20140625

Extra-constitutional government in America

THE American Constitution has been for long a subject of admiration. Indeed, seldom has a people found amid the tempest which usually accompanies the establishment of liberty and independence leaders as sagacious and acute as were the founders of the Constitution of the United States. They knew history, they understood man, they fathomed the great political thinkers of the age, they gauged the noble as well as the petty passions which gave themselves free play during the period of the painful beginnings of the new nation. But they could not foresee the destiny of their country, they had no idea of the course along which it was to be carried by its economic evolution. Their work, therefore, has not altogether stood the test of time. The political and social evolution of the United States has rendered some parts of it obsolete. The Fathers did not anticipate the flood of Democracy rising above the gates erected, nor the all-pervading development of Party, nor the coming of conquering Plutocracy.

These
factors -- Democracy, Party, and Plutocracy -- taken together completely altered the direction of government and went far to reduce the Constitution of the United States to a paper constitution. Extra-constitutional forms developed, which have frequently superseded or encroached upon the constitutional order. It is impossible to understand the American government unless one has studied well those extra-constitutional forms. Nor is such study necessary only for more accurate knowledge. The constitutional mechanism itself would work in the wrong way or would revolve in empty space if the extra-constitutional machinery superimposed on it were ignored. The citizen who is supposed to propel that mechanism would fail in his task, to the great injury of himself and of the commonwealth.

Therefore
it is not only the student but the citizen too, the American citizen, who must study, along with the constitutional government, the extra-constitutional system. Its body and soul are to be found in the parties with their elaborate organization, which has grown gradually and almost concurrently with the Union.
Moisei Ostrogorski, Democracy and the Party System in the United States (1910). The extra-constitutional system consists of a good deal more than the parties, but what Ostrogorski implies here is worth consideration: an ideal of good citizenship which presupposes the necessity and utility of formal mechanisms of governing power which are not officially tied to the State, and which demands that the politically-empowered citizen be capable of understanding the workings of the system in which he is called to participate. This could be secured constitutionally by limiting suffrage to those who passed a small test on the extra-constitutional system, but in that case the vote may as well be restricted to the point that there is no longer such a cumbersome extra-constitutional system. There is always an informal side to public affairs, of course, and the one of the twentieth century's many lessons about political organization is that it is unwise to seek to get rid of it. It is equally unwise, it would seem, to place a mere "paper constitution" in charge of limiting the formal; Charles Francis Adams, Jr. tells us as much in An Undeveloped Function (1901):
Congress has all along been but a clumsy recording machine of conclusions worked out in the laboratory and machine-shop; and yet the idea is still deeply seated in the minds of men otherwise intelligent that, to effect political results, it is necessary to hold office, or at least to be a politician and to be heard from the hustings. Is not the exact reverse more truly the case? The situation may not be, indeed it certainly is not, as it should be; it may be, I hold that it is, unfortunate that the scholar and investigator are finding themselves more and more excluded from public life by the professional with an aptitude for the machine, but the result is none the less patent. On all the issues of real moment, — issues affecting anything more than a division of the spoils or the concession of some privilege of exaction from the community, it is the student, the man of affairs and the scientist who to-day, in last resort, closes debate and shapes public policy. His is the last word. How to organize and develop his means of influence is the question.
The twentieth century gave us the answer: a democratic society will, over time, undergo prestige formalization, that is, it will develop sociopolitically salient means of indicating one's class where the constitutional government had abolished them. A society with no inherited titles, few limits on suffrage, and a wide pool of human capital furnishes a massive testing-ground for signals of social status. Prestige formalization means that some of these signals will become established positional goods, gained at some cost as proof of membership in the prestige class. America, in theory, does not need knights, dukes, or princes because it has journalists, academics, and civil servants. Party, notably, has not historically been a sure indicator of class—membership comes at little cost—though it does help one guess.

Thus the most prominent positional goods in America have not only been extra-constitutional but extra-partisan; an insistence on nonpartisanism will thus not rid a democracy of the problem of politics-as-signalling. To return to the matter of limited suffrage, imagine that the United States limited the vote to males and females with at least a master's degree, a residence in a city of more than five hundred thousand people, and no more than three children. We would have a less democratic government, one less affected by the whims of the masses, and we would be no closer to changing the crucial matter of who generates prestige. In this case, it is the upper-middle class. The above qualifications, after all, are incontrovertibly bourgeois: to have paid for college, to have chosen the right place to live and the right number of children to have—these reflect a certain conception of prudence, the mercantile virtue par excellence. As the emulation of such virtuous behavior becomes more difficult for those not among the upper-middle class, commonality of norms and free competition of status signals among the middle classes—which to me are some of the most precious and interesting properties of American society—are lost, and the constitutional mechanisms of government become important vestiges of non-upper-middle-class power.

