GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

November 5, 2016

Sovereignty as Conquest

Filed under: GA — adam @ 1:21 pm

Once we jettison the consent of the governed as a means of determining the legitimacy of government it seems to me that we really have no alternative other than the right of conquest as the basis for the legitimacy of rule. A sovereign has a right to rule based on his ability to maintain secure sovereignty—this means that he has acquired this ability and right through his own conquest, or by inheriting the results of a previous conquest, however long ago; and that he is capable of resisting any attempt at conquest now. Conquest can be more or less violent—obviously, it can result from an extremely bloody struggle, but a conqueror can also essentially be welcomed by some or all of the conquered population, can take over without resistance from a failing sovereign, etc. Thinking about sovereignty as conquest provides us with a ready means for discussing the various orders of an absolutist regime: individuals, groups and institutions are licensed and elevated in accord with their contribution to achieving the conquest and preserving its fruits—subjects are all, ultimately, conscripts, even if some are chaplains, others maintain the supply chain, others educate the troops, etc. A prolonged occupation leads to (if necessary) the merging of conqueror and conquered and the gradual achievement of a kind of rough fit between the two that we call “patriotism.”


This understanding of sovereignty has a great deal of explanatory power. Indeed, it has been in the context of thinking through the question of Trump’s “extra-republican forces,” and what would actually be involved in “draining the swamp” that brought me to the verge of these reflections—and then, this very insightful article on the current Hillary Clinton campaign as an attempted coup d’etat ( pushed me over the edge: yes, a successful Trump administration would be something very like a conquest, or a counter-coup, with the use of force of various kinds to remove traitors from sensitive positions, counter all kinds of resistance on all kinds of levels, and mobilize allies across the entire culture. (We can also see, from the reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails that the lower and middle orders within the warrior caste seem to be solidly and rather brazenly in Trump’s camp.) But it is also helpful in understanding “Fourth Generation Warfare,” in which the less powerful side leverages allies with the more powerful society to achieve its ends. That end is national independence for the inventors of 4GW, but do not the SJWs in the West operate according to the same logic, leveraging White Guilt among the majority population in order to achieve, not independence, but sufficient strength within the regime to ensure they are cut in on all enterprises and exercise veto power on all initiatives?


Seeing sovereignty as conquest also adds something to our understanding of liberalism which aims, above all, at reducing as much as possible all traces of conquest from state power. The very notion of equality under the law erases the centrality of loyalty to the regime—no regime can survive if people are not rewarded in accord with their loyalty, which introduces a principle of differentiation incompatible with civil and legal equality. Liberalism does not and could not eliminate this principle of sovereignty—it just redefines “loyalty” in terms of constantly shifting norms of “good citizenship.” But it does dilute and conceal it, in part by attacking overt demands for loyalty as violations of the principle of equality. Liberals do not want to see themselves as preserving and enhancing the fruits of conquest, they want to see themselves as managing the fruits of productive activity carried out beyond their own authority. This is why liberals are themselves conquered by the subalterns who present them with evidence that they are in fact exploiting the fruits of conquest—liberals at first would like to deny this, relegating those conquests to the distant past, rendered irrelevant by the general freedom to move within the realm, but that doesn’t work because everyone cannot be equally at home within the realm. So, liberals end up surrendering and entering into prolonged negotiations of reparations, which will ultimately involve all of the social order. Reparations can simply be made part of the general calculation of liberal management. SJWs take over the left once enough liberals realize the hopelessness of performing such calculations in a scrupulous way and that it is preferable to just join in the demand themselves. By now, liberal interest in management is merely notional, a way of branding themselves vs. the government hating conservatives—but has the Obama regime ever actually “managed” anything, or done anything other than troll its domestic (i.e., real) enemies?


But we are still consuming the fruits of conquest, reaching back to the Anglo conquest of North America and much further back to the conquests of the European monarchs, which were themselves partial restorations of roman conquests. A Reconquista of North America would be staffed by those who can ground their loyalty to that Reconquista in a heritage that derives from that long chain of conquests. Those who cannot do so can be allies of the Reconquista, insofar as they prefer such a restoration to unending, increasingly vicious and extensive 4GW across the social order, or a conquest by other forces, whether they be transnational progressivism, Muslim, neo-Aztec, gangland feudalism, Latin neo-Latifundianism, or some combination of some or all of them. Of course, they would best be useful, unquestioningly loyal, allies, who provide otherwise unavailable services.


The implication of the identification of sovereignty with conquest is that divided power always involves a diminishment of the founding military and settler discipline. Divided power involves the insertion into government of powers originally dependent upon or even part of but capable of asserting themselves against the absolute military one. Liberalism is of course the most prominent of such split-offs, and is therefore explicitly and militantly anti-militarist. The question liberalism poses is whether physical possession of a territory is a precondition for activity carried out within that territory; or, to the contrary, is it spontaneous interactions and the subsequent conflicts between individuals that leads to the establishment of a sovereign over the territory they inhabit. For liberalism, the latter is the case, for absolutism the former. The whole liberal architecture of categories: human nature, human rights, the individual with his freedoms, opinions and beliefs, equality, etc., are all aimed at carving out a pre-sovereign space. But liberalism knows it depends upon sovereignty (as Trotsky once said, anarchism is liberalism without the police principle; but without the police principle, liberalism is impossible). What liberalism’s constituencies want is perpetual exemption from the rigors of sovereignty, along with, as the perennial victims of those who maintain loyalty to the sacred center, extra benefits from the security sovereignty provides. Divided power is motivated by free riding. It is a free riding, though, that almost everyone can enjoy a bit at times, and so not too many want to take the lead in shutting it down. Most would prefer to manage and try to stabilize the consequences—hence liberalism’s constantly spiraling attempts to secure power by appeasing yet another would-be free rider.


The purpose of conquest, ultimately, is peace. And peace sets free a range of activities the enjoyment of which (and of the benefits of which) make war increasingly undesirable; even more, induce a desire to forget that what one enjoys are the fruits of past wars—to remember that would be to be obliged to maintain the sovereign virtues. The sovereign allows power to become insecure as soon as he colludes in this forgetting, and ceases to prioritize with an eye toward preserving the gains made by those who have transmitted power to him. It would make sense to respond to such a slackening by recovering the reins of power in the pursuit of further conquests. And sometimes such conquests will be successful and assimilated to the existing power structure. Other times they will make power less secure. This is what led William James to posit the necessity of “moral equivalents of war,” to tighten the civic sinews and preserve loyalty to the whole without the risks of actual warfare. The rhetoric of moral equivalents is inflated from the start, but it’s the right idea. It is possible to maintain a readiness to identify threats, both foreign and domestic—these threats are direct challenges to the “occupying” power, manifested directly and urgently for each of its branches in terms of its specific responsibilities. The better you get at identifying threats, the more you are able to identify “pre-threats”—conditions that, if allowed to fester, might become threats down the road—and snuff them out in their infancy. And then “pre-pre-threats,” and so on. Peace becomes a condition of increasingly deferred threats. By the same token, all of society can be mobilized into this condition, precisely because all forms of knowledge bear upon possible “infections” of the social body—all can engage in what Peter Sloterdijk calls “immunological” inquiries and practices. The encompassing goal of all social enterprises is further deferring threats, a project of immense intellectual interest and inclusive of the most abstract speculations as well as the most minute investigations.

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