Moral Power, Martial Power, Money Power
In the mid-20th century, the decline of the British Empire presaged a three way fight between a moral power, a martial power, and a money power — roughly, left vs right vs center. Back then, the Soviet Union was the moral power, the Nazis were the military power, and the Americans were the money power. Today, NYT is the moral power, CCP is the martial power, and BTC is the money power.
In each case, we also find that the moral power plants moles for espionage, the martial power excels at manufacturing, and the money power leads in media. But while in the mid-20th century these three powers were states, today they are primarily networks.118
Back up for a second. How could we possibly say that an entity like the USSR, which killed millions of people, was a “moral” power? Because the USSR’s primary strategy was Communist proselytization119, the unceasing evangelism of a malign (but convincing) moral doctrine that managed to capture more than a third of the earth’s population by mid-century. It did have a colossal military, but spoke endlessly of peace; it seized everyone’s property, but claimed it didn’t care about money; and its self-image was that of saintly selflessness. It is in this sense that the Soviet Union was a moral power.
Its moral power120 allowed it to plant moles in every country, which compensated for its lack of money and manufacturing. American sympathizers funded the buildout of the Soviet state, handed it diplomatic recognition, distracted Japan on its behalf, supplied it with the Lend-Lease Act during WW2 and nuclear weapons afterward, and generally propped up the USSR throughout its life.121
Nazi Germany also infamously murdered millions of people. While similar to the USSR in many respects, its primary strategy was different. It was an emphasis on martial valor, on pure brute force, on the shells that would supposedly hiss louder than any mere words. It did have an inescapable propaganda apparatus, but its moral preaching was martial; it did leave some money-oriented businesses intact, but said it was socialist; its raison d’être was ruthless self-interest. It is in this sense that Nazi Germany was a martial power.
To support this martial power, the Germans needed a tremendous manufacturing buildout, which they accomplished. Many historians believe the German military had, on a pound-for-pound basis, the best equipment in the war. But because they lacked the capitalist’s ability to cooperate across borders, they drove away some of their best scientists prior to murdering others, ensuring they’d never gain the atomic bomb. And because their morality amounted to Aryan supremacy, which didn’t appeal to anyone other than their co-ethnics, they never managed to build a large enough global coalition to win - which is why the 70M Germans were eventually beaten by the 50M British, the 150M Americans, and the 150M Soviets.
As for the mid-century Americans, their primary strategy was democratic capitalism, as opposed to Soviet communism or national socialism. They preached a morality, but framed it in terms of a capitalist-friendly four freedoms; they built an arsenal of democracy, but it arose from their commercial industrial base. It is in this sense that WW2 America was a money power.
Accompanying the money power was media power, just as capitalism went with democracy. The Americans were much better at media than the Nazis (who couldn’t argue in English) and incrementally better than the Soviets (whose propaganda was ultimately undermined by their lack of prosperity). The media battle was a close-run thing, but in the end blue jeans out-competed the Red Army.
So: in this tripolar configuration, after a titanic struggle, the money power in the center did end up winning over both the martial power on the right (by 1945) and the moral power on the left (by 1991).
Today, the decline of the US empire has led to the rise of a moral power (represented by NYT), a martial power (CCP), and a money power (BTC). The difference relative to mid-century is that each of these are networks that are upstream of states, rather than primarily states themselves.
The NYT-centered network of journalists “hold[s] power to account” and thereby stands above any mere elected government. Its go-to tactics are moral badgering and mole-driven espionage, just like the Soviet Union.
On the moral point, go back and look at any recent NYT headline and note how many of the articles involve a moral rather than factual premise as the core point. Free speech is bad, white people are bad, communism was good…this is the kind of thing they are focused on.122 And it is in this sense that NYT is a moral power.