20140615

Defining early 20th-century progressivism

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the word progressive was growing to be popularly applied to a sizeable and influential coalition of political interests in the society of the United States. What, if anything, could be considered to bind these various constituent groups together, in fact and not mere public perception, was a certain belief in the progress of mankind, a sense of being on the "right side of history". Beyond this common thread, progressives in the early twentieth century were not at all of uniform opinion; the vision of progress varied from group to group and from man to man. There were, however, recognizable tendencies of thought and practice, some of which persist to the time of this writing and some of which do not.

Generally, anyone called a progressive in the United States between 1900 and the Second World War expressed one or more of the following[1]:

(a) pietism, that is, an emphasis on piety, righteousness, or moral progress, within or beyond matters of religion;
(b) demotism, a belief in the virtue of popular government;
(c) modernism, an eagerness to make use of scientific advancements to improve government and other realms of society;
(d) labor reformism, which sought measures to improve the lot of workers under the economic system then in place[2];
(e) statism[3] in the sense of support for the expansion of the State, often by means of gradual reform;

(f) American imperialism of the first kind, which demanded the acquisition of new territory by the United States;
(g) American imperialism of the second kind, a sort of implicit imperialism, which called for transformative foreign intervention without annexation; and
(h) American imperialism of the third kind, a heavily Northeastern tendency which considered the Southern and Western portions of the United States to be in need of transformative intervention, and saw its most acute application with the Reconstruction of the 1870s.

Self-described progressives thus tended to break from both classical liberalism and earlier political tradition. They took some of the older vocabulary with them, however; for example—and we will see how this happened later on*—the word liberalism on its own came to refer to such things as (a), (d), and (e).

There existed a class of Eastern men, often journalists or otherwise involved with the press or universities, who generally shared, in particular, a twin favorability towards (e) and (h). This could mean outright rejecting (b): H. L. Mencken, for example, mocking the common "booboisie", and Sinlcair Lewis with his treatment of rural Midwestern norms in Main Street. Such men remain influential; the word progressive, at the time of writing, refers almost exclusively to this group (which has by now spread well beyond the Northeast)[4].

[1]: We are tempted to include an (i), that is, rural interests, but it would not be difficult to make the case that such interests were primarily of concern to more influential progressives insofar as they overlapped with (b), (d), and (e).
[2]:
This was at times associated with strains of radicalism—by radicalism we mean movements which were radically opposed to certain norms and institutions of the day, often as willing to use terror and violence as signs and pamphlets—which then threatened America's economic system (and, to an extent, her sociopolitical stability). These elements—anarchists, revolutionary socialists, and so on, who were often German, Italian, Polish, and Jewish immigrants, as well as homespun organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World—were suppressed by progressives as they gained power.
[3]: The term statism has been used to refer to support for any form of government, but this is needlessly broad if we are not anti-statists in the anarchist sense.
We find no other appropriate word for the progressive expansion of the State which does not have some undesirable exosemantic load (that is, more than statism already does).
[4]: Though the thread of descent can easily be discerned from Bellamy's heyday to the present, the consensus amongst this group—their consensus about what to say, at the very least—has shifted somewhat. Its members are generally not to be found making explicitly negative statements about (b) the way Mencken or Walter Lippmann would, nor are they nearly as passionate about (c) as many of those in the early twentieth century were—to the contrary, primitivism is now seen among them. (a) and—at least rhetorically—(b) have joined (e) and (h) as their signature affections.


*This post is excerpted from a book I'm presently working on, which will cover the development of various groups and ideas in the United States and beyond—primarily those which today remain influential, as well as their closest competitors—from about 1900 to 1940.

20140614

The Hajnal line of fire

In 1965, John Hajnal discovered that a culturally significant line could be drawn from St. Petersburg to Trieste. On the western side of the line, people often married late, and sometimes not at all; east of the line, women who remained unmarried for life were rare. The line can be seen almost as an ellipse, with Ireland, southern Spain, southern Italy, and much of Finland showing the same pattern as Eastern Europe. This was more similar to non-European norms; Hajnal found that the late-marriage tendency of the core of Europe appeared to be unique to the region for centuries. Later research has found several important demographic differences which seem to be associated with the Hajnal line:
here’s a map created by jayman of average european iqs (taken from here), and on top of it i’ve added the hajnal line:



