In a comment on our previous post, our reader Robert, a.k.a “Whitewall’, gave us this link to a piece by Rod Dreher about the framing by NPR and the New York Times of the recent attack by four blacks on a young white schizophrenic, in which the victim was beaten and forced to drink from a toilet, while his tormentors shouted anti-white and anti-trump obscenities.
On NPR’s program All Things Considered, the host discussed the atrocity without ever mentioning its racial aspect (or even the race of the victim), while a story from the Times presented it only as an act of aggression against disabled people.
As Mr. Dreher notes, this is the modus operandi of what has come to be called, over here on the dissident Right, the Cathedral.
The term was coined some years ago by ‘Mencius Moldbug’ in his blog Unqualified Reservations. In Part 1 of a 2009 series called A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations, he looks at the “separation of church and state” in democracies. Here’s a long excerpt:
Clearly, if we have some general objection to union of church and state, these objections must in some way be derived from some generic definition of the word church. But when we use words like church, religion, etc, while it is very easy to think of examples (the Catholic Church, Islam, etc, etc), it is considerably more difficult to construct a description which includes all the examples, and excludes all the non-examples. Of course one may have a perfectly reasonable prejudice against the Pope, Muslims, etc – but if so, why not just say so?
For example, it is very easy to include God or gods in one’s definition of church. In that case, we throw out Buddhism, which is surely a legitimate religion. I assume your version of separation of church and state includes separation of Buddhism and state. Mine sure does. And what about Scientology? Shouldn’t we have separation of Scientology and state? I’m guessing you’ll sign up for this one as well.
The question seems difficult. So let’s procrastinate. For a straw definition of church, though, let’s say a church is an organization or movement which specializes in telling people what to think. I would not inquire into this definition too closely – lest you ruin the suspense – but surely it fits Scientology, the Southern Baptists, Buddhism, etc. That’s close enough for now.
This definition of state, separation, and church gives us three interpretations of why separation of church and state is such a good idea.
One: our definition of church might include the stipulation that a church is an organization that distributes misinformation – ie, lies, unfalsifiable hypotheses, and other bogus truths. This sounds very sensible, because we don’t want the state to distribute misinformation.
On the other hand, this is not a very useful definition. It is equivalent to a restriction that union of church and state is okay, so long as the state church teaches only the truth. Naturally, according to the church, it teaches only the truth. But it is difficult to imagine a clause in the Constitution which states: “Congress shall establish a Church, which shall Teach only the Truth.” From an engineering perspective, the restriction is more effective if it does not depend on some process for distinguishing true churches from false churches. Ya think?
Two: we might say that whether they teach the truth or not, churches are just a bad idea, period. People should think for themselves. They should not have thoughts broadcast into a little antenna in the back of the skull. Therefore, the state should separate itself from the church, just because a good state should separate itself from all evil things.
But fortunately or unfortunately, there is no kingdom of philosophers. Most people do not think for themselves, should not think for themselves, and cannot be expected to think for themselves. They do exactly what they should be doing, and trust others to work out the large philosophical truths of the world for them. This trust may be well-placed or not, but surely this mechanism of delegation is an essential aspect of human society – at least with the humans we have now.
Three: we might believe that a government should not tell its subjects what to think. Since this is the only option I have left, it is the one I follow. I’d like to think you follow it as well.
If not quite for the same reason. Let’s think about it. There are two kinds of government: those whose formula of legitimacy depends on popular consent, and those whose doesn’t. Following contemporary usage, we can classify these as authoritarian and democratic.
An authoritarian state has no need to tell its subjects what to think, because it has no reason to care what they think. In a truly authoritarian government, the ruling authority relies on force, not popularity. It cares what its subjects do, not what they think. It may encourage a healthy, optimistic attitude and temperate lifestyle proclivities, but only because this is good for business. Therefore, any authoritarian state that needs an official religion must have something wrong with it. (Perhaps, for example, its military authority is not as absolute as it thinks.)
