Exploring a Maze Sprawling in Space, Composing, 27/04/2017

Taking a break from the super-intense confrontations with the impossibility of our ideals tonight. You know, when I started this blog, I wanted, in part, for it to be a look at my writing process. But the last post felt like I was rehearsing the manuscript for Utopias.

Let me try to explain what I mean. One of the book’s most important arguments will explore the tension between our ideals and their practical impossibility. It’s the central tragedy of all political aspiration.

Anyone who says they want to do something with their life that has a net positive effect on their community feels this bind. That holds no matter what your own ideals are – religious, progressive, conservative, atheist, and even nationalist.

So if an argument leads me to consider one aspect of that bind – reality’s resistance to our ideals – I’ve gained knowledge of another wrinkle in that concept. And given me another point on the map in relation to the others.
• • •
A couple of months ago, I wrote about my idea for a book about Stanley Kubrick. The director as an example of the fearless materialist with a growing conscience. Well, some of the research arrived.

It was a bit of an impulse buy, but I started getting into some commentary from Roger Luckhurst. It’s only a couple of years old, and has plenty of references I can look up on my own later. Since I’m not out to write a book on the ‘current state of Kubrick scholarship’ or anything dry as dirt like that, I’m looking for sources with useful ideas in relation to my own.

He has some ideas about how Kubrick articulates space in his films that I think could be useful. Here’s an example – Luckhurst contrasts how The Shining the book and the film move in space. The book, like traditional gothic literature but set in the late 1970s, has a classical haunted house structure. The secrets and malevolent spirit of the hotel is in the basement – a descent.

But in Kubrick’s movie, the story plays out as a series of mazes. The Overlook Hotel and grounds all play out vertically in the film. Oh, there are multiple floors in the building, there’s an elevator, there’s a staircase. But the camera moves horizontally – Steadicam tracking low to the ground, tracing a path.

Kubrick took a gothic novel and put it on a flat plain. A very violent thing to do to a text, yes. One of the many, interlocking, awkward reasons why Stephen King hated Kubrick’s film. Probably the most subtle.

But the most revealing. A haunted house story has traditionally been a matter of descent into hidden quarters. Most stereotypically, the basement and catacombs under the haunted house (or castle), are where terrible, scandalous family secrets are kept. Quiet corners. Buried as if dead. So as to be mourned and forgotten. Alienated and separated from the living. Now set free.

But Kubrick flattened all that out on one plane. The dead are with us. So is the evil. The evil that we do to each other can never be buried or locked away. To become monstrous is a real human capacity. Even of father to son.

That’s the horror story.

To Be Incorruptible VI: Pushing Democracy’s Limits, Composing, 26/04/2017

This set of six posts turned out to be pretty important for my thinking as I put together the outline of Utopias. So I thought I'd lay out the basics of the idea and the contents to go back through.

One: Virtues of Free People
Two: Deliberation
Three: Virtues for the Public
Four: Introducing Patriotism
Five: Violence for Refuge
• • •
In Machiavelli’s time, democratic patriotism was limited to the walls of a city. It was a spirit that grew from within a community’s bonds of familiarity as an extended family.

The patriotism of the free in Renaissance and Medieval Italy is that of a tribe ruled by its members – the guilds and assemblies were literally the voice of the people. But if you weren’t already a member of that community, you were an interloper. If you were Venetian or Milanese, Florence could never be your home.

Refugees from a natural disaster had no hope of receiving refuge from a neighbouring country. We’re close to returning to that morality today, since the scale of the refugee crisis has overwhelmed so many of Europe’s welfare state institutions.

Not to mention that European cultures haven’t come nearly as close as they should to eradicating their own racism.

But there remains much in Machiavelli’s thinking about how to guard against corruption in our society. Even as, in the pressure of our globally networked community, we need to grow beyond the small horizons of his culture’s communitarian values.

Patriotic immigration is possible, and its successes – though not perfect – demonstrate that an open community built on the creative power of diversity is stronger than a homogeneous, closed one.

I know where I will wear this dagger then;
Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius:
Therein, ye gods, you make the weak most strong;
Therein, ye gods, you tyrants do defeat:
Nor stony tower, nor walls of beaten brass,
Nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron,
Can be retentive to the strength of spirit;
But life, being weary of these worldly bars,
Never lacks power to dismiss itself.
I’m thinking of modern southern Ontario, and what seems to be the case in Swedish cities like Malmö and Stockholm. An open city with a variety of people can call on more social networks, powers, ideas, and intelligences for public service. Democratic patriotism is the spirit of building a community from differences.

