On Puritans and Progs (July 2017 draft)

I probably will not find time to write anything particularly polished on the Crypto-Calvinist hypothesis in the next year. But this seems like an auspicious time to summarize my current thinking on the topic.

1. For clarity: to my mind the interesting historical question is about, roughly, the ideological origins of progressivism in the period 1400-1900. That progressivism has similarities to various sects of Christianity and differs from what would otherwise be called a religion mainly in that it claims to be secular, I grant. The Darwinian observation that progressivism is an example of a religion adapting to a legal environment which forbade the establishment of an official religion, I grant. I take these two theses to be the core of Moldbug’s original argument about “crypto-calvinism”; however, the thesis that some flavor of Christianity mutated into progressivism raises obvious questions about whether Christianity (or some denomination of it) is intrinsically vulnerable to becoming progressivism, or whether it primes faithful Christians in a way that leaves them defenseless against progressivism. (It also raises questions about which of the harmful elements of progressivism are present in its most recent theistic ancestor.)

2. The Christian sects/tendencies that progressivism has the most similarities with are Arminianism and Socianism. Both Arminianism and Socianism originate in the work of Desiderius Erasmus.

3. Erasmus was most active before the Reformation. He was always a proponent of little-r reform of the Church (he was also, if I recall correctly, a conciliarist), but he was ultimately loyal to the pope. His attacks on Luther became increasingly fanatical. — Erasmus’ doctrine of grace was unremarkable for Roman theology. Like the scholastic Thomists and, after them, the Jesuits (defending the doctrine of Molina), Erasmus de-emphasized grace in order to carve out a larger role for human free will in salvation than is strictly compatible with St. Paul’s epistles.

Erasmus’ approach to scriptural exegesis was unique, but in keeping with the general Roman dogma that the apostolic Church and its traditions govern which texts are to be considered divinely inspired (as opposed to the Protestant doctrine that Holy Scripture governs the Church). He combined this Roman attitude towards the supremacy of the Curia with a cavalier attitude towards what sort of leeway the Church might have, if it chose to redefine the canon. (E.g. I believe in one letter he refers to St. Paul’s epistles as “impostures”; I do not know whether this was connected to his theological views.) Erasmus was at one point the Church’s highest authority on the textual relationship between the Greek and the Vulgate.

4. As the Counter-Reformation swung into full gear, the works of Erasmus were placed on the Index and (Roman Catholic) Erasmians were forced to conceal their opinions. Erasmus was still widely read. (Why was Giordano Bruno originally forced to flee his Neapolitan monastery? Because he had been caught with a copy of Erasmus.) — As a result, when Erasmus’s theological opinions eventually resurface, they are typically associated his disciples rather than with his own name. E.g. Arminius revives the Erasmian doctrine of grace (“Arminianism”); Sozzini revives the Erasmian approach to exegesis.

5. Good places for unpopular views are cities (anonymity in the crowd) and wilderness (anonymity in isolation). These were the places Erasmians fled; but Calvinism tended to do well in the same places. You may be familiar with HBD-sphere arguments to the effect that Calvinism is most attractive to clannish, rural populations; but it is also possible that Calvinism did well wherever its evangelists could easily evade the civil authorities. In the case of the Erasmian theologians, the numbers are so small, and their movements sufficiently easy to track, that we can be quite sure that they developed communities in Transylvania (Socianism) and the Low Countries (Arminianism) because they were fleeing persecution elsewhere.

6. Neither Protestantism in general nor Calvinism in particular had any affinity for, or felt any affection towards, Erasmus. Calvin had Socians burnt in Geneva, and Arminians expelled; the Dutch Church soundly rejected Arminianism and erupted in periodic waves of violence against Arminians (called “Remonstrants” in reference to the Remonstrance of Dordt). The Anglican Church had Arminians in the episcopacy (Laud, for example), and it was in English “Puritanism” that Calvinism became most closely identified with opposition to Arminianism.

7. However, because the Socians and Arminians were located in the same countries as the orthodox Protestant denominations they came to share Protestant attitudes towards the papacy, and towards the Roman Inquisition in particular. (This was part of a general trend towards patriotic anti-papism in the Protestant countries.)

8. While the United Provinces did ultimately move to a more tolerant stance on Arminianism, the real about-face came in England. After the difficulties of the Civil War, Charles II had “learned his lesson”, and enforced a strict episcopal and liturgical policy. Unfortunately, he also had sympathies towards Catholics (and in particular towards his younger brother, the heir apparent), and began enforcing a general policy of toleration for the population at large while enforcing a hollow kind of conformity in the official clergy. To make matters worse, he (and his brother) shamelessly lied about the pro-Roman motive of the policy; the difficulty was that all the loyal aristocrats and writers (the strongest partisans of “throne and altar”) believed the lies, sometimes engaging in vitriolic pamphlet wars with the devout Protestants who called the bona fides of the Stuarts into question.

When the truth came out, Britain had the worst of both worlds: extremely high levels of official toleration and an ecclesiastical establishment which had been made to look ridiculous. This is the period when Socianism started to make inroads among the British elite and various other sects (notably, the Quakers) began to multiply.

9. Note, however, that deism and atheism began to spread rapidly in French society as well, without any intermediate turn to Socianism or other heterodoxies. By its violent oppression of the Huguenots and of the Jansenists (who had continued to defend the Augustinian position inside the Roman Church after Trent), often pressed forward by the silliest, most unedifying means imaginable, the French state rooted out sincere faith from the kingdom. The Gallican clergy was identified wholly with time-serving conformists; Christian ethics were identified with Jesuit casuistry; perfect obedience to the external forms of religion was paired with private blasphemy. —— For whatever reason, the French heresy did not bother pretending to be Christian at all, or to claim even a specious scriptural basis. The most parsimonious explanation of this: the French authorities tended to investigate offbeat religious opinions, no matter how sincere and well-meaning, as possible threats to public order, but were indifferent to discreet private atheism. But the general pattern of French atheist and anticlerical literature makes it seem possible that flat atheism was the path of least resistance for the French intellectuals. Rome insisted that Scripture and liturgy depended on its authority, the French increasingly considered their own clergy to be venal hypocrites; what could be more natural than for them to declare that if their priests were mendacious, they had no reason to take the Bible seriously?

