2020 Contemp Soc Theory Readings

Course project

Classical social theorist Karl Marx pursued knowledge that could allow for the universal development of individuals. In his socio-materialist view, global individual development requires communication and coordination capacity, as where Marx advocates in an Epicurean vein for the workers’ rational self-governance, or where American pragmatist John Dewey theorized education for democratic development.

We also have strong social theory traditions calling into question the very possibility of coordination coexisting with broad humanization.  Following the venerable princely Germanic managerial tradition, our social theory engaging the problem of population management (Frankfurt School, Foucault, Illich) see the antihuman population reduction strictly embedded in techniques executed by senseless, self-maximizing middle-class state workers, tragically oppressing the marginal–a coalition of the poor, the deviant, and the meritorious elite– in a flat social world of legible symbolic inequality. Such a view presumes a state accountable to a sub-rational working class, and so in need of correction. In these postwar schools’ view, the opposite of oppression by a brute managerial mass occupying the state is the anti-Enlightenment exceptional, decisionist, confederation of Masters, dreaming of sending the population to Mars. Yet dehumanized population and elites are not so much opposites, unfreedom and liberty, as co-constitutive relations.

The COVID-19 moment allowed us to see that antihuman population management presupposes, requires, and reproduces its complement, the exceptional, decisionist, substantively-rational Ubermensch: As policing exploded, population isolation and immobilization strategy was expanded from criminal work prisons to migrant work prisons to the universe of disease vectors (as we began to conceptualize humanity), and women’s productive work was obliterated. At the same time, unlimited policing and Master-class and meritorious exceptions to isolation and immobilization policy abounded. In regions of low COVID-19 impact, unused public resources were expropriated from languishing public institutions, while footloose global billionaires claimed ever-greater shares of assets and diverted them to their private war chests.

Long neglected, but re-emergent in contemporary social theory is a new critique of the co-constitutive relation between antihuman population management and advancing serfdom, as well as a reassertion of the abandoned question of how humanist mission and constraint can direct and shape population coordination. Can collective agency toward egalitarian development, a lodestar egaliberte concept, and substantive, humanist equality counter steeply-hierarchical anti-Enlightenment powers, and permit large-scale humanization along with coordination?

In this course we will springboard from contemporary theory to conceptualize the relation between equality/inequality and population management. We will conclude with contemporary theorists calling on public-values disciplines to re-engage both positive and boundary-setting agency in the context of rampant private predation and dehumanizing population management.


1. Population/Elites

Goeller & Weinberg. 1975. The Age of Substitutability.

Film: The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, Brett Storey

Foucault, Michel. Security, Territory & Population.

Foucault, Michel. Excerpt from Discipline & Punish, 1975.

Schmitt, Carl/Agamben on decisionism and exception in German theory.

Cayley, David. Illichean theory on COVID.

Hudson, Mark. 2002. “Branches for Roots.”

Taylor, Paul. 2020. “Susceptible, Infectious, Recovered.” London Review of Books 42(9).

Brenner, Robert. 2020. “Escalating Plunder.” New Left Review 123.


2. Scholarship Illuminating the Hidden Foundations of Society


Scholarly hermeneutics of censored theory

Losurdo, Domenico. Excerpt from Hegel and the Freedom of Moderns.

Fracchia, Joseph. 2005. “Beyond the Human-Nature Debate.” Historical Materialism 13: 33-61.

Benner, Erica. Excerpt from Really-existing Nationalisms.

Benner, Erica. Excerpt from Be Like the Fox.


Socio-Economic Relations of Capitalist Society

Growth Tech v. Expropriation & Rents Tech

Gordon, Robert. “Perspectives on The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings 2016, 106(5): 72–76.

MacBride, Elizabeth. 2020. “Why Venture Capital Doesn’t Build the Things We Really Need.” MIT Technology Review, June 17.

The Social Relations of Expropriation: Social Reproduction & Capitalism

Moos, Katherine A. (2019). “The Historical Evolution of the Cost of Social Reproduction in the United States, 1959-2012”, Review of Social Economics.

The Social Relations of Expropriation: Serfdom/Slavery & Capitalism/Liberalism

Losurdo, Domenico. Excerpt from Liberalism, A Counter-History.

