MANUAL FOR MONARCHY
As Antonio Gramsci wrote a hundred years ago, “the old world is dying; the new world is struggling to be born.” Gramsci’s new world was indeed born; it grew up; it turned old; and the Asylum reader can sense yet another world struggling to be born.
The central aspect of this struggle is not the defeat of the old world. The new world will defeat it easily—once that new world is born. Those of us struggling to midwife it are not, and should not, struggle against the old world. Instead we struggle against the abortions, the monsters and teratogens which are neither new nor old.
The most dangerous of these monsters is the unquestioned belief in the restoration of democracy. It is not only this word that has a sacred character; it is the reality behind the word. The natural impulse on learning that this holy temple has been desecrated is to restore it. This understandable desire is the only life support of the old world.
Most Asylum readers now understand that our elected politicians, the “leaders of the free world,” have negligible power over the permanent civil service which they nominally command, and zero power over the media-educational-nonprofit complex which decides what is right and wrong. They have turned into the late Merovingian kings of which a chronicler wrote 1200 years ago:
There was nothing left for the King to do but to be content with his name of King, his flowing hair, and long beard, to sit on his throne and play the ruler, to give ear to the ambassadors that came from all quarters, and to dismiss them, as if on his own responsibility, in words that were, in fact, suggested to him, or even imposed upon him.
We can almost see the Dark Age teleprompter. One might as well cite the Queen of England today—except that the Merovingians were displaced not by a bureaucratic oligarchy, but by the rising Carolingian monarchy. Even Trump is famed for his hair!
Democracy, oligarchy, and monarchy are the rock, paper, scissors of political science. That paper has folded rock is a fact. When we think in democratic terms, we are trying to cut paper with rock. (to restore democracy is an impossible task because only monarchy succeeds oligargy?) When we insult rock by calling rock scissors, we are only reinforcing our idea that scissors are bad. No other idea can keep paper alive.
The Democratic Fallacy
The democratic fallacy is to “sit on the throne and play the ruler.” Anyone who thinks about government in terms of issues or policies or causes is doing exactly that.
If you had actual power, thinking about what to do with it would be very important. But since your power is an illusion, thinking about what to do with this illusion can only be a trap. You should not be thinking about what to do with power you don’t have. You should be thinking only about how to get that power into the hands of (a) yourself; or (b) someone else who deserves it.
Consider the latest “populist” cause—the “groomer” issue, aka transgender education in elementary schools. If you are sitting on the throne and playing the ruler, and like most Asylum readers you think “trans kids” are an abomination (by the way, someone familiar with the other team explained to me the real issue behind child sex changes: intervening before puberty gives a much more sexually convincing result), you know exactly what to do: pass a law!
If you have power, this will work. If you have power, the solution is to participate in government—to make it do the right thing. After all, this is America—where we believe in the democratic rule of law, not the arbitrary rule of men.
If you have no power, however—if you realize that all regimes are the arbitrary rule of men, and you are not one of those men—your response must be quite different. If you see the men who rule doing something you feel is abominable, your only recourse is to change the men who rule. The abomination is an indictment of power, not an invitation to power. Every crime of the regime is evidence that the regime must change. It is not evidence that you must participate in the regime—which actually means supporting it.
The right response to any abomination of power has nothing to do with the abomination. The right response is to capture as much power as possible—normally, all the power. Each abomination is just one more count on the endless rap sheet of the old regime.
Fundamentals of Regime Change
To review: any problem you have with the regime is not evidence of a bug in the regime that needs to be fixed. It is evidence that the regime needs to be replaced.
Replacing regimes is both difficult and dangerous. A good analogy is a rocket launch. Everything has to work perfectly. If your rocket does not fire at all, and just sits there, this is the best form of failure. Any other form of failure is progressively worse. Until the rocket reaches orbit, the better it works, the worse the outcome. A rocket that gets 99% of the way to orbit falls with a very large boom.
Therefore, the goal of a political machine is the goal of any amplifier: to maximize gain. Gain is the amount of output produced by a given input. The ideal political machine needs as little energy as possible from its supporters, and generates as much energy as possible from their actions.
The Fundamental Equation of Politics
The fundamental equation of politics is, perhaps unsurprisingly,
That is: output energy equals mass times commitment times cohesion.
Mass is the mere quantity of human meat. Commitment is what the humans are able and willing to do. Cohesion is their capacity for coherent collective action.
For obvious reasons, most people who think about politics think about mass (attracting more followers) and commitment (getting them to do more stuff). But the secret of political success in the 21st century is systems that couple low commitment with high cohesion.
Commitment is an especially tempting target because present levels of commitment are so low by historical standards. Apathy is the most important factor in the modern election. Emotional engagement in any election besides national leadership elections is almost zero—lawn signs, name recognition, and other completely irrational factors driven only by budget do most of the work.
Consider commitment on a logarithmic scale of 0 to 10, where 0 does nothing, 1 votes, 2 is a write-in vote or political contribution, and 10 is a suicide bomber. 2 is generally felt to be unachievable; 10 is out of the question.
For example, a civil war is impossible in a civilized 21st-century country, because of low commitment. No one cares enough to fight—and the people who care the most are the worst. The best, most sensible people just want to grill.
The Power of Cohesion
One way to understand the power of cohesion is to imagine a voting system designed to make high cohesion easy.
