Tuesday, May 30, 2023

I, but not I: Subjectivity, Objectivity, Abjection and Projection in the Revelation of the Real

When discussing the Messianic philosophy of St Paul, Agamben takes a tangent to discuss exigency. The truth is that we not only have a mass of forgotten memories scattered through our mindscape, but an infinite number of "unforgotten" memories of things never remembered. Every tiny twitch, every micro gesture, every fidget, all of these are historical, and yet obliterated from consciousness. We take millions and millions of breaths, but how few any are remembered, and yet our entire existence depends on actions that we take no notice of. Thus, any image of the past, which we call memory or history, chew on this tough nut. Caesar crossing the Rubicon was full of all kinds of tiny bits and pieces of Unforgotten, inextricably woven into the event but irretrievably invisible. However, the point is not to do the impossible, but to recognize the invisible. Thus, for Agamben, the question is not a binary between becoming conscious of these abject fragments, or not; it's not a question of remembering or forgetting. Instead, the historical task is to honor the Unforgotten without ever hoping to retrieve them. They are simply the unseen of Human life.

However the threat in the above is what this therefore means for the historical task. If we are surrounded with so many unremembered memories, then what happens to the historical task? In more moralizing terms, if there are millions of souls that pass nameless across the pages of annals and chronicles than do we simply let them disappear into the dark? Should not the good historian retrieve these persons, constituting the Real of historical processes? Certainly the Marxist, as well as all the latter offshoots of post-Marxists & quasi-Marxists of Critical Theory, takes up the task. Social and cultural history are attempts to recreate the world as seen from the bottom-up. The Marxian political-economist sees in the Proletariat the subject of world-history, the means which will lead Humanity to the final stage of Historical struggle. More scientific Marxists will not say more than this, projecting a kind of swarm-like consciousness that acts (or will act) as one. However later sentimentalists, less sure of the iron laws of history, will then reconstruct the lives of these abject subalterns of time. It may be interviewing "regular people" in modern anthropological projects, or it may be the genre of "micro-history" following around a singular figure and restoring (in truth, ventriloquizing) his voice, along with the wider world around him. Cultural history produces a frozen moment, according to epochal divisions, of a particular world, may it be late Medieval England or late Imperial China. As the nomenclature demonstrates, grasping a particular "era" often reflects prejudgements about chronological division. Jacksonian America is set apart from "the Early Republic", and not for no reason. However, to consider this true history is to confuse a photograph for the entire world. History always is prejudiced on some logic. The goal to reconstitute a particular subject (whether the working-class or some preferred minority) is an impossible task.

The exigent always exposes the cracks in the portraiture of such historical projects (which Agamben is, as his political commitments, more sympathetic towards). These figures do not reveal their subjectivity, but (inexplicably!) reflect the author's concern. The subjectivity of the past is really a subjectivity of the future presented as a stable place, reified almost into an object. Thus one may speak authoritatively about what early Americans thought. Such may useful as a heuristic to average trends and general feelings, but it will never grant a true vision of Human history. Our ratlike Democratic ethos yearns to count heads and average means. Even worse, modern Jacobins would shriek about who *actually* represents the *authentic* voice of the people. There are then shades of subjective purity, endlessly groping towards the objective. Or, perhaps I should say, they grope towards the Absolute Subject. The epistemic revolution of Kant's "Copernican" turn meant that one could not naively speak about objective realities. Nevertheless, there was still a question of how one attained to knowledge of a transcendental subject. I will not rehash the theoretical efforts of Kant himself in his later years, Fichte, Goethe, Schelling, Hegel, among many others. Nevertheless, while Carlyle may seek it in a Hegelian world-spirit, most turned towards a kind of red-tinted view of the Masses or the People, whether in the liberal-nationalism of 1848 or the specter of Communism Marx prophesied about. All seek the key to the time and to find the right point-of-view to exegete History and "unseal the scroll" that God had shown Daniel.

Exigency is the unbreakable stone upon which all these methods crack. One may dismiss them in an arbitrary manner, claiming the mantle of "objectivity", or one may try to absorb them all, but failing in such an absurd task. Yet, as stated above, these are not the only paths available. Exigency may simply be allowed to exist, an invisible world that surrounds and constitutes us, yet never may be spoken (or remembered) except as a syntagma for the Unforgotten.

Agamben connected this theme to St Paul's curious displacement of himself. He was the "scum of the earth" and all his earthly merits were "dung" before the incomparable weight of Christ. It is worth quoting Agamben in long-form before continuing the argument:

"For Paul, the redemption of what has been in the place of an exigency for the messianic. This place does not involve a point of view from which we could see aworld in which redemption had taken place. The coming of the Messiah means that all things, even the subjects who contemplate it, are caught up in the as not, called and revoked at one and the same time. No subject could watch it or act as if at a given point. The messianic vocation dislocates and, above all, nullifies the entire subject. This is the meaning of Galatians 2:20, 'It is no longer I that live [zo ouketi ego], but the Messiah living in me." He lives in him precisely as the 'no longer I,' that dead body of sin we bear within ourselves which is given life through the spirit in the Messiah (Rom. 8:11)." (The Time that Remains, 41).

In other words, the Messiah cancels all our self-constructed or fleshly subjectivities without replacing them. What it meant to be Paul was to be, but not be Paul (the Pharisee, the Benjamite, the Hebrew, the student of Gamaliel, and so on), but Christ living in Paul. Such was part of Paul's very name change, where the royal Saul gave way to a play-on-words (paulos meaning 'small') nickname. Paul the Christian did not mean he replaced one kin-network with another (he still loved his country-men and would suffer eternal death for them!) or replaced a new school (sect) with another. Instead, the Messianic victory meant the suspension of all these bonds and reforged them to be made use of. One's ultimate fate was not tied to country or kinship, let alone deeds. The quest for immortality was now offered in the broken body of Christ, now risen to eternal glory. Christ, the King of Heaven, was all. And the Christ was not far away, neither inaccessible in the Heavenlies or cast down into Tartarus, but in your mouth. The Kingdom of God is within you, as the Lord said. Thus, Paul could only be Paul, he could only constituted himself as a subject, through a negation. He was Paul as not Paul, the not-Paul, the Christ in him.

What this analysis does is open a vantage on proper Christian subjectivity against the many false missteps, whether ancient or modern. The claim of subject is to cast a shadow, the sub-jectum, the posited core "thing" which holds an individual together. In ancient metaphysics, the pagan masses feared this being as a ghost destined for Hades, while the philosophers posited a true soul that could cycle through the cosmos. Whether the philosophers drew this idea from the Indian brahmins (viz Pythagoras et al.) or it derived from some shared Aryan influence and/or heritage, connecting Greece to India through a shared Sanskrit origin, it offered stability. The Atman of the Hindoo was similar to aspects of the Greek nous, a real self that moves up, down, and across the cosmos towards finality (howsoever conceived). This soul, which is something of a fragment of the divine, was a subjectivity that could only achieve salvation through knowledge of the absolute. The universal whole was a manifestation, in some way, of an original divine cosmos. Thus one achieves the "objective" view of the All. Christians sometimes blended this theory into efforts to see from the eye of God that was abstracted from the Passion of Christ. The modern turn, of course, absorbed the soul into the self, which then became increasingly cut off. Efforts to find an "objective" view always melted down, as positive legal theory swallowed up natural law and vomited forth nihilism. The effort to arrive as the Objective through secular ascesis, with ritual purifications and alchemical magic, has turned to nothing but a destructive subterfuge.

Instead, what Agamben wants to restore is the kind of mysticism that has consistently survived throughout the Church. It is manifest, particularly, in the theology of William Law, who had become enthusiastic after reading the works of Jakob Boehme. Law's rigid moralizing high-churchmanship, in the vein of Jeremy Taylor, gave way to a new kind of piety. As he would argue in his Dialog Between a Churchman and Methodist, it was neither faith nor works which saved in se. The Methodist (as many of today's megachurches and pentecostals) drum up faith, but it is a faith-in-faith work of flesh. It is the I grasping again and again to believe. It is not seeing salvation in the Spirit of Christ, the not-I I, but in the crude metaphor of Christ giving you his bank-account of righteousness. I even dislike Luther's analogy of a rich prince marrying a pauper girl. It is too weak, even as it is a handgrip towards the truth. It's not only that she receives his name and title, but she is him (in the same way a married woman may be addressed as Mrs. John Doe). For Law, the Spirit of Christ indwelling meant that spirit-wrought faith and works poured out from the same redeemed heart. 

 The question before us is not: who am I? but what form am I? Scripture provides the bedrock of images that dance before our eyes, intensely wound-together and condensed in the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. As I am nailed to the cross, am I the penitent thief or the scoffer? When I fall, am I humbled Peter who weeps and begs for forgiveness, or am I proud Judas who in grief suicides? The form-of-life is ever before us, cancelling out questions of subjectivity or objectivity. Instead, like Plato's Myth of Er we see our lives again and again caught up and chosen again. To negate the fleshly subjectivities is to invite the question of what is. If I live as not in my stations, how then shall I live?

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Feudal Libertarianism: Musings on Republican Ideas

"Only an equally determined collectivism can effectively resist those who ended the liberal era, or what became a pale imitation of one." -Paul Gottfried, Marx was not Woke


In a recent article, Gottfried (a paleocon historian of Marxism & 20th c. leftwing movements) countered the common-claim that "Woke" originated from Marxist collectivism. He does note, rightly, that Woke emerged out of the New Left liberalism that had absorbed much of the Frankfurt School's radical reworking of Marxist theory. Rather than a scientific analysis of material conditions and class struggle, the new Marxists often combined analysis with social-psychological phenomena, primarily the work of Freud. Thus the explanation for the failed revolution and proletariat class-consciousness was found in other factors that impinged upon individual development. Sexual repression and racial oppression both had retarded the process of revolutionary change. It was not in the working masses of Europe, but in the 3rd world anti colonial revolutions, where substantive transformation occur. Thus Fascism was not simply a reactive rearguard for the Capitalist order (as the Internationale had claimed), but part of an "authoritarian personality" that had seized control to reenforce the old regime of patriarchal religion and property relations.

Old Marxists found these novelties to be a fundamental betrayal of the revolution, a reactionary turn towards bourgeois immorality and decadence. Gottfried notes that Eastern Europe, despite having belonged to the Communist bloc, is far more socially conservative on issues of feminism, homosexuality, and transgenderism than many western nations. The support for radical rightwing parties comes from the former East Germany far more substantially from the West. Commenters have speculated that such was a result of the east not being properly de-Nazified, and Gottfried agrees that in a manner of speaking this is true. The NATO bloc was more open to the transformation of the old authoritative liberalism into the New Left than any Soviet satellite. The "old left", which had a mixed relation with Stalinism, found itself outvoted and overthrown. The colorless labor prince, Hubert Humphrey, found himself assaulted on all fronts in 1968, where the changing of the guard began in force. The "marching through the institutions" that "Eurocommunists" pursued was fairly effective. The New Left, with its Marcusian focus on overthrowing sex/gender/racial repression, gained a hold over many institutions (academic, corporate, government, etc). 

