Sovereignty, Difference, Reciprocity, Nature, Value

The contention that absolutism means arbitrary and therefore irrational rule by the sheer will of one man can be refuted by exploring the necessary embedding of absolute sovereignty in a hierarchical, differentiated order constituted by extensive reciprocities. My previous post of sovereignty as conquest enables us to conduct such an exploration. No one carries out a conquest aimed at what Reactionary Future has proposed calling possession of the to-be-sovereign territory alone—one does so with close associates who defer to the conqueror’s authority, trusted subordinates who answer to those associates, latecomer allies who join the rolling bandwagon, the reluctant, resentful subjugated, etc. This ensemble of cohorts is certainly not arbitrary—not just anyone can become a leader of men, an organizer of invasions and defenses, the commandeering of resources, the delegation of authority and responsibility, a student and planner of military tactics and cultural organization, and so on. We need not assume a one-to-one correspondence between individual capability and self-discipline, on the one hand, and elevation within the social order, on the other, to assume that any successful order must rely on a general correspondence between the two.

As I pointed out in Sovereignty as Conquest, subsequent to conquest the sovereign settles down into the work of preservation of his rule and cultivation of the institutions that can ensure a steady source of resources and recruits. This requires and encourages the emergence of new capabilities, and individuals who might be very useful for present purposes even if they might have been useless or worse in the process of conquest. A new hierarchy of value emerges, and the problem for the sovereign is to institute that hierarchy on the new terms of preservation by means of identifying and deferring less immediately visible dangers. He will want to do so in a way as consistent and continuous with the existing hierarchy as possible, which entails abstracting from that hierarchy so as to make analogous structures possible. When, in the course of civilizing the realm, universities are constructed, they will be organized in a way analogous to military and/or ecclesiastical and/or feudal orders but distinguished by the difference required to make respect for dialogue and love of the truth stand out as values rather than military valor or exemplary piety.

These new values are made to stand out by the articulation of reciprocities proper to the new institution. The emergence of modernity actually vitiates reciprocity—no one wanting to build a society rich in reciprocities would think to do so by atomizing individuals and having them interact with each other solely through contractual relations. Rather, you would study the kinds of hierarchies required in any particular shared activity and itemize and formalize the obligations that would best bind superiors, subordinates and peers together. So, in the military, the subordinate owes the superior obedience and the superior is obliged to care for the subordinate. These obligations can be spelled out in detail, with the sovereign serving to adjudicate as necessary, but the obligations would be derived from the structure and purpose of the activity, not the distribution of rights among the members. There are a range of possible capabilities and relationships than can sustain a military organization—there must be courage, loyalty, discipline and so on. In this sense sovereignty is ultimately grounded in nature, in the sense that any being, social or otherwise, has its own nature. Capacities are selected for: a beautiful singing voice is irrelevant to generalship, and a squeamishness around blood would be disqualifying (unless gotten under control).

In this case the organization of (say) a university would be grounded in the nature of the search for the truth and reciprocities would be established accordingly. Sustained focus on abstract concepts, the ability to suspend belief in cherished concepts without falling into skepticism, patience with those in need of instruction, an investment in dialectical rather than rhetorical modes of discourse and conversation, insight into under-exploited intellectual capacities of others, and so on, would all emerge within an institution dedicated to seeking the truth. Pedagogical, collegial and administrative reciprocities would be established accordingly: members might be obliged to remind one another, for example, of recurring patterns of thought that are easy to fall into but have led to a dead end in previous inquiries. Everything that everyone does within the institution is carried out (and judged) with an eye toward fulfilling, clarifying and further embedding those reciprocities. If a new form of pedagogy or mode of inquiry is introduced, it will be justified on the grounds that it better fulfills the obligation to systematize controlled attention to concepts or solicit contributions from participants whose intellect requires a new vehicle to exploit its potential. The new pedagogy or mode of inquiry is then, partly explicitly and partly tacitly, integrated into the system of reciprocities. The sovereign simply needs to make it clear that if his intervention is required, he will intervene with the aim of binding up the system of reciprocities so as to make that mode of intervention unnecessary in the future.

The relations between demographic groups and the sexes would be organized accordingly. Some sectors of the population will be better organized and more loyal and useful to the sovereign, and so they will be privileged in the process of staffing the ranks of the administration. Other sectors will be given a chance to show what they are capable of—that is, to strengthen their own system of reciprocities so as to exhibit a capacity to participate in the institutional reciprocities supported by the sovereign. Nature is involved here as well: some groups may produce more soldiers, others more scholars, and such specialization can be encouraged. No matter how civilized the society, the ultimacy of the need to defend the realm (sovereign possession) can never be superseded, so the separate communities must be given responsibility for self-defense and the defense of the order. Some kind of patriarchal and monogamous order is implicit in such an arrangement, and so a system of male-female reciprocities must be formalized consistent with it. The activities for women outside of these reciprocities must be consistent with them—single women, widows, women with enfeebled husbands will take on all kinds of responsibilities but husbands may also include and promote their talented wives within their own enterprises. Exogamous mating is obviously healthier than consanguineous marriage, but mate selection will also have to take into account the limits of exogamy and the impact marrying out of the community might have on its stability. Everything will be judged in terms of whether it can be framed analogously to (or in a way that is recognizable within) the existing network of reciprocities.

We should, then, assess all contemporary practices, norms and institutions in terms of the reciprocities they entail, and criticize them in terms of the obstacles erected to the binding up of those reciprocities. A company’s obligations to its workers, its customers, its community; the workers’ obligation to their employer—the market should be framed as a means of ensuring these reciprocities be maintained. Media organizations’ obligation to their audience and the loyalties of audiences to media outlets should frame discussions of free speech. But what if a leftist president were to appoint FCC officials who would shut down Breitbart as a “fake news site”? Those with the power to shut down Breitbart will do so one way or another—it doesn’t depend upon whether someone gives them a convenient argument for doing so—they already have the arguments they need. The point is to keep Breitbart or any other space open in the name of its relation to truth, public usefulness, and an audience loyal to sovereign power, properly understood. The denser all these systems of reciprocity become, the less the sovereign will find it necessary to exercise power directly over individuals unmediated by those institutions and communities, and the more it will establish a dense system of reciprocities with all of these systems—serving as backup to and model for them. Sovereignty is absolute insofar as it is absolute all the way down the line—if companies and workers, teachers and students, husbands and wives, general, corporals and privates, and so on, all fulfill their duties to each other the sovereign will be absolute in having nothing to do; since that will never be completely the case, what the sovereign has to do, and is more absolute the more it does it, is enforce those duties where their abandonment is most egregious and evident.

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