Lately, I must admit I have felt fairly politically homeless: moving in a way what most people would define as “right-ward” in the sense that my view of history is one is of trade-offs and tragedy. I will be the first to admit that materially and in terms of peace things have gotten more stable in the 20th century, but in terms of outbursts of violence–when instability arrives, the technology that keeps us safe chews cities to bits. Steven Pinker is only right if take the long view and then if you avoid black swan developments: One mistake and the same mechanisms that have decreased violence while increase it dramatically. The arch of history is optimistic on violence as long as we avoid that black swan landmine.
I am deeply a-liberal in the sense that I think that Aristotle was right about about democracy and liberality, in the larger polis such Republicanism becomes impossible, but the larger polis is almost inevitable. The shift to the nation-state and then to the ideological state have ensured that. I look at the “right” in the US, and I do not even want to mock them. They seem like the pale beasts of liberalism past mixed with a dying demographic. What is it they wish to “conservative”: a past that never existed, Protestantism and capitalism (despite the fact that the very family dynamic Protestantism enshrines is melted away), a religious veneer on secular values? I have no idea, but whatever it is, count me out.
I look to liberalism: I see a current tradition. I see sniping down the class ladder while claiming to protect it. I see denials of statistical reality while also claiming to be technocratic. I see no commitment to a coherent economic form or ideas of natural law or even pragmatic value. It is a tradition un-anchored by its success and awash in its contractions. The claiming of universal values while also basing claims of identity on what is a genetic fallacy, and a claim of the possibility of liberation while necessitating more and more dependence on the state cannot be see as anything but contradictory.
I look to libertarianism: I see a faith in markets as a means of rational distribution that is basically circular. I see a commitment to earlier notions of Lockean and Kantian ethics, but without an honest acknowledge that even the homesteading was based on dispossession and elimination of a prior people. All non-coercion principles are rendered void when the society your property was based on is based on was built on a fundamental act of coercion. I am not hostile to markets anymore, but let us not fool ourselves. Markets work when there is information symmetry and prior knowledge. These rarely exist in the actual world, and thus even as signaling a lot of market information is arbitrary, and in the cases of health care, it is frankly impossible to imagine what a information symmetry could be.
I glance at “neo-reaction”: I see research on genetics and temperament turned into an obsession with race. I see “white nationalism” as if “whiteness’ is a coherent enough concept for a nation. There are truths in some of the writing that make liberals uncomfortable that are true: ideological or kinship homogeneity makes for a more stable society with more social trust and more willingness to share benefits and wealth. That linguistic and ideological bonds clue cultures together. That there are real differences in aggregate achievement between groups (but as to how one explains this, statistically and from what I know about biology, the question is not as tight as any side likes to claim. Genetic drift does explain differences and sexual selection does mean certain traits are culturally selected for, but the influence of rearing seems to accelerate achievement, so total biological determinism seems hard to maintain if you defining biology solely in terms of genetics) . Yet the answer they give seems to be just another mystification. As if you could turn back the clock? Furthermore the conflation of Christian values and Land/Moldbug’s secular authoritarianism is incoherent. Finally, if you are going to believe in elitism and advocate it as a political system, then would you not have to actually attract elites? What if elites find democracy easier to control than your reaction? What is the dirty secret? Furthermore, how does a blood and soil movement exist in a soil that did not produce the blood?
I turn to paleo-conservatism: During my twenties, this is how I saw myself. Pro-markets within set geographic areas. Democracy for those who were here. Mitigated markets. Burkean realism about institutions. Yet the paleo-conservatives cannot decide what they believe? If they think “white” American culture deserves defending? How do they not see that what US is product the kind of imperial expansion that they declaim?
Lastly, I turn to the ideology that I have considered myself part of last five years: Marxism. In applying the categories of Marx to Marxism, I realized that I cannot in good faith link myself to it anymore. Now, here is the most difficult, as so many theories have mixed with Marxian concepts as Marx’s attempts at a state have failed that one can hardly say what it is, so I will stick to my objections to “Orthodox” Marxism, which is a strict reading of Marx requiring little acknowledge of divergence in his text in the theoretical mode. I will also use it to talk about conceptions of history that have developed out of explaining why people who adopted this mode could not meet its primary conditions.
