Mencius Moldbug and the Ring of Power

I've been at a bit of an intellectual dry point for a while. I'm too lazy to read books, while blogs are not sufficiently challenging intellectually

This is why Mencius Moldbug's blog (see sidebar) has been very welcome to me. Having discovered it a few months back, and dabbled in the comments there, I continued to find him stimulating enough that I went back and read through his archives. Which are voluminous -- the man is quirky. Among other quirks, he never writes a paragraph if a page will do.

I think I will try to write up a more complete discussion of the philosophy of Moldbug to coincide with his promised April 17 return. Meanwhile, I was thinking about power analogically, using the Lord of the Rings template, when I realized Moldbug's ideas actually map onto it quite nicely.

In LotR, to recap for those few who have not read it, the central conundrum is created by an evil artifact, the One Ring of Power. It was created by an evil demigod, Sauron, who poured much of his power into it. Sauron was vanquished at one point, and almost but not quite dead. But he cannot be killed while the Ring exists. So Sauron has rearisen to threaten all of Middle Earth with his armies of evil orcs, trolls, etc. This time he has far more power than the degenerate kingdoms of men and fading elves that he faces. They cannot win militarily and everyone knows it.

The One Ring is, as its name indicates, very powerful. Any great person who wields it can command armies and gain victory via its power. However, nobody who has owned it has ever voluntarily given it up, except two hobbits (this seems to be their special power). The Ring is evil, and has a will of its own: although its possessor may have the best of intentions and may do many good things with it initially, the Ring will possess his or her mind in the long run. It will inflame the base desires of the Ringlord, which for men and elves both seems to involve the will to dominate others.

Thus, the conundrum in LotR is that the Ring offers military victory, which is not possible in any other way. And yet if anyone of the "good guys" should wield it and win, it will destroy him or her and in the long run set up its dark dominion in any case. It seems like a no win situation, however, there's one out. The good news is it can be destroyed. The bad news is, being ultramagical it can only be unmade in one place in the entire world, the volcano in which it was forged. And Sauron happens to own that place, which is in the very center of his dark kingdom, practically impossible to get to.

So, in the LotR a couple of weak, largely clueless hobbits are sent on a rather ridiculous errand into the heart of the enemy's territory to throw the Ring into the fire. (This can work in fiction -- may the Plot be with you. But it's still risible from any "realistic" perspective, which many of the characters in the book understand quite well.)

The libertarian analogy here is clear enough. The Ring of Power is coercive power, particularly, legitimized coercion as institutionalized in the State. The conundrum is similar: as Acton said, power corrupts. Nobody can be trusted to run the state, it seems. And so we anarchists want to "throw it in the volcano" -- to break outside of the entire paradigm that the damn thing must always exist. And the risibility factor also maps: how do we get to liberty from where we are? Vote for it? Please.

Mencius Moldbug comes on the scene with a new proposal, his "neocameralism" as he calls it. You can read his explanation at the link. To understand neocameralism via analogy in Middle Earth, we need to understand a few more of Tolkien's "rules". Lesser rings of power were created for all of the free peoples of middle earth (Men, Elves, and Dwarves). Men who get lesser rings of power actually fade from the world, turning to undead, evil wraiths. Elves have their own lesser rings, which Sauron never touched, and they do not fade. But we are assured by everyone concerned that they cannot wield the One Ring safely, presumably because they do like domination (although less than Men), which it would inflame. There were also lesser rings created for the Dwarves. But these rings are said to have little power over Dwarves, who were created separately from Men and Elves. Rather, the only effect on Dwarves is to inflame their existing greed, their covetousness of gold, jewels, and other wealth. (Also the rings seem to magically help them with wealth accumulation in some unspecific way.)

Now I've laid out enough here to understand a radical proposal that should have been entertained at the Council of Elrond. It is this: give the One Ring of Power to a Dwarf Lord. (Presumably this would have been Dáin II Ironfoot, who was the current King Under the Mountain when the War of the Ring happened, but let's call this hypothetical dwarven hero "Fnargl".) Fnargl can use the military power of the Ring to destroy Sauron's power, thus saving Middle Earth from the dominion of a known evil. So far so good. (Analogically, neocameralism fills the power vaccuum that folks like Moldbug worry about in anarchy.) Now the bad part: with the Ring, Fnargl is unstoppable. He will take over the world. (Analog: anarchy is not possible. The State must exist.) But there's good news: unlike other mortals, dwarves don't want domination. Rather they want money. And so the resulting Fnarglocracy will be something truly new in Middle Earth: a kingdom without a real King. Oh, Fnargl will be there, yes. A sort of God-King. But he won't care a whit about the subjects as such: from his point of view, they exist to make him money, and he is undying so he has very, very low time preference. Everyone must be subjected to force them to pay taxes, but Fnargl does not want to control them for dominion's sake, or for any other end except money, money, money. Since the best way to make money is via a free market, he'll let them have that. (With heavy taxation, of course.) He won't otherwise interfere with them. So, you'll get a semi-libertarian outcome: far more liberal than any modern state, but just as tax-heavy. The hobbits can still smoke their weed, so long as they continue to work most of the time. (Analogically, instead of an eternal ruler, Moldbug envisions a corporation. Agency becomes a problem, and more on that eventually, but the idea is the same: corps exist to make money for their shareholders, and so according to Moldbuggian thought they'd make good rulers from the POV of not caring what their subjects do.)

Anyway, for much more on Fnarglocracy, you can read Moldbug's views here. Note that Moldbug is proposing an interstellar alien as Fnargl in the linked piece, with a slightly different power ring. But the same general principle applies.

I have my own critique of Fnarglocracy, which I suppose I will post eventually. Some of it maps to critiques of neocameralism; some of it may not.


IVoIIIoVI said...

This is an extremely creative way to present an overview of MM's philosophy - I've read through much of the UR archives, but this ties it all together nicely. Actually, it also sheds new light on the LOTR trilogy, which I've read three times. But I don't remember anything about dwarves being resistant to the power of the One Ring. Was this mentioned in another of Tolkien's works?

Leonard said...

It may be from the Silmarillian, or maybe from the endnotes to LotR (which I read all of more than once -- what a geek!) I'll have to pull down the books and look.

Ah yes: appendix A of LotR.

For the Dwarves had proved untameable by this means. The only power over them that the Rings wielded was to inflame their hearts with a greed of gold and precious things, so that if they lacked them all other good things seemed profitless, and they were filled with wrath and desire for vengeance on all who deprived them. But they were made from their beginning of a kind to resist most steadfastly any domination. Though they could be slain or broken, they could not be reduced to shadows enslaved to another will; and for the same reason their lives were not affected by any Ring, to live either longer or shorter because of it.