GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

September 25, 2016

The Three Resentments

Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:07 pm

Reactionary Future’s explanation for the Black Lives Matter riots brings out the strengths and distinction of absolutism as a theory of social order. I would here like to bring that explanation into convergence with what I think is originary thinkings most important contribution to theorizing social order: the relation between resentment and the center.

RF first distinguishes the absolutist explanation from the others (from Nazis to liberals), all of which share a reliance upon some pre-social being that accounts for social relations, whether they be genetics or natural “free and equal” individuals. Absolutism goes right to the question of how an unsecure sovereign acts to implement policy or, we might say, secure itself (what other point would policy have for the sovereign, especially an insecure one?):

This is simply the way in which a sovereign governance structure which is subject to checks and balances will act to implement policy. It is clear the central governance structure wishes to re-organise the police force, and has ingrained electoral and institutional enemies which it cannot directly confront. It also labors under the delusion of private society which it cannot merely expose as fraud (it is also manned by people who believe the fraud.)

The result is that the governing institutions use “private” institutions (foundations) to create agitation and trouble which creates an environment, and/ or results in legal action which allows for the planned policy to be enacted. That this process also attacks the institutional enemies (electoral enemies, republican checks) is also of value.

The black lives matter seems to have two broad goals, one is to create the required “demand” for a re-organisation of the US police force on a national basis, which is a reasonable goal for a government. The other is to create racial tension for electoral means.

One important virtue of this approach is to extract all of the resentment from the situation, and reduce it to a question of governance, even management. I will be bringing resentment back in, but not as a pre-social feeling of resistance—rather, resentment is an index of the degree of security or certainty of the central power. It is above all resentment that needs to be governed and managed by the sovereign. Let’s recall the form resentment takes on the originary scene: the central object, intensely desired and therefore all the more intensely prohibited, has both saved (and even created) the community (and each individual in it) and stands guard over the fulfillment of desire. Resentment is directed toward this second function of the object (or, to be a bit Lacanian, Object)—it bars the realization of desire. This goes beyond simply preventing the hungry man from having a decent meal—it also ensures that satisfaction will never match desire. What is barred is possession of the center itself.

When we say that the center bars possession of itself, of its own power to create the community and, indeed, the world, we really mean that the collected “sign-ature” of the group prevents each and every member from advancing to the center. Objects (small “o”) can now only be possessed under the aegis of some sign, a sign that guarantees the protection and permission of the Object. We can devour the downed buffalo, which quickly becomes a collection of flesh and bones, with the permission of our buffalo ancestor (who insists we devour it together, in an orderly manner). The members of the group stand in surety for the buffalo ancestor, which means each individual resents that buffalo ancestor for restraining our desire while also resenting any other member of the group that might throw off such restraint. The power of the buffalo ancestor is secure insofar as the latter resentment outweighs the former. We can call this a donation of resentment to the center, which cancels the resentment toward the center.

This is not accomplished once and for all, nor would it be to the betterment of humankind if it were. Individual resentment toward the center is the source of innovation in human affairs. The appropriation by the Big Man of the center derives from such resentment, and so does the “framing” of the Biggest Man (the god emperor) by a cultural space that retrieves the originary configuration. The monotheistic and metaphysical innovations, whereby the asymmetry of the emperor cult is reconstructed as a form of reciprocity, certainly manifest powerful resentment toward the center. Such innovations, though, must also be seen as attempts to restore and resecure the center—presumably, the Big Man emerges when the primitive community is under some kind internal and external pressure (the terms of exchange with the buffalo ancestor become obscured), and the emergence of the absolute (monotheistic or metaphysical) imperative responds to the instability of the emperor cult with the emergence of competing centers and powers that cult was ill-equipped to handle. These innovations (all civilized cultural innovations) will be successful to the extent that they redirect the resentment they generate from the center toward the margins in the name of the center—that is, to the extent that they become conduits for the donation of resentment.

I think we can identify three modes of resentment toward the center (and, therefore, three corresponding modes of donation): the resentment of those who believe they should occupy the center; the resentment of those whose lot in life has been inadequately adjudicated by the center; the resentment of those who object to the existence of the center itself. In the first case, we have rival elites, for whom the fact that central power is in the hands of another is arbitrary (no real difference in ability or desert can be established); in the second case, the acceptance of subjection to the center takes the form of assumption that the center will do justice to the subject (in his relations with other subjects) in a manner proportionate to that subject’s supplication; in the final case, we have those who push the civilizational innovations framing the sovereign to a conclusion that calls for a direct restoration of the primitive equality of the originary scene. All three modes of resentment presuppose the center—you can’t envy the possessor of a power you don’t assume to be permanent and valuable; you can’t complain that justice is not being done without taking for granted that it could be done; and you can’t indulge nihilistic fantasies without an omnipotent very big O Object to rebel against. The center, then, is secure to the extent that rivalrous elites compete with other elites over their respective closeness and loyalty to the sovereign; the “middle class” demand for justice can accept the difference between the perfection of divine justice and the imperfection of the worldly kind; and the nihilistic fantasy is contained within ritual and esthetic forms. The center, meanwhile, will be insecure to the extent that these three modes of resentment inspire, incite and collaborate with each other.

