Not enough hubris not to try to kill God

We Wrestle Not With Flesh And Blood, But Against Powers And Principalities

Mimes, in the form of God on high mutter and mumble low
And hither and thither fly – mere puppets, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things shifting scenery to and fro

- an excerpt out of Ligaea, by Edgar Allen Poe

There should be a post debating Reactionaries’ assumptions about the superiority of past cultures and methods. Eventually I hope to write that post. But this is not it. This is the post where I claim that, even granting all of those assumptions, Reaction is somewhere between wrong and impossible. Why?

To borrow Poe’s terminology, history as we learn it in school tends to concentrate on the puppets and ignore the vast formless things.

In a previous essay, I mentioned a pattern of refactored agency in which human beings lack agency and merely respond to incentives. I said they were “actors” reading from the “script their incentives wrote for them”, and anyone who deviated from the part would be outcompeted and replaced.

This seems to broadly describe most historical figures. If Christopher Columbus had decided not to explore America, Cabral or Cabot or someone would have. Caravels existed, people needed a new trade route to India, the only question was who was going to be first.

But the puppetry expands past individuals toward whole empires and movements. If God reached into the year 1900 and removed every single Communist, and every Communist book, and erased all memory of Communism, I think it would take about five minutes before someone reinvented something much like the movement, because there were a bunch of very poor people who felt desperate and cheated crammed up against a bunch of very rich people who weren’t afraid to flaunt their wealth. The new movement might have differed from Communism in minor details – maybe their color would have been blue instead of red – but it wouldn’t be hard to identify.

So much for the puppets. What are these Vast Formless Things giving them their orders? I mentioned liking Guns, Germs and Steel, and I think Diamond has done a good job of proving geography has important historical effects. But geography is fixed, not exactly the sort of thing that’s going to cause revolutions. So after that last post you probably won’t be surprised to hear I think the vastest and most formless Vast Formless Thing of all is technological progress.

Engines Alone Turn The Wheels of History

The largest and furthest-reaching political changes of all time have invariably been the effect of technological progress. The largest of these, the transition from egalitarian bands to the ultrahierarchical divine monarchies of the Bronze Age, seems to have been mostly the effect of the Agricultural Revolution and its corollaries. Without committing to what order these things happened in:

- Need for a guarantee that the crops you planted will still be yours at harvest time inspires idea of private property
- Sedentary lifestyle + concept of property allow accumulation of wealth
- Accumulation of wealth requires law enforcement to protect wealth
- Excess food allows specialization of labor
- Requirement for law enforcement + specialized labor leads to creation of warrior caste
- Powerful warrior caste + everyone else being farmers and losing the martial skills they enjoyed as hunters leads to warrior caste taking over.
- Need for large irrigation/flood control projects in many areas leads to very centralized government

And a lot of these late Neolithic/early Bronze Age cultures turned out the same way. If Ramesses II, Montezuma II, and Agamemmnon went to lunch together, they’d have a lot to talk about, despite being separated by continents and millennia. This suggests that the Generic Bronze Age Government – a god-king served by a bunch of warrior-nobles, plus massive militarism and slavery – probably just made sense given the circumstances.

I don’t want to sound too deterministic and spooky here, but I do think governments have a good way of kind of converging to a local optimum. Ramesses II may not have thought “You know, the Nile floods a lot, so I should institute a strong centralized government with lots of slavery”, but some people tried some things, other people tried other things, the things that worked won out, the things that didn’t passed into the dustbin of history, and we got Ancient Egypt. If God reached into history and tried to turn Ancient Egypt into modern day Sweden, it wouldn’t work any better than His attempt to remove Communism did a few paragraphs ago – within a few years they’d be back to worshipping Pharaohs and invading Canaanites

After the Neolithic, one of the most clear-cut examples of technology changing social structure was the fall of feudalism. Feudalism was based on a very simple calculation: one armored knight could defeat an arbitrary number of untrained peasants. To be an armored knight took your standard 10,000 hours of training; it wasn’t something you can do as a side job. So once again you have at least two castes – the warrior caste and the support-the-warriors caste; since the warrior caste is both smaller and stronger, you end up with an aristocratic system. If you want to govern large territories under an aristocratic system and you don’t have real-time communication, you come up with something like feudalism. And sure enough, we have pretty much the exact same social structure in medieval Europe and Sengoku Japan.

Then some new weapons were invented: pikes, longbows, crossbows, but especially firearms. Now you can get someone who hasn’t trained 10,000 hours, give them a few days of weapon training, hand them a gun or a crossbow or something, and they can kill an armored knight. Now the power doesn’t belong to the people with the best connections among the warrior nobility, it belongs to the people with enough money to hire soldiers and supply them with guns. It took a long time to realize this, especially since guns weren’t that good to begin with, but when people finally got it into their heads feudalism went caput.

The printing press was an even bigger deal. I don’t have my Big List O’ Unbelievable Printing Press Statistics handy here, but the Internet reminds me that there were 30,000 books – total! – in Europe before the invention of the printing press. Fifty years later, 300,000 copies just of Martin Luther’s religious tracts were printed in a single year alone. Among just the simpler and more direct effects:

- Protestant Reformation. Easy one. Lots of people had tried challenging the Catholic Church before, but not only could they not get their message out, but most people weren’t ready for it – only the richest of the rich could even own their own Bible. Basically as soon as the printing press was invented this took off.
- Newspapers. All of a sudden, people who aren’t the highest ranks of the nobility know what’s going on at court. Some people have opinions on this. Start of modern politics where the masses know what’s going on and might complain.
- The Renaissance. All these old Greek and Roman texts are spread. People realize that there are other ways to organize society beyond their own.
- Scientific Revolution. If a scientist discovers something, he can actually sent his work to other scientists in an efficient way, who can then build upon it. This was absolutely not the case for previous scientists, which is why not much happened during those periods.
- Rise of nationalism. Ability of common people to read books means more books printed in vernacular instead of Latin. This causes insular language-based communities which then feed upon themselves to become more delineated nation-states.

I was going to go into the same depth about the Industrial Revolution and the Sexual Revolution (by which I mean near-simultaneous discovery of birth control pills and antibiotics effective against syphilis), but this section is getting long, so if you promise to just agree they Changed Everything I’ll make life easier for both of us and move on.

Forget King James II, Try King Canute

So the biggest changes in history have been predetermined reactions to different technological conditions. This should worry Reactionaries for several reasons.

First, I previously claimed that if Communism disappeared it would be immediately reinvented. If Ancient Egypt had randomly switched to modern Sweden, the realities of life in the Nile flood plain and of Bronze Age technology would have caused it to switch back without even breaking its stride.

I think my claim here is that cultures and ideologies have a sort of homeostatic regulatory mechanism that fits them to their conditions. This is why all Bronze Age cultures converged upon divine monarchies, and all medieval empires converged upon feudalism, and proooobably why all modern cultures converge upon liberal democracy.

Countries that avoid liberal democracy usually regret it. China would be a good example. They tried being really Communist for a while and ended up becoming an economic basketcase. If they wanted to compete on the international stage they realized they needed a stronger economy, and so liberalized their market. A competitive market requires information access, so the Chinese got access to lots of foreign media; I recently learned that any business that wants to pay for it can even legally avoid the Great Firewall. The Internet meant the Chinese could coordinate protests on microblogging platforms, leading to a bunch of riots, leading to an attempt to liberalize the system and crack down on corruption which is still going on. I’m not going to claim that China is definitely going to end up as a democracy, but I think whatever it does end up as is going to be a whole lot more like 2013 USA than like 1963 China.

China didn’t plan to approach the Western model of government. It was just what happened to them automatically when they wanted their country to stop being a hellhole. The same is happening now in Burma, somewhat more slowly in Cuba, and in other places around the world. Even the countries skipping the “democracy” part have been aping the Industrial Revolution, womens’ rights, and so on.

This is probably because many features of liberal democracy are adaptations to our current technological climate. For example, women’s lib seems like an adaptation both to the Sexual Revolution and to the demographic transition where people are no longer having like twenty children all the time. Representative government seems like an adaptation to mass media that allows everyone to be aware of, and usually upset about, what the country’s leadership is doing.

If you like these things, you can call it cultural evolution and assume we’re approaching some great goal of perfection. If you don’t like them, you can call them patches, such that once the demographic transition screws up traditional gender roles, we need women’s lib as a patch to contain the damage. Either way, you better not take off that patch.

So this is my first beef with Reactionaries. They see someone identifying as Progressive saying something – Gloria Steinem pushing for women’s rights or something – and they say “Oh no, that awful Progressive Gloria Steinem is screwing up our traditional gender roles. If only she would be quiet, everything would go back to normal!”

Gloria Steinem is a puppet. If she’s part of some movement, even a large saecular movement calling itself Progressivism, they, too, are puppets. It is stupid to get upset at puppets. If you rip them up, the puppeteer will get new ones.

If you don’t like women’s lib, your enemy isn’t Gloria Steinem. Your enemy is the Vast Formless Thing controlling Gloria Steinem. In this case, that would be the demographic transition.

You might be able to beat Gloria Steinem in a fight, but you can’t beat the demographic transition. Or if you can, it’s going to be through something a lot more complicated than going on a soapbox and condemning it, more complicated even than becoming Czar and trying to pass laws to reverse it.

King Canute tried to order back the tide. It was a dumb idea, but in his defense, it was basically just a religious spectacle so he could wax poetic about the power of God. What’s your excuse?

Amid These Dark Satanic Mills

In the comments to the Enormous Planet-Sized Nutshell post, some people did a good – though not unassailable – job of picking apart some common Reactionary arguments for superior outcomes among past cultures. The crime data may be an artifact, and more believable homicide data suggests the modern era is safer. Modern students may learn different things than are tested on that Harvard exam which are equally valuable.

Whatever. Let’s assume the Reactionaries are totally right. Past was a thousand times better than the present in every way. So what?

The past contained things like “everyone living in close-knit mono-ethnic villages”. We could, perhaps, with great effort and not a little atrocity, restore the “mono-ethnic”. But the close-knit? The villages? Unless we’re going to roll back the Industrial Revolution, the main ingredient of that particular transition, the move to urbanization, is there to stay.

Any statistic in which the present differs from the past is much more likely to be a result of technology than of politics. Reactionaries correctly use this to excuse themselves of advantages like the present’s better health care or greater wealth.

But they have to acknowledge that the same manuever relieves the other side of a lot of their burdens as well. Progressives also have some uncomfortable statistics, usually those relating to social cohesion and trust and happiness. And I am totally willing to throw every one of these out. Of course the move to an urban society is going to do that! Of course having people work factory or office jobs instead of either on the land or in an skilled trade like blacksmithing is going to alienate them. Of course having the average person watch TV four hours a day because it’s a novel superstimulus is going to affect community ties!

I suspect that the most valuable features of past societies – the ones that we read fantasy books to recapture, the ones that make Renaissance Faires and Medieval Times so attractive – have nothing to do with politics and cannot be restored through politics. In order to regain them, you’re going to have to roll back the Industrial Revolution. Needless to say, that makes fighting against the demographic transition look easy.

Perfectly Prepared For A Situation That No Longer Exists

The third and last and most important point I want to bring up involves well-adaptedness.

I often hear Reactionaries make an argument like: the old ways are the result of thousands of years of trial-and-error. Those thousands of years created a remarkably stable culture that survived for centuries. When Progressives throw them out, they are abandoning something we know works for some sort of grand experiment that might end in complete failure.

And I wonder: have these people ever updated a computer program before?

I mean, take Windows 3.11. We know all about Windows 3.11. People had a long time to test it, discover its bugs, find its security holes. Windows 8, on the other hand, is totally new. Goodness only knows what sort of unpleasant surprises are lurking there.

But imagine I decided to uninstall Windows 8 from my computer and replace it with Windows 3.11. Most of my programs aren’t written for Windows 3.11 and they wouldn’t work. Windows 3.11 probably has no idea what to do with Wi-Fi. It probably can’t handle the dual cores of my laptop. Most likely it would ask me to insert floppy disks during the installation and my computer doesn’t have a floppy disk drive.

Even if Windows 3.11, with 1992 programs, on a 1992 machine, is more stable than Windows 8, with 2013 programs, on a 2013 machine – even so, Windows 3.11 with 2013 programs on a 2013 machine would be a total disaster.

I tend to agree with Reactionaries that cultures have a mechanism that gradually adapts them to their conditions. This may not be morally good – if the conditions are “cotton is very lucrative” then the “evolutionarily advantageous” adaptation for a society may be to institute slavery – but they are at least effective and stable.

But a 1600s culture with 2013 technology would be like Windows 3.11 on a 2013 computer: a complete mismatch and a complete disaster. No matter how well Bourbon France was adapted to the 1600s, it would have no idea what to do with 2013. If it tried, it would probably end up converging towards the same 2013-technology equilibrium – liberal democracy – as everyone else in 2013. Maybe Louis XIV could stick around as a figurehead or something.

The Reactionaries are correct that we live in a scary time, a time when changes in technology are way outpacing our ability to have any idea how to cope as a society. Maybe if you froze technology at 2013 levels for a hundred years, we would get a pretty good idea what to do with it and would build a culture as well-adapted to our technology level as the Bourbon French were to theirs.

But, uh, getting rid of our culture and replacing it with Bourbon France doesn’t shortcut that process. We have a four hundred year head start over Bourbon France in adapting to our conditions. If we suddenly became Louis XIV, we’d just be even further behind the adaptation curve, having to reach liberal democracy first before we could get to wherever we’re going.

I don’t think Bourbon France was more successful, as a society, than our society is. But if you convinced me otherwise, it wouldn’t make a shred of difference. Bourbon France + modern tech levels is a society that has never existed and which, I suspect, would be about as successful as Windows 3.11 trying to run Minecraft.

But Seriously, Why Did This Gaping Crack In The Earth Just Open Up? And Why Are You Yelling At The Kid With A Plastic Shovel Next To It?

Our goal was to show that, even granting Reactionaries all their assumptions about the superiority of past civilizations, trying to restore them is impossible.

We noted that the driving force of large-scale historical change was technological progress. That societies underwent cultural evolution into forms that were most adapted to the technological conditions of their age. That this evolution was convergent, and even unconnected civilizations like Ramesses’ Egypt and Montezuma’s Aztecs could come to resemble each other when they faced similar material problems.

