On The Attentional Structure of Sovereignty.


Adam writes:

The relationship between the sovereign and the representative of third personhood is the most important and requires the most attention……. There certainly can’t be any formula here, and the sovereign is sovereign in his choice of advisors as in all things. The only way of mitigating dangers here is to turn attention to the process of production of advisors, which is to say a system of education… (Bold Mine.)

There is a story about a king who, upon meeting a rival king, was told he had bad breath. The king was scandalised, and he went to his wife and asked why she did not tell him that he had bad breath. Her answer was that she was scared of telling him.

A sovereign needs two things; one is a “mirror” and the other is a “telescope”.

The “mirror” is what allows the sovereign to see his own behaviour in the eyes of others. This allows the sovereign to reflect upon his actions and demeanour.

A “telescope” allows the sovereign to zoom in on a particular person, place or problem in great detail. This concept of a telescope or “directed telescope” is from Martin Van Creveld. A General, he thinks, should have a staff of men who are “informal” and outside the official chain of command and duty roster. These men tell the General important information that he would not learn via the normal channels.

See Page 5 of this PDF for Napoleon’s system. The author (a lieutenant Colonel) claimed that “Napoleon, perhaps more than any other commander before him, emphasised the absolute necessity of having critical command information available to him at all times.” (Bold and italics mine.)

Consider, in contrast, the case of Hilary Clinton who said “I don’t know what’s happening in this country.” She was also not out of touch with Americans but “hated” them.

This is bad – if only for her. As Richard Fernandez pointed out in many essays, Clinton fell for the “narrative”; she got confused over noise and missed the signals.

See also:




Clinton was in a bubble or a fog for more than thirty years and she had no idea what was going on outside her “frame” or set of assumptions; thus, she had to rely on people who relied on “formulas”, “steam”, “semblances” and “numbers.”

Clinton had terrible, terrible judgement. She had all the money, all the resources and all the minds – yet she still lost. Clinton ran her campaign using the kind of “protocols” or “procedures” with a “sprawling bureaucracy” that Master Future and the Grand Master point out as shams and our incapable of actually governing in place of actual human judgement.

The anatomy of failure:

There is always some level of tension between the sprawling bureaucracy of the party committee and the nominee’s campaign apparatus. But in the wake of Clinton’s loss, when intraparty finger-pointing is inevitable, some DNC staffers describe the relationship between the two entities as uniquely ineffectual, even after the displacement of unpopular chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. And they attribute it to one fundamental reason: Clinton’s campaign leaders always thought they knew best. The DNC was to do what it was told: Essentially, be seen and not heard.

How can one avoid such a fate?

One way is to have people on your team (as advisers and only as advisers) who pretty much disagree with everything you stand for and who purposefully disagree and criticise everything you do or say.

Clinton should have had “conservatives”, the “Alt-Right” and even the “far Left” on the team. Every now and then, Clinton would meet with them, ask them questions, listen to what they say and then reflect and take whatever decisions she felt necessary. The same process should have been done with all her senior staff.

As for the telescope, imagine if Clinton, since the 80’s, had been collecting a roster of “ordinary Americans”. Every now and then she would call them for a chat, or arrange to have dinner with them, or just go for a walk. Once a year, she could have had a big lunch and an informal Q&A. Keep “collecting” people: old, young, white, black whatever. Pay them well and don’t criticise, lecture or refute – don’t do anything except ask questions and listen.

Of course, knowing who to “collect”, what questions to ask and knowing what to do with the answers is all part of that thing about being a leader – it requires judgement, intuition, and insight. As Adam says, it is not something that can be reduced to a “formula”.

Adam thinks that commanding and delegating are the core functions of a sovereign but these things presuppose something more fundamental: judgement. The thing a leader, a king or a commander needs most is judgement.

Donald Trump, at least with his campaign had that precious thing: intuition or what is called “coup d’oeil“.

Napoleon remarked upon it:

There is a gift of being able to see at a glance the possibilities offered by the terrain…One can call it the coup d’oeil militaire and it is inborn in great generals.

See also:



Consider the following from the excellent blog Lead and Gold:

Many of the critical questions companies face today deal with human capital, knowledge management, and proprietary expertise. The firms Maister studies are sophisticated managers of these new economy assets because these are the only assets the firms possess. Hence, Maister’s subjects are pure-form exemplars and the lessons drawn from their experience have applicability across industry.

Maister’s first signal contribution is an evocative typology of client work. He divides the work of PSFs into three categories: “brains”, “gray hair”, and “procedure”. The respective client benefit for each is expertise, experience, and efficiency.