To return to RF and the riots: in the terms I have laid out, it is clearly, for RF, the resentment of the elites that is the starting point. This reverses virtually all modern sociological explanations that locate disruptions in eruptions from “below,” due to some “natural” resentment of economic inequality or political injustice. Which is to say, it clears away a lot of liberal clutter and chatter. So, in the case of BLM, the sovereign power wants to increase its own security by having a police force directly subordinate to itself—a “reasonable goal,” as RF says, which is not necessarily to say that it is likely in this case to enhance the security of the sovereign (federal) power. The sovereign power is the sovereign power for the moment (the very meaning of unsecure power is that sovereignty is passed off and seized by one group of elites from another continually), and in this case it is contending with a rival for that sovereign power—RF doesn’t explicate this, but we can simply see this as a status quo power base, which would prefer to see the division of power between municipalities, states and the federal government maintained. It seems to me this is a good place to introduce the absolutist Jouvenelian concept of the high-low alliance against the middle: a secure power could be constructed out of a hierarchy of relatively autonomous police forces in the last instance answering to the federal power—that last instance never has to arrive in reality, and won’t if everything is well managed at its own level, but everyone can know it will arrive if necessary. So, the present, Soros-funded sovereign is both sovereign and rival at the same time (again, that must be the meaning of unsecure power), which it seems to me is alluded to in RF’s reference to the “attack on institutional enemies,” and it tries to ensure its sovereignty by mobilizing the low against the middle. On one level, it’s a perfectly intelligible power play, and even a reasonable attempt to preserve and enhance order (which must be pursued in an indirect and admittedly grotesque way); on another level, we can see the resentment of progressive and by definition better qualified elites towards more “traditionalist,” static and to that extent more firmly grounded elites, a resentment that instigates resentment of the second kind (the police no longer act in accord with the norms of justice, whites don’t care, etc.) to paralyze the middle, and uses the third resentment (a chiliastic belief in a world where all the subjugated, from Charlotte to Gaza, will move from the margins to the center, but also a carnivalesque suspension of law and order) to mobilize the mob.

The second and third resentments are always there, but the absolutist analysis is right to contend that they only become effective when “catalyzed” by the first resentment, that of the rivalrous elites. But that may be, in part, because the rivalrous elites already incorporate those other resentments: Bolingbroke, in Richard II, has been unjustly treated by Richard in the latter’s adjudication of a dispute between Bolingbroke and a rival aristocrat—it is Richard’s arbitrary judgment that has “debunked” the intrinsic connection between power and the dispensation of justice that let’s Bolingbroke see he could be just as good a king as Richard. Moreover, are not the “unjustly” sidelined elites the most extravagant fantasists—are not the dreams of George Soros (or Shimon Peres) in a borderless world of unhindered exchange and movements among peoples who are somehow both more themselves than ever and interchangeable as sincere as those of the most wild-eyed Occupy Wall Street demonstrator? If you want to be a realist about power, you must take into account the anthropomorphics of our dance around the center. To imagine replacing the center is not imagine moving into a somewhat swankier residence with a larger armed detail; it is to imagine a new world, with oneself at the center. This is all the more the case when one strives to occupy a secret center, a real sovereignty behind the apparent one—or when we imagine others doing so (which in turn makes it more likely to consider doing so ourselves). (We can, in fact, see indications of all three resentments in the passage from the Soros memorandum RF quotes from: for example, “even under a Progressive Attorney General, the Department has failed to take steps” [first resentment]; “the opportunity to promote meaningful and lasting change,” along with the list of “grassroots and youth-oriented groups,” with its gesture towards open-ended and continually growing resistance and change embodies the third resentment; while “enhance procedural justice, reduce implicit bias, and support racial reconciliation” points to the second.)

The space of sovereignty is a disciplinary space; a disciplinary space of disciplinary spaces. A disciplinary space installs what Thomas Kuhn called a “paradigm,” in which certain questions are presumed already answered, or unanswerable, and therefore disallowed or simply ignored within the disciplinary space; other questions, meanwhile, open up new lines of inquiry, making the disciplinary space, like language itself, inexhaustible. For originary thinking, for example, questions regarding ways of making sense of particular practices or institutions as forms of deferral and deference to a sign-mediated center are open and generative in this way—meanwhile, questions regarding the relation between “the forces and relations of production,” grounded in the concept of “labor,” are unintelligible within the discipline—those questions belong in Marxism. (Of course, we could account for Marxism and its concepts as forms of deferral.) For the sovereign, the disciplinary “paradigm” is the recirculation of all authorized power back to the author, the sovereign, without remainder. “I did this because I wanted to” doesn’t make sense in terms of sovereignty—this doesn’t mean that in an absolutist order no one would ever do what they wanted; rather it means “because I wanted to” would really mean, and would readily be translated into, something like “because it redounds to the glory of the sovereign.” This doesn’t mean we’d always be saying things we didn’t think to flatter the sovereign—it means we’d be trying to eliminate any distance between our own desires and the will of the sovereign to preserve a good order in the realm (the glory of the sovereign is what makes it possible for me to peacefully and productively do what I want). Absolute sovereignty is a virtuous circle. Anything that couldn’t be thus “translated” would be remainder. And any remainder would be evidence of one or more of the three resentments. Evidence of the three resentments is then an index of the unsecurity of central power. The defining work of the sovereign as disciplinary power is to establish the terms on which those resentments can be, not so much repressed (though it may sometimes come to that, of course) but converted into donations to the center.

September 20, 2016

Securing Sovereignty

Filed under: GA — adam @ 8:29 am

The notion of secure vs. unsecure sovereignty has been the most difficult absolutist concept for me to grasp. If sovereignty is conserved, isn’t it by definition secure—if the Supreme Court is sovereign is deciding that same sex marriage will be the law of the land, isn’t that an exercise (again, by definition) of “secure” sovereignty? If, on another occasion, the President decides he is not going to order the deportation of illegal aliens even (let’s say) in the face of a contrary Supreme Court decision, then the President’s sovereignty is secure in that case as well. Insofar as sovereignty is always exercised rather than held, it is always secure—and what would it mean to “hold” sovereignty other than to exercise it repeatedly and explicitly? How repeatedly? One month? Ten years? A hundred? Always when it comes to, say, immigration? There’s really no answer to these questions.