How one sees this shift was often colored by presuppositions. For many on the right, this New Left victory was a clear case of leftwing revolution, whereas Marxists on the increasingly defunct "old left" denounced this change as the triumph of reaction from bourgeois sentimentalism. The latter may seem more obvious if one assumes Marxism was strictly an economic program, and it was in terms of its scientific analysis of how social developments will proceed. However, while Marx was never "woke" in the sense of carrying about racial discrimination or sexual liberation, there was an excitement (even if it was considered necessary and inevitable) about how all traditional bonds (religion, kinship, custom, culture) would dissolve before the onslaught of Capitalism. Marx celebrated the impact of the bourgeois revolution, toppling the Ancien Regime of crown and altar. Of course this process was inevitable, as material conditions reduced civilized countries, who had undergone liberal revolution, to owners and workers. When this did not seem to work, where different peoples appeared "stuck", and the bourgeoisie were not inextricably predisposed to see all things as material prosperity (no matter how many claims to the contrary that these attachments were ideological superstructures). Something else, then, must occur. If there is no eschatological break, there may be, at least, a drifting towards a progressive future. We may surf the wave of the future as all things turn to air.

Minor adjustments besides, Gottfried was nevertheless right that orthodox Marxists, especially of a Stalinist variety, deplored this shift. And it was not they who had given way to these new forces who claimed the mantle of the revolutionary pantheon, but the "old" liberal establishment in the West. I put "old" in scare-quotes because this liberalism was itself new in relation to even older, or classical, liberalism. The origin of liberalism was in the defense of individuals, especially individual property-owners, against "irrational" forces that had cropped up through historic accretion. Liberals were in no way opposed to monarchy, or aristocracy, except when these hindered the free operations of rational actors. However, it is entirely unclear where liberalism had emerged or what it originally was until it was already an established constellation of doctrines. It bubbled up some time in the eighteenth century, and as the term suggests, it was not native to English. "Liberalisme" marked out French provenance, but those who held the term would hardly appear liberal by other standard (namely, the nearly revolutionary and disruptive theories of the Physiocrats). Adam Smith was obviously, to some extent, apart of this tradition, but even he reconciled from the nearly utopia programs that his French counterparts pursued. The focus, generally, was the removal of legal hinderances to political participation (even if this did not always include universal suffrage), an economizing of politics (no government intervention in the market, or intervention to remove blockages), and increasing freedoms for movement, speech, worship, and so on.

Liberalism, over the years, transformed across the Euro-American world. The revolutions of 1848 championed liberal ideas, even as it sometimes dovetailed with divergences within liberalism towards the pre-Marxist concepts of Socialism and Communism. In the United States, it was primarily the Democratic Party which harbored (or was adjacent to) the revolutionary impulse that could be seen in Fourierist utopia socialists, as well as Working Men's movements that pursued free-trade against corporate conspiracy. Marxism was, in someways, a radical shift within the liberal tradition of political economy, moving towards the mystical allure of the new sciences away from sheer empiricism and historicism of other economic schools. It was in this way that Marx has been considered the last political economist, completing the traditions of Smith and Ricardo, the same way Spinoza or Leibniz were the last scholastics. They were both the end of one tradition and the beginning of something new (whether truly or in being reified). Liberal revolutionaries, pursuing national identities (some more historic, some more fictitious), were at war with the Ancien Regime. However, the openness of liberal ideas was also its severe weakness. The belief in free speech or a free press could also court disaster when this very freedom was allowed to overcome the very system that allowed it. Thus liberals, or even critics of liberalism, were aware that the forces of reaction (or a pernicious mutation of the true revolution) could bend these same goods to destroy them. Per the vomitous nostrum, democracy must be protected from demagogues who would use democracy to end democratic government. Liberalism must have safeguards to protect liberalism.

It was in this sense, especially in Britain who had lost its manufacturing edge and began to shuffle off its "free-trade empire", that a "new" liberalism emerged to overcome these flaws. Figures ranged from Karl Popper, John Hobson, Hans Kelsen, Walter Lippmann, and John Dewey to deal with these new problems. Many cut their teeth on the thought of John Stuart Mill and the increasingly radical individualism that included women and non-white races, decriminalizing sexual deviancy and sodomy. However, to protect this freedom, new measures were necessary to curtail the effects of this radicalizing individualism, especially as proletariat revolution appeared to threaten this new order from the left. This new liberalism (or New Freedom, in the case of Woodrow Wilson's Progressive Democracy) would not flee from the use of governmental or state power, but eagerly embrace it. Free-trade could only persist, as well as the social and material benefits, if the state actively guarded it. New Liberals in Britain and America saw the revolutionary potential in breaking up the old empires that had grown (which were far more haphazard and pragmatically than according to a vision of conquest, as both Cain/Hopkins and Darwin have demonstrated) over the century or so. The empire, rather than a defense of old liberal values such as private property and the white Briton proletariat, was an enemy to these other liberal ideas. An old Machesterian like Joseph Chamberlain launched a subversive campaign to gain control of the Tory party for a Dominion bloc. The loss of a free-trade empire meant a trans-Atlantic empire of Britons, not the transmutation into an increasingly global system of government. Most British pols, in both the Conservative and Liberal parties, were not ready to take either extreme. However, in retrospect, this Fabian liberalism/socialism became increasingly more dominant, especially with the triumph of the United States as western hegemony after two world wars.

This Liberal Consensus, what was the new liberalism of Walter Lippmann who argued democracy could only persevere through manufacturing public opinion through concentrated mass media, was the reigning paradigm of 1945. Leftists may have still pointed to Stalinism, or hope that the USSR could be persuaded to ameliorate to a global liberal consensus (the same way it seemed to have happened with Lenin's pragmatic NEPmen), but they had no serious rightwing contenders. Fascism, as a conglomerate of mixed forces, had broken many European rightists. The US right found itself in retreat after failing to stop Roosevelt's New Deal (which was consecrated into myth, despite visible failures, after the Second World War). Conservatism in America was never quite the same thing as it was in Europe. There was no nobility or church, let alone a rooted gentry (though something like this propelled the early Virginia dynasty of presidents). However, in contrast to those like Chomsky who said the US never had a conservative tradition, there was something of it that morphed through Federalists, Whigs, and the GOP. There was an emphasis on a para-church Evangelical Protestantism, a national economic program (the American System and its derivative elements), and a rooting hierarchy that linked family and labor with industrial changes. There was an American civic culture that could, with time, absorb the many European immigrants. Despite contemporary histrionics about the specter of "Christian Nationalist", most GOP nominating conventions belted out "Onward, Christian Soldier" as they concluded their electoral slate. The progressivism of Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism could combine elements of the new liberalism with an almost patrician defense of an older liberalism (with Roosevelt's views more akin to Chamberlain than what would be the New Deal or Labour swallowing up many Liberals in Britain). Nevertheless, the myriad traditions that could constitute a conservatism in the US hit the shoals of a victorious Liberalism that formed the US.

Establishment Liberalism coasted through the middle of the twentieth century without challenge. In their own ways, Truman, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Nixon continued this tradition. But, as seen above, it dissolved as it conflicted with the New Left's new liberalism. It may have claimed the mantle of revolutionary Marxism, but its focus on sex and race certainly marked out older liberal concerns about the plight of the negro or the enfranchisement of women. For unreconstructed Stalinist, these were bourgeois preoccupations and self-indulgent. Homosexuals were degenerates who struck a moral blow against the worker's state and the party. The victory of the working-class, without concern for gender or race, was the priority. But the old liberal establishment could not sustain its still common-sense white Judeo-Christian paternalism, even as it opened spaces for those women or minorities which merited consideration. This "color-blindness" or "gender-blindness" of, say, a 1950s Levittown with a white-collared husband and wife was now seen as deeply reactionary. The Freudian restraint, to repress those aberrations which threatened to devour civilization, gave way to the delights of excess. Despite Humphrey's attempt to bridle these factions with a "politics of joy", the New Left overcame. Despite a period of glosses (eg Carter's fuddy-duddy pseudo-establishment liberalism) or conservative reaction (Reagan's "Neo-liberalism" of readjusted establishment liberalism), there was little to stop the tide. The New Left found positions of authority in universities, government bureaucracies, media, and corporate departments. The liberal insistence on free-speech and exchange of ideas could not overcome the logic that speech, if unrestrained, could undo the very ends to which liberalism existed. What good was establishment liberalism if an old New Dealer like George Wallace could wield the threat of segregation from the bully pulpit? If the liberative potential of welfare was part of the adjustment of classical liberalism to a new world, then criticism of racial minorities or women, and eventually sexual minorities, was forbidden. Thus, the hollow shell of an old liberalism, despite efforts to resist in the occasional pseudo-conservative turn, seems incapable to resist. The old skin-suit is in tatters. And corporate wealth, finding its guarantees and protections secured, is more than happy to throw a salute to the BLM, rainbow, and pink-blue flags.

What is there to be done? As the recent dustup with James Lindsay has shown, not everyone is comfortable with Gottfried's solution that a collective rightwing was the only thing to oppose a collective leftwing. The specter of "Fascism" looms over any such counter-argument, but this would only be historical illiteracy (as Gottfried has shown, with both Fascist and NSDAP diversity). The fusion between "paleoconservative" and "paleolibertarian" figures has offered some fruitful discussion, despite whatever disagreements over free-market regulation. However all agree that something new must be done because the old liberalism (of whichever variation) was never powerful enough to cast a substantive vision, whatever common-sense agreements (over culture, Christianity, sex, family relations, and so on) were presumed upon. Liberalism cannot survive, a horse that has been beaten to death from every single corner of the intellectual mindscape. To make this conjecture is almost as trite and tautological as saying all good things must come to an end. Fantasists like Lindsay are the most obnoxious kind of reactionary, worse than those who look to King Charles for restoring the Ancien Regime of Tory Socialism. These kinds of reactionaries have no substance or sense of time, they only pine for a world which was wrenched out of their hands. 

For these self-professed liberals, they lament the loss of irreverent 90s cultures, which combined social libertinism with tax cuts and free-enterprise. Elon Musk, Glenn Greenwald, Scott Adams,  Matt Taibbi, and many connected to outfits like Turning Point and Daily Wire, they only aspire to return to an age where some crass and insensitive humor was bundled with modest government intervention in the economy. 90s Clinton Democrats appear (or will appear by the end of the 2030s) as a conservative image of an American lost. It was a time where you could eat McDonalds, crack tasteful jokes about minorities, mock religious sentiments, and mess around with girlfriends as a red-blooded American. Ironically, it is the dangerous and far-right Trump supporters who image this lost world more than any other. They're ok with casual vulgarity, flaunting sexuality, and teasing the sacred cows of the day. And so Greenwald Republicans, who will claim the LGB without the TQ, will be considered dangerous radicals. It is a vision found already fully-formed in Europe, where Marine LePenn's radical right is defending the European traditions of Feminism and gay rights from foreign hordes. Nevertheless, the future of the success of a Trump or anyone who appears, no matter how faintly, in the visage of traditional conservative ideas (involving immigration restrictions and defense of American manufacturing) must reconcile to the world as it is for success.