I cannot resist quoting Paul Hazard here: Le dix-huitième siècle ne s’est pas contenté d’une Réforme ; ce qu’il a voulu abattre, c’est la Croix ; ce qu’il a voulu effacer, c’est l’idée d’une communication de Dieu à l’homme, d’une Révélation ; ce qu’il a voulu détruire, c’est une conception religieuse de la vie.

This is above all a diagnosis of the French situation. When Hume, invited to one of d’Holbach’s Parisian dinner parties, dismissed atheism with the comment that he had never met an atheist, he was informed that fifteen of the Frenchmen he was dining with were atheist, and the other three had not yet made up their minds.

10. Crypto-calvinism is, ostensibly, Christian ethical principles minus Christ. Did the philosophes have progressive principles? In a sense. What is most notable about the philosophes is their petty resentment of the great. Having no opportunity to practice statesmanship, deliberate, or pass judgement, they flooded France with pamphlets pretending to teach, advise, and judge their betters. They believed hierarchies and traditions existed solely due to inertia and self-seeking. Difference in status did not correspond to difference in talent, or at least not to difference in any valuable talent; the exception was in the literary world, where the work of superior minds (they thought) could not be kept hidden by machinations of the powerful. Need I add that this belief was tied to the assumption that natural talent was scattered more-or-less haphazardly, and that it could at any rate be brought forth in arbitrary quantities by proper education? In addition to this unshakeable petit bourgeois faith in the powers of education and professional training, they had a waspish attitude towards war and worship, the traditional pastimes of the aristocracy.

But these skeptics and atheists did not necessarily share any fixed dogma on whether the modern world could surpass the ancient; whether pleasure was preferable to temperance; whether man is wolf or lamb. All of the concrete content of modern progressive beliefs was absent at this point. The philosophes were pragmatists, above all. The extreme forms the mild prejudices of the French atheists foreshadowed were already present in one English sect, the Quakers; and the philosophes knew of the Quakers and purported to admire them, but were entirely out of sympathy with the fervent pietism of actual, flesh-and-blood Quakers.

10. However the French situation arose, England and France sank into an unhappy feedback loop; ever more heterodox Socian and Arminian ideas could be openly published and systematically discussed in England, and would then be pushed in France by (implicitly) non-Christian, anticlerical propagandists.

Three notes:

  • At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Jesuits were in general still adherents of Tycho Brahe’s modified geocentric model of the solar system; not exactly stiff competition for the philosophes.
  • In reading the légitimiste paeans to the superior quality of the post-Revolutionary Gallican clergy, bear in mind the implicit condemnation.
  • When an author has become so popular that the royal censor hides the proofs under his own roof, it is too late for a crackdown.

11. Unitarians are symbolically significant to Moldbug (and to others) because of their temporary control of Harvard (America’s synecdoche-in-chief) and their disproportionate representation in the Brahmin caste. The problem: like the Quakers (who are in every way a better “fit” for the progressive prototype), they were always very scarce on the ground, and dwindled to nothing once immigrants poured in.  Thus there was never any critical mass of Unitarians who could elect to “secularize” themselves in the way Moldbug’s adaptive theory seems to demand. Both the mass appeal of progressive movements and their most prominent propagandists can be traced to other demographics.

Nonetheless, there is something interesting about the way the first American Unitarian ministers to the logic of Pelagianism to its extreme point. They reduced religion to ethics; they reduced ethics to praiseworthiness, conditioned on personal potential (i.e., capacity to choose rightly); and they tied both this ethical duty and their evangelical duties as Christians to the continual conversion of more and more souls to true religion, i.e. to moral behavior, i.e. to the promotion moral behavior in others. It is very curious; it certainly sets off my antennae. But there are no grounds to attribute the subsequent triumph of progressivism to these Unitarians; nor is there anything about the emergence of progressive ideology that necessitates Unitarian influence (rather than some other left-leaning tendency).

One possibility is that the development of Arminian/Pelagian tendencies in British Socianism and Unitarianism was shared (at least in potentia) by other Pelagian strains in Christianity. A particularly virulent strain struck Boston, and the patient never recovered; but other denominations infected with a less acute strain of the same virus gradually developed chronic symptoms.

12. There are many alternatives to para-Unitarians, however. In your grandfather’s day, a reactionary would invariably blame the Freemasons; in TCY the Masonic movement seems as extinct as the Flintstones, but it has all the traits the “Cryptocalvinist Hypothesis” claims to be looking for. The sect spread rapidly; a large part of the reason for its rapid spread was its claim to be non-religious in nature (forging cross-denominational social ties, escaping close scrutiny for religious orthodoxy); it undermined clerical authorities in ways that enhanced the influence of secular fraternities at the expense of the Church; despite its quasi-secular basis it has (well-documented, closely studied) roots in Christian mystical and hermetic traditions. Really, the only reason not to blame the Masons is because the only thing more old-fashioned than weekly meetings at the lodge is paranoid fantasies about what goes on at those meetings.

Jews are also a good candidate, of course. They would have to function more as a catalyst than anything else, since they don’t really proselytize (depending on how you classify socialism, psychoanalysis, and the singularity, to be sure), but the basic model would be: (1) jew emerges from ghetto; (2) jew goes shopping for new worldview which will be considered high-status in the gentile world, or otherwise useful; (3) jew acquires position in gentile world from his new worldview infects others. This story is a good complement to “progressive Christianity” and “Masonry” as well, because he may want a doctrine that seems plausible for a religiously indifferent jew to hold; he may also want an amphibian doctrine that he can pass off as a form of Rabbinical Judaism at Passover, but as wholly goyisch in the company of Fellow Europeans.

I still stand by a point I have made previously, namely that the attempt by minority sects (Methodists and Presbyterians in nineteenth-century England, Roman Catholics in America) to demand public impartiality between the minority and the majority can produce many of the tenets of progressivism de novo, but I have nothing useful to add to that hypothesis at this time.

