Controlling Asia by installing and enforcing Middle East tyranny

From Tom Stevenson’s May 2019 LRB review of David Wearing’s Angloarabia (2018):

The Middle Eastern Tyrannies Serve to Allow Anglo-America to Control Europe and Asia

Starting in the late 18th century, Britain installed satraps in the Middle East. Installing and working primarily with the Saud family as its proxy, Britain developed these satraps into monarchical family dictatorships serving as a colonial, geographical flying buttress to the British Empire. What the Middle East primarily offers to empire is great supplies of particularly cheap and high-quality oil, which continental Europe and Asia are dependent upon. The Anglo-Americans that installed and enforce the ruling Middle East tyrannies are strategically independent of Middle Eastern oil. By installing and enforcing a proxy tyranny in Middle Eastern countries, the Anglo-America wing of the Atlantic ruling class quietly holds a knife over the  throats of continental Europe and Asia. Relations between Middle East tyrants and the US and UK are secondarily girded with the re-circulation of oil wealth through arms sales and finance. Moreover, the Middle East ruling class is reproduced through the British military college Sandhurst.

The Costs of Middle Eastern Colonialism

The most terrible, primary cost of of the US and UK maintaining the Middle Eastern  tyrannies is to the 400 million nonelites in the Middle East, from Palestinians to the local population and imported Egyptian and South Asian workers all forbidden democracy, enslaved, surveilled, imprisoned, tortured, and finally, continuously disrupted, traumatized, and dislocated, as the massive US military and the Saudi tyrannies that purchase US, UK, and French arms bombard these populations to maintain absolute control of that region and the leverage it confers over Asia and continental Europe. The Middle Eastern dictatorships draw in fresh supplies of hapless labor from overpopulated Asia and North Africa, which workers are maltreated and soon bombed around the Middle East and North Africa, and onto Europe and the Anglo-American settler states. 11.4 million refugees circulated within the Middle East in 2017, as the global (internally-displaced and cross-regional) refugee population soared in recent years above WWII records to over 65 million disrupted, traumatized, and displaced people (UNHCR 2019).

It is important to understand that these migrant laborers are the wretched unprotected of the Earth. As a recent study by has shown, countries that rely on migrant remittances are more tyrannical rather than less (TBD).

A second cost with far-reaching antidemocratic implications is the reverse control, beyond support, that the Saudi dictators exert over their colonial patrons, as the huge profits of oil secured by the absolute control provided courtesy of the American military sloshes around within the colonial relationship. The Middle Eastern tyrants’ piling wealth is used to prop Anglo-America financially, with anti-democratic results: 1) Chicago darling Monica Prasad tells a sweet, mendacious story of financial innocence, starring Nixon defying the French, taking the dollar off gold, and finding to his “surprise” that the financiers of the world rushed in with cash to support the US as the global financial center. The truth is that financiers had been organizing to deregulate finance from the moment FDR regulated it (Fridell & Hudson 2010), and they accomplished deregulation quickly in Britain (Blyth 2002), which served as global finance’s power base. Defying France wasn’t completely a Nixonian feat of capitalist solidarity and faith, the dollar backed by aught but heroic, immaterial financial speculation. While Nixon was being cut out of power in 1974, US treasury secretary William Simon arranged with the Sauds for the Middle Eastern tyrannies to back the US dollar with their all-too-materially-based oil revenues (Spiro, David. 1999).

Saudi support accomplished a lot, a lot on behalf of finance and military. It enabled the US to continue military expansion, and provided the additional independence to Wall Street-City of London finance it needed to maintain inflation as capital strike and liquidate and privatize the working-class accountable state in the US and UK. Backing the US dollar with Middle East oil permitted the reversal of democratic gains in the US and UK, enabling neoliberalization as the conservatization of liberalism as well as the Nightwatchman State militarization of the US and UK. Swiftly deprived of state institutions supporting working class organization and democratic citizenship, the US and UK working classes were converted from an indirect brake on finance and war into a militarized police force topped by a management class, all with no capacity for independent organization. 2) The Middle Eastern tyrants ostentatiously finance the City of London as a global elite real estate holding, an ever-more gilded hole in which to hoard rents far away from the excluded 99% of humanity. This has become a decadent urban model throughout the world, proliferating not just inequality and inegalitarianism, but housing and transportation poverty as well. 3) When the unregulated Anglo banks were self-aggrandizing, self-deluding, and profligate in the 21st century, it was the Middle Eastern tyrants that bailed them out and allowed them (including Barclays) to avoid economists’ beloved moral hazard reckoning. The Middle Eastern tyrants make Too Big to Fail work. The Middle Eastern tyrants maintain the lack of regulation over Anglo-American finance. The significant secondary costs of Middle East colonialism accrue to core capitalism’s vast smallholding class and to democracy.

Is the Middle Eastern Tyranny Indispensable?

The one flaw of Stevenson’s account is the notion that the primary, humanitarian cost (with its immigration impacts) could be reversed if only the US encouraged Britain’s satraps to behave more kindly. Stevenson lays the blame for this great, rolling imperial disaster squarely on the shoulders of the US, on account of the US’s general barbarism and ignorance. Would that the British could manage everything absolutely, surely they would restore a kinder, gentler colonialism. Though the Anglo ruling class didn’t maintain a kinder, gentler colonialism from the late 18th century up to 1943, when the US joined Britain in bankrolling the Saud’s war on the Gulf, nor up to 1971 when Britain was no longer able to cover the costs of the Gulf military protection racket and transferred the military economy over to the US. Invoking the beloved liberal political-science phantasm of socially-rational state bureaucrats (This may be the sensitive Anglo elite v. US barbarian contrast that liberals and Anglos are imagining as the norm.), perhaps Stevenson has in mind that the UK could finally volunteer to be the benevolent dictator today that it formerly failed to be, and the US fails to be, and that it’s the US that forces the UK to continue to maintain the enabling military support the Gulf States rely on to crush democracy at home and abroad. It seems the British terror of US barbarism is real and not just performative, and yet surveying history as well as contemporary imperial relations (For example, to forestall an Iran-style revolution, “Britain equips and trains the Saudi police force, has military advisors permanently attached to the internal Saudi security forces, and operates a strategic communicaions programme for the Saudi National Guard.”), it is difficult to see how the British offer a positive alternative protection racket, any more than capitalist Russia offers “multipolarity” (distinct from patronage for a handful of political scientists).

