Exit or Voice, or, do you prefer your liberalism grape or cherry?

June 1, 2014 § 48 Comments

A while back a commenter asked me what I thought of the “Exit or Voice” discussion in the reactosphere. I responded as if the question were about what we human beings actually ought to do. But recently I stumbled on a statement of the “Exit or Voice” idea somewhere that made me realize that it was a technocratic discussion about designing civilizations. Folks are free to correct or clarify my understanding if I’ve got the ideas wrong.

“Exit or Voice” is supposed to be an alternative civilization design criteria to “Freedom or Equality”. This misunderstands the nature of liberalism from the get-go, since there are no free societies and equal rights is a self contradictory concept. So there is no “Freedom vs Equality” trade off to begin with as something distinct from a discriminatory, authoritative understanding of the good.

But granting that “Freedom or Equality” is incoherent, “Exit or Voice” should be examined on its own terms.

The idea here seems to be that there are two possible kinds of mechanisms available to make sure that modern people are equally free to get what they want. One mechanism is “Voice”, and democracy is an instantiation of this kind of mechanism. The other mechanism, “Exit”, involves ensuring that there is a free market of diverse polities so that folks are all equally free to “vote with their feet”. The only large-scale government allowed will have the sole purpose of ensuring the superman this universal equal freedom to choose the kind of society he wants to live in from the free market of available societies.

Setting aside the ludicrous positivism involved in thinking that civilizations are the kind of thing that can be designed, this is obviously just a call for a newer, better, more innovative and open-minded “tame” liberalism.

§ 48 Responses to Exit or Voice, or, do you prefer your liberalism grape or cherry?

  • Chad says:

    Ugh.

    The more I read of neoreactionary, the more I started to see it simply as a modern dream of escapism. A way for people to vent their anger and disillusionments with life while remaining safely behind a shield of pixels. When I realized that, I continued reading only long enough to see if it displayed itself as true. From what I saw before I stopped reading, it has.

    I haven’t seen any neoreactionaries work towards building anything of value in life. I haven’t seen anything other than a condemnation of our current world. Reading your entries has shown exactly how… caught up in the modern world they are, even as they attempt to reject such a world.

    Often they have a fairly clear view of what is wrong with society, but seem to be off in how they believe the wrong should be addressed. Such men need to stop using false dichotomies, stop theorizing, and start acting. They need to be in the world a bit more before they start trying to avoid being of the world. Right now they seem to be laying their own traps, unwittingly.

  • yup. the “exit vs voice” thing is for techno-commercialists and White nationalists. We must have exit nor voice.

  • JustSomeGuy says:

    @Chad

    The problem with neoreactionaries is that they’ve decided – instead of opting out of the B.S. postmodern word game – they’re going to win the B.S. postmodern word game.

    They recognize valid problems, but are convinced they can be solved with a propaganda war.

  • jf12 says:

    One problem I have with the Exit or Voice idea is that either one is particularly autonomous. It seems to me usually that this choice is presented gruffly, like the choice between hanging or the firing squad, or better, like the “Love it or Leave it” campaign. I.e. “they” want you to either express your Voice like they want to hear, or you should Exit instead.

  • King Richard says:

    And of course many who speak of the ‘exit or voice’ dilemma act as if it is a stark dichotomy; it isn’t. Many neoreactionaries who speak of ‘exit’ mean ‘non-participation’ i.e., ‘giving up’. It is akin to the ‘enjoy the decline’ concept or the ‘men going their own way’. It is not creative, it is passive avoidance – a passive-aggressive political stance. And of course ‘voice’ implies accepting Democracy’s core concepts and participating.
    We prefer ‘rebuild’.

  • Zippy says:

    KR:
    That’s looking at Exit or Voice as criteria for individual action. But Moldbug’s “patchwork” is more of a civilization design criteria, as I understand it — it prescribes a free market of smallish traditionalist polities from which everyone (or at least the superman) is equally free to choose via “exit”.