Let’s say a group of five friends decides to go on a hike. They all agree that someone has to be in charge, since they will be going through difficult and sometimes dangerous terrain, and there will be occasions where the leader needs to be obeyed by everyone immediately and unconditionally. Someone always has to be sovereign, in other words. Since they are all equally skilled and experienced hikers, and all trust each other, they decide to rotate in the leadership position. One day for each; or, maybe, one person is in charge of determining the route, another when it comes to deciding where to camp, etc. Such an arrangement might work out perfectly fine, if our assumed conditions hold—of course, if it turns out that one of the five is not quite as good as the others, or does not have the temperament to lead, or becomes mistrustful, it can work out very badly. That person is likely to exercise his sovereignty ineffectively, but he will still be exercising it. If his poor leadership endangers the hike, the others may remove him—he might accept their assertion of sovereignty over him gracefully, or he may leave the community. Is that what unsecure sovereignty entails—the sovereign simply failing to perform his sovereign duties, so the survival of the community comes to depend on him being replaced, without there being any clear method of doing so? One could, then, contest sovereignty on the grounds of incapacity at any time, because a subjective judgment is involved; still, sovereigns will sometimes actually fail.

Of course, those five friends can divide sovereignty up because they are themselves included within a broader sovereign realm. Someone owns the land they are hiking in, whether it be a private individual or corporation, or the state; that owner has laid down various rules for hikers, which it enforces through a private security force or public police forces; the land itself is part of a country with an established order, with courts that will try and punish any of the five who might, say, attempt a “coup” by killing one or more of his fellow hikers—the hikers themselves will have to go back to civilization and explain why one of them didn’t return, or came back seriously injured, or refused to ever talk to the other four again. That broader sovereignty, upon which they rely, allows for the more local delegation of sovereignty—and, in fact, a breakdown of the “sovereignty” of the hiking group would indicate a weakening of the broader sovereignty over that group. That is, the more hikers forget or reject the norms of the civilization they belong to (e.g., because unexpected conditions return them to something like a “state of nature”), the more likely their consensually agreed upon distribution of sovereignty will fall apart. If the group is to then remain together, some kind of struggle, possibly violent, over the sovereign power, will be waged. During that struggle, sovereignty will certainly be unsecure; but it won’t really be conserved, either—but that just means there is no longer an order to exercise sovereignty over.

Ultimately all Western social orders derive their sovereignty from some medieval monarch who claimed ownership over the whole of the land over which he ruled (what Reactionary Future calls “primary property”). Perhaps, though, that was itself a distribution of sovereignty exercised by the Roman Empire, until it could no longer. Perhaps the successive divisions of sovereignty that followed over the centuries were akin to our group of hikers, who take for granted that they can causally rotate sovereignty because they are all subjects of a civilized order—perhaps there was an assumption that the original distribution of secondary property (what Carl Schmitt called the “nomos”) was sufficiently guaranteed so that primary property no longer needed to be preserved. Those charged with preserving private property preferred a more collegial relation with the largest secondary landowners, or couldn’t summon the energy to resist the push by some conspiracy of those landowners to formalize their title to their land beyond their obligation to the monarch. This laxity didn’t seem like much of a problem, precisely because the order established seemed so permanent. There’s a tendency to forget primary property, a tendency that is stronger when primary property has been especially securely established.

Sovereignty is always passed off—to be sovereign is to decide upon one’s successor. In principle, there is no difference between a king passing sovereignty off to his son, and the American president passing off sovereignty when it comes to the question of same sex marriage to the Supreme Court, and then having it passed back to him when it comes to enforcing immigration laws. The difference, then, is in fidelity to the original title, which is to say to the line of succession. Neither the president nor the Supreme Court claims sovereignty in their own right—they only claim to exercise it in the name of “the people,” according to the document (ratified by “the people”) known as the Constitution. But popular sovereignty is meaningless—some one always exercises sovereignty, i.e., makes (or declines to make) the final decision. Moreover, from where do “the people” derive their title? Claims to popular sovereignty assert the naturalness of that sovereignty, not its origin in some act of possession. Popular sovereignty is really, then, just anti-sovereignty, an excuse for attacking all the necessary elements of sovereignty, in particular the self-referential claim to act in the name of the sovereignty one exercises. Unsecure sovereignty, then, is sovereignty without any reference to the original claim to primary property. The President and Supreme Court don’t really pass power back and forth, because neither claims the right to delegate, having no claim to act in defense and enhancement of primary property—each just seizes the opportunity to exercise sovereignty that comes their way, and the other will either fear the consequences of challenging their rival, or wait patiently for the opportunity to do so (or rest satisfied, since both entities have allowed sovereignty to be seized for the occasion by an ally of both). The division of powers between courts, legislature and executive could work (i.e., didn’t lead to complete social breakdown) as long as all involved believed, however tacitly or vaguely, they were defending the “rights of Englishmen,” i.e., regardless of the break from Great Britain, ultimately saw themselves as tending to property inherited from the original realm. But, then, any specific, breakaway power gains an advantage over the others by throwing off that inheritance, and insisting that this property here and now is ripe for the taking in the name of those who have been denied it (“the people”).