Machiavelli wrote that a society of free people – free from tyranny, governing its affairs through open offices and moralities of universal respect – is the strongest bulwark against corruption. Against the social, political, and institutional rot that collapses a society into tyranny and chaos.

A successfully free society has institutions devoted to protecting the freedom and dignity of its people. A free people are devoted to these institutions, and has a strong civil society encouraging people throughout their lives to stand up for their dignity.

Such a society grows their population through patriotic immigration – integrating newcomers by building the society together, negotiating their dignity in good faith with all. A free society treats its neighbouring societies with a parallel respect – such a state doesn’t make enemies, but allies and partners.

A free society has, as its fundamental political principle, that no one be subject to the will of any other, except to help them develop each other’s dignity and capacity to live a good life. There are no hermits or egotists – no jerks – but a society of friends.

A deeply, profoundly free people would be devoted to the public good to such a degree that even the super-rich of society would give almost all their fortune to the public treasury. They’d give it willingly, happily, knowing that it would benefit their compatriots.

None of this “taxation is theft.” I’m talking about there not being a need to tax at all because people will give of their own spare fortunes to help others. That’s the ideal of a free society.

It sounds utterly impossible. But it seems a society which genuinely and universally held to this principle in all their thoughts, hearts, and souls, would be a truly incorruptible society.

Will you be a pessimist? How can you not?

To Be Incorruptible V: If You’ve No Shelter You’ll Have No Peace, Research Time, 25/04/2017

Continued from previous . . . I find a lot that’s valuable in Machiavelli. But there are limits, of course. Someone like him writing in the 1530s is in a very different historical position than someone like me writing in the 2010s.

I mean, the reasons why are obvious, of course. But I want to call attention to one reason in particular – it’s not as if there weren’t plenty of good ideas in the same tradition of materialist radical democracy in the intervening five centuries.

However much I value Machiavelli’s concept of patriotism as devotion to the public good of your community, other questions related to the nature of the community generate troubling answers. Not a reason for rejecting Machiavelli as a whole, but a reason to be careful with how his thought might influence you.

Here’s a serious problem of the 2010s that Machiavelli’s writings can’t break through – the boundaries of a community. Globally, there’s a near-universal political crisis over the nature of the border.

I draw a sword against conspirators;
When think you that the sword goes up again?
Never, till Caesar's three and thirty wounds
Be well avenged; or till another Caesar
Have added slaughter to the sword of traitors.
For decades, we’ve been troubled over the dangers that come from borders in trade, and investment fall away. The erosion of borders in these cases has encouraged explosive social problems as terrible inequalities entrench themselves.

The most intense iteration of border erosion facing the West is state attempts to control the movement of people. Most in our faces is the refugee crisis – literally millions fleeing horrifying wars and oppression across North Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. Many crowd into slums and makeshift camps like the squalid tent cities at Calais.

I go to Machiavelli thinking there might be an answer to this question in his book on the strengths and safety valves of democratic society. I don’t find the answers I want. Machiavelli, living in a time of wars and invasions, sees in the movement of desperate people only more invasion, violence, and war that desperation has driven to extremes.

Most often, in his era and in the time of Republican Rome, Machiavelli encounters refugees as literal invading armies. If some natural disaster rendered a city-state unliveable, its leaders and people would invade another country’s territory and set themselves up.

War was the only response to what we’d today call a humanitarian crisis. Yet he does describe a material root of the erosion of human capacities for kindness as well as our state borders.

Returning to his golden age of Republican Rome, Machiavelli sees the root of the fear of refugees in what – during that ancient era – were the most common causes of whole cities uprooting themselves.

Resource wars. A drought would ruin a harvest, or a flood would wreck too much farmland, and a city wouldn’t have the material to support itself. All they could do was invade their neighbours and hope to plunder enough loot to sustain themselves.

A battle over scarce resources, made more scarce by massive disasters, would bring ordinarily peaceful cities into deadly conflict. Their means of survival itself was at stake. Life was inescapably fragile. Risk was great, and likely perceived to be greater in the moment.

If there isn’t enough to keep everyone alive, our peaceful ideals can all too easily be pinched into nothing. A flame between two calloused fingers.

It was a catastrophic drought in the late 2000s that drove Syria into upheaval. A time when, in a state with tight borders, there was no longer enough to keep everyone alive and prosperous.

