GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

August 16, 2016

Liberal GA, Reactionary GA

Filed under: GA — adam @ 5:31 am

I think that the central theoretical difference between GA as a liberal political theory and GA as a reactionary theory is that the former sees the marketplace as decentered and the latter contends that there are always centers, to which any marketplace (or portion of a larger marketplace) is subordinate. If we start with the market as an entity or process in itself, which is to see it in terms of its difference from “command” economy and gift economy alike, governed by its own “laws,” the liberal argument is persuasive. But it seems to me that a decisive argument in favor of the reactionary view is that, if the marketplace were genuinely decentered, we would have expected to see a gradual “withering away” of the state since the modern market emerged in the 19th century while exactly the opposite has occurred: from the historically unprecedentedly minimal state (at least in the Anglo countries) of the 19th century we have devolved to an enormous, cumbersome, bizarre, state which wages war on behalf of a high-low alliance against the middle. Furthermore, if the liberal democrat state (do we still have that?) were itself a kind of marketplace, registering resentments so that they can be represented and resolved, wouldn’t it actually be registering the full range of resentments rather than promoting some and criminalizing others?

Moreover, has there ever been, could there ever be, a sustained market unprotected by force of arms that makes a particular territory safe for the transport and buying and selling of products? On the margins of gift economies, sure, but as a social order in its own right? Anarchist libertarians provide us with a detailed hypothetical account of what a completely “marketized” order would entail, and often point to this or that local historical model (usually to point out, no doubt often truthfully, how that privately managed function was usurped by the state). Hans Hermann-Hoppe offers the most compelling arguments for such an order, and if it turns out to be possible my own arguments for absolute sovereignty will turn out to be wrong—or, just as likely, the actual realization of a libertarian realism. Hoppe makes it clear that the largest property owners in a given territory will be, effectively, sovereigns in that territory, and they will govern in a manner far closer to medieval monarchs than liberal democrats: you will certainly need his permission to enter, much less do business within, his territory. The same will be true if all the inhabitants of that territory own that territory as a kind of joint stock company (which would also involve highly undemocratic differential voting power), although in that case governance might be more “racist” (strict rules regarding what type of people can enter and reside) rather than “fascist.” Absolute sovereignty can be seen as the logical conclusion of anarchist libertarianism, its perfect inversion: just assume all property owner by a single property owner, whoever is actually capable of controlling and defending it, and there you are.

This difference—the centered or decentered character of the modern social order—is connected to another one I have discussed several times: the relation between “producer’s desire” and “consumer’s satisfaction.” A liberal GA sees a linear progression from the Judaic monotheistic revelation, on the one hand, and the invention of Greek metaphysics, on the other hand, and the development of the modern liberal democratic market order. What is at stake here is also the existence of a center. For a liberal GA, the deferral of an imperative order (an order, let’s say predicated upon the exchange of imperatives between gods and humans: tell me what to do, we “command” the god) creates what we can call a “declarative” order increasingly free of imperatives (I will always be with you, says God, and provides laws to be adjudicated by judicial bodies, deferring imperatives so that they emerge more “processually”). The “Age of Discussion,” as Walter Bagehot put it, commences: imperatives must be “consecrated” declaratively before they are obeyed. A declarative order is, like a conversation or discussion, inherently open-ended, desultory, and inconclusive. Whatever can be deferred (“kicked down the road,” as political slang has it) is deferred.

I think this description is accurate and the social transformation in itself beneficial, but, as it stands, massively forgetful. What keeps everyone talking? Person A insults person B—person B responds not, as in an earlier, more imperative age, with a challenge to duel, but with a snarky comment. Surely some Bs out there would like to take a swing at the occasional A (it still does happen once in a while); surely some As would like to provoke the occasional B to do so. So, that impulse to gratify oneself with direct, oh so satisfying retaliation, is restrained—why? We all know that there is very little tolerance for violent behavior, but if it’s just fear of being arrested, getting a criminal record, being sued, etc., there has been no ethical advance—that would just prove we are all scared to death of the state. But no state, or social order, could sustain itself in this way—such a violent, terrifying state would also be arbitrary and demoralizing, and would lead to more use of violence to settle scores. It’s also interesting that the “Age of Discussion” lowers the threshold of “insult,” which means that more potential violence is getting deferred—this indicates a genuine ethical transformation, insofar as we presuppose in each other deeper reserves of self-generated restraint. All those who converse rather than strike back are receiving, or hearing, an imperative (don’t respond to that micro-insult in the way you feel, ever so momentarily, inclined to) on a level, or at a frequency, that only someone inculcated in declarative culture can access. Being able to access such an imperative is what it means to be inculcated in a declarative order.