Maybe the problem is that the Anglo-American ruling class is too tight. Maybe the recursive jackboot could be eased by splitting the US and UK’s territory in the Middle East, creating a sort of Anglo-American multipolarity. Maybe that’s what a powerful state would do, if it actually valued and pursued humanitarian goals. Both the Obama and Trump administrations suggested publicly that the US has the strategic latitude to cut out the middle man. Presumably if the UK and the Middle Eastern tyrannies attempt to exert too much control over the unholy imperial alliance, the US could roll up its military and, following Nixon, treat directly with the East Asian states, what Stevenson refers to in alarm as “the Asian plot.” Curiously on the affronted Saudis behalf, Stevenson warns US strategists that with climate change, Middle Eastern tyranny affords more precious control over East Asia than ever.

So many questions open up. Does the US need the UK and its colonial satraps as much as they need the US? With this perhaps small or merely-symbolic divergence in UK and US interests in mind, it would be interesting to assess the indispensability of the Middle East tyrannies, within them distinguishing alignments with the US and UK, versus the relative strength of the US’s v. UK’s coercive ties and alliances with China. Certainly, within the British Commonwealth, Canada and Australia have been integrating with China. Why are UK partisans so keen to keep space between the US and China? How do the US and UK interests align with or diverge from China’s interests?

How do US and UK interests diverge from each other, not just in arms sales (The Middle East tyrants are the world’s largest buyer of military equipment, and the US, UK, and France compete with each other to bribe them.), but particularly in finance, as its independence is propped and wagged by the Middle East tyrants? Yes, Saudi oil wealth maintains the US’s war economy, and absolute libertine finance in both Wall Street and the City of London. It helpfully dismantles democracy in both the US and UK. Yet are the Saudi dictators necessary to controlling East Asia, putatively their primary role? The British assure us they are. But can the US exert sufficient control over East Asia in its alliance with the Israeli and Egyptian tyrannies, and by colonial dominance over Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and perhaps Yemen and Iran? (Note: Check out Sunni v. Shi’a alignments.)

A League of Innocent Tyrants

I do not think that the British Empire fell quite as gracefully, in the early 20th century, as is commonly told. The story goes that the expense of WWII was the end of the British Empire, and the transfer of Atlantic ruling class leadership to the US as well as the granting of Indian independence. And it’s true that the locus of power shifted within the Atlantic ruling class family coalition, but did not completely retract from the UK. The Atlantic ruling class is a robust, inbred alliance, and it commands enough of world wealth to grease its internal conflicts. However, together with 20th century financial history, UK-US relations in the Middle East reveal fissures within that robust league of imperialists.

See my brief account UK v. US states and finance from the 1950s – the early 1970s, in “6 Pivotal Class Collective Actions in the US in the Second Half of the 20th Century.” To preserve its power, Britain deregulated finance in the 1950s. This deregulation provided US and global finance extra degrees of tactical freedom and leverage over the US state, including the power to enforce inflation as a form of capital strike. Indicative of solidarity within the UK ruling class and a lack of solidarity between the UK’s rulers and a then-fractured US ruling class, US political leaders did not grasp that the US state had been subordinated to international finance until Nixon was brought down in 1974, a couple years after he inadvertently demonstrated, with state-coordinated price control boards, that (finance-coordinated) capital was manipulating inflation to end US state accountability to the working class (See Blyth 2002: 135-6).

Contrary to much-circulated conservative theorization, inflation was not simply caused by the working class, or even the US’s imperial wars against SE Asians and the OPEC oil embargo (from which the UK was secretly exempted, see Stevenson p. 11). The results of the price-control boards clearly showed that capital was intensifying domestic US inflation, which indicates that capital had heightened coordination and strategic capacity, a capacity typically provided by deregulated finance. With Nixon serving as the publicly-flayed goat of American provincial political miscalculation, the US political class was deeply embarrassed, cowed, and fully chastened for decades, bound to faithfully serve finance and military in exchange for top-manager income and financially-advantageous marriages for their daughters, until the rise of socialists over the last couple of years.

Not only running the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and adding to US inflation panic, the Saudis were right there throughout the 1970s, supporting US imperialism, US and UK de-democratization, and a financial hegemony that turned the City of London and New York City into powerbrokers and international elite real estate enclaves populated inter alia by Middle Eastern tyrants and Russian oligarchs. The Saudis switched from the British currency, pounds sterling, to the US dollar in 1971, when Nixon took the US dollar off the gold standard to defy anti-imperial runs on US gold reserves. Three years later, in 1974, while Nixon was being removed (arguably more for his presumption of state capacity than for his connivance with petty political party crimes revealed by plucky newsmen), in an agreement with the US Treasury Secretary William Simon, the Saudis infused US finance with oil revenues to again back up with material wealth the speculation-backed US dollar (Spiro 1999).




Blyth, Mark. 2002. Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge.

Fridell, Mara and Mark Hudson. 2010. “Financialization, Enabling Policy, and Elite Policy Networks.”

Schenk, Catherine R. 1998. “The Origins of the Eurodollar Market in London: 1955-1963.” Explorations in Economic History 35: 221-238.

Spiro, David. 1999. The Hidden Hand of American Hegemony.

Stevenson, Tom. 2019. “What are we there for?” LRB 11, 9 May.

Wallich, Henry C. 1971. “One chance in a generation: Guideposts for the Commission on
Financial Structure and Regulation.” Journal of Money, Credit and Banking 3(1): 21-30.

Wearing, David. 2018. Angloarabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters to Britain. Polity.






Extrapolation from Gordon 2016

Gordon, Robert J. 2016. The Rise and Fall of American Growth. Princeton.

Note: GPT, General Purpose Technology, is the fundamental technology upon which a society is built. For example, Gordon cites both electricity and oil extraction and processing as the GPTs of the 20th century US. GPTs pave paths of technological and social-organizational dependency in which specific trajectories of subsidiary technologies are developed.