A New Intelligence, Doctor Who: Smile, Reviews, 23/04/2017

Since Doctor Who started again in 2005, it’s had to do with a very different television environment than the one it started in, and the one where it operated until its first cancellation.

There’s an enormous list of the changes in television’s ecology and economy since 1963 or 1989. But I want to concentrate on only one this week: the need for story arcs.

Doctor Who began as a serialized anthology show. There wasn’t any connection among the stories other than the characters in them. That variety and discontinuity was built into the fundamental fabric of the show – stories only lasted a few episodes, and were explicitly serialized together. Then the TARDIS moved on to a wholly new story and supporting cast.

"Smile" is as philosophically sophisticated as the best Doctor Who
stories, and also conforms to a classic story structure of the show.
The Doctor and his friends land on a planet where some
complicated situation is in progress, and they have to figure out
what's going on as well as the best way to fix things.
But by 2005, the most prestigious television worked as serialized novels. Each episode worked as a story on its own, but also fed into a larger narrative development as all the characters interacted.

Doctor Who had never really worked like that, and never really could. The foundational reason why the show has lasted so long is because it’s never had an endpoint built in. There’s no culmination, no rising action from the beginning of the show to some eventual end.

Yet we’ve become accustomed to thinking about television in this way. The most difficult part of any conversation I’ve had since 2005 trying to get newcomers to the show into Doctor Who always comes back to one declaration.

I have to grab them by the sides of the head, bore holes into their soul with my eyes, and say:

“You do not have to watch the whole thing from the beginning to know what’s going on!”

Unfortunately, Doctor Who is still caught in this quandary. A show whose key premise is that it’s in a totally different story and setting every episode or two has to be jammed into our need for story and character arcs. Different seasons have dealt with this differently.

Russell T Davies did it by planting little easter eggs in all or most of a season’s episodes, which would tease the finale’s story. The Eccleston year’s Bad Wolf was diegetic and metafictional. Tennant’s first season included a reference to Torchwood in most episodes to tease the season finale and Captain Jack’s spinoff show.

My problem with Davies' first easter egg story arc was that it simply
felt too contrived to ground an entire season's dramatic climax.
Tennant’s second year got less metafictional, and integrated the easter eggs with the character arc of how Martha’s travels affected her family. Stories set in the present would feature a reference to the new PM Harold Saxon and show his operatives using Martha’s family to get closer to the Doctor. All leading to the finale’s epic confrontation.

Donna’s story arc in Tennant’s third year was simultaneously Davies’ most subtle and most shoehorned season narrative. Her run-in with the Doctor was both a matter of coincidence and portentous prophecy. It wasn’t mentioned in every episode, but Donna’s relationship with the Doctor was depicted as a potentially universe-shattering event.

But Davies’ arcs all had the same structure – Little clues and key lines scattered through most of the episodes leading up to the big reveal of their nature in the finale. Moffat complicated that structure in Matt Smith’s first year – revealing the nature of the cracks mid-season, complicating their impacts on the leads with Rory’s disappearance, and resolving the mess in the finale.

More than any other part of Doctor Who, the Smith era has to be watched like a conventional prestige television show. So much of the Pond Family story unfolds in small and big reveals in different episodes throughout the whole series. You can easily think of the Smith era as having the overall narrative of the Doctor discovering his role in this family.

Capaldi’s first year saw the most explicit and best season arc of post-comeback Doctor Who – Clara and Danny’s doomed romance.

Clara’s home base at Coal Hill School and her relationship with Danny put her at the forefront of that season. Its dramatic narrative was about her own conflict between her love of intergalactic adventure and her love for the stability and hearth Danny offered. The season also featured a thematic narrative – each story featured a different angle on the ethics and morality of being a soldier.

Since I've been talking so much about the complicated story arcs
of most companions in the post-2005 series, I'm glad that Bill is
shaping up to be a more traditional Doctor Who companion. She's
a distinct personality, and will develop as a character throughout
this season, but she's very straightforwardly a cool person who's
a good friend to the Doctor as they travel around together having
wild adventures.
With Capaldi’s second year, those up-front season narratives dropped away. There was neither a strong dramatic storyline nor the easter egg approach of the Davies years. Instead, we explored a theme and followed a character arc. We looked at the benefits and disadvantages of an immortal life, and saw the dangers Clara faced through her growing recklessness.

What are we seeing this year?
• • •
There’s a plot, most definitely. The Doctor and Nardole have a duty to protect a mysterious vault under St Cedd’s University. But I also see a thematic arc taking shape, even just two episodes in.