However the above revanchism must not be confused for anything but a posture in the current order. One does not require the acceptance of *our* homosexuals and transgenders who reject the snowflake efforts to censor criticism. However, the same problems emerge and only the current Woke left seems fully aware of them and able to mobilize their own forces to adjust the political realities. It's not Communism, it's something else, which calling it "Woke" is perhaps good enough as a description. It's leftwing and progressive, it seeks to acquire a certain kind of equalitarian leveling, but one in favor of select identity collectives who form the democratic Majority-of-Minorities. This Identity Politics may be fairly plastic and malleable, as ethnic kinship plants far deeper-roots than sexual preferences or vague racial homogenization. And it may be, as Communists accuse, be a decadent expression of "late-stage Capitalism" (or, it reflects the virtuality and cosmopolitanism of finance). However, it's durable enough to capture institutions and provide the basis of some kind of civic cult that can maintain the "rules-based order" that came into being with the UN. Lobbyists can continue to alter the cultural window to allow these kinds of virtualized people to flow along with a virtualized economy. Slamming your fist on the table and demanding a return to the age of simply free-speech and empty signifiers (such as simply the intolerance of intolerance) will only reinscribe the problems of the day for a time kicked down the road. Without institutions and organizations, there would be no way to offer any counter-vision. Digging your heels in because you don't want to take things so seriously is building a castle in the clouds. To question commonsense assumptions on race, sex, gender, or whatever, should not be simply because no one should take these things too seriously. An exhausted nihilism, which was the default sentiment of the Gen X which came to maturity in the Clinton years, is no solution. It's just a nostalgia for when things didn't appear so crazy.

However, again, the specter of Fascism or Nazism seems to appear on the horizon with any rightwing posture that would talk severely about questions of ethnicity, culture, borders, and national well-being. I have never been able to fully reconcile myself to any conservatism proper because I am not sure that these things, in this current world, can sustain themselves, but I will return to this later. Nevertheless, these are simply boogeymen without substance. Serious thought has not depended upon regurgitating Roman salutes and revisionist arguments. The exhaustion of these positions, which are often self-destructive transvaluation than anything substantive, reflects the broader social change. We no longer live in a world of mass-mobilization and concentrate corporate power that a state may sit upon. Fascism, Communism, the authoritative old Liberalism, National Socialism, and varied other forms of corporatism have all passed away. In contrast, the diffusion of state power and the increasing blur between private and public domain, along with smaller efficient organization of production and combat, suggests looking at a different period and era to understand a "collective Right" to match the current "collective Left" and its diffusive organization.

 First, I want to discuss how one may discuss a "collective Left" in light of what may be termed "Wokeness" or more generically as Identity Politics. In contrast to some mass-mobilization according to class through unionization or parties, instead there's a fragmentation into various protected minorities. While a crop of class-conscious Socialists exist, their claims are mostly meaningless. To consider a service-worker as "working class" is incoherent, especially in light of wider Marxist theory. Seizing the means of production means the workers get to own a warehouse to stack boxes or espresso machines to make lattes. The skin-suit of Marxism is a gloss for what is simply demanding higher wages and collective bargaining, which requires nothing distinctly Socialist to advance. The reason union membership has collapsed is not because of some greedy capitalist conspiracy, contrary to the fantasies of Occupy Wall St aftershocks, but because they're inefficient for the fragmentation of many corporate entities. Big Labor has discredited itself over the decades and dissolved into a rump of what it formerly was, begging from scraps from the Democratic Party. The same applies generally across the North Atlantic. Instead, "class" has often been blurred into the melange of the Majority-of-Minorities that constitute leftwing organization. Whether it's race, gender, or sexual orientation, and the intersection of these, such constitutes smaller communities that cooperate towards a collective and communitarian egalitarianism. Thus Black Lives Matter is important for the gays, as much as 'People of Color' march for trans-rights. These groups hold together through dispersed online communities and "influencers" who set discursive topics, fueling electoral marshaling.  Thus Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exercises political power through streaming more so than caucusing, as much as Trump's limited ability to govern depended on setting the conversation on Twitter. Of course this is not running parallel to older institutions, but the older institutions have absorbed or adapted to these new virtual dispersals. 

The "Great Awokening" has provoked commentary on where, if anywhere, these ideas emerged from. Trite genealogical commentaries have been produced to blame puritanism or liberalism or some other censorious -ism that is stern and severe (which supposedly 'woke moralism' is). Nevertheless, as Gottfried noted and Lindsay refused, there is no way to respond to this general effort to police social norms without some other collective organization. However, in contrast to the view of 'woke moralists' as fun police (which has led to some use of arch-perverts like Paglia), there is a libidinous excess to the "woke" left. It may be cliche and hardly transgressive, but many confabulate their bold fight against Fascism as if America was on the edge of becoming a Lynchburg Theocracy like Escape From L.A. It rarely occurs to them that they have the support of hedge-funds, fortune-500 companies, and the reigning party, but this is considered disingenuous at best. This kind of neurotic approach is helpful for constant mobilization, which has made these groups more effective. Every dead black man or woman is a return to Jim Crow. Even the trans-shooter in Tennessee is a sign that the trans-community is under siege. Rioting, temporary occupation, and unending range of sexual experimentation in more public domains are framed as self-defense against an evil power (even as most of these receive permission from the same local institutions and governments). This movement is not conserving anything, but progressing towards some undetermined future of equality and prosperity (even if this vision receives zero serious hard-headed theorizing). Screaming in a bull-horn and marching about is, in a sense, a politics of fun that is not so different than 60s radicals. It may be more delusional and farcical, but it is no way a somber militancy that marked Oliver Cromwell's Roundheads.

Then why the misdiagnosis? Why would a 'woke' have a conniption about misusing pronouns, but not mocking white culture about lack of spice on their chicken and lack of rhythm in their dance? Because there are always boundaries, as the stale Popperian "intolerance of intolerance" claim would recognize. Then what? The 90s Liberal effort to restore "normalcy" is treating a superficial cut in response to a cancer diagnosis. It is also a radical misdiagnosis for an era that had made "politically correct" speech more normative. Well, as some rightwing communitarians (usually of a Traditionalist stripe) argue, why not just impose a different form of intolerance? Racial or gendered humor is fine, but ban the libidinal excesses of pornography and anti-religious speech. How? Usually it's at this moment that coherency breaks down. There is often a wistful hope for a brand of Caesarism, often linked to Trump, that an authoritarian figure will simply stomp out the degeneracy and save 'The People' who are decent. However, besides the fantastical questions of how this would come about (Caesar had a veteran military loyal to him), there is also the wide overestimation of how popular these restrictions would be. There is a growing resentment to woke pressures, but these are almost entirely negative. Most people are comfortable with the changing dimensions, most especially Trump who is no different than a 90s Democrat on many issues (though this means something different now). Finally, this again presumes upon the lost world of a centralized and mass-mobilized state, and thus ironic (or not so ironic) Hitlerismo will lead nowhere.

Instead, I hope to excavate some ideas from within the American tradition. I hope to revisit the Pocockian thesis of Anglo-American republicanism.

Per Pocock, republicanism was in contrast to nascent ideals of liberalism. Instead of certain de-politicized zones of non-interference, there were locally organized communities of citizens committed to their self-regulation. This marked out English whig thought as much as the American patriots, who declared independence over a defense of their traditional rights. Against the Imperial reorganization of Britain's parliament and George III's virile patriot-kingship, colonial elites divided on acceptance of these changes (even as it hurt their own privileges) and the extent to which they would resist them. Arch-critic of the Stamp Act, John Dickinson, vociferously attacked movements towards independence. Thus, as many have noted (positively or negatively), the Patriot movement was primarily, or originally, conservative of colonial liberties. Hence Alexander Hamilton and John Adams called themselves True Whigs, in contrast to the "Tories" who would abandon representative government to an autocratic king and imperial parliament. Whether it was out of skittishness to leave the Empire or commitment to these new changes whatever the consequence, these adaptations were just as novel, if not more, than the defense of a United States.

However, in contrast to later liberal or libertarian interpretations, the independent and revolutionary states implemented restrictive laws on commerce, speech, and even religious expression. Quakers came under the ban of revolutionary Pennsylvania for failing to support Philadelphia militias, which Tom Paine considered a false religion to cover cowardice and treason. Extreme measures eventually gave way to measured response, reincorporating loyalists and fence-sitters, reforging colonial governments with modifications to government. Nevertheless, there was no shift towards free-trade or strictly limited government. Jefferson may have advised a strict interpretation of the Constitution, but he also had no particular loyalty to this text as permanent and indispensable. Those against the federal constitution, such as Patrick Henry of Virginia, were concerned about the liberty of their individual state, not the restriction on a variety of negative liberties. Henry had tried to defend a pan-Protestant religious establishment (which Madison gutted) and sided with the Federalists against paens to Jacobin France coming from Jefferson's republicans (even supporting the Alien and Sedition Acts). Concern over a national bank or national infrastructure program was not against state governments pursuing the same. And as a recent monograph has argued, part of the need for a stronger national government was to restrict the overactive governments of the states. Thus a libertarian may have, in fact, supported Washington and the new federal constitution against the smaller communities. Nevertheless, the point here would be, more strictly, that no ideological liberalism makes sense in early American history (or most of American history). This is not particularly controversial or interesting. However, what was this republican organization of American society and how did it operate?

As a young people, Americans were not only building many new institutions to handle the challenges of social organization, but also rapidly fanning out across North America. Despite foolish polemics that whine about 40,000 Protestant denominations, these often reflect the overlapping jurisdictions of various Protestants of different government or ethnic origin, most of whom were rapidly converging. One may speak of an Evangelical establishment through most of the 19th c., until the Darwinian-Modernist crack-up. And even as these advanced national organization to facilitate industry and trade, these were not welfare projects. Even the most ardent proponent of the American System believed in what would appear as Night-Watchman state today. Instead, it was this inter-connectivity of these various bodies that allowed republican society to flourish. Whether it was mutual support clubs, parties, churches, lodges, schools, and so on, these allowed a dynamic American society that would later give birth to the technological and social changes of the corporatist age in the late 19th and 3/4s of the 20th century. 

Nevertheless, this American republicanism was the last glorious demonstration of a focus that went back to the Renaissance. This period was the "Machiavellian Moment", where centralizing government depended on a patchwork cooperation with citizenry. It was in this sense that the Elizabethan age was a Protestant republic, where the Queen depended on cooperation through the aristocracy and Parliament, a point her Roman Catholic critics recognized. There were efforts at an "alternative modernity" (as Steve Pincus clumsily categorized things) in an absolutist throne. France's Louis XIV was as much a change as the aristocratic republicanism of Whiggery and Commonwealthmen in England. The defense of particular rights and liberties, to individuals and larger bodies, was secured without the same fixation on a refusal of all positive liberties. The defense of wide weapons ownership in 18th c. England dovetailed with a prohibition against Roman Catholics of doing the same. England had an established church, but it was different than Scotland's, and this patchwork allowed a dynamic empire that could find common cause through overlapping jurisdiction. Americans drew on this same legacy, often citing Trenchard/Gordon, Hoadly, Locke, Sidney, and other of the more radical Whigs. The emphasis was less on strong institutional centralization (which marked Tory criticism of court corruption) than a wider diffusion towards greater unity. Thus criticism of crown corporations was not so much in defense of free-trade, but proliferation of access that allowed natural talent to rise.