A democratic state which tells its citizens what to think is a political solecism. Think about the motivation for democracy: it consigns the state to the collective responsibility of its citizens, because it feels this is an independent and well-anchored hook on which to hang the common good. Once the republic has an established church, this hook is no longer independent, and the (postulated) value-add of democracy is nullified.
Without separation of church and state, it is easy be for a democracy to indulge itself in arbitrarily irresponsible misgovernment, simply by telling its bishops to inform their congregations that black is white and white is black. Thus misdirected, they are easily persuaded to support counterproductive policies which they wrongly consider productive.
A common syndrome is the case in which a purported solution is in fact the cause of the problem. As a Russian politician once said of his opponents: “These people think they are the doctors of society. In fact, they are the disease.” …
Union of church and state can foster stable iatrogenic misgovernment as follows. First, the church fosters and maintains a popular misconception that the problem exists, and the solution solves it. Secondly, the state responds by extruding an arm, agency, or other pseudopod in order to apply the solution. Agency and church are thus cooperating in the creation of unproductive or counterproductive jobs, as “doctors.” Presumably they can find a way to split the take.
The root problem with a state church in a democratic state is that, to believe in democracy, one must believe that the levers of power terminate with the voters. But if your democracy has an effective state church, the actual levers of power pass through the voters, and go back to the church. The church teaches the voters what to think; the voters tell the politicians what to do. Naturally, it is easy for the politicians to short-circuit this process and just listen to the bishops.
Thus the government has a closed power loop. With the church at its apex, of course. Which is exactly what we were hoping to avoid when we decided to make our state democratic, rather than authoritarian – an independent and unaccountable authority, which is in charge of everything else. In this case our authority is, of course, the church itself. Oops! We have engineered ourselves a big bucket of FAIL.
In other words, our so-called democracy is dependent not on the wisdom of the people, but on the internal power politics of the official church. If these politics produce a political platform which translates to responsible and effective actions, the government will be good. If they don’t, it will suck. Either way, we have consigned the state to an unaccountable conclave of bishops. Why this is an improvement on monarchy, or any other form of autocracy, is unclear.
So: what constitutes the “state church”? Moldbug again:
I have constructed my definition of church as a trap. If you have been following along without suspicion, you are in the trap. Let us now close the lid.
Notice that our definition of church has not invoked any of the typical attributes of religion. In particular, we have avoided any requirement that (a) the doctrines of the church be either partially or entirely supernatural in nature (think of Buddhism or Scientology – or, for that matter, Nazism or Bolshevism), or (b) the structure of the church be in any way centrally organized (a Quaker theocracy is just as excluded as a Catholic theocracy – and once your church is united with the state, there is no shortage of structure).
We have just said: a church is an organization or movement which tells people how to think. A broad definition, but it turns out to be perfectly adequate to validate our case for separation of church and state. And it contains all our test cases.
There’s just one problem. The definition is slightly too broad. It captures some cases which we obviously don’t want to include. You see, under this definition, Harvard is a church.
And we surely can’t mean that there should be separation of Harvard and state. Yet somehow – this is the result the computer keeps giving us. Perhaps there is some mistake?
There is certainly no question that Harvard, and related institutions, wield great power in shaping opinion and policy. “Well, so what?” you may ask. “Somebody’s going to. Why not Harvard? At least that’s better than some sort of theocracy.”
Is it? Moldbug continues (I have bolded some key passages):
Unlike the Harvard of 1639, the Harvard of 2009 bases its authority not on the interpretation of scripture, but on some other intellectually legitimating principle like reason or rationality. Everything else is the same.
It could be, of course, that Harvard of 2009’s application of reason or rationality is inherently accurate, ie, endowed with an automatic efficacy that need simply be applied to any problem to generate a univocal solution. Whether or not this is the case, many behave as if it were.