Arat-Koc, Sedef. 2016. “Unfree Labour, Social Reproduction, and Political Community,” pp. 179-192 in Unfree Labour?, edited by Choudry, A. & A.A. Smith. PM Press.


Shared Humanity and its Social Conditions & Constraints

Marx, Karl. Excerpt from The German Ideology.

Fracchia, Joseph. 2008. “The Capitalist Labour Process and the Body in Pain.” Historical Materialism 16: 35-66.

Dewey, John . Selection from Democracy and Education, 1916.

Chibber, Vivek. 2014. Excerpt from Postcolonial Theory and the Spectre of Capital.

Linebaugh & Rediker, The Many-headed Hydra.

Olsen, Gregg. Excerpt from Power and Inequality.

Watch: BBC “Karl Marx on Alienation”: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02h7dlv.

Watch: Marie Kondo episode 1 (Netflix)


3. Reclaiming Agency in a Public-values Discipline & in Public Work


Toward Scientific Literacy: Agential Public-values Sociology is Science

Pagden, Anthony. The Enlightenment.

Toulmin & Goodfield. The Architecture of Matter, The Discovery of Time.

R Levins & R Lewontin. The Dialectical Biologist.

Varoufakis, Yannis. “A Most Peculiar Failure.”

Reclaiming Public-values Agency

Mariana Mazzucato, excerpts from The Entrepreneurial State.
Katharina Pistor, excerpts from The Code of Capital.

In the context of accumulated inequality and inegalitarianism, Mazzucato works to restore agency stripped from public-values disciplines and public servants, including instilling the sense of capability and confidence to pursue public-values missions, while Pistor argues for governments to reclaim the capacity to set boundaries on predatory private behaviour.

Jane McAlevey, excerpts from No Shortcuts.

McAlevey explains the failure of the Alinskian model, and how to reorganize communities.

Materialism & Cultural Anthropology

Anderson (1968) cites Britain’s two areas of home-grown intellectual expertise (as opposed to importing White Emigre intellectual hit men) as literary criticism and Anthropology. [Revise: Metaphysics were esoterically permitted within literary criticism, as long as there was no scientific acknowledgement of the metaphysics.] Anthropology had imperial utility for Britain. How has Anthropology, as an imperial tool of surveillance, fit into the larger British avoidance of political-economic and classic sociological contribution to Enlightenment knowledge?

“…(C)laiming culture as foundational, anthropology approached mind and body alike as social constructions, and knowledge practices as phenomena of symbolic exchange. Culture represented a totality of symbol-systems…The imposition of meaning (was the) condition of human existence…Knowledge was a matter of an encompassing, collective, public and shared cultural context…Geertz concluded that while ‘becoming human is becoming individual‘, we nevertheless ‘become individual under the guidance of cultural patterns'” (Nigel Rapport, 2010: 9). Geertz and Evans-Pritchard built Anthropology in deference to White Emigre Wittgenstein’s imperial-friendly linguistic reduction and dismissal of time and change (Rapport 2010: 10; Anderson 1968).

Two Unreconciled Strivings; Two Warring Ideals in One Dark Body

Pagden (2013) shows that Enlightenment knowledge has always emerged from a community of philosophers launching social science, in order to know, via comparison, the range and associated contexts of human capacity, disposition, and institutions–for the purposes of establishing the possibility of and conditions for institutionalizing distributed sovereignty and freedom, or democracy (though not in its conservative-degraded sense). We recognize that Enlightenment philosopher-cum-human scientists were naive, their understanding was developing, and they relied on commercial ventures to span out across the world and gather comparative knowledge. We also recognize, per Melville, Rediker, & Linebaugh, that internationalist “motley crews” contributed to the advancement of the most valid Enlightenment knowledge.

When Rapport describes cultural-determinist Anthropology, he is describing a collective of both Enlightenment and anti-enlightenment scholars, constrained by anti-enlightenment parameters selectively augmenting and quieting voices, and at best wholly substituting the Anthropologist-interpreted insights afforded by (often bunkered and imperially-constrained) research subjects in place of the important, corrective insights of the autonomous, internationalist motley crew. In conceptualizing knowledge as “a matter of an encompassing, collective, public and shared cultural context,” the status work of the Anthropologist in an anti-Enlightenment social context was to make culture systems legible to imperial intervention strategists.