    “Exit” is basically a way of saying that if you, the free and equal consumer of civilization, don’t like the polity you are in, you must be able to “exit” and choose an alternative in the free market.

  • King Richard says:

    Which is, again, accepting the core premise of Modernism and Liberalism.

  • Zippy says:

    KR:
    Right, it just is liberalism, or more accurately is an intramural conflict over what formal structures best provide equal freedom to the superman, utterly lacking awareness of the fact that the liberal conception of politics is incoherent.

  • Kevin Nowell says:

    What do you think the likely outcome of the patchwork scenario? Do you not think the quality of governance would be much improved from democracy?

    I see it more as a mechanism of creating feedback loops that provide the necessary information for competing governments to improve their product, which is government. Governance not just defined as “equal freedom” but as a flourishing society that people would want to live in. I think there is a distinction there between that and what you defined liberalism as. Here one particular freedom is used as a means to achieve quality governance and a flourishing society. In liberalism, freedom is considered an unalienable right which society is used as a means to provide each man.

  • Zippy says:

    Kevin Nowell:
    I think the patchwork scenario is a liberal fantasy. Like Marxism and libertarianism it presumes (and at the same time denies or at least ignores its presumption of) an overarching authority which enforces the conditions which make equally free choice possible for the superman.

    I’ve written extensively against democracy myself. Its ostensible purpose is to provide equally free Voice (as it were), but its actual function is to build social consensus and loyalty around the liberalism which governs us.

  • Kevin Nowell says:

    I don’t know that the patchwork scenario even requires “exit” to work. The Holy Roman Empire was very similar to the patchwork scenario; but, instead of joint-stock companies it was run by princes and dukes. Still, it was a collection of smaller polities who were bound together under one overarching authority where the ruling royal houses rose and fell along with their performance in governing. Seems a very similar scenario if one inserts joint-stock corporations in place of royal households.

  • King Richard says:

    “I see it more as a mechanism of creating feedback loops that provide the necessary information for competing governments to improve their product, which is government.”
    Uh-huh.
    Let me rephrase that,
    “I am incapable of conceptualizing any system of life or human interaction except through the demonstrably false paradigm of Liberal economic theory’.
    or
    ‘I reject the liberal Utopian pipe dream of Marxism for the Liberal Utopian pipe dream of Libertarian free marketism’.
    or
    ‘Its turtles all the way down’

  • jf12 says:

    As applied to a blog, is Exit or Voice simply a recommendation to de-lurk?

  • Zippy says:

    Kevin Nowell:
    If your “neither exit nor voice” patchwork scenario involves something as specific as joint stock corporations as universal structure in the free market of polities, it presupposes an overarching authority which sets and enforces those conditions. If it doesn’t presuppose that then it is just a description of the current global situation, not a prescription for something different.

  • Zippy says:

    IOW, the “patchwork” idea is – like many modernist political ideas – either trivially meaningless or a call for global governance under liberalism with universal jurisdiction.

    As an argumentative strategy it equivocates between these two poles of meaning.

  • Kevin Nowell says:

    Zippy:
    Yes, of course the patchwork scenario presupposes an “overarching authority which sets and enforces those conditions”. I’m not sure what you think that admission implies though.

    King Richard:
    I don’t know what I said to cause such a hostile response from you; but, I in fact can imagine many paradigms preferrable to the current liberal world order, Moldbug’s patchwork or Kristor’s Commons Enclosure ideas being just two of them.

  • Zippy says:

    Kevin Nowell:

    I’m not sure what you think that admission implies though.

    What it implies is (again) that “patchwork” is just another call for global liberal dominance, only this time it will be authentic, honest it will.

  • Kevin Nowell says:

    How is it necessarily liberal? If liberalism “is the political doctrine that securing individual freedom and equal rights is the primary legitimate purpose of government” how is a patchwork government necessary liberal? The patchwork society views the primary legitimate purpose of government as just to govern, in all that that entails (securing law and order, punishing wrongdoers, encouraging industry, protecting the innocent and helpless, etc), and that the best way or atleast one good way to determine and encourage effective government is to align incentives and to create feedback mechanisms that provide the governing organizations (however they may be structured) information and motivation needed or beneficial to governing well.

