GABlog

August 4, 2016

The Originary Hypothesis and Reactionary Thinking

Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:22 pm

Reactionary political thinking, which is characterized by the rejection of democracy and equality in favor of the promotion of and rule by the good (in the sense of proficient, intelligent and value adding as well as virtuous—keeping in mind the possibility of tension between the two senses) has, unsurprisingly, looked to the ancients (especially Plato and Aristotle and their medieval heirs) and evolutionary theory for its intellectual supports. Those who consider whites both the more intelligent and virtuous of the races can easily include their racial politics within the paradigm, but there is “aracial” reactionary thinking and there is also white-centered racial thinking that declines to supply external philosophical support of any kind to forming its agenda, so we can leave racial realism and human biodiversity out of this discussion. My purpose here is to show that the originary hypothesis can form the basis of reactionary political thinking, providing with a more powerful mode of theorizing than reliance on fairly stale Platonic and Aristotlean platitudes. The case needs to be made because Eric Gans has always presented originary thinking as politically liberal (in the broader, 19th-mid 20th century sense) and supportive of modern political categories (freedom, democracy, rights) and modern market society. I don’t deny that originary thinking is also compatible with liberalism, just that it only and intrinsically is so.

Now, my own version of reactionary thinking is “power to the disciplined, and disciplined power.” This formulation, dependent upon the originary hypothesis, seems to me far more powerful than any equivalent formulation using concepts like “virtue” and “good,” for the simple reason that “discipline” is a dynamic praxis rather than a quality, and from that follows far greater analytical precision and perspicuity. And “discipline” is just an extension of “deferral”—it is self-conscious, systematized deferral. I treat “deferral,” then, the way marginalist economics treat “marginal utility”—as a concept that singles out the distinctive and new (the emergent event), and turns it into a hinge upon which all of social reality turns. Market society itself is just a form of deferral: not just the deferral of immediate gratification (which allows one to spend money on years of education and sit quietly in classrooms and do homework instead of playing and then to go to work five days a week and stay focused on intrinsically uninteresting tasks or to learn advanced mathematics even though it’s easier to watch movies or play video games, etc.) but also the more easily overlooked deferral of not robbing the corner store because I don’t want to wait until the end of the week to receive what will anyway be a lot less money, or chopping down the telephone or electricity poles in my neighborhood and selling them for firewood or any of the other violent or disruptive behaviors that would make civilization impossible. (Or, for that matter, not killing my sister because she dates a guy I don’t know or approve of—because in a civilized order we need to interact peacefully with people we don’t know.) All these forms of discipline allow new values to be produced and recognized. Of course, the issue gets complex, because an advanced market system encourages its own form of indiscipline insofar as success in the marketplace yields power which can then be used to intervene in the marketplace in all kinds of ways that undermines one’s own discipline and thwarts the disciplined efforts of others. But, of course, that’s what simple concepts are for—to enable us to understand infinitely complex actual situations. But the point is that everything that we do, every thought and action, is a mode of deferral, and why not stick with the most fundamental concept and use it to reconstruct the more complex ones?

Now, the most consistent reactionary site on the internet (to my knowledge) is the blog, Reactionary Futures, to which I have referred several times. Reactionary Futures reduces reactionary political thinking to the conservation of sovereignty and the advice:“1) Become worthy; 2) Accept Power; 3) Rule”, a more minimal definition than found elsewhere; moreover, Reactionary Futures makes a point of distinguishing, in very hard line ways, his own thinking from that of “neo-reactionary” thinkers (like Nick Land’s Outside In, Brett Steven’s Amerika, Jim’s Blog, Social Matters and some other sites), and they reciprocate. So, there is a kind of debate and discipline here, one that I find far more interesting and free than more mainstream discussions.