But even if it is, all we are looking at is a condition we rejected earlier as unsatisfactory: a state church which teaches only the truth. Perhaps Harvard of 2009 teaches only the truth. And Harvard of 2010? 2020? We resign the answer to the tempests of academic power politics. If this is transparent and accountable, so is mud.
The basic security hole is this word, education. Education is defined as the inculcation of correct facts and good morals. Thus an institution which is educational and secular, such as Harvard, simply becomes a “Church, which shall Teach only the Truth.” Like the Puritans of old New England, in seeking to disestablish one state church, we have established another.
It is also hard to argue that we enjoy separation of Harvard and state. Harvard is conventionally described as a “private” university. This term is strictly nominal. Vast streams of cash flow from the taxpayer’s pocket into Harvard’s – as they do not flow to, say, the Vatican.
And we can see easily that Harvard is attached to something, because the perspective of Harvard in 2009, while wildly different from the perspective of Harvard in 1959, is not in any way different from the perspective of Stanford in 2009. If a shared attachment to Uncle Sam isn’t what keeps Harvard and Stanford on the same page, what is? It’s not football.
Now we’re getting at the nub:
Except for a few unimportant institutions of non-mainstream religious affiliation, we simply do not see multiple, divergent, competing schools of thought within the American university system. The whole vast archipelago, though evenly speckled with a salting of contrarians, displays no factional structure whatsoever. It seems almost perfectly synchronized.
There are two explanations for this synchronization. One, Harvard and Stanford are synchronized because they both arrive at the same truth. I am willing to concede this for, say, chemistry. When it comes to, say, African-American studies, I am not quite so sure. Are you? Surely it is arguable that the latter is a legitimate area of inquiry. But surely it is arguable that it is not. So how is it, exactly, that Harvard, Stanford, and everyone else gets the same answer?
I’m afraid the only logical alternative, however awful and unimaginable, is the conclusion that Harvard and Stanford are synchronized because both are remoras attached, in some unthinkable way, to some great, invisible predator of the deep – perhaps even Cthulhu himself.
Certainly, the synchronization is not coordinated by any human hierarchical authority. (Yes, there are accreditation agencies, but a Harvard or a Stanford could easily fight them.) The system may be Orwellian, but it has no Goebbels. It produces Gleichschaltung without a Gestapo. It has a Party line without a Party. A neat trick. We of the Sith would certainly like to understand it.
Here, Moldbug quotes professor Darren Staloff, the author of a book about the Puritan intelligentsia:
“… officially authorized bearers of the cultural tradition must always agree in their public formulations or at least not disagree. Cthulhu R’lyeh wagh’nagl fhtagn! If this condition is violated, the laity may come to see the cultural tradition as an amorphous collection of expressions or principles manipulated by “mandarins” for their own aggrandizement.”
But if Harvard in 2009 fits this description, how exactly is said agreement enforced? If you’ve ever met any of the officially authorized bearers, you know that the last thing they think of themselves as being is “officially authorized bearers.” And it is one thing to say they must always agree – another to make them do so.
No one does. And yet, they agree. Their views change over time – and they all change in the same direction, at the same rate. There is a strange self-organizing quality about this design.
(There does seem to be an “arrow of time” at work here. Remind you of anything?)
Whatever our Cthulhu may be, it is interesting to note that there is an algorithm for predicting the movement of the bobber. On a number of subjects – not just segregation – I note that the public opinion of California in 2008 is quite similar to the public opinion of Stanford in 1963.
This is easy to explain: in post-1945 America, the source of all new ideas is the university. Ideas check out of the university, but they hardly ever check in. Thence, they flow outward to the other arms of the educational system as a whole: the mainstream media and the public schools. Eventually they become our old friend, “public opinion.” This process is slow, happening on a generational scale, and thus the 45-year lag.
Thus whatever coordinates the university system coordinates the state, through the transmission device of “public opinion.” Naturally, since this is 100% effective, the state does not have to wait for the transmission to complete. It can act in advance of a complete response, as in this case the Supreme Court did in 1967, and synchronize directly with the universities.
