Owned Government

I’ve been writing the last year or two about tariffs, transaction taxes, tolls and tonlieux as just and fitting ways – and, indeed, economically efficient ways, Pareto optimal ways, ways that should gladden the hearts of Austrians and Chicago Scholars – for a sovereign to farm revenue from the domains under his sway. Implicit in all that talk of justice, fitness, optimality, and so forth, is the presupposition that the sovereign has the right to collect such revenues – that, i.e., it is not wrong per se for him to collect them, but rather, possibly, quite correct and proper, and true to the ontological and moral facts of the matter.

Notice then that collections of such transaction taxes are effected by free and uncoerced exchanges by his customers of something they possess for something the sovereign possesses. To put it bluntly, such revenues are collected from sales by the sovereign of something he owns: the control over who shall participate his realms, and on what terms. It is that ownership which confers upon the sovereign the rights of ownership, such as the right to transfer title, to sell, let, give, bequeath, rent, permit, tax – and by extension to exert any sort of control, rule, command, etc.

[I stumbled the other day on a recent post by the invaluable Free Northerner on the topic of owned markets, that lays out this notion much more clearly and succinctly than I have ever done. I recommend it. His key argument: when markets are not explicitly owned and so optimally farmed for revenues, a commons ensues from the misleadings of the resulting whacked price signals, which is then inevitably exploited to death. More on that in a moment.]

The sovereign does not then simply reign. He owns. If he did not own, then his reign would be unjust, and men would adjudge it illegitimate; for, his reign in that event would not commensurate with the ontological facts, and as ill fit to reality would therefore be immoral, unjust.

Is there an orderly market? Then is it constrained by rules. And then is there some sovereign who constrains it – who exerts upon it the control of an owner, to enforce those rules. Orderly markets are always owned and ruled, whether ostensibly or not. And rule of a market is ipso facto rule over the spatial and temporal domain or Receptacle of its motions, be it a transnational empire or a coffee shop. To reign over a market is to reign over some bit of material reality as property, and to control it authoritatively.

That reign derives from ownership is another of those eternal verities of civilized order: as there is always an oligarchy, always an established religion, always taboo, always some limit on permissible speech, and so forth, so likewise the sovereign always owns his domains, and his powers of rule are powers of ownership. We delude ourselves, to think it ever otherwise. We now in the West delude ourselves that no one owns our nations. Even our sovereigns delude themselves in this fashion. So all the discourse of our politics is hobbled, noisy, inapt, and incapable of any completely rational account of political affairs that is adequate to what is really happening. Because furthermore the connection between sovereignty and ownership is obscured by the terms of our politics, so that no one can see how any government might possibly be ontologically correct, or therefore morally justified in its rule, and as a consequence truly and duly authoritative, so that it obliges their duteous fealty, all the men of the West suspect that their governments are illegitimate, and feel resentment thereat, feel alienation and indeed some measure of hatred. Men love their nations, some of them; a few love their leaders; but no man today loves his government. So while they may serve their nation or follow a leader, they seek for government only to maximize what they can get from it, as cheaply as possible.

The sovereign reigns only because he owns his domains; reign just is a right of ownership. So long as he is sovereign, so long has he as their owner the right to farm them for revenues. And so he shall, ever; taxes are as certain as death (that’s one way we can tell that domains are always owned). The only question is whether they be collected well, or ill.

The farmer is right to farm. That is not in question. What is in question is whether his methods are good. How prosperous then is his farm? By their fruits shall ye know them, etc.

[E.g.: Taxes on property or incomes? Bad idea; like cutting down your orchards to sell for cordwood.]

What good does the sovereign sell in exchange for the various sorts of transaction levies he collects? He sells the right to participate for a time in the market that he owns and maintains: to enjoy its protections, benefits, liberties, obligations, rules, risks, and so forth; and to benefit from the quality of its other participants, their wealth, honesty, reasonableness, reliability, intelligence, enterprise, ingenuity, number (large markets are nicer than small, usually) and so forth. Transaction taxes on all his subjects and tonlieux levied on persons entering or remaining in his domains, tolls on their vehicles and tariffs on their goods all purchase their enjoyment of the protections of his laws, of his police and magistrates, and of his men at arms.