Now, Reactionary Futures is familiar with Girard’s thinking, and considers it very important and supportive of the notion of “certain” sovereignty. This makes perfect sense—I don’t know if Girard ever endorsed modern democracy and notions of rights, or had anything positive to say about absolute monarchy (although he certainly believed that modernity loosened restraints on mimetic rivalry), but if human beings are thoroughly mimetic and endemically conflictual, it’s not a leap to conclude that only a single, clear, and disciplined authority will be able to prevent constant outbreaks of violence. Eric Gans’s thinking (which Reactionary Futures is certainly not familiar with) is a very different matter, though. Gans has laid out a clear and rigorous path from the emergence of the Big Man to the establishment of modern market society, and an alternative, and plausible, path would need to be imagined if the originary hypothesis is to provide intellectual resources for reactionary politics.

The Big Man evolved into the ancient empires, such as the Babylonian and Egyptian. The emperor is the model for the free individual that will later be generalized, subsequent to the Judaic and Christian revelations. Those revelations, then, were only possible in response to the unifications of large masses of humanity, sweeping aside local deities and rituals, transforming the emperor into a new, sacralized center. If all humanity is (at least potentially) united in its subjection to and worship of a single figure, then that unity and the equality of all as units relative to that center can be imagined as an enlarged reproduction (a scaling up, so to speak), of the originary scene. This revelation, made by the ancient Jews and and extended by Christianity, also had the effect of bringing the emperors themselves into history, as they themselves are nothing more than instruments of a divine will. This new sacrality or, really, post-sacrality because post-sacrificial, creates the reciprocity between equals that eventually takes the form of equal exchanges in the marketplace. There is a more strictly economic logic to this process as well, insofar as the asymmetry and instability of the gift economy (still grounded in the struggle between Big Men to outdo each other in the competition for prestige, followers, and power) reaches its limits and is replaced by the exchange of goods in accord with the stable medium of money, a process no one can control and which would automatically defer the deadliest struggles, those over centralized power.

My biggest question regarding this account has been, why should we assume the incompatibility of the empire with the exchange economy? The exchange economy never developed past a certain point in the ancient empires, but that could easily be due to the level of economic development; even more important, nowhere has the modern market emerged without a strong state that enforced law and order and property rights. You can say that the autocratic emperors and monarchs are replaced by elected officials accountable to the rule of law, but the fact remains that the ability and willingness to use force against criminals and rebels is always part of the repertoire of any state. Can anyone believe that, even today, even in the Western world, under a liberal democratic regime that has been around for over a century, a government genuinely unable to maintain order would be replaced or at least suspended by those capable of restoring order (if anyone is indeed capable)—and that it would do so to great public relief? A political theory has to have a way of accounting for the state—even an anarchist theory would have to account for how the things the state does would be done otherwise, or why they don’t really need to be done.

If there is always a state, there is always a Big Man because the state is always organized hierarchically (just like the military always is). Of course, in the modern world, every institution is organized hierarchically, and this is, needless to say, a source of great resentment. It is the notion of equality, modeled on what, in my understanding, Gans considers the elementary moral reciprocity of the originary scene, that generates this resentment. But a conception that generates resentment against a social structure (hierarchy) that is absolutely necessary and that, moreover, everyone, at least in their honest moments, will agree is necessary, must be a false conception. It is a protest against reality. We could say, well, “equality” is never to be implemented once and for all, we are always just approximating it, it serves as a kind of regulative ideal on existing institutions, etc.—but why? Are we getting closer to equality? Only in the sense that we are coerced more rigorously to mouth assent to each celebration of some inequality being overturned. There is certainly no objective sense in which we are becoming more equal—does anyone think that, say the janitor of a university would feel free to approach the university president and tell him he’s doing a lousy job? Or that any member of any elite feels obliged to feel the “pulse of the people”? The elites are at least as distanced and arrogant as ever—they feel free to tell the people they are a bunch of fascists for voting for Brexit or Trump. Still, at least they feel they have to talk to them (and pay attention to whom they vote for)—they don’t consider the hoi polloi to be quite subhuman, not yet. But the fact that any of us can, as linguistic beings, speak meaningfully, even if contemptuously, to each other, represents a kind of basic equality that is irrelevant politically. The Pharaohs spoke to their people, and, in some mediated manner, probably heard from them as well: social barriers pose no barrier to linguistic exchange, and the notion that the sheer possibility of linguistic exchange is a model for social relations in general may be a necessary illusion, but an illusion nevertheless. When we converse with someone, we may strive for maximum reciprocal transparency, spontaneity and vulnerability, but this doesn’t mean we want all our social interactions to be like such conversations.

