Conservation of Sovereignty

Nick Land wants us to get to the
bottom of the Moldbuggian precept, “Sovereignty is conserved”.
The response has been a lot of wrangling about definitions. But it
doesn’t look like being resolved, so I’d rather bypass it and get to
There are two things that Moldbug might mean. The first is that
someone is always supreme: that if you attempt to limit the
sovereignty of the nominal sovereign, someone else becomes sovereign
in his place. (The second is that sovereignty can be divided but still
“add up” — I will not address that here).
When he talks of the “Council of Nine”, the first meaning is what he
appears to intend. The president is not sovereign: he is subject to
law. Who decides what the law is? — The Supreme Court. Do they have
untrammelled sovereignty? — in theory not, since they also are subject
to law. But they decide what the limitations are on their own power,
not only on the President’s. Therefore, in reality, they are
Does this sovereignty mean they are all-powerful? Clearly not. Their
power can only be exercised through the bureaucracy, the police, the
army, and there are instructions they could issue that would not be
Then again, that is true of every sovereign, up to the most absolute
of monarchs.
Nevertheless there is a difference, in that an instruction of the
Supreme Court might be defied because its subjects believe it has
exceeded its legal role
. A truly absolute monarch might be defied for
other reasons, but not for that reason.
It is not clear to what extent historical monarchs were considered
truly absolute in that sense. The question of whether a monarch was in
theory subject to some law, though there was no formal body that could
impose it on him, seems to have been an open one through British
history, with arguments made on both sides. My impression is that the
less absolute view generally had the upper hand, at least from Magna
Carta on.
Note this is the position in favour of “sovereignty is conserved” —
the conclusion is that the sovereignty that the US Supreme Court has
is the same as the sovereignty that Henry VIII had. Not perfect or
complete, but supreme over any formal rival.
At the same time, it makes the conservation of sovereignty less
interesting. It means that a ruler still has practical limitations on
his power, in spite of his sovereignty. The nature and scope of those
limitations are matters of great interest, but are excluded from the
question of sovereignty.
The question that follows is: what is the effect of denying legal
sovereignty to the role of “leader”. On one hand, it might be nothing:
whoever has the legal sovereign is the leader, and a purported leader
without sovereignty is an empty figurehead. On the other hand, it
might be significant — the practical limitations on a sovereign who is
supposed to be a judge rather than a leader are different from the
case where the sovereign and the leader are the same person.

Unimportance of Policy

My vision of a reactionary future is a state with a secure but small
government, that insists on its own sovereignty but is otherwise light
in touch; that supports norms of traditional social behaviour but does
not enforce them; that is tolerant of both home-grown and immigrant
minority subcultures but does not permit them to attempt to impose
themselves or their sensitivities on the traditional culture of the
I think that will work well. I want it because I think it will work
well. If I am wrong, and it works badly — under-regulated businesses
pauperise the bulk of the population; immigrant ghettoes subvert the
native culture and cause crime and disorder; other problems I have not
anticipated — then I don’t want it.
Among those of us who call ourselves reactionaries, there are some
with very different visions of a reactionary society. If one of them,
like me, says that they wish to see their vision realised because it
will work well
, then we are allies, in spite of our conflicting
visions, because the reactionary principle we share is that neither
they nor I get to decide how a good society is to be achieved. That is
a matter for the legitimate sovereign, not for votes or opinion polls
or TV debates.
I do not hold it at all likely that a newly-installed reactionary
regime will immediately establish a state exactly according to my
particular vision. So be it. A reactionary ruler has a precious
attribute that no non-reactionary ruler can have: his legitimacy is
independent of his policy.
If a ruler imposes heavy wealth taxes, and they drive investment out
of the country, and jobs disappear, and the people become poorer, and
his revenues fall, he can shrug, and say, “that turned out badly”, and
reverse the policy. If a group of radical Wiccanists buy a couple of
square miles of land, set up a private village, permitted by the
policy of religious freedom, and then start sneaking out to bomb
churches, the government can ban their organisations and require
specific licensing for any new religious community. In neither case
will the U-turn in policy undermine the right of the government to
keep on governing.
This shit is difficult, and I don’t expect anyone to get it right
first time. One of the great problems of democracy is that those in
power (whether formal or informal) largely achieve it by associating
themselves with specific policies, and are therefore subject to
overwhelming incentive to hold those same policies regardless of
evidence. The shift of power from politicians to academics was
intended to solve this problem, but it only resulted in turning
academics into politicians, their academic positions tied to the
policies they support, and no more able to recant an error than an
elected representative. A climatologist radically changing his
estimate of the climate sensitivity is in exactly the same position as
a Member of Parliament crossing the floor of the house.
If a new King comes to absolute power, and adopts policies that I
think are bad, I will wait for him to see the bad effects, and fix the
policies. He is far more likely to be responsive to reality than is a
sprawling institutional structure that admits acolytes to its ranks on
the basis of their loyalty to the political campaigns of the
moment. That is the fatal flaw of the Modern Structure: by tying
legitimacy to particular policies, it produces policy based on what
sounds good in an ivory tower, not on what pleases Nature or Nature’s
God when it is applied.
Questions of policy are relevant to reactionaries only as
demonstrations of the failings of the Modern Structure to recognise
failure and respond to it.
Admittedly, the question of what “working well” means is not quite as
clear-cut as I would like. It’s conceivable that the ruler could
decide that the policies I want are working badly, when it seems to me
they are working well. We are all so used to dealing with politicians
who will swear blind that obvious catastrophes are triumphs that I
think we tend to overestimate this problem. A sovereign who benefits
from real success and is harmed by real failure is, in my judgement,
far more likely to assess success and failure more reasonably than a
politician who benefits only from the popular perception of
success. The key difference is that a secure King cares what his
subjects think of the country, not what they think of him. He may
still prefer the effects of policies that are not my own favourites,
but if he does then they are almost sure to be good enough. Good
government is very difficult, and satisficing is a perfectly sane
Update: I just saw nickbsteve’s latest. He makes a related
point: that while it is in the nature of the Cathedral to make factual errors,
the particular factual errors it makes are not the most important thing, compared
to the mechanisms that cause it to make those errors. I would say that the particular
failing of the Cathedral is not the fact of its making errors, but its relative
inability to correct them, for the reasons above.