the populations behind the hajnal line (i.e. the core of europe) are characterized by:
- late marriages (present since at least the early medieval period)
- small family sizes (nuclear or stem families versus extended families; also present since at least the early medieval period)
- higher average iqs, in general, than populations in the periphery of europe (see map)
- strong future time orientation, strong societal collectivism, strong preference for rules and order (Ordnung!), strong drive to succeed
- being more civic than populations in the periphery of europe
This wasn't always the case, of course. So what happened? hbdchick explains:
what happened behind the hajnal line starting in the early medieval period was:
- changes in mating patterns (thanks to the church) from close relative marriage to more distant marriages, thus breaking down clans and tribes
- changes in the economic structure from whatever the h*ll went before (i have no idea) to manorialism
- changes in family structures (thanks to both the increased outbreeding and manorialism) from extended families to smaller nuclear or stem families

all of these would’ve changed the selection pressures on the populations in the areas where these practices were adopted.

inbreeding and outbreeding probably select differently for genes related to altruism, so all of the outbreeding behind the hajnal line likely selected for different sorts of altruistic behaviors than those seen in other populations — strong societial collectivistic feelings, for instance.
The manorial structure is of particular interest here. hbdchick quotes Michael Mitterauer:
Households seem to have been a central ordering principle in this case. In a peasant society, at any rate, the primary social orientation was to one’s house, not to one’s relatives. This was an essential distinguishing feature vis-a-vis societies oriented toward descent; these kinship patterns were located around the periphery of Europe, but in the main they lay beyond Europe’s borders.
So we can imagine that in the first societies, the prime social unit was the family; in medieval and early modern Europe, it was the extra-familial household; now, in much of the West, it is the individual. We have moved from a state of clannishness to a high-trust or civic mode of organization, and then to an atomic mode, which is comfortable but, as data on civic behavior suggest, low in societal trust. The more clannish groups living in North America would appear to have an advantage in maintaining social capital within such an environment over most Whites, who—excepting Appalachia—are descended heavily from people who came from behind the Hajnal line, and are even more outbred, having a mix of ancestral European ethnic groups. The latter are adapted for civic conditions which no longer exist, while the former are well-placed to benefit from the very forces—notably the provisional State—which destroyed those previous conditions. The benefits of outbreeding seem to be undoing themselves.

20140610

Immanentizing the archipelago

Several schools of political thought appear to have converged on more or less the same idea: if people are so fond of dividing themselves into distinct groups, why not make it the task of government to safeguard their ability to do so? Moldbug wrote about Patchwork several years ago—the image is one of tens of thousands of small States around the globe, each of which limits who gets in but not necessarily who leaves—and now we see the degree to which this idea transcends neoreactionary or even libertarian premises. Scott Alexander sums up the central idea of his Archipelago:
If people want to go do their own thing in a way that harms no one else, you let them. That’s the Archipelagian way.
To some extent, this is possible even now—indeed, for certain ethnic groups and for various small intentional communities, it is already in practice. Commenter Whateverfor takes note:
How different is this in practice than a (relatively) liberal national government with strong non-governmental social societies? When the strongest sanction available to the ‘Islands’ is exile, how strong can the sub-governments be? If you look at the Amish right now, how much different would their lives be under this system than the current one?

I think we’re closer to this system than you think. It doesn’t look like it because the sub-government societies are generally weak and pathetic. That’s just the honest revealed preference that most people don’t give a shit about these issues.
The problem of why most people don't seem to give a shit is a matter for another time, but those who do give a shit have some options. Let's assume there's nothing we can do to change the prevailing political or economic structures: the sorting machine is still fast at work, demographic trends continue to diminish the middle class, and the outbred order continues to implode. What must be developed, then, are ways for us to make the best of these trends, to turn them towards our own communitarian or thedish ends. Just as medieval Europe had institutions—namely, the Church and myriad multifamilial manors—which brought them out of clannishness towards high societal trust, we require institutions to bring us out of atomization. Again, we're not seeking to change the world or make any grand statement, so these institutions will be small. They will be in the task of building new thedes from scratch. They will not seek attention. They will need to be integrated enough, yet self-distinct and familial enough, to cultivate intergenerational social capital. Whether or not they render unto God that which is His, they will certainly not neglect to render unto Caesar that which bears his likeness and superscription.

For Whateverfor to make reference to the Amish is particularly appropriate here: they pay tax, are friendly with the "English" around them without either assimilating to them or trying to convert them, sustain themselves with humble labor, keep a high fertility rate, and seem to be breeding themselves for traits which make their society stabler with each generation. Having started out as a religious community, they have enthedened themselves over time into a distinct ethnicity.