I will not get into arguments over value theory–labor theory of value is not unique to Marx, although Marx’s is different from both Ricardo and Smith: However, I have noticed that for all the fine distinctions Marx puts into pre-capitalist modes of production, all surplus value extractive modes are collapsed into one category by Orthodox Marxists. Therefore one never has to acknowledge historical failure as being a theoretical problem. For example, the idea that “State Capitalism” is the same economic form as “capitalism” because USSR and PRC extracted surplus value and paid wages defines capitalism solely as surplus value extraction. However, there are proto-capitalist systems such as mercentilism that did that, but do not develop markets in all parts of the system or in the case of the USSR, have no official markets at all. Meaning that extraction of value can only happen between a state to state level, not between individuals. I am sorry, but that is a HUGE difference because it effectively removes the signaling mechanisms that even Marx thought was an innovation of capitalist production which allowed it to temporarily transcend prior modes. Furthermore, the Marxist tying this mode of production to revolutionary change seems odd if your model is the French revolution. If anything, the English Civil War would the be locust of this shift. Or the development of merchant banking which places it outside of state development. Either way, you have a historiographical problem for a system that is supposedly based on history.
Furthermore, Marxism is not “economic democracy” nor would it be “political democracy.” It would be seizure of economic and political systems by one class, and a state of exception placed on all other classes until they are either self-abolished or outright eliminated (as in killed). To pretend that is not what “dictatorship of proleteriat” means is basically either not to know the historical context or to be dishonest. It is as bloody as it sounds, and rich Marxists should not be pretending otherwise. Although the fact that the entire theoretical apparatus of Marxism developed, with the possible exception of Stalin, from declasse intellectuals, managers, labor aristocracy, while its voting base was generally the unemployed (well, communism in Germany’s voting bloc was the unemployed prior to the Russian revolution but after the split in the SPD. Working men at first favored the SPD, but in the chaos of the end of the second Reich, apparently went all over the place).
These are problems I have not been able to square for years: beyond that, Marxism does not deal with the appearance of the managerial class. One of thing you will notice, which even Andrew Kliman admits, that within the working class itself there has been more income disparity. There is no attempt to admit that this fundamentally changes most class distinctions. James Burnham observations about a managerial class ring true to me even if I did not follow myself down to Burnham’s politics.
Yet, it is Marx’s framework of history that gave me the ability to see the problems in Marx and Marxism, not some other apparatus. For example, Austrians talking about how Marx thought all the powers should be in the hands of the state. This from a man who said in the Critique of the Gotha Program that the state should not be trusted with schooling.
I feel like I have gone through a glass darkly, and become an exile. Sure, there are other political traditions to look it: Green politics, both deep and bright, diastributism, linguistic ethno-nationalism, pure classical liberalism (classical republicanism, anti-federalism), dominionism, religious nationalism, cultural nationalism (such as Hinduvta, Eurasianism), Byzantine imperialism, technocracy, identity theory, Foucaultian anarchism, Proudhonite anarchism, national anarchism (see Korean anarchism for a historical example of that not from former members of the BNP), traditionalism. I have looked at all of these and found elements of some of them interesting, but most of it to be incomplete or wrong in part. I can say this, I do not anyone really believes in democracy anymore given most ideologies that proclaim it seem to everything in their power to limit it.
I was told that looking beyond the political spectrum means you are on the right. I don’t know, but I can say this, I seems like times they are changing and there is a whole lot of rethinking to do.
(Also Occupy, I hope, was the end of something, not the beginning).
7 thoughts on “The Political Wilderness”
Looks like your at the end of your tether as far as politics goes? I think what still guides me is knowing that the top 1% of the world own 99% of the rest of it. Just thinking about the baleout of Bush and now Obama of trillions of dollars that were redistributed not to the needy and poor, but to the very people who caused the problems to begin with on Wall Street and in the EU makes me side with the poor and needy. I’m no believer in reformism. The US government Left and Right is corrupt beyond salvation. Communism is dead because of the 20th Century, although I harbor great love for Marx and Engels I don’t see current Marxist, anarchists, etc. providing any form of leadership or intellectual force to transform our world. But for me that is it: Marx saw that it would only come about from below, from the people themselves rather than some vanguard of intellectuals. That’s where Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Trotsky etc. all failed us… it is the very force of the proletariat, the workers, the people that must finally wake up and change.