Aside from the impossibility of defining much less achieving equality, there is no moral or ethical reason for equality (equal in what relation?–consumers and voters are not really in relation with each other) to be a model for social relations rather than the relations between teacher and student, expert and novice, innovator and user, the courageous and the obedient, discoverer and surveyor, etc. Indeed, it is those kinds of asymmetrical relations that better enable us to ask whether this person should be CEO, or President, or professor, or judge, or doctor, etc. Or even whether one wants them as a friend, neighbor or partner. There is moral reciprocity in each of these relationships, and even if they are asymmetrical at the moment, students become teachers, workers become managers, privates become generals, mere users become innovators, etc. And this can be modeled very well on the originary scene, insofar as we assume (and how can we not?) that imitation forms the originary scene just as much as it forms the crisis that made it necessary: the learning from each that must have taken place on the scene is the model for the asymmetrical symmetry that in every social interaction has one person yielding, even if provisionally, to another. It is remarkable that we have a social order, social theory, and pervasive social atmosphere that takes it for granted that we direct fierce hatred toward this not only inescapable, but beautiful reality.

It is not surprising that a mode of thinking that that sees every human step forward as a further excavation of our origins might have reactionary implications. The reactionary thinking I propose involves paring down a model of sovereignty to its most minimal, and fighting against everything that is in the way of seeing and presenting that model. And the model of sovereignty is, simply, sovereignty: someone who decides what it means to say friend or enemy, law abiding or criminal, loyal or treasonous, permitted or forbidden, and everyone knows who this someone is, what he decides, and that he can do what he decides. Sovereignty is not on the originary scene because it doesn’t become relevant until the Big Man creates a social center that is not simply a ritual center. But there is certainly a point on the originary scene when the momentum towards a violent resolution of the mimetic crisis is halted and replaced by the spread of the sign—that point or moment is what is retrieved and clarified in the emergence and preservation of sovereignty.

August 1, 2016

What is to be Undone?, 1

Filed under: GA — adam @ 7:37 am

It’s time to try something along the lines of Machiavelli’s The Prince, or all those “mirrors for kings” they used to write in the Middle Ages—instructions and advice for restoring and maintaining sovereignty in the contemporary world. But as we’re quite a ways from having anyone resembling a new reactionary ruler, it seems like the “activist” or, as some neo-reactionaries would prefer, the “passivist,” is the only one who could use such a manual. I don’t really have anywhere near enough readers on any political scene to “advise,” though, and there are actually plenty of blogs out there with some very good advice (quite likely based on a lot more experience than I’ve ever had) regarding the kinds of political attitudes, actions and non-actions to take in resisting the consolidation of globalist/leftist political power. If “producerism” is to replace “consumerism” as a model for intellectual activity, though, political writing like all writing must be done performatively, pointing to its own participation in the concepts it constructs—writing within the originary scene, rather than about it. Lenin’s What is to be Done is probably the best combination of theoretical innovation, polemical precision and practical intervention in political practice ever written, and his model of “democratic centralism” (everyone within the organization has their say based upon the experience gathered from their own location in the field, but when the decision is made, everyone implements that decision with absolute obedience) is a good starting point for thinking about sovereignty, so this seems like a good model, but only if put in reverse, in a reactionary manner: if we think about reaction literally, as restoring, e.g., the heir to the royal line and of the deposed aristocracy, along with the established Church, etc.; or, for that matter, as restoring the same demographics of an earlier time; we would end up squabbling instantly and impotently about insignificant details or complete impossibilities; but if we think about reaction as a stripping of excrescences from a model of sovereignty that has certainly existed almost everywhere and that attained a kind of perfection (absolute monarchy concerned with internal order, the civilizing process and external differentiation) before (way before) revolutionary modernity demolished it once and for all, then setting ourselves the task of identifying and undoing all the sources of disorder all the way back to the original challenges to that (now abstracted) form of sovereignty—well, then we have a perfectly reasonable project of politically interested historical and cultural inquiry, and one that conforms to the fundamental insight of the originary hypothesis that all action is a form of deferral, which is to say, all doing a kind of undoing.