Absolutism as secure sovereignty must, then, be aimed at restoring the original realm, and deriving all property and powers from the unity of that primary property. Someone will have to claim ownership of it before they control it; the control of some portion of it will have to be seen as a prelude to complete acquisition. Any portion of the original realm that can be recovered must be used to exemplify the form of fully restored sovereignty by distributing secondary property in accord with a detailed hierarchy of obligations and in payment for contributions to effecting the restoration. Any current politician or, for that matter, property holder, has had his “piece” of sovereignty delivered to him under false pretenses, but that’s not the problem, as we have no way of actually tracing a line of sovereignty back to the original realm—what matters is that they are not using that sovereignty to secure the original realm by asserting the primacy of primary property. They are not, that is, resisting and discrediting claims made based on the distribution of secondary property, which are inherently incoherent and illegitimate. It is the claims to sovereignty that rely upon the secondary distribution that spiral endlessly into demands for further distribution, to remedy some presumed injustice in that secondary distribution (the belief in the injustice of that distribution is an unintended acknowledge of primary property). In that case, all the social realities hidden by liberalism (except to present them as injustices) and now being surfaced by the alt-right (race realism, the sexual economy, i.e., hierarchies and differences) can all be assessed in terms of the contribution such hierarchies and differences can make to the restoration of the realm. Different groups, and groups preserving different hierarchies, will make different contributions to the restoration of primary property—this will be noticed in the process of restoration, and repaid in kind afterwards.

September 16, 2016

Sovereign Shifts

Filed under: GA — adam @ 8:18 pm

Vox Day has often reiterated the Alt-Right position that that identity>culture> politics, along with the corollary that we have moved from an age of ideology politics to an age of identity politics. There is certainly a great deal of truth in the latter formulation, at least, while the former might be seen as a transhistorical generalization drawn from a historical transformation. The Alt-right framing (one very much shared by Day) of contemporary political struggles as nationalism vs. globalism can be understood otherwise than as a manifestation of the eternal priority of nationalism over global or imperial identities. The liberal state, usually based upon a majority ethnic group, while claiming to transcend that interests of that group in a culture of rights in principle open to all, has been torn apart, first of all due to this very contradiction: the more “rooted” members of the majority ethnic group struggle for a form of the state that recognizes their history and interests, while the more universal social elements try to uproot the ethnic dimension of society and have political legitimacy reside in the state’s adherence to the legalistic standard of civil and human rights. The universalists align themselves more and more with universalists across the globe, and to the transnational institutions and aims in which they feel more at home and too which they transfer their allegiance. From being an argument within each country, the antagonism between liberals and leftists, on the one hand, and traditionalists and nationalists, on the other, becomes a kind of global war. Bio-politics are brought into play, as immigration policies are used to dilute and weaken the native stock, and anti-discrimination policies are used to harry and humiliate the same. The US, which was content during the Cold War to support any allies willing to stand against Communism, started to spread liberalism throughout the world. Much blame is given to the Bush administration for this, but it’s important to keep in mind that it began under Reagan, whose support of proxies in his Latin American anti-communist policies was justified through the insistence on the democratization of military regimes—perhaps at first a token gesture aimed at pacifying those determined to find and oppose the next Vietnam, but eventually a real and precedent-setting effort. Liberal anti-communism always contained the germ of the global liberal crusade.

The liberal-democratic form of sovereignty, with its capital-labor balance at home and anti-communism abroad, was gradually hollowed out. The sovereign must centralize and defuse the resentments generated by central power, but the globalizing state lost interest in attending to the resentments of wide swaths of the population—vanity environmental, racial, immigration, sexual and other policies, important for the self and external image of the globalizing elites trumped care for the displaced working class. Not coincidentally, those displaced were those “nativists” who were becoming increasingly “problematic” anyway. Contemporary nationalist identity politics is an attempt, as yet groping, to retrench to a more compressed form of sovereignty to replace the one based on “citizenship” and which has been evacuated. The fact that no way of formalizing and thereby actualizing this potential new sovereignty has been proposed indicates at least that little thought has been devoted to it, and perhaps that it’s not even feasible. The more mainstream elements of the alt-right think (albeit with fading hope) in terms of winning national elections and pushing through more rational policies on the traditional model; the more radical elements think in terms of secession and expulsion. The mainsteamers almost never consider what it would mean for a sympathetic President (say, Trump), even with a sympathetic Congress, to force the federal bureaucracy (and bring along the governors and the state bureaucracies), along with the judiciary (which brazenly defies deportation orders) onto this new path. I don’t say it can’t be done, just that no one seems to have given much thought to it. And the radicals don’t seem to consider the generation of war their approach would create, wars that would explode their fantasies of a renovated, peaceful nationalist world order. I haven’t even seen anyone point out the obvious fact that expelling your own citizens is itself an act of war against whichever country whose borders you push them over. Where you end up after a major war is never where you thought you would be going in.

The problem for the nationalists is that they haven’t won over the managerial class—not an easy task, as the managerial class has gone thoroughly globalist. Managerialism and globalism have been converging for decades—professionals of all kinds—academics, lawyers, doctors, executives, actual managers, etc., see themselves on a global stage and find nationalism embarrassing. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but I doubt that more than 20% of the managerial classes are really sympathetic to nationalism. And for good reason—they are more powerful, or in some cases imagine themselves more powerful, considered as global agents. Colleges actively promote, especially for the better and more ambitious students, various kinds of entrepreneurial/do gooder projects and internships abroad, the deeper into the Third World, the more embedded in transnational progressive authority, the better. Obviously there is plenty of money for such things.