Review for people who are forgetful and/or scroll directly to the bottom:

The tendencies in Christian religion which have the most affinity for progressivism are, pace Moldbug, not Calvinist or “Puritan” in origin. They are not even “Protestant” in any strict sense. They multiplied in late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century England for incidental reasons; but France became infested with outright atheism in the same period, and the French apostasy fits the progressive profile better than the English heterodoxies. Anglo-American sects that show an unusually strong, and unusually early, resemblance to progressivism are difficult to connect to the ideological and political successes of progressivism. Such sects (e.g., Quakers and Unitarians) may display in exaggerated form a process of degeneration which other sects went through more gradually (and thus, more sustainably); the latter sects would then be in a position to act as prototypes of progressivism. The Freemasons fit the description of “precursor to cryptocalvinism” quite closely as well.

I don’t know if this brings me any closer to understanding the decline of our civilization or the nature of its greatest enemies, but I am now fairly confident that there is no latent progressivism lurking in the heart of Christianity. (The only systematic connection between theology and progressive tendencies I’ve discovered arises out of Pelagianism. Justification by faith is a fairly unique doctrine and this respect Pelagianism is merely reversion to the natural fantasies of the heathen world.)

Next Steps

I mentioned a while back that QL may go into hibernation soon. That may happen after I finish the “Marriage” series, or it may happen closer to September. I haven’t made up my mind yet. Either way, I am not entirely sure what to focus on next.

“What to focus on next” has two senses (both, of course, with respect to QL):

  • Between now and the proposed hibernation, what is most worth blogging about?
  • Going forward, what is the best use of QL?

I’m not entirely sure what has been useful or useless here. I have a much stronger sense of which posts individual friends like or dislike than whether any of them are “useful” or “on the right track”.

I can’t help but think the first few essays I posted here were the best, and that the orientation of those essays (roughly: to a certain political or ideological situation surrounding us, rather than to a specific question to answer or problem to solve) elevated them above what came later. Should I go back to that?

I go back through older pieces and feel proud of some of what I accomplished, but vaguely regret that I pegged strong arguments to irrelevant, long-forgotten controversies, or folded an insightful general observation into a discussion of some narrow topic. In other cases the value of a longer, meandering piece comes in a few short sections which (regrettably) wouldn’t make much sense if they were lifted out of context. Part of me wants to return to these pieces, extract the best parts, and rework them into a sort of Summa Quaslacrima. But that would be a lot of work, and it wouldn’t be very fun.

Speaking of things that aren’t fun: QL has a hundred or more posts now, and it’s possible that what would be of most use to potential future readers is editorial work: copy-editing, better use of tags and categories, more links from post to post (and possibly pages describing connections between posts on a certain category). Nick Steves has strongly encouraged me to use categories more, but it’s nearly impossible to remember while I’m writing and even when I do, I normally have no idea which categories would be useful until much later.

It would be nice to figure out what topics (and what kinds of posts) are most useful for, or at least interesting to, my readers, but I have never been able to get a handle on that. The only thing that seems to matter is how often I post: the topics, the length, where I publicize the blog, none of that appears to matter much.


Marriage IId: A Brief Refresher on Commitment

It’s hard to believe that I started the “Marriage” series three and a half months ago! (I imagine I will be saying something similar about Quas Lacrimas itself in 2051: It’s hard to believe I started this blog thirty-five years ago…)

I imagine few of my readers remember that post now, and only one or two have the fervent dedication to QL思想 to return to it to re-read it before the final section, so it will be useful for me restate the preliminary conclusions I offered there. (These are only slightly reworded from their original versions.)

  1. (The concept of commitment.) Someone commits himself to the course of action A>B>C when he takes an initial step, A, that locks him in (and forces him to follow through with B and C).
  2. Commitment refers both to:
    •  what someone has committed to do; and also to
    • the evidence which gives proof of that commitment.
  3. An observed course of action (call it A) can function as a commitment (to some future course of action like A>B>C) if:
    • The choice of A is consistent with possible future choice _>B>C, but is inconsistent with another possible future choice (e.g. _>G>H); or if, at a minimum,
    • A is at least a probable fit for _>B>C and an improbable fit for _>G>H.
  4. (Intention and commitment.) To communicate a signal-message correspondence successfully, I must bring my audience to consider it probable that I will use the signal(s) as I have promised, and improbable that I will use them differently. Therefore: when I arrange a signal with someone, that arrangement is its own commitment
  5. Over time, going along with a fixed pattern of expectations creates an implicit signal, and allowing this signal to take shape is its own commitment.
  6. (Trust and obligation.) A group of agents must try to deduce each others’ future plans from past choices whenever they:
    • have little information about one another,
    • have little opportunity to communicate with one another, or
    • don’t trust each other.
  7. Past choices can make future plans explicit even where there is little grounds for mutual trust; commitments which tie the promiser’s hands reassure those to whom he has made the promise, and thus give the promise force.
  8. The pairing of a promise and a corresponding commitment may become so routine that the commitment is a promise all by itself.
  9. A commitment can function as a promise; a signal can function as a commitment; and a promise, ideally, functions as a reliable signal of the promisers’ intentions.
  10. A commitment is, as noted above, a sort of signal; and signals can be misinterpreted or counterfeited.
  11. In any context where you are suspicious of your counter-party, you have adequate reason to be suspicious of his commitment-signal, too.

If you are reading this series belatedly, of course, this is all fresh in your mind. My sharper readers probably already understand, in light of the Locked-Door Principle, what commitment has to do with marital values. But I will spell all of this out explicitly in the conclusion. (Originally I hoped to finish the conclusion today, but it is getting late already; I would probably have to stretch the definition of “today” beyond what is strictly compatible with a disciplined sleep cycle, or abandon some of my other goals for the day. I may break the conclusion into two parts so I can publish I little bit today and the rest tomorrow or Monday, to prevent myself from pushing it off into August.)

Marriage IIc: Marriage and the Common Good

1138-06o__96200-1455229956-1280-1280Salus populi suprema lex

To recapitulate the previous installment: Institutions need to be individually good for their primary participants and they need to be collectively good for the societies who enforce them. On the individual level, institutions need to lure their primary participants with a short-term reward that motivates them, and they also need to provide some long-term reward that strengthens them and improves their lives. On the collective level, the net effects of an institution must be good for the set of people who make sacrifices, large or small, to perpetuate the institution.