There are other, similar thedes we can learn from as well. Mormondom is far more integrated into the postmodern paradigm than are the Amish, yet they as well maintain high marriage rates, high fertility, and stable norms. There are also many immigrant workers, not to mention members of the underclass, who use wagework, welfare, or a combination of the two for the benefit of a small, strongly defined ingroup. A group of middle-class families—friends and neighbors to one another—could develop a strategy which drew the most beneficial practices from what already works in areas which still have a healthy middle class; from what works for other classes; from the Amish; from the Mormons; from history; from their own past experience and ongoing experiments.

The necessary institution, then, is a new kind of household. Imagine still the group of middle-class families. Let's say there are five families in total—five fathers, five mothers, and a dozen or so children—who have the common aim of thedening, community-building. Their first organizational measures are both economical and socializing: the five families occupy three adjacent houses—in, say, a rather removed suburb which borders on the country—with two stories each and eighteen bedrooms total. They can thus support themselves on five or six incomes, and may have as many as fifteen. From there, they set about the task of cultivating folkways, developing common norms and rituals. There's a garden in each backyard. There's one television for all three houses—no cable. The children are homeschooled. Everyone eats together at least a few nights a week. Everyone celebrates each child's birthday. Everyone packs into the TV room for a movie marathon every Saturday, and into the pews every Sunday. The five fathers go hunting together and are out for days at a time, often bringing their sons; the five mothers worry together about their safety. There are yearly cruises and monthly camping trips, and everyone travels together. They depend on one another emotionally as well as economically.

As time passes, the families will grow to fill more land, more bedrooms, more memories. Certain stories, books, and films will come to make up the house canon. Recipes, formulas, catchphrases, mannerisms, and attitudes will be passed down and cohere with time into a distinct tradition. This family of families, cohesive and at least partially exogamous, could number in the hundreds within a few generations (and would have to develop its subsidiarity protocols accordingly, perhaps even expanding to the point of reinstating the nuclear family). They maintain respect and even a degree of clout within the wider society by paying their taxes, avoiding conflict, winning friends and keeping good acquaintances beyond the house, giving away their excesses, doing volunteer work, networking with like households, und so weiter.

That last point—networking with like households—is where social media and long-distance communication in general are especially useful. They allow for the dissemination of polycentric or non-geographic folkways—customs that allow those who adopt them, even if of disparate origins, to identify one another. The arrangement detailed above is one of many possibilities along which a cultural blueprint could be put into practice. Perhaps several such households could exchange stories, cherished songs, and family recipes. You will note that we have plenty of open-source folkways floating around and that the only truly proprietary folkways are those that no one else will adopt. Thus a thedishly affiliated network of multifamilial households would have an interest in keeping some of its shared practices esoteric. Even a single house of this kind might have its own cant, oaths of loyalty and secrecy, and rites of initiation for new members.

Variably connected houses maintaining little hubs of culture in an atomized world: not the patchwork of our dreams, but certainly workable.

20140517

To be frank

Americans of the Millennial generation—now ranging in age from, broadly, 14 to 34—are probably about as apathetic as we are said to be, on the average. But in this spirit of apathy there is a revival of the good old American intolerance for bullshit, for (with a tip of the hat to Salinger) phoniness. These are distinctly American terms, because frankness is a distinctly American virtue.

Another thing related to the general apathy is that Millennials are quite irreligious by any standard older than themselves. But I can't have that for myself. Not a fan of what my ancestors would think, not to mention failing God. I dream that I might be blessed with the sort of faith that motivated my forebears.

Religiosity only gets really weird, in American terms, with my parents' generation. With people my age, the Third Great Awakening has been reduced to a sort of drug-induced haze. We're rather lonely people, of course, and altered states of consciousness allow us to prevent this (by facilitating social interaction), while the Internet allows us to circumvent it (by allowing long-distance social interaction). But the atomization is still there.

I met an American man in Costa Rica named Warren who was somewhere in his 50s. He had been raised Catholic. I told him I was interested in the Church. That I wanted to be convinced to submit to it. That I craved blind faith. If I had more friends who went to church, I'd go, whatever the paradoxes I would have to accept.

Warren was a straight shooter, once again in good American fashion. He did construction work. He'd survived cancer. He'd worked in Taiwan and could carry on a small conversation in Taiwanese. His accent said Pittsburgh. He told me—probably after we'd both had a couple—"Hey, man. You're young. You may find that blind faith yet." There is no utterance or construction available in the repertoire of all English, as far as I know, that I could use to convey how humbling and yet honoring it was to hear that.