1) Kalecki thesis: capitalists fundamentally seek control, in order to secure capital, fungible social power.

a) When they have managed to constrain workers’ human-capacity development, particularly their organizing capacity, capitalist control means deploying workers as expendable, dehumanized machines. In aggregate, this takes away from developing the forces of production.

i) Conservative ideology helps reproduce the capitalist Human Waste economy, as per the slavery, servitude model.

b) Upon a Depression separating capitalist exploitation from labour, social-liberal (pro-worker) policy and institutions and war nationalism combined to promote the collective infrastructure required for rigorous subsidiary tech improvements in the US. This extremely-heightened activity, based on the war-social democracy convergence, formed the basis of the exceptional US Trente Glorieuses growth (Gordon 2016).

Social democracy sustains the worker capacitation required to maintain this tech innovation pressure. But without war nationalism, economic growth from tech innovation is moderated; affronted by worker capacitation, elites petulantly go on strike (See 1970s inflation). Conservatized liberalism dismantles social democratic developmentalist infrastructure in favor of control-prioritizing war nationalism only. Without social democracy, subsidiary tech innovation is constrained and the GPT is petrified; economic growth declines.

c) Because it does not mute working-class feedback, a philosophical-materialist, socialist-backbone society has superior capacity to collectively decide on the GPT (General Purpose Technology) governing subsidiary innovations in tech and organization. Examples of superior GPT intervention capacity: Scandinavian social democracies, Germany, China.

i) Societies that delegate GPT decisions strictly to the market, the global capitalist class, relinquish and have no capacity to guide GPT change. They serve as stupid, senseless global bulwarks against GPT shift, prioritizing predictability, ROI, and rentier capitalism (producing increasingly-absolute ownership rights). Anglo-American capitalism is an island aristocracy-designed machine for constraining and muting (torturing into a ventriloquist’s dummy, per Scarry 1985) a domestic working class in favor of maintaining a global-elite-coordinating GPT regime. Imperialism, colonialism, and the military necessarily grow out of and support this primary solution to exclusionary value accumulation (which is why capitalist marketeers once claimed that capitalism would dispense with this violent outgrowth–They misrepresented the successive outgrowth as an optional tactic in poor taste). In order to secure global elite cooperation with their leadership while disrupting societies globally, these Anglo-American model societies prioritize control over, and effective criminalization of their domestic working class, capacitating them and offering them to global elites strictly as consumers and working-class-targeting police/managers and imperial soldiers. Management, militarization, and finance are the governing economic institutions of these capitalist “core” or “metropole” societies.

Prioritizing control over, and effective criminalization of the domestic pool of workers and their families and communities (smallholders), such a global capitalist-subordinated, militarized nationalist society cannot sustain worker capacitation and does not have the capacity to collectively decide on or intervene in the GPT orientation.

Hence, the Anglo-American societies, for example, are bound to contribute increasingly to climate crisis, surveillance and carceralism, and disruptive imperialism, and dismantle or forgo public infrastructure and assets, policy and technology supporting environmental repair, and public education, libraries, and substantive democratic capacity building.

Maintaining a GPT in defiance of broad, shared human development and welfare ratchets up pressure. The belligerence sustains the aging GPT, by shifting around the mounting structural pressure building against GPT-maintenance, which further requires capitalist hoarding and militarization. Anti-social democratic regional economies most tied to the aging GPT, such as the oil states of Texas, Alberta, and Saudi Arabia, will produce the most militant, and methodically inhumane and destructive opposition to GPT shift.

See also: Erica Benner (Actually-existing Nationalisms) for informed identification of Marx’s arguments around human development, sovereignty, including in relation to economic catch-up, and idealist philosophy and nationalist ideology traditions (as these are embedded in liberal-conservative approaches to uneven development), particularly in The German Ideology, also The Jewish Question, and the Grundrisse.

Conservative wheelhouse: Assuming the impossibility of mutual recognition

David Graeber summarizes Hegel’s account of human desire for recognition in the Master-slave dialectic as a prime example of conservative theory’s assumption of the impossibility of mutual recognition. Most philosophers and many social theorists playing in the conservative wheelhouse proceed to theorize recognition upon the assumption of highly-unequal, slavery relations as normal, universal human relations. “But it’s one thing to say that the quest for mutual recognition is necessarily going to be tricky, full of pitfalls, with a constant danger of descending into attempts to dominate or even obliterate the other,” Graeber cautions. “It’s another thing to assume from the start that mutual recognition is impossible.”

“As Majeed Yar has pointed out (2001) this assumption has come to dominate almost all subsequent Western thinking on the subject: especially, since Sartre refigured recognition as ‘the gaze’ that, he argued, necessarily pins down, squashes, and objectifies the Other.

As in so much Western theory, when social relations are not simply ignored, they are assumed to be inherently competitive. Todorov notes (2000) that much of this is the result of starting one’s examples with a collection of adult males” (Graeber 2015).

Philosophy rejects collectivist, knowledge-building science, rigorous, collectively-regulated empirical methods to discern the range of –not just probability but also– possibility, including by identifying trends, averages, standard deviations and other summaries of main dynamics in a select place and time, as well as variations within that milieu and in main dynamics across space and time, identifying via theory, correlation, time-order, and comparison together their contributing factors, to systematically refine and correct these descriptive and explanatory frameworks collectively. In science, empirical disconfirmation of theory is maintained as part of the knowledge ideal–thus, the pursuit of scientific knowledge employs a diverse collectivism; one study is not science, nor is uniformity stable in this kind of collectivism (per Kuhn 1962).

Science constructs probable descriptions of what tends to exist or not, how–under specified relations or conditions, within a comparative understanding of the constellation of possibility in complex, often reflexive life relations. Philosophy’s desultory knowledge method, by contrast, tends to rather rely on a few, fetishized “expertly”-chosen cases (Olympe de Gouges!) exclusively confirming elite interests (Social rationality = death!). Philosophy celebrates the exception.