Losing the Enlightenment, Staying Paid

Subsequent collective efforts to maintain status while containing Anthropology’s imperial surveillance function have resulted in failed projects to serve indigenous communities, as where Anthropologists retained imperial cultural-determinism but dumped out Enlightenment social-scientific knowledge, with the Ontological Turn. They reasoned that cultural-determinism without humanism corresponds to a radically-parochialist aspect of contemporary, colonized, Christianized cosmology within some indigenous communities, and adding their academic voice to amplify that separatist cultural construct, Anthropologists testified ineffectively for already-imperially-culturally-interpellated indigenous communities in colonial court and parliamentary contests over territory and resources.

Anthropologists dropped the humanist Enlightenment aspect of knowledge within a context in which the cultural-determinist mode remains steadfastly, primarily useful to imperial-commercial power. It is useful to commercial-imperial power when their expropriation target does not have the capacity to inform ideas about made connections and making reconnections in relation to the flow of pleasures (and pain) over time, across Earthly life–when their target does not have the capacity to clarify what is at stake and ignite coalitional interest in building toward human institutional and dispositional possibility. Anthropologists romantically failed to grasp imperial centre-periphery history, power distribution, and political-economic relations, as overdetermined by the culturalism conferred by prestigious imperial-function constraints.

Materialism, in Anthropology and Beyond

Nigel Rapport (2010: 2) cites Kantian cosmopolitanism, as the combination of local diversity and global commonality, to legitimate his proposal that Anthropology adopt a materialist conceptualization of human nature as species capacities and liabilities.

Rapport cites a physiologist to describe how to undertand humans not via identity or idealism, but as a specifiable kind of process. “An organism is not made distinctive by the existence of a boundary, a skin, animal physiologist Scott Turner explains (2000), but by way of what its boundary does: exert an active, adaptive control over the flows of matter and energy such that the organism’s internal state is regulated in the face of changing external conditions” (Rapport 2010: 2). I would add that the external conditions may also change so that sufficient adaptation, sufficient control over the flows of matter or energy, sufficient internal regulation is no longer possible. Or the adaptation may itself impose limits, precluding further regulation, control, or adaptation, in which case inherent/internal change reaches its limits. In either case, the animal suffers or even dies. I am saying that a liability or capacity of humans is that we are not infinite or gods.

Rapport cites the organism’s boundary interpellation with its environment to emphasize not our susceptibility to having our dispositions reorganized, but rather more masculinely, to emphasize human control over an external environment. “Regulating the flows of energy and matter across its boundary effects an orderliness in nature such that the generating organisms may be described as ‘architects and engineers of their environments’ (Turner 2000: 7). To be human is to have the capacity to attend to the world in a particular way, to direct that traffic..Human beings have unique capacities to become; they can be uniquely fulfilled and thwarted” (Rapport 2010: 2).

At this point, Rapport digs materialism into a comfortable idealist, capitalist pit for his anthropological audience, arguing in purple-tinted prose that humans are specially gifted, in that their environmental “engineering” is “uniquely subtle, complex and flexible,” and more importantly, in that humans are infinitely “becoming,” adaptable (fortunately, for neoliberals and their expropriative masters). However, Rapport’s romantic reversion to imperial Great Chain of Being logic, as well as his romantic intimations of the posthuman (Do I smell the restoration of private-property slavery upon the wind?), are unnecessary and inimical to socio-materialism or historical materialism.

It is enough and better to say–and perhaps from a more-responsible sociological perspective, easier to notice–that human capacities and limitations exist within definite ranges (observable by comparative methods, and subject to organization and disorganization), within which humans are observably plastic, developmental–and their development can be appropriated and stunted. Of interest to Enlightenment human science, human capacities include communicative and  organizational capacities, interventionary cooperative and boundary-setting capacities, and a limited range of senses as well as technological capacity to augment those senses; and human limitations include non-omniscience.

Components of the National Culture

Notes from:

Anderson, Perry. 1968. “Components of the National Culture,” New Left Review 1/50.

Anderson introduces themes he will visit again in “The Intransigent Right” (1992, LRB): The Right, or conservatives or the enemies of the Enlightenment, can be recognized by their rejection of Enlightenment comparative methodology. Anderson focuses on the conservative rejection of both historical-comparative knowledge and contradiction as producer of change.