Ironically, perhaps, that all of the above smacked more of "feudalism", with its many overlapping jurisdictions. An argument I'd make, though one I will not substantiate here, is that there is continuity between the Elizabethan royal republicanism of Richard Hooker (who drew extensively, politically and ecclesiologically, from Thomas and Medieval thought) and later Whigs. Benjamin Hoadly, an unduly maligned bishop and controversialist, who was a strong partisan for a strong Whiggish interpretation of the Glorious Revolution, claimed Hooker more often than not. Later American Whigs not only claimed Hoadly in state (eg John Adams), but also Hoadly in church, as I demonstrated elsewhere in the thought of American patriot bishop, William White. "Feudalism" itself must always be contained in scare-quotes because it is, in truth, no more than a heuristic to explain the overlapping jurisdictions of ecclesiastical corporations, chartered cities, freeholders, landed lords, and crowns. These relations were hierarchical and in no way equal between the covenanted. Nevertheless, just as the Framers of the Constitution posited the national government as superior to the individual states, there were still reciprocal relations. When one party failed the other, there was a right to resist until grievances were redressed, such as the case in James Madison's Virginia Declaration (though one may doubt that this included secession and separation, as was the case in 1860). However, in practice, it was through overlapping jurisdictions that freedom was allowed. It was not in a liberal absence of all authority (posited among the more radical moments in Jefferson's thought), but in overlapping authorities that true freedom existed. It was not as a sovereign individual (whatever that meant), but it was in the threshold between family, state, church, business, and nation one could find new ways forward. In a strange way this dovetails with Agamben's reading of St Paul's thought, but I digress.

What does any of this mean for today? Besides the partiality an American shows for America (even as one is not foreign to the entire panoply), it is still relevant for a wider European republican experience of thought. This republicanism was also not derived from Athens or Rome, let alone medieval Florence or Venice, but also ancient Israel. Though in no way required, the biblical polity may still be instructive. Israel had local elders, priests, judges, land-owners, family, and the king, all of which possessed overlapping authority in response to varied corruption (which was common throughout its history). Additionally there was the oracular authority of prophets claiming inspiration (rightly or falsely). Again, freedom was not the absence of authority, but its overlapping, through which a threshold for the Word of God to enter. It is not the ideal construction of a utopia, but the freedom of man under his own Heavenly fig tree and vine. King Jesus is not *somewhere* else, which the Church must replace vicariously until He returns. As King of Conscience, Christ reigns in the here and now, in and through the varied institutions, always allowing righteousness to reemerge.

Applied this means one should not focus on a fictitious hero that will come to save, let alone simply get lost in the chattering networks of social media interface. The capacity for this to have an impact, as it does on the "woke" left, depends on interface with varied institutions. American Whiggish republicanism would inspire efforts at seizing the reality of this dispersal. New organizations, or conquering old ones, that offer institutional authority. As one example, Congressman Thomas Massie has suggested efforts to deregulate the sale and use of raw milk to allow greater access to better quality dairy. Centralized agriculture may give way to smaller, and more efficient, growers who provide higher quality of product. Rather than the corporatist privileging of certain multinational corporate producer, new organizations and unions to acquire food (especially as transportation and refrigeration allow wider access on a virtualized market-place). The goal is to allow more into the trade, not less. Federal regulation, viz. regulatory capture, is no different than a crown charter. 

The wider overlapping nets of authority, with competing labels of quality and health, will allow the best to compete more vigorously. In a manner of speaking, this is the true good of a free-market without the economizing of liberal laissez-faire, which is debatable if it was ever real. Instead, it's a revolt against sheer centralization, which often claims the mantle of implementing a sovereign right to force "open markets" (subject to trans-national regulatory boards and committees). Of course it is trite to simply "make your own" organizations, as if they're a home DIY project. But whether it's homeschool cooperatives, paraecclesial organizations, businesses, recognized certification programs outside of accredited colleges, and various other networks. Of course this also dovetails with a commitment to reclaim institutions that already exist (major parties, corporate entities, local/state/federal government, media platforms) and not simply abandon them. However, the goal is to use power to establish liberties and not simply create an eliminative program that apes leftist visions of collectivity. A whiggish defense of community, according to covenant, is not the hive-mind demand for communitarian coercion. Nevertheless, the covenant itself does not need to be leveled out to fit particular standards. Organizations may expel according to their own standards, and the battle between them will lead to opening to secure protections and force out perverters.

There is much to do, and there is more to reflect upon, but such is enough for now. The project must continue.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Sabbath's Twilight: A Holy Saturday Reflection

 The hardest part is the waiting. 

The day before there had been so much noise. The jeering of the mob. The sentence of Pilate. The smug gossip from the chattering rabbis. The confused disdain of soldiers at one more Jewish rebel, one more delusional cultist. They had their fun, beating and whipping, the cruel pleasures of a jailer. There were also the wails of women, who saw another son and brother being stripped naked and crucified. Some of these women were closer. There was Mary of Clopas and the man's very Mother. They cried an ocean of tears as the beloved Son, the coming champion, the Prophet Moses spoke about, had come to an ignominious end. Would Mary have bartered if she could? Did she frantically recall the words spoken over the Boy, the One who would cause a rising and falling of souls for Israel, the One who would cause her heart to be pierced with sorrows? There was also that peculiar figure, that friend, the Beloved Disciple John, who stood at the Tree. The earliest Christians recognized John the Elder had a special relationship because he himself was special. Born of a priestly family, perhaps one of the only men of Levi who had recognized a Tabernacle of Flesh. He had received a command to receive the bereaved Mother into his home as a son. To what end?

But there was, of course, a noticeable absence. Where had the Twelve gone? At the day's conclusion, the so-called King of the Jews had expired. His bizarre sigh, that *it* is accomplished, may have raised a cacophony of feeling. But as he lived, crying out to His Father in Heaven, He aspirated lines from Psalms and choked out specific requests in accordance with arcane prophecy. *It* is accomplished, and his breath gave out. The criminals besides him were put away through the crunch of broken bones. A darkness had covered the sky and a silence descended on the land. An unlikely disciple, perhaps curious before the Procurator, came to request the body. An unused tomb was selected for the body of this strangely beloved Man, a man who did little in the way of resistance or defiance. There lay the man some had come to believe was the Christ, but no more. There was the erudite Master that had caused a minor tumult throughout the Promised Land. Where had the Twelve gone?

There are many things worth reflecting upon during Holy Saturday. Perhaps most importantly is Christ's mission to the dead. There in the twilight realm of souls that the Greeks had called Hades, the realm of the unseen shades of old, many remained in bondage. Would the Sons of Adam ever see light? Would the shadows which spoke so ruefully to Odysseus ever find redemption? Or was it better, truly, to be a live dog than a dead lion? Was it more worthy to be a living slave than a dead hero like Achilles? Symbolized in blinding light shattering the darkness, or as a conquering hero pillaging the belly of a beast, the victorious Christ has pulled Adam and Eve from their tombs. Awake sleeper, He cried, awake and I will give you light! Death, the Last Enemy, had been trampled down by death. The emptying of Sheol, the harrowing of Hell, is the great achievement of this glorious day.

However, where had the Twelve gone? Another aspect was the deafening silence of this empty day. The Sabbath had dawned once again to no effect. The rest that bathed this day was the quiet of the grave. Perhaps many of the Twelve still feared for their own lives, fugitives linked to an executed criminal. Nevertheless, the banal agony, the most painful, was the emptiness. Three years dedicated to the Master to what effect? Maybe they recalled cryptic words about an impending death. It is possible they puzzled over these dark sayings. Was the Teacher mad? Then how did He do such great works? Was he devil possessed? Then why did our hearts burn as He authoritatively taught the Law? How could a man of darkness bring forth such works of light? How did the radiance of good open up the truth? If these were absurd conjectures, then how did he fail? Did he fail? What future lay open? Holy Saturday did not reveal Easter Sunday, but remained terribly opaque. The horror of flattened time, the true banality of evil, opened upon negative infinity. Was this not *the* time? Was this not *the* judgement? Was not that what all those cryptic tales were about? They alone had received special instruction, they the humble men of dust entrusted with divine promises. Ruling on Twelve thrones, was that a sick joke? Was it on the horizon? Was this twilight hour Dusk's eternal night or Dawn's coming light?

Thus, waiting was the hardest part.

The anxiety and the boredom of the Disciples is all too often in a world of chains. The Western world has lost its sense of resurrection, but it has in no way lost its sense of suffering or sacrifice. It is easy enough, for those with some spine, to gaze upon the dead king. It is easy enough to contemplate another failure in its tragic beauty. Another cause lost, another hero laid low, another step towards progress. An uneasy optimism, pockmarked with cynicism, spreads out as a nauseating visage. The world's fake smile, forced laugh, and vile tears, these are nothing more than pathetic ways to cope with the agony of existing. Long gone is the romantic virility of the sacrificial hero. Instead, a grotesque caricature remains in the cult of the victim. Man is reduced to the Wounded, another minority who overcomes through rhetorical pathos and empty platitudes. Of course these cheap and mass-produced displays of dull spirit are the velvet glove that covers an iron fist of administrative policing. Drugged and babbling, the frenetic chaos of Good Friday remains with us as a crucifixion without a Christ.

And the Christ must come! The Hero must reign victoriously! But not yet.

Holy Saturday is a time to contemplate the Twilight. Do we live according to the rising sun? So many live as scurrying mice upon a sinking ship, so many scattered before dying rays. They find ways to cope and handle a history empty of meaning. They may craft bubbles, empty worlds foaming up on the sea of existence, oblivious to the wave ready to crash. One may resign to this wheel of Samsara, the tossing and turnings of endless waters. Is this it? Is there more? Was he really the One, the Mouth of God who spoke words of life? Are those embers prepared for a raging fire which will melt the very elements of the cosmos? Do we train as men ready to receive crowns, or haggard skeletons awaiting a tomb? Is the day of rest a moment before a day of resurrection? Waiting may be the hardest part, but it fits us to bear the weight of glory.

May we have the courage to wait with eyes upon the morning star.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

A New Feudalism?: Reflections on a Near & Distant Future

 In a previous essay, I conceptualized that we are currently undergoing a return to the early modern world of the Renaissance. By this I meant that there will be a colorful array of reorganization, state-like and state-adjacent corporate groupings carrying out functions of the state, the growing power of well-guided micro-states capable of harnessing new information technologies, and, what may seem most absurd, is an opening to a variety of new and creative ideas derived from past worlds. None of this has quite happened yet, but you can begin to see the seeds of it begin to sprout. We are still stuck in the Post World Order, the Pax Americana, a modified and distorted vision of what Britain had achieved in the 19th century. And like the Pax Britanica, American liberalism (very different in policy and vision, though equally ideological and flowery) reigns through a velvet fist. However the coming crack-up of global power will not be on account of the rapid corporatized state-building of rivals, such as how Germany, the United States, and Japan began to flank Great Britain (along with a rising threat from Russia). Instead, it will be a process, in some places imperceptible, of dispersal and decentralization. This process does not eliminate control. On the contrary, it allows a more effective harnessing of power through new information, travel, and cooperative technologies.