The problem goes much deeper. The disruptions in the late medieval world of Christian Europe that led to the rupture of the Reformation had various causes, but the radicalization of that rupture owed a great deal to what we could call the rise of the disciplines—forms of knowledge and authority based on demonstration (I’m borrowing from Hillaire Belloc’s Europe and the Faith here) rather than faith. It may very well be that new centers of power organized around the earliest emergence of the disciplines had a lot to do with those earlier disruptions as well. At any rate, for the European monarchs to transition successfully to the modern age they would have had to both promote, and be the leading patron of, the disciplines, and discipline the disciplines—block their tendency to create subversive power centers and channel their capabilities productively. Clearly, where the monarchs failed, the industrialists and capitalists succeeded—of course, they shared and could inflame those subversive tendencies. Any absolutism today will have to solve this problem—clearly you don’t want to destroy Google, Apple, Amazon, etc., but how to bring them to heel? It’s possible, since these behemoths have been quite willing to fall in line behind globalizing leftism—but that was the path of least resistance for them. The absolutist restart will have to have substantial support within the disciplines—not 100%, or 80% or necessarily even 50% for starters, but enough to get things rolling so as to ultimately arrive at 80% or so. The tech savvy will probably be the best candidates for sovereignty, at least at first, and the state will certainly have to heavily staffed by them; even more, the sovereigns will have to be able to give the technologically and scientifically inclined things to do. It’s a difficult problem but one, I think, that can be thought through from an absolutist reactionary perspective, but not from an alt-right one.

The rejection of tradition is represented most forcefully in the disciplines. No doctor is any better in his profession for assimilating the history of 19th century medical advances. He just needs to know what we know now. The sovereign must be a generalist, while the disciplines specialize. Attempts to “humanize” the disciplines with hybrids like medical or scientific “ethics” tend to be nothing more than empty alarmism regarding developments strange to the general public. The self-sufficiency of the disciplines is an illusion—Michael Polanyi points out how workers in every discipline must take many of the underlying assumptions of their own work on the “authority” of other disciplines—any scientific paper will be filled with claims that that particular scientist has not “checked out” by himself: each scientist tacitly trusts many others, and therefore trusts the institutions housing them. These “horizontal” dependencies further imply a reliance on tradition—at the very least the tradition of research in the field, but that tradition will at each point reach out horizontally to myriad other traditions. The less aware the disciplinary worker is of all this, the more secure he assumes sovereignty to be, because he takes for granted the continuing existence of the entire network of institutions now required for intellectual activity and exchange. This absolute, unconsidered reliance on the security of sovereignty enables the disciplinary worker to dismiss the sovereign as a dangerous amateur, always threatening to encroach upon (or unjustifiably defund) his own power center.

The implication is that to win the loyalty of the disciplinary workers their reliance upon secure sovereignty would have to become more visible. The modern age has combined intensified discipline in the workplace and education (across the disciplines) with a slackening of political discipline. The establishment of unquestionable sovereignties by the absolutist period in Europe made it easy to believe that restraining one’s resentments and desires was irrelevant to social stability. Even events like the French Revolution didn’t upset the assumption that there would always be a civilized French nation, regardless of whether most Frenchman and women consciously contributed to its maintenance. The prosperity that has resulted from intensified economic and intellectual discipline has delayed the effects of declining political discipline—as long as everyone, even the poorest, are getting richer, at least there won’t be massive, coordinated revolts that call the social order into question, even if social stability is undermined in various areas. As the basic “stake” in this bet, the disciplines can allow themselves to be especially cavalier regarding the need for morality, virtue and loyalty in government—especially since doing so increases their own prestige and power, as advocates of rule by expertise. Absolute sovereignty would have to be unremittingly hostile towards any attempt by the disciplines to establish independent power centers—China lays down the law to Google, so this is at least conceivable. In exchange for such curtailment, the sovereign would allow the disciplines to pursue their own disinterested ends, which, of course, greatly benefit the sovereign as well. And, finally, the sovereign would have to draw upon the most trustworthy elements of the discipline to staff itself—after all, how else could it know what they are up to? The sovereign, in other words, would have to see to its own intelligence being greater than that of any possible rival. But the only way to avoid extraordinary violence and the possible disabling of the disciplines in accomplishing this is to save the disciplines, especially in their more concentrated corporate forms, from political pressures they are coming to find intolerable. It’s very likely that many transnational corporations are more stable and certainly far better run than pretty much any state, and will have to enter the breach in preserving some form of order if social divisions and deterioration continue. But they will never be able to do so on their own, and will have to partner with whatever local and national authorities can establish themselves—but such partnerships, to be effective, must be asymmetrically tilted toward the sovereign.

The advantage of the sovereign must always lie in specifically political discipline, which we could define as intelligent loyalty. It no longer comes easy for intelligent people to see loyalty as a high virtue—that might, after all, mean that you become the instrument of one less intelligent than yourself. But such loyalty, even if it means subordinating yourself to one less intelligent or capable, and in the process both striving to contribute your intelligence and ability to him and considering that he, by virtue of his responsibilities, however he has come by them, might be intelligent in ways you can’t match—such loyalty represents the highest form of civilized discipline. It’s almost impossible to imagine such a disposition today, much less a social order that honors it—and so, of course, there are almost no opportunities to inculcate it. But we can, at least, as part of the kind of political praxis I described in my previous post, point incessantly to all the places where it is sorely lacking.