Then we noted that what looks like political progress from the outside is just humans reacting to the shifting landscape of incentives. Although feminism appears as a movement spearheaded by particular feminists who got it into their head thats feminism was a good idea and so decided to push it, a causally useful etiology of feminism would trace the technological conditions that predestined it to arise and succeed.

We accused Reactionaries of condemning or excusing such movements as if they were contingent human creations, and of acting like pushing a few humans or institutions out of the way here or there would change them. Instead, we concluded that they were vast tides in the affairs of (wo)men, and that any attempt to order them around was hubris worthy of King Canute.

Then we accused Reactionaries of a bit of a double-standard, excusing traditional societies’ lesser wealth and health by placing the blame on technological progress, but being unwilling to let Progressives do the same in areas where technological progress has inevitably made us worse off, such as the production of feelings of social alienation.

Finally, we accused Reactionaries of arguing that past societies were well-adapted, without specifying well-adapted to what. We hypothesized that if forced to finish this statement, it would end up with “well-adapted to the technologies and conditions of the centuries they flourished”. The very fact that they stopped flourishing and were replaced by our society suggest they are less well-adapted to conditions today. Or, as G.K. Chesterton puts it in a different context:

There is one broad fact about the relations of Christianity and Paganism which is so simple that many will smile at it, but which is so important that all moderns forget it. The primary fact about Christianity and Paganism is that one came after the other. Mr. Lowes Dickinson speaks of them as if they were parallel ideals–even speaks as if Paganism were the newer of the two, and the more fitted for a new age. He suggests that the Pagan ideal will be the ultimate good of man; but if that is so, we must at least ask with more curiosity than he allows for, why it was that man actually found his ultimate good on earth under the stars, and threw it away again.

I do not think these problems completely disprove Reaction. They merely wall off several potential lines of argument in its support: the argument that ancient cultures empirically achieved better outcomes than our own, and the argument that they were more stable and better adapted.

To save Reaction, you would have to try one of the following paths.

First, you could claim that there’s no such thing as cultural evolution, that cultures don’t gradually become more adapted to their conditions via time. This seems plausible, but then the Reactionaries lose their own strongest argument; that older cultures were better adapted. Nevertheless, this is where I think a lot of the remaining probability of Reaction being true would be, and many of the arguments in my pro-Reaction post before continue to stand in this case.

Second, you could agree that cultures evolve, but that for some reason the cultural evolution mechanism has gone berserk over the past few hundred years. To make this stick, you’d have to give some reason this would happen. Then you’d have to prove that it was so berserk that the best we could do is reboot from a saved copy from before its breakdown, even knowing that this will be completely unsuited for modern life.

Third, you could posit that for some reason cultural evolution previously drove us in a Progressive direction, but now it is driving us back in a Reactionary direction, and that you are a legitimate priest of the Vast Formless Things just making their new and revised will known unto man. To make this work, you’d have to figure out exactly when and why the Vast Formless Things changed their minds.

For most of the rest of this sequence I’ll be concentrating on option 1, unless a horde of Reactionaries appear in the comments and tell me they have totally considered this problem before and 2 or 3 is the more commonly accepted view. In option 1, by sort of a coincidence past societies happened to be better than ours, and for coincidental reasons ours went off track. The onus then would be to determine which of our society’s policies are or aren’t bad, and what was the last stable copy of them to reboot from.

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174 Responses to We Wrestle Not With Flesh And Blood, But Against Powers And Principalities

  1. Misha says:

    Evolution can make a culture very fit to survive and grow population without being great for human welfare or a stable system. Wolves would starve less if they controlled their breeding and hunting, but predator prey dynamics are instead full of population boom an busts. I think it’s possible that democratic populist government optimizes better for a repugnant conclusion world of highly reproductive slum dwellers, than a different kind of government.

    I think worshipping the past is silly but I also think the kind of government that thrives in a given era may not be the best kind to live in.

    You also seem to do a lot of ignoring of Greece, the roman republic, and Chinese bureaucracy when you divide up history into a few eras of forced governments.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m not claiming a “well-adapted” government is good to live in – I mentioned that if you have a lot of cotton a “well-adapted” government may involve slavery. I’m claiming a “well-adapted” government is the kind of government you will eventually get. Is-ought dichotomy.

      Deviating from a well-adapted government type seems likely to just return you to the well-adapted type after a period of instability and transition, or else allow other countries that are better-adapted to out-compete you. Some countries like Bhutan might not mind being outcompeted, but if you want to interact with the global economy, let alone get involved in wars, it’s usually a bad idea to let that happen.

      I think the only countries that can just decide not to care about their adaptedness are ones that can both avoid being outcompeted by occupying the entire globe (or being extremely isolationist a la pre-China Tibet) and avoid shifting back by having a very competent absolute dictator who nips all attempts to move towards the adapted state in the bud. Reactionaries may think they can manage this, but I disagree and will explain why later.

      I don’t find Rome, and China to be too far out of the mainstream. Chinese imperial bureaucracy was just an especially competent local variant on the feudal system for most of its history. Rome was unusually advanced, but that was because it had a semi-modern level of economic development despite being in the low-technology classical world. I admit Greece is a weird data point.

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      • Misha says:

        One might argue that the problem is that the selective pressure for governments and government officials has diverged from what is good for nations and the people in them. ie, in america it’s impossible for monarchists to outcompete democrats but a Monarchist america would outcompete a democratic one.

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        • peterdjones says:

          Monarchs do what is good for monarchs, which is mostly hanging on to their heads, when they are surrouded by pretenders, assassins and revolutionaries. Every now and then, they have some energy left over to improve their nations.

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      • Damien says:

        “Chinese imperial bureaucracy was just an especially competent local variant on the feudal system for most of its history”

        feudal: hereditary land ownership by a military caste
        imperial bureaucracy: non-hereditary land administration by an academic non-caste (open, though likely to propagate its advantages)

        I don’t see how you can consider it a variant on the feudal system *at all*. China had feudal aspects and periods but I think you’d do better to acknowledge the differences and consider why; maybe you’re wrong, or maybe there’s material differences pushing to a different culture. Rice or lack of a big role for horses or empires actually being the stable state and the European question is why the feudal transition lasted so long there, vs. Eastern 80-year “warring states” periods before a new unification.

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      • Brian Delwiche says:

        “Chinese imperial bureaucracy was just an especially competent local variant on the feudal system for most of its history.”

        My understanding is nearly the opposite of this. Western-style feudal government is defined in many ways by its weakness: Imperial Rome had good enough infrastructure to maintain a centralized military, but after the imperial bureaucracy fell apart, military power necessarily decentralized. This in turn led to a highly nodal military aristocracy that organized itself through fealty relations supported by obligate exchanges of service. This was actually not that stable a form of government: confused claims to land and authority were probably more the norm than the exception, leading to all sorts of problems. Yet the structural problems that led to this decentralization took quite a long time to go away — the Black Death shook things up quite a bit, but I’d say the printing press is what finally nailed its proverbial coffin shut.

        Analogous transitions didn’t happen in China; centralized government was the norm there from a fairly early era, broken up by relatively brief periods of warlordism or by conquest by neighboring powers. (Japan, on the other hand, did develop a close analogue of European feudalism and kept it for a long while.) I’m not historian enough to point to exact reasons, but I’d speculate that the concentration of literacy in the European clerical class probably had something to do with it.

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  2. Vladimir Slepnev says:

    So Mugabe taking over Zimbabwe was an inevitable avatar of technological progress?

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    • Anonymous says:

      As a reaction to colonialism, which is a much more obvious political change inevitably occurring due to technological progress I find that likely.

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      • Athrelon says:

        Was decolonization caused by technological change? It seems largely politically motivated, and not due to obviously contingent events. I suppose you could go back to “poor people gain political clout and decide to extend their circle of sympathy to colonized populations that they’d previously been okay with owning” but that pushes the question back to the level of memetics and seems to require multiple conjunctions.

        “Mass media makes the ‘near’ downsides of colonialism more salient” seems like the most narratively-convincing thing to grab onto if we want to protect the technological hypothesis. But recall that print media had been around for a long time and was perfectly good at stirring up trouble if people were receptive.

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        • Oligopsony says:

          The Kalashnikov is pretty important, I think.

          Important social or conjunctural factors surely include European-educated elites who got infected by nationalism, available models of the developmental state (which can be considered technological), the interests of the Soviet Union and to lesser extent United States as revisionist powers, and the Pax Americana allowing for reduced intra-imperial competition. These seem more structural than contingent, though of course that’s arguable.

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        • im says:

          I think that some of it was the transfer of both tech, social structures, and War of Wrath memes into the countries over time.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t think a single tin pot dictator in a single country has to be the avatar of technological progress. I do think he was an avatar of something, though, as in a lot of racial anger and poor social institutions. If God reached back in time and removed Mugabe, I bet another Mugabe-like character would have taken over in a somewhat similar way, although of course there will be lots of variance in *exactly* what policies they pursue. I think it’s only way at the far end of the distribution that you get, say, Zimbabwe forming an Islamic theocracy or Scandinavian style first world welfare state.

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  3. Multiheaded says:

    Oh wow, you used that St. Paul quote in the title – have you read that anti-reactionary/pro-universalism screed by Zizek, or was it just coincidence?

    “The only church that illuminates is a burning church” – I remember linking to it on LW before.
    -
    I think that the “generic” model of technological determinism doesn’t focus enough on military determinism, btw – the socioeconomic effects around various “modes of destruction” can be argued to be as important as those around modes of production.
    You mentioned warrior castes being a self-perpetuating dynamic wherein society adjusts to the military supremacy of small elite groups with lifelong training and the best equipment available – this is also invoked by the social dominance theory. One would expect that military technology would affect the power dynamics between large groups, like social classes and ethnicities, the most (from the Spartan warriors vs. Helots to first world militaries vs. Kalashnikov-armed guerrillas), and micro-level ones (like gender and family) the least – those would be mostly determined by economic factors. How much “pure” memetics might figure in the latter is also debatable, but reactionaries certainly overstate the latter’s role.
    -
    See also Orwell’s related observations, or the nationalist and egalitarian Hussites introducing mass firearm tactics to consistently destroy feudal armies, or the Levée en masse saving the French First Republic against odds which seemed overwhelming at the time.

    “From this moment until such time as its enemies shall have been driven from the soil of the Republic, all Frenchmen are in permanent requisition for the services of the armies. The young men shall fight; the married men shall forge arms and transport provisions; the women shall make tents and clothes and shall serve in the hospitals; the children shall turn old lint into linen; the old men shall betake themselves to the public squares in order to arouse the courage of the warriors and preach hatred of kings and the unity of the Republic.”

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  4. Romeo Stevens says:

    So why are Mormon’s competitive?

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  5. Romeo Stevens says:

    Oh and BTW this series of posts is the best failure-to-be-mind-killed-by-politics I have ever seen.

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  6. Avantika says:

    For example, women’s lib seems like an adaptation both to the Sexual Revolution and to the demographic transition where people are no longer having like twenty children all the time

    You don’t think ‘not having like twenty children’ might be a result of women’s lib? I think I’ve also read an argument that it’s a result of increased cost of childcare, though I don’t know what might have caused that.

    btw I liked the concept of ‘sexual revolution’, not a term I’d heard before.

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    • “Increased cost of childcare causes people to have more kids” sounds crazy. What caused the increased cost of child care? More likely, having fewer children meant people started investing more in each child.

      That, or technological improvements made it possible to spend a lot of money making sure a child reached adulthood, and people both reduced their number of children and spent more per child in response to that.

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      • Kaj Sotala says:

        A common argument is that children aren’t as economically profitable in modern societies than they used to be. In the old days, having a child meant that you would eventually get an unpaid laborer to help you work your farm, or whatever your occupation was. Today it’s much harder for an untrained kid to be useful and even trained adults often have difficulties getting a job, so the most likely scenario is that your kid will need your financial support well into her or his twenties. Children turning from a net source of income to a net drain on it would certainly explain why people began having fewer of them.

        But let’s not engage in amateur speculation when we can turn to science! Or at least Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_transition#Stage_Three:

        Stage Three moves the population towards stability through a decline in the birth rate.[10] Several factors contribute to this eventual decline, although some of them remain speculative:

        * In rural areas continued decline in childhood death means that at some point parents realize they need not require so many children to be born to ensure a comfortable old age. As childhood death continues to fall and incomes increase parents can become increasingly confident that fewer children will suffice to help in family business and care for them in old age.
        * Increasing urbanization changes the traditional values placed upon fertility and the value of children in rural society. Urban living also raises the cost of dependent children to a family. A recent theory suggests that urbanization also contributes to reducing the birth rate because it disrupts optimal mating patterns. A 2008 study in Iceland found that the most fecund marriages are between distant cousins. Genetic incompatibilities inherent in more distant outbreeding makes reproduction harder.[11]
        * In both rural and urban areas, the cost of children to parents is exacerbated by the introduction of compulsory education acts and the increased need to educate children so they can take up a respected position in society. Children are increasingly prohibited under law from working outside the household and make an increasingly limited contribution to the household, as school children are increasingly exempted from the expectation of making a significant contribution to domestic work. Even in equatorial Africa, children now need to be clothed, and may even require school uniforms. Parents begin to consider it a duty to buy children books and toys. Partly due to education and access to family planning, people begin to reassess their need for children and their ability to raise them.[7]
        * Increasing female literacy and employment lowers the uncritical acceptance of childbearing and motherhood as measures of the status of women. Working women have less time to raise children; this is particularly an issue where fathers traditionally make little or no contribution to child-raising, such as southern Europe or Japan. Valuation of women beyond childbearing and motherhood becomes important.
        * Improvements in contraceptive technology are now a major factor. Fertility decline is caused as much by changes in values about children and sex as by the availability of contraceptives and knowledge of how to use them.

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    • Doug S. says:

      btw I liked the concept of ‘sexual revolution’, not a term I’d heard before.

      That’s surprising, it’s a fairly well-known one.

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  7. This is all very interesting, and making me wonder if I should take Robin Hanson’s view that the post-em revolution future is likely to be organized along lines that most of us today would regard as bizarre if not morally repugnant. (Or maybe not Hanson’s exact scenario, but something like it.)