Thus, there will be a fracturing, an opening, into which a variety of new spirits will pour. One day Hitler and Nazis will be as distantly archaic as Napoleon and Bonapartists. And just as British Liberals fretted over a Lincoln or a Bismarck as a reactionary-revolutionary (despite neither of them reflecting much in the way of the Corsican), so too accusations of Fascism (simultaneously backwards and novel) fly against those who begin to break-down this order (at home and abroad). The good and the bad of these orders will make themselves apparent in the future. However, the qualification I want to add is that this new Renaissance will be something of a camara-obscura. Whereas the Renaissance gave way to state-building and centralization, technological capabilities reflect the opposite. It will be a great rejuvenation of politics, but in a way in which sees the state increasingly marginalized, or fitted in a network of institutions and organizations that break free from its grasp and gain their own momentum. It will be akin to how great Roman landlords imperceptibly transformed over hundreds of years into feudal nobility as the state withered. I believe this emerging world may become something of a new Middle Ages.

I don't adopt this term polemically. And I am also aware that there are too many cheap complaints about "feudalism", under which we new serfs will labor at our gig or wage jobs under the pseudo-benevolence of Bill Gates. However, inanity aside, one must not turn his gaze away from the Shield of Achilles. There is a reemergent pattern that even the jumbled may sense in an incoherent way.

What constitutes a new "Middle Ages"? A primary concept, which will become increasingly important, is "feudalism". It is well known among historians that this conceit is primarily heuristic, at best, if not a misleading slur. However, I will not abandon it, but rather tinker with it. The importance of feudalism was that social bonds depended on non-state and unequal pledges of fidelity. The lesser served the greater and the greater provided for the lesser. These contracts between patron and client were enforced through either states that were the personal property of a family, usually cloaked in the ruins of Rome, or with extra-state institutions that had taken over responsibilities. As the Roman Empire withered, the Church utilized its judicial privileges increasingly to maintain order between feuding landowners. Like the world of today, where borders are increasingly shattered, the flood of semi-civilized immigrants looking for food and land will strain the coherence of any former state-body. There will be lamentations for what was, staring at the ruins of greatness (or perhaps misremembered as such). There will be pragmatic efforts to harness this new energy in various deals. And there will be, to some degree or another, the effort to appropriate old mantles for new purposes. Various barbarian chiefs appeared as regal consuls, the bishops operated as procurators, the ambitious deigned to wear the name Caesar. Obviously a shock, like 476, marked the "end" of the Roman Empire, but that was not obvious then, nor was the century or so prior clear that the Roman state would all but vanish. It is only in the eye of the historian that any of these things, in fact, occurred, even as turmoil was felt by all.

This dispersal and fragmentation will require new kinds of arrangements where citizenship will be increasingly meaningless. As it has already begun, citizenship is being redefined as a kind of shareholdership, which entitles one to benefits from the state-qua-business. But as corporate businesses are increasingly the means of life (funds, entitlements, benefits, insurance) and, at the same time, spread out geographically, these will be more important than the increasingly abstract definitions of citizenship. Equality will degrade as the mechanisms of the state are either abandoned through non-use or increasingly privatized. One example of this phenomenon may be public schools, which are increasingly abandoned and may dissolve into charter programs and outright privatization. Like the "neoliberal" shift in the 1970s, these efforts are less ideological than strategic. People will really consider the USSR, PRC, and Communism to be the source of ideological discomfort, when they pursued similar aims. The conservative cliche about wanting a businessman to run the government, with a focus on the economy, reflects less an ideological twist (pace cookie-cutter leftists) than exhaustion. Kojeve noted that history's end came with the loss of all politics. The economy simply is the political. But if the state can no longer provide this biological and material comfort, and such is its only legitimacy, then it must become more efficient. Administrative bloat and managerial incompetence will increasingly wear away the sheen of trust in the government. In Europe this process may take a very different shape, whereas in the US it's already underway. China, by contrast, has been able to regain the initiative of trust, but only through effective decentralization. You can find parallel videos of Chinese success and Chinese barbarism, but this reflects, I argue, the party's policy. Let a thousand flowers bloom, as each province pursues its own ends. But is this enough? Of course not. I don't foresee dozens of Chinese states reentering a War of Three Kingdoms phase. Rather, they under the party-state, will be forced to integrate with extra-state bodies. The SCO, OBOR, these kinds of confederations will become increasingly important, with China fittingly seated as eldest brother.

This is, effectively, the scaling of a feudal political economy. It's not as if the state did not exist (if it can be spoken of somewhat anachronistically) in Medieval Europe. Rather, it was enmeshed in wider and wider non-state networks. An economic union like the EU will never become "the state", but it will exert discipline and control over its constituent members. NATO may very well blend into a kind of preferred nation status, blending into something like NAFTA. Russia's preeminence among post-Soviet states has already led to joint economic-military partnership. This may seem like a return to empire, but I see the contrary. These larger units of government will depend on an array of various partnerships between betters and lessers, whether these are private corporations, states, NGOs, or contractors. The dreams of a massively centralized state, which animated Fascism or Communism or the New Liberals, reflected technological capabilities. Spatial concentration is no longer necessary, and virtuality is increasingly the default. Nation-states may splinter apart, when pressed, because larger networks of legitimacy may absorb constituent parts. The ultimate delusion of talk about a "national divorce" in the United States, or even anti-EU sentiment, is that there is not really an alternative. Do red-state voters want the fragments of their country absorbed into a geopolitical alliance with China? Do those who want out of the European Union have an alternative? Do they want to be direct vassals of the US or Russia? The age of nation-states is rapidly coming to a close.

This phenomenon will happen across the world. The entirely fictional nation-states of Africa are already often governed as private property for a family or tribe. The way "out" for many Africans will simply to turn to foreign corporations to provide a sense of stability and authority. Whether American, British, French, or Chinese, these means provide a stronger form of legitimacy. Pretending that the warlord who sends his nephew to the UN is legitimate is only to prop up the currently stuck world-order. South America is equally fictive in its chaotic politics. Parties or landlords will provide a new hierarchy in which to receive goods and offer deference. The various backwards and broken states of Asia already find themselves under the aegis of larger transnational organizations, which will allow the fiction of the state to dissolve into a small power within a wider organization.

I don't see this "new feudalism" as necessarily bad or good. It will open up new opportunities to restructure politics beyond the various liberal fetishes which have failed to fulfill their promises or are revealed as bankrupt. Equality before the law and equity will never be strictly abandoned, even if they're absurd in practice and used as a weapon. Instead the agencies that offered hierarchies of membership, access, privilege, and so on will become more populated, and the egalitarian institutions will wither. Again, it will not be because of some ideological push, it will instead reflect success. Divisions of belonging may fall along ethnic, religious, or economic lines, but, as in the Middle Ages, these will likely blend. Race and language may be a powerful determinant of belonging. Actual religion, or certain ideological cults (such as Diversity&Inclusion, or modern Maoism), will also be a bond. Simply having resources may buy you access. But these will become increasingly important and the state will seem increasingly diffuse. As demonstrated in recent controversies, the power of the CIA or NSA will be less important than the conglomerated partnership with Alphabet or Twitter. The compact will increasingly be less about individuals (as atomized citizens in a Mass Democracy) than your enrollment in larger bodies that act for you. Just as a lord may negotiate a settlement from the king, so too will a tech board improve its members by extracting a concession from the government. Elon buying Twitter is a lord receiving his grant to inherit the land populated with serfs. But don't forget: serfs are not slaves. Serfs have rights. And just as the Medieval world was fractious world of competing claims, so too will the modern world reflect these adjustments. There will be modern versions of bishoprics, monasteries, guilds, nobles, free-cities, and so on, that will have the same pull. They will have a kind of independence beyond the state which they pledge loyalty, but may in fact subvert, ignore, or deprecate. This is the world that Philip Bobbitt has noted over a decade ago coming increasingly to fruition.

But the most important point I want to consider is how this covenantal hierarchy will rely on some kind of altar. I don't think every people necessarily are religious in all times and places, but there is always a religion. There is alway something that orients the process of fidelity, as greaters and lessers exercise trust in the contract that binds them. What shimmer of the eternal will bind together these unwieldy confederacies and allow all the constituent parties and members to participate within it? Christendom and Dar al Islam were both forms of this unity, as well as the animistic emperor-cult of Heaven in China. However now, unlike the past, the unity can be experienced in a way far more diffusively. An AI peering at you through data-crawls and a camera will not inspire reverence, even as some dream of cybernetic gods. I believe the church will persevere through all of this, though I don't know in what role. A Russian-led Eurasian confederacy will not be able to rely on Orthodoxy, even as some Russophiles draw on the esoteric gruel of Duginist fusion of Christianity & Islam. The cult of the red emperor may be some form of unity for a Chinese-led bloc. Gay transhumanism may provide some glue in the Western world. But these are all just fictional at this point. There is no institutional unity, yet, to provide the basis of order, to legitimate the process under which all agree (at least formally).

I'm not sure yet what will come, but as Athena's owl begins to flap her wings, we may begin to imagine what we may do.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

A Return to the Renaissance: A Reflection on a Past Future

While all evidence is primarily circumstantial, I believe that the world is likely on its path to an older mode of existence. The conditions of the world that constituted the Renaissance may rapidly be upon us, transforming the nature of politics, religion, economics, and so on. The modern world has eclipsed and we live in what conceptual historian Reinhart Koselleck has called sattelzeit, or a transitional time. This is why all the collective efforts at categorization seem wholly inadequate, if not inane. Morons will continue to discuss the threat of "fascism" or "communism", but these concepts are dead and buried. They are constantly reanimated because no one quite knows how to describe the phenomena that seem to govern the world. There are no corporatists who worship the state as the means to build the nation (in light of grave economic catastrophe in Europe). There are no vanguards leading the industrial wage-earners to create a dictatorship and own the means of production. At the very least there *are* communist parties in existence, though they have often adjusted in light of world-changes. Leninism, Titoism, Stalinism, Maoism, Dengism, and so on are real world efforts to adjust in light of the limits (if not failures) of Marx's political economy. But even many of these are phantoms. So what are we left with?

The age of mass mobilization has come to an end. The age of industrial economies has come to an end. Despite the propaganda parades of the Chinese troops, there will never be a mass invasion of Taiwan or any other part of Asia, except in the fever dreams of the Pentagon. The PRC will reclaim Taiwan, that's beyond a doubt, but in the way they regained Hong Kong. It will be a modest and subtle process of funding pro-unification politicians, and waiting them out. China has a far stronger grip on its allies than Russia, and I doubt the US would have the means to pull off a color-revolution if Taiwan elected more pro-Chinese politicians. Industrial economies will not reflect the latter nineteenth century with its drive towards centralization and consolidation. There will not be a US Steel or Krupps again. Instead industrial production, like most of the economy, is becoming increasingly diffuse. Information technology allows corporate models to disperse their operations in a way where the giant monoliths of factory production or corporate governance will not be needed. A giant office tower or steel stack is not necessary, and in fact would be vain aesthetics. Thus, as much as Trump gained working-class support when he promised to bring back jobs, these were shreds of a rusted form of government. It was probably just a campaign slogan, even if it was a valiant idea for men who desire a return to work at a good paying job. Nevertheless, these centers of massive production will not return.

