The Problem of Efficient Political Order

The fundamental imperative of the state, at least from the perspective of the state, is to maintain sufficient political hegemony, such that no subset of society can challenge the authority of the state. This maintains the security of the state, and prevents the damaging conflicts that come with the struggle for political dominance. The "struggle" for political dominance should, in this view, be predictable and very one-sided - the house always wins - such that there is no point having a struggle with the state at all.

But someone may still wish to have a disorderly and antisocial struggle with their neighbor, which, while it may not be a political problem, is still bad for business. So the fundamental imperative of the state is extended. The extended imperative of state is to achieve not just sufficient alignment of powers for hegemonic security, but total alignment of all powers in society with the state and with each other. A totally aligned state and society can act as a unit against coordination problems, external and internal, and can thus focus on solving non-political problems.

Obviously the problem of total political order is optional and aspirational. It will never be achieved this side of the mythical future golden age. It is to be pursued incrementally, when possible, efficient, and profitable. But the more fundamental problem of sufficiently secure political order is necessary to the existence of the state, and thus must be pursued by any means necessary.

Securing sufficient and then total ordering of the political forces in society can be called in general the problem of political order.

But not all sufficient means are necessary, or good ideas. Political order could be achieved at significant damage to the structure of society, as in your classic 20th century totalitarian horror-state. Thus we must achieve political order by any means necessary and efficient, or if you prefer, by any means necessary and proper. This modified problem statement is the problem of efficient political order.

Let's therefore analyze the efficiency problem.

To achieve the end of political order, all states and state-like coalitions have an array of powers, which are used to modify the alignment of powers in society, and build their system of political hegemony.

Each power that the state has will have characteristic costs and results that make it suited for one problem or another:

  • Policemen are useless against paramilitary gangs.

  • Paramilitary riot police and national guard troops are inappropriate against petty criminals.

  • Paramilitary security forces can't fight a war.

  • Propaganda and information control is inadequate a sole measure against a hostile and unsupportive population.

  • Arrests and crackdowns are inappropriate against grumbling by confused subjects.

If one applies the wrong tool for the job, bombing criminals and trying to arrest and charge paramilitary gangs, one will find that one has trouble achieving political order, and to achieve it, the downsides of the inappropriate methods used will have added up into a frightful problem.

So the efficiency problem is basically the problem of using the right tool for the job. This boils down to a few factors:

  1. Having the right tool available and ready for use, with knowledge of how to use it.

  2. Knowing the results and costs the tool achieves, and that it is the right tool for the circumstances.

  3. There being no constraining ideological or structural reason why the tool can't be used.

For #1, political tools and powers can be built. It takes a while and it's complex, but it happens. The progress of the power of empires over time is the construction of more and more powerful political control tools. Not much to say here.

Factor #2 is not important to discuss in abstract. Given a particular tool of political control, and a tradition of wise statecraft, much can be said about its appropriate use, costs, and benefits. But that's out of our scope here.

Factor #3, the structural and ideological barriers to political control, are a common and preventable cause of inefficient or failed political order. We can discuss this in more depth in this study, as it is an important factor in the general problem of efficient political order:

We can list a few different historical examples of structural barriers to political order, and discuss them to get a feel for the issue:

  • Democracy. Democracy is actually a complex of related machanisms, rather than a single institution. Besides the voting thing, it mostly boils down to inability of a ruling coalition to use the most efficient parts of the state apparatus, like the legal system, police, state funds, official propaganda, and so on, directly against the opposition. It's not democracy if you can just arrest the opposition for crimes against political order. But even if you can't just arrest the opposition, the imperative for the governing coalition to neuter the opposition by any means necessary remains, and is redirected.

  • Separation of Powers. If powers in the government are divided between multiple weakly-coordinated agencies, this is almost by definition a violation of political order. Taken as a whole system, the state is unable to wield its powers wisely and efficiently, because it is not internally coordinated. Looking at a subagency as the legitimate state, there are key powers the state doesn't have, and it has other powerful state-like entities to contend with.

  • Separation of church and state. As a common case of the above, the separation between church and state is another violation of political order. There are two classic cases: The first being the Catholic state case, in which the church is official, but does not fully obey the state. The second being the secular state case, in which the government is just unable to use religion as part of its power system, though it will use religion-like education and value system control as a partial substitute, and other entities will use religion as a now-uncoordinated power system.

  • Lack of explicit legal command authority. Many problems are most efficiently solved with a simple order from the state, backed by the full force of the law. And many big legal cases are of political nature, and thus are the proper domain of the state. But some modern states explicitly separate the judiciary, and the powers of the court, from the powers of the state. Without full subordination of the legal system to the state, many problems cannot be solved in the most efficient manner.

These are the big ones. We can see that these structural barriers to total state power are often created deliberately, backed by ideological considerations. The above features, for example, are some of the foundational ideological planks of the liberal republican design of the US constitution.

It is often the case, and it is so in our case, that the primary glue holding the state in a certain configuration, whether it is structurally dysfunctional or efficient, is ideology. If the elites did not really believe in the liberal republican theory of government that says division of power is good, and instead believed in a holistic theory of government that said unification of power is good, then a coalition could be quickly arranged to restructure things. This also goes the other way. It is ideology that is the primary source of long-run institutional momentum.

