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?

 

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Aziz Rana’s Internationalist Platform

Aziz Rana’s (2019) policy-development prescription (somewhat reformulated by me) for Justice Dems and labor organizers, as a polity-challenger coalition:

1) Labor organizing, building networks capacitating internationalist immigrant organizing leadership.

Problem: “The overwhelming tendency–and not just on the Right–is to present immigration as an issue that begins at the national border, with virtually no attention paid to the particular histories, international economic pressures, and specific US foreign policy practices that generate migration patterns” (Rana 2019).

2) Democratic budgeting exercises reworking the security state budget, to demonstrate popular capacity to democratize foreign policy, and to reintegrate foreign and domestic policy beyond the shallow, corporate-military “America First” working-class appeasement campaign.
3) Policy ideas for transitioning the US from overgrown military keynesianism on behalf of global capitalists to a wealth-circulating, democratic-tech developing, social reproductive economy appropriate to an “overdeveloped” (rentier capitalist) economy.
4) Develop trade policy with constraints on transnational property rights, linked to the domestic economy via enforced labor and environmental standards throughout supply chains, as well as policing redirected toward repatriating (sharing across production-impacted countries) excess profits and other private accumulation stockpiles.
I would add:

5) Organizing needs to address the great portions of the American working class materially and symbolically co-opted by the capitalist security state, particularly guard labor and owners of marginal businesses. These are the American working class, herded by right wing orgs and socially- subsidized into supporting global, militarized rents extractivism at the astronomical cost of global, social and environmental destabilization. Besides designing and investing in a democratic social reproductive economy to reincentivize this working class population, how can as many as possible of these co-opted working-class Americans be reorganized into supporting a transition to democracy, demilitarization, and a social reproductive economy? David Graeber’s lesson in “Army of Altruists” (2007) can be a starting point in organizing strategy: People want to work together for a great purpose.

6) Required: an assessment of policing and military capacity to tolerate v. oppose advancement to a democratic economy and polity in the US. Assessment needs to include an inventory of tools of suppression at police and military disposal.

7) Required: an assessment of the implications of US demilitarization and democratization on international investors, private and state, and their capacity to tolerate v. oppose, including an inventory of tools of suppression at their disposal.

8) Required: an assessment of antidemocratic imperial state partners’ capacity to tolerate v. oppose US demilitarization and democratization, including an inventory of tools of suppression at their disposal.

9) Note that the fight for social democracy in Sweden required that political organizers concentrate on building unions and a union confederation across the country for three decades before launching into the polity with a political party.

This planning sketch recognizes that much of finance-organized capital, as well as the conservative-Catholic US judiciary, and most of the polity are organized against democratic development. As well, it also recognizes historical structural shifts, including those identified by Rana, that can enable organizing toward stymied social, economic, and political democratic emancipation.

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
TBD

Disastrous social “output”

Reduced life chances: Health damage

TBD

 

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

iea

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.

Fight Over Freedoms (excerpt)

The post-WWII Anglosphere, to which so many migrated, was full of the notion that whatever redistribution was going on after all that sturm und drang, it must mean an increase in unfreedom, servitude.

We cherish that criticism. Some of those Austrian Empire diaspora thinkers’ ideas were the product of conservative resolve, cast in the cauldron of European class conflict. Others, including Frankfurt School exponents, were moving out of a Marxist background. As Polanyi pointed out in “On Freedom,” “Marx saw still something more, and this constitutes his historic greatness. He understood that capitalist society is not just unjust but also un-free.”
Counter to Marx’s perception of unfreedom in capitalism, the shared conservative conceptualization of freedom arrived again on Anglo-American shores and integrated into the 20th century heart of capitalism, reinforcing slavers’ institutions and culture. Conservatism has always argued that true freedom is absolute sovereignty, based on exceptional masters wrestling for dominance atop a society of bent and broken slaves. The democratic Enlightenment exponents, by stark contrast, pursued materialist philosophy’s ancient insistence that freedom is egaliberte, requiring strong education and other associational institutions socializing citizens –including newcomers, both youth and immigrants–into exchanging ideas, information, and grievances for democratic development.