    That said, I suspect historians and other scholars who’ve studied these issues carefully would find a lot to complain about here, from major to nitpicky. Vague memories of the one history of technology course I took in undergrad tell me that a lot of historians of technology have railed against, “technological determinism,” though I don’t know how good of a case they have. On the more nitpicky side, what I remember reading from Richard Carrier (here and here, for example) tell me that medieval technology kinda sucked compared to Roman technology in a lot of ways, and if the Romans had only found some way to solve their political problems, that whole era could have turned out a lot differently.

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  8. David says:

    The italian city states were hardly feudal. And if communism inevitably arises whenever you have rich people and poor people, why did it wait till the 19th century?

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    • Damien says:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diggers

      Marxism is 19th century. Ideas of communism and land reform and sharing the wealth aren’t. Early Christians were communist. Greeks and Romans had agitators and land reformers and debt abolishers.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think the Industrial Revolution caused a change in the category “poor people” from a combination of rural farmers and unemployed unwashed masses in the cities to very large numbers of disenchanted urban factory workers who felt like their hard work deserved more than it was getting. I agree that just “rich people next to poor people” is a simplification of these conditions.

      I would also add that the existence of printing press, high literacy levels, and a strong international economy made it possible for these ideas to spread in a way they couldn’t have done earlier.

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      • im says:

        Plus democratized weaponry to fight, including stuff that made guerillas work better. Plus highly structured economy that could come crashing down (either deliberately, or due to revolutions).

        IMO the increasing redundancy, etc of modern economy may be one factor in why modern revolutionaries seem both so pathetic and so unlikely to succeed. (Revolution unpopular due to richer working class likely another.)

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  9. Fnord says:

    There certainly are technological changes that more-or-less inevitably precipitate changes in society. Once agriculture has been invented, agricultural civilizations are probably going to outcompete hunter-gatherer bands. Once you have the industrial revolution, you’re probably going to have production organized around factories rather than cottages, with the changes in population distribution that implies.

    Nevertheless, it seems like you’re perhaps being a bit too deterministic.

    Feudalism was based on a very simple calculation: one armored knight could defeat an arbitrary number of untrained peasants. To be an armored knight took your standard 10,000 hours of training; it wasn’t something you can do as a side job. So once again you have at least two castes – the warrior caste and the support-the-warriors caste; since the warrior caste is both smaller and stronger, you end up with an aristocratic system. If you want to govern large territories under an aristocratic system and you don’t have real-time communication, you come up with something like feudalism. And sure enough, we have pretty much the exact same social structure in medieval Europe and Sengoku Japan.

    The Sengoku period is generally taken to begin in the mid-15th century, or so. Which is not much before pike and shot formations of Landsknecte and tercio start displacing knights in Europe. And Swiss pikemen (which were just pike, no newly invented guns, and it doesn’t seem like pikes required major technological advancement compared to Macedonian sarissas) had been winning battles for upwards of a century before that.

    OK, so history is complicated. But if there are EVER technological changes that drive social shifts, the industrial revolution, as you say, is almost certainly one of them (the only clearer case is the invention of agriculture). So James II and Louis XIV are gone for good.

    But what about Wilhelm II? The Meiji Emperor? Both the German and Japanese Empires are post-industrial revolution. In fact, under that Meiji Emperor, Japan manages the considerable and unique accomplishment of fast-forwarding a local industrial revolution and dealing with the European states on equal footing. And they weren’t ended by internal revolution or reform, but by losing external wars.

    I suppose, in some sense, losing wars shows they were less capable societies (although we’re now in the bizarre position of claiming leftist values win wars). But it seems it would behoove us to make at least some examination of why World War I and World War II came out the way they did.

    First, World War I. Take a look at the map of combatants of World War I. The Central Powers are in orange, the Allies in green, and neutrals in gray. Notice anything? Like perhaps WWI was a fight between a handful of countries and more or less the entire rest of the world? Right, most of that were colonies of the Allies. But colonialism is, generally speaking, considered a rightist value. Is it possible that Germany lost not because of the interaction of politics and technology, but because of geography? Being (like the other appropriately named Central Powers) in the center of Europe and hence poorly positioned to acquire and overseas colonial empire.

    Second, World War II. The trump card here is the atomic bomb, of course. Now, the vast formless things will more or less determine it’s development. But do they determine precisely where and when it’s developed? The “what if Hitler got the atomic bomb first?” question has been bandied about a few places. Setting that aside, what if it had come, even by same people, a bit earlier? As things actually happened, it didn’t take long for the Soviets to get their own bombs and set off the Cold War. What if everything had happened a decade earlier and WWII was prevented by MAD?

    Even leaving that aside, was it inevitable that Japan would end up on the wrong side of WWII? The Soviet-Japanese Neutrality pact held until WWII was effectively already over (despite the alliance between Japan and Germany originating in the Anti-Comintern pact). Might Japan have managed avoid war with the United States too (or perhaps instead), if events had turned out even a little differently?

    At that, what about Abdul Aziz al Saud, whose sons still rule Saudi Arabia? I believe an actual rightist brought up the hereditary princes of Liechtenstein in the comments of one of the previous posts. Not great powers, but there are states in the modern world ruled by hereditary monarchies.

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    • Kaj Sotala says:

      Good points.

      Also, while Singapore is a republic, I get the impression that it’s considerably more conservative than what “liberal democracy” implies – Wikipedia notes that “The People’s Action Party has won every election since self-government in 1959, and governs on the basis of a strong state and prioritising collective welfare over individual rights such as freedom of speech.

      But that doesn’t seem to have harmed the country much: WP also says that Singapore is the world’s fourth leading financial centre, and its port is one of the five busiest ports in the world.

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    • suntzuanime says:

      What’s so weird about saying leftist values win wars? Empirically, they do. You could argue that they lost the Cold War, but that wasn’t a real war. Leftism won a lot of the minor brush wars that went on in the shadow of the Cold War. (see e.g. Vietnam)

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      • suntzuanime says:

        I guess if you go back as far as the Napoleonic Wars you can get an example of the leftists losing out to the rightists in a major conflict. I feel like France did pretty well for itself even there, but then so did Nazi Germany, so fair’s fair. Even leftists can lose wars.

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        • Oligopsony says:

          The Napoleonic Campaigns are a clear example of losing the battle but winning the war, with the Code Napoleon having a lasting influence and competitors responding to the new environment by adopting liberal revolutionary nationalism themselves. And Napoleon lost the left front, in Haiti, as well (though admittedly that loss was hardly complete either.

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      • Fnord says:

        Well, perhaps in fact true that leftist societies are good at winning wars. But that’s an argument that seems surprising, at least coming from Scott’s previous posts on this subject. See, eg, “[t]here’s a reason all modern militaries work on a hierarchical system that tries to maximize group coherence” from the Survive/Thrive post. And “The rightists will ask: ‘So you mean that rightism is optimized for survival and effectiveness, and leftism is optimized for hedonism and signaling games?’ And I will mostly endorse this conclusion.”

        And it doesn’t seem like this position is unique among left-leaning people.

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    • Damien says:

      The world’s surviving absolute monarchies are mostly oil states, which suggests a connection. And even they’re creaking under democratic pressures.

      Liechtenstein is a constitutional monarchy albeit one with surviving monarchic power. It’s also tiny — 36,000 people — and is a ‘finance state’, suggesting a mix of deviation (evolutionary pressures are not instant or absolute) and different conditions, again.

      Tangent: “On 1 July 1984, Liechtenstein became the last country in Europe to grant women the right to vote. The referendum on women’s suffrage, in which only men were allowed to participate, passed with 51.3% in favor.[20]” Hasn’t known that.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m confused what you’re arguing against. Not all areas will have the same tech level at the same time. Japan kept feudalism after Europe didn’t because the feudalism-busting technologies reached Japan after they reached Europe (and Tokugawa’s isolationism was one of the most stunning and deliberate attempts to subvert this idea, and only worked because he was on an island which he controlled completely).

      Likewise, why is it surprising that pikemen were winning battles in the 1300s? Not only was feudalism already on the wane by then, but pikemen weren’t actually that useful if the knights were well supported; they’re kind of a one-trick pony.

      I was under the impression that the colonies didn’t have large importance in WWI except insofar as they contributed to Europe (eg ANZACs in Gallipoli). However, I agree that not everything that happens happens directly because of technology, certainly not on the resolution of individual winners in individual wars.

      You seem to be taking this as much more deterministic than intended. Technology determines extremely large things, like whether America gets colonized or not. Technology doesn’t determine the results of the 2012 election for the junior senate seat in New Hampshire.

      I would model this as a distribution. Technology may determine the center of the distribution at any one time, but certainly different countries may fall a few standard deviations to either side.

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      • Michael V says:

        Huh? Japan had better guns than Europe in the early 1600s. They intentionally gave them up, more or less.

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      • Fnord says:

        So your claim is that Imperial Japan and Imperial Germany were on their way to either reform for economic basketcasedom had they not lost their wars?

        Pikes worked well enough on their own (well, “on there own” in this context means without guns, not totally unsupported by other types of troops) for the Swiss Confederacy to hold onto to its territory, and even occasionally expand by conquest. They were, in fact, plenty useful against infantry, too; in fact, in the battle of Sempach, one of the most decisive early battles for the Swiss confederacy, their opponents fought dismounted. I’m not saying pikemen were invincible (though if you Sempach and some other battles like it), just that an army based around cavalry was not the only way to organize things.

        And if feudalism was on the way out by the time of the Swiss Pikemen, what technological changes were killing it? Not guns; the early Swiss Pikemen didn’t use them (and, in fact, the reluctance of the Swiss to adopt guns lead to them falling behind the Landsknecte and the Spanish). Pikes themselves? What differentiated the long spears of earlier eras, particularly, like I said, the Macedonian sarissa? Crossbows weren’t new either; they were used at the Battle of Hastings. Some other weapons, like halberds, weren’t widely used before that, but I’m not really seeing any reason they were beyond their capabilities.

        You might make a second order case, that the Swiss Confederacy was empowered by economic changes so that it became capable of fielding well-drilled common soldiers instead of untrained peasants. But it really doesn’t seem like this is explainable as military technology dictating military tactics.

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  10. randallsquared says:

    First, I think that one response to the Windows 3.11 analogy is that human nature is not changing, or not changing fast enough that a whole new operating system is needed. Of course, even if this is true, it’s going to be false within a generation, so I suppose it doesn’t matter for the future.

    Have you given much thought to what political and social systems we’ll see after liberal democracy? Presumably the change will happen faster than the previous transition…

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  11. Oligopsony says:

    <Yesssss, your rejection of the false Dark Side leads you towards the real one, don’t stop now…

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  12. Oligopsony says:

    More seriously though, I’m not sure this is a new insight from the Reactionary perspective – they claim to be the true priests of the vast formless things (or in their dark tongue the “gods of the copybook headings”) and that modernity is just a bubble. Of course to do this they have to place one foot on earth and the other in heaven, which is rather unstable footing.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      The whole point of the Gods of the Copybook Headings seems to be that their commandments remain the same throughout every age, which seems to be what I’m arguing against.

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  13. Deiseach says:

    “Now you can get someone who hasn’t trained 10,000 hours, give them a few days of weapon training, hand them a gun or a crossbow or something, and they can kill an armored knight.”

    I sincerely advise that before you hand anyone a crossbow, you invest a least a few hours in training them how to use it. And once you have your minimally-trained crossbowmen, you then need to invest a few more hours of square-bashing to get them to move as a co-ordinated unit, follow simple orders, and not shoot each other in the face. You may not need 10,000 hours of training, but you need (even in modern day armies) a minimum of six weeks’ training to turn your herdsmen, ploughboys and fisher lads into something resembling soldiers.

    Also, pikes against cavalry stops being effective when the knights dump the armour and start using guns themselves.

    “only the richest of the rich could even own their own Bible”

    I recommend to you Eamonn Duffy’s Marking the Hours to see why this is a bit more complicated than just “Translate the Bible into English/German/Polynesian, print up x thousand copies, and away you go!”

    Sure, only the very rich had things like the Très Riches Heures , but the aspiring middle classes could have their own personal missals, and even a peasant could afford tuppence for a holy picture or pilgrimage medal. Owning your own personal copy of the Bible only became important when (a) the Bible was the basis of all religious education, displacing the liturgy of the Mass and the cultus of the saints and (b) literacy had become widespread enough that you had ordinary people who could read one of the newly-printed Bibles.

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    • Fnord says:

      I sincerely advise that before you hand anyone a crossbow, you invest a least a few hours in training them how to use it. And once you have your minimally-trained crossbowmen, you then need to invest a few more hours of square-bashing to get them to move as a co-ordinated unit, follow simple orders, and not shoot each other in the face. You may not need 10,000 hours of training, but you need (even in modern day armies) a minimum of six weeks’ training to turn your herdsmen, ploughboys and fisher lads into something resembling soldiers.

      A few days training is, perhaps, rather generous. But six weeks training (or for that matter, six months training) is world away from “raised for it from childhood”. Only one of those is something you can give to conscripts. Not that this is necessarily limited to warrior aristocracies; if anything, it takes more even more to make a longbowman (which requires such a degree of training that it makes permanent, identifiable changes to their skeletons).

      Also, pikes against cavalry stops being effective when the knights dump the armour and start using guns themselves.

      Sure, they can do that. The entire point is that it’s easy to do. The problem isn’t that knights couldn’t do it, it’s that knights were no longer the only ones who could do it.

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      • Deiseach says:

        And my point was that it wasn’t just any yokel who got his hands on a blunderbuss that suddenly made the switch from armoured knights on horseback (heck, cavalry lasted up until the First World War and the last pathetically glorious hurrah was when a Polish cavalry brigade was cut to pieces by German tanks).

        Yes, it levelled the playing field in that you no longer needed the same amount of training, but you did need some training, and you needed to be trained in how to work as a unit. The notion of American farmers and woodsmen just grabbing their hunting rifles and taking out the Redcoats is a lovely one, but they had to be organised into militias to be effective (see the example of flying columns during the Irish War of Independence) and I rather believe you had a standing army – the Continental Army, was it not?

        In other words, guns made it easier and cheaper to turn common men into soldiers, but they were soldiers, not civilians.

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  14. Sarah says:

    Some rough thoughts:

    I’m getting a weird feeling from your posts on Reaction that your impression of the reactionaries is different than mine.

    I don’t think they’re really proposing policy changes. The most Moldbug does is sort of grit his teeth and warn of apocalypse.

