How not to write a blog post

Here Mencius Moldbug provides an example of what I try to avoid doing when I write a post. 

1.  It’s very long, 32 screens of text. 

2. It starts with a series of acronyms that are neither generally familiar to the public nor explained anywhere in the text. 

3.  It deals with a wide range of topics.  The terms “Right” and “Left” as applied to politics, the advantages of royalism over democracy, Carlyle’s theory of the state, the ongoing financial crisis, the relationship of money to value, the evils of John Maynard Keynes, the supreme importance of a strong state, the virtues of corporate CEOs, the mental illnesses of Hitler and Stalin, the evils of separation of powers, and the impossibility of changing anything for the better. 

4. It contains strong claims about many matters which the author does not appear to understand.  Making an analogy between political systems and stellar evolution, he say that “Betelgeuse, of course, will end in supernova”; a commenter points out that Betelgeuse is not massive enough to end this way.  He lumps all proposals to respond to economic difficulties by loosening the fiscal policy of the government under the label “Keynesian,” then attacks John Maynard Keynes for them, regardless of what Keynes actually said or what theories the proposals in question may actually reflect.  He claims that all systems which divide of powers within the state violate the Roman strictures against  imperium in imperio,  ignoring the rest of Roman political thought and the whole practice of the Roman Republic. 

These four flaws all point to the same thing: the author of this post needs an editor.  An editor would have assigned him a maximum length; would have blue-penciled the acronyms; would have insisted on a coherent arc of development; and would asked the author for the basis of his factual claims.  It’s a shame this person blogs instead of submitting his work to an editor, because the piece contains several interesting points as well. 

1. He writes:

As a political faction, Right just means “not left.” There are many Rights and only one Left. The modern Left evolved from one 18th-century Anglo-American tradition (English Radicalism), which over the last two centuries captured almost every intellectual and political institution in the world. Any post-1945 perspective outside this movement (Updike’s, for instance) is not the product of any significant intellectual quality-control process, because the modern Right has no significant intellectual institutions (by the standards of the modern Left). 

The factual claims here are of course subject to challenge, but the main point is certainly worth thinking about. 

2. He suggests, apparently as a thought-experiment, that all assets should be pooled, their owners compensated with dollars.  In his words, “Imagine that, instead of holding securities, everyone held cash.”  Since there are only about 2,000,000,000,000 dollars  in circulation and total wealth is estimated at something on the order of 100,000,000,000,000 dollars, this would necessitate a great deal of printing.  He further suggests that once these dollars are printed, it be made impossible to print more of them.  He drops the experiment before getting to any of the difficult questions it raises, but those questions may be worth asking. 

3. He quotes Alexander Pope’s dictum that “Fools over forms of government contest,/ That which is best administered is best.”  That was one of Irving Babitt’s favorite quotes, so it always makes me smile.  Granted, I agree with it less every passing year, but it still brings back fond memories of 1989-1990, the year I spent immersed in the writings of Babbitt and his followers.

4. Here’s another good paragraph, based on the line John Milton gave to Lucifer in Paradise Lost (“It is better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven,” a line familiar to Star Trek aficionados):

Of all Luciferian motivations, democracy is the lowest.  It is one thing to rule in Hell.  It is quite another to have on hundred-millionth of a say in the selection of an official whose role in Hell is primarily ceremonial.

There is a good point here.  If democracy begins and ends with voting for officials, then democracy is a rather small thing.  Defenders of democracy must turn elsewhere to glorify it.  I would suggest that Nietzsche was on the right track in The Twilight of the Idols.  Democratic institutions themselves, once established, are no friends of liberty.  However, it is in the struggle to build democratic institutions that liberty and the people who are capable of enjoying liberty take shape.  Once the struggle ends, so does liberty. 

5. The analogy with Betelgeuse comes in when he claims that “weakening a government makes it larger.”  A weak government is not conducive to liberty, he asserts, because of its tendency to bloat.  Only small government is conducive to liberty.  Here his lack of definitions becimes critical.  In what sense was Stalin’s government, for example, not strong?  And what is liberty, that it is threatened by single-payer health care but not by absolute monarchy? 

6. He blames separation of powers for the size of America’s public sector.  “Essentially, big government is big because it is always competing with itself.”  This is clearly false in the context in which he proposes it- the three branches of the US government do not compete with each other to build highways, for example.  But there may be some sense in which it is true.

3 Comments

  1. cymast

     /  February 12, 2009

    Great definition of democracy in relation to liberty.

    I think you’ve managed to avoid all 4 points.

  2. acilius

     /  February 12, 2009

    Why thank you!

  3. cymast

     /  February 12, 2009

    Ditto!

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