Task: Use “Components of the National Culture” to map styles of Anglo anti-enlightenment argumentation, including their consistent components, like anti-comparativism. Follow Anderson’s method in categorizing thinkers by discipline, origins.

Extend this map of antienlightenment thought. Use:

  • Anderson’s “The Intransigent Right” and “The Origins of Postmodernism;”
  • Ernest Gellner’s Words and Things (1959); “Enter the Philosophers,” Times Literary Supplement April 4, 1968.
  • Robin’s The Conservative Mind
  • Piereson’s “The Right Ideas.”
  • Pagden on Enlightenment human sciences, Lyotard as antienlightenment exponent.
  • Barton (1985) on the effect of Enlightenment ideas on upper class confidence and cohesion in Sweden;
  • C.B. McPherson’s Enlightenment method: Re-insert theories into their intellectual context, thereby illuminating theoreticians’ relation to their class. Remarry politics & economics (Anderson 1968: 28).

Antienlightenment themes & methods:

  • Reductio ad absurdum of Enlightenment science:
    • Wittgenstein (see Popper’s, Gellner’s critiques);
    • Popperian positivism;
    • Latour: Micro studies of commercial science labs
  • Anti-comparativism
  • Antienlightenment knowledge requires funky, idealistic reconceptualizations or evasions of time
    • time removed (Wittgenstein);
    • time without change;
    • infinite recursion;
    • Historical knowledge as minute descriptions (Namier), meant to circumscribe democratic knowledge of why or how dispositions and institutions are created in context.
    • Short-term time (Keynes).
  • Show how conservatives methodically (assuming universal, uniform social hierarchy) confuse the (eg. Sahlberg’s) distinction between accountable and responsible.
    • Responsibilization theory
  • Morgue & Truculent” style on behalf of capitalist imperial power:
    • Wittgenstein, Popper, Namier (Anderson 1968: 20);
    • Berlin’s know-nothing coverage of Hegel
  • Modification of enlightenment theory, reorienting it to conservative justice telos (inequality and inegalitarianism):
    • Hobbes: equality, freedom, social contract–>monarchy/oligarchy
    • Burke: “social contract” with the dead
    • Berlin & Popper: imperial conservatism is the true heir of “freedom & reason.”
  • Distinctive strategies of White Emigres in stopping Enlightenment in England v. US:
    • England
      • opposition to ideas, change, classical sociology & Marxist political economy, and working-class (“mob”) leadership;
      • fetishization of sedimented language, eg. as model for the human condition.
    • US: White Emigres organize US capital to fund conservative ideas development, diffusion, and institutionalization.
  • Expression of working-class leadership:
    • Aborted in utero in England by Aristocratic-bourgeois coalition; v.
    • Employed in revolutionary US and instrumental in Trente Glorieuses policy development, but repeatedly dismantled by revivification and resurgences of the slaver-banker coalition.
    • Political and policing repression of working-class leadership;
    • Working-class leadership managed out with deportation, emigration, & immigration;
    • Conservative theory rejection of working-class leadership;
    • Relationship to economic development and, in its absence, maldevelopment (Fourier: social waste).
  • Ideas:
    • Ideas are reduced in Anglo conservative thought to emotion, vulgar psychology (Burke, Namier). This allows Anglos to dispense with explanatory power, and instead focus pragmatically on manipulating the feelings of the disorganized mob;
    • German-Franco conservatism: Ideas are conceptualized as exceptional, esoteric knowledge to be managed by experts (eg. philosophers) on behalf of princes (per Nietzsche, Schmitt, Strauss, Foucault);
    • US conservatives: White Emigres organize US capital to fund conservative ideas development, diffusion, and institutionalization. Ideas are recognized as prescribing & proscribing conceivable action within a social network.
    • v. Enlightenment human sciences: See Pagden; Marx; democratic Enlightenment sociologists: C Wright Mills, Veblen, Lester Ward, Du Bois, Bourdieu, Domhoff, Kimmel, Lamont. Ideas are thought to develop in relation to epistemology. Democratic epistemology is collectivist, comparative, scientific, and oriented toward democratic norms. Part of the social scientist’s work is to explain elite knowledge and power to nonelites.
  • Permanent conservative opposition to French Revolution: How does this work in France? How does it impact French philosophy?
    • Romantic philosophical reaction: If, in his successful effort to organize French philosophy’s restoration against Sociology, Canguilhem showed the development of scientific ideas in context (per Anderson 1968), how does Foucault’s “balanced,” conservative, “marginalist” fear of the mob, use of Nietzsche’s genealogical method, avoidance of comparative method, and separation of economics and politics create social-scientific concept-origin stories that conform to Wittgenstein’s reduction of science to a traditional language community?
  • French v. Anglo-American philosophical/theory literacy, as it permits tactical degrees of freedom: Case of Iraq War, where conservative econ dogma merged with imperial Morgue & Truculence to reduce Americans’ tactical agility.