Where levies on these goods are set too low, more business will be transacted in a domain than is ontologically warranted. It will be busier than it ought to be. Its sabbath rest and rituals will be neglected, its jubilees forgotten, its commensal feasts impoverished, its communal affections and loyalties withered, and – eventually – its great and purely public works derelict and fallen into desuetude. In the limit, all its social bounds and bonds will be vitiated, and the regularities they subvene disrupted: its borders, language and culture all porous, indefinite, and finally altogether ruined.

There are two sorts of agents whom such distortions of market signals will mislead: subjects of the realm who are permanent – who, i.e., owe a debt of fealty to the sovereign, extending in extremis to the expenditure of their very lives in defense of the realm – and those who are temporary – immigrants, tourists, merchants, and so forth, who are not obliged to the defense of the realm with their bodies.

Take the former, permanent sort of subject. Call him John. Assuming he and his are fed, sheltered, clothed, and so forth, how shall John dispose of the marginal bit of his wealth? He may consume it, donate it to charity, give it to some other, or invest it. Assume again that, as he rationally should, John’s sovereign taxes consumption but not those other sorts of transactions. If he sets consumption taxes to a rate lower than is optimal, his subject John will be suboptimally inclined more to consume that marginal bit of his substance, rather than to invest, give, or donate it – or for that matter to do nothing at all with it for a time, but rather simply to rest, to read or to pray, to play with his children or to monitor the progress of the clouds. And this is just what we see happening with the consumer society of the West. The cultural assets that make the West a good place to live and do business are become a commons; we devour our seed corn; we neglect and forget our patrimony.

In that neglect and amnesia, and the social devolution and derangement they produce, are the pricks that traditionalist critics of capitalism feel as defects inherent in it, and essential. They are indeed defects, and the symptoms of defects. But they are neither inherent nor essential. Rather, they are the natural result of the mistaken political creation of a commons. Consumption has been subsidized, and investment, charity, and stillness penalized. So we eat, and eat, and eat.

Take now the latter, temporary sort of subject. Call him Juan. If the rents on presence in the realm of his person and his assets are set suboptimally low, he will be suboptimally inclined to remain in it rather than decamp to some other when he properly ought. At the going rate, Juan will reap more from his presence and commerce there than he properly should. He would be foolish not to take advantage of such a steal. And this is just what we see happening with immigration to the West. Again, the cultural assets of the West are being devoured.

The geese and hens are being slaughtered, the milk cows butchered, the orchards and forests laid waste, the soil depleted, the aquifers emptied, the cities ruined, the children killed or perverted, the young men and women rendered infertile, the aged mocked, the cathedrals profaned, the treasure houses evacuated, the coin of the realm debased, the truth denied, the right derided, the good hated.

It can’t go on forever, thanks to death – thanks be to God for death. So, it won’t. Sooner or later, the King will Return, and with him his second body, the people. Let it be soon.


None of the foregoing should be taken to suggest that markets are not like language, society and culture the organic and natural, unforced products of communities. They are. Markets are not instituted from on high, ex machina deus, but rather only formalized, recognized ex post facto. They arise first from the quotidian exchanges in which all men must perforce engage in order to live together. Viz., the old American Stock Exchange, which was first called the Curb Exchange because it started on the sidewalk of Wall Street, where traders loitered to smoke or gossip, and then as traders are wont to do, to trade with each other informally (and cheaply); eventually its business got so substantial that it had to be formalized, and housed, and owned.

Exchange per se, whether formalized or not, presupposes property. I can’t trade you my hammer if I don’t have that hammer, or a way to get it. And property relations too are ontological before they are socially formalized. If I possess a hammer when we first meet, we both will take it as evident prima facie that the hammer is mine. Later we may formally agree that my title to the hammer is legitimate.

