GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

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.

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