 

Democratic Enlightenment exponents argued that it would be possible to build egaliberte, as an inclusive, developmental human freedom distinct from both conservative Herrenvolk freedom and the transitory revolutionary moment of universal absolute sovereignty. But the undertaking would always suffer heavy opposition. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762) rightly worried that in the context of the complex society, the democratic alternative to the imperial Hobbesian protection racket would not work if collective action capacity were distributed unevenly, as it is systematically in capitalism, nor if external organizations—such as contemporary trade agreements–could eviscerate the legally-institutionalized decisions arrived at through the democratic General Will.  Adam Smith (1776) recognized that capitalism and capitalists’ states would always excessively organize capitalists’ collective action capacity, and disorganize workers, requiring a welfare state ballast to maintain productive capitalism. Charles Fourier (1808) argued that societies need to replace private property law with law recognizing capitalists as conditional trustees of the social wealth, while Friedrich Hegel (1820) dared to argue briefly for the Right of the Starving Man as a state-protected corrective to private property right in an already-owned world. In the late 19th century, Marx and Engels launched from Hegel, philosophical materialism, and Smith to analyze how capitalism’s hysterical, incomplete recognition of working classes’ human capacities and contributions leads to characteristic economic-incentive breakdown, capitalist crises; they further analyzed how capitalist collective action capacity redirected and extended those crises.  Viriginia Woolf’s private, clandestine, “anonymous and secret Society of Outsiders” formulation (1938) of what egaliberte could look like proposed a cleft habitus of entitlement and feminized dehumanization. Social reproduction feminists, starting with Alexandra Kollontai (1915), pushed states to increasingly protect “social” citizenship rights to balance private property right and might, in an attempt to distribute sovereign agency and supervene the probationary status capitalism had tentatively allowed workers.

Today the post-WWII conservative hybrid reformulation of the egaliberte approach still resonates when we reify revolution, as if wildfire mass organization were pure and final and tending toward freedom, and when we deny all the ways–including their constraints and limitations–that people in different times and places have organized and fought to not just capture but broaden the distribution of recognition, wealth and power, though their victories could be swamped and redirected, more or less aborted.

Revolution is precious and necessary, no doubt. Not just as youthful consumers, we yearn for successful wildfire re-organization, for the overdue break with unfree delegated agency, and for the universal, decisionist assumption of sovereign agency that we assume can, in superhuman speed, break the bulwarks of inegalitarian surveillance, policing, comms, and institutionalized and network-secured compliance incentives. Such revolutions spread the contagion of hope, as Kant observed and Nietzsche condemned. In his 1798 Conflict of the Faculties, Kant argued that the virtue of revolution lies in inducing global recognition that we are all human, and that sovereign agency can be shared. Yet for all the blinding light they emit—universal decisionism!, revolutions do not solve our inherited anxiety over the distribution of sovereignty, nor elite entitlement to exclusive sovereignty and absolute power. Neither can mass killing.  As with Kurtz in the Congo, we carry those problems with us conceptually and emotionally.

Our inherited aestheticization and attachment to the divine moment of absolute decisionism—whether universal as in revolution, or, as in conservatism, sociologically rare and exclusive, has too often convinced us to discount and dismiss the conceptual and materialized footholds, not just the identified traps, aborted egaliberte organization has built. Our societies have started to construct, but we have not usually prioritized or sustained, the institutions and associations required for democratic development. We haven’t been able to. As conservative-liberal thinkers back to Hobbes and Burke have recognized, capitalism, with its vacillating, degenerating recognition of the contribution of labor, is a property structure of elite hyper-capacitation and vast delegated agency, a Shock and Awe organizational machine for dominating and replicating a Hobbesian world.  It proliferates the antithesis of human development.

