The Gödelian Limit of Political Formalism

It is a straightforward corollary of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem that no strict formalization of political theory can possibly adequate to the multifarity of human reality, either in the most general terms or, a fortiori, in the particular and peculiar. Only a very informal formalism respecting genera, types or sorts of political order – as democracy, monarchy, etc. – is practical. When it comes to the formulation of concrete policy for a particular concrete polity, then, only the most general recommendations can make good general sense. And even a good general recommendation based on the eternal verities of human society must be tweaked if it is to fit a particular society in its given historical condition.

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The Religion of Adam

What we now call the Christian religion existed amongst the ancients, and was from the beginning of the human race, until Christ Himself came in the flesh; from which time the already existing true religion began to be styled Christian.

— Saint Augustine, Retractationes, I, xiii, 3

Most modern historians of religion disagree with Augustine. The very title of Religion in Human Evolution, the recent magisterial magnum opus of that archon of latter day sociology of religion, the late Robert N. Bellah, aptly indicates their perfectly contrary hypothesis: that monotheism is a late development in a long process of evolution from early and metaphysically confused animism, nature worship, magic, ancestor worship, or the like. Their presumption seems to be that early man was rather dim, compared to themselves, and that any abstract notion he had not derived rather immediately from the rudimentary components of his everyday life was quite beyond him.

But this is of course only a prejudice. As Paul Radin pointed out in Primitive Man as Philosopher, we have on the contrary good reason to think that our earliest ancestors were just as intelligent and percipient as we are.

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Cultural Phase Changes are Mediated by Preference Cascades

I’ve written for years about the coming Phase Change, such as the one that overtook the Warsaw Pact. Such social phase changes are mediated by preference cascades. According to Kevin Baker writing at Quora:

The concept of the Preference Cascade is credited to Turkish economist Timur Kuran. Glenn Reynolds described the idea in a 2002 op-ed, Patriotism and Preferences. In short, average people behave the way they think they ought to, even though that behavior might not reflect their own personal feelings. Given a sufficient “A-HA!” moment when they discover that their personal feelings are shared by a large portion of the population their behavior may change dramatically.

The boy who cried that the Emperor was naked triggered a preference cascade. The Fall of Late Classical Civilization (in Persia, the Levant, Africa, and Iberia) to Islam might have been due to a preference cascade. Ditto for the Bronze Age Collapse. Many collapses are due to preference cascades, including – obviously – financial panics. When the morale of a great army or of a whole nation suddenly vanishes all at once, it is due to a preference cascade. Great Awakenings and mass conversions are mediated by preference cascades.

The American Revolution happened because of a preference cascade. So did the French, and the Soviet, and the Glorious. All the great epochs began and ended with preference cascades.

Numerous commentators are interpreting the recent Brexit vote, the sudden rise of the European reactionary Right, and the Trump phenomenon as evidence of a radical rightward preference cascade.

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Shibboleths, Scapegoating and Unreason

Postmodernists are notorious for arguing that there is no truth. The world is a text open to any interpretation one may foist upon it. Of course, this is self-contradictory, since postmodernists must think that what they are saying is true.

In Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, Roger Scruton points out that postmodern  writing abandons sense and meaning and takes on a kind of ritualistic, incantatory aspect. One is not dealing with arguments per se, so pomo writing is immune to rational criticism since it is itself irrational. Once one abandons the minimum conditions for intelligibility one either joins in the nonsense or abstains. Adherents are famously incapable of distinguishing “real” pomo writing and the explicit and intended nonsense of the postmodern generator computer program.

Likewise, analytic philosophers pretend to believe in determinism even though by doing so they are explicitly counting themselves and their readers as mindless, automatons with no free will and thus no ability to genuinely think and make up their own minds. They are compelled to say what they say by physical forces and have no choice about whether they believe what they are saying or not and they claim that their readers or listeners are in the same boat. The entire exercise is pointless based on their own premises.

