The Three Resentments

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.

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