Instead, what will replace these will be highly specialized elite divisions. Militarily, combat will be small professional units who are integrated with drones, satellites, and far-away command centers. Economically, production will happen to very specialized firms that coordinate with each other for large jobs. The internet allows fast exchange of information over a large space, not conceivable when the telegraph was the only means of communicating. Through video-calls members of a staff can be present from all corners of the world. Additionally, since centralized military organization will become increasingly defunct (except as a symbol of power), specialized military operations will increasingly fall under the purview of mercenaries. I do not consider the existence of military contractors like Blackwater or Wagner PMC to be inherently sinister, though it's a favorite liberal whipping boy (as if national militaries are not prone to similar abuses?). When the company formerly known as Blackwater's Eric Prince admired the East India Company, I think he correctly sees the future. It will not be clumsy and massive governments, drowning under their own parliamentary procedures (which are often simply voided or ignored by members of executive bureaucracy), which will effectively carry out national projects. A royally chartered company like the East India Company could handle affairs entirely on its own (even as the British parliament was wary of its pretensions, as well as the moral corruption of quasi-Mughals like Warren Hastings raised). The importance of dispersing, not centralizing, government powers will only intensify. 

The Modern Era was the era of centralization and integration. This began in the nineteenth century, witnessing the behemoth corporate structures in the US, UK, Germany, and Japan. It was the mass mobilized struggles of the Russian and Chinese revolutions. It was mass deployment and industrial production for both World Wars. This order came to an end by the 1970s, that era of malaise when the US slipped from manufacturing dominance. The heady years of material prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s. The great convergence of labor and management (first skillfully welded together in Bismarck's Germany, and then pieced together in the New Deal) left both too bloated to adjust. The AFL-CIO is a shadow of its former self. Unionization, as other forms of consolidation, is not only weakly political, but often not preferred. Leftist criticisms of the "gig economy", as opposed to the old wage method, are often half-aware at best. Again, the old paradigms of unionization, labor politics, and class consciousness fail to make sense. The gig-economies do not now exist because some cigar-chomping shareholder came up with a new devilish scheme to strip the working-class. Rather, it reflects the greater push towards decentralization. The worker is now, in a manner, a part-owner. This is precisely what the World Economic Forum envisions with a stakeholders capitalism. The Uber driver is his own businessmen (which, from some anecdotal experience, is preferred to a wage job because at least you can choose when you want to work).

The great executive bureaucracy, in places like the US, will continue to fragment. That does not mean disconnection, but rather a more widespread and dispersed form of interconnectivity. Many elementary conspiracy researchers often confuse the heuristic for the reality, believing organizations like the CIA or FBI are solid entities. Even in the middle of the twentieth century, at the zenith of centralized and consolidated corporate governance, these organizations were subdivided into certain networks and channels that nearly operated autonomously. These will continue to break apart and be "privatized", operating as the government even as the government reorganizes. This is a different form of "big government", but leftists who want a new New Deal, or right-wingers who crudely consider Joe Biden mere socialism (it is a form of socialism, but this term too is defunct), will not understand what seems like larger government and privatization at the same time. It will not be the NSA spying on people, but Alphabet and Facebook and other forms of social-media and telecommunications. Government agencies will dissolve, but not disappear. The CIA has been increasingly winnowed as a serious power, with perhaps the last major public appearance in the Plame dust-up (where a faction in the Bush II government bullied the CIA into supporting a war in Iraq).

Conceptually, what may be used to describe this reality? We do not have capitalism or socialism, there is no communism or fascism. Even nationalism, in an age of globalization and open borders, has become increasingly impossible to define (though it still has some vitality). Near empty signifiers like "neo liberalism"  or "post modern" are a sign of intellectual exhaustion and incoherence. It's no surprise, however, that these terms continue to circulate. The post-war order in 1945 is Year Zero for the Anglo-American world-order. Anti-fascism and anti-communism are two ideological pills to enflame the masses for action. Brown scares and red scares are part of the founding myth, along with other events like the Holocaust, JFK assassination/Vietnam, Fall of the USSR, 9/11, and, perhaps, 1/6. These reaffirm a certain narrative of "making the world safe for democracy" through maintaining free-trade, parliamentary government formality, and multiculturalism. Therefore these empty concepts will be deployed to shore up this order according to a crude moral compass. Roosevelt, Churchill, MLK, Reagan -- Good. Hitler, Stalin, George Wallace -- Bad. Figures like Nixon straddle the compass, but still operates within it as a believer in the post-war consensus (and as a statesman, like his lieutenant Kissinger, he committed himself to future leaders, meeting with Clinton). It is very difficult to think outside this box.

I think, on the contrary, that in reality that the world is headed towards something that resemble, more & more, the Renaissance. We are not there yet, however there are a few things that may quite nearly create something simultaneously revitalizing and destructive. **Of course this presumes that Christ will not yet return** However, the mental exhaustion seems to have reached a head. If space becomes a new frontier, just as the Americas did, then there may be a creative expansion of the imagination. Like the Renaissance, diffusion will become increasingly the norm. The Holy Roman Empire, as the premier power in Europe, had already begun to severely decay and fracture. Imperial free-holding cities, Italian city-state republics, new confederations among the Swiss and the Dutch, small but voracious kingdoms, all of these could replicate what would happen if the current world-order would start to shudder. The Renaissance began at the same time as the shake-up of Christendom, with a time of three popes and the conciliar movement. The Byzantines were on the verge of collapse, ending a millennium of Roman Empire. Small armies, paid by princes and councils, conducted small warfare. New technology in travel (seafaring), information (printing-press), and war (guns) began to transform the nature of warfare. Bottling up in a castle was no longer possible. Soldiers no longer wore plate for different uniforms, and organizing accordingly.

While it's hard to say what new concepts will be developed to describe new realities increasingly cut off from the all-encompassing shadow of the twentieth century. Politically and economically it will be unclear. Theologically I have some hope. The old forms of Christian organization will wither away and perhaps reveal something new. Confessional wars have basically died and the Reformation is effectively over. The denomination system is increasingly incoherent and broken, especially as another Modernist-Fundamentalist controversy may show the weakness of these systems. Parachurch organization will continue to spread. The Catholic Church may formally appear the same, but if Francis succeeds than it will be entirely unlike its past forms. What it will mean to be Catholic or Protestant, or even Orthodox, is unclear. Will Evangelical gain more significance as a term, or will its fairly empty significance only continue to decay? This is not to say that the Truth will change, or has changed, or that the Church will change. However, new social contexts will breed new organizations. One sees this in efforts of the Renaissance to create new religious societies, both lay and clerical. There were new ideas afoot that would eventually reform the Tridentine Roman church, as well as influence Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, and Eurasian efforts at transformation. Christianity has lots its potency, but nevertheless it remains in the shadows in the US at least, even if it's dead in Western Europe. Who knows what forms it may take in various countries of the Southern Hemisphere. Nevertheless new religious forms will continue to sprout in relation to the meaninglessness of life that will pervade the North Atlantic.

I am quite hopeful for what will come, even if this creativity will involve destruction. One will finally know the Modern age has ended when the Holocaust is listed among other slaughters and Hitler is simply grouped with other conquerors (Ghengis Khan, Napoleon) in a history of warfare and nations. Light will continue to shine, even as darkness swirls. For those who can see, clarity will be available as Athena's owl takes flight. Soon, at least, one may think afresh.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Fracture of Liberalism: A Working Theory

 The term "liberal" has become all but meaningless. Unlike the useless slur of "fascist", there are still some people who identify with the concept of "liberal", even as it has become more common for younger leftists to decry this concept along with its more nebulous offspring "neoliberalism". Often, the modern liberal is someone who believes in multiculturalism and a large (if not entirely robust) government able to tackle the various social ailments that afflict countries. There are outliers (such as Australia's center-right party being the Liberals), but generally a liberal supports widened welfare programs, public-private partnerships with an emphasis on the public, and higher taxes to support these measures. There's an emphasis on the sentimental and the compassionate within government, to right public evils through public means.

Obviously, to anyone with even a dim view of political history, this description sounds nothing like traditional liberalism. The concept "libertarian" was invented (by Hayak, if I recall rightly) to reclaim the term's original meaning. The classical liberal was concerned about arbitrary and tyrannical government. They believed in limiting government, perhaps even closing off some sections or spheres of society from government intervention. Like a night-watchman, the government kept away foreign invasions and settled internal disputes over property. That was all. In fact, the only purpose of government was to defend the rights of property. Economic management was deplored as an interference in natural market relations, which an "invisible hand" governed according to rational laws of nature.

How can these two seemingly contradictory terms interrelate? Most analysis is short-sighted and generally ignorant. Sometimes there's some sort of genealogy derived (often beginning with Scotus or Ockham) about the origin of liberalism as the origin of individualism. But given modern liberalism's fairly obsessive concern with regulating group dynamics and righting phantom "systemic" oppressions, it is obscene and nearly braindead that this originates from some kind of obsession about the individual. While it's true that identity politics seems concerned to allow every person to confect particularities about themselves, this form of branding depends on belonging to a wider community. Like the popularity of Enneagram voodoo, the idea is not to be a-typical, but to have a set of preset characteristics modeled through an ur-paradigm. The appeal of Harry Potter style sorting-hat (having some arbiter tell you who you really are) do not really smack of individual. Nominalism rejected the notion of universal categorization for varying forms of resemblance. It's hard to say this epistemology explains the almost Platonic concept of gender identity that defies even biology. Perhaps, as David Nicholls had argued, that the individualism of the 80s in Reagan and Thatcher (a phenomenon mediated through corporate advertisement) was the flip-side of totalizing collectivization. However, this means individualism has little to do with an individual.

One option is that simply there is no real connection. Turn-of-the-century reformers took upon themselves the mantle of Liberalism, even as they proceeded to gut it of all its earlier distinctions. Modern liberals turned classical liberalism into a skin-suit to advance their own objectives of socialism-lite under the mantle of a revered tradition. Such was in contrast to the Marxist idea that Liberalism was a necessary revolutionary precursor, wiping out the Ancien Regime of throne and altar. Before liberalism's attack on all traditional boundaries (as threats to property ownership), it would create the conditions of class-ware, before the working masses overcame the victorious burghers who had claimed government for themselves. Nevertheless, this neither fits modern Third-World Socialists (who often decry liberalism) or the modern liberals themselves, who believe they are in continuity with this tradition (warning that without changing liberalism that socialism would inevitably win). Was this just a cynical and polemical use of a concept, a subtle operation of the Fabian-like mind? Or was this mutation a sincere effort to continue or save the liberal tradition?