For me it will ultimately be a great deal of factors in this century that will get the ball rolling – Climate Change at the forefront of them all. I probably want be around when the dire affects set in by 2030 or 2040 as the beginning of troubles. But it will take this external force to finally wake people up and change their behavior. Nothing else will. Politics is dead.
Just don’t give up… keep you chin up buddy! As Orwell used to say: “Keep the apisdistras flying.”
I suppose I have hard time seeing how the workers could become the revolutionary subject, both subsumption and the specialization of labor makes that hard for me to imagine. I completely agree that the wealth redistribution into the fiscal sectors of the economy are maddening.
Conversely, let us grant the premise that vanguardists said were true: that working class has false consciousness or distortion from capitalism. Again, however, this cuts both ways, it would also mean THEIR consciousness is distorted, otherwise they are special pleading.
I suppose this leaves me close to an “accelerationist” with some Heideggerian tendencies or Anti-civ tendencies. I say we hit full systems go, try to manage as much as we can and ego-engineer as much as we can, and let us see if it collapses from its own complexity and environmental damage or we transcend it. Because you are right, nothing is changing unless something outside what we commonly think of political, or at least nothing that is not geo-political, without it be made to happen. We can embrace that and try to ride-wave, or we retreat, but I do not think we can deny it. So whatever “left” is left in me is there.
Well, think of it this way: Who are the workers in our age? Haven’t all of us from the cognatariat to the sewage worker become a part of the vast slaveworlds of capital? The upper 1% owns it all… so that puts everyone outside the millionair/billionaire loop into the worker bucket as far as I’m concerned. My view is wider than the older notion of 19th Century bourgeoisie/ proletariat distinctions of Marx and Engels. I mean, do we even have a middle-class anymore? No. Everyone from the 200k down level is part of the great lumpen from supposed first world (which is becoming degrade by the elite to third world ( to third world. And, remember, that doesn’t even bring in the untouchables, the disposable, the forgotten, the surplus ( not even in the sense of reserve army, no… I mean all those outside capital who are no longer even counted in the mix: the slum dwellers of the earth that number in the hundreds of millions around the planet).
The old false conscious ideology needs updating with the newer trends on information theory and machine ontologies etc. Yea, the left is that forgotten dream of hope… it will need to reinvent itself in our time, otherwise the end game is near.
I mostly agree with this statement:
“But it will take this external force to finally wake people up and change their behavior. Nothing else will. Politics is dead.”
The external forces are the wild cards. Technological change is also a massive unknown. I don’t think politics is quite dead or ever will be as longs humans live, but it is inevitably reactive in nature. We can’t see what is coming, for the most part. Change will happen when it is forced to happen, and people and their politics will follow.
I want to say I am not a hard determinist, I still believe in multiple possibilities and human agency, but that agency only manifests when things stop producing socially desirable results, which itself is a culturally contingent form of pragmatism. People will be incredibly innovative in a moment of crisis, but as a species we tend to only progress by being forced to.
Your idea of “a culturally contingent form of pragmatism” makes me curious. What catches my attention is your negatively correlating agency with socially desirable results. I suppose you mean that people go along to get along, until that is no longer possible.
Yeah, I suppose that is mostly true for most people, and hence for society at large. Behavior during a crisis is atypical for non-crisis scenarios and most scenarios in life aren’t a crisis. But when a crisis presents itself, humans get interesting. They get innovative or at least unpredictable.
Reblogged this on Marmalade and commented:
This is a great summary of politics in the world right now, from someone I highly respect. I come from a different perspective, but I find myself mostly agreeing with this voice from the political wilderness. I find it hard to even disagree with him about liberalism, my default position. All of his criticisms seem fair to me.