    Also, a “patchwork” need not be global. Just large enough to have a sufficient number of different competing governing organizations.

  • Zippy says:

    Kevin Nowell:
    If the patchwork idea is just that government should support the good, the true, and the beautiful, and that subsidiarity is part of the good, then it certainly isn’t a specifically neoreactionary idea. It is just the millennia old Catholic view of politics.

  • King Richard says:

    Kevin,
    You mistake me. I was amused, not hostile. I was attempting to point out that your analysis implicitly accepts the Liberal world view as both factual and the default.

  • Zippy says:

    In a nutshell, if there is something in the “patchwork” idea that distinguishes it from good old traditional Catholic subsidiarity, that something is liberalism or at least one or more of the errors of modernism. If there isn’t something that distinguishes it from good old traditional Catholic subsidiarity, we don’t need a new word for it.

  • Kevin Nowell says:

    Zippy,
    Well I don’t disagree with that other than that good old Catholic subsidiarity describes in broad outline what a government ought to do and what it owes its citizens and vice versa. Any form of government could hold to the principles of Catholic subsidiarity, in theory. Catholic subsidiarity does not tell you how to form your government but what your government ought to do.

    What the “patchwork” idea and the “enclosing the commons” ideas are doing is just creating a method to encourage quality governance within whatever metaphysical framework you want. It does not contradict nor replace the right, good and true principles of Catholic subsidiarity because it performs a different function.

  • Zippy says:

    Kevin Nowell:

    Catholic subsidiarity does not tell you how to form your government but what your government ought to do.

    That isn’t strictly true. I’m tempted to say it isn’t true at all.

    creating a method to encourage quality governance within whatever metaphysical framework you want

    That is typical liberal self-delusion. Whatever else you may be calling for in your neither-exit-nor-voice-but-still-a-free-market-of-nations proposal (since it is more than subsidiarity), you are definitely calling for liberal governance over a community of nations. The call for metaphysical neutrality makes this decisive. Liberals always delude themselves into thinking that liberalism is metaphysically or morally neutral: that it is just a referee, “allowing” (good and hard) free and equal choice among the superman.

    It isn’t metaphysically or morally neutral. Structures, rules, laws, etc are not metaphysically or morally neutral, ever. There are no morally or metaphysically neutral sets of political rules for governing (a ‘patchwork’ of) polities.

    They. Do. Not. Exist.

    What is more, you are deluding yourself in thinking that you can give your ‘metaphysically neutral’ liberalism power over all nations and at the same time keep it nice and tame and within the limited scope where you would prefer it to stay.

  • jf12 says:

    One patchwork, partly under God.

  • King Richard says:

    Zippy,
    If you care to peruse the Edanian blog I linked above you will see the edges of 15 years of research and discussion about exactly what type and form of governance subsidiarity and solidarity do require, suggest, and allude to.

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    One patchwork, partly under God.

    Hah!

  • Kevin Nowell says:

    Zippy:
    What I meant by metaphysically neutral was the form not any actual instance. For example it is possible for a Islamic country to have a monarch just the same as it is possible for a Catholic country to have a monarch. Both are practicing monarchy. One is Muslim the other Catholic. Once you get to any particular instance of course it cannot be neutral.

    King Richard:
    You said on your linked post “a nation is not a provider of products or services”. Well it seems an actual Catholic monarch of an actual, albeit small but extremely prosperous, country disagrees with you. http://www.amazon.com/State-Third-Millennium-Prince-Hans-Adam/dp/3905881047

  • Zippy says:

    Kevin Nowell:

    Once you get to any particular instance of course it cannot be neutral.

    That includes the emperor who creates and enforces the rules of the patchwork empire. And it includes all of the rules in the empire at every scope. So why claim metaphysical neutrality at all, since it never applies at any scope?

