Iterated Gedanken Policy Tests on Social Power of Virtue End at Monarchy

The Gedanken Policy Test is simple: of 2 societies otherwise completely and exactly alike, and facing exactly the same historical circumstances, which is likely to do better, all things considered: the one that allows x, or the one that does not?

For “allows,” one may substitute with like effect “encourages,” or “promotes,” or “tolerates” or “does not punish.”

When x is singled out this way, the Test almost always generates a finding that in retrospect appears an obvious, and indeed incontrovertible result.

When we iterate the Test on some x, the findings tend toward some optimum of social order. When we iterate the Test on the degree to which any of the virtues are rewarded with social power, the findings tend in the limit to monarchy.

To take an example: take x to be intelligence. Of 2 societies exactly alike, which is more likely to succeed: the one that grants the same electoral power to members of less than average intelligence as to members of more than average intelligence, or the one that does not? The answer is obvious: the latter society is going to win.

OK, fine. Run the Test again. Of 2 societies exactly alike, which is more likely to succeed: the one that grants the same electoral power to members of average intelligence as to those of more than average intelligence, or the one that does not? Again, the answer is obvious: one wants the society ruled by the deliberations of its members who are of more than average intelligence.

OK, fine. Run the Test again, and again, and then again. So as not to weary readers with all the intermediate iterations of the Test, that end up indicating the superiority of aristocracy to democracy, and so on seriatim, let’s just cut to the chase. Of two societies otherwise exactly alike, which is more likely to succeed: the one governed by Chris Mangan alone – or, if he is not interested (as the verymost intelligent sort would tend to be), by someone like Zippy, alone (not to pick on Zippy or his ilk; I wouldn’t be interested in the job either) – or the one governed by any assemblage of lesser intelligences?

Here I admit the Test begins to deliver results less obvious. Say that Mangan was King, with Zippy and Auster and Bertonneau among his councilors – would that not be a bit better than if Mangan was out there on his own, alone and without anyone to question, or add to, his own deliberations?

Sure, of course it would. Intelligence is not conserved.

Notice that this latest question and answer, too, has been an iteration of the Test.

And what the heck do you know, that’s exactly the way all royal courts have always been. They have always consisted of an ultimate King, and of his lieutenants – brothers, uncles, trusted eunuchs or viziers, accountants, men at arms and soldiers, shieldmates and veterans of preeminent sagacity and valor (whatever their formal rank), cousins, important vassals, bishops – even the odd mystic – and so forth. Not to forget the Mother of the King, or the Jester, the Poet, and – for the wisest kings – also his friends among the lowly orders of his household: the smiths, farriers, falconers, hunters, masons, guides. At a more outward layer of the court were to be found the bankers, merchants, guildsmen, and lawyers of the town (and – not of less importance – the canon lawyers of the ecclesial hierarchy).

I.e., a concentration, from many fields of expertise, of men and women of exceptional intelligence – and of other sorts of virtue.

Which leads us back to the main thread. In the foregoing argumentation, substitute for intelligence any of the other virtues: courage, foresight, manliness, humility, loyalty, skill, knowledge, you name it. Of 2 societies otherwise exactly alike, which is likely to do better: the one that gives more power to the more virtuous, or the one that does not?

Again, as usual, the question answers itself.

So it is that we see why Mangan might not be the best king. He’s off the charts with respect to intelligence – and, therefore, I make no doubt, with respect to almost all the other virtues (for, each virtue tends to entrain the others). But perhaps he is not so personally acquainted with the martial virtues as some other man, a veteran of many wars, who is in respect to raw brainpower only 60% as good as he (NB: that’s still a brilliant guy). Would we rather rely only upon Mangan, or upon him and a sagacious man of war? Obviously, the latter. So likewise with accountancy. Better a king who has good accountants, than not.

Excursus: I kid you not. I am a man of business, so I know a bit about the importance of accountancy (and, so of statistics). Accountancy is as important as statistics. No, more. I might even go so far as to say that statistics is a department of accountancy, or a derivate thereof. For, how can one proceed to statistics, other than on the basis of some accurate and proper accountancy? No data, properly so called → no mathematical operations thereupon.

Accountancy shepherds the facts into the proper categories, and so enables operations upon them. It is then (like geography) a department of natural history: an innocent survey, that catalogues the butterflies and the toads, the limestones and the schists, the watersheds, basins and resultant trails, borders – so, wars – so as to begin thinking about them. In this, accountancy is like history.

For those of you utterly innocent of accountancy (as in justice you probably should be!), let me just say this: the fundamental operation of accountancy is deeply philosophical. Accountants at the highest level of the discipline are working on problems just as difficult and important to human life as those of the quantum physicists, the theologians, and the epistemologists. Should a transaction of type y – perhaps never before last year seen (that sort of thing has been happening a lot lately) – be construed as capital, or as income? The answer is usually pretty clear, thanks to the careful efforts of generations of thinkers (many of them Franciscans). But, as ever with any rigorous discipline, it is the liminal case that relevates factors never before considered. Accountancy at the bleeding edge is a field of research into human affairs – into worldly affairs, into affairs as such – right up there with, say, operations research, or law.