    Also, I think you’re so deep in a WEIRD/humanist framework that you forget not everybody is. For example, to some points of view, mass death or increased poverty would be worth it if people were more honorable or if it glorified God or something. Mostly what I see from reactionaries is the claim that the past had worse living conditions but better people — better educated, braver, more disciplined, etc.

    “History is about inevitable forward-moving processes” immediately gets tagged in my head as “I should read Marx sometime and find out if this is something.” Since my queue is long, maybe *you* should liveblog Marx?

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    • Multiheaded says:

      “History is about inevitable forward-moving processes” immediately gets tagged in my head as “I should read Marx sometime and find out if this is something.” Since my queue is long, maybe *you* should liveblog Marx?

      See Oligopsony here and in his previous posts. Damn, it’s about time we got a bona fide marxist in the LW-sphere. (I’m not quite one.) For starters, you could read the Communist Manifesto – it’s engaging, written with clarity and has aged surprisingly well.
      Part I is mostly descriptive, the other three combine description and prescription (and – as I recall Gwern observing – much of the prescriptive 10-point program has been basically implemented by modern social democracy).

      The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
      -
      The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
      -
      The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.
      -
      The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world-literature.
      -
      The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i. e., to become bourgeois themselves. In a word, it creates a world after its own image.

      And so on and so on, for several remarkably prescient paragraphs. Yeah, Marx had some pretty big mistakes, but the long-term accuracy is pretty stunning for a 1848 work.

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      • Damien says:

        “much of the prescriptive 10-point program has been basically implemented by modern social democracy”

        Some parts yeah, to varying degrees: progressive taxation, (limited) inheritance taxes, public transportation and communication.

        OTOH dissolving the differences between town and countryside and “industrial armies of labor” sound more like Mao or the Khmer Rouge.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          I did say “much” and not “all”. And one might stretch it a bit to say that the “differences between town and countryside” have partly disappeared due to urban-style education, media, public infrastructure, etc (which were often spread through centralized policies, especially in the Third World) affecting patterns of life in the countryside.

          E.g. I’d guess that farmers used to have far more children than city dwellers because they’d need the extra labour more and expected child mortality was higher than in an urban environment – but now the difference must be less, especially in countries that have completed the demographic transition.

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        • Douglas Knight says:

          Child mortality has always been higher in urban environments.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          Ok, guess that might be so – I thought the benefits of urban infrastructure, etc would’ve mattered for it after the industrial revolution; the negative factors must be stronger then. (Citation?)
          Still, the general trend of growing homogenity furthered by deliberate state policies looks like A Thing. Public education, healthcare, amenities, etc…

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        • Damien says:

          Hmm, the US has certainly subsidized rural education, power, and roads.

          Conversely, most of the population moved into urban or suburban areas.

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        • Andrew G. says:

          Child mortality was higher in urban areas (than rural) during industrialization, but that trend has reversed (and was already reversing by 1900 in the USA, so it’s not just a recent thing).

          Currently, child mortality is higher in rural areas both in the USA and in the less-developed world.

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        • Douglas Knight says:

          “Always” was wrong. I’m pretty sure “through 1950″ is true and I document 1900. I thought it was true today because of studies of American health, but I suspect that they control for demographics.

          What “urban infrastructure” do you think would have improved health? Plumbing? There was a lot of work on public health in the late 19th century, but it was all catch up. The usual error is to think that urban proximity to doctors is good for health. Until medicine was invented c1930, doctors were negative.

          Here is some discussion of rural-urban differences in infant mortality in four European countries, mainly in 1800 and 1900. In both time periods urban is higher, but they are falling and converging in 1900. Today in rich countries the gap is small and probably dominated by demographics and not the effects of the environment.

          Google tells me that today in developing countries urban children are healthier than rural children. Google also sends me to people claiming that this is due to wealth differences between the populations.

          Here are some current numbers, but it includes very few very rich countries. In most non-rich European countries, rural mortality is higher than urban, dramatically so in Bulgaria and Romania, but there are a few exceptions, like Poland.

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    • Oligopsony says:

      The best place for a LW-type to start with Marx stuff is, despite its flaws, G.A. Cohen’s Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defense. For Marxian political economy, Capital Vol. 1 alongside Fine and Saad-Filho’s Karl Marx’s ‘Capital’. For history, Immanuel Wallerstein’s Modern World-System series. After that, anything this guy gives five stars to is a good bet.

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  15. Alyssa Vance says:

    I’m skeptical of the 30,000 books figure, given that we have a thousand copies of one particular book (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Legend) still surviving from that era eight centuries later.

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    • gwern says:

      You picked an example famous for its commonness, giving an estimate that it made up 1/30th of the claimed total corpus. What model of manuscript popularity are you working on that tells you that a single top book being 1/30th of the survivors from the pre-Gutenberg era refutes the 30k estimate?

      Consider for example, Wikipedia’s post-Gutenberg list of existing books http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books :

      > The Bible, the Qur’an, The Communist Manifesto and Quotations from Chairman Mao, are widely reported as the most-printed and most-distributed books in the world, with hundreds of millions of copies believed to be in existence of each of them.

      If we take the Little Red Book and assume just 100m copies and it’s equivalent to the Golden Legend in being a top seller of the distant era of the 20th century, that implies 30 * 100m total printed books or 30 billion. This doesn’t strike me as a terrible estimate, when you consider that even the largest national libraries like the Library of Congress or the British Library generally only carry into the hundreds of millions or low billions of items.

      And it’s also consistent with survival rates of famous books. Beowulf? 1 burned copy. Famed Roman historian Tacitus? “The first half of the Annals survived in a single copy of a manuscript from Corvey Abbey, and the second half from a single copy of a manuscript from Monte Cassino, and so it is remarkable that they survived at all.” Not complete, of course… Many survived only in a few copies.

      Split 30k across 1 or 2 copies of a famous work, random partial manuscripts, quotations in other materials, surviving texts outside Europe, copies unearthed in excavations since…

      No, I wouldn’t say that I’m perfectly confident in 30k. But I wouldn’t say it’s beyond reason even if we can point to a few extremely popular works with 1k survivors.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      It looks like you’re right and my previous source (Wikipedia) was wrong. http://vkc.library.uu.nl/vkc/seh/research/Lists/Research%20Desk/Attachments/14/Charting%20the%20%27Rise%20of%20the%20West%27.pdf suggests that there were hundreds of thousands of medieval manuscripts. My guess is 30000 is the number that survived to the present day.

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  16. suntzuanime says:

    *THANK* you. I’d been suspecting for a while that “controlling for tech our society is a shithole” was a dodge, but I couldn’t put it into words, certainly not this eloquently. It turns out it’s impossible to control for anything! I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.

    I really appreciate you taking the time to write this up and save my soul for good Liberal Progressivism.

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  17. roystgnr says:

    How is “technological conditions” defined in a world with very different levels of technology use? Does Country X just have to possess the requisite information to qualify as having a technology, or do they have to be actively using that technology?

    If the former is true, then nearly every country in the world is subject to the same technological conditions as the USA (modulo a few ITAR restrictions and expensive patents), yet we see orders of magnitude differences in social and economic outputs. So either social and economic conditions do not converge to deterministic outputs of technological conditions, or they converge so slowly that technological conditions are likely to change before any kind of equilibrium is ever approached.

    If the latter is true, then technological conditions must not be nearly as inexorable as your discussion of the printing press would seem to imply. If most of the world is managing to “successfully” avoid even technologies that would have made them richer, how much more easy must it be to avoid any technologies whose social implications might make us (perhaps not economically) poorer?

    Disclaimers: I’m being argumentative because I think the best way to improve a chain of reasoning is to focus on the parts that are most likely to be wrong; nevertheless I think these posts are fantastic on the whole. I also don’t think I have any excellent pro-Reaction arguments, although I could maybe come up with some anti-anti-Reaction arguments or some pro-subset-of-Reaction arguments that would be less meta than my anti-anti-pro-Reaction argument above.

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    • Oligopsony says:

      If the former is true, then nearly every country in the world is subject to the same technological conditions as the USA (modulo a few ITAR restrictions and expensive patents), yet we see orders of magnitude differences in social and economic outputs. So either social and economic conditions do not converge to deterministic outputs of technological conditions, or they converge so slowly that technological conditions are likely to change before any kind of equilibrium is ever approached.

      Or they converge deterministically towards an outcome which is differentiated. If you took a trip to medieval France, you would not be surprised to find the cities differing from the countryside.

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    • Damien says:

      “or they converge so slowly that technological conditions are likely to change before any kind of equilibrium is ever approached.”

      But we do see convergence, solar powered African cellphones and all, and the “likely to change” is only because tech progress has been so fast in the last couple centuries, though may be slowing down. Also, war-style competition is way down these days.

      The convergences Scott suggests would generally have been on a longer timescale.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yeah, my guess is it’s economic development level rather than technology per se. That’s why I mentioned Rome above as somewhere that seemed pretty modern even though it was low-tech; its economic base was through the roof for its historical period.

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  18. Damien says:

    “This is why all Bronze Age cultures converged upon divine monarchies, and all medieval empires converged upon feudalism”

    Interesting to consider exceptions and variations in interesting details. The Indus Valley Civilization… lacking ability to read their writing we don’t know much about it, but they seem to have been organized (urban planning, standardized weights) without showing the signs of grand hierarchy (big palace or temple remains.) The current judgement is “egalitarian, near as we can tell.”

    Aztecs may have been a divine monarchy but they also had universal compulsory education.

    Medieval times saw the republics of Venice, Switzerland, and the Low Countries, though these weren’t empires, and we could point at the scripts of geography (wetlands) and commerce. Not sure about the Swiss.

    I wonder if the Iron Age had republicanism as an optimum. You’ve got Greek democracy, the Spartan weirdness, Roman Republic, I think I saw Carthage described as a republic (Dido notwithstanding), stuff in India that the Greeks called republics or democracies. In the German and Mongol tribes, not republicanism, but elected kingships — which Rome started with — and for Germans a fair bit of popular input into lawmaking. Possible factor: the whole male citizen population being armed and in the military. I was about to call it “very large aristocracy” but it’s not maintained by the same need for specialization as feudal knights.

    Hmm, another ‘exception’: armored knights were invented by the Persians or Parthians, as cataphracts, and the Byzantines had them too. Feudalism seems to be about the externally induced collapse of more civilized structures as much as anything else, and I was just reading about the effects of plagues on the Roman and Byzantine and late Persian empires; might be part of why the Arab Conquest went so well.

    It’s disputed how much if at all Anglo-Saxon England can be called ‘feudal’ but (a) they did get conquered and (b) you could argue it’s “armed aristocracy” you care about.

    Women’s rights and gay tolerance seems to be free-floating variables. Ancient Egypt had legal equality, Babylonian law was less friendly, Assyrian law treated them like chattel; Athenians were misogynist, Spartans had lots of freedom, Etruscan art *looks* more egalitarian than Roman culture.

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  19. Douglas Knight says:

    The 17th century Quakers were not responding to the demographic transition. They predicted a lot of trends, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Hypotheses: (1) they made the modern world; (2) they were early under the influence of what made the modern world: (2a) Enlightenment rhetoric; (2b) technology.

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    • gwern says:

      (3) pareidolia: there are many thousands of recorded Christian sects which have differed on every discernible axis, and we pay attention to the Quakers rather than, say, the Mennonites fleeing Switzerland to America in order to be fruitful and multiply.

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      • Douglas Knight says:

        I explicitly addressed that.

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        • gwern says:

          You addressed that? Where?

          > The 17th century Quakers were not responding to the demographic transition. They predicted a lot of trends, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Hypotheses: (1) they made the modern world; (2) they were early under the influence of what made the modern world: (2a) Enlightenment rhetoric; (2b) technology.

          None of your 4 hypotheses advance a selection effect as an explanation, and your prefatory line – ‘I don’t think that was a coincidence’ explicitly endorses non-coincidental explanations.

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        • Douglas Knight says:

          I explicitly said why I reject coincidence: “They predicted a lot of trends.”

          (What part of “so” don’t you understand?)

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        • gwern says:

          Then you haven’t dealt with my selection effect point at all, as I originally thought.

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  20. Federico says:

    Scott almost implies total quietism.

    Abolition of slavery, abolition of Jim Crow, peace protests, SOPA protests, the American Revolution—if these were all technologically determined, does Scott think that to participate in each movement was irrational? Don’t forget, we are physics.

    I agree that absolute monarchical reboot is implausible, and disastrous were it to happen. But there are solid reasons—mostly due to TDT, perhaps—to pursue modest improvements.

    Elections have been part of every notable constitutional polity, but a smaller cog and less inclusive of all citizens. A movement for new, undemocratic checks and balances—which can only happen with the consent of leftists—would be joined by the reactionary horde.

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    • Oligopsony says:

      I think Scott’s point is not so much quietist (we’re all compatibilists here, I hope) as that the Reactionary theory of social change must (if it is to preserve its claim that the long-term equilibrium is the gods of the copybook headings, and modernity is some sort of freakish abomination) hold to a theory that accords a large autonomous role to ideas.

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    • Federico says:

      Oligopsony,

      The memetic fitness of reactionary beliefs could be enhanced a few things.

      #1 The internet. In our society, there is an unhealthy feedback loop between public opinion and political power. Internet freedom is, de facto, constitutionally safeguarded from government interference. This lacuna could widen.

      #2 Meta-ethics. Moral anti-realism is increasingly fashionable amongst the smart set. Those of leftist bent—i.e. most intelligent people—might reconsider their deontology: egalitarian, universalist, levelling. Utilitarian calculation lends credence to a number of reactionary ideas.

      #3 Technological stagnation. Relentless change increases the fitness of etatism, progressivism and leftism in general. If Peter Thiel is to be believed, change has slowed.

      #4 Democratic degringolade. If the quality of American governance continues to decline, perhaps the system is only sustained by its elevated starting point.

      #5 Science. If #3 isn’t true, human modification and various known and unknown unknowns might disrupt the political environment.

      #6 Asia. Moldbug argues that America has no “West”. If Russian citizens had lacked a West to point to, would communism have collapsed when it did? India and China are reaping the gains of capitalism. They might continue to improve in other ways, until the flaws of USG seem glaring.

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      • Damien says:

        “Relentless change increases the fitness of etatism, progressivism and leftism in general”

        How so?

        It’s not like the stagnant past was a libertarian paradise. For all the laws most people have more freedom and lower tax rates now, and get more back for the taxes they do pay.

