Wretchard is a blogger of what might be best called the “modern conservative” sort, a classical liberal, or in the modern pejorative a “neoconservative”. He is a serious fellow far too smart not to see what is really going on, not as eyes-open as Walter Russell Mead but more honest about what he does see. He has a recent post on exceptions and rules; the phrase is more pithily used because he, and many of his commenters, are programmers. An “exception” to a programmer is (apparently, I’m picking this up as I read) a situation which the software can’t routinely handle and needs special instructions for. Programmers like organized, logical things and too many exceptions is the sign of a bad program.
What’s troubling Wretchard is one, that Al Gore was trying to dodge the year-end tax increase, and that a woman running an anti-gun newspaper wants to protect it (and herself) with armed guards. Wretchard sees these as logically inconsistent, or “exceptions”. If Gore wants people to pay more taxes, why wouldn’t he pay more taxes himself? If the newspaper lady thinks people shouldn’t defend themselves with guns, why is she doing it?
I had this to say in the comments- “Like many leftist things this goes back as far as the Protestant Reformation. Some thought that because believers were justified by faith, that alone made them good people, and so they didn’t really need to follow any rules at all. Luther actually wrote a piece opposing “antinomianism” but the idea is clearly engraved in Protestant theology, or at least a primitive, self-serving version of it. If you believe certain things, that makes you a good person. If you are a good person, whatever you do is good, and asking you to follow any fixed set of rules is not only wrong and oppressive, it’s actually blasphemous. Conservatives constantly complain that leftism doesn’t make sense, but it makes perfect sense, and all that conservatives see as bugs are actually features. There is no double standard or as Wretchard is phrasing it here, no exception.”
Wretchard’s reply to that was- “I agree that from their point of view all is working as planned. But it’s damned inconvenient for those who have to share the universe with them. Just now, for example, I am trying to read some data in a JSON format because we agreed it should be in that way.
“Those rules are like the social rules we observe in daily life. You drive on the right and pass on the left. It could be the other way around, like the Brits do it. But it happens to be drive on the right because that’s the agreement.
“Now suppose the “good people” decided that they could drive on whichever side of the road they felt like that day. Or my compadre felt like sending me data in some other custom format he happened to invent that day. They all felt unbound by the agreed standard by reason of superiority.”
Rather than pursuing the issue there, I am going at it again here. My own father was a programmer for years. He didn’t say much about what he did, but one day he came home from work and said “Sometimes everything looks upside down, then you realize you’re standing on the ceiling.”
Moldbug had a post recently where he had a quote that “the sovereign is he who decides the exception.” Moldbug is some kind of programmer or tech guy as well, and maybe for him the idea of “exception” sticks in his craw. My concept, however, is that this goes beyond exceptions to rules. For the leftist sovereign, the exception is the rule. There is no exception, because whatever he wants to do is by definition the rule. The Anglo-Saxon concept of kingship is that the king, in his role as just ruler, may make exceptions to rules if the rules in some cases produce unjust results- the concept of “equity” which of course you can drive trucks through three abreast. But I’m saying leftism goes beyond this.
It’s easy to see how this works in small groups, like primate troops or criminal gangs. What’s right is what the boss is doing right now. This is a matter of social reality and doesn’t need any outside reference to the past, the future or any other abstraction. This scales up with difficulty, but it does scale up- Stalinism, whether of the crude 1930’s Moscow style or our own modern version, is just this exactly.
Orwell described this in “Nineteen eighty-four”. Each individual had to be constantly vigilant to what the rules were right now, because they constantly changed and the change was not announced. For intelligent, rational people this is a terrifying and disorienting situation. Stupid people cope with it relatively easily. But it isn’t orderly, rational or objective and to try to understand it on these terms, even as a system that is very poorly orderly, rational and objective is to miss the point entirely. It is supposed to be confusing and disorienting. People who are either too stupid to understand the rulers are not following any rules or unable to fight with the system logically are the easiest to rule.
But that’s a bit of a side track, as the system is best and most easily described as antinomian- the good people do whatever they want because they are good, and the bad people follow rules. Refusing to accept the premise, or frame is the only way out that avoids futility and insanity.