On the espionage point, as just discussed, we know that the Soviets were past masters at subversion. Their moral convictions made them feel that invading the privacy of others, stealing secrets, destroying lives with Zerzetsung123 — all of that was acceptable for the great moral cause of communism. Because they weren’t as good at building as the US or even Germany (the Soviet munitions came from America via Lend-Lease), stealing/destroying was the best thing they could do.
Sulzberger’s employees and American journalists in general are similar. They’re the Stasi with a stock symbol, the original surveillance capitalists. It’s always phrased in the passive voice, but how exactly did “The New York Times obtain” the things they print? The story behind the story is more interesting than the story, and the behind the scenes footage would show you a different movie than the one they want you to watch.
In short, much like the communists, the journalists’ moral conviction gives them the license to doxx private citizens, to go through people’s garbage, to use secret identities (and then claim they don’t), to print hacked data, to solicit leaks of private information while demanding to keep their own information private, to induce people to break contracts, to stalk people at their homes, even to cover up enormous genocides and start giant wars…always in the service of the bottom line, and some purported higher good.
The establishment journalist claims to speak truth to power, but somehow never gets around to investigating themselves or each other. As Bloomberg admitted in a moment of candor, they “report on but do not investigate Reuters and CNBC” because they are “direct rivals”. We occasionally hear about incidents like the episode where ABC got CBS to fire the Robach leaker, or when NBC tried to stifle Ronan Farrow’s work, but those are the just the tip of the iceberg. There’s an enormous incentive for establishment journalists to engage in anti-competitive collusion, because if they all agree on what is “true”, who can then fact-check them? No one can “hold accountable” those with the power to hold the government accountable.
This one may require the most explanation as it’s the most foreign to Western experience. First we’ll describe why CCP is primarily a network, and then why it’s now mainly martial. We don’t pretend to be China experts — few are! — but these are relatively basic points that are still not that well known.
Why Is CCP a Network?
The CCP network of party members is less separate from the Chinese state, as it doesn’t pretend to be at a great remove from the levers of power as NYT does. But the party is not the same as the state. Indeed, there are 95 million CCP members, and they don’t all have senior government positions anymore than every registered Democrat has a plum spot in the Biden administration. Instead, they are spread out through society. How does it work?
Joining the CCP is itself nontrivial, which selects for the most dedicated members. The South China Morning Post outlines the “arduous” application process:
An application must be filed to the applicant’s closest party committee or branch, with a letter explaining:
- why he is applying for membership,
- why he believes in the Communist Party, and
- areas in which he feels he has fallen short of the requirement to become a member.
But it doesn’t end there, according to Merics:
Applicants must write essays on Marxism-Leninism and on current political developments. Eight colleagues, neighbors and acquaintances have to vouch for an applicant’s reputation.
After applying, the applicant must take courses and then pass an exam, only to then be put into a yearlong (at least) probationary period:
The applicant will then attend party courses, where he will learn about the party’s constitution, after which he will have to take and pass written tests…
Upon passing the tests, the applicant will required to submit more materials to the party branch, including personal information of himself and his parents. Information about his employment and his parents’ political affiliations also have to be disclosed. Probationary party membership will be granted upon:
- passing the screening,
- being recommended by two party members, and
- discussions and approval after a meeting with the party branch…
Probation lasts at least a year. At the end of the probation period, the party branch decides whether to admit the applicant, extend the probation or expel him.
Lest one misbehave during the probationary period, there are consequences if the applicant does not behave up to strict standards:
In the ensuing one-year probation period, the admission process can still be stopped if “party discipline” is breached.
When the CCP hold a top tier meeting, you will be in your local party branch conference room to watch it live, and write essay on thoughts after view.
Natural disasters happen, donate, mandatory. Oh you don’t know where to find the donation box? Don’t worry, it is deducted already from your salary…
Everytime the Chairman of China releases important article address the issues of current affairs and overarching strategy for the next five years, you write that article 10 times, handwritten, due tomorrow. Thankfully, these are like, once every five years.