Brains work” involves problems with a high novelty quotient. Risks are high and the key to success is intensive, accurate diagnosis of complex, ambiguous problems followed up with creative and innovative solutions. A procedures practice is dramatically different. The problems are not novel; they are well understood. Here the key to success is intense execution with an eye toward efficiency and standardization.Gray hair” projects usually fall between “brains” and “procedure” on most critical dimensions. (Bold mine.)


A sovereign needs to balance not only people with but also the values of expertise, experience and efficiency (people and values). In other words, you need people with imagination, creativity and powers of analysis; people with judgement and people who manage according to routine and standard procedure. This is, naturally, very difficult to balance and there is no rule, no formula, no procedure to it.

It is tempting to see the “gray hair” as the sovereign flanked with “brains” and “procedure”; “brains” offers criticism and novel but untested solutions; “procedure” offers, naturally, more of the same but requests more money, more time. The “gray hair”  sovereign, however, must decide if the situation is one in which the old paradigm needs to be revised or rejected. In part 3: The Age of Crisis we argue that the West must reject the old paradigm established in 1945 because the assumptions that underpin it are no longer consistent with the facts. There is no shortage of “brains” who make these arguments, yet they tend to have little power or influence – a fact that is, in part, to be explained using ” typology” because people with “brains” tend not to be “team-players”. Lead and Gold:

The final impediments to effective change grow out of the firm’s human resources mindset and practices. First, it frequently give too little thought to selecting the cadre of managers who will carry out the change effort. Remember, the firm’s bread and butter is systems, methods, procedures, and templates. They focus their attention on minimum standards and raising the median performance level; they do not have a “star system.” As a consequence there is a tendency to populate the key task forces with managers who are interested, amendable and available, not those who have the rare mix of skills to carry out the effort effectively. (Bold mine.)

“…Systems, methods, procedures, and templates.”

Reactionary Future:

Protocol governance can come in many forms , these include bureaucratic rules, literal interpretations of religious texts,democracy, proposed block chain or P2P governance, statistics based governance, rule of law, and any other form of governance which seeks to provide a protocol as being ultimately sovereign as opposed to ultimate human judgement.

These protocols are feted as the answer to burning questions of governance, usually they are termed “scientific” and presented as somehow magically capable of facing all problems.

Having adopted the given protocol, reality either swiftly, or slowly becomes secondary to the protocol despite the protocol being in effect a mere derivative of reality. The protocol in effect takes on a life of its own which does not align with reality or the facts on the ground, and becomes self-propagating and self-preserving.

Taking the Cathedral structure in to account, we can see the first layer of protocol in democracy. The claim that a simple head count of the population could in any way provide guidance as to how the nation, or whatever polity is being governed by democracy, should be governed is utterly absurd.

The inability of democracy to act as a real means of organisations occasioned the creation of a second protocol in the form of bureaucracy which in conjunction with the media and education became the residence of real power. The impetus behind this being that general opinion in a democracy is of all importance to the maintenance of the democratic protocol. If you can control the general opinion, then you control the inputs to the protocol of democracy, which supplies legitimacy to the outcomes which emerge under the protocol.

So, to simplify this somewhat, we have a democratic protocol which patently cannot work, followed by a bureaucratic protocol designed to manage the first protocol. Except, the bureaucratic protocol itself cannot work, as It is merely another version of governance by protocol, and itself takes on a life of its own which has little link to reality. (Bold and italics mine.)
Lead and Gold:
However, since this effort is so different from the normal work of the organization, the average manager is not equipped for it in terms of training, inclination, or experience. Stars, of a sort, are needed.

Unfortunately, the right “stars” often come with baggage. Those attributes that make them strong candidates also work against them politically. They are headstrong, bored by templates, fascinated by ambiguity. They are outsiders. They lack a political base. So the organization opts for good and willing soldiers armed with a change management template. (Bold and underline mine.)

Reactionary Future:

The Leader, the Sovereign

The leader is a figure who is not subject to governance by protocol except through choice under conditions in which the protocol is relevant and fits with reality. If in fact the leader is constrained by protocol, be it democracy, rule of law, constitution or whatever moloch as sovereign, then he is not sovereign. He is a sham leader; A hideous joke.

It is one of the major tragedies, if not the major tragedy of Anglo-American political thought that the role of the leader has been so maligned and belittled that it has either been deemed disposable or subject to protocol. The only fitting comparison would be if it was deemed that Michelangelo, Vermeer, Constable or any other artistic genius (or genius in any field for that matter) were optional and that a simple referral to a vote or survey of individuals could create a masterpiece.

