GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

October 14, 2016

Saturating Sovereignty

Filed under: GA — adam @ 2:38 pm

Where is Trump’s extra-republican force, asks Reactionary Future. Why not take advantage of the increasingly “interesting” Trump campaign to sketch out a preliminary answer? First of all, it’s the Alt-Right, as I have suggested in recent posts. Still, that’s not nearly as comprehensive as the sovereignty inflating or saturating forces RF has been pointing to over the past few posts—“raw power,” coming from the heights of society, unconcerned with fictional “constitutional limits.” Trump doesn’t have such forces now, of course—virtually all such forces are currently ranged against him, pulling out all stops (no doubt disregarding constitutional limits, or the impropriety of collusion between current administration and a candidate’s campaign, the media, global corporations, etc.) in order to destroy him. He needs to win the election to have any chance of starting to gather such forces. Can he win the election, if all dominant social forces are opposed to him? Is the formality of an “election” still a limit the extra-republican forces determined to defeat Trump will not trangress? Maybe it depends on what counts as an “election” –all those efforts on the part of Democrats to make it impossible to determine who is actually voting may pay their dividends this year. How far will they go to shove Hillary Clinton down our throats—would they actually refuse to let a victorious Trump assume the Presidency? If not, why not—what constitutes the limit on their side? There must be some portion of the divided and distributed power up top that must be respected, and cannot abide an absolute and obvious suspension of the electoral process. (Unless there’s not—but first let’s deal with the more “optimistic” scenario.) Well, there would be a start—what we might call the section of elites essential to maintaining power but unwilling to completely set aside the facades protecting that power. It might be a very small or rather substantial section, and Trump might start to find his extra-Republican forces there, if he chooses to get to work on restoring American sovereignty by turning on the most egregious of his opponents (using more or less legal means to expropriate them), beginning, to fulfill a campaign promise, with the “Clinton machine”—a restoration of the center will then start to pull the peripheral into its orbit. The more Trump makes an example of one or a few, the more others will wish not to be made examples of. Of course we can’t know how likely Trump will be to think along these lines, but his very interesting speeches give cause for hope—he does seem to have raised his addiction to tit-for-tatting to a veritably planetary scale.

Our example suggests two other possible scenarios: one, Trump wins and is prevented from taking power (we can group other possibilities under this category—he takes office and a bi-partisan super-majority immediately initiates impeachment proceedings; the election itself is obviously stolen, etc.); two, he loses undisputedly. First, then, the elite coup against Trump. This would be an extremely risky step, and all the sections of the elite would not be equally supportive; no doubt, some would not be supportive at all. So, you start to gather your extra-republican forces there, among those in the elite who would themselves feel insecure and threatened by their fellow rulers. If in the first scenario, Trump would have legitimate control over the armed forces, who would no doubt obey his commands, in this scenario, the funding of parallel military and governmental forces, drawn largely from those in the national forces appalled by this violation of the Constitution they have sworn to uphold, would be necessary. It’s reasonable to assume Trump himself would take command of these forces, unless he is imprisoned or killed in the coup; it’s hard to imagine an obvious replacement, but no doubt emergent figures will present themselves. In this case, conditions will call for extreme measures, and once you choose one side or the other you will be in no position to refuse to carry out those measures. Obviously, a decisive defeat for Trump creates the least hopeful scenario—it’s hard to see why he wouldn’t be completely abandoned by the elite in its entirety, left to be devoured by all the forces he has offended. Then, it would be question of rebuilding “Trumpism,” no doubt against the Republican party, which will probably not be in very good shape when this is over, no matter the outcome. All of us on the alt-right, neoreaction and absolutism would try to influence that process, and ultimately elites marginalized by the ruling Democrats who now find the GOP useless might take a look at the proceedings. There will be many crises to analyze and intervene in from a “post-Trumpian” perspective.

So, what does this mean for how we talk now, given the unprecedented opening both the turn of Trump’s campaign and some serious rethinking regarding our institutions on the part of some right wing thinkers provides? Sovereignty is the central issue here, more explicitly than it has ever been. This is completely thanks to Trump. All of his speeches now focus on the lack of sovereignty—the global elites rule, the Washington political class rules, the corporations rule, the media rule, other countries making donations to the Clinton Foundation get a seat in the musical chairs version of sovereignty. Of course, Trump thinks the American people should rule, but should he get elected (or have to struggle for legitimacy if he is cheated) it will be his sovereignty he will have to defend against threats. We can translate the sovereignty of the American people into the subordination of all those false sovereigns into elements of a genuine sovereign—if that happens (including the elimination of some false sovereigns that serve no real purpose at all), it will be better than the American people ruling, for the American people themselves, first of all. Look at all the names of those exercising some degree of illegitimate sovereignty Trump mentions in his speeches, and simply ask regarding each one: what would it do if it did nothing more than serve its function in such a way as to serve and preserve sovereignty? Sometimes the answer would be “nothing,” the implications of which are clear enough, but quite often the legitimate aims these institutions advance in an illegitimate manner within a system of divided power can be recouped within a power-based analysis and a restored sovereignty. We can call this the saturation of sovereignty—filling the central power with all social activities, from top to bottom, proposing for them all an “intentionality” within the system. Even Trump’s method of attacking and stigmatizing, and then negotiating, coopting and subordinating, can be instructive here. The ban on Muslims entering the country morphed into “extreme vetting,” he asserted at the second debate—the provocative, polarizing, perhaps unworkable but readily intelligible formulation is made suited for institutional management, without necessarily losing any of its effectivity. The identification of an egregious violation of sovereignty—a constant influx of Muslims, a knowable number of whom are bound to radicalize each other and Muslims already here, approved by no one knows who and no one knows why—is converted into a subordinate part of a proper sovereignty, reduced to rules and a hierarchy of functionaries. So, Trump’s extra-republican forces are out there, but they don’t know it yet.