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In Re Brexit: Borders Are a Forecondition of Trade

If there were no borders between nations, that kept them from bleeding into each other, they would tend to assimilate. In the limit, and except for variations arising from climate and geology, they’d all be just the same. At that point, they’d have nothing of value to exchange with each other. Nor then would they, any of them, do anything better than any of the others. There would be then no such thing as comparative advantage. There would be no trade, properly speaking. Nor would there be tourism. There would be only transportation.

It would be cheap, perhaps, and perhaps efficient. But it would not be valuable. It would not, that is, be much good.

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Eric Gans on Leftist Resentment

Gans Eric

Eric L. Gans

Eric L. Gans has written about the Left’s total submission to its own unacknowledged resentment in his latest Chronicle of Love and Resentment (No. 514) at the Anthropoetics website.  Here are the first three paragraphs of “The Triumph of Resentment”:

Some decades ago when I was still naïve enough to think I could win a competitive grant I proposed a study of resentment, beginning with Achilles’ “rage” and running through Hamlet down to Nietzsche’s “discovery” of le ressentiment. When I received the comments of those who had turned down my application, I was struck by their tone of irritation. In effect, they were saying “we resent your interest in resentment,” which proved both the validity of my project and its impossibility of attracting either funding or readership. This is pretty much how the subject is viewed today.

The reader of the new New Republic or similar publications—and sometimes even conservative ones—is struck on the one hand by the extraordinary level of gender, racial, and miscellaneous resentment in almost every article, and on the other by the exclusive insistence on the resentment of Trump’s alt-right supporters, and that, slightly less virulent, of Republicans in general. The “hate the haters” line is applied without the least admission of the symmetrical and, recalling the origin of the left-right dichotomy in the French Revolution, originary political resentment—on the Left. Refusal to assume its own resentment has always been a defining feature of the Left, the source of its moral strength in denouncing inequities, but also of its arrogance and its crimes, and never before has it attained this degree of power in a functioning democracy.

The nineteenth century maintained considerable social stability despite its frequent political turmoil because the power base of society remained in traditional hands, meaning both that radical governments were of limited duration and that radical movements had a prima facie claim of speaking for the “oppressed.” The twentieth century was quite different. It’s no secret that Stalin and then Mao killed many more people than Hitler, that Pol Pot massacred a larger portion of his population than any of them, yet Mao still appears on Chinese currency, Fidel Castro and his henchman Che remain heroic figures to many (and our president does not fear association with their images), and even Stalin seems to be making a comeback under Putin, who sees the demise of the USSR as “the greatest tragedy” of the previous century. And we had a “socialist” running almost neck and neck for the presidential nomination with the former representative of the New Democrat faction of the Democratic Party.

The rest, which I strongly recommend, is accessible here.  Gans wrote the item before the “Brexit” returns were in, but his discussion, which involves Donald Trump, is relevant to the “Brexit” phenomenon, which is, itself, relevant to San Bernardino and Orlando.

Some Thoughts Concerning Brexit


First Thought: I remark with some astonishment that this is the first time since Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory that an electoral majority has roundly repudiated the liberal establishment.  Astonishment is not a thought; it’s an emotional reaction.  My generally grim view of democracy predisposes me to assume the worst of voting majorities.  When a majority votes rationally, the obvious must be – to them, at last – hyper-obvious.  Thus my astonishment.  The two hyper-obvious stimuli of Brexit’s passage are (1) loss of sovereignty, the obverse of which is the rise of a remote bureaucratic dictatorship; and (2) Muslim immigration.  (Whenever “immigration” is mentioned in current British political discourse, it means, of course, Muslim immigration.)

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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.

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UCU to Launch Studies Studies Program

Portlandia Season 5, Story of Toni and Candace

A press-release from the Office of the President at Upstate Consolation University contains an announcement that beginning in the fall semester, a new graduate program, the first of its kind in North America, will offer a master’s degree in Studies Studies.  In the announcement, UCU President Chloe Alexandra Brainepanne expresses her enthusiasm for the new Studies Studies Program, funds for which became available when the Academic Senate passed a measure eliminating all literature courses in the English Department, which will henceforth dedicate itself entirely to Freshman Remedial Writing and Advanced Internet Media Appreciation.  Several former English faculty members will transfer to Studies Studies, while the rest have been indefinitely furloughed.

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