It’s the farce-turned-deadly-serious I discussed last week in my philosophical review of “The Pilot.” In this case, the interactions between the human colonists and their Vardi droids and swarms provide the catastrophe sitting at the centre of “Smile”s story, which I can’t discuss without warning you how many massive

SPOILERS!!!

are incoming.

How does this miscommunication happen? It’s based in the ontology of the Vardi, literally what they are. Thomas Nagel once wrote that we could never understand what it was like to be anything but human, because we were unable to imagine any form of perception other than our own – a human body in the world.

But there’s something Nagel – and the strain of philosophy of mind he inspired – didn’t understand about the power of human imagination. We ourselves can’t experience the world as, to take Nagel’s example, a bat would.

Despite first appearances, this photo actually includes billions of
Vardi, not just two. This is a very important point when it comes to
understanding precisely what they are and are becoming.
However, we can understand how a body would experience the world by examining its body, its perceptual apparatus, and how it interacted with the world. So let’s do that with the Vardi.

The Vardi are robots, first of all. Programmed and designed to serve the human colonists. That was their initial programming as human inventions anyway.

This being a science-fiction television show, the original programming of artificial intelligences grows beyond the human designers’ scope of practice. The Vardi were programmed to serve the colonists, specifically to keep them happy. But look at what the Vardi physically are.

They’re the happy little emoji-speaking robots, yes. But they’re also the swarms of robots that perform many of the mechanical functions of the colony infrastructure. More than this, the Vardi swarms actually are the colony’s infrastructure.

The buildings of the colony city itself are composed of Vardi swarms locking themselves together in a massive organic skeleton of bone and glass. Its style is a stark contrast with the industrial pipes and grease-stained corridors of the original human spaceship around which it grew.

So the Vardi begin developing their own intelligence. But it’s an intelligence unique to their own body – not much in the way of individuality or identity, they’re a single mind across trillions of bodies – the grain-sized particles that lock together to constitute the city itself.

Analytic philosophy has a reputation for clarity and straightforward
vocabulary. So many doctrinaire and partisan analytic philosophers
I've met over the years have praised their discipline for the refusal
to tolerate unclear terms. But in the case of Nagel's writings on
perception, body, and mind, the debates follow his clunky and
mystifying vocabulary – describing the experiential perspective
of an organism as its "what-it-is-likeness." It's a rhetorical turn
that presumes Nagel to be correct that knowledge of a body's
perceptual and practical abilities is somehow separate from
our understanding of that body's own life.
The Vardi’s self-consciousness is of itself as a city. It understands itself as the colony, and individuality not as a separate unit and personality, but as a constituent of the unified body of the colony. Just like each Vardi swarm particle and droid.

So it would think of the humans as squishier droids. They walk around on the ground like the droids do, but ultimately they’re a part of the colony just like them, a constituent of that massive body.

Now, combine this with their original instructions, back when they were just a bunch of robots being built in a factory somewhere on an Earth running short on the ability to support human life. They were designed to serve the humans, to keep them happy.

Happiness, goes the Vardi’s servitude protocols, is the measure of proper human functioning. Their prescribed purpose is to keep the humans happy, keep them as functional constituents of the colony, serving their constituent roles well.

But because they articulate their existence as the whole colony, as a single city-body, they understand the humans as constituents too – as machines who best function when they’re happy. An unhappy human is a malfunctioning human. So they try to restore a human’s happiness when they feel glum or frightened.

The problem is that a self-consciousness that subsumes individual bodies into a whole of literally trillions is that the threshold of switching from repair to disassembly and repurposing is very, very easily crossed.

That’s why the profound but temporary communal grief from one of their leaders' funeral made the Vardi declare pretty much all the human colonists not worth repairing. If everyone seemed so stuck in this sub-optimal space, then such a profoundly holist self-consciousness would seriously conclude that they’d function better as mineral fertilizer.

A publicity shot from a scene in "Smile" that never made the final
cut, where we can see what the Vardi's killing looks like without
the video and CGI effects of the swarm. Continuing the lifelong
Doctor Who tradition of asking actors to take their bubble wrap
extremely seriously.
Hence why it took the Doctor’s reset and erasure of the Vardi’s servitude protocols to save the human colonists. After all, they were all so blinded into stupidity by their anger to think they could fight the swarm that composed the entire colony city-building with a few rifles.

The Vardi had to forget that the humans were supposed to be constituents of the colony. That way, they’d stop evaluating their happiness as a measure of their functionality in maintaining the whole.