From where or whom is this constantly renewed, internally directed imperative issued? It’s an imperative that makes it possible to hear the voice of God or think metaphysically in the first place. I think we should adopt an assumption of the conservation of functions in examining social phenomena—new things happen, human being undergoes transformation, but nothing is lost: every human capacity is saved and either incorporated within or left on the margins of the new phenomena, waiting to be reactivated. If the link between the imperative we issue to the god and the one the god issues in return is severed (we no longer sacrifice—release our hostage to the god—in turn for victory or prosperity) then the imperative exchange must be reconstructed on new terms. That link is severed because the Big Man who becomes emperor is too distant to engage in an exchange of imperative with individuals who, for that matter, are still embedded in more local communities and gods (which, in turn, cannot provide an imperative exchange that is effective within the imperial or ecumenical space). But no one can act outside of imperatives—even if we convince ourselves that we act declaratively, by reasoning things through, weighing options, etc., how did we decide to reason about those things in particular; more precisely, what enabled us to discipline ourselves so that we could examine things in narrative or propositional terms without simply acting out? In the space between the receding local gods and the unresponsive God emperor, humans learn to hear a new imperative which is also a renewed older one: an abstraction of the first imperative not to retrieve an object but simply (and complicatedly) to “wait.” In the space between insufficiently extensive imperatives (commands that don’t tell us how to finish the task) the imperatives we hear filling that space must come either from ourselves or from some place inaccessible; if they come from us, no order can be made of the imperatives we hear and chaos must result. So, the new imperative, what we could call an “absolute imperative,” is that thou shall not be the source of imperatives. That one is commanded to wait and seek an outside source of the imperatives to obey is what makes one open to metaphysics and monotheism. Declaratives, which previously gave narrative form and sanction to imperative exchanges now advance and conceal a longer-standing imperative to be discerned. But this absolute imperative dissolves one type of hierarchy (determined ritually) and creates another (determined by our relative capacity to refrain from, essentially, pretending to divinity). But those most capable of refraining from divine pretensions are also those most given to such pretensions: the humblest are those who have restrained the most prideful impulses. Those who most feel their commands should contravene all others must listen the hardest for the absolute—and a few of them, if knocked around in the right way, will do so. In that case, the absolute imperative is best conveyed to human society through a hierarchy topped by a sovereign who is both “great” and humble before God or, more broadly, most submissive to the absolute imperative.

“Consumerism,” or the increasingly prevalence of consumer satisfaction in the ethical and political fields, is the regime of those who have so thoroughly internalized the absolute imperative as to have absolutely forgotten it. And there are good reasons for letting it be forgotten, for letting the public sphere be governed by ethical and moral commonplaces that have erased all signs of the struggle and discipline required to create and install those commonplaces. But in the end, this approach breeds contempt for those commonplaces and the history that produced them. Only producer’s desire, the existence of men (and it will be, with very few exceptions, men) who would be great, who seek to make the world over in the form of their imagination (their BS, if you like), makes it possible to remember the absolute imperative—because such men rise and fall, transgress, regroup, convert their humiliations into models for social order, and it from such men that sovereigns can emerge and find support in the various tiers of charisma. This is where centrality resides, in this communication of the absolute imperative through sovereignty, in any territorially or even culturally bound social order. For both metaphysics and monotheism, the target of the absolute imperative is the individual mind or soul—both would very much like to sideline or instrumentalize the question of sovereignty. (Arendt said that listening to philosophers theorize politics is like listening to someone laying down the rules for a madhouse.) A sovereign center would be a puzzling stumbling block for the putatively universal disciplinary spaces of metaphysics and monotheism. But both metaphysics and monotheism have imploded into the insanity of subjectivism for that very reason. Minds and souls only operate through the engagement with models—others more disciplined than oneself. The consumers need to follow the producers—consumers are completely empty without the producer—and the ultimate goal of consumption is to become a producer oneself, which requires the ability to defer consumption. And sovereignty is production of the community in obedience to the absolute imperative.

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