GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

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.

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