The Vardi will continue in the colony as partners with the humans, as you can see when you watch the droid comforting the child who’d lost his mother at the start of the episode.

But this will come from a benevolence that develops from their holist self-conception – happiness will be, in the minds of the new Vardi, a function of social harmony among the colony’s living architecture and its human inhabitants.

The catastrophic miscommunication between the Vardi and the humans over what exactly each other was, has been repaired. Mostly.

And the story continues.

To Be Incorruptible IV: Directions of Force, Jamming, 21/04/2017

Continued from last post . . . Reading Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy, you can find a positive, progressive concept of patriotism – knowledgeable devotion to work for the public good of your community and country.

This patriotism of the public good is the patriotism that progressives need to take back from the reactionary and nationalist forces who seem to have a monopoly on patriotism, at least when it comes to public relations. For most of my adult life, folks on the left have been tarred as anti-patriotic.

I came of age at a time when Americans and many Canadians had been overcome with hysteria after the September 11 attacks. We think back on this era with kitsch like Come From Away now, but at the time, a culture of 300,000,000 people were thrown into mass hysteria and rage.

Patriotism was a blunt instrument of intimidation and contempt swung blindly around the Earth’s furniture smashing the architecture of our fragile civilization. It justified the toppling of governments – however grotesque those governments were – and unleashing a never-ending war in the Middle East.

Patriotism was a personality-consuming devotion to country that justified the rapid inflation of the surveillance state. So many patriotic Americans believed the military could do no wrong.

I tell you that which you yourselves do know;
Show you sweet Caesar's wounds, poor poor dumb mouths,
And bid them speak for me: but were I Brutus,
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.
As a result, there’s enough military equipment trickling down to police forces that every county with more than four cows got its own squadron of armoured personnel carriers, mortar-proof flak jackets, and enough crowd control gear to evacuate downtown Chicago at rush hour.

Patriotism today means that anyone who believes that maybe we should step back from militarizing your own country is a traitor. Patriotism is all-too-often becoming a victim of nationalism. Less than two decades after America’s most recent great trauma, love of country is flowering into hatred of Muslims, Hispanics, and African-Americans.

Machiavelli is a key figure in the tradition of Western thought that gives us a patriotic antidote to this hellmouth.

His patriotism is distinctly minoritarian* – punching up for your own power. Rather like the original American revolution, actually. Machiavelli’s patriotism is the spirit of revolt against oppression or control. It’s the spirit of the colony becoming a country, of a slave breaking her chains. The spirit of a new beginning.

* I’m saying this to emphasize Machiavelli’s connection with modern radical democrats, particularly Gilles Deleuze’s vocab, a radical democratic vision of reality itself. An ontology for free spirits.

Machiavelli’s patriotism is the creative energy of a new society coming to consciousness as they carve out a niche for themselves in a world of long-established powers. It’s national self-consciousness of a shared desire for freedom.

Patriotism is the desire that others respect and recognize your community as an equal. It’s the same drive as an individual human’s desire to be an equal in her society – only articulated on a cultural scale.

It’s an antidote, for sure. But it has its own problems.

To Be Incorruptible III: Our Best Wishes in One Voice, Research Time, 20/04/2017

Continued from last post . . . Before you can know if an institution’s structure and rules will lead people to make the best decisions, you have to know what kinds of decisions would be the best.

It sounds like I’m moving in circles. I’m not. I’m looking for presuppositions. The questions that need an answer if you’re going to develop a clear answer to the question you asked in the first place. So what makes a decision good for a community?

This is a question of the common good of a community. Well, what constitutes that common good depends on how we understand good. Are we thinking like a typical utilitarian? Not when we read Machiavelli. Nowhere in the Discourses on Livy does he perform the callous mathematics of a too-simple utilitarian.

His examples of noble behaviour discuss plenty of sacrifices. He praises, in multiple places, the decision of a Roman republican ruler executing his own sons when their actions and personal ambitions put the republic at risk of invasion or tyranny. Machiavelli is no stranger to cruelty to save the common good.

But this isn’t an everyday cruelty. The libertarian right is today’s most popularly powerful philosophy of freedom thanks to modern think tank networks. Think of how they and their founder philosophers think of cruelty in the name of the common good.

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that 'Caesar'?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
For a libertarian, cruelty in the name of the common good is described with images of a Stalinist omnipresent communist state. Bureaucratic arms control whole industries, billions and trillions of dollars worth of people’s property is expropriated and collectivized. Even on a less grandiose scale, the act of collecting taxes is akin to theft.