I will argue the latter. While I do not deny the importance of polemic in transforming the use of a term, the classical liberal tradition was already in decline by the time liberalism began to rapidly transform. A key conceptual point in discussing the history of ideas is to note that it is better to conceptualize an idea more as a constellation than a solid-set Platonic form. An idea is made up of various sub-point that hold together with logical coherence, but they may be forced apart in response to outside influences and needs. Thus Second Temple Judaism may be spoken coherently as an idea, it was a constellation torn apart by the advent of Jesus and the Roman destruction of the Temple. Christianity emerged as one radical reformulation of some ideas, while Rabbinic Judaism emerged as an equally radical reformulation of this concept as it passed away. And just as we will see with liberalism, only one of these factions claimed the nomenclature of the past ('Judaism' was first coined in 2 Maccabees), giving the illusion that it alone possessed continuity (a lie that has existed in scholarship for centuries until fairly recently).

What was this constellation of Liberalism? Perhaps one of the best places to see the internal tension, visible retrospectively, is the canonical work of Adam Smith. Often considered the theoretical father of "Capitalism" (a title that often ignores Medieval theorists on market relations, the Salamanca school, and French physiocrats), Smith is well known for his argument about an "invisible hand" regulating market relations. Thus the government (in his case, the imperial Parliament of Britain) did not need to maintain royal corporate monopolies on trade and sales. This mercantilist thought (a heuristic, but one visible in the Navigation Acts) was a hindrance to the full productive efficacy of the people. If left to their own, the butcher, the baker and candlestick maker would pursue an enlightened self-interest that would benefit all. Additionally, Smith excoriated high taxes and subsidies, which were efforts to manipulate trade, often to the disadvantage of economic progress. Free trade is essential to breakdown artifice and allow natural success to flourish:

"Were all nations to follow the liberal system of free exportation and free importation, the different states into which a great continent was divided, would so far resemble the different provinces of a great empire. As among the different provinces of a great empire, the freedom of the inland trade appears, both from reason and experience, not only the best palliative of a dearth, but the most effectual preventive of a famine; so would the freedom of the exportation and importation trade be among the different states into which a great continent was divided." (Wealth of Nations, IV.5)

Thus, a trade free from interference and hindrance will only profit all nations which participate. Government has limited duties, but these contain some seeds of contention:

"All systems, either of preference or of restraint, therefore, being thus completely taken away, the obvious and simple system of natural liberty establishes itself of its own accord. Every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest his own way, and to bring both his industry and capital into competition with those of any other man, or order of men. The sovereign is completely discharged from a duty, in the attempting to perform which he must always be exposed to innumerable delusions, and for the proper performance of which, no human wisdom or knowledge could ever be sufficient; the duty of superintending the industry of private people, and of directing it towards the employments most suitable to the interests of the society. According to the system of natural liberty, the sovereign has only three duties to attend to; three duties of great importance, indeed, but plain and intelligible to common understandings: first, the duty of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies; secondly, the duty of protecting, as far as possible, every member of the society from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing an exact administration of justice; and, thirdly, the duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works, and certain public institutions, which it can never be for the interest of any individual, or small number of individuals to erect and maintain; because the profit could never repay the expense to any individual, or small number of individuals, though it may frequently do much more than repay it to a great society." (IV.9)

In other words, the government's sole objective is 1) defend from invasion; 2) prevent internal oppressions (theft, murder, etc); 3) public works that would best facilitate the entire public in their pursuit of their own ends (e.g. roads, harbors, etc.). Obviously, therefore, is the defense of property and the natural inequalities that form within a society (defined according to changes in the 17th/18th c. as distinct from the state or the crown):

"Wherever there is a great property, there is great inequality. For one very rich man, there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many. The affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor, who are often both driven by want, and prompted by envy to invade his possessions. It is only under the shelter of the civil magistrate, that the owner of that valuable property, which is acquired by the labour of many years, or perhaps of many successive generations, can sleep a single night in security. He is at all times surrounded by unknown enemies, whom, though he never provoked, he can never appease, and from whose injustice he can be protected only by the powerful arm of the civil magistrate, continually held up to chastise it. The acquisition of valuable and extensive property, therefore, necessarily requires the establishment of civil government. Where there is no property, or at least none that exceeds the value of two or three days labour, civil government is not so necessary." (V.2)

So far, so good. This all sounds like classical liberalism, especially the necessity of government strictly for the means of defending property. Additionally, Smith advocates for a standing-army (not militias) to provide a sufficient protection against enemy encroachments. It should be noted that this point in Smith runs contrary to the Whiggish republican tradition (in both Britain and America) that feared standing-armies. The reasoning is not unlike that of Benjamin Constant, who disaggregates ancient and modern liberty: old republicans aspired to a much more comprehensive state of which all men must participate, whereas modern liberals want the freedom to pursue their own ends apart from a state. A standing-army was, perhaps perplexing to modern libertarians, necessary to prevent the totalizing effect (besides inefficiency) of compulsory military service for all citizens.

Now to tie in another place of ambiguity that Chomsky likes to repeat ad nauseam, Smith was not an advocate for an agnostic government when it came to its citizenry. The effects of this capital economy, freed to pursue technical and commercial perfection, could lead to severe degradation. I'll quote the passage in full: 

"In the progress of the division of labour, the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labour, that is, of the great body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations; frequently to one or two. But the understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects, too, are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention, in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life. Of the great and extensive interests of his country he is altogether incapable of judging; and unless very particular pains have been taken to render him otherwise, he is equally incapable of defending his country in war. The uniformity of his stationary life naturally corrupts the courage of his mind, and makes him regard, with abhorrence, the irregular, uncertain, and adventurous life of a soldier. It corrupts even the activity of his body, and renders him incapable of exerting his strength with vigour and perseverance in any other employment, than that to which he has been bred. His dexterity at his own particular trade seems, in this manner, to be acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues. But in every improved and civilized society, this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it."

As Chomsky likes to note, Smith is working in the tradition of political economy which reached its completion in Karl Marx. Eventually Smith and political economists will be opposed by historic economists (notably Frederich List, who influenced Henry Clay's American System). Without weighing into the merit of these criticisms, or whether Marx/Marxism was the telos of political economy, it is clear that Smith was not in favor of a strictly night-watchman state or a government only interested in defense of property. And of course, there's no reason to expect Smith (just as later liberals like Constant) believed in the good or necessity of democracy. As de Toqueville noted as a good liberal, [representative] democracy creates expensive, corrupt, and very flight government, which is especially damning in foreign affairs. Nevertheless, the idea in a liberal government was to promote free-economy, sound weights&measures, limited government, and the unleashing of commercial-manufacturing to produce better quality products at cheaper prices.

It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different arts, in consequence of the division of labour, which occasions, in a well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people. (I.1)

In 19th c. Europe, liberals were generally triumphant as a steady progress of erosion. Whiggery in Britain came to divide into what would be more aristocratic and agricultural-commercial as Conservatives, as defenders of burghers and their manufacturing-commerce formed the liberals, with a wavering peasant/prol movement forming around the Radicals-Chartists (who demanded the full fruits of liberalism for themselves). In the United States, lacking any Ancien Regime, liberalism reigned in both parties in somewhat different ways (Whig emphases on internal improvements matched Democratic emphasis on anti-tariff free-trade). The brief period of restoration in France gave way to the July Monarchy, which boasted a liberal aristocracy. Liberal movements spread across Europe, threatening monarchical and ecclesiastical privileges. 1848 was the great explosive moment of liberal revolution, a coalescence of burgher and proletariat hostility to legal inequalities. Its broad failure began a period of reactionary repression, which often betrayed weakness than confidence. There are other, and better, accounts of how Napoleon III, Bismarck, and Cavour brought about a form of liberal revolution steadily under different means. However, it was also quite clear that the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century liberalism was not sustainable.

The beginning of the crisis is most clear in that fount of liberalism, Great Britain. During the 1870s, the great source of liberal pride (free-trade, gold-standard, limited government, manufacturing excellence) began to decline. The industrial wage class had increasingly drifted from any interest in inclusive liberalism. Radicals had temporarily banded with the new National Conservatism of Disraeli, which began a process of paternalized liberalism that was richly caked-over with the aesthetics of nobility, empire, and church. Nevertheless, these working masses were also attracted to a Liberal party that was increasingly responsive to their plight, as well as forming a Labour Party out of their efforts to organize and unionize. Manufacturing began to decline and belief in the Empire had also become shaken. What was the point of another African adventure when white Britons continued to suffer against cheap production in other parts of the Empire. This mobilized the campaign of Joseph Chamberlain as a radical Tory, which saw northern industrialists turn towards Conservatives when London commercial-finance began to detach from native industry. Instead of turning to a highly protective Dominion (CANZUK), mirroring the successes of the United States under the Republican Party and Bismarck's reorganization of imperial Prussia-Germany, Britain tried to stay the course. Free-trade and a gold-standard was essential to the financial wealth of the City, whereas manufacturing was but one element. The free flow of capital must remain, thus influencing and guiding potential allied industrial economies. However, what if the necessities of free-trade and technological innovation (viz division of labor) conflict with the rights of property? What if old machinery, old methods of organization, and old prejudices about the movement of capital prevented the free-expansion of the economy? As Adam Smith noted, it was only the attachment to hearth and home that prevented the English investor from pulling his stakes out of his native land and moving elsewhere.

In the United States, liberalism had a similar shake-up. The Democrat's concern for free-trade (often in support of raw production of corn and cotton) eventually turned the party towards an assault on sound-money, willing to flood the economy with silver to inflate the currency in favor of farmers. Republicans defended the gold-standard (though with efforts to prevent currency flow abroad to London), but in conjunction with high taxes on foreign goods. Increasingly both parties had members who, in the name of Liberalism, began to question certain key aspects of it. The Progressives were concerned that a more active and robust government was necessary to secure the benefits of free-trade, corporate development, and equality before the law. The division between a Theodore Roosevelt and a Woodrow Wilson was on which of these solutions was preferable. While Britain began to produce "New Liberals", the United States embraced (temporarily) the Democrats' New Freedom. While the 1920s saw a rejection of this paradigm for the far more subdued old Republican policies of Harding and Coolidge, there were still many who were concerned that liberalism must change in order to be preserved. This was the basic idea of theorist-journalist Walter Lippmann, who had begun his political career as a Socialist. Lippmann (sometimes exaggerated in his influence) believed that there was no other way to deal with an increasingly complex and interconnected world than more active government to uplift the impoverished wage class. Free-trade was not so free, and it perhaps required supra-national organization to secure it. If Communism was to be prevented, melting down all things in a revolt from below, then the government must regulate excesses. Wall Street generally agreed, offering support to the Wilsonian vision.

This new liberalism triumphed with the election of Franklin Roosevelt (with Hoover's more limited paternal adjustments as a precursor). Thus began the New Deal, and the radical transformation of the Federal government. Liberals continued to divide in Britain, ultimately with a rump pouring into the Conservative party, whereas Liberals were absorbed and eclipsed by the rapidly growing Labour Party. Across Europe, most liberal equally divided between rejoining what was left of the Ancien Regime, or allying to some Socialist party (usually the more parliamentary parties, like Social Democrats). The transformation was complete: the old liberalism had died.

