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First words from the newest member of the Samizdata team

Many of you know me already. As I have been haunting the blogosphere for the last three years through comments, emails, and guest articles. Those of you that do not will in due time, so I will skip the typical bio/Curriculum Vitae stuff. I was going to post a Micklethwaitian tale of my 50 mile journey of Southern California’s quite righteously maligned public transit system to Brian Linse’s blogger bash, where I met Perry & Adriana face-to-face for the first time. But that got a bit longish for a forum such as this, so I guess I will have to save it for a chapter in my memoirs.

One of the subjects which has piqued my fancy recently is the concept of N-dimensional variants on the classic Nolan chart. This was initiated a few weeks ago when I read this TCS article by Eugene Miller, on a link from Virginia Postrel. In it Miller attempts, quite successfully, to typify political philosophies on a Nolanesce grid – embrace of change forming one axis, and the need for control over change forming the other.

click for larger image

It occurred to me that one could map this function on top of the typical Nolan chart by equating ‘liberty’ with ‘change’. Further analysis led me to sumise that this conjunction of the two concepts was better expressed in differentials. But, for the purposes of both brevity and accessibility, we will spare that dissertation for another day.

Further indulgence of my curiosity led me to this article by Kelley L. Ross. Therein, Ross expands upon the basic Nolan chart with another dimension of what form of government safeguards what liberties (or not). It’s an interesting read. But the average Samizdata.net reader would likely find the first ten pages review, and should skip right to Liberties in Three Dimensions. Although, this little graphic, concerning the US Supreme Court is rather interesting:

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The final seven or so pages constitute the meat of the article, where he makes the point that democracy is no guarantor of liberty. In it, he makes an interesting and rather open-ended point with this:

A Republican form was envisioned by people like James Madison, who wished to impose practical, and not just theoretical limits on government by the use of the Separation of Powers and a system of Checks and Balances. This worked well enough but was ultimately undermined by one grave oversight: The United States Constitution provided no mechanism for its own enforcement. That task was soon taken up by the Supreme Court, but Thomas Jefferson realized that the Supreme Court, as a part of the federal government, could not be trusted to faithfully maintain the limits to the power of the federal government itself: “How can we expect impartial decision between the General government, of which they are themselves so eminent a part, and an individual State, from which they have nothing to hope or fear?”

[Autobiography]

In the end, especially during the Civil War, World War I, the New Deal, and the Sixties, the Supreme Court began to concede extra-Constitutional powers to the federal government simply on the principle that it wanted them. The only mechanism that existed to check the failures of the Court was the torturous avenue of Constitutional Amendment, politically impossible when so many people had begun to believe that unlimited power for the federal government was actually a good thing. And then again, it is hard to know how a newer version of the 10th Amendment could be more plainly worded than the old one. A new Amendment would have to descend to the ignoble level of contradicting specific Supreme Court pronouncements that the original Amendment was simply a “tautology” or “truism” that wasn’t really meant to limit federal power. (See Two Logical Errors in Constitutional Jurisprudence.) An effectively updated Constitution would have to address all the sophistry and dishonesty that was used to undermine the original one, besides providing for such additional checks and balances as would abolish the dictatorial powers of the Court.

Indeed, how does one establish practical limitations on power within a republic? Jefferson’s answer was to have an armed revolution every twenty years or so. Serious talk of that today will get you twenty years or so behind bars.

16 comments to First words from the newest member of the Samizdata team

  • Julian Morrison

    How do you practically limit the power of a republic? Bad plan. Easier to limit the power of a monarchy. In the UK: abolish parliament, but leave the monarchy as the mostly powerless symbolic figurehead it is today. A monarchy which minds its own business is very nearly equivalent to anarchy, and is probably much easier to rally a stable society around.

  • Dale Amon

    I not only agree with the multi-dimensional approach, I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and have scribbles on my whiteboard to prove it!

    I’m thinking of it in a much more context-free approach. Unfortuneately, the research for the ideas I’m playing with would keep a PhD student busy and I haven’t got any.

    Just as a teaser, I’m thinking that political groupings can be defined as point clouds in an n-space defined by their eigenvectors… There are lots of interesting fallouts from that idea and I’ll save them for an article some-year when I’ve time to work more deeply on it.

    And before anyone thinks I’m so mathematical genius… I happened to do a bunch of work with 3d eigenvectors while I was working on haptic interfaces at CMU some 15 years ago and I still remember a little bit of it.

  • Jacob

    “A monarchy which minds its own business is very nearly equivalent to anarchy”
    Salvador Dali was once asked in an interview whether he was a communist like Picasso. He answered: “No, no, no. I’m a monarchist anarchist”.
    I liked the idea very much, and every time Perry mentions he is a minarchist I’m reminded of Salvador Dali.

  • Andy Wood

    Dale:

    …point clouds in an n-space defined by their eigenvectors…

    Perhaps you mean basis vectors?

    One normally speaks of the eigenvectors of a linear operator.

    Apologies for the geekery.

  • mike

    “Indeed, how does one establish practical limitations on power within a republic? ”

    I believe that would be the point of the first and second amendments, although they may not work as quickly as we would like.

  • Indeed, how does one establish practical limitations on power within a republic? Jefferson’s answer was to have an armed revolution every twenty years or so. Serious talk of that today will get you twenty years or so behind bars.

    All the amendments, rights, and documents in the world are powerless. They are simply pieces of paper or words written on them.

