The Iron Laws

I fear I have a weakness for grand theories that try to sum up The Truth, The Whole Truth & Nothing But The Truth about Life, The World & Everything in a simple rule, or two, or three. Of course, I realize this is a weakness: no doubt Life is too complicated to be summed up so easily, and The World is even more complicated than that, and, as for Everything? Forget about it!

Still, fwiw, here are my current favorite candidates for the two or three things you absolutely need to know even to begin to understand what’s going on around you:

1. The Iron Law of Oligarchy

This one is a classic. We owe it to Robert Michels, a German sociologist who began as a left wing extremist and ended as a fascist. Wikipedia sums it up like this: “rule by an elite, or ‘oligarchy,’ is inevitable.”

This is due to the “tactical and technical necessities” of organization: ‘Who says organization, says oligarchy’…the official goal of representative democracy of eliminating elite rule [is] impossible…representative democracy is a façade legitimizing the rule of a particular elite…

“The ‘iron law of oligarchy’ states that all forms of organization, regardless of how democratic they may be at the start, will eventually and inevitably develop oligarchic tendencies, thus making true democracy practically and theoretically impossible, especially in large groups and complex organizations.”

Mencius Moldbug, leaving out the why’s and the wherefore’s, sums up the point with admirable concision: “always and everywhere, strong minorities rule weak majorities.”

2. The Iron Law of Bureaucracy

This one is of more recent provenance, but I think it would be fair to call it a modern – or possibly even post-modern – classic. We owe it to the popular science fiction writer, Jerry Pournelle. Here are a couple of ways he’s phrased it:

(1) “In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.”

(2) “In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself…in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.”

Unfortunately, MM doesn’t seem to have rephrased or expanded on this one, so let me give it a try:

In any human organization, there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the ostensible goals of the organization, and those who work to maximize the wealth and the power of the organization itself, and of their own status within it. Over time, the latter will always prevail over the former.

Shall I suggest examples, dear reader? Or should I leave that to you?

* * * * *

Understand these two simple rules, and the relationship between them, grasshopper, and I think you are on the path to understanding…well…Life, The World & Everything.


4 thoughts on “The Iron Laws

  1. I remember that Sam Francis and others basically came to the same conclusions. It seems impossible, at least democratically, to undo the oligarchy / bureaucracy state. At best, you can hope that your side controls it.

    There might be a few other options.

    Make the oligarchy more transparent — as Nick Land and others have suggested — so it’s very clear who is in power. Get rid of illusion of democracy.

    Also, while decentralization of existing state seems unlikely, the breaking up of a state into smaller units (which in time will have their own oligarchies and bureaucracies) might be a possibility.

  2. There is another iron rule, Toqueville’s: democracies always fail because the people always vote for whoever promises the most goodies at the public expense.

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