Not theory exactly, but due to its method, in particular philosophy’s (including theory primarily based on philosophy) long-term characteristic problem tends to be importing, as its bed of assumptions, the wisdom of the ruling social segment–classically, property-owning man between the ages of 20 and 50. While we have arrived at a point in global capitalism where such perspective can be readily denounced, the discrediting move tends to issue from within the desultory, antidemocratic-elitist philosophical knowledge project itself, and in the conservative effort to maintain manufactured scarcity across global integration, it tends to be directed at waged workers and science, or rather, commercial scientism qua science tout court. Weber saw doom in the shift from princely state managers to working-class state bureaucracies. Bruno Latour has made a career and academic institute based on showing that white-coated technicians working in commercial labs are irrational. Foucault reified opportunistic, scientistic Psychology as his reduction of science, even while admiring conservative economics. Philosopher GA Cohen argued that in the communist utopia the affront to philosophy that is social science would die, as it contributes nothing to knowledge besides demystification of labor and commodities. With these expert Great Man philosopher selections of cases “demonstrating” that Enlightenment scientific method offers no advantages to knowledge issued by Great Men serving warlords, and many disadvantages (a lack of independent genius, per Nietzsche), philosophers–particularly the French school by way of the German-Catholic idealist philosophy tradition–protect and advance the reputation of philosophical contributions to knowledge, based upon an elitist assumption bed–particularly elite distributions of misanthropy and anthrophilia, elite assumptions about the distribution of sovereignty and rationality, and elites’ recognition failures, in addition to assuming that humanity is reducible to young, elite male experience, including autism and unbound competitiveness. These elitist assumptions provide the foundation for arriving at the philosophy and theory objective, the foregone conservative-wheelhouse conclusion that non-elite human development and democracy are impossible. It is a venerable, neat political ecology.

(For a prime example, see the neo-Hobbesian, French (cum German idealist)-school philosophy of Justin Smith, as his recent contribution to this tradition offers a crystallization of this ancient, antidemocratic Atlantic elite project.)

Elitist Idealism v. Democratic Materialism

Graeber discusses Catholic Europe’s Medieval psychology theory, which started with the proto-Cartesian premise of a human soul divorced from an object world, where a kind of intermediary mucus or film, a “pneuma,” was posited to represent that world like a script or teevee show to the temporarily-embarrassed (separated from Heaven) soul of man. Desiring to apprehend and embrace that world–for example with the human body– was pathological, in Catholic Medieval thought. In its ethics, the externally-imposed passion must be self-managed, via a priest-like, contemplatory orientation to the imagined pneuma.

This baroque and improbable idealist theory set up a few conceptualizations useful for inegalitarian organization in feudalism: 1) Humans are conceived as utterly alien to Earth. This alienation will be useful, from a warlord perspective, in isolating people and extracting and exploiting. 2) As shared sovereignty within human relations is impossible, desire is reduced to unrequited sexual tension. The male adolescent experience is reconceived as the universal human condition, and we all pretend priests don’t molest children. 3) Ethics: The proper business of man is not to organize and engage in collective action with other people, since slavery relations are universal and we cannot share sovereignty. It is to sit alone on the couch and absorb the Pnetflix…er, pneuma, a normative individualism sanctified as a relationship between a man and his imaginary lord. Man is a teenage monk.

Graeber’s genealogy identifies an historical shift from understanding individualist, imaginative desire as erotic, in Medieval Catholic Europe, to understanding it as consumption, eating food, a universal, individualist act of private property destruction and incorporation in global capitalism.

“The ultimate proof that one has (absolute) sovereign power over another human being is one’s ability to have them executed. In a similar fashion, one might argue, the ultimate proof of possession, of one’s personal dominium over a thing, is one’s ability to destroy it—and indeed this remains one of the key legal ways of defining dominium, as a property right, to this day. But there’s an obvious problem here. If one does destroy the object, one may have definitively proved that one owns it; but as a result, one does not own it any more.”

In either the conservative Catholic tradition or the liberal capitalist tradition, desire is propelled, and an inegalitarian social order is perpetuated, by the logical impossibility of an isolated individual simultaneously having a cake (or bang, or slave) and eating it too. These are logical proofs of the impossibility of absolute sovereignty distributed across human individuals. What ho, we’re not gods. The infantile passion imposed by the gulf separating man from consumerist utopia in capitalism is conceived as the proper focus of individualist man. (This is why psychologists classify philosophers as neurotics.) Man’s passion is imposed upon man from outside, above. It is solitary man’s duty to self-manage the imposed passion, and not to judge, decide, and act collectively, not assess and allocate resources to wants and needs over time and across life, as per materialist philosophy. Selecting illustrative cases, philosophers and economists pump out denunciations of such shared, socially-rational use of full human capacity, while conservative Catholic legal authorities forbid it in favor of elite rationality.

Note by contrast what democratic Enlightenment’s scientific approach to knowledge does with the reality that humans are not gods: It devises social knowledge-acquiring methods that both deploy our human capacities and compensate for our human limitations. Not Genius-boy philosophy, tho, based as it is upon a misanthropy that instrumentally excludes the exceptional.

Ideas before Organization

In Graeber’s theory, the origin of capitalism is Medieval Catholic Europe’s individualist idealism, the conceptual requirement for consequent capitalist individualist practice.

“The shift from a conception desire modeled on erotic love to one based on the desire for food (“consumption”) was clearly a shift in the direction of popular discourse; at the same time, though, one might say the innovative aspect of modern, consumeristic theories of desire is to combine the popular materialist emphasis on consumption with the notion of the ephemeral, ungraspable image as the driving force of maximization of production.”

“The idea of human beings as creatures tainted by original sin, and therefore, cursed with infinite wants, who therefore were in an almost natural state of competition with each other, was already fully developed in authors like St. Augustine, and therefore a part of Christian doctrine throughout the Middle Ages… the notion of the maximizing individual existed in theory long before it emerged in practice.” Still in Catholic European Medieval society, “almost any increase in popular wealth was immediately diverted into communal feasts, parades, and collective indulgences. One of the processes that made capitalism possible then was the privatization of desire.”

Distinguishing Making (Unalienated Work and Social Reproduction) from Consumption

Graeber calls for scholarly specification of what we identify and analyze as consumption, limiting consumption to those activities that involve incorporation and destruction (eg. burning fossil fuels) driven by capitalist possessive-individualist desire. He argues that expanding the concept of consumption to encompass all of human life beyond the manufacture of commodities renders absurd moral narratives. “When ‘creative consumption’ is at its most creative, it’s not consumption; when it’s most obviously a form of consumption, it is not creative.” In inflating the concept of consumption to conform with a marketeer’s desiderata, scholars are rendered sub-critical, ridden by the historical, hegemonic metaphor, not scholarly. Scholars of integrity–as opposed to court philosophers–have to be able to distinguish between activities that are really semi-sovereign, unalienated, and creative making (in Scarry’s 1985 sense), and those that are not.