September 15, 2016

Reaction as Political Praxis

Filed under: GA — adam @ 1:08 pm

It seems rather paradoxical to be a reactionary explicitly promoting absolute sovereignty while simultaneously being radically, inalterably opposed to actually existing sovereignty. If sovereignty is conserved, there is no position outside of the sovereign from which to oppose it. Even if we can show that those who possess sovereignty are actually breaking up sovereignty, using proxies to disrupt any secure sovereignty, i.e., sovereignty in which what is said by the sovereign is exhausted in what is done by the sovereign, shouldn’t we still be trying to locate the most immobile or secured point of the existing sovereign and obeying that? I think, in fact, that that is indeed what we should be doing, and thinking through the implications will yield some interesting conclusions. Let’s first set up what seems to me the basic principle of reactionary politics: always speak and act so as to make power more secure. In so doing, you will often succeed only in exposing its lack of security. Making power more secure means formalizing what has remained informal. The purpose is always to bring power and accountability into further alignment, with the end point being a single, universally acknowledged power source accountable for everything that happens in its territory. (Accountability in this case is not local—it’s not as if an absolute sovereign could be put on trial [by whom?] for, say, mismanaging flood relief—but constitutive, in the sense that such mismanagement weakens the viability of the sovereign in the long run, since every one now notices a gap between what the sovereign is responsible for and what it is able to do—that gap will either be closed or widened in the future. A subject for another post will be how much better the kind of sovereign we theorize will have to be than even the most splendid rulers of the past.)


If we imagine ourselves to be subjects of a sovereign that is ultimately absolute, even if only implicitly so, then everything we do is permitted by or in defiance of that sovereign. Absolute reactionary theory doesn’t have any room for a notion of justified defiance, so supporters of (perhaps it’s better to say, “cognizers of,” since to cognize absolute sovereignty is to support it) absolute sovereignty will want to do only what is permitted or, even more forcefully, mandated. This is where it gets complicated, though, because with extensive, interlocking, reciprocally blocking, power centers, how are we to know what is mandated? In some settings I am obliged to treat everyone, regardless of race or creed, in a fair and collegial manner; elsewhere, I am bound to bow down before the transcendence of the violated black body. In yet other situations I am at least permitted to defend myself from, albeit probably only in non-lethal ways, from some of those black bodies. Since these diverse mandates are incommensurable with each other, it may be that there is some meta-mandate to act in accord with what is demanded by the situation. This is not necessarily the much-derided “situational ethics,” any more than telling a general to “defeat the enemy” is “situational ethics,” even though it might sometimes mean retreating, other times sacrificing your own men in a doomed mission that nevertheless raises the morale of others, at other times sending out feelers for negotiations, etc. The meta-mandate is to read the situation and know which imperative takes priority.


I must at least be permitted, and perhaps even mandated, to inquire into the meta-mandates—if I could access no information regarding what is permitted or mandated that would have to mean power is so unsecured that my attempts to obey or evade it could only be ad hoc. And that’s not possible because the sovereign inevitably emits information just by punishing some, elevating others, and leaving yet others alone, in ways that are clearly meant to be seen and meditated upon. In inquiring into the meta-mandates, then, I am also inquiring into the informal power hierarchies that inform the formal ones—we could say that any mandate or (to use Philip Rieff’s term) “remission” from some mandate that deviates from the more transparent power centers (the law and its enforcement, above all) indicates the hidden effect of some informal power center. From these deviations, we can reason inductively (and, of course, highly fallibly) to the entire structure of power relations. Sovereignty has a thousand faces (Harvard, Soros, the Federal Reserve…), but they converge in what neoreaction calls the “Cathedral” or what I would prefer to call the “Inquisition,” with its suggestion of a dialectic between the formulation of doctrine and the identification and punishment of heretics. By noticing who is publicly singled out in a way that includes demands for consensus, for harassment, anathematization, and punishment, I can get a glimpse of the highest meta-mandate—which is, really, to help smoke out the heretics. There are plenty of other mandates, many of them quite ordinary—care for your children, work to support yourself, leave your neighbors unmolested, etc., are all, to a great extent, intact, in most places—but none of them can be allowed to interfere with the highest one.


All of this, remember, is to figure out whom we are to obey and how, and the conclusion is appalling. To be absolutists, we must seek out officer positions in the Inquisition? In a way. How secure is the Inquisition, though? Its rules change constantly, and it doesn’t put forth a version or order that all of the upheavals it initiates are to issue in. Even if we link the Inquisition to “Globalism,” which is to say the continuing transfer of power from national to transnational entities, governmental and corporate, or “govcorp,” that is a result of our own induction and not anything the Inquisition itself is open and unambiguous about—and even the results of that induction are unclear—is the end point one world government? An increasingly complex and impenetrable mesh of institutions and agencies? How does one work on making this mess more secure; or, rather, imagining order in the midst of this mess? Above all, I think, by asking for clear instructions. The sovereign wants its intentions to be clear, does it not, even if their lack of clarity is due to limitations in the understanding of its subjects? I recently had a brief pseudo-debate with a feminist, who argued for the necessity of Women’s Studies on the grounds that it sought to articulate voices that had been silenced historically. OK, so that’s a kind of mid-level meta-mandate, to surface voices that have been silenced. But the vast majority of the humans who have ever existed have had their voices “silenced” (at the very least, none of us have heard them)—so, if we pursue that mandate, we have a new discipline which we might call “The History of Traces,” or something along those lines—it might be very interesting. But the feminist in women’s studies means only women’s voices and, if pressed further, only specific women’s voices, which say something uncannily similar to what the feminist herself would like to say. Well, Women’s Studies departments actually exist (and I could probably get fired for suggesting publicly that they shouldn’t), while my “History of Traces” is merely imaginary, so they are obviously the ones plugged into some power center credentialized by the Inquisition. Still, even the most unforgiving sovereign leaves room for appeal—I don’t actually see where the mandate for “Women’s Studies” comes from beyond some rather sordid academic and activist politics—is it permitted on grounds of “academic freedom? But academic freedom would allow for a lot of other things, including the questioning of “Women’s Studies.”


