Many of the recent short posts here have been inter-connected by the topic of international ‘soft power‘ tensions. Somewhat ironically, this is a subject that is peculiarly prone to failures of insight. No cultural formation is disposed to a self-understanding that would expose itself as something inherently threatening.

The reactions of Western academic, media, entertainment, and ancillary cultural powers to Chinese resistances and counter-actions are characterized by a remarkable uniformity, and systematic refusal of reflection. Doesn’t any obstruction of — or non-compliance with — these highly-internationalized forces of communication indicate simple fear of the truth? That is overwhelmingly the core assumption, when such matters are discussed by those very organs of trans-cultural agency which should be in question, but which manage very successfully not to be. The ‘conversation’ is almost wholly controlled by those who would be the topic of the conversation, if the conversation were permitted to happen.

In this respect, the international managed non-controversy closely echoes the domestic cultural cold war in the United States. When one side in such a conflict claims to be the incontestable authority on the nature of the conflict, the history books are written by the victors before the history has even taken place. Resistance to the cultural hegemon is predetermined as inarticulate, unreasonable, and illegitimate. Assertions of academic and media ‘freedom’ are substituted for positive analyses of cultural powers and their agendas, as if the very suspicion of concerted strategic influence were self-evidently nonsensical, and reasonably pathologized as paranoid conspiracy theorizing.

It becomes irresistible, therefore, to present Nydrwracu‘s diagram of American domestic cultural power, understand as the sovereign instance within its society:


This is the preliminary diagrammatic exposition of ‘the Cathedral’ as investigated in the writings of Mencius Moldbug, where the social elite it identifies are typically described as ‘Brahmins’. This ruling class can be conceived, with equal plausibility, as an American Mandarinate. The informal ‘officials’ of this Mandarinate are united by the implicit and publicly-promoted belief that their only special interest is the truth. If in service to the truth, they find themselves duty-bound to tell everybody what to think, that can only be legitimately interpreted as a spontaneous expression of cultural ‘freedom’ — and not at all as the principle contemporary form of dominion.

Moldbug calls this academic-media Mandarinate the Cathedral, in part, because it so evidently thinks and works as a State Church. It considers itself solemnly obliged to inculcate correct belief, in order that popular opinion makes the socio-political choices it should. With some modest time-lag, consumed by the workings of ‘progress’, the Cathedral decides what society is to agree upon. It is the pilot of American society, and thus — to some very considerable extent — of the world. When it encounters objections, it tells the world what to think about that, too.

If sophisticated Western opinion is to make sense of the emerging soft power tensions in the world, it needs first to acknowledge the fact that the Cathedral exists, that it is a definite, specifically-motivated, immensely powerful entity, and that there are reasons to dislike it which need have nothing whatsoever to do with a fear of freedom or truth. An aggressively evangelizing religion, which refuses to recognize itself as such, is a scary thing to share a planet with. If the American Mandarinate cannot see that, it is likely that there are a very large number of other things it cannot see.

ADDED: Hollywood trolls Juche.

5 thoughts on “Mandarins

    • Nydwracu explains: “The hexagons with equals signs are the Moldbuggian abstractions.”

      If I’m understanding him, the single lines are flows of influence, but the double lines are relations of composition. (I’d be astounded at this stage if the diagram stood up to vigorous, detailed interrogation — but it suffices to make the basic point that power flows DOWN from the Cathedral to conventional nodes of political and administrative authority.)

      • Right.

        The Cathedral can be controlled to some extent — could the ratchet be understood as a feedback loop between the Cathedral and social norms?

        I’m leaving out any speculation on the relation between the Cathedral and the monetary interests of certain factions, since it’s intended only to explain Moldbug.

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