The truth of the matter is that leadership is an art, and rest on judgement and individual brilliance. Those that operate on the belief that leadership can be passed to protocol implicitly reject this, and operate on the basis that anyone can wield power, and everyone should.

Having obviated the leader through wise protocol, and set themselves on the magic mushroom journey that is popular sovereignty the world has been inflicted with a steady stream of worsening leadership, with every representative of the protocol being with every generation more of a lie, more of a fraud. (Bold mine.)

In Part 1, we saw:


Nietzsche and Napoleon: the Dionysian Conspiracy. Don Dombowsky.

Lead and Gold:

In truth, the implications of Maister’s research are quite pessimistic on this score. A corollary to the idea that professionals who excel within the expertise-practice model will not willingly engage in repetitive projects is this: Professionals who succeed in a procedures environment rarely have the aptitude and inclination required for diagnosis under ambiguity and the formulation of customized solutions. This helps explain why denial is so common a response to discontinuous change.

Second, even those professionals who attempt to address the challenge of understanding the change-event find that they must fight the inertia and active (though unpremeditated) opposition of most of the organization. In a procedures firm, whole departments exist solely to produce routinized, programmatic outputs and to ensure that the rest of the organization follows uniform procedural templates. (Think of purchasing, human resources, and financial reporting.) To deal with unstructured questions on the frontier of expertise while still satisfying the demands of the guardians of procedure requires a sort of blessed schizophrenia that is exceedingly rare.

Third, the firm’s formal planning systems magnify this problem instead of alleviating it. As Henry Mintzberg notes in The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning,

planning exhibits a bias toward a particular type of change in organizations– not quantum change, with which its procedures have difficulty coping, but incremental. [p. 192]

Many, if not most managers can relate to Mintzberg’s description of formal budgeting/planning environments where

managers may be so busy discussing strategies and budgets on schedule year after year that when real change becomes necessary, they miss it. [p. 179.]

It is not surprising, then, that companies like General Motors fail spectacularly after decades of success. If this is not inevitable, it is certainly the norm. The failure of established firms to grasp the importance of technological breakthroughs is a recurrent theme in Utterbeck, Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation (1994) and Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997). As both authors point out, focusing on operational excellence today easily leads to that tunnel vision which blinds executives to tomorrow. Maister’s work helps explain why this should be so. (Bold mine.)

“Tunnel vision” or coup d’oeil

Finally, to see what sovereigns we have left, there are three areas to study:

1: The Military world.

2: The Corporate world.

3: The Criminal world.

We have discussed the first two; let’s now discuss the third.

Have you ever read anything about criminal gangs? Have you studied the leaders? How did they lead? Who did they consult? For both usefulness and entertainment, watch and study the Sopranos and the Wire. Study the gang leaders and their problems. Study their “staff” and study their advisers. (This is not as weird as it sounds, for we believe that government is nothing more than a form of organised crime.)

Here you see ruling – real ruling – ruling over life and death in microcosm.

Watch the following scene which speaks to everything:

Marlo – the “Prince”, soon to be “king”; the old man is his adviser and the other two are his “crew”. The man “Chris” is the number two and the chief enforcer. The girl is muscle.

The old man gives advice and Marlo is not threatened by him because there is no threat to his power from him.

This next scene, however, is fascinating on so many levels:

The context is that one of Marlo’s “soldiers” has just been shot. Marlo’s “Captains” are ready (and eager) to blow the whole crew away; notice, however, how Marlo makes the decision. He finds out who, what, where, when and why but then must come the moment of decision. Notice how he makes his decision. He looks at his number 2 (Chris) and Chris scratches his beard and looks away -a non-verbal gesture that “advises” Marlo not to wipe out the entire crew. Marlo accepts this “advice” and then gives a rationale for not killing them all  – “just Lex” he says. Then, he turns and looks at Chris and explains why.

Consider the background to their relationship. He accepted this advice from his number 2 without question; that means he trusted the “intuition” of his number two. His number two, however, gave him the advice in a way that did not appear as either a command or in a way that makes it look like he (the number 2) made the decision. This gesture is a way of giving the sovereign advice but not letting it appear so; it maintains the aura of the sovereign.

As the show makes clear, these kinds of relationships between the gang members are forged in childhood, so they are close, very close.

The question of advisers to the sovereign is a central topic. One could do well by studying the institutions and human enterprises where men still exercise personal rule or judgement – in whatever form it exists.

One suggestion is that the sovereign, his delegates and advisers, should be brought up together from childhood – perhaps with a view to these relationships in mind. However, that is a kind of protocol itself.


7 thoughts on “On The Attentional Structure of Sovereignty.

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