Tag Archives: Legitimacy

Legitimacy, Power, and Culture

We’ve heard it said, culture is downstream of power, or is power downstream of culture? Which controls the levers to the other?

As I’ve said before, power (the ability to force your will) comes from authority (the ability to command), which comes from legitimacy (people’s beliefs in your right to command).

The power/culture discussion is always off because it misses the underlying link between the two: legitimacy.

Power can do whatever it wants within its dominion. That’s the inherent nature of power. If you can not do what you want, you, definitionally, do not have power. The limits of power exist where you can no longer accomplish your will.

Someone with power over culture can change the culture to be whatever he desires. If multiple people have power over culture, the culture will be changed to wherever the limits of their power meet. Power creates, destroys, and changes culture.

Note: Culture is always, to at least some degree, organic, so power over culture is always widely distributed. No one ever has absolute power over culture.

But, power creates culture only insofar at it has authority. Culture is organic and of men. If men do not obey, there is no power and culture can not created, destroyed, or changed. Culture is only changed insofar as men allow it to be changed.

Men only allow culture to be changed, in so far as they think the change and the power causing the change are legitimate.

This is where culture influences power. Legitimacy comes from culture. If the culture holds to the Divine Right determines power men will obey power with Divine Right. If culture holds to patriarchy determines power, men will obey fathers. If the culture holds to popular will, they will obey democratically elected politicians.

Power is downstream of legitimacy, which is downstream of culture, which is downstream of power.

By changing culture, power can change what men view as legitimate, changing legitimacy, authority, and, ultimately, where power lays.

This is how power destroys itself. It changes the culture that made itself legitimate, which then changes what legitimizes power, changing the basis of authority, changing the power itself. Power changing culture undermines itself.


Culture change is slow and difficult, so changing the method of legitimacy is slow and difficult. It is easier to destroy legitimacy than to create. Culture change is also unpredictable. When you destroy culture, what replaces it may not always be what you expected or hoped.

This is why revolutions are so turbulent and unstable and often end in a strong man: one can destroy the legitimacy of the present order, but creating a new order viewed as legitimate is time-consuming and difficult. When you destroy a culture and legitimacy, it is hard to predict what form legitimacy will take, hence revolutions often destroying their instigators.

In a legitimacy vacuum, the simplest form of legitimacy to create is martial: men naturally respect strength and strength is relatively simple to demostrate. A strong-man short-circuits the legitimacy-creation process by focusing the creation of legitimacy among a group of armed men through his strength. Once he obtains enough power through this specific legitimacy, he kills those who oppose him until they obey. He is then free to influence culture until another strong-man overthrows him or until he creates a more sustainable legitimacy.


Power flows from legitimacy. Culture creates legitimacy. Power influences culture.

In a stable system culture will reinforce legitimacy which will reinforce power, which will in turn reinforce the culture. For example, the church supports supports divine right, which legitimizes the monarch, who in turn supports the church.

In an unstable system, power destroys culture (or its own legitimacy) and/or culture undermines power’s legitimacy. For example, enlightnment ideas and culture undercut divine right, the monarch mismanages power squandering legitimacy, and then revolution occurs.


A Twitter discussion with Vic Mandrake and the recent seizure of neoreaction by the Hestia Society have prompted me to write a bit on authority.

Legitimate authority, as the name suggests, requires both authority and legitimacy. Authority is the ability to carry out your will, particularly through the use of others, while legitimacy is the general acceptance that your should be able to enact your authority. Authority without legitimacy is tyranny and will only hold as long as the threat of violence holds, which admittedly can be a long time.

Legitimate authority flows naturally from healthy hierarchical structures. The ur-example of legitimate authority is fatherhood which flows naturally from healthy family structures and collapses in unhealthy structures. Other forms of natural legitimate authority are generally forms of fatherhood: monarchs are the political fathers of their nations, elders are simply fathers who have unofficially adopted a tribe, while ecclesiastical authorities are spiritual fathers of their flocks. Some domain-specific authorities arise naturally from ability or knowledge and adopt many aspects of fatherhood to their specific domain: warband leaders, gangs, teachers, mentors, etc. These natural authorities flow from basic human social and hierarchical instincts and are the building blocks of civilization.

Healthy authority is generally these forms of natural authority.