  • King Richard says:

    Kevin,
    Prince Hans-Adam’s book is an excellent one! I have a signed copy he was kind enough to send to me when the book was first published and I keep it in my bedside bookcase.
    His Serene Highness and I disagree on this point, naturally. Prinz Hans-Adam is openly and unapologetically Modernist, Liberal (in the classic sense), and embraces Democracy. Prinz Alois, the heir and current regent, also largely disagrees with his father on a number of these points.
    And Kevin, I am an ‘actual Catholic monarch’ [i.e., a non-zero number of people who are not relatives have sworn oaths of fealty to me as their king]. of an ‘actual country’ [i.e., citizens who pay taxes]. I correspond with HSH Hans-Adam, Prince Alexander Tod, and members of European, Middle-eastern, and Asian royalty and nobility, reigning and deposed. I may be the most junior and perhaps the most obscure, but I am ‘real’.
    The world is smaller and stranger than you might think.

  • Kevin Nowell says:

    Zippy wrote,

    That includes the emperor who creates and enforces the rules of the patchwork empire. And it includes all of the rules in the empire at every scope. So why claim metaphysical neutrality at all, since it never applies at any scope?

    I only claim the idea is metaphysically neutral. One could have a Catholic patchwork akin to the Holy Roman Empire and one could have a Muslim patchwork similar to the United Arab Emirates.

    King Richard,

    Well I apologize for that slight and keep up the good work then.

  • Zippy says:

    Kevin Nowell:

    I only claim the idea is metaphysically neutral.

    Ideas are not metaphysically neutral. So even though it isn’t at all clear what you mean by “the idea”, I can confidently conclude that it is not metaphysically neutral, whatever it may be.

  • Kevin Nowell says:

    I apologize for the sloppiness of my thinking and writing; but, what I mean by “the idea” is the idea of a competitive market of government service providers, the “patchwork”. Just as the idea of monarchy can be instantiated under many different metaphysical and ethical regimes, so too could the patchwork. A Catholic patchwork, a Muslim patchwork, a liberal patchwork etc are all conceivable and possible just as a Catholic Monarchy, a Muslim monarchy and a liberal monarchy are all conceivable and possible.

  • jf12 says:

    Does every patchwork per se necessarily have holes in it, like Nevada for gambling and prostitution?

  • King Richard says:

    Kevin,
    I took no offense, it is a common mistake. And thank you.

  • Zippy says:

    Kevin Nowell:
    There can be different kinds of monarchies, and even very different kinds of things that are called “monarchy”; but the idea of monarchy is not metaphysically neutral any more than the idea of democracy is metaphysically neutral.

    The idea of a free market patchwork empire of nations the freedom / competitiveness of which is insured by a “neutral” (that is, liberal) emperor-umpire is not metaphysically neutral. It is a form of liberalism. Like all liberalisms it deludes itself into thinking that metaphysical neutrality in politics is possible. But it isn’t possible.

    The choice isn’t between metaphysically neutral politics and metaphysically “opinionated” politics. The choice is between politics that is self aware enough to know that it is opinionated and politics lacking that self awareness. This is true at all scopes and levels of abstraction.

    In faux-neutral liberal polities that lack this self-awareness, metaphysical bias still drives what is done. It is just necessarily sociopathic.

  • Kevin Nowell says:

    I do not think that the emperor would have to be “neutral” in all things. In a Catholic patchwork he could ensure that all the subsidiary governments do not violate Catholic social principles; but, he would only be neutral about everything else or maybe not everything else but most other things.

  • King Richard says:

    Interesting.
    Kevin, it sounds more as if you are speaking of large feudal society with an emperor than a ‘free market’. A Man might be born in a small barony under a feudal lord in Lower Saxony, move to the independent city of Hamburg for university, then swear particular allegiance to a count in Swabia – three different ‘states’, all of which were under the sovereignty of the Emperor.