The purpose of all this is to induce the sovereign power to cough up a more explicit version of the meta-mandate, so we know whether we really have to supplicate before “Women’s Studies” or whether, in fact, unbeknownst to us, we might in fact be violating some higher meta-mandate in doing so. The failure or refusal to issue such a version will be, in effect, a map of informal power relations, which will inform our next query regarding the instructions. If some higher power doubles down and makes the meta-mandate more explicit, the result will be more power division, subversion and confusion (lots of people who thought they were following and enforcing the meta-mandate will discover their relation to the power center is rather different). Reactionary politics derives from this approach ever more detailed maps of the power sprawl that constitutes contemporary disorder and a model of disciplined attempts at securing power. We can keep asking the Inquisition to tell us how to obey until it collapses under the weight of its various power centers’ continual outsourcing of their respective subversions of each other (not that we ever aim for such a collapse!). The method is to ask for instructions in such a manner as to actually provide instructions for the installation of genuine sovereignty. It would be necessary to be high profile enough to attract freethinkers and members of the elite who despair of maintaining their privileges and would prefer truncated privileges in exchange for certainty, while being low profile enough to not become a prime target of the Inquisition. This adds up to being a secondary, or tertiary, target—clearly indigestible but not immediately threatening.


This approach is different than the “passivism” of some neoreactionaries, and the confrontationalism of the alt-right, while being at odds with neither. Indeed, “requesting instructions for how to properly obey the sovereign” can be dialed up or down, performed literally or with thick irony—to refer back to my brief example, it’s easy to imagine, under the right conditions, an earnest, passionate inquiry into why a discipline focused on recovering the voices of men silenced by feminism might be urgently necessary. Memes can be generated. It is just essential that we never fall back on authorities external to the sovereign order—no reliance on “natural” or “God-given rights,” on “equality” or “justice,” or “self-determination”—we share with the sovereign power the problem of constructing a dead end for the resentments generated by the central power itself, while unconditionally accepting the need for that central power for the sake of civilization. We just want to help that power become more secure, and then more secure, until the instructions it issues anticipate any request we could imagine. In this way we prepare for whatever restart becomes possible.

September 13, 2016

The Sovereign and the Infinite

Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:32 am

We can assume that in any advanced society all members are involved in asymmetrical gift exchanges with the central power, and what we can call an “incommensurable” gift exchange with the infinite: whether we call that “God,” or “Being,” or “Presence,” or, along more Nietzschean lines, “language” or even “grammar” (Nietzsche once said, disparagingly, that we still believe in God because we still believe in grammar—but aren’t there good reasons to believe in grammar?). The reality of a central power is predicated upon differences in discipline—whoever is more disciplined will, at a minimum, attract more attention because he will become a model for doing things others can’t. Once someone stands out in that way, everyone else finds an interest in preserving that individual as a model, because doing so restrains and reframes rivalries amongst others within the community. Once we all decide on a model, rivalries are limited to fitting into places within a system framed by the model, and are therefore intrinsically limited. The argument for a social sovereign is partly the argument for having a centralized executive power for any shared task—the efficiency that comes from clear lines of responsibility—but also partly this more comprehensive need to contain rivalries. Sovereignty is where resentments go to die, as we discover that targeting the presumed source of our resentment does not assuage that resentment and, moreover, creates new resentments in turn. It is also where resentments are reborn as deferences to those we recognize as necessary arbiters of our resentments.

My asymmetrical gift relation to the sovereign, then, enables me to subtract from my rivalries with others the unlimited character of “unbound” rivalries—he gets the job or I get the job, and however hard fought the competition up until that point, it’s over, because a duly deputized representative of social order has so decided (the means of deciding are of course also streamlined—I will presumably get the job because I am better in some important sense, not because I killed my rival or hacked into his transcript and letter of recommendation). The same goes for the justice system—if someone rapes and kills and member of my family I don’t have to see that a member of the family of the perpetrator is raped and killed (leading him to then retaliate, etc.), the justice system can put an end to it by imposing a properly determined punishment. This is extraordinarily liberating, ethically and intellectually—instead of thinking of the best ways to protect my own and harm my rivals, I can think about forms of exchange whereby we try and “bound” more potentially disruptive rivalries. The more operative sovereignty is throughout society, the more progress along these lines (i.e., civilization) is possible.

Our incommensurable relation to the infinite is produced by our awareness that, after all, rivalries can only be bound imperfectly—the very rivalries sovereignty is meant to contain can infect the sovereign power, either internally or in the external relation between sovereigns, and thereby reproduce those rivalries on an even more catastrophic scale. Kings and empires come and go, so what remains? The vendetta is simply the other side of the far more benign sounding gift relation. Within the gifting economy, the quality of one’s gift represents prestige, with each side matching and seeking to outdo the other. The possibility for insult and humiliation is built into the process. The vendetta works within the same mode of exchange as the gift, insofar as both are always seeking to restore an injured honor. In the gift relation with the sovereign, I renounce my own independent vendettas while binding myself to loyalty to the sovereign in pursuing his. The hope is that the central organization of rivalry will lead to its more intelligent and therefore limited pursuit, and this is always a wager that is won until it is lost. Our relation to the infinite is in anticipation of the losing of the wager: what I give to God, or grammar, is all of myself, complete dedication to His/Its ends, and I do this by cleaving from the gift relation its flip side, the vendetta, which I completely renounce. The gift relation without the vendetta is all giving in response to having received all. Giving all is doing God’s work, which is the work of disinvesting in unbound rivalries—of forgiving, and showing others how to forgive. (It is also, in fact, the work of grammar.) There is much talk of Western Civilization lately, and it seems to me that a good way to think of it is as the ongoing tension, unique, I think, to the West, between the infinite and the sovereign.