If you break the law, no matter how small, you get a “Party Internal Warning” post. And yes, you write [a] reflection essay about what had led you astray, and how wrong you realize you are… If it is serious, you are back to probation period… even more serious? The double policy, you lose both your party status and office title…
Seems very alien to a Western mindset! What people would choose to constantly post new essays regurgitating the latest in regime propaganda, and indoctrinating their coworkers and family members? But it all fits if you think of them as China’s New York Times subscribers.
Think about this scene in Team America: World Police, where the Janeane Garofalo figure says, “As actors, it is our responsibility to read the newspapers, and then say what we read on television like it’s our own opinion.” Then, just swap out the NYT mobile app with Xuexi Qiangguo.
As the saying goes, “Party, government, army, society and education, east, west, south and north, the party leads on everything.” It’s almost the same for the American Establishment, except the paper leads on everything. America’s CCP are its NPCs.
Why Is CCP Martial?
From 1978 to 2013, from Deng Xiaoping to Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao, the CCP was focused on economic growth. But under Xi Jinping, it’s taken a turn towards militarist nationalism. It builds most of the world’s physical products, its military budget is already >1/3 that of America’s, it has a more focused task (“reunify China” rather than “police the world”), it produces military recruiting videos like We Will Always Be Here, and - most importantly - it is investing heavily in AI and drones.
On that last point, China is just better at deployment in the physical world than the US government or military, as we can see from (a) the public infrastructure comparison, (b) the multibillion dollar failures of the American Ford-class aircraft carrier, the F-35 manned aircraft, the Littoral Combat Ship, and the Zumwalt destroyer, and (c) the fact that all the manufacturing know-how and the factories themselves are in China.
Robotics could shift manufacturing out of China, but until then it is quite possible that the “arsenal of democracy” is more like the “arsenal of communism.”125
Note however that just because China becomes primarily a martial power does not mean it will necessarily win a physical conflict. The Nazis too in our framework were primarily a martial power, and did not win. Then again, while the Nazis were outnumbered by the US/UK/USSR by a 5:1 ratio (70M to 350M), the Chinese outnumber the Americans by a roughly 4:1 ratio (1.4B to 330M), so past performance may not be predictive of future results.
This one is almost too obvious, so we won’t belabor it. The global network of BTC holders in a key sense also stands above states, like the NYT network stands above the American state and the CCP network stands above the Chinese state. Why? Because it’s very hard for states to seize Bitcoin, in the absence of some kind of quantum computing breakthrough.
But it’s primarily a money power rather than a moral power like NYT, or a martial power like CCP.
The less-obvious point is that BTC — and its adjacent group of web3 users — are becoming a media power that will eventually topple the NYT, much as the 20th century US’s media power eventually outcompeted that of the Soviet Union. Why? Decentralized media. You can see early signs of this with Substack, Mirror, and NFTs…but in brief, the best content creators have better things to do than work for the establishment. They can become publishers of their own, by founding their own media companies. As with the CCP’s transition to a martial power, the BTC/web3 transition to a money and media power is not at all conventional wisdom.
Of course, these aren’t pure forms.
NYT is a publicly traded multibillion dollar corporation, and is certainly able to influence the Fed and other huge flows of money. And it can spur much of the US military into action with a fake article or three. So it has money and martial power, even if it is primarily a moral power.
CCP endlessly preaches to its citizens via Xuexi Qiangguo, and until recently was focused entirely on business. So it has a moral and money power as well, though it is becoming primarily a martial power.
Finally, Bitcoin certainly makes a set of implicit moral arguments: inflation is bad, centralization is bad, pseudonymity is good, and the like. And it has a martial power, though it’s entirely defensive, as the combination of encryption and physical decentralization render it resistant to 20th-century-style military attacks. But it is, perhaps obviously, fundamentally a money power.
One can do a similar exercise for the US/USSR/NSDAP triangle.