But what exactly divided? How did a good classical liberal like H.L. Mencken, as he noted, all of a sudden wake up on the right? What brought men like him beside Al Smith and the (DuPont-sponsored) Liberty League to restrain, if not defeat, the radical innovations of Franklin Roosevelt? How did the party of Jefferson and Jackson become the party of Roosevelt?

My contention, as can be seen above in the quotations from Smith, was a stark split between the liberal concern for limited government, sound-money, and the inviolable rights of property away from division of labor, free-trade, and public services. I will give my brief assessment on each of these pairs, though there is more to say. Take this discussion as a heuristic for understanding divisions, though there were obviously people who tried to formulate different combinations. Obviously, Libertarians have and will defend free-trade, though they will contest modern definitions. The father of Libertarians, von Mises, was willing to offer support for Dollfuss as a stop-gap against the growing communist hordes. Therefore, read carefully and take what is most useful in grasping the crack up:

-For most Libertarians today, sound-money (gold standard) goes hand-in-hand with free-trade. Yet the Washington Consensus (since Roosevelt) has always claimed the mantle of free-trade. Are they dishonest? Not exactly. When Ron Paul defends free-trade, it's within a context that he denounced NAFTA and the WTO. At the turn-of-the-century, it had become increasingly clear that the only way to establish free-trade was to create international agencies that would bind all global powers. What had allowed free-trade in the past was the uncontested, and fairly restrained, British naval power that prevented piracy. American advocates of free-trade (often in Jefferson's camp) were at least economically Anglophile. While the largest plantation owners considered the fate of an American national economy, the small-planter joined the party of Jackson to prevent special benefits. Theoretical awareness that trade with Britain required a strong Britain did not determine a fully-fleshed out policy. With the rise of comparable navies, offering different (or opposed) trade agreements, the idea of an open sea became difficult to sustain. Thus, to keep up the British model of free-trade required a global organization of enforceable agreements. While NAFTA may rob the United States of its strict determinations in trade, it places open borders beyond the political. Instead, it is a given (the "state-of-nature") which must be guarded and adjusted according to professional economists. Free trade requires a wider state-intervention, and one capable of restraining governments from interference in these bodies (or, more truthfully, an active government able to enforce these bodies' rulings).

At the same time, this trade must continue according to standardized and balanced currency exchanges. The gold-standard, as a form of sound-money, seemed normative and regular when its purveyors controlled its supplies. Often this could only operate according to a paper-money system that did not allow gold to disappear from the market through hoarding. The vast majority of gold could sit in London, or New York, and yet the exchange of paper notes continue. The strength of the British Pound helped maintain normative exchange rates. While some core Jacksonians were staunch advocates for hard money, the vast majority of Democratic politicians who destroyed the Bank of the United States did so in favor of their smaller state banks. This facilitated free-trade, as London currency markets were most capable of stabilizing (and not threatened by a rival institution). However as Britain buckled, and the claws of London were visible on maintaining this system, Democrats began to veer away towards inflationary silver. Anglophile Democrats lost control of this process, often depending on certain Republicans, but eventually gold became less important than the monetary system itself. If gold threatened to destabilize what the UK and US built in the aftermath of World War 2, than it too must be dispensed with. Artificially pegging the US Dollar allowed the dollar to backstop the currencies of Europe (the way the Pound often did). However, by the 1970s, when the US underwent similar manufacturing shocks, the interest of finance meant uncoupling the Dollar from gold (and preventing any rapid de-dollarization by cashing out the foreign currency for gold, which DeGaulle had intended to do). Sound money was thus ejected for stable money for the purposes of free-trade. The monetary system which used gold now abandoned gold. The new Liberals from the 70s onward made their peace with this change of affairs (despite a mirage of action in Reagan's rainbow dollar program).

-Limited government and public works could easily go hand-in-hand in the heydays of liberalism. In the US, the fight between Whigs/Republicans and Democrats was whether the federal government (and not the states) should engage in public works (when these would seem to only benefit one region of the country). It was understood by both Democrats and Republicans that public school should be provided to have an effective and acculturated workforce, with divisions primarily over how overtly confessional or Christian these schools should be. Port security, roads, railroads, harbor improvements, these were all debated about, but usually in terms of which level of government should repair them. The concern was whether the federal government was usurping too much power to itself, creating artificial inequalities and expanding beyond the Constitution, or not. However, even the advocates of the American System never believed in an unlimited mandate to solve many or all social ills. The most vocal reformers in the Whig-Republican Party advocated for voluntary societies, churches, and others organizations capable of meeting the challenges of contemporary life.

However, as greater challenges to more complex forms of social organization (especially in light of the rapid explosion of urban centers and, at least in the United States, massive immigration), new efforts were made to deal with these problems. In Britain, Germany and the United States, the question was debated whether the government should restrict working hours, grant some form of insurance, regulate urban construction, and expand broader measures towards public health. All of these were not out of arbitrary desire for a greater state, but ad hoc in response to principle concern to defend the public of civil society. If it was necessary to tax to build large roads to facilitate trade, then it may be necessary to fund limited work-hours to keep a healthy/efficient work-force (as well as forestall proletariat radicalism).  Concerns to limit government must increasingly be put away as the public need must continue to increase. And as the old republican concern of an active citizen had already passed as outdated whiggery, so too must the responsibility for these issues fall to the elected representatives. It was not a private citizen's concern or burden to deal with questions that involved hundreds of thousands of people, variegated properties, and the complex processes of mass industrial production. Thus it's no surprise that Wilson and Lloyd-George were quite similar on questions of domestic intervention, with the Liberals vanishing into Labour and Roosevelt's conquest of the Democratic Party a decade or so later. Recall that Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom was predicated on an active government intervention and regulation to prevent corporate consolidation. It was in the name of the public right to start and maintain a business that the federal government could dissolve corporations and strangle any business that seemed to influence the market. It thus became the norm that the federal government must take an expanding role, with Republicans and Democrats debating about how much and where. The old liberals found themselves allied inextricably to the Republican Party, which offered the only means to limit further expansion (even if it often did no such thing). Similarly, old liberals throughout Europe found themselves allied to conservatives, even as their power had evaporated in parliament and were reduced to a rump. The Night-Watchman state was now reserved to the "kooks" that tried to elect Barry Goldwater, and their future descendants.

-The division between property rights and division of labor reflect the growing demands of the economy. It's often misunderstood that Locke's inviolable defense of property was as a Whiggish republican, not a Liberal (pace Macpherson). Locke's philosophy on epistemology and language was eccentric, but his political views were not out of line with Sidney, Trenchard, Gordon, Hoadly, et al., who remained the Whig vanguards of the Glorious Revolution (inspiring American Patriots like John Adams and Patrick Henry). Property became an essential aspect to liberalism because, as the Smith quote above demonstrates, economic freedom was eviscerated if the property-owner feared that he would be robbed. The need to defend your land and possessions would hinder easy and free trade, and thus Smith advocated for a strong professional army and navy. Nature must take its course against its perverts. And, being part of the Scottish Enlightenment, it would be no surprise that this legal emphasis derived from general psychological comfort. Thomas Reid's Common Sense Realism was less a metaphysic than an epistemic reverse-engineering of the average man knows, learns, and experiences. Thus the defense of property was not for itself, but part of a free economy and a free country. Early liberals in both the United States and United Kingdom were vocal supporters of a professional police force. The Peelers, by their visible presence of authority, would help restrain and prevent crime (not, as today, in solving it).

This defense of property and the freedom of movement would allow the rapid development of technology capable of creating better and cheaper products. The division of labor was necessary to improve industrial production. And so it was. With the advent of capital investment in novel inventions, Britain's textile industries exploded. Every revolution has its losers, and while some former handicraftsmen turned towards economic terrorism with the Luddites, many saw that they must adjust to this new economy. It did not take ten years to produce an expert craftsman who could make only a few hundred textiles a year, but now a machine that effectively any could operate immediately that would produce a hundred-fold what the mere artisan could produce. Most people, barring the snobs and ideologues, are quite happy receiving high quality and cheap products. However, the question is whether ownership, in itself, could ever hinder this process? Obvious exceptions, like Eminent Domain, exist in legal constitutions to deal with this question, but necessity does not necessarily imply economic efficiency. Over most of the nineteenth century, these two concepts could exist simultaneously. However, with the rise of capital flight to new areas of the world to produce, what was to stop the misuse of lands? To turn back to Locke, improvement was a sure guarantor of ownership when previous occupants allowed fertile lands to waste away. If this was expanded to a broader question of technological development, than what good were property rights? As organized labor became more vocal in its confrontation with management, liberal governments began to turn away from indifference to mediation. Factory owners did not have a right to simply fire their workers or drag out a strike indefinitely. Roosevelt made mediation national policy, forcing management and labor to get along. Truman and Kennedy both threatened nationalization to get industry back on course. Today, an internal CIA presentation reflects contemporary fears that the Chinese will surpass the US if it cannot dump its "legacy systems" (eg paper-money, individual home-ownership, individual car ownership), which are impediments towards development. Increasingly rootless labor, connected to free movement and trade, thus services increasing division of labor, property rights notwithstanding.

What about neo-liberalism? Don't we live in the doldrums of a capitalist conspiracy running the world? What about rightwing criticisms? Were the Birchers completely insane to believe that we live in a socialist captivity? I think a proper parsing of terms, even as limited and broad as this essay has been, would show that both can be said to be correct. It is true that we do live in a capitalist world-order, but the term capitalist has nothing to do with what was meant two centuries ago. Do we live in socialism? Certainly if we understand how new liberals ruptured their constellation of values to better defend and protect the core of what they believed was the liberal vision. The progressive parliamentary management of affairs that Democratic Socialists advocated a century ago seem to have taken place, but not in any specifically class-oriented way. Leftists are correct that "class analysis" is often lacking in public discussions, but that's because old Marxist terminology has basically become meaningless to describe the economy of the latter half of the twentieth century (a realization made both in the old USSR and PRC). There is not much in the way of a proletariat in the Western world. The new liberals were successful in guiding their way towards their goals, picking up Socialist policies and tactics along the way. Hence many academic leftists are indistinguishable from old-fashioned liberals in politics: their goals are basically the same. Yet the World Economic Forum does not discuss Socialism, but share-holders Capitalism and ethical Capitalism. These are concepts related to marketing terms like Compassionate Conservatism, The Big Society, and Build Back Better.

And this new liberalism will continue to adjust, traceable genealogically. Just as the Anglocentric liberals of the late nineteenth century began to branch out to reconceptualize a form of global liberalism without the British Empire, post-1970s liberals have began to reorganize their thoughts. With the decline of the US manufacturing economy, financialization has become the norm. With war in Ukraine, it seems the US has bought some temporary legitimacy as the champion of this Global order. But how long that lasts is another question. Will US fortunes and standing decline where it too is sloughed off for better grounds? Will liberalism once against alter policies to eject another core set of its principles? Will equality before the law give way to the grievance politics of majority-of-minorities? The future is yet to be written for this term. On the other hand, the old liberals who left for the right have additional difficult questions. Will a stronger state be necessary to promote/defend sound-money (which may have a future as Russia, China, and possibly Brazil hammer out a new gold-standard)? Will private property, and the inequalities it naturally generates, require legal defense of inequality? Hopefully this essay will provide some elementary context for future analysis.