        “If the quality of American governance continues to decline, perhaps the system is only sustained by its elevated starting point.”

        The decline comes mostly from conservative forces.

        “human modification and various known and unknown unknowns might disrupt the political environment”

        But why would such disruption favor Reactionary ideas, rather than novel ones?

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      • Federico says:

        But why would such disruption favor Reactionary ideas, rather than novel ones?

        No particular reason. But if reactionary beliefs are more accurate than the status quo, random changes to the fitness landscape for ideas are likely to favour them. Progressivism is molded to the existing landscape.

        How so?

        Leftists are more intelligent than rightists. When intelligence is at a premium—in chaotic times—they wield the most influence.

        Reactionaries also argue that growth of the state is excused according to the formula: cause crisis, try to solve crisis. For example, Keynesian economics and central banking is a response to the business cycle, which is exacerbated (or at this point in time, sustained at all) by the practice of bailing out fractional reserve banks.

        Technological change is a source of new crises.

        The decline comes mostly from conservative forces.

        Some of it does, but that doesn’t exonerate the system.

        Moldbug argues that American foreign policy is more incompetent than either neo-cons or progressives would devise in isolation. Neo-cons invade a country; progressives tie their hands.

        An improved constitution might check foreign adventures entirely.

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        • Damien says:

          “Leftists are more intelligent than rightists”

          Well, you’re definitely different from the noxious conservatives I’m used to, who view liberals as evil and stupid.

          “Reactionaries also argue that growth of the state is excused according to the formula”

          Whereas I argue the state’s most defensible role is to deal with externalities, and those have exploded with increased population density and technology.

          ” American foreign policy is more incompetent than”

          I’m pretty sympathetic to that, though my diagnosis is probably different. I note that existing representative government gives only a few bits of input, which mostly get spent on “is the domestic situation getting better?” meaning economy or law and order. Foreign policy freewheels mostly free of democratic control; Congress has oversight but voters don’t vote based on foreign policy unless it’s egregious. An elected Secretary of State, or separate legislative body for foreign concerns, or plebiscites on treaties and foreign wars might be an improvement and certainly connect things more to the people.

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        • Deiseach says:

          “Leftists are more intelligent than rightists. ”

          You’re correct! That graph has completely convinced me that if I just switch political parties, I will immediately gain 12 whole I.Q. points and a greater volume of grey matter in the left amygdala!

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t think I’m advocating total quietism, although I understand the objection.

      First of all, technological determinism works in incredibly broad strokes. I think it determine the success of things like capitalism over the scale of continents and hundreds of years. If someone wants to worry about normal level political debates like health care for the mentally ill, or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I think they can probably accomplish about as much as they think, and even if they end up on the wrong side of history they can manage a pretty good delaying action.

      More important, though, technological determinism still requires avatars. It’s true that if Gloria Steinem had decided not to push feminism, feminism would have happened anyway. But if every single person in the world had decided not to push feminism, feminism would either have not happened or have happened much slower. The Communists embraced the heck out of technological determinism (“History is on our side! We will bury you!”) but they still realized the importance of going out and doing Communist activism.

      Finally, this suggests that the smart money is on moving the Vast Formless Things themselves. By inventing and supporting new technologies and economic institutions, you determine the direction society goes, and I do think individuals have some control over which technologies are invented in which order and how they get deployed. This is…not unrelated to why I support MIRI and the transhumanist movement.

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      • Federico says:

        MIRI, eh? It does trip off the tongue, unlike “SIAI”.

        You make a good point. A difference of opinion hinges on the nature of Vast Formless Things.

        Moldbug and I argue that democracy, with its insalubrious feedback loop of public opinion and political power, creates vast formless things, at the expense of (relatively) small and distinct intellectual objects.

        I shall elaborate in my forthcoming, anxiously awaited response to your essay at the weekend.

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        • im says:

          I think that a lot of Vast Formless THigns are created by the human reactions to technology (which then become cultures and memes) and a really big, important, but naive meme has congealed over time in the form of The Fight Against Oppression.

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  21. asdf says:

    Handle already sumarized your rebuttal a lot better then you did. Hell, all you did here was day “it’s inevitable” (and also that life is deterministic and we have no free will). You’ve made no attempt to say that its “good”. So basically you hit on one point, not even the strongest, that handle had:

    Handle says:

    March 6, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    “I’m curious to read the rebuttal.”

    I suspect it’s going to go along awfully predictable lines given the hints he’s dropped:

    1. Racists!

    2. Things aren’t actually that bad. Some things have gotten worse, but a lot of things have gotten remarkably better under the stewardship of the status quo system. Reactionaries are exaggerating their pet concerns in their own version of “first world problems.” Some things they claim are “getting worse all the time” like crime rates, have, in fact, hit their inflection points or high-water marks and have been improving for a while. This is hard to explain if the current system hasn’t found a way to get these issues under control.

    3. If USG is so incompetent, corrupt, crazy, and evil then the modern triumph of the American system requires a better explanation than Reactionaries have offered. There are alternatives out there, but none of them of comparable scale have proven competitive. Is it without significance that Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and most of the worlds’ best innovative companies are American?

    4. Sure Democracy has its obvious problems, but it could be made to work better if only we …

    5. Or, In the alternative, “Ok, Democracy is an irreparably lousy way of making decisions and picking leaders, but it is important in modern times for the adult population to feel they have some form of input and connection to power, because otherwise … pitchforks … tar and feathers …

    6. Ok, the government doesn’t really work at all like the high school civics version, and yeah, the Supreme Court is really sovereign and makes a lot of crap up – but you know, all societies have their mythologies, their founding narratives, their little white noble lies, big deal.

    7. Yeah, PC is really annoying. But really, we still have the first amendment, everyone is allowed to put whatever they want on the internet (albeit anonymously) and it’s not official censorship just because you can be socially ostracized and lose your job for embarrassing your peers or employer. It’s unreasonable to insist that everyone should get to say whatever they want, no matter how crazy or hateful or mendacious, without suffering at least some social consequences. Every society has their “structure of taboos”, and their polite rules of etiquette which control what people say and how they say it to avoid disharmony. It’s called respect and civility.

    8. A lot of people who claim to be Reactionaries really are just some hateful paranoid cranks. Yes, official history has often falsely tarred some innocent people with valid ideas by calling them hateful paranoid cranks, but sometimes the shoe fits. Reactionaries should make extra efforts to distance themselves from these losers, but often show them suspect levels of tolerance.

    9. All that old stuff is just obsolete. We live in a day and age so utterly different and almost unrecognizable from that of our predecessors that it’s simply illegitimate to presume that what worked for them then will work for us now.

    10. We don’t even have a good handle on what “left” and “right” are politically anymore. A lot of the time, left is seen as “new, improved, progress, reform, improvement, and positive change.” and right is “keep things as they are”. Inevitably, something comes up for debate, and the right always makes the same argument, “this will screw everything up horribly.” But then, when the change is made, well, yes, lots of other things change too, but the sky hardly falls. People and institutions are flexible and adaptable – they adjust and find new equilibria. There are always winners and losers, but note how infrequently people in general see the results of the change and beg to go back to the way things were.

    That’s just my guess. All of those are easily refutable of course, but I think they have a certain appeal if you don’t penetrate the surface of the claims. We’ll have to wait and see which direction he decides to take.

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  22. Leonard says:

    I’ll be concentrating on option 1, unless a horde of Reactionaries appear in the comments and tell me they have totally considered this problem before and 2 or 3 is the more commonly accepted view.

    I will cop to being reactionary, at least for the purpose of argument. And in my view, option 1 has some truth to it, but 2 is better. 3 also has some elements of truth. All can be true simultaneously.

    For example, on 1. Cultures do adapt; this seems obvious to me. In fact almost tautological, given that cultures change. So, yeah. But (a) such change is not necessarily rapid, and (b) at least at a broader level, it is going to be strictly hill-climbing. So there may be areas of the cultural adaptation search space that, while superior, are still unobtainable.

    (2) is where I think the most energy in Reaction comes from. We look around the modern world and it is nuts. Crime is astronomical; whole cities have been laid waste. Interracial harmony is as bad as it has ever been, and black culture has cratered; and yet we continue to double down on “racism” as the cause. Fake sciences arise, of course via state sponsorship. The state itself is going bankrupt in an obvious and predictable degringolade. Read your Moldbug, and you find analyses of all this sort of stuff. (I could give links. But lazy.) The motive here is exactly what you say: progressivism as an animating ideology is nuts. It’s leading us into the third world, and we reactionaries don’t want to live in Haiti. Or even Mexico. And indeed: progressivism is what created the modern third world. Nuts.

    As for (3), this is not something Moldbug spends time on. However, I certainly believe that the technological substrate for progressivism was and is the mass media. The power of progressivism has moved in lockstep with the bandwidth of one-to-many communications: first books, then newspapers, then radio, then movies, then TV. At each stage, the medium was immediately taken to and then taken over by ideologues; at each stage, progressivism got even more progressive. The internet is, in a way, the ultimate in one-to-many. So progressivism is getting even more shrill among those who don’t engage very much. But the internet is not fundamentally one-to-many: it allows everyone to talk back, and (thus far) cannot be coopted. So: new technological substrate. It is, at the very least, far less friendly to progressivism than TV was. The truth is far harder to keep hidden now than it was even 10 years ago.

    I might also put in, regarding tech substrate, that mechanization and robotization, and AI, are wildcards. I am not sure what effects they will have in future but at the least I think they will induce social evolution. Perhaps we will get progressivism^2, but perhaps not.

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  23. asdf says:

    BTW, there are plenty of modern day semi reactionary countries today. Mostly in Asia. So it’s not all past worship.

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  24. Leonard says:

    Countries that avoid liberal democracy usually regret it.

    Right. Like the Confederate States of America. Nazi Germany. Imperial Japan. Recently, Iraq and Afghanistan.

    There is one thing these states had in common, but it was not a gentle evolution to modern progressivism. They were conquered, their leaders imprisoned or killed, occupied; and to varying degrees, converted to progressivism. Of course, liberal democracy is strangely resisted or outright fails among non-Westerners, which might give you some thought. But I forget: you’ve ruled biology out, by executive fiat. Tabooooo! It must be racism why liberal democracy always fails in Afghanistan.

    If we add less than overt means of conquest, then we can add essentially the entire Third World, which USG wrenched from the hands of its old colonial masters after WWII. And is still busy meddling in — “Arab spring” now moving into late summer or winter. The old cosmopolitan Egypt is long gone, but it existed. Rhodesia (civilized) has ceased to exist, replaced by Zimbabwe (not very). South Africa retains its name but is heading into genocide.

    Moldbug does have plenty to say about all of the above. So I am not sure your overall thesis, that the modern convergence upon liberal democracy was in a sense predestined, is quite as strong as you make out.

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    • Damien says:

      “There is one thing these states had in common, but it was not a gentle evolution to modern progressivism. They were conquered”

      Not like they were sitting peacefully at home and got conquered by surprise. They also all share the trait of picking foolish fights, which might suggest they’re prone to poor decision making and thus ill-adapted for survival.

      ‘which USG wrenched from the hands of its old colonial masters after WWII. And is still busy meddling in — “Arab spring” ‘

      Nice re-writing of history there, and total denial of the agency of the colonized, as if they didn’t do most of the work of resisting and throwing out their occupiers. And as if the Arab Spring wasn’t something sparked in the Arab world, which surprised and largely alarmed us.

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      • David says:

        “Not like they were sitting peacefully at home and got conquered by surprise. They also all share the trait of picking foolish fights, which might suggest they’re prone to poor decision making and thus ill-adapted for survival.”

        Which state did the Confederates attack? I seem to remember most of their fighting was on home soil.

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        • im says:

          The category is a little mixed up. Don’t know about imperial Japan. Confederates actually were liberally democratic for the age, except that they had slaves, and most governments consider seccesion picking a fight including the Union one.

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        • Anonymous says:

          Isn’t Gettysburg in Pennsylvania? And I would say, under the circumstances, that secession itself counts at picking a foolish fight.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      Pretty sure Afghanistan regretted it a long time before we invaded. I predict Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan would have liberalized over time. In fact, it’s hard for me to imagine what a peacetime Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan would have looked like, but I bet it wouldn’t have been very stable.

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      • gwern says:

        It’s funny you mention that Nazi Germany would’ve liberalized, because a book I read recently, _Heisenberg and the Nazi Atomic Bomb Project: A Study in German Culture_, claims that this was the opinion of a lot of Germans opposed to the Nazis: that even if they did some commendable things, they were still basically uncivilized thugs and would gradually be purged, replaced or moderated, and things would get better as the good were kept and the bad gotten rid of – and so they were not an existential threat to German civilization worth rebelling against or emigrating to enemy countries over. (You see, the Germans who stayed and tried to ameliorate the worst of Naziism and save German culture were the *real* heroes!)

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        • im says:

          That…would have been interested to see. It’s worth noting that even Nazi Germany was a bit of a fluke in terms of Fascism as far as I have heard and early on, nobody really expected them to go crazy like they did.

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      • Oligopsony says:

        Note that pretty much every communist country liberalized over time, except North Korea, which among many other unique factors was/is probably the closest to the Axis powers in terms of ideology. This could plausibly be taken as evidence for or against your hypothesis here, and certainly in favor of your broader hypothesis that there’s a single equilibrium.

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    • asdf says:

      A better question to ask is what would have happened if we lost WWI. The prussians weren’t exactely Nazi’s. They had a very different view of the world, but it wasn’t batshit insane like theirs. In fact WWI was largely a war that Brittian pushed for because the German model was beating theirs in peacetime. So they tried to surround Germany. Once Germany started building their own fleet so they could sell all the industrial goods they were doing a better job of making then Brittian it was pretty much a forgone conclusion.

      A world in which Germany wins WWI would be a much more reactionary world, and its not like its so far out of the imagination.

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  25. Singaphile says:

    Let’s pause for a moment, throw away abstract concepts, and speak only of the concrete. Here is a set of simple, tangible statements:

    1) The city-state of Singapore does amazingly well along almost every objective dimension of socioeconomic well-being: it has low crime, low corruption, high GDP per capita, high life expectancy, high academic achievement, good public transportation, and high economic growth. This is in spite of the fact that it has virtually no natural resources and only about 700 km-sq of land area. Certainly it is much more successful than the US by many measures (eg. it has lower crime AND lower incarceration rates).
    2) Thus, we should be more like Singapore.
    3) Singapore is not a liberal democracy.
    4) Thus, we should move away from liberal democracy.