    The only way to limit power is with guns. Unfortunately, democracy is a system in which corrupts society by pitting neighbor against neighbor. The dynamics of interaction in a democracy are such that the guy violating my rights isn’t someone far off in the state Capitol. Rather, he is my neighbor the public school teacher whose salary is extracted from me by force to pay for my kids so-called “education”, the social worker who lives down the street who will try to take my kids away from me if I try to escape the public education system, my doctor who benefits from a state-enforced monopoly so that I cannot freely choose my preferred method of diagnosis and treatment, the police officer living across the street who fights the Drug War, the IRS agent living behind me who takes my property by force for my own good, etc.

    If it truly was “the people” vs. “the govt”, armed revolution might be possible. Unfortunately, the Republic has devolved into a democracy, which is mob rule pure and simple. Armed revolution in mob rule results only in more mob rule. See French Revolution.

    I’m coming around more and more to the Robert Heinlein idea of liberty – a fleeting, always temporary condition that exists only in frontiers.

    The way to practically limit power in a republic is escape to the frontier.

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    I’m coming around more and more to the Robert Heinlein idea of liberty – a fleeting, always temporary condition that exists only in frontiers.

    The way to practically limit power in a republic is escape to the frontier.

    If so (and I think I agree with you), then we must go to space (Space…the final frontier…these are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise). Luckily, space is an endless frontier, so in theory, once we can get out there, that could mean endless liberty! I wish Firefly were still on.

    I don’t think there are any truly feasible terrestrial frontiers left. The only things I can think of are Antarctica and deep within the ocean. But I guess neither of those is more inhospitable than space.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    After playing too much Nationstates, and from my own peculiar observations, I’m beginning to suspect the Nolan chart is inadequate. Maybe something like the 3d chart that the online game uses to classify nations might be a better indicator.

    There’s 3 axis, not 2. In addition to the economic and personal axis of the Nolan chart, an additional axis, that of political freedom, was introduced.
    http://alces.sel.uaf.edu/gregg/ns/nsmap.html

    I loved the names they used, though not entirely accurate.^_^

    Note that a very striking type of government named Tyranny by Majority was in one corner of the cube. For that sort of government, political freedoms were total; however, personal and economic freedoms were completely suppressed. The very few nations with this classification often have the uneviable tag line of the populace voting often and frequently…to give themselves greater benefits at the expense of the various minorities(rich people are apparently also a minority).

  • Julian Morrison

    “The only way to limit power is with guns.” No, the limits on power are political. If the populace won’t cooperate, the government can’t do it. Except in marginal cases, civillian guns are either redundant or powerless. If you have the popular support you’ll win a bloodless revolution; absent it the best you can hope for is drawn-out guerilla war. The Iraqis had lots of civillian guns.

    Not that guns aren’t nifty for lots of other tasks, such as perforating burglars, but they aren’t a standalone solution to tyranny.

  • Julian Morrison

    Damn but that 3D nolan chart is nifty. *bookmarks it*

  • Kevin L. Connors

    Thanks for the link, Wobbly. That demonstrates the idea a bit more cleatly than the collapsed models in he article I presented.

  • True freedom can be obtained at sea. Across the oceans of the world ‘yachties’ make-do, self-survive and move along whenever and wherever authority becomes too oppressive. Technological advances make navigation almost foolproof and power generation (certainly in the tropics) incredibly cheap. So easy in fact that anchorage congestion is nowadays becoming a problem.

    Martin

  • Kevin L. Connors

    Bold words Martin. Let’s see if you’re still spouting them when the USCG pulls alongside your unarmed sloop in the ‘open waters’ of the Caribbean and demands to board, or you dock in Veracruz just to take on supplies, and a ‘routine’ search reveals the gun cache you carry just to defend against pirates.

    In any event, this is another digression.

  • Cydonia

    Julian Morrison:

    “How do you practically limit the power of a republic? Bad plan. Easier to limit the power of a monarchy. In the UK: abolish parliament, but leave the monarchy as the mostly powerless symbolic figurehead it is today. A monarchy which minds its own business is very nearly equivalent to anarchy, and is probably much easier to rally a stable society around.”

    You’ve been reading too much Hoppe !
    :-)

  • o'danny boy

    classifying states is much easier than you “eggheads” think.

    just toss out the old politcal spectrum that you learned in grade school – the one in which the extreme left is commie and the extreme right is fascist.

    the true political spectrum has statists on the extreme left and anarchists on the extreme right.

    want PROOF this is the right spectrum/model?

    there is NO place for anarchism on the grade-school spectrum.

    once one realzies that the commies and the fascists and are birds of a feather – (easy enough, NAZI stood for National Socialist, no?!) – then one has a much easier time locating people/parties/platforms and philosophers in their proper place.

    Anything statist make you more left.
    Anything libertarian makes you more right.
    Most people ands states are mised up.
    And the mix is limitless.

    Some otherwise libertarian people value the rights of the fetus over the rights of the mother and favor the state limiting the abortion LIBERTIES (not rights) of the mother. This makes these people more statist – in this regard.

    Other fairly liberatarian people favor strong market opversight – as in the SEC and the nrew accounting oversight agency. These poeple believe only with state mediatrion can free markets be fair, and that if markets are overrun by unfair traders they will eventually close or fail.

    This makes them nore statist than free-marketeers who favor a completrely unfettered market in whoich caveat emptor is the only rule.

    Exch of these four gruop may overlap in any number of ways with other issues that dicide the statist from the liberartian.

    That’s why things get complicated – NOT because statism is complicated or libertarianism is complicated, but because people are free to make a mishmash of their political beliefs and programs and platforms. There is no imperative for people to be consistent, or pure.

  • Kevin L. Connors

    Libertarianism and anarchy are most certainly not one in the same thing. Some prefer to classifiy anarchists as a radical subgroup of uber-libertarians, I do not.