Suppose that American politics decomposed into ~four ‘houses’, representing different perspectives and different sets of virtues (and vices). What might they be?
My first attempt:
[epistemic status: playing around with narratives]
Coeptis – The nietzschean house. Some combination of ‘everyone benefits when we stay out of the way and let the cream rise to the top’, and ‘if you don’t pull yourself up by your boot-straps, well, that’s on you’. Believes in advancing, gaining power, and letting power concentrate in the hands of a few super-competent elites.
Believes in cowboys, superheroes, lone vigilantes. Stubbornly refuses to take orders or conform, where it disagrees with their conscience or taste. Persnicketiness.
Believes the world is intelligible; so hand the world to the best and brightest, and let them figure it out.
Pluribus – The wisdom-of-crowds house. Believes in the elegance of democratic and (competitive, monopoly-free) market-based solutions, and believes in the nobility of respecting others’ autonomy and agency. Live, and let live. Distributed decision-making, and aesthetic appreciation for the dizzying variety of different individuals’ life-projects.
Pluribus is skeptical of Coeptis’ belief that any one individual can model and optimize the world. The world is too messy for that; it requires diverse and distributed optimization. But Pluribus agrees with Coeptis that individuals’ free action is the special sauce of civilization (albeit en masse, not through an elite).
Let a hundred flowers bloom. Don’t just leave me be; leave people be. See America for what it is, not just what you wish it were. Respect what it is. Respect who we are.
Novus – The compassionate utopian consequentialist house. Do whatever it takes to protect people and save lives. Break the rules and encroach on apparent ‘rights’ when doing so actually works and improves welfare.
Radicalism; idealism; willingness to work hard for fundamental change. Paternalism. Progress. Deliberately moving toward a brighter future.
Coeptis breaks the rules out of stubbornness and frustration with the idiots who designed things wrong. Novus breaks the rules because people are starving and in need.
Novus is confident that somehow this can be fixed, even if it’s less certain of methodology (more pragmatic, willing to experiment, break eggs, be inelegant) than the other three houses.
Unum – The house of coordination and tradition.
1. Deferring to authority. Forming tight-knit high-trust alliances. Achieving great things via teamwork and the superpower of acting in lock-step.
2. Preserving and absorbing established scholarship. Learning the lessons of history. Minding Chesterton’s fences and the wisdom of old, evolved systems. Approaching risky new ideas with caution.
1 and 2 are related: strong coordination requires everyone to know with confidence what everyone else in the group believes and wants, which requires relatively stable, uniform, uncertainty-minimizing culture. A marching band can’t be confused about what their orders are, or be perpetually uncertain about whether the left side will suddenly decide to go off and do its own thing.
3. Rule of law, since law is much of what makes society legible and enables cooperation. Applying the law consistently. Resisting corruption. Order.
One thought on “American houses”
I wonder if it might be better to think of these categories as independent spectra? Few people I know would fit neatly into any single category, but I could definitely score people from 1 (very low) to 10 (very high) on each category. For example, I think there’s a lot to value about letting the cream rise to the top (Coeptis) in some circumstances whereas in other circumstances it might be better to adopt the consequentialist mindset of the Novus house.