So revolution and mass killing have not yet proven effective means of durably overcoming elite entitlement and reinforced collective action capacity. Revolution is but a countervailing shocking moment of universal decisionism & sovereign agency. As much as revolution–breaking out of mass delegated agency—has a moderating function and is overdue, the even tougher social change question will continue to be the democratic Enlightenment one: How do people organize away from our habituated conceptualization of freedom as exclusive sovereign agency and decisionism, toward a broadly-distributed sovereign agency and capacity to exchange ideas, information, grievances, and upon that basis rebuild toward universal human development in ecological context?

Our contribution to knowledge of what happened to class, institutions, and politics in the US, from the exceptional era of social liberalism to neoliberalization, the conservative-liberal restoration, will be undergirded by our analysis of the contentious politics of freedom across social fields. Which kind of unfreedom are Americans haunted by, the conservative or the democratic? Is their vision of this unfreedom based on conservative or democratic assumptions, including conservative or democratic distributions of misanthropy and anthrophilia? What role do the knowledge techniques of democratic scientific knowledge v. elitist scientism and decisionist logical abstraction have to play in supporting Americans’ impactful moral economy of freedom?

Spooks

Elite British Spooks Had Sovereign Agency

“If in the years 1941-3, when the Russians were carrying almost the whole burden of the war against Germany, they were dying in substantial numbers because (Britain) denied (them) the war’s most important source of secret information (the “Ultra” intelligence), the actions of the (socialist) Cambridge (double-agents) at that time must appear in a better light. What justification could the British advance for withholding this information – the military radio traffic of the enemy – from their own ally? Only one: that Britain’s best interest was to stand aside and watch Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia slaughter each other to the last man. Nearly forty years later, we have drifted so far to the right that many young people of liberal mind can accept that as a good policy” (N. Ascherson’s 1980 LRB 2(2) review of A. Boyle).

“British Intelligence, in Boyle’s chronicle, remains as weird a community as ever, in spite of all the author’s new information and captures of confidence. Amateurism, class prejudice and what Boyle calls ‘the sad pleasures of sodomy’ composed its peculiar flavour. The circumstances of my own unhappy brush with the service only confirm it. My background was ‘right’, and I was duly recommended as a likely lad by a Cambridge don (Boyle rids us of the myth that Cambridge tutors recruited assiduously for Russia, but does not add that they recruit assiduously for the home side). There followed a lunch at the Reform Club, where this 23-year-old ass received the proposal that he should go to the new Communist state of Betelgeuse in order to write a biography of its ferocious leader. An argument about where Betelgeuse was had to be settled by a visit to the Times Atlas, dated 1910, in the Club library. My real assignment, they said, was to approach leading Betelgeusians and ‘get them round to our point of view’. Uneasy, I objected that I knew nothing of the place or its language. ‘Old D. will put you in the picture,’ they chortled, returning to their port. A few days later, I was summoned to meet D. in his home. After a silent but delicious dinner, D. asked me to sit next to him on the sofa. I supposed that I was at last to be put in the picture, but D. merely grasped me tightly and wordlessly by the penis. I extracted myself and ran away, and after some days of great confusion, wrote to say that perhaps I was not mature enough for this service.

An outfit like that – and these events took place years after the ‘flight of the diplomats’ – deserves everything it gets. I suppose there was a wild brilliance about the Betelgeuse project, which would almost certainly have cost me my head. But what most impresses me, in retrospect, is their sublime confidence that after that lunch and dinner I would still be their loyal man and true” (N. Ascherson 1980).

An analysis of the inegalitarian, totalitarian liberal conditions that create double agents out of elites: The British double agents “all leave one with the odd impression, even Philby in his early years, that they became Soviet agents faute de mieux. What they needed was something else: a British movement of total opposition to the régime which was both respectable and formidable. They needed a divided Establishment, an alternative régime-in-waiting which they could join. Continental republics know this dualism… In Britain, still an ancien régime in this respect, Labour did not offer such an alternative, while the price of CPGB activity would obviously be impotence and ostracism. The spies didn’t see why they should be impotent and ostracised.” (N Ascherson 1980).