But then too the property relations implicit in sovereignty likewise arise organically with society. Like property, language, exchange, families, and so on, sovereignty arrives with humanity as an aspect of a package deal, that cannot be brokered without sundry. There is always a sovereign. And true sovereignty is not imposed upon a society from without and against its will, but is rather always properly an unforced social project: a sovereign’s ownership subsists in the free iterated agreement of his men that his reign is good, and proper, and just, so that they ought all to recognize it and pledge him their fealty, and be his men, rather than some other’s.

20 thoughts on “Owned Government

  1. Pingback: Owned Government | The Alt-Right View

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  3. There is the (C)apitalist and there is the (c)apitalist, the former being indestructible per the last man standing with the latter being materially bound and subject to total entropy. And it is the diabolical dogma of the anti-Capitalist which denies the simple economic truth that the Man with the most Capital is the man with the most credibility and the Man with the most credibility is the man with the most Capital. This is Capitalism, ie,, economic order par excellence and tell-tale sign of a true sovereign.

    So a good government is a “break even” government… A good government should be a perpetuating government per “break even” economics. And so a sovereign should neither possess a debt-ridden government nor a profit-seeking government and duly recognize that his sovereignty is tied directly to the PERPETUAL ownership of his property and not simply the just maximization of those revenues drawn from the freely engaged transacting upon and within his sovereign domain.

    Which brings “us” to MRKA and who owns what and what sovereigns are actual Capitalists practicing the “break even” economics of healthy perpetuation within their allotted domains of ownership?

  4. Beautiful.

    And a reminder for free market libertarians that they aren’t consistent enough. If they want everything privatized why not privatize the free market itself?

  5. You’re sovereign. And so, you own a domain. This is intricately intertwined as a universal truism such that a loss of your domain is equal to a loss of your sovereignty. So the perpetual ownership of your domain is ipso facto evidence of your sovereignty. But for some sovereigns, this perpetual ownership necessitates a maximization of revenues and hence a “free market” is conceptually idealized. Yet, over time, the “free market” and the sovereign’s domain become a single entity such that its slow and steady sell-off to the most economically autonomous within his “free market” domain DOES NOT then signal to the mass a changing and selling off of the sovereign thus provoking a questioning of the “free market” itself.

    And this is where “we” are in MRKA… Perpetually-changing “sovereigns” with little or no mass suspicion and/or rejection of what just must be something less than the “free market” of yesterday’s more consolidated sovereign.

  6. I enjoy reading you, Kristor, because you manage to beautifully articulate the exact opposite of my own view of the cosmos. It՚s very clarifying.

    In short, there are no sovereigns. Not of nations, not of the cosmos, not even of the self (a teaching of Buddhism that I happen to agree with).

    Oh sure, there is authority, there are those who rule over some domain for awhile, but that is hardly the same thing. Sovereignty is definitionally beyond challenge, and authority is always being challenged, and eventually overthrown.

    Each thing in the world is autopoietic – it creates and sustains itself. Sometimes in conflict with others, sometimes in alliance. Nothing is owned.

    There is never a sovereign. Not now, not in the past, not in the future.

    • @ A.morphous: Nothing under the sun is permanent, to be sure. That all is flux is the first perfectly general observation of man.

      All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field … The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever. – Isaiah 40:6-8

      We disagree only about that last bit. But in your disagreement with me about the Word, you disagree, not just with me, but with all human civilization. All is flow, yes; but by definition, flow has always a direction, a vector, and an order. No order, no flow. It can’t be true that you can’t step into the same river twice if there is no river to begin with.

      The ubiquity of that order of things is the second perfectly general observation of man. The Greeks named that order the Logos; the Chinese named it the Tao; the Hindus named it the dharma; the Semites named it Memra; in English we call it the Word.

      That flow is ordered means that it is formed, that it has certain stable or perdurant features. No particular instance of such features is permanent, of course; but their forms are perennial.

      One such form is autopoiesis. Another is ownership. Indeed, autopoiesis is the ontological basis of ownership, and indeed of all relations among entities. The classical term for autopoiesis is “act.” What does not act upon others just *is not.* And what does not exist can have no relations.

      You can deny that ownership is real, but that denial cannot be carried cogently into practice: notice that even in denying sovereignty you have admitted that there is among men real authority exerted. That such sovereignty is never permanent is not dispositive of its reality. You are not permanent, either, yet you are real.