This distinction, however, requires of conservatives and liberals a perhaps-impossible conceptual shift to recognition of non-elites as humans, with a human range of capacities and limitation, capable of human development and making. It forces a conceptual shift in our understanding of sovereignty–not to dispense with the notion, but to shift it from a God-like absolute ideal, jealously monopolized over a dominion, to an alloyed and socially-distributed attribute, fit for a social life on Earth.

By classifying all non-productive activities as consumption, commodified acts of ceremonial destruction making way for more production, we deny all human making (imagination and realization to address a suffering) beyond the capitalist class. Consumption scholars “are categorizing all non-alienated forms of production as consumption, which has the incredibly reactionary political effect of treating almost all every form of unalienated experience we do engage in as somehow a gift granted us by the captains of industry.” Graeber calls for us to replace the (pseudo-) “Marxist” (capitalist) opposition between production and consumption with another understanding of human activity–effectively Marxist social reproduction, what Anthropologists conceive more idealistically as “the sphere of the production of human beings, not just as labor power but as persons, internalized nexes of meaningful social relations.” Human creative activity essential to capitalist value accumulation, because mostly uncommodified and so expropriated.

(Graeber, an anarchist, sometimes is a little sketchy on Marxist theory, or at least prone to viewing the Frankfurt School as a logical extension of Marx, rather than an historical-psychological extension from the Holocaust. Note that while Marxists do analyze consumption as one of several forms of capitalist alienation–commodity fetishism, the Marxist “sphere” distinction is between the sphere of production and the sphere of circulation (not a “sphere of consumption”), and that contrasting-spheres conceptualization serves in Marxist theory to explain capitalist incentive, anxiety to secure the surplus, profit.)

“Insofar as social life is and always has been mainly about the mutual construction of human beings, the ideology of consumption has been endlessly effective in helping us forget this. Most of all it does so by suggesting that: a)human desire is essentially as a matter of a relation between individuals and phantasms; b)our primarily relation with other individuals, then, becomes an endless struggle to establish their sovereignty, or autonomy, by incorporating and destroying aspects of the world around them; (MF: So idealist capitalist phagocytotic desire compels us to revoke others’ sovereignty absolutely.) c) this logic ultimately becomes the basis for ways of imagining the very possibility of relations with other people (the (Sartrean) problem of “the Other”); d) materially, it becomes the basis for imagining society as a gigantic engine of production and destruction in which the only significant human activity is either manufacturing things, or engaging in acts of ceremonial destruction so as to make way for more: a vision which in fact sidelines most (social reproduction) things that real people actually do, and insofar as it is translated into actual economic behavior, is obviously unsustainable.”

“Even as anthropologists and other social theorists directly challenge this view of the world, the (overly-broad,) unreflective use and indeed propagation of terms like ‘consumption’ ends up completely undercutting their efforts and reproducing exactly the tacit ideological logic we would wish to undercut” (Graeber 2015: 30).

…That is if consumption theorists wish to undercut the Catholic-capitalist logic. But it’s not clear that anyone playing in the wheelhouse of conservatism wants to undercut conservatism’s logic. Perhaps all they aspire to do is wittily, pseudo-critically, conservative-ethically coordinate and regulate pneumatic contemplation, prescribe the self-management of the delegated passion, wonder at the creativity–a munificence bestowed by capitalist lords upon the multitudinous bellies, and assert the fatal impossibility of mutual recognition, shared sovereignty,  non-elite development, and democracy.

See also: Post on Star Wars: An Ethics Discourse on Who Made Me?


Revolutions of 1848

Excerpts from

Clark, Christopher. 2019. “Why should we think about the Revolutions of 1848 now?” London Review of Books 7 March.

Conceptualizing Revolutionary Change in Space & Time

Clark depicts the Revolutions of 1848 as having “sparked” an exceptional, spatial “transcontinental cascade.”

Rather than contrasting revolutionary moments, we can regard the 1848 Revolutions as part of a slow-release cascade over time, an “Extended European Revolution” that also included the French Revolution of 1789, the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804, the July Revolution of 1830, the Paris Commune of 1870, and the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917.

Yet perhaps under liberal constraint and from a military strategy point of view, revolution has been largely understood not as a complex, non-linear, punctuated process over both space and time, but as the exceptional event. Impressively-social, shared emotion, democratic confidence, has been thought to restructure perception and in so doing diffuse sovereign agency, an unpredictable emotional spasm coordinating signalling and so action. The event, this social-emotional Mayfly moment across space (but not time) that perceptibly, if ephemerally, overmasters elite hierarchy, becomes fetishized in 20th century imperial Western social philosophy as the limit–the romantic simultaneous birth and death– of democratic change. 

“For politically sentient Europeans, 1848 was an all-encompassing moment of shared experience. It turned everyone into contemporaries.” The simultaneous 1848 Revolutions was a shared affective experience, a “euphoria of unanimity.”

Opposed to understanding revolution as a complex, punctuated, non-linear process over time, an Animal Spirits-type explanation for revolution has ancillary functions. It permits liberals and conservatives to tendentiously frame revolution as an exceptionally, unjustly violent eruption, doomed to failure. The explanation further permits conservatives and liberals to maintain a view of the “mob” as a sub-rational species to be managed, making democracy impossible or restricting it to parliamentary process, as Clark observes liberals prefer.

Our conceptualization of revolution has been twice-adulterated by the interests cohering hierarchical social orders.

Further fragmenting and misrepresenting revolution, the shared trans-regional event of the 1848 Revolutions was rewritten ex post facto as isolated, exceptional national events.

“These revolutions were experienced as European upheavals – the evidence for this is superabundant – but, as Axel Körner pointed out, they were nationalised in retrospect.”