This account gives some sense of what is meant by “the common good”. Many different people have many different goods. Of these many goods, some of them are good for only one person (or most commonly, primarily good for one person) but others are good for an entire group of people. When Johnny wins a baseball game, that good is a matter of indifference to most of humanity, and even a source of bitterness to a few, but it is also a good which has been pursued by each of Johnny’s teammates.

Arbitrarily many groups could be defined by going through an arbitrarily long list of goods and looking to see who would benefit from each of them. If the city shut down traffic on the streets around my home tomorrow, some residents would be overjoyed while others would be furious. Further, goods can be interconnected as the effects of one cause: as when military spending has a set of defensive benefits for all citizens, a set of economic benefits for the firms that get defense contracts and the families that live around military bases, and a set of professional benefits for the generals who will command the new toys.

A good that is common to some group becomes the common good of that group by a process of legitimation, normalization, and sublimation. Many other goods that are common to that entire group will be instead identified as being primarily good for some smaller subgroup which receives more concentrated benefits from it, or for some larger supergroup which receives more diffuse but ultimately larger benefits. Conversely, many goods that are common to other groups which overlap with the original group will be ignored due to the perception that the group in question is incoherent or haphazard, and thus is not a collective subject, cannot “have” anything, let alone a common good.

Legitimation is the symbolic articulation of a group and of its greatest goods. The repeated symbolic affirmation of a certain limit settles ambiguity about who is and is not salient as a member of a community, and which interests are and are not salient to its health, thus circumscribing both populus and salus and producing a salus populi.

Words and symbols alone are not sufficient to produce a common good, of course. In general talk is cheap, but the rhetoric of legitimation must not be arbitrary. The good which is to be understood as part of the common good must be normalized within the group so that the symbolic presentation of “the community” matches the experiences of its members. Members who are indifferent to the good must be expelled or suppressed. The good must be achievable; the members of the community must expect to bask in success, at least from time to time. And the conditions which make the good achievable must be safeguarded, including (again) by disciplining or expelling members whose undesirable qualities frustrate its achievement.

When a good is legitimized and normalized as the health of the community, it becomes incorporated into the self-conception of the guardians of the community. This is not necessarily a part of the ethos of every newly-planted colony; the spirit of pioneer life tends to be blunter and cruder, in proportion to the straightforwardness of the tasks pioneers face. But as a community matures its internal actions must become more complicated and its guardians, if they are to safeguard it rather than to leech off it, must develop an aristocratic ethos through which the gravity of their task is mediated to their consciousness.

Here I have perhaps daunted my readers. We do not need to regenerate a reactionary ethos to salvage the institution of marriage. But the grace, elegance and nobility with which an aristocrat upholds the traditions of his ancestors should indicate to you the relationship between “values” and the salus populi. Moreover, that different aristocracies distinguish noble traditions from undignified, unworthy nonsense in different ways should help you understand the gulf between the different (yet valid) conceptions of marriage in different traditions.

Now we are ready to ask the key question: how might marriage promote the common good? Let me organize the possibilities under three headings: posterity, prosperity, and peace.

A. Posterity

  1. Quantity
  2. Quality
  3. Nurture
  4. Culture

B. Prosperity

  1. Economy
  2. Efficiency
  3. Energy

C. Peace

  1. Consensus
  2. Cooperation
  3. Compatibility

These goods, by the way, are potential elements of the common good, tout court. In the close analysis of these goods that follows, the heaviest emphasis falls upon the goods most related to marriage, and in some cases I make specific comments on different ways the marriage-institution can promote different goods. But this is not a list of the benefits of marriage! This is a list of goods which can be the common good of a community; a fortiori, it is an outline of the ways marriage might possibly be judged to serve the common good.

Some readers may have found the discussion of institutions in IIb abstract or vague. What follows is intended especially for these readers. A firm grasp of the many ways in which an institution can serve the common good is necessary before the essay can return, in its conclusion, to the main argument about marital values and commitment.

Readers who can, with a quick glance at this outline, immediately grasp the elements of the common good it references; who already have a vivid sense of how each good can be accomplished by certain institutional forms and frustrated by others; these readers are already prepared for the next installment. If you can intuit the rest of what I am going say, feel free to skim this post, or skip ahead directly to the next post.

Posterity: children and self-perpetuation

A. Posterity

  1. Quantity
  2. Quality
  3. Nurture
  4. Culture

A community needs new members or it will disappear. The break-even point is slightly over two children surviving to adulthood, on average, per adult woman. But even to reach this steady-state average, some women must have far more than two children survive to adulthood to counter-balance the infertile and the abnormal, and the average number of births will be need to exceed the average number of adult children in proportion to child mortality and morbidity.

Further, a community needs to grow faster than this steady-state equilibrium to have the option to sacrifice some of its members before they raise families, or to devote them to a cloistered life. And it must grow steadily in favorable circumstances in order to have a robust population base going into disasters which decimate it. (That is to say, a population which never grows will nonetheless occasionally shrink due to epidemics, wars, floods, and so on, and so it will inevitably dwindle to nothing.)

Beyond these conservative measures of the well-being of a population, it is straightforward common sense that, all else equal, a larger population multiplies the force of its members and so, if the community remains cohesive, it will be better able to achieve common ends, protect itself from dangers, and otherwise master its world. (Whether all else remains equal, of course, is a problem that cuts to the heart of statecraft.) Ultimately the growth of populations justifies the forefathers who cherish dreams of great posterity, rather than vice-versa; the very existence of actual populations is explained by the past expansion of founder-populations, which eclipsed and exterminated counterparts who took little interest in the peopling of their lands.

Posterity, then, is the final cause of all common good. And thus for a community to flourish, most women must be mothers, most men must be supporting children, and most men must be using most of their resources to support children. Marriage must bring this about.

For marriages to produce many children, first, the spouses must be attracted to one another. This chemical attraction not only leads to frequent mating, but bespeaks a compatibility between two lovers’ immune systems which makes conception more likely. Marriages also promote frequent mating by giving sexual authority to the husband and reducing uncertainty about who is to couple with whom. Marriage at a young age (particularly for women) lengthens the window in which children will arrives.