Since I don’t have a ruler, potential ruler, political organization or potential political organization to address, I’ll just address anyone who wants their speech to more closely approximate truth and their actions to more closely approximate sovereignty, and is willing to invest in the possibility that the originary hypothesis provides a uniquely valuable means of accomplishing same. As Schmitt said, sovereign is he who decides on the exception. So, in the US, there is a legal doctrine dictating that rights can be infringed if there is a “compelling state interest” in doing so. Whoever decides what counts as a “compelling state interest” is sovereign. Schmitt’s definition is highly minimal and easily operationalizable, but more follows from it. Sovereignty can be exploited and discarded, or it can be preserved: the former occurs when the sovereign power serves external interests, which is to say is sold to them; in the latter case, the sovereign’s existence depends upon the maintenance of sovereignty and so care is taken that all lines of authority can be traced back to sovereign decisions. The sovereign, then, wants everyone else to be sovereign in their own sphere—the most minimal and hence ideal form of sovereignty would be to do nothing more than to set and enforce the terms of all subordinate forms of power.

So, to speak for sovereignty is to be more sovereign—to treat all powers as sovereign, to treat their formal and real powers as identical (they allow for and therefore endorse everything done in their sphere), and initiate disciplinary spaces that would inform more fully sovereign powers. Within such disciplinary spaces, everything is on the surface: everyone in their sphere is either subverting sovereignty or making it more certain, and we can tell who is doing what simply by listening to and speaking with them. Every word out of every person’s mouth (or keyboard) is either a way of exhibiting and modeling sovereignty by bringing words and actions closer together or dispersing sovereignty by disclaiming the implications and consequences of one’s words. This is just a fully political form of the concept of discipline—the more disciplined you are, the more you want to represent things coming from you or touched by you as signifying you; the less disciplined, the more you want to palm off even what everyone sees you do as coming from elsewhere. So, the first thing to start undoing is all of those concepts and mental tricks by which what is within our responsibility as speaking, social and governing beings is farmed out to others and to various impersonal agencies.

The Big Man is the beginning of history and of all our ethical and political dilemmas. The Big Man disciplines himself so as to accumulate and ultimately break the gift economy by placing himself beyond any possible reciprocity. But in the meantime, he must be managing rivals, cultivating alliances, discovering norms and founding institutions, even if in minimal ways: what is not allowed to others must be allowed to him, and so he finds ways of formulating and enforcing this new ethical realm—and, then, recognizing the new desires his own innovations have inspired in others, and which must be incorporated into his own praxis. He institutes a system of discipline, first of all among the second-tier Big Men in his orbit, and hence the first form of sovereignty. Everything done in the space he governs is done, ordered, or permitted by the Big Man. The Big Man stretches imperative culture—the culture of asymmetry, of honor, of the demand that every act be collectively affirmed or negated—to the point where his own sovereignty is limited by events it has set in motion: wars and the rise and fall of regimes are outside the sovereignty of the Big Man become tyrant, which is the beginning of “declarative” culture: sentences that apply equally to every human being, big or small. What is said about the poor farmer can equally be said about the king: they both live and die, rise and fall, find grace and sin, etc. The declarative sentence as the Name-of-God is a logical conclusion of this process, a “purified” sentence that frames all narratives in the naming of the source of imperatives that come before any specific imperator. It is the Big Man who comes to realize that demands he makes of his gods, mediated through his priests, cannot be fulfilled, but some form of speech, cynical or prophetic, is required to make this part of the Big Man’s governance: the final form of discipline acquired by the sovereign, but accessible to everyone participating in that sovereignty, is to listen to those reminding you of the limits of your sovereignty and minimizing your sovereignty accordingly. (At a certain point, demands like “destroy my enemies,” “strengthen my hand,” “give me a sign,” “tell me what to do” are seen or felt to go unanswered, which means the answer is really just a restatement of what is beyond the limits of your power: I AM. But only someone relatively powerless could say that this limit does not simply imply a more powerful god of the same kind but a God of a different kind who is with everyone—I AM is something everyone can not say, and in not saying it be reminded of the limits of sovereignty.) Sovereignty draws both emulation and resentment toward itself, and in this way brings resentment to a central point where it can be overawed and reframed as unappeasable and hence transgressive if not “donated” to the sovereign. So, we must undo our deadly ambivalence toward inequality, the deadly desire for an even greater power to undo some more direct power over us. If you want someone to have the power to do that, you also want them to have the power to not care what you want. In that case, you want to become disciplined enough to be aligned with that power. But isn’t the best way of doing that to respect and seek to further formalize the powers you feel prompted to complain about?