Revolutionary organization innovations

Coalitional assembly reformations

“The Revolutions of 1848 were revolutions of assemblies: the Constituent Assembly in Paris, which made way for the single-chamber legislature known as the National Assembly; the Prussian Constituent Assembly or Nationalversammlung in Berlin, elected under new laws created for the purpose; the Frankfurt Parliament, convoked in the elegant circular chamber of St Paul’s Church in the city of Frankfurt. The Hungarian Diet was a very old body, but in 1848 a new national Diet was convened in the city of Pest. When the Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I dissolved the Diet by decree, a new Hungarian national assembly met in the Protestant Great Church of Debrecen. The revolutionary insurgents of Naples, Piedmont-Sardinia, Tuscany and the Papal States all established new parliamentary bodies. The revolutionaries of Sicily, seeking to break away from the rule of Naples, founded their own Sicilian parliament, which in April 1848 deposed the Bourbon king in Naples, Ferdinando II.”

Organization innovations introduced by revolutionaries, but reviled by liberals

1848 Revolutions were a fluorescence of both polity and social movement innovation, representing both the included bourgeois citizenry and the working class excluded by absolute private property right. “But the assemblies were merely one theatre of action. By the summer of 1848, they were coming under pressure, not just from the monarchical executives in many states, but also from a range of more radical groups: networks of clubs and ‘committees’, for example, or radical counter-assemblies such as the General Crafts and Manufacturing Congress founded in Frankfurt in July 1848 to speak for workers in the skilled trades whose interests were not represented in the liberal and middle-class-dominated National Assembly. This body in turn split after five days into two separate congresses, because it proved impossible to bridge the divide between masters and journeymen.”

“Liberals revered parliaments and looked with disgust on the clubs and assemblies of the radicals which seemed to them to parody the sublime procedural culture of properly elected and constituted chambers. Even more alarming, from the perspective of ‘chamber liberals’, were organised demonstrations intended to intervene directly in the affairs of parliaments. In Paris on 15 May 1848 a crowd broke into the lightly guarded chamber of the National Assembly, disrupted the proceedings, read out a petition and then marched off to the Hôtel de Ville to proclaim an ‘insurrectionary government’ to be headed by noted radicals.”

“The tension between parliamentary and other forms of representation – between representative and direct forms of democracy – is another feature of 1848 that resonates with today’s political scene, in which parliaments have fallen in public esteem and a diverse array of competing non- or extra-parliamentary groups has come into being, using social media and organising around issues that may not command the attention of professional politicians.”

Revolution promulgates a cascade of non-linear transformations

Within 1848, the spring “euphoria of unanimity” degraded into summertime “violent clashes between liberal (or in France republican) leaders and radical crowds on the streets of the larger cities in Prussia and France,” and by fall the conservative reaction was ascendant. “In September, October and November, counter-revolution unfolded in Berlin, Prague, the Kingdom of Naples and Vienna. Parliaments were shut down, troops returned en masse to the streets, insurgents were arrested and sentenced.”

A radical revolt redoubled its efforts before they were crushed by conservative-commanded European militaries in the summer of 1849: “a second phase, radical revolt dominated by democrats and socialists of various kinds broke out in the southern German states (especially Baden and Württemberg), in western and southern France, and in Rome, where the radicals, after the flight of the pope on 24 November, eventually declared a republic.”

“In the south of Germany, this second-wave upheaval was only extinguished in the summer of 1849, when Prussian troops captured the fortress of Rastatt in Baden, the last stronghold of the radical insurgency. Shortly afterwards, in August 1849, French troops crushed the Roman republic and restored the papacy, much to the chagrin of those who had once revered France as the patron of revolution. At about the same time, the bitter war over the future of the Kingdom of Hungary was brought to an end, as Austrian and Russian troops occupied the country.”

Legacy: Strategizing how to counter the international/global power of elites’ military-force infrastructure

While revolutionary organizers strove to build internationalist networks, conservative elites own the military infrastructure that has allowed elites to successfully, and violently, operate across boundaries.The radicals and liberals were impressively successful in creating transnational networks, but these networks were horizontal: they lacked the vertical structures and resources required to wield decisive force. The counter-revolution, by contrast, drew on the combined resources of armies whose loyalty to the traditional powers had never been seriously in question.” “The Prussians intervened against the revolution in Baden and Württemberg. The French intervened in the Papal States against the Roman republic. The Russians intervened in Hungary.”

Clark argues that this collective experience of the international military might of hierarchical conservatism was also profoundly influential on the development of Western ideas. While revolution was reduced to senseless, brutal failure–or at best, beautiful but doomed, youthful, romantic folly–and dismissed in the minds of most conservatives and liberals, others put much thought to how democratic progress could advance in the face of conservatism’s military command efficiency–how networks could beat hierarchies. “You find this (latter) quest in Marx and Engels (especially Engels), in Ludwig von Rochau’s Grundsätze der Realpolitik (1853), in the Saint-Simonian technocracy that infiltrated administrative practice in France after 1848, and in the primacy of ‘blood and iron’ so memorably articulated by Bismarck.”

Yet the revolutions prompted a vast transformation in ideas, and in political and especially administrative practice across Europe. 

Legacy: Administrative practice shifts

Saint-Simonian technocracy… infiltrated administrative practice in France after 1848.”

In Social Structures of the Economy (2005) and Manet (2019), Bourdieu showed how Saint-Simonian French administrative practice provides ample space for elites to legitimately commandeer the state, deftly avoiding Weber’s  dreaded “Iron Cage” of rationality. First elites’ sons are washed through elite universities, where they learn to master articulating elite interests in an abstract, neutral register–either technocratic or philosophical. Then, starting immediately upon graduation, they are imported into state-supported leadership positions within bureaucracies, academies, and the public sphere. They don’t follow bureaucratic career steps to influence. The state bureaucracies and institutions are subordinated to politically-organized French capital.

Legacy: A 3-way division of political vision and prescription

Ideas forwarded by the 1848 revolutions include the necessity of social rights to secure or counterbalance the economic and political liberty of elites, such as are protected by states–law and militaries. Leading up to the 1848 Revolutions, in the 1840s Europeans realized that full-time (overtime) labor in exploitative and extractive capitalism would far too often result in pauperization, while the rich enjoyed the elite liberty of unbounded accumulation and political power.

