an orwellianism older than orwell

One gains no greater insight into postmodernism than when one revisits the formulations of the conservatives.

For example, Hobbes suggests that there can be no such thing as voluntarily acting against one’s will.

The conservative Hobbes held that voluntarily acting against one’s will (akin to false consciousness) is impossible, because he needed to, to refute the Enlightenment democrats’ strategic distinction between the will and the passions, which undergirded their distinction between collectively-built laws and arbitrary power over. The Enlightenment democrats formulated this distinction because they needed to argue, against the conservatives, that monarchy violated freedom.

Ultimately, in the Western tradition, this all goes back to the Greek idea of slavery (anti-freedom) as living in “total dependence upon the will of another, under a master’s jurisdiction, sufficient to guarantee the servility that the Master expected and despised.” Liberals got as far as arguing on this Greek basis that to attain freedom, we should be our own masters, and that involves objectifying part of ourselves, as when we contract to sell our labor power. To liberals, the structural conditions which permit the transformation of class-based Mastery/slavery to individual self-mastery/enslavement is a republic or democracy. Obviously, liberalism does not transcend the Master-slave class relation; it just often, formally confines it to the privatized sphere of employment, cristalizing the Master class/slave class again. The private sphere preserves the class Master/slave relation in liberalism. It requires socialism to champion economic democracy and reduce self-aggrandizement/abasement, and thus finally aufhebung the old Greek Master-slave class system at large.

…Back to conservatives, who are driven to universalize throughout all spheres (for aesthetic sake? because the Master class pays them to?) the Master-slave class relation. For post-Enlightenment conservative reactionaries, the concept of mass “freedom” depends upon refusing the possibility of  internalized coercion: “If I can’t act voluntarily against my will, I can’t act voluntarily in accordance with a will that is not my own,” Hobbes argued. In Hobbes’ innovative conservative formulation, the mugger changes your will, he does not impose his will over against yours. It’s just difference. It’s not subjugation.

“The purpose of Hobbes’ effort: to separate the status of our personal liberty from the state of public affairs.” The citizen has political power, not liberty. Liberty is only private, the absence of constraint–on movement. Hobbes insisted that insofar as it does not stop bodies from moving around, monarchy provides all the freedom man could ever know. He argues (paraphrased by Robin), “The more absolute our submission (to authority), the more powerful (the sovereign) is and the freer we are (because the king governs so as to allow us to move). Subjugation is emancipation.” Human existence and society reduce to a chessboard, where all “piece” movements are oriented to the domination of the king over another king.

The liberal critique of Hobbes is: WTF. Say human society doesn’t reduce to a game on a chessboard. Why should we believe a king would be able to facilitate free movement of subjects better than a democracy? To assume that requires a grotesque amount of faith in the omniscience and infallibility of the individual (king), and a whole lot of unjustified scorn for the sociability of human existance. Conservatism is strategically clever, but sociologically stupid.

This is largely reflection upon Robin 2011: 70-73.



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