The advantage of the US (v. 1930s UK) is that the spy agencies can rely on the dogmatic, even mysticist, sons and daughters of Chamber of Commerce ideologues, and don’t have to risk Cambridge free thinkers.

“The Thirties were a decade of rapid social change and improvement in popular living standards, as well as a time of poverty and misery for many. But Britain remained governed, financed, exploited and largely represented by the upper class…Labour was a party which, as far as the student leftist could see, would deferentially leave the old élite in place. The Cambridge spies wanted something else for Britain, something which now sounds absurd: a socialist revolution which would both smash the patrician hegemony to which the spies were such guilty heirs, and restore British greatness and independence…one could argue that the Cambridge spies betrayed their friends, in this instance, but not necessarily their country.”

https://www.lrb.co.uk/…/neal…/what-sort-of-traitors

As a political sociologist, I am intrigued about Ascherson’s analysis of what liberal totalitarianism and a grand tradition of inegalitarianism created within the elites at the heart of the beast. (Obviously, it wasn’t all that disruptive, though.) It strikes me as a little analogous to the more-consequential class betrayal of the pro-Enlightenment female Swedish nobility in the early 19th century. The ideas lying around…

The CIA, James Jesus & the Lovestone Empire

Jay Lovestone (nee Liebstein) built and ran the Lovestone Empire for the CIA, under the direction of James Jesus Angleton. The Lovestone Empire consisted of anticommunist unions. An anti-Stalinist, Lovestone was groomed by David Dubinsky to direct labour union organization and resources to anti-communist and pro-war causes. Lovestone had started out a socialist before his eventful hard-right move, like so many men of his social background in the 20th c. He insisted that the US could never become socialist; and he influenced the antistatist economic modernizer Bukharin.

James Jesus Angelton was a Latino-Anglo son of a Chamber of Commerce guy who invested in ATMs. Angelton was an anticommunist who worked with the Israelis and Jay Lovestone to kill off communist organization in unions. Angleton’s work ensured the electoral victory of Christian Democrats over communists in Western Europe. Angleton supervised the CIA’s comprehensive domestic covert surveillance project (called Operation CHAOS) to control US citizens. He targeted both Olaf Palme and Pierre Trudeau, amongst so many others. The LRB’s May issue 40(9) reviews a history of Angleton’s work. His is a story of how you get carte blanche, all possible credibility and credit in capitalism.

Angleton was educated in the Ivies, in literature–poetry–and New Criticism. That institutional base was an anticommunist hotbed. But that’s not all. I can’t recommend the “doth protest too much” Thomas Power LRB article, but it does show how the adoption of a literary analysis technique like New Criticism could buoy a career, in spookery. Like today’s Neo-materialism, New Criticism eschewed sociological craft and context as a triangulator for interpretation. The effect was to, for the moment, permit the critic greater authority…until he’d spent institutional credibility. If the same technique were imported by a spook king to the interpretation of the world, it would bestow, for a time, the same mystical institutional authority. At an institutional and social cost.

This is the way with the importation of all anti-scientific textual analysis to analysis of the world. Good career move while you can produce the performance to get away with it, and apres moi, le deluge.

Angleton was preparing the US-Israeli secret police relation. Shin Bet chief Amos Manor described Angleton, one of the US and global capitalism’s leading spooks, as “fanatic about everything”, with a “tendency towards mystification.”

Fanatic mystification: What passes for credible, what is given all credit in this system.

 

Scandinavian history in the revolutionary era & Implications

From Barton, H. Arnold. 1986. Scandinavia in the Revolutionary Era: 1760-1815. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota

Gustav IV Adolf’s (GIVA) monarchal crusade againt democratic Enlightenment in Europe,
Feat.: Sweden, France, Russia, England, Prussia, and some bit players.

