June 19, 2020

The Imperative of the Occupant of the Center

Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:55 pm

To my knowledge, no one has ever placed the transition of power at the center of political theory—neither as an explanatory principle distinguishing regime forms from each other, nor in normative terms, as a way of accounting for what makes a form of government good or just. Propagandists for democracy like to talk about the “peaceful transfer of power,” but generally in the context of fearing it might not take place—never as a defining feature of the regime itself. Such propagandists are savvy enough to know it isn’t a particularly strong selling point—indeed, defenders of democracy know better than to claim their favored form of regime even provides for the best governance; they know better than to direct inquiry in that direction. But even monarchy hasn’t approached the question in this way (at least as far as I know)—maybe because there is no single monarchical method of transitioning from one occupant of the center to the text. Primogeniture is, I suppose, the most common monarchical method of succession, and one can see how it would minimize conflicts over succession, but the weaknesses of this approach are obvious, and history is full of its consequences—kings without sons, or with idiot or wicked sons, open up the power structure the system was designed to prevent, without any clear way of closing it up again (once the chain is broken, there can always be questions about the legitimacy of the monarchy). So, maybe no one has wanted to center political thinking on the question of succession because no one has ever felt confidence in any answer. But it really is the best way into theorizing governance: any regime that could present its form of succession as representing a form of continuity that could be traced back with as little question as possible to the origin of the social order itself would surely be the best possible regime. This is a very economical approach.

Anthropomorphicspresents a solution: the present occupant of the center chooses his successor. This follows from the rejection of any form of imperium in imperio, or “super-sovereignty”: if there is some rule of succession independent of the ruler, then the interpreter of that rule is sovereign. And, of course, the ruler could choose his son, or a family member—and that would sometimes be the best choice. But sometimes it wouldn’t be, and we can therefore derive a rule for selecting a successor: whoever is going to succeed as ruler must have the character to set aside his personal and familial interests for the sake of the country. This is not a rule that could be imposed on the present occupant of the center (it couldn’t even be formulated coherently enough for that), but one that would be part of the education of the ruler, instituted by the first ruler to choose a successor outside of his family, if not earlier. Anthropomorphicslays out a series of such “rules,” again, understood as optimal cultural and pedagogical conditions sure to be discovered from the first principle of selection of successor. Here, I’d like hypothesize regarding the necessary character of a ruler under the kind of post-sacral, post-liberal conditions we have to imagine to conduct our political thinking; and draw the implication of that for our political thinking.

Let’s continue with the selection, education and sequestering of the successor by the current occupant of the center and draw out the implications for actual occupancy from that. The question of succession being central, the entire social order would be oriented towards the process. Competitive academies for training the next generation of governing elites would solicit applications from across the country, giving each community a stake in seeing its native sons and daughters “fast-tracked” to those academies. At a certain level, a small number of students are put on the rulership track, to undergo more specialized training in occupying the center. In being selected for this track, the participants forego other ambitions, for the sake of a much grander ambition which, however, the odds are against them ever fulfilling. The highest level candidates—say, a couple of dozen—from which the current governor would always have one selected, cannot exercise power themselves. They cannot be permitted either to become associated with a particular location or institution, or to build a separate power base. They would live their lives publicly, as the succession game would be fascinating to follow, as the current governor could change his mind regarding his successor, and so the prospective successors would have a kind of celebrity, like a royal family, but would have to comport themselves so as to use that celebrity to model lives of pure service. This would be a continual test, and a candidate who tries to become a “star” would be immediately and permanently removed from consideration. While not exercising any direct power, the candidates would “shadow” the ruler, learning the ins and outs of governing, making “sample” decisions, allowing the governor to study their abilities. The candidates would live separately, and rarely if ever see each other or interact; and I think it would have to be considered a gross breach of protocol for them to refer to each other, especially in the presence of the governor. Those candidates who are not chosen to succeed may be kept in the pool by the new governor when the time comes, or they might be removed and sent back to ordinary life, without any prejudice, of course, but having squandered at least some of their prime years that could have been spent on building some other career.