(The institutional infrastructure’s contribution to total fertility intersects with marital institutions at several other points. The esteem in which large families are held, and the practical risks of remaining childless, may determine whether a husband can renounce a barren wife. The law of inheritance reflects degrees of affinity to legitimate heirs, defined with respect to marriage. The regulation of contraception and unnatural vices will have implications for the relationship between courtship, engagement, marriage, and the arrival of children.)

The quality of children is governed by a number of complicated factors. The number of children each mother can bear is roughly inelastic, although of course it is desirable for excellent young women to have many more children than deformed young women. The real question concerns men’s highly elastic ability to bear children. Any man could hypothetically sire arbitrarily many children or none at all.  This means that communities can skew the paternity of its children towards the most suitable potential fathers to an arbitrary degree.

One way to accomplish this is polygamy, allowing men who are exceptional in some respect (whether in the eyes of potential brides, the brides’ families, or the community more broadly) to take multiple wives. More broadly, marital systems must either be hypergamous or hypogamous. A system which caters to female hypergamy, a woman’s natural attraction to men of higher status, must either countenance polygamy for high-ranking men or celibacy for high-ranking women. But monogamy can also contribute to the quality of the children, to the extent that each family’s size is proportioned to the merits of its parents, and men with undesirable qualities are excluded from marriage entirely or at least prevented from acquiring harems.

Monogamous marriage has another potential benefit for child-quality. Generally speaking, polygamous marriage allows men to acquire additional wives over time. This is true by definition for serial polygamy but is effectively inevitable wherever a man may take as many wives as his property can support. Even monogamy, where the competition for wives is steep, can see most men delaying marriage until later in life.

The problem is that old men, while still capable of siring children, accumulate genetic defects in their germ line over time; their children have more defects and more latent mutations which will spread in the population and burden it. (Greg Cochrane writes on this topic often, if you would like to read more.) Thus we can also draw a distinction between gerontocratic marital institution, which distribute women disproportionately to older men, and ephebocratic institutions which distribute them disproportionately to young men with flawless germ lines.

There is one further distinction we can make, with respect to the quality of children: upward mobility and downward mobility. Any given father dreams of raising his own status or the status of his children; for a clan to be upwardly mobile over successive generations is a great testimony to the virtue and energy of its members. But what is flourishing in a family is fatal in a nation; if all families are on average upwardly mobile over time, that can only mean that the upper classes are continually dying off and the lower classes are continually multiplying to replace them. Unless the traits of the upper classes are contemptible and the traits of the lower classes are robust and admirable, this will result in degeneration.

Downward mobility, conversely, though disappointing to the déclassé, is a sign that the virtues of the ruling elite are becoming the virtues of an entire race. Whether marriage promotes downward mobility or upward mobility will be connected to its approach to hypergamy, and to the inheritance-system and other norms which enframe it.

In addition to the quantity and quality of the children born, a society wants to make sure that these children are well-provided for and well-socialized.

Children are provided for to the extent that their parents, their kin, and their communities mobilize resources to satisfy their wants. Different patterns of marriage can encourage or discourage this mobilization in different ways.

Socialization of children reflects, in part, the extent to which their families can provide them with an education and initiation in to their native culture, in addition to food and shelter, but also the extent to which the children have traits which make it possible to socialize them. So socialization also depends on a special aspect of child-quality: traits which are neither simply valuable nor simply harmful, but which are well-suited to the norms and practices of the population into which they are born.

Some of these special “sociability” traits will reflect the peculiar style and character of the population. Others will be eucivic traits which determine an individual’s approach to cooperation and conflict. Some distribution of eucivic traits might be valuable for the community in the abstract, but at the margin each individual will be most sociable when his cooperation-style meshes with the approach his existing neighbors take. (So a pathological altruist will cause havoc in a clannish society, and a clannish bigot in an altruistic society, regardless of what mix of altruism and clannishness best serves the common good.)

Finally, some of these civic virtues and peculiarities will relate to the role of a particular family within a broader society. This set of role-relative traits will harmonize internally but will complement the virtues of the family’s neighbors, rather than mirroring them.

Every biological population faces a trade-off between inbreeding depression and outbreeding depression, between incest and mongrels. Similarity between mates increases the sympathy between them and the compatibility between the biological designs their genomes encode, but in extreme cases weakens the offspring’s immune system and yields homozygous-recessive deformities. Dissimilarity, conversely, leads to friction between mismatched mates and dysfunction in the incompatible chromosomes of their children.

A community’s marital institutions will govern its tendency towards consanguinity simply in terms of the quality of the inbred or outbred offspring it permits, but it will govern its sociability even more strongly.

  • An outbred population will be more evenly related to other members of the community, and so will gradually become more altruistic, whereas an inbred population will gradually become more clannish (in the sense of assabiyya).
  • A community which becomes outbred at the population level will lose its special peculiarities; as the unique coordination-benefits of adopting the native style disappear, these traits will disappear entirely.
  • A community whose subdivisions become outbred (in the sense that it loses its population structure) will lose the specialization of virtues which had allowed various families to play certain roles, hold certain ranks, and occupy a certain status in a larger social order.

The bottom line is that for a community to survive, it needs a population, and it needs a strong population, but it also needs its own population. Societies can adapt and evolve, but a community which fails to transmit its own culture to the next generation ceases to exist.

Prosperity: happiness and fulfillment

B. Prosperity

  1. Economy
  2. Efficiency
  3. Energy

The happiness of a society corresponds to the flourishing of its members. As we have already mentioned, to the extent that an institution debilitates its participants and ruins those who uphold it, it will be a sickly, failing institution. More generally, whatever goal a society sets itself, it will accomplish it more easily to the extent that the needs of its members are met and they are generally satisfied, healthy, energetic, and confident. (And needless to say, a prosperous population can more easily raise and socialize the young.)

Included among the goods that constitute to prosperity are the management of households, the division of labor across specialized roles, and the energy with which individuals are able to pursue their ends.

Households have work to do: work oriented outward, to producing the necessities of life, and work oriented inward, to consumption and enjoyment. Well-run households (oikonomos) make good decisions about production and consumption, and the nature of marriage determines who makes those decisions, and how.

