social by this model. The political is just the beginning of how society works.
Originally published Dec 3rd, 2013