NB: this last question, about whether a court or a monarch alone (as with Stalin) is better, was again an iteration of the Gedanken Policy Test. The result? Courts are better. Tyrants who have no fraternal trustworthy courts, like Stalin, are almost always disastrous.


It is natural that any suggestion that monarchy might be a character of an optimum social order should raise fears (especially among men of the West) that the just rule of patriarchs of a family or of a clan of good kings could over the generations devolve to an unjust tyranny. With good cause! For, it has happened, to our own forefathers, and only several generations ago!

Indeed, it seems to be happening to us again, in like manner, and right now. Are there good rulers? Maybe; but, not ours!

For why? For man is Fallen, that’s why.

So, give me my guns. I and my sort shall kill too many of them before they prevail, so as to prevent their prevalence. And vice versa.

Excursus: Do the leftists among us have lots of guns? It seems not. Whence, then, at bottom, their confidence? An interesting question. Not so much to me, so I shall not here pursue it.

There is much wisdom in that. Nothing can so discomfit a fallen man as another fallen man bound and determined to prevent his motions, if need be lethally. So, mutual antagonism is a sort of social equilibrium. Not a happy sort. But, still. You kill me, I kill you; otherwise, you provide me service y, I provide you service z, and then we go our separate and philosophically antagonist ways, without harming each other.

Two considerations can provide some comfort.

First, all the ancient political scientists of Greece saw that the devolution of royal monarchy would tend, not toward tyranny (indeed, they all thought that tyranny tended toward royal monarchy, and greater justice), but rather in the other direction: first toward aristocracy, then oligarchy, then democracy, then … ochlocracy, then chaos, disaster, social deliquescence.

Now, this is to be sure cold comfort. It begins to look as though the organic corrective for unjust tyranny – or even for just monarchy that happens to be unsuccessful, perhaps for reasons outside the control of the monarch – is a long term devolution toward chaos. That’s no fun.

Perhaps this is why there always seems to be palace intrigue. Better mutatis mutandis to replace a bad or unfortunate king with another of his own ilk – caste, clan, cult, court – than to throw monarchy over altogether, so to sow a whirlwind that tends to anarcho-tyranny, and then finally to tyranny dictatorial and totalitarian. In this light, palace intrigue begins to look adaptive, rather than simply sick, sordid, wicked and corrupt: not a bug, but a feature.

Excursus: In this, court intrigue appears in the same light as economic competition. Sure, lots of social resources are spent upon the procedure – by which I mean, human lives are destroyed – but in the final analysis, the upshot is an approximation to just rule, and so to just social order, that – as just – tends to the prosperity of the nation, and so to that of the weakest thereof.

Some sorts of corruption then must be better than others; after all, some ways of being a sinful Fallen man are better than others (the health fanatic is as much of an idolater as the junkie, but much better); why should things in the political sphere be different? Which would you rather: rule of your neighbourhood by a corrupt mafioso, bound by rules of honor inherited from his forefathers and enforced upon him by all his lieutenants and competitors, or some random thug operating at each moment ad libitum, and guided only by his own private idea about what will profit him most the soonest, and damn all others?

Second, and more happily, if we run the Gedanken Policy Test on subsidiarity, we find that it wins hands down: of 2 societies otherwise exactly alike, the one is more likely to prosper that more consistently devolves authority downward in the social hierarchy, so that as many decisions as possible are made by people directly affected by this or that problem, and so suffering the sequelae both of each problem and of its policy solution. Thus a rational and intelligent monarch (these being the sort of men who, on the iterated Test described above, are more likely than not to accede to rule), who is interested in his own prosperity as derivate of the prosperity of his subjects, would be inclined to implement subsidiaritan policies as much as possible. He would want to encourage the greatest practicable liberty of his subjects, at each level of the social hierarchy under his rule.

The fact of this result of the Test on subsidiarity indicates that the moral character of the universe – i.e., the game theoretical, mathematical character of the universe (which is just to say, the ontological, indeed the physical, the thermodynamic character of the universe) – tends to reward and encourage and thus produce subsidiaritan social orders. Generally speaking, supersidiaritan social orders just can’t work as well as the subsidiaritan alternatives. They are bound to fail more often. So is it that we see totalitarian dictatorships lasting only a few decades, at most (so far). Humanity seems to hate them, and array itself implacably against them, whenever they arise. This, too, should not surprise us, given the mathematics of the universe in which we live and have evolved our preferences.

Humanity seems always to love friendliness, and hate injustice. How could it be otherwise, for a species that hopes to perdure?

The universal human sense of fairness, manifest even in prelinguistic toddlers, testifies to the basis in human nature of the game theoretical truths that inform – and, so, characterize, and explain – so many features of our cosmos (at least, in the biological realm).