This 1840s recognition promoted a distinct political tri-furcation: Conservatives argue that socio-economic inequality is divine and natural, a good thing; liberals demur that socio-economic inequality is negative, but they argue that socio-economic inequality is a symptom of illegitimate state interventions undercutting natural market equilibrium; socialists argue that socio-economic inequality is the result of elite interest maximization prioritized by capitalism, as that unbalanced, unchecked elite interest maximization destroys life, and stunts and militarizes polity, institutional, and disposition development.

What is to be done about socio-economic inequality? 

For conservatives, divine social inequality provides an opportunity for elites to express their monopoly on human virtue via absolute, exclusive Herrenvolk liberty, including discretionary, ad hoc forays into chivalrous charity.

For liberals, illegitimate social inequality provides a theoretical pretense for reorienting states to support further wealth accumulation, deregulating markets and liberating capitalists from social and ecological responsibilities.

Socialists strategize how egalitarian ideas and network organization can effectively contend with international, militarized conservative and liberal opposition, to permit democratic development.

Legacy: Revolutions constrain and channel elites’ discourse and tactical degrees of freedom

Yet aspects of the democratic ideas persisted through the counterrevolution, channeling inegalitarians’ behaviour, their degrees of freedom. “Counter-revolutionaries were as often as not – in their own eyes – the executors, rather than the gravediggers, of the revolution.” For example, “Louis Napoleon, who became president of France at the end of 1848 before making himself emperor in 1852, did not depict himself as the crusher of revolution, but as the restorer of order.” Against the far more laissez-faire liberal and conservative prescriptions, Napoleon “spoke of the need not to block, but to channel the forces unleashed by the revolution, to establish the state as the vanguard of material progress.”

Revolutions are also driven by anti-revolutionary, imperial socio-spatial management

Clark explains the global quality of the European Revolutions of 1848 with reference to how British ruling elites, managing the spatial distribution of disruption, dispersed protest to British Empire tributaries.

“The news of revolution in Paris had a profound impact on the French Caribbean and the measures adopted by London to avoid revolution on the British mainland triggered protests and uprisings across the imperial periphery as the historian Miles Taylor has shown. The transportation en masse of potential trouble-makers from England and Ireland triggered protests in Australia and the Cape Colony. To keep sugar cheap the British government abandoned the system of tariff walls known as ‘imperial preference’, exposing colonial planters in Jamaica and British Guyana to competition from outside the British Empire and giving rise to protests, riots and political paralysis. In Ceylon, the introduction of new taxes to cut costs without burdening British middle-class taxpayers triggered the emergence of a protest movement that soon encompassed around sixty thousand men.”

An empire, as a militarized hierarchy, controls the spatial distribution of disruption in order to contain revolution. After 1776, Atlantic elites successfully contained revolution in the Anglo-American empire, including both the Commonwealth countries and the US. London’s role–managing disruption spatially–in maintaining capitalist stability in the face of the Extended European Revolution, has over time resulted in a consumption-stimulating Anglo-American domestic class settlement. This successful system of imperial redirection, on behalf of capitalist metropole stabilization, is what has earned London and New York their status as secure depositories for global wealth in the capitalist-extractivist-slavery era. 

However, the Extended European Revolution shows that in prioritizing the accumulation of power over the development of life, the imperial disruption shell game contributes a procession of social and mounting environmental destabilization globally over time.

Legacy: Revolutions embed revolutionaries within some states, channeling institutional and policy development

Revolutionaries became embedded in the militarily-imposed state, constraining its conservative capacities. “More than a third of the préfets of post-1848 Bonapartist France were former radicals; so was the Austrian minister of the interior from July 1849, Alexander von Bach, whose name had once stood on the lists of suspect liberals kept by the Vienna police department.”

Revolution promoting the integration of some revolutionaries into European states has not overcome militarized, inegalitarian capitalism. But it has forged a more socially- and environmentally-rational, more-democratic Continental Europe, despite European elites’ command of international military force.

This is a fundamental distinction between Continental Europe and UK class compromises. In that sense, I am not really surprised about Brexit.

Manet & Bourgeois Revolt

“Manet” (Bourdieu, 2017) synopsis, with my own extended analysis.

Emerging from a bourgeois background, Manet was the primary exponent of France’s bourgeois symbolic revolution against the state-sponsored art academy just after the Crimean War peak of Napoleon III’s modernizing empire. Manet had all the cultural capital of his class background and state-sponsored training, and he used it to create more economically-efficient painting techniques and a subject matter that better fit a stronger businessmen’s interior decoration market.

Manet’s subject matter tended to to deviate from the imperial-rivalry signfications of classical subject matter that the Salon academy reproduced–particularly in Manet’s cheeky play with the symbolic boundaries of sexuality. A consumer public of “the (bourgeois) people” supported Manet’s rebellion, a symbolic blow for absolutist state-supported antistatism. After all, isn’t antistatist symbology the most radical revolution imaginable, from within the bourgeois interest?


As well as flat, contextless scenes of the new urban life, Manet painted a couple scenes from the collapse of that French Empire, including the Execution of Emperor Maximilian (when Mexico defeated Imperial France) and a sketch of the Barricade (the restoration of–the 3rd–French Republic).


But in Manet’s communication with his friend Zola, it is clear that Manet regretted the return of democracy, which he perceived as the ascendance of brutes–just as he had treated the French imperial state’s art academy functionally as a contrasting background wall for the display of his work, and morally as a vehicle of conformist oppression. Manet and bourgeois aesthetics flourished in the pure and defiant urban bourgeois interstice that inegalitarian late-absolutist imperialism created.

It was clear that Manet’s symbolic revolution, “which interprets nature with a gentle brutality” (Zola) was the product of the final absolutists’ modernization campaigns, and its particular  beneficiary, the urban bourgeois world those reforms established in a few European metropoles.


The rarified, charming, naughty, ingratiating, and playful way of life that finally found footing and new expression was the product of an imperial, late absolutist–including  Napoleon III, Bismarck, the dying Austrian and Ottoman Empires, the continuing Anglo-led repression of Russian and Egyptian development–reaction against and management of democratic Enlightenment, an orchestration to take the Enlightenment’s ideas and implement them, with economic liberalization but without democracy.