At the turn of the 1800s in Sweden, Gustav IV Adolf (GIVA) succeeded his father Gustav III to the throne. GIVA was determined to restore Swedish prominence in Europe. Prepared to wheel and deal both for territory and his conservative-idealist aspiration to organize and lead royalist Europe against the democratizing French, in 1803 Gustav IV Adolf traveled to Germany with his Queen Frederika, a German princess. GIVA was a pretty good strategist, but he was striving from the geographic margins against the historical tide, and as with his father who had tried in vain to institute pro-aristocratic policies against welling democracy, his elite power strategy was generally underappreciated by his rivalristic, Enlightenment-bedazzled royal relatives.

Cosmopolitanism as Responsible Management;
Disorganizing Rivals via Management

The noble German administrators who managed European kingdoms were well-educated, efficient, and cosmopolitan. Their “cosmopolitanism,” understood as responsible management, did not stop them from keeping the Nordic countries divided (in accord with Russian and British policy), even making clandestine agreements with Great Britain to break emergent pan-Nordic coalition (eg. Bernstoff 1780, see Barton 1986: 118.). That is an interesting aspect of statescraft (and its market equivalent): Providing managers to your potential rivals, to keep them just disorganized enough.

What Denmark got out of this is not having to follow Sweden’s lead, or lose its Norwegian colony to Sweden. As a more egalitarian country, Sweden was more solidaristic, stronger, innovative and ambitious. Run by Germans, Denmark was the ag-economic market of Scandinavia, at the cost of a stunted domestic peasantry.

So long as the Nordic countries were divided, Bernstorff served as a reliable noble German administrator for Denmark, until he pulled a fast one and, in the face of an agreement amongst the Scandinavian countries and Russia to form a coalition to defeat belligerent imperial England’s control of sea trade, he made a secret deal with England to subvert the coalition.

His betrayal was discovered pretty soon and he was ousted.

How the Holy Roman Empire Ended: A Swedish King Subjugated Pomeranian Aristocrats in 1805

In 1804 Duke Enghien was captured by French Republican forces in Baden. This provided Gustav IV Adolf with the pretext to declare that he was ready to lead monarchist Europe against Republican France.

GIVA spearheaded a royalist Russian, British, and Austrian coalition against the French Republic. “Brutal oppression, French despotism” is how the royalist described democratic France. He took his time negotiating, as he was bargaining for a military subsidy in exchange for Sweden’s strategic bridgehead geoposition, as well as a royal French Bourbon restoration. Finally in 1805, at the Treaty of Backaskog, GIVA won himself command of the troops in Germany, 20K pounds sterling, security of Swedish rule over Pomerania, in an all-in/all-out deal. In the Treaty, there was no mention of a royal Bourbon restoration.

Along with actually commanding soldiers in war, Gustav IV Adolf was an absolutist ruler. The Treaty of Backaskog enjoyed no support from his court advisors, and given that Sweden had long depended on French support, was considered overly idealistic, in the anti-democratic direction. Gustaf af Wetterstedt grumbled that it was “Impossible to speak with the King about commercial interests.”

Prussia was lurking, playing the dozens. It joined the monarchical coalition, only to immediately conclude an agreement with France that promised non-intervention in exchange for Hanover. Prussia’s fancy footwork broke the coalition: England and Russia withdrew from Northern Germany. But Gustav IV Adolf occupied the Hanoverian territory of Lauenberg. He used a legalistic justification to try to restore British and Russian backing and to extort unpaid, promised military subsidies. England and Russia declared GIVA’s position untenable, urging him to abandon the fight. GIVA was relentless: “A Prussian attack on Lauenberg is an attack on Sweden!” he declared, but he quietly reduced his army in Lauenberg to a token 300 men. Then GIVA instituted a naval blockade. Their commerce disrupted, this move deeply irritated his erstwhile allies, England and Russia.