  1. One word that has yet to enter your discussions of sovereignty is federalism. Can the central power, if it tends to absolutism, be exercised in more than one capital (e.g. power exercised in the name of His Majesty by right of jurisictions x y and z)?

    I take it, after reading your blogs over the years, that you are still thinking in the spirit of Lincoln. But if the outcome of the current crisis is a collapse in legitimacy for the Washington elite, in many areas of the country, wouldn’t a renewal of states rights talk – Governors maybe even attempting to control local military assets, possibly leading to some new confederacy – be as likely an outcome as Trump leading military forces after a contested election?

    One of the curious things about constitutional fictions is how Canadian federalism has developed somewhat differently than the American. The 1867 Constitution Act, which created the Canadian Confederation, is a document very much in favour of federal power (e.g. the power to disallow provincial legislation, which has never been used). It was a reaction to the (second) American civil war, and the fear of the Union army. But under the influence of court decisions, almost from the start of the federation’s history, in favour of asserting provincial jurisdiction (I think the judges have been often of the view that their institutional power or influence depends on minimizing the sovereignty of the federal government), Canada is fairly decentralized even though the federal government still has great revenue powers (though much money is distributed back to the provinces and municipalities, with fewer strings attached than i think is the case in the US). My sense is that American states are relatively dwarfed by Washington power, eventhough the American founding was less obviously a plan for a strong central government. Anyway, in both countries there are forms of divided sovereignty and I wonder if your thinking about absolutism requires you to question federalism as part of a viable governing hierarchy.

    Comment by John — October 14, 2016 @ 10:22 pm

  2. I haven’t been thinking of Lincoln in a while, but he certainly insisted on clear sovereignty–however, I don’t think federalism was a pressing issue for him. In general, there are any number of ways in which an absolute sovereign might delegate and distribute power and the more that can be delegated and distributed without the ultimate source of power being compromised, the better. It would also be better to rely upon traditional distributions where possible. But federalism as a legal principle that binds the sovereign is definitely at odds with absolutism–and the whole notion of divided sovereignty is clearly an oxymoron and abomination. The only governors one could imagine supporting Trump in a crisis are, of course, Republicans, but that seems extremely unlikely given that the Republicans have been sabotaging Trump’s campaign from the beginning. The number of Republicans who would stand with Trump could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. So, I would assume there would be new leadership, and a primarily national focus in any post-election crisis–but there’s no way of getting much more concrete regarding its forms.

    Comment by adam — October 15, 2016 @ 4:57 am

  3. I guess one of the things on my mind is how large do you think a polity could be where sovereignty was relatively absolute…. Singapore, maybe, despite its ethnoreligious pluralism. But 300 million + is hard to imagine.

    Comment by John — October 16, 2016 @ 11:36 am

  4. Yes, I think that’s a very good question. It certainly seems to me that in the larger countries sovereignty will be restored through secession, and then it will be hard to see the point of scaling states back up to their present size, even if other parts of the original state get their houses in order. So, what would a world made up of several thousand small to medium sized absolutist states, perhaps a few remaining larger liberal democracies, and some areas of chaos look like? Would some or all of the sites have nukes–obviously, the nukes can’t uninvented. We’ll probably be better able to take on such questions if/when discussions over absolutism, neo-reaction and the alt-right draw in more people and become more real as the crisis deepens. Right now I don’t think we can do more than formulate them.

    Comment by adam — October 16, 2016 @ 11:43 am

  5. Maybe the new world will require an agreement among nuke holders collectively to punish first use. If that group gets factionalized you probably still have MAD.

    Comment by John — October 16, 2016 @ 12:05 pm

  6. What “international relations” would look like is the broader question here. I would assume certain hegemonies would arise, reducing the number of necessary agreements. Your seemingly oxymoronic phrase–“relatively absolute”–will probably apply, once we take relations between sovereigns into account.

    Comment by adam — October 16, 2016 @ 12:40 pm

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