    I don’t believe this argument can be rejected in any comprehensive way except by asserting that liberal democratic values are intrinsically worthwhile, ie. by assuming what you set out to prove.

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    • Oligopsony says:

      I’m all for destroying liberal democracy, but surely you can’t imagine that’s the only way to reject this “argument.”

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      • Singaphile says:

        The phrase “in any comprehensive way” was intended to mean that the argument cannot be rejected by pure armchair moral philosophy. It is impossible to logically derive liberal democracy from a set of moral axioms, unless those axioms basically amount to “liberal democracy is good”. (In contrast, you could probably derive conclusions like “murder is wrong” from more basic moral axioms).

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        • im says:

          Murder is wrong. Hahahahahhaha.
          *puts on Grindelwald costume*

          FOR THE GREATER GOOD!

          *changes into Bayesian Conspiracy robes*

          The first freakin obvious flaw is that Singapore’s success might have nothing to do with liberal democracy. Maybe (I consider this unlikely) we could imitate Singapore in every way except for the democratic/autocratic part and be better than Singapore.

          Second, you *can* derive liberal democracy from moral axioms that can lead to other things.

          Also, some of us don’t derive things from moral axioms at all.

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    • Damien says:

      “except by asserting that liberal democratic values are intrinsically worthwhile”

      That’s like saying the only way to support your argument is to assert that the socioeconomic values Singapore is good at are the only things worthwhile, which is assuming what you set out to prove.

      There’s a lot of unique features about Singapore other than being a semi-reactionary government, stuff like being almost pure city sitting on top of a trade route. Urbanizing the whole population densely would improve a lot of values but someone has to grow the food.

      Singapore also has a *terribly* low birth rate, which I thought might be of some significance to reactionary concerns.

      It’s also largely been run by one man for most of its short history, and lots of people acknowledge that enlightened despotism is possible in principle. It’s not just at all reliable, due to the whole inheritance thing.

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      • asdf says:

        Low birthrates are considered the strongest case for progressivisms evil amongst many reactionaries. Like a manifestation of their nihilistic culture of death.

        However, Asia is pretty darn packed. I’ve lived in Japan, you can’t get shoved into a subway and then think there are too few people. It’s a different story in America where there is plenty of room we just won’t fill it.

        However, TFR is something of a fringe issue. The main problem is immigration. Low birthrates self correct as population densities become lower and high breeders pass on more of their genes to the next generation. However, immigration short circuits this. Instead the TFR of the native population may never self correct because they are being crowded out.

        As discussed earlier, reactionaries believe there is a genetic difference between races. So replacing say the entire white population of America with an inferior Mexican population will lead to an inferior country. Same for Europe with Muslims. Since this is biological no program of assimilation will work (not that we shouldn’t try, but its a second best solution).

        The only real solution is no to allow immigration from low IQ racial groups. That is the solution that Japan figured out. Thus the low TFR in Japan is not a problem, because they are not replacing themselves. There will be some difficulty funding pension programs in the short run, but in the long run Japan will be a harmonious mono ethnicity with high IQs and it won’t be so damn crowded.

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        • Damien says:

          “Low birthrates self correct as population densities become lower”

          That’s a statement of faith, with no evidence behind it.

          Those “pretty reactionary Asian countries” you extoll in another comment *all* have TFR well below replacement. If you want high TFR in a modern country your choice of models are the US, France, or the Nordic country. Not that the latter are at replacement but the social democracies are higher than more conservative alternatives.

          The Amish and Israeli Haredim are doing well but they’re also, hmm, shall we say *embedded* in larger society, not clearly self-sustaining. The haredim are outright subsidized.

          “So replacing say the entire white population of America with an inferior Mexican population will lead to an inferior country.”

          Just like letting all those Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews, Chinese, and Japanese in was a big mistake leading to an inferior country. Oh wait, we’re supposed to believe that *this* time reactionary racial prejudices are based on solid evidence, unlike all those previous times…

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        • asdf says:

          As I said, TFRs in Asia are lower because of population density. See Jayman’s blog for a data filled discussion of this.

          France and the Nordics still can’t pierce 2.0, and they are allowing in immigrants (that have proven to be a disaster).

          All of the mentioned races have high IQs and long histories of success. I suggest reading the actual research instead of hysterics. The science is overwhelming:

          http://www.humanbiologicaldiversity.com/

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        • asdf says:

          Mormon’s also do well, and they aren’t really some tiny isolated religious community.

          The main problem for TFR is liberalism, especially among thehigh IQ. High IQ people who retain their religion maintain high TFR. Nearly all the blame for low TFR is from smart liberals driving themselves to extinction with the nihilism.

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        • gwern says:

          > However, Asia is pretty darn packed. I’ve lived in Japan, you can’t get shoved into a subway and then think there are too few people.

          Does going out to the depopulating rural areas then make one think the opposite, that there may be too few people?

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        • asdf says:

          There aren’t that many depopulated areas in Japan. It’s basically cities and mountains. There are some places we’d consider rural but its pretty far and few between. The comparison to America, with huge tracts of empty land, is a no contest.

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        • Kaj Sotala says:

          As discussed earlier, reactionaries believe there is a genetic difference between races. So replacing say the entire white population of America with an inferior Mexican population will lead to an inferior country. Same for Europe with Muslims.

          …Muslims are a race now?

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        • asdf says:

          A sign of autistic nerds who don’t understand people is that they nitpick things when they already know what the speaker is talking about. For instance, its obvious I’m using Muslims as a stand in for ethnic groups in which Islam tends to be practiced by a majority. Rather then long form listing every ethnic group immigrating to Europe when the key is that they all share some commong traits.

          It’s the same as saying Jews aren’t a “race” when its clear there has been a ton of within religion breeding over many generations that has caused most people who are Jews to be part of an ethnicity.

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        • Kaj Sotala says:

          Yes, I understood this, and I assume that you also understand my point – that “Muslim” covers such a broad spectrum of various countries that grouping them together as one “inferior race” feels rather absurd. If multiple different groups that all share a similar religion and culture are doing badly, then the obvious simplest explanation would be that the religion and culture are the cause, without any need to hypothesize an additional genetic origin on top of that. Especially given that the Arab nations used to be the centers of science and learning once, which doesn’t exactly fit in with the “they’re all genetically inferior” hypothesis.

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        • im says:

          The threshold for race stuff is pretty high. Also, even if there are significant differences they need to be pretty big. (Note: This does not mean that mass immigration is neccesarily good or bad).

          Nihilistic death liberals? That would be a great name for a band, but it would be kind of nice if you could be less mindkilled than the average liberal which is not really that hard.

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        • asdf says:

          When you think about their philosophy, its pretty awful. As are most liberals you meet and most liberal institutions you deal with. It wasn’t until I was knee deep in the heart of liberalism (working in civil service at a high level, being in a liberal social circle) that it became very obvious. Once you realize that the people around you are basically characters from the N.I.C.E. straight out of “That Hideous Strength”.

          I like the works of Bruce Charlton and Seraphrim Rose on this matter.

          http://thoughtprison-pc.blogspot.com/

          http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/nihilism.html

          They take a religious view, and many reactionaries are secular.

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        • im says:

          … I think that either we share very few values. I know that I do not believe in God, souls, ‘Satanic’ as a meaningful descriptor, natural law, or anything transcendental. Furthermore, none of what you have cited can possibly carry weight outside of Europe. I also think a certain level of xenophilia is good and the hideous art isn’t hideous to everybody (although I believe that both of those things have been massively overrated and should have alternatives.)

          - PC-ness is not actually that big of a thing in liberalism, and *still* doesn’t seem to be about nihilism. From within the liberal side, political correctness is considered an external perjorative, and generally just refers to the boundaries of things you can say without insulting people, and has nothing to do with altruism, really.

          - You misunderstand leftism. Leftism (with the exception of a few morons) generally comes to the opinion that extinction is bad. You are coming to a different conclusion, which makes it seem like you failed to model the liberal thought process.

          - A lot of what you cited assumes a very specific view on death, God, immortality, and the capability of science that I do not share. What is your view on Moldbug? Moldbug seems to share more base level assumptions with me than you do.

          - The same goes for liberals, who *do* generally believe in truth.

          - I am going to DESTROY death. That kind of conflicts with the idea that leftism is a death wish. I’d strike the sun from the sky if it slighted me — and I know how to do it.

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        • Mary says:

          Wishful thinking in the face of death is also nihilist. If nothing else, the heat death of the universe will get you.

          Report comment

        • asdf says:

          Kaj Sotala:

          Except we have the IQ data to show that all these various Muslim ethnicities are what they are.

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        • zilt says:

          “But… but… I thought N.I.C.E. were the good guys! Lol.”

          Moron.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          Zilt, I was 80% sarcastic/trolling – I just have an aversion to Lewis’s writing, Chesterton is light years better IMO – but did you really have to react with name-calling? It doesn’t exactly improve the image of your associates here.

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    • asdf says:

      You can claim that its only possible because Singapore is a tiny city state, and I’ll agree with that. However, all of Asia is pretty reactionary, and while they have elections those elections are largely a joke (with one party dominance and most of the power in the unelected buearacracy).

      Japan is the best example of a reactionary large state today. Nearly all the Asian tigers have reactionary leanings of one kind or another.

      http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue23/Locke23.htm

      Fascism Without the Fascism

      If the use of non-economic incentives sounds familiar, it is because the last time this issue was seriously addressed in the West in the context of a modern economy was by Peter F. Drucker in his 1940 book The End of Economic Man, which discussed how the Nazi system was based on creating a non-economic power structure to resolve the social conflicts that had been irresolvable within capitalist European society. This, in his view, was the sick genius of Nazism and the reason it had been able to come within a hair’s breadth of creating a world-conquering social system.

      The political economy described above is the product of thinking that originated among Japan’s colonial bureaucrats entrusted with the industrialization of Japan’s colony of Manchuria in the 1930’s. They published their Economic New Structure Manifesto in 1940 as a result of their experience of the inefficiency of traditional capitalism as a development strategy. In the short run, the elite Zaibatsu capitalists of Japan vetoed their ideas, but in the long run, partly as a result of the American occupation’s assault on the big property owners, a product of their New Dealers’ conviction that industrial concentration was an abettor of fascism, they were able to triumph.

      One way to describe the Japanese achievement is to say that they have achieved what the Nazis wanted to achieve but didn’t, largely of course because they were mad serial killers obsessed with a lot of things other than economics. Ironically, Asiatic Japan comes closer than any nation on earth to what Hitler wanted. It is a socially conservative, hierarchical, technocratic, orderly, pagan, sexist, nationalist, racially pure, anti-communist, non-capitalist and anti-Semitic society.

      Of course, it would be unfair to describe contemporary Japan as Nazi-like in any of the senses that are notorious (though one cannot help observing that she has never been contrite about her WWII actions the way Germany has.) More correctly, the architects of the Japanese system learned from their disastrous experience in WWII that the kind of society they wanted could not be achieved through a totalitarian predator-state and they calculated that it could be achieved through the forms, though not the content, of liberal democracy, which is how Japan presents itself.

      We can quible about those details (I never took Japan as anti-semetic), but its a pretty accurate picture.

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      • Oligopsony says:

        As Damien notes for Singapore, how’s that TFR working out for you?

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      • suntzuanime says:

        Isn’t “most of the power in the unelected buearacracy[sic]” one of Moldbug’s complaints about the US? Well, he wouldn’t use “unelected” as a pejorative, he’d probably say “unaccountable”, but either way a powerful civil service is found in many Modern Liberal Democracies, it’s not a reactionary trait.

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        • asdf says:

          A powerful civil service is not good or bad by definition. What the civil service does with that power is what is good or bad. As American civil servants are nearly all progressive, and reactionaries view progressivism as bad, then the civil service is bad.

          If the civil service was more like Japan, where they are more reactionary, it would be good.

          Some reactionaries believe that the body politic has started to reject progressivism, but that the civil service is blocking this rejection because they are “unelectable/unaccountable”. This claim does not have universal buy in for reactionaries, and I myself won’t attempt to defend it.

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      • Douglas Knight says:

        You lived in Japan, right? Did you ask them about Jews? I’m told that they have whole Jewish sections in bookstores. The Protocols are popular, but in an aspirational way. During the war, they were confused that Hitler interpreted them differently.

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        • asdf says:

          I disagree with the author about anti-semitism in Japan as I noted. As there are basically no Jews there nobody has particularly strong opinions about them.

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    • Aris Katsaris says:

      You can use the same argument to indicate that America should be more like Sweden, since Sweden rates higher than Singapore in GDP per capita *and* low levels of corruption *and* life expectancy.

      There’s a whole bundle of other liberal democracies that do better than Singapore in several of those metrics too, though not all of them at the same time — e.g. Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland…

      And since Singapore *is* a city state, its model may be rather hard to emulate for one of the largest nations in the world.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I agree that we have a lot to learn from Singapore, but I would argue against drawing too many conclusions from its success for several reasons.

      1. They’re made of Chinese, Brits, and Indians – eg three very rich and successful ethnic groups. Throw laissez-faire capitalism at that combination and you’re going to do well no matter what happens socially.

      2. Cayman Islands effect. The Cayman Islands are pretty prosperous because they provide a tax shelter for richer countries. Same with Dubai – not a tax shelter there so much as an economic hub where companies from other countries can go and do business. Neither of these are generalizable strategies; they could be called “parasitic” – not as a moral term, but in the sense of they only work by siphoning off business from other countries with worse policies. If every country adopts Cayman or Dubai type policies, they don’t all end up as rich as Cayman or Dubai. They probably end up, at best, slightly richer than before. Singapore is the economic and transportation hub for a large area of countries that mostly have worse economic policies than it does. If Malaysia adopts Singaporean policies, it’s not going to turn every Malaysian city into a second Singapore.

      3. Benevolent dictator. I think everyone agrees a benevolent dictator is the best form of government, and the only reason people oppose it is that there’s no good way to make sure your dictator is benevolent or that his successor stays benevolent. Singapore hugely lucked out with Lee Kuan Yew, but the next country to try the Singapore model might end out with Kim Jong-Il for all they know.

