I like to check Mencius's Unqualified Reservations from time to time. He is an excellent and imaginative writer, and it's striking how bloggers are doing for free and at a much higher level what the Establishment media pays professionals like Tom Friedman in the six-figures to do. (And which, incidentally, a machine could do for Tom Friedman. I'm not kidding.) Of course, the Establishment media pays very few people six figures at this point, and certainly is not paying them for any actually critical commentary.
The downside to Mencius is his essays are extremely dense, as well as subtle and sarcastic. I don't have a lot of time to unravel them, so I don't often chime in on his work. But it's a holiday and I think I've got a handle on this one.
A major story, some might say the story of the past month is that the US government spies always and everywhere on everyone: its citizens, its allies, its enemies and doubtless its own executives and legislators. Mencius is not concerned, as he relates here.
In the first place, whining about this breach of "civil liberties" is a useless exercise. After all, even the Soviet Union had scrupulous and well-catalogued civil liberties, as gushingly noted by Bolshevik sympathizer and founder of the ACLU, Roger Baldwin. Mencius's law of conservation of sovereignty--that first, somebody is always the actual sovereign and second, that sovereignty can be divided and still "add up"--applies to nominal democracies as to any other form of government. The U.S. is no less oligarchical simply because it allows voting.
In an oligarchical regime, public opinion is always an effect rather than a cause. It still matters, but only in the sense that some effects cannot be caused. But the power of the machine is always increasing. Few in the Reagan era could have imagined that in the lives of their grown children, most Americans would come to regard gay marriage as an essential civil right. Why did this happen? Because the ruling class is sovereign not just politically, but also intellectually. What it believes, everyone comes to believe - and is horrified that previous generations somehow failed to believe.More on gay marriage in a bit. The good news from Mencius's perspective is that our oligarchy, being 'democratic' and hence far more concerned with such things as appeasing its permanently aggrieved minorities and sexual deviants, consumes itself with scrutinizing terabytes of data instead of doing what a competent oligarchy would do, which is round up and execute dissidents. An actual and integral nation, of course, has no need of such measures.
A prudently governed nation would not need to record everyone's phone calls and emails. A prudently governed nation would concern itself with its own affairs and no one else's. It would thus maintain either a culturally and politically homogeneous state in which terrorism was no more a concern than in the conflict between Vermont and New Hampshire, or a polycultural regime like the Ottoman one, in which every culture governs itself and knows it will suffer, not advance, if its members go crazy. But apparently the Orwellian panopticon creates more jobs in Virginia than the boring alternative of fencing the borders and enforcing consular law, so we can expect it to thrive. Americans prefer this ridiculous regime to any other. Yet they still object to being blown up indiscriminately in public places as if they were Israelis enduring the "peace process." So there is really no alternative, especially as our impending defeat in Afghanistan will swell the jihadi supply.The only point which Mencius is really making in his manic, obsessive way is that self-rule, the purported democratic ideal, must be taken, and if you don't take it, somebody else will.
For a man or for a community of men, the right to rule is a function of the might to rule. If the sound competent Midwest can get itself euchred out of its democratic right to rule by a bunch of slick Harvard men, the sound competent Midwest cannot maintain its authority and will get euchred by someone someday. If it's not Harvard today it'll be Yale tomorrow.This gets back to a point made on this blog earlier, that the genesis of any monarchy is an individual who seizes the properties and privileges that go with being a monarch, and bequeathes them to his posterity. The rights of a people are no different. Every form of popular rule in existence today had to be, once upon a time, seized from a monarch and retained by the people to bequeath to their posterity. This is why 'rights' have zero (I repeat, ZERO) meaning in the universalist sense understood by our Masonic, naive Founders. They are the actual property of a particular people at a particular time and place, and passed in turn to the people's descendants, as in the "rights of Englishmen," or the Frenchmen's "liberty, equality and fraternity." Like all property, they must be defended against encroachment because like all property, they are defined not in the having, but in the excluding. Otherwise you don't really have them.
As for your right to "privacy," as if having your emails grepped affected you in any way, it is by accident. Forget about the opponents of the government being persecuted. If they are persecuted, which is not their decision of course, (a) it will not be by means of grep, and (b) they'll have to learn to deal with it, like men, rather than whining like little girls.
To wrap up, the American people who imagine themselves sovereign need to recognize that the government's "democratic" structures do not enable, empower or defend self-rule. As Mencius notes, "The right to rule is a function of the might to rule." And a very good example of this is the duo of "gay marriage" cases recently decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the first case, the Court struck down the federal Congress's Defense Of Marriage Act on equal protection grounds: the U.S. government cannot deny the privileges it extends to heterosexual couples to homosexual couples. To get to that conclusion, the Court had to recognize a classification meriting equal protection--homosexuality--never contemplated in the history of America or the world. Marriage, in fact, pre-dates the State. This was purely a policy choice by a majority of the Court's justices. For all the fancy language the decision comes down to this: the Justices recognized a protected status of homosexuality because 1) they could (being "sovereign" after all), and 2) therefore they think they ought.
Now, there is a very good argument that DOMA exceeds the scope of the U.S. government's enumerated powers and regulation of marriage is reserved to the several States. But the Court, having decided that gay marriage shall be, was not done. In the second case, the people of California expressed their policy choice and passed a statute reserving marriage for monogamous heterosexuals. But the people of California are not actually "sovereign," so a homosexual district court judge struck down the statute. The actual California sovereigns, the executive branch, declined to defend their legislature's statute and a citizen's group tried to carry the ball on appeal. They got tackled by the Supremes: no standing to appeal, citizens. The district court's judgment therefore remained intact, and California's actual, elected-at-large sovereigns gleefully grabbed their ankles to take one for the gay marriage team.
Happy 4th of July.