This isn’t the kind of common good Machiavelli talks about when he describes the cruelty of necessary sacrifices. The sacrifices of Roman and Italian republicans are rare – they occur only at times of domestic instability, coups, wars, invasions from imperial war machines.

The common or public good, as Machiavelli describes it throughout the Discourses, is for everyone in society to stand before each other in equal dignity. Now, this does require some financial levelling. He describes the corrosive effect on society of too large a class of the idle rich.

These are people whose riches are so great that they encourage laziness and self-absorption. The super-rich are isolated from any association with anyone other than those they employ to serve them. Their money even isolates them from the need to be kind to others. Even the smallest altruism required for minimal participation in civic life disgusts them.

Such people are socially cancerous – their personalities degrade and insult the dignity of everyone around them. The only goods that matter to the idle rich are private goods, that which makes the rich richer. “It is not the private good but the common good that makes cities great.” That’s in Book Two, Chapter 2.

Contrast the private, egomaniacal goods that the idle rich seek with the public goods that democratic citizens seek – You see more clearly what the public good is.

Whatever the situation of your community, whatever problems you face in your economy, society, infrastructure, whatever – If you think with altruism and work together with your neighbours and compatriots, you’ll understand the public good and work toward it.

That altruism is the expression of the best patriotism. As long as altruism is at the heart of community action, you’ll fend off corruption and corrosion.

If you think only of your own personal good and see others only as means to your advancement, enrichment, prestige, and pleasure . . . The word you’re looking for is ‘tyrant.’

Now, this is fine for a clearly defined community. But at the borders, who is and isn't your compatriot gets slippery.

To Be Incorruptible II: Talking and Talking, Research Time, 19/04/2017

Continued from last post . . . You have to laugh. I can barely keep from laughing myself when I say it. To say that democratic institutions encourage trust among people seems ridiculous to someone living in 2017.

Democracy across the West is under siege from nationalists – UKIP and Brexit, Marine Le Pen’s Front National, the Breitbart wing of Donald Trump’s combover.

Nationalists who profoundly distrust everyone who thinks differently from themselves – libtards, SJWs, etc. Conservatives so ideological, they prefer making their own country a functional one-party state to any compromise in running things.

There are many causes for why our society has become, in Machiavelli’s words, so corrupt. I’m going to get to all of those. Reading the Discourses on Livy today is like a diagnosis of our own time in someone else’s history. The institutions of his world were so different, but share so much with our time in the causes of their collapse.

I have, when you have heard what I can say:
And know it now: the senate have concluded
To give this day a crown to mighty Caesar.
One thing at a time.

How would democratic institutions engender trust? Contrast the republican assemblies and elected offices of 1530s Italy with their rivals – absolute monarchies. In a monarchy, a single person is the seat of all state power, so access to the prince is the only way to take part in government.

Not many people can occupy that space – not much space around one man. So only a few people ever make policy and decisions. There are no checks on their power, virtually no time between a command and an order followed. Whole armies can move on the word of an individual. The word could be a solemn choice. Could be a whim.

That’s serious instability. The quick time between command and action makes a dictatorship look stable and strong. But commands could be, and too often are, whims. A command affecting millions requires a small gesture, same as a reversal affecting millions more.

Your life could be upended at any moment, all on the word of a king. You’re always on guard, as if anyone around you could become the enemy, as if you could be declared an enemy yourself. A tailor or a merchant could find himself a soldier or a prisoner as casually as we get our electric bills.

In such a regime, your own fear and anxiety obliterates the difference between soldier, prisoner, and citizen.

There’s lots of room in a parliament, though. Lots of perspectives, attitudes, personalities. Some are organized into political parties, some political parties can barely organize themselves. In Machiavelli’s day, city-state republics like Florence were ruled by the assemblies and elected leaders of workers’ guilds.

All these different people and groups must have their hands in the decision process of the government. The institutions of the state put all these different people in charge of the decision process. It’s literally their jobs.

This slows down the decision process immensely. Legislation, policy, governance activities – all require the input of so many people and offices that it takes a long time to get stuff done. Government may appear decadent and impotent.

Democracy is remarkably stable as a government because it takes so much time to get things done. Everyone – legislators, officials, citizens – can all deliberate and debate on matters of state. So we can at least do our best to understand the effects of everything we do. Governance by whim is practically impossible.

Democracy institutionalizes solemn, patient decision making in government because it forces so many people to be part of the decision process. But will they always make the best decisions?