This relationship, whose widespread practice in the United States dates to 1933, is known as public policy. Essentially, for everything your government does, there is a university department full of professors who can, and do, tell it what to do. Civil servants and Congressional staffers follow the technical lead of the universities. The residual democratic branch of Washington, the White House, can sometimes push back feebly, but only with great difficulty.
(What’s neat is that because of our armies’ great success in the early 1940s, the governments of other countries respond to American public policy as well. The synchronization is international. Some of America’s little friends overseas, such as Britain, have universities in the second rank. But there is only one global postwar academic system, the American one, and all top-tier universities are in the United States. The con by which policies devised by this system are passed off as global, transcending mere nationality, is sometimes called transnationalism. But I digress.)
(I’ll digress, too: the postwar expansion of our Cathedral into Europe was accomplished very effectively by giving Marxist expats of the Frankfurt School, who had fled to the U.S. for safety and had performed an effective memetic injection at the highest levels of our university system, the job of overseeing the re-education of Europe.)
The triangle of professors, bureaucrats, and public opinion is stable, because the professors teach as well as advise. Of course, there is a time lag. The system experiences some strain. But it will stay together, so long as the polarity does not randomly reverse – ie, because Cthulhu decides to suddenly swim right rather than left.
But no. Cthulhu may swim slowly. But he only swims left. Isn’t that interesting?
In the history of American democracy, if you take the mainstream political position (Overton Window, if you care) at time T1, and place it on the map at a later time T2, T1 is always way to the right, near the fringe or outside it. So, for instance, if you take the average segregationist voter of 1963 and let him vote in the 2008 election, he will be way out on the wacky right wing. Cthulhu has passed him by.
Where is the John Birch Society, now? What about the NAACP? Cthulhu swims left, and left, and left. There are a few brief periods of true reaction in American history – the post-Reconstruction era or Redemption, the Return to Normalcy of Harding, and a couple of others. But they are unusual and feeble compared to the great leftward shift. Nor, most important for our hypothesis, did they come from the universities; in the 20th century, periods of reaction are always periods of anti-university activity. (McCarthyism is especially noticeable as such. And you’ll note that McCarthy didn’t exactly win.)
The principle applies even in wars. In each of the following conflicts in Anglo-American history, you see a victory of left over right: the English Civil War, the so-called “Glorious Revolution,” the American Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Clearly, if you want to be on the winning team, you want to start on the left side of the field.
And we are starting to piece the puzzle together. The leftward direction is, itself, the principle of organization. In a two-party democratic system, with Whigs and Tories, Democrats and Republicans, etc, the intelligentsia is always Whig. Their party is simply the party of those who want to get ahead. It is the party of celebrities, the ultra-rich, the great and good, the flexible of conscience. Tories are always misfits, losers, or just plain stupid – sometimes all three.
And the left is the party of the educational organs, at whose head is the press and universities. This is our 20th-century version of the established church. Here at UR, we sometimes call it the Cathedral – although it is essential to note that, unlike an ordinary organization, it has no central administrator. No, this will not make it easier to deal with.
Well, that’s enough excerpting for now. (Because it’s Moldbug, of course, there is a great deal more; this is only part of Part 1 of a ten-part series. Links to the rest, and to his Open Letter series, are here.)
All this was written eight years ago. Do recent events invalidate any of it? Is there really is an “arrow of time” in cultural and political events that operates as inexorably as the Second Law, meaning that the recent reactionary backlash is just a brief epicycle on the great wheel of history, like the retrogression of Mercury? Or has Cthulhu begun to swim so fast in recent years that large parts of Western civilization are actually tearing off, and may even begin swimming right? Can the egg unscramble itself?
My own inclination is that within any given system, at large timescales the Second Law holds. Cthulhu may take a rest now and then, but he only swims in one direction. The progress of democracies is toward mob rule, tyranny and collapse; I see no reason to imagine that this is not the future of the West as well. We’ve certainly been ticking all the boxes.