Marriage also promotes efficient forms of the division of labor between husband and wife. This corresponds in most cases to the special proficiencies and interests of men and women, but sometimes also to structural divisions between work in the home and work outside of the home, or short-term and long-term decisions, or different spheres of social relationships for which one or the other spouse should take responsibility.

(Marriage also promotes efficient division of labor between generations within a family and different branches of a clan, but to fully elaborate on how these relate to marriage would carry us too far afield.)

Last but certainly not least, the greatest pleasures that human seek — love, security, and sex — are associated with romantic satisfaction especially. As the first installment of this series explains, lovers’ rival interests gives rise a strategic conflict between them, and marriage is above all the specific form that the cooperative resolution of this conflict takes.

Peace: harmony and order.

C. Peace

  1. Consensus
  2. Cooperation
  3. Compatibility

A community is not a list of names. Nor is it an association, born by unanimous consent and expanded by a voluntary admission-process. A community can only exist where there is proximity and interaction. No group has the potential for community unless it also has the potential for anarchy and slaughter. A community coexists, and coexistence implies a space where cooperation and conflict will be possible.

With the possibility of strategic interaction come strategic tactics: pleas, promises, bargains, threats, declarations, reactions, reprisals, and preemptive strikes. No community can eliminate antagonism, but every community redirects it into certain pre-established channels, imposes limits on it, and guarantees that it will intervene to defend certain claims.

But communities establish peace in two ways. On the one hand, they forbid war; this is the realm of political order. (As formalists know, the sovereign is responsible for enforcing peace within his state. But not all communities are states, and not all rulers are sovereigns! Degenerate societies treat anarchy as a form of peace, whereas primitive societies treat order as form of war.) On the other hand, they remove casus belli; this is the realm of institutional order.

In any anarchic strategic conflict, the natural course of things is for one party to interpret the other’s retaliation as a new defection, reply with its own retaliation, and thus initiate a spiral of reprisal and revenge. To head off such “miscommunication”, each party may try to deter defection by stating clearly up front what will provoke retaliation; but even if each side considers its own warnings as simple statements of obvious expectations, they may interpret the other’s warnings as aggressive new demands backed by insolent threats, provoking a spiral of posturing and insults. Menaced by threats, each side can attempt to preempt further deterrence attempts by committing itself irreversibly to an uncooperative approach as early as possible, inspiring yet another race to the bottom.

As the interaction turns hostile, each side grabs at whatever kind of leverage it can prepare. The means to enact one’s own preferred outcome unilaterally would be ideal, but any power to punish the belligerent counter-party is nearly as good; there is no need to overcome the adversary if instead you can make opposition too painful to contemplate. As alliances and factions form that will band together against the personal enemies of each individual member, irrelevant disputes are bundled together into larger feuds, and a single quarrel can plunge arbitrarily many people into a state of war.

(All strategic rivalries ultimately take the form of the prisoner’s dilemma, in the absence of external constraint, precisely because it is cheaper to inflict new suffering than to alleviate existing suffering. The arms-race to coerce and injure is a purely negative-sum game imposed on the original interaction.)

Romance creates social friction in at least three different ways. First, the strategic interactions between partners (and their allies) can spiral into spiteful retaliation and mutual mistrust. Potential partners, meanwhile, can defect before they have even met by pre-committing to an aggressively selfish lifestyle.

Second, romantic rivals can engage in useless signaling spirals in an attempt to impress the object of their affection. They can also attempt to injure or humiliate the rival to handicap him (or her), or simply deter his (or her) courtship attempts by force majeure. (Fitness-signaling spirals, in fact, tend to escalate into these nastier demonstrations of ingenuity.) At the extreme, these aggressive forms of courtship pass over into rape, bride-capture, and shotgun marriage.

Third, the difficulty or impossibility of achieving one’s romantic aims by legitimate, conventional means can drive the young to desperate measures. Men rape and seduce, women fornicate, cheat, and prostitute themselves. Those who are too noble or too cautious to steal what they want directly may nonetheless be reduced to theft, fraud, or other petty crimes to succeed in the marriage market. Those who refrain from crime entirely nonetheless are manpower for that great, resentful mob which longs for chaos, for upheaval… in short, for whatever catastrophe might overthrow the status hierarchy and salvage their hopeless existence.

So marital institutions promote consensus and eliminate social friction, at the most general level, by eliminating uncertainty and ambiguity and bolstering the level of romantic cooperation; but more specifically, by limiting the forms and costs of romantic conflict; and in particular by minimizing the threat of desperation, whether by ensuring many people enter into (happy) marriages or by neutralizing those who do not.

To the extent that there are (and must be) arms races between strategic rivals competing for scarce goods, social institutions can either compress the scale of the arms race, lowering its cost, or divert it into some arena where the side effects of the zero-sum primary rivalry benefit the rest of society, or at least the rivals themselves. (Remember the example of institutionalized athletics. The discipline and grit with which all varsity teams pursue the state championship is zero-sum, but only with respect to the pride and status of the contenders. The costs of athletic training are more than recouped in physical fitness.)

Finally, marital system must be compatible with all of the other interests and commitments of the spouses and their families. That is to say, a harmonious society cannot resolve its romantic conflicts in a way that only embitters all of the other rivalries that arise in other spheres of human life.

Assume a community has a property system which regulates how families acquire and protect wealth, a ranking of social orders which regulates how families earn and retain honors and privileges, and a status-culture which regulates how families gain respect and avoid contempt. Families will pursue property, rank, status, and favorable marriages for their children, all at the same time. If the institutional forms which safeguard marriage upset other pursuits, then all of the participants will go to great length to pervert the spirit of the institution and avoid the costs it imposes.

(For example, in medieval France, Burgundy, and Flanders, feudal lords had the power to impose marriages on commoners. They often used this power to reward faithful but impoverished retainers with the unmarried daughters of wealthy bourgeois. This was in effect a wealth transfer, from the burgher to the retainer; but unlike an honest tax, this policy seems to have been the spur to a cycle of younger and younger marriages contracted to preserve bourgeois fortunes.)