Use this framework to advance the following thesis question:

How does conservative imperial-capitalist thought handle changing elite networks?


The Apartheid Democracy Disposition

Directly opposing democratic Enlightenment theory, institutions, and practices, Apartheid Democracy is a conservative reconstruction of the democracy concept. An historical- provisional variant of Herrenvolk Democracy, Apartheid Democracy abjects democratic development institutions and dispositions, such as suggested by Rousseau, Dewey (1915), socialist-backed social democratic theory, inter alia.

In the 21st century, Apartheid Democracy inheres in and is exported by the US and Israel. Rooted in a coalition of slavery institutions and partisanship (including within the US polity and military), colonial Lebensraum theory, the post-Holocaust rejection of the European Enlightenment, and strategic Schmittian “Enemy” and Straussian exoteric politics theories, partisans of Apartheid Democracy are disposed to conceiving of all interactions with even tangential democratic implications as crucial win-loss contests. They have learned from the history of slavers’ US Civil War loss and the Holocaust that the Enemy, democratic Enlightenment, must be ruthlessly attacked and where possible destroyed. There can be no compromise. Capacity enhancement resources must be monopolized by the community, the enemies of the Enlightenment.

Thus, the Apartheid Democracy disposition readily tends to–overrelies on–bullying and lying in interactions with perceived Enemies.  Breaking down the opposition is not just policy, but also the interactional goal, directly opposed to practicing the democratic-development skills of exchanging information, ideas and grievances, permitting collective capacity growth across difference and change, and materializing collective objectives enhancing distributed sovereignty and human development.

While the Apartheid Democrat’s self-professed brand may be as a political realist, in situations where the partisan of Apartheid Democracy does not possess coercive power, the reflexive disposition to bully and lie through interactions can backfire, reducing the Apartheid Democrat’s capacity to achieve her objectives. Apartheid Democrats are highly sensitized to indicators of democratic alignment. By reflexively attacking Enemies regardless of the strength or probability of the democratic threat, the Apartheid Democrat cuts off paths and blows up bridges that could divert Enemies to mutually-acceptable alternative outcomes. The Apartheid Democrat’s realism is confined to situations where she possess monopoly control over the means of coercion. Branding aside, Apartheid Democrats are idealists deeply engaged in a war of position.

Moreover, by indiscriminately, too frequently shifting into belligerent gear within an institutional network she inhabits, the Apartheid Democrat reduces her own credit and cooperation linkages within that institutional network. Other network members may come to occasionally or even methodically constrain her capacity to disrupt the institutional network. The Apartheid Democrat will practice an exoteric politics of self-branding as apolitical to reduce constraint.

Neoliberals, by contrast, specialize in perceiving options that can divert Enlightenment democrats toward inegalitarian conservative objectives.

Corollaries & Hypotheses:

  1. The US military is the absolutely essential condition for Apartheid Democracy.
  2. While Anglo-America/Israel can aggressively dominate and subordinate jurisdictions without coercive power, clashes between Anglo-America/Israel and Europe likely produce fewer wins for the Apartheid Democracies than would otherwise be possible if they used a more varied (eg. neoliberal) tactical repertoire.
    1. Thus, a Trump presidency is suboptimal for US strategy and power relative to Europe. Discounting the relationship with Europe may be an effect of post-Cold War, reduced European-theatre US military interests, where Apartheid Democracy centers the US military.  As well, the US may be assigning EU relations to the UK.
  3. Individual Apartheid Democrat dispositions are best constrained by Europeans and Europeanists.
  4. Politically-mobilized neoliberals and other conservatives enable and supplement Apartheid Democrats where they do not possess control over the means of coercion.