Lots of Clubs

My answer to the question, “what should reactionaries actually do?”
has been, “build a theory”. I’ve made the argument,
over a few years,
that any kind of actual political activism is harmful. The elite need
to be converted, not defeated, and directly challenging them for power
will never achieve that.
However, that answer is very unsatisfying for some people. There are
people out there who want to get rid of democracy and politicians, but
are not inclined to write books or follow a dozen blogs worth of
reactionary theory. Their obvious outlet would be a fascist movement,
but some may understand the shortcomings and flaws of that approach.
People who are looking for the Modern Structure to be replaced when it
fails by something more traditional should, most of all, get
together. This is
again, but even his “book clubs” are too narrow an approach. Video
clubs, sports clubs, craft clubs, dining clubs — any of these
contribute to the culture as long as they stick to three rules: have
some kind of traditionalist orientation, be selective in membership,
and prohibit political participation.
Obviously, with there not being a hierarchy to give orders, some of
these clubs could fall away from virtue and become democratic,
fascist, or just clubs. Is that worse than not forming them? Today we
have nothing; if we succeed in this, we can start to weaken the
democratic culture at its edges.
There are those who say, that since we are in favour of hierarchy,
that our movement should start by being hierarchical — as if the first
step in overthrowing democracy is for someone to appoint himself King,
and then look for subjects. It won’t work that way. The people have to
want a King before they can have one. Not that this is a bottom-up
movement, either: the people will demand a King when the elite tell
them to. Influencing the elite will be a slow process, but the major
aim is to make the unthinkable
and having numbers of ordinary respectable people is a way to do that.
Shunning politics is the most important value. That means not just
parties and elections, but single-issue campaigns, demonstrations, and
the like. Adding more fascists just tells the elite that they need to
crack down harder on fascists. Adding more normal-seeming people who
just chuckle when you talk to them about political issues and say they
don’t care for pretending to know how to rule a country, they’d rather
just have a King, might have a small creeping effect on what ideas are
considered unthinkable.
Publicity is a different matter. Once you have a viable organisation,
it is good to get some exposure, but the exposure should be centred on
the club’s activity. The anti-political aspect should be an incidental
There is a catch there, in that selective membership may be illegal in
some jurisdictions. In that circumstance, it is necessary to be less
formal. The club should have no assets, no bank account. It can still
have officers, but paperwork should be minimised, expenditures should
be raised on an ad-hoc basis, any bookings of premises or equipment
should be done as a personal transaction by a member. If the club is
attacked by the authorities for not being inclusive enough, do not
whine or fight, just go away, and go informal. (If the club is just
criticised, not actually attacked, shrug and carry on). Both the
attack and the lack of response serve our purpose — they show that the
members are just ordinary people who are not political extremists, but
who want to socialise in a way that is not allowed or approved by the
If it does start to go wrong — progressives are accidentally admitted
and start to take over — deal with the problem quietly or not at
all. Better to abandon it, wait a few months, and start again, than
get in a big public split between “right-thinking people” and
“extremists”. The same if the club becomes associated with right-wing
activists. Politics cannot be allowed. It’s just about OK for members
to vote in elections if they’re quiet about it, but it must be
prohibited for a member to be publicly associated with any party or
The fact that these clubs are neither talking shops for theorists nor
political cadres does not mean than the members need to be stupid. At
the very least, the “no politics” rule needs to be defended. The
members should know who the reactionary theorists are, and should be
aware that the brazen competition for power between interest groups is
both a barrier to solving the real problems of the state, and a
necessary feature of democracy. They should know that they are
excluding themselves from the political process not out of defeatism,
but as a method of undermining the legitimacy of the régime.
That is not much to ask. Just this morning, @UK_Resistance, which
appears to be a straightforward nationalist account, tweeted,
“Proud to be disenfranchised working class”. I was
impressed. Recognising and accepting disenfranchisement is the way of
creating an alternative basis of legitimacy for a non-progressive
The Jack Donovan quote
used by the Radish
is another strong way of putting it: “I’m not advocating apathy. I
don’t want you to stop caring. I want you to stop believing. I want
you to withdraw your consent. The best thing you can do for your
country — for the men around you, for the future — is to let the
system tear itself apart.”