  • Zippy says:

    There is always competition among subordinates. It isn’t something you have to plan for: if anything it is something you have to manage to keep it from becoming excessive.

    So again, there is nothing especially neoreactionary or Moldbuggian about the idea once you’ve excreted all the liberalism from it.

  • King Richard says:

    Zippy,
    Exactly. As a matter of fact, one of the Traditionalist complaints about Westphalian nation-states is that they artificially hinder this natural migration between spaces by replacing fealty and sovereignty with citizenship and government.

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  • I believe you’ve captured the exit/voice discussion well, and criticized it well. I want to agree with you that civilizations aren’t at all the kind of thing that can be designed, but looking at the modern world, it is hard to imagine anything really good happening naturally in the political order. My instincts tell me to look for the remnant of Isaias, from which society will be rebuilt, but politically I don’t see one. If the world is to return to sanity some day, it will need thorough political reform, won’t it? What could that process possibly look like? (Can the past teach us?) You hinted at an answer when you talked of “a small treasure of purified truth to be discovered later, or not, as Providence provides.”

    Here’s a thought for analogy. If the Tridentine mass truly fell out of use, at some point, sustaining the will to restore it would cease to be proper, and end up as “liturgical archaeology,” as they say. Aren’t we in that kind of position now, today, in politics? It seems to me that, absent an authentic remnant, any sort of return to political sanity will be political archaeology, engineered by people who love Christendom, have read books about Christendom, but are forced to invent. We could have a world of Sinophiles, but it would not matter if there are no Chinese.

    (“Christendom” is my best shot at a word for what I mean, but no matter what it will be, surely it doesn’t exist anywhere today. How could we ever get there from here, according to human nature, which excludes false positivisms?)

  • Zippy says:

    Nicholas Escalona:

    How could we ever get there from here?

    I’m basically certain that we cannot make it happen. Any large scale effort to make it happen will just be coopted and made to worship the image of the beast.

    At the same time, although liberalism is remarkably resilient I can easily imagine a time when it rests half buried in the sand like the statue of Ozymandius.

    The world isn’t mine to engineer. At best I have my own very small hold and garden to look after. So when it comes to the big things we’ll have to wait and see what the Powers, Principalities, and Providence have in store.

  • I’m not trying to find the local Jacobite Recruiting Office, or join a microstate… I’m just trying to keep hope that civilization isn’t gone for good.

    Though – It’s much more obvious to me that a man with no or few role models to show him how to be a good husband and father could nevertheless become a great one, because that stuff is writ in our nature. As with the family, so with the wider society. Also – I’m reading Twain’s Joan of Arc, and that strengthens my faith concerning this issue too.

  • Ahh, Zippy, you try very hard not to understand the concepts you’re talking about. I feel like treating this subject abstractly is leading you to some rather strident conclusions that are probably not justified.

    Here’s another take on exit, as a historically (and otherwise) conditioned thing:
    http://mitrailleuse.net/2014/06/24/exit-no-exit/

    As for the tame liberalism it’s true insofar as an “exit-based” project like the Honduran ZEDEs would require the protection of some sort of supranational thing, to keep it from the predations of a populist left-wing government seeking to expropriate it. My colleague Mark contends that if it can be proved that you’ve tripled the people’s incomes inside, you have a fairly good case to make to the Davos set/UN/World Bank/Madeline Albright. It’s not a matter of designing civilizations — on the contrary, it’s bringing basic institutions of civilization like property rights and the rule of law, to countries that provide these things unreliably. That’s the promise exit potentially holds for the third world; a government that doesn’t steal from them.

    Is the competitive pressure that more “exit” options could potentially lead to a threat to the liberal order? I suppose that depends on our definition of liberalism; Mark Pennington’s Robust Political Economy is all about recovering exit as a liberal value. It is, however, completely anathema to a social democrat.

    Here’s a better way of thinking about it: The reactosphere’s conversation regarding voice and exit essentially amounts to the observation that voice has too much power and exit not enough. I basically think this is true and we ought to think about how to correct that.

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