      I would be curious to see how Hong Kong (Chinese-British financial hub without unusual social policies) compares to Singapore (Chinese-British financial hub with unusual social policies). My guess is that things like wealth, crime rate, and all of the things you laud Singapore for are very similar across both control and experimental group.

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  26. Mary says:

    One notes that the demographic transition is putting evolution into overdrive. And what evolution is selecting for is for people who resist the pressure to have fewer children except insofar as it increases the chance for the children to grow up.

    Time was when a sex drive was all that was needed. Nowadays, you need a desire for children; susceptibility to social pressure to have children and being subjected to such pressure; a distaste for contraception and abortion; or sloppy tendencies with contraception. All of these things are being selected for.

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  27. sviga lae says:

    Your thesis also supports option 4 (which could be interpreted as a variant of 3):

    During the late 20th century, the pace of technological evolution has surpassed the ability of social organisation to adapt to the new realities (new incentive structures, increasingly atomised social environment) and possibilities (radical decentralisation permitted by the internet, cryptography etc.).

    This gap will either be forced to shrink or be made irrelevant, driven by a secular shift in the critical voice/exit dichotomy, in a direction favoured by harsh, undemocratic reality, i.e. Reaction.

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  28. Michael V says:

    Funny, Mencius claims that he started down the path to modern reaction when the 1987 Tiananmen Square slaughter seemingly successfully preserved Chinese illiberality.

    It seems to me that cultures, especially hunter-gatherer ones, actually differ a fairly significant amount, though they fit reasonably well defined categories. Since we only have one industrial civilization to look at, it’s hard to decide what about it is contingent.

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  29. UA says:

    I do think number two is actually rather popular. I submit, for your reading pleasure, the work Revolution and Counter-Revolution. This locates the “Revolution” (revolution = evil corrupter of all good things) in the late middle ages. Granted, I’m quite sure that the work will not convince you with the information that it musters; it was written more for the choir than for anyone else.

    “The largest and furthest-reaching political changes of all time have invariably been the effect of technological progress.”

    Christianity had a pretty big effect on politics, and on everything, methinks–at least in a number of narratives of European history. (Actually, in a lot of narratives; the narratives just disagree on whether it was good or bad.) I think to maintain what you maintain, you’d need to say that it was also the effect of a technological substrate. I have no idea how you’d say this, but there could be a way…

    I’d like think of more counter-examples. Islam comes to mind. Alexander the Great, your namesake, comes to mind. These, I think, had a pretty big influence on history, some way or another, but I have difficulty seeing how you could attribute them to technological stuff. Sure, military advances of Philip, Alexander’s father, made possible Alexander’s exploits. But I don’t think they made it inevitable that Alexander would conquer as big a chunk of the world as he did and spread Greek culture across the world.

    I’d say individuals or ideas are at least sometimes in a position to act to redirect the Vast and Hidden Forces of History, and attributing as prime a position to technology as you do is probably incorrect. Maybe technology is primus inter pares, but it is still inter pares. Again, granted I haven’t shown this.

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  30. im says:

    I consider myself not a reactionary but a ‘reconstructionist’ (is that label taken?), and I’d say that on top of the tech advances is memetic stuff, so that each time tech changes we are left with the baggage from years past.

    I see the period of Cthulhu swimming left as being (in part) a series of attacks by progressives and their ancestors which I collectively refer to as the ‘war of wrath’. I think that each time one of these battles occurs, (and they are needed!) the propaganda sort of builds up, which is a big part of what keeps Cthulhu swimming left. This propaganda thing is nowhere near universal.

    Furthermore, I’d say that various factors are limiting the speed of adaptation in the present day.

    Finally, I’d say that reactionaries are indeed looking in the wrong place, not only because stuff is obsolete, but also because even though it had good features it got smashed by the War of Wrath for a reason.

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  31. Damien says:

    So, just to verify: Reactionary as defined here doesn’t have much to do with modern US conservatism? Because I’m seeing Imperial Germany and Japan held up as models. Japan has universal health care and massively tight weapon control, Germany *invented* UHC and public pensions, both countries have powerful and intrusive states… someone blamed progressivism for creeping statism but the Shogunate tried to have total control over life and Prussia was pretty frigging statist. So Reactionary means “put women back in the kitchen and close the gates to poor immigrants”?

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    • im says:

      ‘liberalism’ here is often used to include both modern leftism and modern conservatism (although recently conservatism has become a little bit reactionary).

      I am not sure whether most Reactionaries agree with the former (although it may be a strawman, and they often are fans of traditional gender roles) and many of them would prefer the latter. I notice that you phrased them in negative ways.

      Most reactionary stuff is against the whole democracy thing, sometimes against the whole secular humanism thing. (I tentatively defend the first, definitely defend the second).

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    • asdf says:

      US conservatism is massively progressive. If you think there is a difference between conservatism and liberalism you’re insane.

      Your going to get some different answers from different reactionies. Some are religious and some are not. I think there is only one thing that holds them togethor:

      Reality is what it is, and we should base policy on reality. There are some basic realities that all reactionaries seem to agree on (that progressives deny).

      1) People have wildly differing natures and abilities that are often hard coded (genetic) and semi hard coded (cultural).

      This doesn’t just apply to different races, but within races. There are 120 IQ white people and 80 IQ white people. You are going to need very different policies to accomodate these different people.

      For instance a reactionary educational policy would account for this by not trying to send everyone to a liberal arts college to become white collar professional. It would segregate people as they get older based on testing and funnel them towards more useful education paths given their abilities (such is done in Japan). Then they would have industrial policy that would ensure that jobs where available for those graduates (as they do in Japan).

      The progressive line is that all people everywhere are equal in every way. This not only leads to horrible immigration policy, but to terrible policy overall.

      2) Family Policy is a Disaster

      How can anyone look at the rates of divorce and single motherhood and conclude that the sexual revolution was a good thing? It’s a complete disaster. Is a debate even needed here?

      It’s not just the terrible family law progressives pushed, but all the cultural memes they propogated too.

      There is also a silent failure in family policy in that high IQ people are not breeding and there is a big dysgenic trend. When you look at the data it shows that liberalism and education are the biggest culprits (high IQ people that retain their religion still have kids).

      3) Oppressed Groups Weren’t So Oppressed

      Female life satisfaction is down despite the complete victory of feminism.

      The black community is a complete disaster despite massive affirmive action.

      4) Universal Democracy Isn’t Necessarily the Best System of Governance

      Let’s be honest, true universal democracy wasn’t really in effect till recentely. Women couldn’t vote. Minorities couldn’t vote (or effectively were blocked through various means). Even property-less white dudes couldn’t vote for a long time.

      So the idea the west is on top because of democracy is silly. During the long upward march these countries were not democracies. There was voting, but it was highly restricted. Laws were passed, but they were highly constrained by strong constitutions.

      5) Country, Culture, Community, etc Are Real Things

      We are not just atomized individuals trying to self actualize into anything we could possibly want to be. We are all born with a certain nature, into communities, cultures, and countries with their own specific nature. Refusing to acknowledge that is refusing to acknowledge reality.

      That’s why while I will site Japan as a good example, I don’t expect all of their solutions to work for us. They work for the Japanese because of their entire genetic, cultural, and physical heritage. We need to come up with our own solutions based on our heritage.

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      • Damien says:

        If you can’t see differences between conservatism and liberalism you’re insane. It may not be the differences you care about but they’re there.

        “Reality is what it is, and we should base policy on reality.” Hey, liberals say that too! Very smugly, these days. “Reality has a liberal bias.”

        “How can anyone look at the rates of divorce and single motherhood and conclude that the sexual revolution was a good thing?”

        I don’t see a problem with divorce. In fact, splitting up after some years (and kids) seems to be the natural human condition; I think there’s searching finding that 4-7 years after birth is a peak divorce time, almost as if we’re evolved to split up and circulate the genes.

        Single motherhood is bad mostly because of lack of resources; widows receiving generous life insurance benefits have much more normal outcomes with their kids than divorcees getting stiffed on child support.

        “It’s not just the terrible family law progressives pushed”

        One culprit is welfare that rewards single mothers more than married couples. I’m not sure if that detail was progressive or a conservative compromise of welfare, not to be rewarding the undeserving or something.

        It’s also the war on drugs and lead poisoning and urban gutting; hard to have a stable black family when so many men are in prison because they get long terms while whites get slaps for the same crimes.

        “The black community is a complete disaster despite massive affirmive action.”

        No it’s not; I don’t know if the black-white gap has narrowed but black wealth has risen and there’s growing black middle-class suburbs. As for the disaster, there’s still the war on drugs and abundant measurable racism.

        “Female life satisfaction is down despite the complete victory of feminism.” The metrics are dubious and feminism’s victory is not complete.

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      • asdf says:

        “If you can’t see differences between conservatism and liberalism you’re insane. It may not be the differences you care about but they’re there.”

        Why should I care about superficial differences that don’t matter?

        “Hey, liberals say that too!”

        But they’re wrong, and that’s what matters.

        “I don’t see a problem with divorce.”

        Then your blind.

        “I think there’s searching finding that 4-7 years after birth is a peak divorce time”

        And this makes it good?

        Divorce tends to be bad for everyone involved, but especially the children. Civilization is all about doing the right thing rather then following the impulse of the moment.

        “Single motherhood is bad mostly because of lack of resources”

        If you think its just resources then your blind. There are a whole host of things the are affected by not having two parents. It takes willful ignorance not to see this, it is obvious to anyone with two eyes.

        “It’s also the war on drugs and lead poisoning and urban gutting; hard to have a stable black family when so many men are in prison because they get long terms while whites get slaps for the same crimes.”

        If there was no war on drugs then the black community would still have a lot of crime. There is crime in other countries with different drug laws. Africa is one major pot of crime.

        Essentially the only thing that has made crime go down since the 90s is that drug laws allowed us to put massive amounts of black men in jail.

        “I don’t know if the black-white gap has narrowed but black wealth has risen and there’s growing black middle-class suburbs.”

        Don’t know means you know and you don’t like it.

        Decades after the civil rights movement, the income gap between black and white families has grown, says a new study that tracked the incomes of some 2,300 families for more than 30 years.

        Incomes have increased among both black and white families in the past three decades — mainly because more women are in the work force. But the increase was greater among whites, according to the study being released Tuesday.

        One reason for the growing disparity: Incomes among black men have actually declined in the past three decades, when adjusted for inflation. They were offset only by gains among black women.

        Moreover, the black family absolutely imploded.

        In 1940, the illegitimacy rate among blacks was 19 percent, in 1960, 22 percent, and today, it’s 70 percent.

        “The metrics are dubious and feminism’s victory is not complete.”

        The floggings will continue until morale improves.

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        • Damien says:

          “Divorce tends to be bad for everyone involved, but especially the children. Civilization is all about doing the right thing rather then following the impulse of the moment.”

          Yeah, sticking with an unhappy marriage is so great for the kids. And the poor human races was doing the wrong thing for tens of thousands of years, while a couple thousand years of Christian or Hindu non-divorce was the peak of civilization. I see Reactionaries are pro timeless human nature when it suits them, but don’t care when it’s inconvenient.

          “If you think its just resources then your blind. There are a whole host of things the are affected by not having two parents. It takes willful ignorance not to see this, it is obvious to anyone with two eyes.”

          ‘I don’t care what those pointy eggheads say! I know what’s right!’

          “Don’t know means you know and you don’t like it.”

          No, it means I didn’t know. Perhaps you can’t understand someone admitting they don’t know something.


          From the ending of legal segregation through the mid-1970s, the black-white wage gap continued to narrow. However, from the mid-1970s until almost 1990, progress in wage equality greatly slowed.[4] From 1968-1979, the black-white wage gap decreased by an average of 1.2 percent each year. During the 80s, however, it increased .24 percent each year. During the 1990s, the black-white wage gap decreased .59 percent each year.[8] This proportional decrease was also accompanied by a decrease in the absolute difference of black and white wages.[9]

          Analyses have uncovered some of the underlying influences in the improvements of the black-white wage gap. During the decades of progress (the 1970s and 1990s), 30 percent of the wage gap convergence can be attributed to changes in black education and experience.[8] More equalization in employment distribution also influenced the convergence during those decades. Factors identified as contributing to decreases in wage gap convergence include “shifts in industry demand, greater occupational crowding, relative deterioration of unobservable skills in blacks, and rising overall male wage inequality”

          In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the wage gap has fluctuated in terms of the ratio between black and white wages: 67.7 percent in 2000, 64.0 percent in 2005, 67.5 percent in 2008, and 64.5 percent in 2009.[9] The absolute difference in black and white wages, however, has decreased over this period.

          A study conducted by Major G. Coleman (2003) reports that as black and white men have more similar competitive performance ratings, racial wage differences increase rather than decrease.

          While an overall wage gap appeared between black and white women, by 1980, the earnings of black women with college degrees surpassed those of white women.[4] An understanding of the earnings of black women has recently become recognized as an important area of research due to role that black women traditionally have in terms of family income: black married couples typically have relied more on women’s earnings than other races and the percentage of single-parent, female-maintained families is highest among the black population.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_wage_gap_in_the_United_States#Black

          So there has been convergence, there’s evidence of discrimination — different pay for similar performance — and black women can do as well as white women. Black men… well, being in prison kind of hurts.

          “Essentially the only thing that has made crime go down since the 90s is that drug laws allowed us to put massive amounts of black men in jail.”

          Yeah, that really explains why crime went up and down in places that don’t have many black people. Oh wait, no it doesn’t. You’re wrong.

          “Africa is one major pot of crime”

          Africa is many countries, which aren’t the same. And the externalist differences involved are huge. You’d have to show those don’t matter before being able to have confidence in biological explanations.

          And we’re done here. You’re not smart or honest enough to be worth arguing with.

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      • asdf says:

        “Civilization is all about doing the right thing rather then following the impulse of the moment.”

        If I had to sum up the Reactionary view, that’s it.

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  32. Pingback: We Sail Tonight For Singapore | Slate Star Codex

  33. Typhon says:

    « It is said that what is called “the spirit of an age” is something to which one cannot return. That this spirit gradually dissipates is due to the world’s coming to an end. For this reason, although one would like to change today’s world back to the spirit of one hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done. Thus it is important to make the best out of every generation »
    (Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure)

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  34. perlhaqr says:

    I’m not a reactionary (I don’t think, the term is still pretty new to me) and ifn fact typically self-identify political-philosophically as an anarchist (anarchocapitalist / market anarchist) but after reading the “Nutshell” post I think I would accept the label “culturalist”.