Sovereignty does not presuppose ethnic homogeneity—the conditions under which the sovereign takes power may leave several ethnic groups within his territory; through carelessness or deliberation, demographic shifts might diversify the territory; the sovereign may have specific uses for particular ethnic groups; the sovereign himself might come from an ethnic minority, or even be a foreigner—there are conditions under which these arrangements might make a great deal of sense. But one thing the sovereign cannot do is ignore or deceive himself regarding ethnic and racial differences. Different groups, and different factions within each group, will be loyal (or disloyal) to the sovereign for different reasons, and rivalries within and between such groups will be major sources of both potential and danger. There might be good reasons for encouraging the dilution of groups, or for promoting their homogeneity and solidarity. Sometimes it will be preferable to address specific groups, and sometimes to subsume all within the category of “loyal subjects.” Still, having said all this, in the end most sovereign orders will have a core ethnic group, and sovereignty will be more secure the more it privileges this group and ensures its flourishing, and even more so if the sovereign comes from that group; it also follows that the restoration of sovereignty will most often begin as the self-defense and self-assertion of such a core group. Other arrangements must be considered somewhat deviant, and assumed to carry special dangers. At any rate, once we acknowledge that ethnic differences must be acknowledged, we can consider what kinds of acknowledgement conform to sovereign preservation. Each group’s specific contribution to the commonwealth should be acknowledged, and any movement towards a claim to sovereignty by a specific group strongly discouraged. Jettisoning some group and relying more completely on the core group is always an option, though, if sovereignty is threatened. What needs to be undone here is the war against stereotypes and prejudices—it is better that we know what everyone thinks about everyone else, and the more people realize that social order still requires various explicit and tacit negotiations between groups the more prepared all will become for a sovereign that can serve as the authority of last resort. Every individual is a sample whose appearance naturally leads to inquiries regarding the representativeness of that sample. But what also needs to be undone is scapegoating, not so much because it is harmful or hateful to particular groups as because it traduces the essential principle that all responsibility ultimately lies with the sovereign. This keeps ethnic conflicts within limits—even if you think one group is violent, another manipulative and greedy, a third lazy and rude, etc., you have to recognize in the end that insofar as these qualities corrode the commonwealth it is a sign of the need for further formalization of sovereign power—the sovereign cannot be said to be doing the “bidding” of one or another of these groups (of course, the sovereign might need to make this clear).