      And so is your ownership of your stuff. That is why you would object if I were to come and take it away from you by force without compensation. The reality of ownership, and the injustice of its irruption, is the reason you rightly object to tyranny. If there was no such thing as property, you wouldn’t feel that some claims of ownership – such as those of the capitalist entrepreneur – were unjust. What does not exist at all cannot be either just, or unjust.

      All that having been said, I note that nothing I have written about sovereignty suggests that it is unimpeachable, that it may not be challenged. Whatever is, under Heaven, is subject ever to challenge, to corruption and decay. Kings are grass.


      Post Scriptum: autopoiesis cannot create, properly speaking, but rather only array what has already been created. What has not yet been created simply does not exist, and cannot be or do anything at all, let alone create itself. What does not already exist cannot, certainly, bring itself into existence. This is one reason creatura cannot explain itself

      • When I say there is no ruler, you somehow hear me saying there is no order. Those are not the same thing at all, and I am not denying the reality of order, just challenging the idea that any agent can reign over some piece of it, in the absolute sense implied by the word “sovereignty”.

        Ownership is a useful fiction — I am not the supreme lord of my possessions, just their temporary caretaker, and while I would be upset if they were taken from me, that unfortunately doesn’t imply anything about metaphysics. I am not so proud of my ingrained territorial instincts that I want to project them onto the universe as a whole.

        Autopoiesis means “self-creation” and to say that autopoiesis cannot create is to not understand the concept.

      • You said that there is no sovereign of the cosmos. You won’t want to see how this is tanatamount to saying that there is no order to the cosmos, but it is. The cosmos is in fact ordered, and the sovereign of the cosmos is that order. Not all have understood the Logos as an agent. But most have. No orderer who ordains, then no act of ordination, then no order.

        That wants a bit of unpacking. Order doesn’t just happen. Indeed, it cannot. It must be *done.* Order is an *act.* What just happens for no reason – what, i.e., is not an act – cannot be characterized as orderly. The merely happenstantial is the zero of order.

        Ownership is indeed temporary. As I have already written: Kings are all grass. So are all owners and sovereigns. I’m agreeing with you about this.

        But, also, and again to repeat: that ownership is not permanent does not mean it is not real. You are not permanent, and yet you are real. QED.

        Again to repeat: creaturely ownership is never absolute (nothing creaturely is absolute). It is always subject to challenge, corruption, decay, loss. And it is always a coordination of agents: no one owns a thing unless his people agree that he owns it.

        Finally, as to autopoiesis: a thing that does not exist at all cannot be or do anything at all, let alone bring itself into existence, because until it is done being brought into existence, it does not exist, period full stop. What is not has no actual properties of any sort, including the property of capacity to act.

        Things cannot bring themselves into existence. They can only determine what sort of thing they shall be, given their antecedents. That is autopoiesis. If you look up poiesis, you will find that it refers, not to creatio ex nihilo, but rather only to rearrangement or reconfiguration of what already is.

      • The sovereign of the cosmos is that order. Not all have understood the Logos as an agent. But most have. No orderer who ordains, then no act of ordination, then no order.

        This seems like word games to me. “Order” is not normally considered an agent.

        Order doesn’t just happen. Indeed, it cannot. It must be done. Order is an act.

        Is order an agent or the action of that agent? (I would say neither, but you seem to be saying it is both).

        From my perspective rulers are a sign of disorder. A true order is ordered in and of itself, not by some external agent. Nature, the ultimate order, has no rulers, which are a human invention.

        Things cannot bring themselves into existence. They can only determine what sort of thing they shall be, given their antecedents. That is autopoiesis.

        That is not autopoeisis, a word which was specifically coined (by a Buddhist, as it happens) to refer to self-created systems. If you don՚t believe such things are possible, OK, but that՚s what the word means.

      • The sovereign of the cosmos is that order. Not all have understood the Logos as an agent. But most have. No orderer who ordains, then no act of ordination, then no order.