Fortunately for Gustav IV Adolf, France and Russian détente broke, and GIVA returned to occupy Lauenberg. GIVA’s victory in that moment has been dubbed a “Triumph of Obstinacy.” When Sweden’s aristocratic Pomeranian subjects resisted conscription, GIVA dissolved their constitution and their aristocratic privileges, which as a side-effect, dissolved the Holy Roman Empire. GIVA replaced Pomerania’s German legal institutions with Swedish legal institutions, outlawing serfdom. Pomeranian Junkers were pissed.

Prussia declared war on the French in fall of 1806, whereupon the French smashed the Prussian forces. Frederick William, King of Prussia retreated east for protection under the royal Russian wing. Now Swedish Pomerania was behind the front. Napoleon asked if GIVA would agree to peace. How do you think Old Obstinatey replied? That’s right. Absofuckinglutely not. No peace!

Varieties of Modernization;
How “German” Tyranny Propels Migration

The German nobility of the Danish Dutchies, in Swedish Pomerania, and in Prussia were furious about the abolition of serfdom at the turn of the 19th century. But what GIVA’s modernization allowed German nobles to do is steal peasant land and stop contributing to the public. They became fatter cats than ever.

In the Scandinavian territories, as in France (even today, places like Minnesota and Quebec have protections for family farms that jurisdictions under the most inegalitarian policy traditions lack), the nobles were prevented, by enforced law, from stealing peasant land.

But in German lands, together with ‘rational,’ ‘producivity’-enhancing enclosures, the abolition of serfdom just created a small pool of petit-bourgeois farmers (kulaks) and tens of thousands of landless people who were existentially and legally forced into compulsory labor for the liberated kulak class. The resolution to this land theft and hyper-exploitation “modernization” was mass migration.

Capitalism’s robust structure of command

At a minimum, whatever France’s government, Sweden has geopolitically required France’s support, and either Britain or Russia’s lack of opposition.

Between 1803-07, Gustav IV Adolf’s belligerent monarchism produced geopolitical policy failure, as he opposed revolutionary/Napoleonic-phase France.

GIVA’s ideologically-blinded geopolitical failure depleted confidence amongst not only his allies, the British, Russian, Prussian, Austrian and Portuguese anti-democratic coalition, but most fatefully, amongst the Swedish people.

Despite his commitment to monarchism and opposition to democratic enlightenment, GIVA was a nationalist who, like his Danish counterpart, sidelined the Scandinavian nobility, instead working with a rational bureaucracy and freeing peasants in German communities. The foundation of his absolutism was the Swedish free-peasant social model. Monarchy enjoyed political flexibility, but perhaps too much political flexibility.

Sociologically, capitalism’s comparative ruling advantage is an articulated chain of command AND return fealty (though the fealty may skip rungs). Significance: This is not the same as saying capitalism is only about exploitation and not appropriation. Rather, capitalism’s graduated networks of exploitation and rung-skipping upward fealty (It’s okay if you secretly hate your manager, as long as you admire Bill Gates and Michelle Obama.) more reliably secure valuable appropriation.

Conservative theorists and organizers including Burke and Hayek understood capitalism’s advantages for elite rule.

 

Salon life is more important to democracy than a Free Press

Is a breakdown in centralized, professional comms the right variable for explaining information quality and political outcomes, as is so often asserted by professional comms technicians today?

In 18th century Denmark the free press was the model for Europe, while Sweden’s press was under strict censorship. And yet what seems to matter much more to information flow and its capacity to support needed, otherwise-blocked reforms was the fecund culture of salons and clubs, wherein diverse, gender-inclusive, but often-homogeneous groups exchanged and debated ideas of the good life and the institutions needed to support that utopic horizon.

Our professional press would say that these salons and clubs were little more than “echo chambers;” but that dismissive characterization would run counter to the salons’ impressive impact–fomenting enlightenment pressure, eliciting elite efforts to preemptively own those enlightenment ideas by implementation, and ultimately producing the democratic social realization that rational reform did not require elites.

