GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

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.

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