You’ve undoubtedly heard that the US government (USG) has three branches. You’ve probably also heard that they are the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch.
It’s true that USG has three branches, but they’re not executive, legislative and judicial. At some point in the distant past, executive, legislative and judicial functions may have been meaningful, distinct and in control, but no longer.
Just for fun, let’s assume that USG still has three branches. What are they and how did they replace the old ones?
Branch 1: The Cathedral or Why John Roberts is a Giant Vagina
The Cathedral is Moldbug’s term for the combined workings of the media, universities and certain parts of USG.
Let’s try to understand the way the Cathedral works through the recent Supreme Court decision on healthcare.
Everyone knew that Obamacare was headed to the Supreme Court. Everyone knew the issues involved. As best I can tell, no one predicted the actual outcome of the case. The text of the Constitution and the various amendments is not that long and it’s been around for a while now. The issues are litigated constantly. There are thousands of law professors, court commentators and lawyers. In a functioning legal system, the result should have been quite predictable. In a moderately broken legal system, many of these interest parties should have predicted the correct outcome by mere chance. Only in a legal system that is totally FUBAR would the result be unpredictable to everyone.
It appears that 5 of the judges initially believed the healthcare law was unconstitutional as going beyond the power given (by “The People”) to Congress in the Commerce Clause. However, through some force, Judge Roberts’ mind was changed (pardon the passive for now) and an entirely unpredictable and new interpretation of the law came into being even though it was (of course) hidden in the Constitution and amendments for quite some time.
What was this force that changed Roberts mind? It appears that Roberts’ changed his mind because the Cathedral was able to exert so much pressure on him that he changed his view. Those of us on the reactionary side should thank Roberts for changing his mind in such an absurd and transparent way. The complete charade that is the modern legal system is undeniable.
In one of those links, Professor Somin notes: “it is very sad that the highest-ranking judge in the land valued reputation more than his duty to enforce the Constitution. If fear of criticism by hostile politicians and pundits can deflect the Chief Justice from doing his duty, that does not bode well for the future.”
Indeed, it’s more than sad. Criticism from hostile pundits, politicians, and law professors is effectively the force that determines what is legal and what is not. Is anything checking the power of this force? Who controls this force? To whom is it accountable? No one will ask these if we pretend the men in robes are still actually in control.
Branch 2: The Bureaucracy or Who Actually Governs
I’ve written on this topic at length, but here’s a short summary.
Many people, your humble blogger included, are permanent members of USG. Our jobs include functions typically considered to be executive, legislative and judicial. New “governments” are elected and we keep our jobs. We massively outnumber the temporary government (i.e. elected and appointed officials) and we’re effectively immune from their whims (thankfully).
Let’s again look at the healthcare bill. Where did it come from? At some point, someone must have sat down in front of a blank Word document and starting typing some stuff that turned into (at least a section of) the healthcare law. Who was this person? How did he or she get to such a powerful position? As best I can tell, no one actually knows. Behold, the genius of modern USG.
The healthcare law has been declared Constitutional, but it’s also worth remembering that we don’t really know what’s in it yet. This is, of course, true for all large pieces of legislation (it’s a bit scary that the good professor’s understanding of American government is stuck sometime in 19th Century – or earlier). Who will decide what’s really in the law?
Once the law is actually put in place, and conflicts arise, who will resolve these conflicts?
The last three paragraphs ended with questions. Here’s another one, what if there is only one answer to all those questions? That is, what if one entity writes laws, decides what the laws say later on, enforces the laws, and interprets the laws after they are implemented. Such an entity would hold all the actual power of government. What if we didn’t even know which people constituted this entity and what if we had no control over this entity? Surely, that couldn’t happen.
If it were to happen, there would be no checks and balances – at least not in the traditional sense of checks and balances that operate across executive, legislative and judicial functions. If this were the case, and if the legal system was not acting as a check on federal power (see Branch 1 above), then we’d have a government of effectively unlimited power (subject only to random Supreme Court decisions that may temporarily limit power in certain areas and not others).
Branch 3: Political Parties or Why Smart People Write Propaganda
Our Constitution, which supposedly describes how our government works, doesn’t mention political parties at all. This is odd, since the defining feature of American politics is that there are two parties and only two parties.
When you first come to DC, this is the first thing you learn. Again, there are two parties and only two parties. You have to pick one. You can get by in the bureaucracy for a while without picking one (everyone will assume you’re a Democrat), but most “non-governmental” positions require you to pick sides right away (unofficially, of course). Law firms in DC are generally allied with a party. Reporters obviously are. Etc.
You can say you are a Democrat, or you can say Progressive, Liberal, Socialist, Centrist or a few other labels, but in DC, these all mean Democrat. Anything else means Republican. It’s almost always safe to substitute “Democrat” for “Independent” which is the generic third party term used by lobbyists, for example.
(This seems to be a lesson that libertarians stubbornly refuse to learn. They say they’re libertarian as if that means something different than Republican – which it certainly doesn’t to anyone that matters in DC. This lesson was a difficult for your humble blogger to learn when he moved to DC and considered himself a libertarian. Some of the mainstream libertarians that refer to themselves as “liberaltarians” or some such nonsense seem to have internalized this lesson without really learning it. What they want is to be considered Democrats in DC – like all the cool kids – while not being forced to identify as Democrats outside of DC. Is it possible to sell out but not sell out? Good luck with that. Anyway . . .)
The theory of checks and balances requires, for example, that the legislature checks the power of the Executive, etc. In reality, members of the legislative branch are more loyal to their party than they are to their branch. The self-limiting theory of government only works if a Congressman is more concerned with the power of Congress than with the electoral success of his party. Which do you think he’s more concerned with?
It’s easy to see that people in DC who exercise power are rabid supporters of their party above all else. Every time a new party claims the Presidency, for example, members of his party change their mind about all sorts of things (e.g. executive power). This is an odd phenomenon that I still find off-putting and confusing.
Pundits write articles that are perpetually available on the internet. Depending on which party is in power, all their arguments change. Everyone pretends not to notice that pundits’ opinions change every four years. This sort of writing is – of course! – propaganda. The average pundit is then best understood as a propagandist for a political party.
Republicans duly supported the requirement while Democrats opposed it. Later things changed and everyone changed their minds.
I rather enjoy reading Democratic propagandists, like Matthew Yglesias, more than Republican ones. Frankly, the Democratic propagandists are much better at writing propaganda.
Anyway, if you’re considering a career in journalism, I bet you could rise to the top of your field quickly if you understand that you’re writing propaganda. You’d have to be careful, of course, to hide the fact that you’re writing propaganda, but be sure to write propaganda nonetheless.
These branches interact in ways that effectively guarantee that the Republican Party loses. The Cathedral is a monolithically Democratic institution. The permanent government is at least 95% Democratic.
Again, the effect of this can be seen in the healthcare law. Judge Roberts was more swayed by the Cathedral than by his Republican allegiance. He thereby upheld a law that was written by and gives tremendous power to the bureaucracy. Even if party loyalty had won out in this case, the permanent government isn’t going anywhere. They’d take over healthcare sooner or later.