So, we would have rulers with a strong sense of discretion and modesty, a capacity for solitariness, a sense of having been chosen, to a great extent due to their own merit but, at the same time, with a sense of having given over their lives to their country with the possibility of a “reward” that is at least to some extent arbitrary, or at least unknown—it would be impossible to know completely why the ruler decided to place the bet of the country on you, specifically. Each ruler would be aware of being undergirded by powerful institutional and cultural supports which pave the way for clear rule from the center, but without having the support of a powerful family or institutional clique to lean back on, or operate informally through. The success of his rule will depend very largely upon his ability to promote, directly and indirectly, the smoothly functioning practices of the major social institutions. He would have a family, and, as I suggested earlier, might very well build what might become a dynasty (we could imagine a strong presumption that a child of his would have to go through the normal process, but this would be within his prerogative)—anti-monarchical prejudices would be ridiculous under such conditions—but it would be very difficult under advanced technological conditions to use the office to acquire the kind of wealth and institutional power that could guarantee its permanency—only a sequence of good rulers could do so. In that case, the normal process could be retained as a back-up, which would surely be needed at some point—the demands of social command would be rigorous, and eventually there would be either no heir, or one whom the ruler would have to concede is not up to the job. But the responsibility that comes with knowing that, even if it is your own son, you have chosen your successor, would temper any temptation to do more than bend the established protocol.

For social theory, we have use the following means of regulation of “quality control,” or what me might call anthropomorphics’ six imperatives from the center. First, power and responsibility are to be matched as closely as possible—it’s immoral for someone to have power without uses of that power flowing back to communal goods, or for someone to be given the responsibility to perform some task without being provided the means to do it. Second, “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” as long as we keep in mind the needs of the able, which might be considerable if they are to give in accord with their abilities. Third, while all scapegoating, or violent centralizing, obfuscates and produces regrettable actions, the most dangerous violent centralizing, the type to which all others tend, is that of the occupant of the social center: the usurpatory motives we might attribute to the occupant of the center, motives which serve as an anchor giving pattern to facts and events, are to be converted into imperatives from the center we make as consistent as possible. Fourth, we are to continually work on articulating the traces of previous scenes into the elements of practices, as argued for in my previous post. Fifth, the mimetic dimension of practices, our reliance on models and previous practices, are to made more explicit as an ongoing socially bonding pedagogical order. And, sixth, the social order is to be seen as a project, with “society” treated as a team of teams, directed toward that project—entering any institution is joining a team, and therefore learning its rules, taking up established (or creating new) roles, and respecting the “captain” and associated hierarchies.

All of these imperatives overlap with each other and none of them provide the basis for any kind of super-sovereignty because they are all immanent to an existing order and paradoxical. There’s no external point from which needs and abilities can be articulated—any attempt to do so would be employing something theoretical or managerial ability which would already be relying upon certain needs being met. Similarly, power and responsibility can only be matched in relation to some ongoing exercise of power or claim of responsibility—again, to try and stand outside and “measure” power and responsibility would itself be an attempt to take responsibility on the basis of some actual or aspired to power. Violent centralizing is always very precise and context-specific and can only be detected on the spot, in its emergence, by someone positioned so as to either accelerate or decelerate the process. Even a social project is more something that is pointed to, abstracted from, and turned into a model for transforming, an existing hierarchy of practices. All these imperatives provide entry points into extant practices which are entered so as to make them more thoroughly and coherently practices.

A good ruler promotes, enforces, exemplifies and obeys these imperatives. The best way to examine how this will shape his character would be to start with number three. The ruler is aware that all resentments can ultimately be channeled his way, especially once the democratic alibi of pretending that his decisions and authority are not really his own is rejected. The ruler is above all a specialist in formulating and issuing commands—this is his discipline, his practice, his pedagogy. There is always an “imperative gap” between the command issued and the command obeyed—no order can be obeyed without at least some degree of discretion being exercised. The practice of commanding is both to minimize this gap and to fill it with preceding exemplars, previous decisions, and previous exercises of discretion which can be translated for current purposes, along with an entire sensory and investigatory apparatus to follow up on and therefore inform obedience to the imperative. Every command issued by the occupant of the center refers back to the mode of occupation intrinsic to that command, while simultaneously grounding that occupation in all the positions, subsidiary centers, occupied throughout the social order. The decision is represented as both as minimal and as consequential as possible: in an enormously complex and intricate order, one tiny “switch” is turned; that one tiny switch is chosen precisely where the choice between bifurcating paths would make the most difference. The command has an economy to it: no more and no less is said than necessary; commands are issued only to those who need to obey them; and this economy models the way further commands for implementing the prime one are to be issued. The ruler both disappears into his commands and stands outside of them. Any complaint directed to the occupant of the center becomes a question—an extension of the command which one delays obeying by complaining—regarding the economy with which one has situating oneself at a bifurcation. The character of the good ruler is one that can always say, I’m doing at my point at a particular bifurcation nothing more and nothing less than what I’m asking you to do at yours.

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