    So I don’t know if the Reactionaries favor argument One, Two, or Three, but Two seems moderately plausible to me.

    [Y]ou could agree that cultures evolve, but that for some reason the cultural evolution mechanism has gone berserk over the past few hundred years. To make this stick, you’d have to give some reason this would happen. Then you’d have to prove that it was so berserk that the best we could do is reboot from a saved copy from before its breakdown, even knowing that this will be completely unsuited for modern life.

    So, the obvious (to me) answer for the reason why this would have happened would be “The Industrial Revolution”. We’re not merely linearly more wealthy than we were beforehand, when the wealth of kings and nations increased roughly according to how long it had been since the last war and therefore how much gold the peasants had managed to pile up in the treasury out of the rye fields, we’re exponentially more wealthy now. And probably a fairly big exponent, too.

    So, basically, we’re so rich that we can sort of afford to indulge in… well, foolishness like all the things you said “Stop Digging!” to in the “Nutshell” post. Because if anyone had tried that sort of nonsense before we were this hyperwealthy, they’d have died out in short order, and possibly so fast no one would even have had time to write it down. It’s only these days that we can afford to experiment with these ridiculous ideas that leave us increasingly fragmented, unhappy, under/mis/mal-educated, and causing greater harm to various minority groups than they have done in the past in our own society. (I’m certainly not saying segregation was great, or that it was an acceptable policy for the government to have and enforce, but there were times while segregation was still on the books in the time around the turn of the last century, up through the Great Depression, where American Black society was far less dysfunctional than it is today.)

    Of course, I don’t think this means needing to reboot to the backup culture / society from before the Industrial Revolution, and in fact, I can say there are many places where things are better now than they were in even 1900, in terms of attitudes about ethnicity and gender and sexual preference and a dozen other things. But the Progressives seem to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and then used the baby as a skeet target.

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    • asdf says:

      The problem with leaving out the race stuff and the sex stuff is that it is impossible to oppose progressivism without challening them.

      The greatest weapon in the progressivist arsenal is the dispirate impact lawsuit. If any group of people has different outcomes then the policies that created them will be deemed to be unfair. If all people were equal this would make sense. However, if all people are not equal this is impossible. Thus all policies will inevitable be judged failures, and victimization politics will rule the day.

      There are a million other reasons the blank slate equalist approach has to be challenged. Chiefly, because it doesn’t reflect reality. And if your policy doesn’t take reality into effect its doomed to fail (as progressivism has).

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    • asdf says:

      Bah, replied to the wrong post.

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  35. Dan says:

    This post seems like a cop out.

    Look at North and South Korea. Two fairly opposite systems living side by side. Same level of world technology. Same genetic people. East and West Germany, same thing.

    Look at the Communist world and the free world for most of the 20th century. And yet they couldn’t be more different in every single respect.

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  36. Erin says:

    The way I (not a Reactionary) would continue the argument for Reaction: “Okay, Vast Formless Thing, gotcha. But on any given axis, why *should* we *want* to go in the direction the VFT is pushing us? On [axis X] society has been going [toward y] but we should be going [toward z], because [reasons A,B,C, which are not *only* of the form "it worked in the past"].”

    I hope that made sense. I was trying to capture intuitions like “You want us to go with the flow, just because it’s the flow” and “Just because we can point to reasons why people are digging doesn’t mean we can’t refuse to dig, and try to stop them” and “There are some babies sitting in bathwater out there that I for one want back.”

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  37. But a 1600s culture with 2013 technology would be like Windows 3.11 on a 2013 computer: a complete mismatch and a complete disaster. No matter how well Bourbon France was adapted to the 1600s, it would have no idea what to do with 2013.

    There are two branches of reactionary thought, which I’ll call “neo-reactionary” and “traditionalist-reactionary”.

    “Traditionalists-reactionaries” include folk like Larry Auster, Bruce Charlston, the writers at Orthosphere, etc. They want to return America to some sort of Christian theocratic monarchy or aristocratic republic. They pretty clearly want to turn back the clock.

    “Neo-reactionaries” are tech-friendly, somewhat modernity-friendly, atheist, and do not wish to turn back the clock completely. “Neo-reactionaries” are considered reactionary because they realize that at least part of the solution to current problems include restoring institutions and ideas that are currently considered old fashioned/evil/taboo/retrograde/reactionary. However, they realize that the restoration will be very selective, and will include many updates.

    To carry on with your your analogy – reactionaries think this whole Windows thing was a giant mistake. Unix was a fundamentally more stable and secure operating system and we should never have ditched it for Windows. The traditionalist-reactionary wants to return to unix circa 1970. The neo-reactionary is cool with some of the innovations of Windows – like graphical UI’s, modern software etc. But the neo-reactionary feels like Unix had a better core. So the neo-reactionary’s solution is that we need a new operating system – say OSX – that combines the order and stability of Unix but that is updated to the 21st century.

    What would this OSX government look like? Well, I made a sketch of one possible structure: http://intellectual-detox.com/2011/05/31/if-i-was-king-of-philadelphia/. But the important task right now is not to design a perfect utopia. The important tasks are to a) get good, smart people to actually learn from the past, and to understand that there are forgotten/taboo ideas that might be helpful in our current situation and b) get good, smart people to actually start thinking seriously about governance design and “what comes next”.

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  38. Huji says:

    “It is stupid to get upset at puppets. If you rip them up, the puppeteer will get new ones.”

    Not sure why you think Reactionaries need to be told this. Most Reactionaries said this long before you did.

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  39. Engines Alone Turn The Wheels of History … I don’t want to sound too deterministic and spooky here, but I do think governments have a good way of kind of converging to a local optimum.

    I believe in a hybrid approach to history. Certainly, great changes in technology triggered the fall and rise of particular institutions and political structures. The printing press enabled the reformation, muskets enabled democracy, prosperous cities enable hedonism.

    But in many cases the battles between the usurpers and the reigning institutions were very close. Had particular individuals or small groups taken different actions or held different beliefs, the course of history could have been dramatically different. The goal of the reactionary is to lay the groundwork so at the next critical juncture, the “right” side wins.

    Here are some examples of where changes in the free decisions of individuals or small groups could have resulted in a dramtically altered timeline:

    1) Imagine Louis XVI of France had some Moldbug-esque pamphleteer in his court, who convinced him that supporting a democratic Revolution in America would ultimately pose a mortal danger to his own neck. France never intervenes, the American rebellion gets crushed, Washington hangs for treason. Instead of memes spreading that laud “how brave patriots fighting for freedom can defeat the strongest of kings”, memes instead spread about how democracy is incompatible with military discipline and how free soldiers cannot organize to fight a war. The pro-democracy spirit that rose in Paris during the war never happens. Louis XVI does not bankrupt himself fighting the war. The French Revolution never happens. It is entirely plausible that monarchy surives another century – by which time the rise of tanks and airplanes turns the military balance once again towards rule by the few.

    2) Imagine Napolean never invaded Russia. Europe could have been ruled by a French Empire for the past two centuries.

    3) Image Tsar Nicholas II decided to listen to his courts Moldbugvoski. He allies Russia with Germany out of monarchical solidarity, rather than allying with France and Britain. The monarchical powers win World War I. Again, history is dramatically different.

    4) Imagine Woodrow Wilson is not president in 1917, but rather the president is someone less enthralled by messianic desire to promote democracy, such as Taft or Harding. The U.S. stays out of World War I, Germany wins, and the history of Europe is dramatically altered.

    5) The Chinese Power Struggle after Mao’s death. Deng Xiaoping was not inevitable. There was a power struggle and it was not at all guaranteed that someone of Deng’s competency and practical-mindedness would come out on top. Had another person won, China’s last three decades could have looked a lot more like North Korea’s recent history.

    6) Tiannamenn. The Chinese leaders came very close to chickening out on their decision to violently suppress the protestors. Had they so chosen, it is likely that the government would have fell. Neither authoritarianism nor Democratic revolution was inevitable – the result depended on the ideas and actions of particular people at the time.

    7) The Meiji Restoration. Admiral’s Perry’s wake up call created the conditions for sudden change, but a group of people still had to make the restoration happen.

    8) The rise of Hitler. Conditions in 1930 Germany were ripe for a reaction against the Weimar Republic. But the nature of that reaction did not have to take the form of lifting a bloothirsty, meglomanic into power. Had certain powerful individuals such as Hindenberg realized Hitler’s madness, and instead promoted an alternative, more-sane reactionary movement, I think Nazism could have been avoided entirely.

    9) Ditto for the rise of the Bolsheviks. The conditions were ripe for revolution, but it was not guaranteed that the Bolsheviks would win.

    10) The rise of Mao. Had the U.S. state department been less sympathetic to communism, they would not have cut off arms sales to the nationalists. Mao would have been crushed, and the history of China during the 1950′s and 1960′s would have been similiar to the history of South Korea or Taiwan.

    11) The Federalist Counter-Revolution. Washington, Madison et al, were appalled by the excesses of democracy and the chaos in the country after the revolution. So they quitely and dilligently set about creating and installing elective monarchy/aristocratic republic.

    Third, you could posit that for some reason cultural evolution previously drove us in a Progressive direction, but now it is driving us back in a Reactionary direction, and that you are a legitimate priest of the Vast Formless Things just making their new and revised will known unto man. To make this work, you’d have to figure out exactly when and why the Vast Formless Things changed their minds.

    I think a few things have changed to at least create an opening for a counter-revolution:

    a) Fashion. Ideas inevitably come in and out of fashion. The youth of today do not want to carve out their own identity. Revolution and “power to the people” was the call of our wrinkled and aging parents, not our call. Protesting is not cool anymore. Bowties are cool.

    b) The facts. When I was in high school in the late 1990′s I was super optimistic about how the end of the cold war was going to finally allow democracy to flourish, which would in turn allow all countries to gain a U.S.-like standard of living. But it turns most of these democratic transitions have resulted in no improvement at best and chaos at worse.

    c) Military reality. The age of the musket-armed militia is over. Air superiority is everything, making this age much more analagous to the age of armored knights.

    d) The caucophony. The printing press enabled democratic organization. But the internet has so many competing voices, all contradicting each other, that there is no schelling point around which democratic mobs can form. There are so many articles criticizing politicians, that people become inured, and it is impossible to separate the real crimes from the fake crimes.

    e) Stagnation. The a basket of goods containing the basic neccessities of life – a house near where the jobs are, food, gasoline, health insurance – has risen in price relative to hourly wages over the past forty years. Frustration is growing in response to a broken political system, long term unemployment, and decay of beaurucratic institutions from the university to medicare.

    The reactionary goal is to develop a contingency plan for the case where continued decline becomes even more obvious to all and/or when a acute crisis strikes. When that time comes, we want the good guys to win. We want the movement that wins to be akin to the Federalists or Deng Xiaoping. We need to avoid the bad outcome where the crisis results in the rise of a Hitler, Mao, Lenin, or Hugo Chavez.

    Many a revolution has fallen prey to the Yeats effect: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst. Are full of passionate intensity.”

    The goal is to combat the Yeats effect. Instead of giving people the choice between Weimar or Hitler, give people the choice between Weimar, Hitler, or The Sane-Neo-Reactionary-Alternative, and do everything to make the Sane-Neo-Reactionary-Alternative win.

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  40. Damien says:

    Another complication: how much do cultural or governmental forms not exist in the past because they weren’t adapted to past conditions, vs. their simply not having been invented yet? Small scale pure democracy starts looking very common when you look, especially allowing for consensus decision-making not just majority voting. Representative government seems to have far fewer precursors, mostly in post-Roman Europe (parliaments or Estates-General variants crop up around 1200) and the Iroquois. Greek and Roman democracies, such as they were, didn’t scale; AFAIK the Roman Republic proto-empire was always run by the municipal government of Rome, with no feedback from beyond.

    Say one of the reforming dictators decrees some way that the provinces get a say in trans-Roman government, probably starting with just the colonias, cities full of Roman citizens who would have had a right to vote in Rome had they been in Rome. Maybe they get to send tribunes who can veto actions regarding them, and the college of provincial tribunes becomes a legislature. Does this crash and burn for material reasons? (what ones?) Or does it have a good chance of forming the United States in 100 BC?

    Likewise, China’s civil service system seems to have been very powerful and successful for 2000 years, and only imitated in maybe Vietnam and Korea. I see no reason other empires couldn’t have had it, they just didn’t. Something being tried and failed is indicative; something needing complex conditions to be tried might be indicative, but some powerful ideas are more like “no one thought of it, but it’s obvious in retrospect.”

    Not that imposing representative government is a magic cure, as lots of Latin American and African history can attest, but compared to imperial rule by a city council or general the attempt seems worthwhile, and it almost seems odd that Roman soldier-citizens didn’t demand more of a political equality in retirement. (That we know of. Which we might not, due to imperfect records.)

    In the other direction, and less about invention and more about contingency, while the outcome of total war between the US North and South was nigh-inevitable, it’s less obviously inevitable to me that the North would have been willing to wage such war. Say Lincoln had been more pacific, or been killed early, or something, and the US South is a slaveholding country into the 20th century… the present would probably look rather different for all sorts of reasons, including a smaller (but more “European”, without Southern whites and as much race issues in politics) US.

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  43. A440 says:

    I’m slightly late to the party, but in my travels online a lot of the smartest people who call themselves “Reactionary” (and certainly the ones I like the most) would agree completely with everything you’ve written here; they’d accept the thesis that turning back the technological clock is impossible and stupid 100%. But they would also add to that that the social consequences of the Vast Formless Things are *so incredibly awful* (alienation, atomization, loss of cultural continuity, etc.) that it’s absolutely essential to find the next, yet vaster Formless Thing so we can leave this era of history behind as fast as possible.

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  55. Eli says:

    Wow. You recapped Marxian historical materialism for an entire post without ever actually voicing the words “historical materialism”. Good going.

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    • Multiheaded says:

      As unlikely as it sounds (for real), I don’t even think that Scott is well-versed in Marxism; he could’ve well recreated most of it himself. Either way, the absense of Marx’s name is conspicious.

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  56. Multiheaded says:

    Scott, PLEASE don’t delete this one! Metaphysical wrestling equipment spam is just too cool.

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