Cross-class Legal Consciousness v. the Antistatist Justice of the Exception

“…and this law should, if it is to protect a weaker class against a more powerful one, be given such strength and consistency that the latter shall not be able, through its strength and the other’s weakness, to disturb or hinder its effective enforcement.”

–Norwegian juridical counselor to the Danish government, Christian Colbjornsen, 1783. With the wall of Enlightenment ideas behind it, this viewpoint won the majority on the agrarian commission, leading to reforms and revolutionary advancement.

The aristocrats, as is always the case, complained that this politics of “animosity and grudge against proprietors” would result in transferring too much power to the “petty functionaries” of the state bureaucracy and so result in the society’s “ruin.”

Democracy: Expanding, not contracting, privilege

The difference between emancipation in the Scandinavian countries v. the liberal republics is that privilege was not first abolished in the Scandinavian countries. Rather, they levelled upward. “The privileges thus gained would ultimately clear the way for the peasant’s full integration into national life” (Barton 1985: 173). That’s how you do inclusion. You make everyone sacred, not everyone profane.

The Ideas and Decisionism of the Democratic Enlightenment

The laboring class, which alternately is utilized both by [princes and other classes]…stands ready, with the sword of destruction in one hand and the torch of enlightenment in the other” (Minerva, Sverige, 1798).

The French Revolution put the fear of god into Europe’s aristocratic and bourgeois classes. The Enlightenment was no man’s property. Together, elite fear and intellectual intimidation got shit done.

“Orders and decorations are hung on idiots,
Stars and ribbons go to noblemen alone…

(By contrast) We teach no despotic principles,
It is for equality among men that we strive;
Nor do we, like the Jutland proprietors
Wish for slaves and peasants for us to flay.”

–from a 1787 Danish poem (PA Heiberg). The urban Danes were really getting about the freedom of expression in the late 18th century, in the context of Enlightenment clubs. periodicals,and anonymous pamphleteering.

Jutland, in breadbasket Denmark, was the Scandinavian outpost of hard-core feudal despotism.

The Swedish Female Aristocracy: Sufficiently Traitorous to their Class

Denmark very much dicked around with German princes. In 1765 the amazing and ballsy Dr. Johann Friedrich Streunsee inserted himself in that inbred morass to introduce the first real progressive reforms in Denmark. They were almost immediately overturned by a reactionary aristocratic coup; but Streunsee’s reform model nonetheless served as a policy bank thereafter. Streunsee was executed by the Danish aristocracy, but it was probably totally worth it.

Sweden was systematically super dynamic. I can never recommend enough Barton’s (1986) Scandinavia in the Revolutionary Era for anyone interested in the Enlightenment and how that works out class-wise.

Sweden took on the Enlightenment as a political project. The Swedes wrestled straight up with class conflict in the 1770s parliament (The Swedish Riksdag long included affluent farmers, in addition to the royals); and while their king tried to organize their aristocracy as an elite bloc, the country was too influenced by Enlightenment thought, and the aristocratic ladies especially refused to follow the king’s effort at elite political mobilization. This gendered elite refusal to cooperate was one of the major factors that provided room for labor and social democratic organization in Sweden.

Rousseau was a favored theorist amongst the Swedish royal ladies.

Voltaire called Sweden “the freest kingdom on earth” (1756). Mably considered Sweden’s pioneering 1720 constitution the “masterpiece of modern legislation” in its provisions for “the rights of humanity and equality.”

Ideas for Organization

One of the most important things to be done is to– like your life, people’s lives around the world and after you, and the Earth– depend upon it, produce egaliberte Enlightenment ideas and culture, including proliferating in-person “clubs” and salons, which my reading of Swedish history tells me, turn political (as tyrants know and quixotically arrange for their legal and policing apparatus to suppress). The ideas, it’s the fecundity of ideas you produce and share with vigor and confidence that can capture the minds of political-economic elites enough for others to gain strategic organizational footholds.