The major questions that come out of such an observation are what a new ideology of political structure would look like, and how exactly it would gain currency in elite circles. But that is outside the scope of this study; here we are concerned primarily with the underlying structural issues.

In our framing of the problem of political order as being the problem of the state having the right tools for the job, we have not yet addressed what happens if the state cannot use the right tools.

If the state cannot use some efficient tool for the job of securing political order, the fundamental imperative remains; they need to maintain political order. In finding a way to secure political order despite the lack of the best tools, the state will be forced to use tools which are less efficient. This can mean two things:

  1. Secure political order is achieved, but at greater cost. Not that it's realistic, but for example if you don't have policemen, and have to use a combination of lynching and martial law to maintain social order, society just isn't going to work as well. As a more realistic example, if you can't just arrest the democratic opposition, you might try to systematically reeducate the population, and import favorable voters to bolster your own coalition, keeping the overall democratic outcomes in your favor; this also results in a damaged society.

  2. Secure political order is not achieved. You still try a bunch of the above society-damaging stuff, but it doesn't work well enough, and the opposition gets in. If this goes back and forth, the damage escalates, and power shifts to nearby state-like institutions that are not vulnerable to replacement, like bureaucracies and universities. These pseudo-state institutions are unfortunately likely even less capable of ruling efficiently, lacking formal power and legitimacy, and thus the efficiency of the state degrades further.

So restricting the powers of the state, by structural or other means, means that the struggle for political order is less decisive, and thus more escalated, and more damaging to society.

The side-effects of restriction of powers on the stuggle for political order are a decisive consideration from the perspective of the state; the state wants lots of power. But we have not yet shown whether this holds from the perspective of society in general. It may yet be that the escalating collateral social damage of the permanent political struggles inherent in limited systems is the lesser evil compared to what an unleashed and powerful state would do to society.

On that question, we can briefly note that when the government is in a state of political security, whatever its interests are, it is aided and solely enabled by a strong and healthy social ecosystem under its command. It would no sooner abuse its society than you would abuse your left arm. You might abuse your left arm if it had a mind of its own and was constantly causing trouble for you, but not if you were in control of it. Likewise for the state and society. Almost all abuse of society by state therefore comes as a result of ongoing inefficient political struggle, and state decision-making stupidity or irrationality.

When it has political security, the state has strong incentive to to organize society as a unified social and economic ecosystem that can be directed to whatever the purposes of the state are. This would mean proper application of decentralization wisdom like subsidiarity and market mechanisms, but also centralization of political authority and elimination of those rights and freedoms of individuals and subgroups which conflict with the harmony of the social whole. This sounds radical, but is just the normal nonpolitical operation of the state on society; all states reshape their societies into power bases for their goals. The first and most obvious "rights" taken away are those which negatively impact the strength of the community.

Two more important questions remain before we can take solving the problem of efficient political order, and its social results, to be a good:

  1. Whether reorganization of society as an explicit political and social unit with overall purpose, rather than for example a loose association of materially self-interested individuals, is a good thing. Certainly there are many in our modern semi-liberal societies who profit from greed, exploitation, and parasitism of various kinds, who would be greatly inconvenienced by a resurgent political holism.

  2. Whether we agree with the purposes the state might set for society, what those purposes might be, what they ought to be, and how we might construct a state that systematically cares about the right things.

These are both difficult questions that are outside of our scope here.

To conclude, we have introduced here the problem of efficient political order, which is how and at what cost the state maintains political order, which is when the state has coordinated most or all power in society such that it has no remaining significant political enemies. This analysis produced the following interesting core claims:

  • That the state is fundamentally, at its core, a political entity with a primary goal and purpose of organizing and unifying all political power in itself.

  • That all states will strive for the fundamental imperative of state, which is the maintenance of political order, because they will be replaced if they don't.

  • That in achieving political order, the state has many tools at its disposal, some of which are more efficient than others. Efficiency is counted as the metaphorical ratio of political results to damage to society and more direct state resources.

  • That the crux of the problem of efficient political order is the ability of the state to deploy the right political tool for the job.

  • That the primary barriers to the state being able to deploy the right tool for the job, and thus to achieving efficient political order, are structural limitations, usually backed by explicit limited-government ideology.

  • That the right ideology, installed by unspecified means, could reorganize the modern united states to be much more politically efficient.

  • That if a state is unable to use the right tool for the job, it will escalate the use of alternative less efficient methods to maintain the fundamental imperative of political order. Or it may fail and be replaced by a new system more able to coordinate power, often at even lower efficiency, and thus with higher collateral damage to society. Thus there is serious downside to ideologies of state limitation.

  • That once a state is able to achieve secure or total political order, it shapes the society under its command into a holistic ecosystem to generate useful work on the non-political aims of the state, whatever they are. This is normal for all states.

  • That free authority of the state to command all political power and use all available means to maintain political order is a good thing, provided we can agree that a more fully coordinated society is acceptable or better, and that the state can be given a good overall telos.

This has been an overview of the issue, and introduction of the problem of efficient political order. All of this need to be looked at in more depth in future, and then revisited and refined.