GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

August 9, 2016

Sovereign Selection

Filed under: GA — adam @ 1:44 pm

The establishment of dynastic monarchies, while not to be completely ruled out, as it is the simplest way to guarantee the continuity of the sovereign power, cannot be relied upon as a means of selecting the person to exercise absolute sovereignty. Anyway, dynastic monarchies have always been problematic in this regard, as all it takes is one sterile couple to lay the groundwork for a civil war between those allied with the king’s nephew and those insistent that his mother-in-law’s son by her first husband is the true heir. There have been elective monarchies, but in what sense are they monarchies—sovereignty is certainly not absolute, and however carefully the electorate is chosen, it is sure to expand until we have a full-fledged democracy and therefore radically uncertain sovereignty. (We don’t hear much about elective monarchies, which suggests to me they have never been particularly successful, or established as a stable political form.) This seems to me the biggest logistical problem with absolute sovereignty, since if sovereignty must be completely in one set of hands, how does it peacefully get into another set of hands, as eventually it must? So, let’s try to solve it.

It is best to see sovereign power as either taken or given—and certainly never as simply extant in some body. Once taken, or received, it is held, until taken by or given to, another. (We can follow the chain of custody.) So, the theory of absolute sovereignty has to account for a repeatable means of giving power and for the least contentious way possible of taking it, when necessary. A ruler could give power to whomever he wants, but a responsible ruler would want to give power to someone who could hold it. We can, of course imagine that being his offspring, who has grown up as a prospective heir, has been trained and groomed for the job, imbued with the proper sense of responsibility, and so on. The purpose of primogeniture, of course, was to eliminate rivalries between the children of the monarch by creating criteria that placed the decision beyond their control (criteria that prevented there being a decision). As soon as we introduce the notion that the best must rule, and the foundation of kingly power no longer serves as a permanent legitimation of monarchical rule, we are confronted with the possibility of explosive rivalries, most obviously between the king’s children but then more broadly between his advisors, those discussed as suitable heirs or replacements, along with all the families and factions drawn into these rivalries.

The intractable nature of rivalries spread across the entire social order being the problem generated by the assertion of absolute sovereignty, it must therefore be made the solution. The more deserving the sovereign, that is, the more power is exercised by the most intellectually and emotionally disciplined individual, the more that sovereign will want the flourishing and interaction of similarly disciplined individuals just below the threshold at which a challenge to the sovereign seems like a good bet. The way to do this is always to be the arbiter in those rivalries—to set up, more or less explicitly, contests to see who is the best advisor, the best surrogate, the best administrator, the best theorist of political power, the best architect, artist, etc., and to be the final judge in these contexts. This is a very layered and indirect process—there would be contests over the best advisor for how to determine the best architect, etc.—but that is the art of sovereignty. Whoever is always the judge can never be judged himself, and if the ruler needs judgments regarding his exercise of power, he can set up a contest for that as well, one promoting both honesty and humility on the part of the contestants. These rivalries can reach deep into society, recruiting fresh talent to the regime, while encouraging a general sense of competitiveness, fair play and devotion to the regime among the people.

As part of his normal exercise of power, then, the sovereign creates and continually replenishes a pool of candidates for his replacement—there will be no outrage or even surprise if the man who has been credited with giving the king some of the best counsel over the past decades is appointed the ruler’s successor in his twilight years, or if the ruler feels his power failing. By the same token, there will be less shock if, supposing the ruler to become suddenly erratic and evidently a danger to the realm, such an advisor, with the support of others—the support of enough to make civil war impossible, or at least brief—were to take power and sideline the ruler. Such a seizure of power would be able to account for itself in terms of the recorded history of the regime, and reliable accounts of the ruler’s changed behavior. As always, these simple descriptions of what absolute sovereignty would entail make it obvious how different we would all have to be—rulers and ruled alike—for such a regime to work. I would assume that it sounds crazy to most readers. I accept that as a marker of the degree of transformation in consciousness and conscience that would be necessary to restore civilization at this late date. What we have utterly lost is the habit of deference, not as a means of squelching by precisely in pursuit of our highest aspirations—in other words we defer to others all the time, but always either grudgingly, or or in strict adherence to a set of rules formulated to make it look like one is acceding to reality rather than deferring to another, but almost never in free acknowledgement of another’s unquestioned eminence. Only the direst of circumstances will lead us to recover that.


  1. Apparently there is a novel on this theme, not that i’ve read it, and Elon Musk is a fan (I wonder what kinf of succession plans he has for his companies):

    Your blogging led me to discover a difference of opinion between the Amerika and Reactionary Futures blog. Do you think nationalism would be a boon or hindrance to the rule of an absolute sovereign?

    Comment by John — August 10, 2016 @ 5:28 pm

  2. Yes, that’s the question. Nationalism by itself cannot determine the form of rule–someone rules in the name of the nation, and that needs to be determined. Right now, nationalism and absolute sovereignty converge because globalism must be opposed, and nationalism is the most immediate and effective way of doing that. Beyond that, I do think that a national sovereign will generally be the best, but the sovereign will always have to restrain nationalism because there will always be anomalies: there will only ever be very few nations approaching “purity,”so there will always be a problem of national minorities, and nationalism tends to nationalize all differences, thereby creating “gradations” nationality (Protestants are, or at least were, a bit more “Anglo” than Catholics, even if the latter were identical ethnically and could trace their roots just as far back, just because Catholics could be suspected of transnational loyalties). A sovereign would often have to protect such minorities, and will often find them very useful (in part due to their dependence on him, which, of course, raises other problems…) Plus, accidents of history will throw up multinational states–this can always be addressed through population transfers, but a strong sovereign would always want that to be the last resort. Nationalism is both essential and limited, which is why I found the notion of sovereignty necessary.

    Amerika is very casual about modes of government–the assumption seems to be that once you have ethnic homogeneity, things will take care of themselves. That’s probably not true, especially since attaining ethnic homogeneity will create all kind of new problems, including conflicts over who is X enough to really belong (and who has surrendered their right to be considered X because they were insufficiently enthusiastic in getting rid of Y, etc.) I like the blog, but the guy really seems to believe that 100 million (give or take 10?) Anglos will expel (with reparations!) the other 200 million (including the Irish, Italians, etc.). Will the Anlgos themselves not get expelled in such an attempt? Absolute sovereignty may not be realized tomorrow, but it provides us with a kind of yardstick for measuring what we could imagine being done in the name of constraining rivalries–nationalism by itself can’t get beyond inciting the rivalries.

    Comment by adam — August 10, 2016 @ 7:26 pm

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