Suppose voters could delegate their votes permanently to a politician or organization. 75 million Americans voted for Trump—but this was a low-cohesion vote. They asked Trump to represent them, once, in one election.
In this new system, any American will be able to click one button, once—a low-commitment operation, which does not interfere in any way with grilling—and delegate all their political power to Trump (or some party, think-tank, etc).
Until they click another button and change their minds, Trump, or at least Trump’s staff, will vote on their behalf in every election for which they are eligible—from President to dogcatcher. In fact, they will never have to think about politics again.
Their commitment is much lower—this “perma-vote” is much less work than traipsing to the polls every time some school board is up for election. Because of this super-low commitment, we would expect many low-engagement voters who can’t be bothered to get it up for any one election to perma-vote once, and leave that vote alone.
Suppose all 75 million Trump voters support Trump enough to give him a perma-vote. The result of this will be that Trumpist candidates win every Republican primary—since primary turnout is much smaller than general turnout—and also win landslide victories in all midterm elections—since midterm turnout is smaller.
And these candidates will not merely be Trumpists. They will be Trump’s pets. Trump has no need to select experienced politicians with their own opinions and supporters, who will make up their own minds—why should he?
To maximize his power (and therefore the power of his supporters), he should elect nobodies who are completely beholden to him, and who have every incentive to follow his remote-control directions to the letter. Like the Merovingian kings, they will be “content with the name of senator.” Why shouldn’t they be? If they are discontented, and act on it, they will simply lose their jobs in the next election.
The result is a Presidency with the nation-changing power of FDR, whose almost monarchical authority stemmed from the same mechanism: a rubber-stamp Congress. The most legally correct way to ratify a revision in the theory of the Constitution is to simply pack the Supreme Court with ten pliant new justices. While the House can be replaced in a single election, it takes six years to turn over the Senate—but it does not take six years for existing senators to see the writing on the wall. The legalities are less important than the sense of unlimited and confident power—which inherently creates its own support. The public is a woman. Women love confidence.
Yet there is nothing anti-democratic about this reform. It does nothing at all to limit the power of the voters. To the contrary—it makes voting easier. A voter who tires of Trump can redirect his perma-vote to Hillary Clinton. If Hillary has 80 million perma-votes, she gains the same monarchical power. All this from an electoral convenience.
The Power of Irony
Because the perma-vote is so powerful that it makes a mockery of democracy, it is hard to imagine anyone who believes in democracy supporting this “reform.” Is this design an idle thought-experiment? Or could it actually happen?
With a little more commitment, we can imagine perma-voting happening without any kind of official support. Instead of a convenient button that the voter can press to transfer his vote permanently, the voter… installs an app. When there’s an election he is entitled to vote in, he goes to the polls and patiently copies the app’s official ballot onto the paper in front of him, swearing silently at the obsolete data-entry task that these antiquated systems require him to perform. Why can’t the local election board just talk to his party’s server and upload his vote directly? And eventually, it will.
Why would anyone do this? At an emotional level, perma-voting is a fundamentally different experience from the conventional experience of democracy.
Democratic voting is emotionally compelling because the voter sincerely feels the experience of participating in power; he feels he is important, a kind of micro-king, decreeing that “we” (ie, the government) should do this, that, or the other thing. A felon who loses his right to vote feels almost castrated; he is no longer part of “we”; ultimately, he has ceased to matter as man and citizen. Women need the right to vote not because they need pro-woman policies (abortion, easy divorce, outlawing saloons, etc), but because without it, women do not matter.
Perma-voting is emotionally compelling because of its fundamentally ludic and ironic quality. The perma-voter is a player in a live-action game. The results of the game do matter; in fact, when the game is played well enough to win, they matter much more than the Merovingian results of democratic voting; but while this is thrilling, so is the mere sense of playing the game—the sense of collectively hacking the system. Rather than participating sincerely, like a chump, in a rigged game that is not what it appears.
Nothing could be more ironic than voting against democracy. As Bronze Age Pervert has said: “Learn that I don’t understand the gay idea of ‘irony.’” Obviously there is nothing ironic about this line! To increase the power of your vote by giving it away—by abjuring the trap of caring about “issues”—to take power refusing the lie that you are already participating in power—is a profoundly ironic gesture.
The Supply of Irony
And because mass is part of the E=mc^2 formula, nothing in this high-cohesion, low-commitment strategy can work without a massively ironic population. Fortunately, this is exactly what we have.
Most political strategies used today are dependent for their efficacy on 20th-century or even 19th-century levels of sincerity and commitment. In the face of 21st-century apathy, they are useless. Apathetic but sincere people can care about a few things, for a little while. They cannot generate any significant amount of power. And apathy is constantly increasing.
Irony is also constantly increasing. As recently as the 1980s, irony was the exclusive possession of the overclass. Today all media aimed at American consumers under 50 is drenched in irony. Generation X was in many ways the first ironic generation. Not everyone 50 and under prefers to be ironic all the time—but everyone knows how to. At least if they watch TV, all young and middle-aged voters are fluent in irony.
At a certain point, the balance of mass has moved far enough away from sincerity and toward irony that ironic politics starts to be able to outcompete sincere politics. Trump in a way was a prototype. He ran with ironic messaging, but without using any other ironic political techniques; he tried to govern sincerely, and failed. One day, the ironic politics of the future will stop making these mistakes.
THIS PIECE IS AVAILABLE IN PRINT FORM IN VOLUME I ISSUE III