The main problems of compatibility come at the intersection of hypergamy and polygamy with the rest of the social order. A woman wishes to become the wife, or one of the wives, of a powerful man so that her children can have a share in his wealth, rank, and power, as well as in all of the desirable traits that made him powerful to begin with. But a powerful family has absolutely no interest in sharing its hard-earned status with every Raggedy Ann who catches the eyes of its scions. Conversely, if a less-powerful family is expected to see its daughters used and discarded by the powerful, that becomes an endless source of grievances.

There are a few basic approaches to the compatibility problem.

Morganatic marriages are legally valid in some senses, but not in others; most importantly, the fruit of a morganatic union are legitimate children of their parents, but are ineligible to inherit the rank and title of their father (or mother, in the exceptional case of hypogamy).

Roman marriage offered several different tools, which I imagine are independent of each other (although I am no expert in Roman law). First, there were multiple forms of marriage and multiple corresponding degrees of legitimacy. A child could only be borne into a certain social order if his parents were both eligible to participate in a marriage unavailable to lower orders. Second, a man’s wife and all his children were in patria potestas, and he had effectively arbitrary discretion over how they were treated and who would inherit what. Third, slavery and concubinage were routine and offered a route for Roman citizens to support children without acknowledging them.

Egalitarian marriage, the form with which we are most familiar in TCY, may be contracted between any two adults from anywhere in the social order, and pools the spouses’ assets and obligations into a joint family property, giving any child a claim to its parents’ support equal to any other child. — But of course an even more egalitarian social form is to give any child, simply, equal claim to its father’s support, whether or not the child is legitimate. And more egalitarian still is to give every child an equal claim to the support of all men, with no questions asked about paternity.

We have finished our overview of marriage and the common good. The series will conclude with an application of this analysis to the mutually exclusive forms that marriage can take, and the different values that are central to each institutional vision of the ideal marriage.

Fun AIDS facts

Cost of anti-retrovirals, per patient per year: The average annual cost of HIV care in the ART era was estimated to be $19,912 (in 2006 dollars; $23,000 in 2010 dollars).3 The most recent published estimate of lifetime HIV treatment costs was $367,134 (in 2009 dollars; $379,668 in 2010 dollars).

Average cost per new case identified (just in terms of the diagnostic costs): $2,000-$10,000 in hospitals, $10,000-$20,000 in community organizations, $3,000-$30,000 in jails.

New US cases per year: In 2015, 40,000 new cases; in the last decade, 40,000-50,000.

Growth in gay population per year, estimating age cohorts at 5M and gay men at 2% of male population: 50,000 per year.

Estimating per-patient costs at $25k, annual total cost of AIDS drugs in US: $27.5 billion.

Average annual cost of AIDS per payer of federal income tax: $225

Total US consumer spending on prescription drugs, 2015: $328 billion

AIDS drugs as a percentage of total US prescription drug spending: 8%


Bake the cake, bigot!


Marriage IIb: How Institutions Work

How institutions work: individual goods

Institutions need to be good for the individuals who participate in them: the little people. In fact, not only do they need to be good for individuals, they need to be good for individuals in two ways. On the one hand, an institution needs to lure individuals into participating with some attractive incentive. On the other hand, the institution has to find some way to meet its participants most important needs and promote their long-term flourishing to reinforce their participation.

There are some group dynamics that lure in new participants with incentives so attractive that no reinforcement is necessary. The drug world works this way. Addiction brings in new blood just as fast as the old-timers rot away into living corpses. Doomsday cults and pyramid schemes force initiates to make sacrifices up front that commit them to defend the cult’s lies. But mostly, institutions need to be good shepherds to their flock, for two reasons:

  • Whatever ultimate end an institution is diverting its participants’ energy towards, it won’t have much energy to divert unless they are healthy and happy.
  • Fashion is downstream of status, and stunted human beings are rarely high status; so an institution’s current participants are, so to speak, its brand-representatives and its best recruiters.

One typical institutional-goods pattern is for the reinforcement to be some reward that typically requires patience and delayed gratification, while the lure is some framework that builds immediate gratification into the delayed-gratification activity.

Team athletics are a classic example of the pattern. Physical fitness is a very important good, in ways too numerous to mention. But not that many people are physically fit. Building a perfect body requires strenuous exertion, day after day, for months or years. Nobody likes strenuous exertion, at least not at first; it would be unnatural if we did. Week after week of imperceptible progress towards a final goal strains most people’s patience to the breaking point.

But triumphing over other people is fun. It’s so fun, in fact, that some people get excited about “winning” even when they have done nothing to contribute to the result (see: gambling, spectator sports). Winning is so thrilling that excitement of past victories can keep a contender coming back through the sting of frequent defeats (again, see: gambling, spectator sports). So if you give a bunch of boys some distance to run or weight to hurl and tell them they’re doing it to beat the other guy, that’s not strenuous. That’s practically the definition of fun.

So then you’ve got the boys playing in teams for the joy of winning, and they get to know their teammates and befriend them, and that’s fun too. But the friendships makes defeats sting a little bit more, especially when the boy’s failures caused his team to lose. No one likes a loser. That makes putting in all the strenuous effort even more rewarding, because everyone likes the approval of their friends. And the boys win some, and lose some, and win some more, and then they lose Regionals, and some of them will be gloomy or angry or generally frustrated that “in the end, all that practice was for nothing”. Well, there was a little bait-and-switch: they started playing the sport for the lure, but in the end they got the reinforcement instead.

Romance works the same way. Same pattern: one good that is distant and difficult, another good which is ready to hand and enticing. Very enticing, sometimes. If a man and a woman feel sparks, one thing leads to another. The lure is fooling around, and in the natural course of things lovers end up with babies. Everyone likes the idea of having children “some day”, but in themselves the responsibilities of family life are daunting and would be easy to put off indefinitely. Sexual attraction provides the impetus to take the plunge, and before he knows it the young swain is a distinguished patriarch.

That is not to say that these goods can only be provided by institutions. If you abandoned a group of boys on an island, they would make their own games; if you abandoned a young couple on an island, they would invent their own courtship rituals. But social institutions take the natural drives and needs of their participants as their raw material, and channel them, refine them, and intensify them.