20140516

Gizzard stew à la graaaaaagh

My first venture into the world of gizzard cooking was broadly a success, but subpar: the gizzards were improperly fried. The gizzards from that first package which hadn't been fried were later put in a sparse and little-planned soup, however, which turned out quite well. For my next endeavor in gizzardry, then, a soup was clearly the optimal preparation. So I got another package of Tyson chicken gizzards and hearts (mostly gizzards) and got to work.

I threw about a pound of gizzards into a pot. Filled the pot with water till complete coverage of the gizzards was achieved. Boiled them for about two hours. Then I removed them and placed them in a plastic container, soaking them in a mix of olive oil, coconut oil, Cavender's seasoning, lemon pepper, a bit of honey, and a perhaps ineffectually minute spattering of cinnamon. Shook all this up in the plastic container. Then added Jack Daniel's pulled chicken to the mix and shook some more.

Now our gizzard broth was still waiting to be filled out. I added a few ounces of chicken stock, some V8 juice, a splash of milk, and a further assortment of spices and whatnot. Boiled carrots and then potatoes and then onions in this thickened base stock. Then added the gizzards and meat to the pot and simmered for another half hour or so. Once served in bowls, topped off with shredded sharp cheddar. Made for a nice thick soup. Alec, my housemate who acted once again as sous-chef, agreed that it was a meal well made.

Soup.
Stew.
This soup was already delicious, and then it got unexpectedly better. Having been left in the covered pot on low heat for several hours, the soup is now—at the time of this writing I still haven't eaten it all yet—a stew. And in taste and texture it is magnificent, better than even the original soup: as the water simmered away, the gizzards got much tenderer and looser, almost blending in with the pulled meat. A recipe to save, no doubt.

20140510

Notes on Costa Rica: polychronicity and gringohood

When I was in Costa Rica last year, one of the first things I noticed was that the costarricenses or ticos have a rather different conception of time from that of gringos like myself. In tico time, a las siete de la tarde means sometime in the evening. As a Texan, it's not foreign to me to call someone over at supper o'clock, and I lack the Yankee time-is-money mentality—aside from professional matters, that is. But in Costa Rica, the polychronic attitude—"I'll get to it when I get to it"—extends even to the enterprising classes, and they joke about it with contented self-awareness.

It's worth noting that this difference cannot be entirely a matter of different demographics. Costa Ricans are often quite European in their features and ancestry. Accordingly, the word gringo in Costa Rica seems to imply Americanness or Canadianness, with a less general racial meaning than in parts of Latin America which have a higher proportion of Amerindian ancestry. So when a Honduran or Colombian calls me a gringo, he's referring not only to my Anglo-Saxon heritage or my supposed inability to speak intelligible Spanish, but more broadly to the fact that I'm White. When a Costa Rican calls me a gringo, he's referring primarily to my linguistic nationality—this is what I was told, at any rate.

There were other cultural and infrastructural differences, however, that seemed to be associated with the ticos' polychronicity. For one thing, when you eat fast food in Costa Rica, you're more or less expected to leave your tray on the table when you've finished your meal. Someone will come and throw it away for you. Likewise with the road—in San Jose, only certain main thoroughfares were clean, and they were kept that way by hired hands. This is indicative not only of polychronicity but of a low-trust society, and this impression was only heightened by the presence of police in storefronts and metal bars on windows. You have to be visually assessed by police, and sometimes patted down, one customer at a time, to enter any bank. Costa Rica hasn't had a military since 1948, but they make up for it with the way they employ their cops.

Crazy drunk dude was encountered here.
Perhaps the most visceral sign of low societal trust, at least to me as an American and especially a Texan, was that you couldn't look anybody in the eye on the street, let alone greet them. Twice in San Jose I saw hostility because of my ingrained willingness to make eye contact with strangers. The second time, the man was obviously drunk and stood in front of me for a good minute or so rambling on about putamierdagringo as I sipped my second or third glass of Imperial from behind some thin metal railing.

Costa Ricans are not terribly hard to befriend, though, if you have a reason to speak to them and one of you can speak the other's language—and both of these are necessarily the case when you're staying at a hostel. It was a pleasure getting to know the majority of the people I met there—natives, expatriates, and other travellers alike—and this made it easy to absorb and use the native speech quickly, gradually replacing English words and patterns with Spanish ones in conversation. I also listened to local radio stations most mornings and evenings and stuck to Spanish as much as possible when speaking with vendors, officers, and anyone else I encountered on the street. I probably learned more Spanish in Costa Rica than I've forgotten since leaving—and I've forgotten much.

So much for all that. I'll talk more about Costa Rica at remember o'clock.