10 thoughts on “Iterated Gedanken Policy Tests on Social Power of Virtue End at Monarchy

  1. The social power of virtue would end at republican government, specifically (and only) a republican government that rested on the franchise of married men and women. We don’t have to wonder at this. The data from the 2020 election, collected by Edison research (cited at Wikipedia), shows married men for Trump by 12 percentage points and married women for Trump by 3 points. Unmarried men went for Biden by 7 points; unmarried women went for Biden by a whopping 26 points (those Munchausen women again). Because unmarried men went for Biden by 7 points, I wouldn’t be so sure of a franchise restricted to men only: married (with exceptions for the widowed but not the divorced) as a qualification is better, and let’s not perpetually anger half the population.

    You may be suspicious, of course, of my using Trump as a proxy for virtue. I’m only going by relative positions. A franchise stipulated on marital status probably would produce a far better candidate than Trump in the first place.

    There’s no chance of this happening, but neither is returning to monarchy or king and court. Isn’t it interesting that we know instinctively we could all live in a better place, but that there’s no way of getting there?

    • The only way I can see getting there, short of complete social chaos and mass death, leading to an urgent search for a man strong enough to bring things under control, is for those worthy of electoral power to buy the franchise from those who are not, in such a way that the latter select themselves for this treatment, and undertake the transaction voluntarily. A few years ago, I wrote a series of posts (beginning with The Metastasy of Wickedness) about how that could work.

    • Yes. It’s just that the interests of the sovereign are better aligned to those of his subjects, and to economic reality, under monarchy than they are under most republican systems. So, monarchies are more likely to be aptly ordered to reality than most republics.

      I should mention also that it is possible to achieve a monarchical republic. Most of my work here on the familiar society and on enclosing the political commons is aimed at just that.

      The problem is not with republican order, per se, but rather with the extended franchise of modern democracy.

  2. [T]he one is more likely to prosper that more consistently devolves authority downward in the social hierarchy, so that as many decisions as possible are made by people directly affected by this or that problem

    The policy of most monarchies has been that of entrusting unlimited powers to every governor or magistrate, its proconsuls, pashas and viceroys and these, in turn, to their subordinate officials

    • Authority in any organization must top out at one man, if it is to run at all coordinately: some one person must be considering the entire system and what it needs. But, there just is no way for any such boss to run his organization by himself. There is no option but to delegate.

      • Authority in any organization must top out at one man, if it is to run at all coordinately

        But that is false in fact. The Chief Executive of a company is the servant of the Board of Directors, themselves elected by the share-holders to oversee the management of the company and to represent their interests. Indeed, banks traditionally had, not a chief executive, but a small committee of 5 or 7 joint general managers.

        Similarly, in a parliamentary democracy, the executive is a committee of the legislature and the Prime Minister can be removed by a vote of no confidence (subject to his right to “go to the country,” that is to call an election and invite the voters to return members who will support his policies). We recently saw how Boris Johnson was forced to resign, when some 60 ministers tendered their resignations. Liz Truss resigned without even pressing matters to a vote.

        Of course, delegation is necessary, but much depends on the freedom of action accorded to the delegate. When Lord Curzon was appointed Viceroy of India, the sum and substance of his instructions was: “to secure the peace and good government of our Empire of India.” The authority of the Crown was not so much delegated as devolved.

      • Quite right; I should have said, rather, “day to day authority.” It would be completely unwieldy if the Board of Directors, or the Parliament, or a committee of the Parliament, had to be involved in every decision of the Chief Executive; but it could be even more disastrous if the Chief Executive were nowise impeachable.

        Thus even the Pope has a confessor.

      • Even the “day-to-day authority” of the Prime Minister involves collective Cabinet responsibility.

        Any decision of significance is discussed at the weekly Cabinet meeting and the PM must avoid disagreement turning into dissent that leads to a ministerial resignation.

        Boris Johnson’s resignation as Foreign Secretary (and the resignation of David Davis as Brexit Secretary) after the Chequers Cabinet Meeting of 6 July 2018 ultimately brought down the May government.

        Compare the control exercised over the Vice-Chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge by their weekly meeting with the Heads of Houses [Colleges] at the Hebdomadal Council. Like the Commons, the colleges have the power of the purse-strings, the universities being funded by their contributions. Even professors depend for the bulk of their salaries on holding fellowships in the various colleges, for the universities, like the government, have no money.

      • To be sure. It is ever in the interest of the sovereign, and of the security of his reign, that his courtiers – major vassals, councilors, chief ministers, prelates, representatives of the guilds and of the banks, the ambassadors both of allies and adversaries, the high clerks, scribes, lawyers and bureaucrats, and yes even the minstrels and fools – should be pleased with the course of government, and with their treatment thereunder. So it behooves the sovereign ever to consult with those courtiers, somehow; for, people support what they help create.

        It behooves the sovereign, i.e., to be rather a good Father of the Realm than a tyrant thereof. A happy ship makes for a tight ship, in which each man pulls his weight intelligently, cooperation is seamless, and the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Life is fun for everyone when things are working that well.

        Nevertheless the buck must always stop somewhere. No ship on Earth is run by a committee. When Johnson and Davis resigned as ministers of the May government, it was the May government that then fell. It was her reign as PM that was brought to an end.


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