For institutions to earn their social significance, they must typically outperform the instincts or naive experiments to which their participants would otherwise resort. In particular, institutions should be more enticing to potential participants, elicit greater efforts from them, channel more of this effort into the production of a final good — of a particular final good — and deliver this reward in a more reliable way.

Consider games like tic-tac-toe and tag. These are very simple games, and it is easy to imagine that children could come up with games of similar (lack of) complexity without any adult guidance. But they are games that get boring very quickly; they can only be played for so long at one time, and at a certain age a child tires of them entirely. They offer only slender inducements to exertion.

Conversely, there are other games that are pleasantly addictive (in particular, certain simple gambling games) without presenting any challenges to overcome or skills to master. Even if children did discover these by themselves, they would never see any meaningful return on the time they invested in them.

Still other competitions that children invent for themselves have a certain depth, or at least the illusion of depth, but their very intricacy means that as soon as the children start to genuinely care about victory and defeat, the game collapses in bickering about the nature of the rules. This is not so terrible a result. Children’s fights are good preparation for adult brawling and — to the extent that all competitive games are a ritualized alternative to warfare — a poorly-defined interaction which inevitably devolves into indignation, insults, and violence is decent preparation for adult life.

But this degeneration of spontaneous games is a sort of reductio ad absurdum of cultural anarchy: if your game only functions as a violent quarrel over cheating and disrespect, why make a game at all? Gangs of youths are perfectly capable of picking quarrels on their own. The very value of an institution is that it can propose some enticing objective which commands the attention and focus of its participants for long enough to channel their efforts into a disciplined pursuit which would have otherwise been beyond their reach.

A competition proposes to the competitors an objective which is rival (only one of the two can be victor); in order to channel this rivalry into competition, the rivals must be dissuaded from contesting the terms of victory. Only after institutions give competitions structure and reliability can the competitors become seriously invested in winning. But this advantage of reliable institutions over spontaneous improvisation is even more important for romance, because here it is not just the immediate objective of the interaction that is subject to strategic interaction, but the final end at which it aims.

Recall the concluding point I made in the first part of the essay. From a biological point of view a man and a woman have divergent interests, and this divergence creates a strategic dilemma. This dilemma can be resolved if both partners expect a certain level of cooperation from each other (and expect failure to meet that standard to lead to quick punishment), and it is precisely these stable expectations that institutionalization creates.

How institutions work: collective goods

So institutions provide individual goods, and they provide them more effectively than spontaneous, improvised interactions between their participants would have. But they can provide them only by first inducing the participants to act in certain ways (i.e., to conform to the rules of the institution), and this means that enforcers who demand a certain type of participation are logically prior to the participants who find this participation in their interests.

“Enforcement”, in this sense, is intended to be an elastic concept. Nearly any carrot or stick, nearly any sort of encouragement or disapproval, could do the trick. One way to protect an institution is to subsidize every interaction that takes place within it, as when an athletic tournament offers cash prizes to the competitors. The rewards the participants receive then exceed anything they could have created by themselves in comparable interactions outside the institution. Conversely, one might also restrict access to any alternatives to the institution, leaving participants with no substitutes and no choices.

Whether the enforcers reward participation or punish non-participation, the point is that institutions do work: to catalyze a certain form of cooperation, someone must first make sacrifices to enforce institutional norms. Ex nihilo nihil. To a limited extent it is possible to get new participants to initiate non-participants themselves, but in general a robust institution needs enforcers who are not themselves seeking the same kind of gratification that lures in the primary participants.

Why, then, do these external enforcers go to the trouble to uphold institutions? The answer is typically that institutions do not exist for the sake of their primary participants. The final end of the participants institutionally-facilitated interactions the flourishing of the participants, but the final end of the institution is the flourishing of the community as a whole.

But we should not anthropomorphize “the community”. You can’t write a check out to “The Community”. You’ll never see “the community” come up to the microphone to accept an award. Institutions promote the good of a community by promoting the good of certain of its members. These can be identified, very roughly, with the people who shape the institution, who assent to it, and who strengthen it.

If the institution were bad for its enforcers, they would find the task of maintaining it irksome and they would shirk it. If its effects were neutral, its maintenance would lose its priority, and the enforcers would routinely shirk their most difficult tasks, and in difficult times would shirk even their most routine tasks.

It is possible the enforcers do not benefit from the institution, at least not intrinsically, but are compensated for their trouble by someone else. In this case the ones who distribute the compensation are the true enforcers; even if they do not shape, assent to, or strengthen the institution directly, by withholding compensation from an existing enforcer and offering it to a replacement they can promote their vision of the institution. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

It is also possible that the enforcers — or their paymasters — do not derive any tangible benefit directly from the institution, but rather from the respect, admiration, and gratitude of neighbors who consider the institution good (for someone), and consider the enforcers’ respect for it a mark of their selflessness and public spirit.

In other words, the maintenance of an institution can be good for the parts of the community that contribute to it simply because other parts of the community believe that it is good, simply. In other words, it is a virtue signal. Virtue signals are prone to purity spirals, but if there is a purity spiral over the promotion and the strengthening of an institution… what happens? The enforcers gain status, their neighbors are satisfied, participation in the institution grows, and everyone is happy — at least in the short run.

In the long run, the accuracy of the perception that the institution strengthens the community matters. Ultimately, no society can afford the cost of these status-competitions if they do nothing to strengthen it. Purity spirals are expensive. A purity spiral around a valuable institution is like the vasculature drawing blood and nutrients into a vital organ. A purity spiral around an unsound institution diverts the same resources to a tumor. When two communities come into contact, and into conflict, they exert stress on one another, and the community with more tumors dies.

So the first-order reason to suspect that institutions serve the interests of their communities is that they require the collaboration of a number of enforcers, sometimes a quite large number; in big ways and small, their cooperation testifies to their perception that the failure of the institution would hurt them. The second-order reason: to the extent that this lively personal interest in the institution is commuted to some sort of compensation or honor from others, it implies that the others approve of it. The third-order reason: to the extent that communities value and lavish attention on pointless institutions, they will weaken and collapse.


(Next up, in Part IIc: marriage and the common good.)