GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

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.

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