There are also unnatural forms of legitimate authority. Modern democracy is the greatest example of this. It is an unnatural system derived from numerous artificial and unnatural social constructs, yet is accepted as legitimate by most of the citizens within the democracies. Democracies also tend to be unhealthy precisely because it is unnatural.

Unnatural authority is not necessarily bad, per se, but because it is unnatural, it has higher bar to clear when it comes to legitimacy and it is more likely to be dysfunctional. Legitimacy flows from God and from the people; it is not the will of the people, but the people ruled by an authority must recognize the legitimacy of an authority. Natural authority by default confers legitimacy: children do not question the right of the father to rule them until these child naturally grows to an age to rule themselves, and even then, children still accept their father’s advice and guidance. The biggest threat to natural authority is the abuse or neglect by the authority. In cases where a natural authority is abusing or neglecting his duties, legitimacy breaks down and the ruled will rebel to be replaced by either anarchy or a new legitimate authority.

Unnatural authority does not automatically confer legitimacy. Legitimacy comes through either earned merit or persuasion. Intellectual leaders and recognized experts generally gain their legitimacy as authorities in their domains through the demonstration of knowledge and skill related to their specific domains. Business leaders and the rich earn their authority through performance in the free market. Democratic leaders gain their legitimacy through persuasion, using the methods propaganda and bribery, hence the omnipresent state and state instruments in any democracy constantly trumping the virtues of democracy and providing bread and circuses. The main problem with unnatural authority is that it is much easier to persuade than it is to earn. A bribe or a piece of propaganda is easier than decades of labour excelling at an area of expertise. So, unnatural authorities will tend to drift towards manipulation over merit to obtain legitimacy.


We can apply this to our own online community. The Hestia Society has slowly, over the last year or so, been consolidating neoreaction under their banner through Social Matter, Reaction Times, Ascending the Tower, and a few other projects. They have recently officially seized formal authority over neoreaction.  HS has 4 fellows in charge: Henry Dampier, Hadley Bennet, Anton Silensky, and Warg Franklin. The first two are names most reactionaries will know from their work at their own blogs and Social Matter. The latter two are new names.

These four’s authority over neoreaction is unnatural authority: they hold no natural ties of blood, spirit, or war with those under the neoreactionary label. In fact, their real names aren’t even known to most who would fall under the neoreactionary banner. So, to be legitimate they will have to have neoreactionaries recognize their authority either through merit or persuasion. Neoreaction strongly selects for contrarians so persuasion will be unlikely to be effective, so merit it must be.

I have personally met a couple of them and they seemed solid individuals, although, they are younger and will have to grow into personal leadership. As for contributions, Dampier in particular has had very strong and consistent output; as well, the behind the scenes work of the Hestia Society has been a powerful, if low-visibility, influence on neoreaction. My impression is that Hadley has personally met and developed ties to many, if not most, neoreactionaries, which speaks well of him as a social glue.

Of the other contenders for leadership, both NBS and Land have already accepted their leadership, Anissimov has wasted his legitimacy through doxxing and trolling, Jim and Karl have never seemed very interested in doing much more than writing, and Moldbug and Foseti have long since withdrawn from active participation. Hestia Society look like the right men for the job.

I have personally tied one of my projects, Reaction Times, to the Hestia Society and am willing to provisionally bestow what legitimacy I can to their leadership. Given that NBS and Land have already accepted their leadership, this looks like a done deal. Unless Moldbug, Jim, or Duck comes out with a strong objection, it seems that the Hestia Society will be successful in their coup and will have legitimate authority over neoreaction. The one minor potential pitfall for them I’ve seen is the comments section at Land’s place, particularly Spandrell’s “lol”. Other have voiced their concern more directly in those comments, but Spandrell, while not very active anymore, has been around a long time and is well-respected. While “lol” is rather vague, him not accepting HS’ authority could be a large blow to their legitimacy.

Their first actions upon their assumption of power was to create a Hall of Fame, which is a solid list (even if it doesn’t include me) and to exile Anissimov, Moe, and Kantbot. The first true test of their legitimacy, is if these exiles are accepted by the neoreactionary masses. Given that most neoreactionaries are already done with the latter two and that Mike has been burning through his legitimacy as fast as he can, that seems to be a fairly safe bet.