That island of urban French life, with its luminous, ginger cast of well-dressed bourgeois and naked servants, is what Manet valued. That is the worldly “peace” condition that the romantic antidemocratic bourgeoisie values, because it has created for them a little private topos of sexualized play and bourgeois decisionism, an affirming, “universal” collective experience of transitory symbolic structural subversion, complementing the enabling, institutionalized elite decisionism of (democracy-conditioned) conservativism, and substituting for the painful if also transitory universal decisionism of democratic revolution. Exclusive, ephemeral, nubile, tragic beauty is what romantics aestheticize.

The French symbolicists’ and the White Austrian managers’ precious conditions were the epitome of combustible. What built that European modernized-metropole bourgeois world, loved and represented by Manet and other French aesthete beneficiaries of late absolutist-imperialism, also must devolve from Crimean War unto the loss against Mexico and the Franco-Prussian War loss, then onto WWI and WWII, the rolling implosion/explosion of rearguard late absolutism.


…Leaving a gilded cherry, a bourgeois world poised to dominate, its expendable ally democracy having been discreetly managed away.

The Austrian emigres were court dregs, fueled by the Excellent urban experience, the bourgeois decisionism of that romantic metropole moment within an inegalitarian, rearguard, fast-decaying imperial mobilization, a mobilization that co-opted the ideas of the democratic Enlightenment it repressed, and then imploded in imperial war, before exploding into a thousand pointed shards finally in WWI.

The Austrian Whites blamed the socialists for the end, but the Red Vienna socialists came to build in the interwar period, long after the Austrian empire was collapsing and even after the empire died. That is what Atlantic Anglo-America’s capitalists imported upon us: The Austrian courtiers of inegalitarianism’s thievery, brutality, dishonesty, and failure. Bolstering the diffused institutions of slavery and the spatialized institutions of colonial conquest, inegalitarian romanticism fuses with inegalitarian pragmatism in the US.

Haven’t romantic bourgeois aesthetics institutionalized pre-1870s imperial absolutism’s urban bourgeois metropole ideal as the ruling mystification of capitalist order in the Anglosphere and Atlantic Europe?

The key to romantic-pragmatic inegalitarianism is never giving credit where credit is due. To keep up, and to transform into meritocratic ideology, the instrumentalist Burkean faith that the elite are the only excellence possible in this world, while the vast servant class embodies all of humanity’s faults, we have to pretend that Napoleon III did not repress democracy and co-opt democrats’ ideas, but rather invented the modernizations wholecloth in the mid 19th century–and invented them in his free time on the side, while he stormed Europe and the world to subjugate and expropriate its wealth, for capitalist modernization.

Economics as a Discipline Manages Ideas and an Economy, Does Not Suffice to Determine What Kind of Socio-economy is Best

The Atlantic Anglosphere incorporated Friedrich von Hayek and cohort from the final failure and collapse of the White Imperial Austrian Empire, which, as a sclerotic, inegalitarian aristocracy had been on the decline, dependent upon imperial British support and rivalristic repression of both Russian and Egyptian modern socio-economic development. In its last three decades, the Austrian Empire had to incorporate Hungary to maintain the empire. It was obviously an aristocratic mess of crutch scaffolding, because that empire imploded in WWI, as you’ll recall.

In the interwar years, a “Red Vienna” arose around socialist ideas of productively sharing the wealth amassed in the dissipated empire. This improved Vienna. The White Imperial Austrians, including Mises and Hayek, seem to be really pissed off by that socialist leadership and organization. Certainly Red Vienna violated the conservative core belief that only a rich warlord class or caste of ruling elites (benefiting from their employment of exceptional advisors, of course) can run a functioning society. Though one wonders, were the White Austrians so ideological or so stupid that they somehow failed to realize that Red Vienna was built after the empire’s demise, and certainly was not a cause of its failure? Getting right with history isn’t really necessary, I suppose, if you find yourself all out of imperial employment, and then you spin around to find you’ve got an Atlantic ruling class showering you with money, academic posts, and Nobel Prizes for your expert court services.

Atlantic Anglo-America picked up the Austrian Empire’s theorists of inegalitarianism and deployed them to support absolute liberty for Anglo-American capitalists, at of course the expense of everyone else and domestic socio-economic development. Thanks to the “innovative vision” and money piles of its belligerent capitalist class, Atlantic Anglo-America deployed the Austrian Empire Decline Model by the mid 20th century, and its latter products continue to re-create that rolling disaster today. Thanks, Austrian Empire, you failed piece of shit!

Romantically inspired by that little pre-1870 historical moment when absolutist tyrants like Napoleon III and Bismarck finally modernized European metropoles just enough to establish urban bourgeois life, inegalitarians are like morphine addicts, a reality-averse, navel-gazing bourgeoisie.

Arguing for capitalists to fund a war of morality ideas, for a concentrated distribution of “output” and sovereign agency, against a broad distribution of “output” and sovereign agency, against egaliberte, democratic Enlightenment, Hayek (1939) argued, “The ultimate decision for and against socialism cannot rest on purely economic grounds, and cannot be based merely on the determination of whether a greater or smaller output of society is likely to be obtained under the alternative systems in question” (Quoted in Corey Robin’s “Uninstalling Hayek” (2019), in the Boston Review).

Note that past an identifiable point, “output” is a poor social goal, as it includes social and environmental disasters in service of absolute elite control and power.

gni v life expectancy

Life expectancy is an aggregate way of representing life quality. This graph of life expectancy v. output is one way of showing that past about 10-20K/capita, increasing output adds nothing positive to most people’s lives.


Disastrous environmental “output”

Oil spills

Disastrous social “output”

Reduced life chances: Health damage



Absolute elite control and power

Wealth inequality, globally

Wealth inequality at capitalist core

Income inequality globally

Income inequality at capitalist core

Political tyranny

Capitalist Rents Wasted on Capitalist Moral Ideas Disseminators,

see also Rightwatch’s files


State Policy Network (SPN), including its affiliated state organizations

Focus on the Family, USA; Focus on the Family, Canada.


KEVIN KRUSE wrote One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America

I have to post this because I always get Kruse confused with Thomas Sugrue, and I forget the title of this book.

Years ago, back before Evil Annamaria Tremonti killed off her good twin sister Good Annamaria Tremonti, The Current interviewed Kruse about this book.