A reactionary politics has to have a way of talking about the economy. We can start here from the elementary observation that, barring a pure, stateless, anarcho-capitalist order, all economic activity has at least the tacit permission of the sovereign of the territory upon which it takes place. This right away implies that arguments for free trade are in fact arguments in favor of the government helping whoever will benefit the most from however “free trade” gets defined and encoded in law and government practice. Here, I’ll have to be tentative, but perhaps the best way for an absolute sovereign to control the economy is through government contracts for work on state property and the war machine (why not do away with euphemisms like “defense”?). The sovereign could set the standards for work done for his territory—quality standards, workplace standards, use of local materials and firms, environmental standards, etc.—which companies competing for that work would strive to meet, spreading those standards more widely, and establishing them as normative even when not obligatory. Of course, state contracts are a major source of corruption in contemporary society, but that’s in large part because people circulate back and forth between business and government (and other institutions) and so can benefit from all kinds of indirect and legal corruption (government officials going to work as lobbyists for companies they did favors for in office, etc.). If the sovereign must preserve his sovereignty in order to preserve his stake in the social order, and perhaps even his life, deals that strengthen potential rivals and generate contempt from the elites and the people will seem a lot less attractive. The sovereign must at least not let anyone get too close. Ultimately, we must, in our reactionary musings, presuppose a sovereign determined to survive and capable of doing so, to leave his state stronger than he found it, and transmit it to a suitable successor—otherwise, we would be imagining a sovereign who would be deposed to, eventually, give way to the kind of sovereign worth thinking about. In this case, what must be undone is “economistic” thinking, i.e., treating the economy as a separate entity and discipline—rather, we would think about the economy in a particular territory as oriented towards and deriving its general direction from a center interested in eliciting rivalries so as to raise the general level of discipline of the people.

Sovereigns will like patriarchy, which is just clear sovereignty in the household. They will also prefer an established Church, without necessarily outlawing other religions, if for no other reason than that the sovereign can’t seem to be indifferent to such an important matter; also, insofar as it is incumbent upon the sovereign to inculcate ever higher levels of discipline in his subjects, he should have institutional vehicles for conveying the best means and measures of that discipline. For the same reason, there would be a state school system, strictly subordinate to sovereign purposes, up through the university level—although here, as well, without necessarily excluding private systems. Needless to say, non-established institutions of worship and private schools would not be allowed to become centers of opposition—everything that happens in these places is also permitted by the sovereign. Here, then, we must undo centuries of liberal thought regarding the neutrality of the state in matters of belief—no state has ever, in fact, been neutral in these matters, and nothing could be more comical than the suggestion that our contemporary state leaves citizens to form their own opinions. We can tell the general tenor of accepted opinion under a competent absolute sovereign: aspire high, but ultimately for the glory of the sovereign; take as much responsibility for your actions as you can; recognize your superiors and be an example to your inferiors; be honest and comprehensive in your communications, just making sure to turn all observations into humble recommendations for the use of sovereign power rather than implied evidence of sovereign incompetence or malevolence; accept that while the sovereign is answerable, and on extreme occasions can be, carefully, so reminded, to the same intangible moral and intellectual power as the rest of us, how those accounts are kept are ultimately the sovereign’s affair. It’s the sovereign’s responsibility to enforce such a tenor of opinion, in whatever way best suits the conditions of the regime.

A movement of political reaction is, one, then, of cultural revolution. It is easy, in looking at the attitudes and ways of thinking proposed above as creating the elements of an absolute sovereign order within the current order of maximally confused sovereignty, to see how incompatible they are with either modern or postmodern subjectivities. It also seems to me obvious how superior they are, but that is the case that needs to be made, case by case. Perhaps we can sum it up in a preliminary manner as follows: in a democracy, everyone wants a sovereign that is absolute towards their enemies but virtually non-existent regarding themselves. It seems to me that a translation of virtually all political speech into sovereign terms—i.e., based on the question, what would the state have to be able to do in order to do what you want it to?—would reveal that this is the case. To cease thinking in these terms (to undo the fantasy that this oscillation of absolutisms leads to some salutary balance), and to imagine a state indifferent to what each of us would like done to our enemies and solely concerned with transmuting those rivalries into sources of the wealth and power of a sovereign who has staked his existence on preserving his sovereignty, would be to discipline our thinking in absolutely new and empowering ways.

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