Sure, no one wants little you to tell them how to think. But if you work with ideas from the master class position, like a servant, you make us all slaves.

Conservative-liberal Enlightenment: Egaliberte as the Enemy of Liberty

Upon Gustav III’s 1772 coup d’etat, overthrowing the formidable, pugnacious, and increasingly egalitarian Riksdag, the king was keen to both improve Sweden’s war-ruined currency on the financial markets and to implement liberal-physiocrat modernizing reforms, including in the first four years, enclosures, reducing guild control over labor conditions, removal of mercantilist trade constraints, outlawing judicial torture, reducing Sweden’s model freedom of the press to mere critique of middle class state employees, and the introduction of a secret police on the French model.

Within a Swedish social environment inducing him to competition on the grounds of rationality, amongst the European monarchs Gustav was the greatest admirer of strains of Enlightenment philosophy. But he sternly distinguished between “true (elite) freedom” and harmful hoi poloi “license,” “benevolent philosophy” and “dangerous philosophy” which “to dominate alone, overturns all that is respectable.” As a liberal and elitist, Gustav redefined despotism as failing to preserve the executive role as distinct from the legislative, and cited philosophy that supported his incomplete autocratic rule as the kind of philosophy that “clears away all harmful prejudices, all those petty considerations.”

The reduction of critique to a focus on middle class state employees is the signature of the reactionary, elitist, conservative-liberal coup d’etat.

Liberalism: Violence occurs strictly when elites are disrupted. versus:
Socialism: See the continuous slavery and mass killing.

We won’t call those displaced multitudes any form of “slave,” because that would be “un-nuanced” and “uncivilized.” The liberal world is discontinuous. Where socialists see the continuity of slavery, liberals see absolute, progressive breaks in the relations of production, both what they proudly claim as “nuanced” differentiation, and just as the nobility had initially feared.

The liberal world is not only discontinuous, it is flat. Liberals don’t recognize institutionalized and automated violence. For them, as for conservatives (eg. Burke) before them, there’s just an apparent order of civility–a flat world, in which culture is Truth, and networks, institutions, and material relations are not subject to civilized observation. Violence is strictly perceived in breaking that civility, as all the opponents of the French Revolution, and fans of enlightened absolutism (incurious about how it got enlightened) have agreed.

It does no good just to point this out. You have to use it strategically.
If we allow ourselves to think in terms of forms of slavery, then we can think together about how to stop producing the continuous, inhumane rolling modification of slaveries.

To Suppress Democratic Ideas, Appoint Conservatives to Govern Universities

In Scandinavia, the tactic of stifling hegemonic challenge by appointing belligerent conservative aristocrats to head the universities goes back to the turn of the 19th c.

Count Axel Fersen was appointed to Uppsala to throw out the enlightenment democrats. In the Duchies (theoretically incorporated in Denmark, but German, built on serfdom, opposed to both enlightenment democracy and enlightenment absolutism, and an original cesspool of the mysticist German romanticism that would be regurgitated in the Nazi period), Fritz Reventlow was appointed to attack enlightenment thought from the helm of the Univesity of Kiel.

Plus ca change…

 

“(Swedish Hats’) economic policy was rigidly mercantilistic, considering necessary both a small, favored entrepreneurial elite, concentrated mainly in the capital, and a large and growing population, strictly regulated in its economic pursuits and held close to the poverty line to provide cheap labor. Their system of subsidies, protective tariffs, and monetary inflation favored the larger exporters and manufacturers. As war and expansion held out tempting opportunities for officers, bureaucrats, and entrepreneurs alike, the Hats favored alliance with France…To stifle criticism, they held strongly to secrecy in Riksdag transactions and to press censorship…

The faction turned out of power in 1738, which came to be called the Caps, was in disarray, and certain of its leaders were discredited through unseemly intrigues with the Russians to overthrow their rivals.”