        This seems like word games to me. “Order” is not normally considered an agent. … Is order an agent or the action of that agent? (I would say neither, but you seem to be saying it is both).

        The character of an agent is definite in virtue of his completed act; or, to put it another way, the agent is completed in and by the completion of his act. To put it yet differently, an agent is what he is in virtue of what he does. So, order is a character both of the Logos as agent and of his Act. Thanks to his supreme suasive power, it is then also a character of the effects of his act – of this world, and all that is in it.

        From my perspective rulers are a sign of disorder. A true order is ordered in and of itself, not by some external agent. Nature, the ultimate order, has no rulers, which are a human invention.

        Humanity and human inventions are integral with Nature. Kings are a feature of Nature. So is disorder. If there were no disorder in Nature and so among men, then yes, there would then be no need for Kings or for rulers of any sort. But that’s not the sort of world we live in. Disorder is pervasive in Nature, so rulers are needful.

        … autopoiesis … was specifically coined (by a Buddhist, as it happens) to refer to self-created systems. If you don’t believe such things are possible, OK, but that’s what the word means.

        It’s not that I don’t believe incoherent notions like self-creation are impossible, but rather that they *just are* impossible, by definition, so necessarily. A thing that does not exist at all can no more create itself than 2 squared can equal 5. This isn’t merely my opinion. It’s analytically true. So, whatever the intention of the man who coined it, autopoiesis cannot make sense unless it refers to arranging or forming or shaping or maintaining what already exists – what, that is, has already a material cause. And poiesis in the Greek does indeed connote just that sort of making; the sort of creation that Tolkien called “sub-creation.” A creature can maintain itself, can arrange itself – or can fail thereat, and destroy itself – but cannot bring itself into being in the first place. Creatio ex nihilo is not among the powers of creatures.

  7. Paradise Lost is a poem about an attempt to challenge an unchangeable sovereign, or sovran as Milton would spell it. The result is hell.

  8. Kristor,

    I believe it was Emile Keller who made the point that in the 18th century the absolute rule of property overthrew and replaced the absolute rule of the divine right monarch of the 17th century. I have to reject the Propertarian view as a halfway house between the divine right of kings and the Whiggish idea of property. A theory of sovereignty and monarchy must be rooted in some theology. De Maistre’s notion of societies being a product of Providence is powerful and convincing . It seems that the Propertarian notion on the other hand denies this. The Propertarian ideal also seems to disregard any notion of the common good, (beyond of course the protection of property rights).

    There’s a lot here to that I agree with specially that markets are socially constituted and only arise within a “thick” framework of laws, customs and culture. In traditional society regulation of the market was done by corporate intermediary bodies such as the guilds. These bodies were real centers of authority for many individuals and the guild system tried to structure society not just for the economic good of the city or village but with a mind to the eternal destiny of man.

    • I don’t disagree. I may have misled you by skipping too quickly over the distinctions between sovereignty, reign, and ownership. Say that the sovereign is a king – the post was silent about that, but I think it is the most sensible way to arrange for a sovereign. His kingship does not derive from his ownership of the government, but vice versa. One way or another (different societies may choose kings differently) his subjects agree that he is and ought to be king. In virtue of his accession to the throne, then, he owns the government. In virtue of that ownership of the government is the government his, so that he may then govern – may reign.

      So: reign derives from ownership, ownership from sovereignty, and sovereignty from the Mandate of Heaven, howsoever historically expressed and understood by men.

      The post was silent about all that because it addressed sovereignty in the most general terms, whether of a king, an emperor, a judge, a president, whatever.

      • Hello, love your blog! I am as my username suggests, a Southerner in the United States, and an Orthodox Christian. Always been back and forth in my mind between Monarchy and a Republic in recent years, even after reading Joseph de Maistre and Louis Bonald, Sir Robert Filmer, and other, back when I was a Roman Catholic of a traditionalist bent. But now that i’m in Orthodoxy, things have kind of clicked; what you are describing and what I now adhere to is Autocracy, as with the Russian Tsars. Reading Tikhomirov and Podbedonotsev, Filofei and others…. The Autocrat owns the Land.

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