How can we tell that everyone in contemporary social orders is asymmetrically bonded to a gifting relationship to the central power? We all speak. Insofar as we use language, we participate in the deferral of violence; even more, though, we presuppose the subsistence of the entire history of such deferrals. To use Jacques Derrida’s term, violence has always already been deferred. That gives us the space wherein we can either contribute to sustaining that process of deferral, or exploit the trust the history of deferral accumulates to enhance whatever power center we belong to. Let’s look at some of things we do with language, in no particular order. We refer—we indirectly point to something in the world that we imagine someone else will recognize as that very thing, so that others can confirm or revise our reference. This requires that the world be held steady—that many objects remain more or less the same, while other objects change in ways we can track, new objects are introduced under some recognizable aegis and other objects disappear in ways we can also account for. Even more important, the names of things are not constantly changing, a process that, with our experience of totalitarianism in the 20th century, we know to be an effect of extremely unsecure power. It follows, then, that a stable relation between words and our shared reality is indicative of relatively more secure power—more precisely, that we could examine changes in the language mediating our relation to reality as indexes to the relative security of power. Any time we refer successfully, we rely upon power that is secure at least to that extent, and, therefore, insofar as we intend to refer successfully, we implicitly hope for secure power.

We argue, more or less rationally and logically. In doing so, we assume that disagreements will be settled through conversation rather than force—and what enables us to do so, if not the central power holding force at bay? The more we appeal to each other reasonably and civilly, the more secure we assume power to be; the more we address each other through the quasi-violence of manipulative propaganda techniques, the more insecure we assume power to be, because the more we assume power is ripe for the taking by the swift and unscrupulous. Even more so if we communicate more often through implicit or explicit threats and intimidation. Reasonable appeals, moreover, already assume a massive iceberg of tacit agreement, of which the actual reasoning is the mere tip—we can’t really argue over whether we should argue rather than try to kill each other, we can’t really argue if our first principles are so disparate as to preclude any shared ground, we can’t really argue if we have differing assumptions regarding, say, the role authority, social prohibitions and established hierarchies should have in the process of civil discourse. Such differences really indicate that we live under different power centers, or in a radically divided one, rendering reason irrelevant. So, the more we insist on settling our disputes through reason, and upon raising the standards of rational discourse, the more we both presuppose and promote (even if we are anarchists in our explicit views) central power, which necessarily prefers to preserve that iceberg of tacit agreement.

We promise and undertake obligations. Here, the assumption of central power is especially evident. The more seriously we take our promises the more we assume broken promises will be registered as scandals and as requiring a great deal of work in restoring one’s trustworthiness, but also, then, some objective, third party measure of what counts as a broken promise. I don’t necessarily mean an actual arbiter, although there will be plenty of those as well, but that in promising we mostly agree on how such an arbiter would judge breaches—after all, why would anyone promise anything otherwise? To assume the existence of impartial arbiters, even hypothetical ones, is to assume consistent standards regarding justice, even if the application of those standards may differ from community to community. To assume such consistency is to assume a central power capable of stepping in to enforce such standards when infringements occur, and the charisma of a central power that means it is unlikely to have to do so often. We could attribute a successful culture of promising, like a culture of reason, to the “mores” of the people, but mores are enforced constantly (they don’t enforce themselves), which brings us back to the question of power. Even more obviously, our complaints when obligations have (in our view) been unmet makes unmistakably evident our “belief” in a central power—what would be the point of complaining that laws are unjust, that just laws go enforced, that officials are overbearing and oppressive, that young people have no respect for their elders (who have given them life and order), etc., if built into our very language was not the assumption that laws can be made just, can be enforced, and that respect can be inculcated across the generations? In any particular case, such expectations may be unrealistic, and some expectations may contradict others—that just means that further clarifications regarding perfecting the sovereign order are necessary: reason needs to conquer more ground covered by manipulation, promises need to be elevated over threats, and so on.

We do much more with language than even what I have outlined here, but in each case I think we will discover the same thing—that nothing that we say or think makes sense without the assumption that all of our desires and resentments target a central power that limits and defines them. Even the most fanatical anarchistic atheist assumes that reason and/or altruistic instincts (as he conceives them) can triumph over all conflicts and self-delusions, which just assumes an absolute sovereignty of the people at their best—that is, the fanatic agrees that everyone must agree on those things fundamental to social peace and civilization, he just fantasizes that happening without any one power to impose it. We could say that this fanatic imagines the infinite installing itself directly into our “hard drives,” so that no one needs to impose the peace that makes it possible for us to give ourselves to the infinite in the first place. But anyone who experiences the infinite wants it for everyone, and knows that whatever space of peace and order made the discipline that enabled one to hear the infinite possible for oneself, more such spaces, and more “spacious” ones must be created for increasing numbers of people to hear from the infinite. He will want a central power that provides for such spaces, that rules in such a way as to model such spaces, and that insists upon a tenor of social discourse that honors them. Meanwhile, competing power centers will find a quick and effective means of subversion by simply “debunking” the connections between discipline, civil order, and success within that civil order. The belief that we are all born with what it takes to rule ourselves will be the simplest way of enacting the needed debunking—discipline, in that case, is really just the expropriation of our natural and naturally egalitarian capacities.

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