Limits of the Gentrification Narrative

Does a fear of gentrification mean that we should not fight for making public places, streets, and parks better? No. This knowledge only highlights the importance of community members’ involvement in tackling neighborhood change. This knowledge also emphasizes the importance of creating places that benefit everyone – places that connect existing residents, instead of dividing, alienating, or displacing them, and places that enhance the existing character of a neighborhood, instead of erasing it.” –Kahne, 2015, “Does Placemaking Cause Gentrification?,” PPS.org.

While this planning article struggles with the overextension of the “gentrification” master narrative, it hints at the geographical limits of this theory’s applicability beyond global metropoles, economically-exclusive places where developers targeting a smallholder managerial class serving a global millionaire and billionaire class have uprooted and erased well-connected, flourishing, and socially-mobile working class communities like Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and neighbourhoods in Vancouver, Toronto, London UK, and San Francisco.

Consider that the problem with gentrification is not just the middle working-class purchase of some small amount of livable private space from the racialized poor, and the accompanying addition of a couple of coffeehouses (as can slowly happen on a couple of streets in Winnipeg). The critical concept emerges to describe the uprooting of a diverse and thriving community of smallholders from capacity-enhancing urban public amenities that they themselves have built and fought for over time. Planners’ solution to the latter problem is institutionalized community consultation, connected to theory for democratic development. It’s clear that Winnipeg has long repressed planning capacity, including community consultation capacity, in favor of monopoly developer control, and this continues to be the norm. However, that is another, older, hinterlands problem.

Institutionalized planning incapacity and general democratic underdevelopment as a colonial legacy continually refreshed by weak newcomer citizenship should not be reduced to the metropole phenomenon of gentrification, because popular gentrification-critique morality stigmatizes and suggests reducing non-poverty smallholder collective action capacity in order to amplify the evident “voice” of the poor, such as represented in poverty advocates’ recent romantic accounts by Bain Financial Corporation (the Dollar Store owner, among other investment asset holdings). Bain Financial’s capacity to serve as a “patron” and “voice” of the racialized poor is not threatened in Winnipeg. This is because Winnipeg’s anti-democratic institutions are strong, and Bain Financial is, like other market institutions supposedly native to and culturally owned by the poor (at least in antidemocratic neoclassical economic “consumer sovereignty” theory), an anti-democratic market institution. Its poverty “advocacy” agenda consists strictly in profiteering from and reproducing poverty, as complement to its privatization portfolio.

Theoretical entrepreneurship suggesting that any income-increasing class diversification of a neighbourhood, or even any isolated instance of community-consultation failure, is the gentrification problem empties gentrification of its critical specificity, and worse, in Winnipeg, contributes to the traditional problems of democratic, public collective-action incapacitation and planning and amenity poverty.

Unlike global metropoles, Winnipeg is not a town where the problem is the new economic-inequality-driven, private-property exclusion of the collectively-rich, privately-less-affluent from their own legacy of rich city shared public amenities. Winnipeg is a railroad population center in an extractivist region that is amenity-poor because it has a long-time, settler-colonial, cross-class democratic collective-action deficit (particularly relative to the power of regional developers). Winnipeg’s urban race problems are continually reproduced by the cultural norm reducing democratic development to consumer sovereignty. That reduction denies and evades the salient problem of building democratic collective-action capacity across colonial, settler, and newcomer conflicts of interest.

Urban geography has found that the neighborhoods with the proven capacity to build their own (not Bain Financial Corporation’s) institutions strengthening their social and political capital, are rarely homogeneous poverty neighbourhoods. Not charity or poverty advocacy, but class diversity with strong communication and high solidarity and collective-action capacity can strengthen and develop neighbourhoods, and permit stronger social mobility. Contra the gentrification critique, the problem in hinterlands is how to form coalitions across class, citizenship status, and racial difference that can organize for the new institution of humanist amenities that do not reproduce human stunting (as distinct from millionaire/billionaire thwarting). What do we need to organize that can improve the life quality and life chances of the regional coalition of smallholders?



Strategic Error Bias amongst Authoritarian Nonelites

Hypothesis 1: At least a portion of the lower-managerial and producer “Middle” working class is  systematically afflicted with an inability to accurately assess power relations and strategize messaging and action.

Hypothesis 2: This social segment’s systematic analytical error reproduces collective action incapacitation within working-class communities.

Corollary: In particular, non-elite subjectivities can be strategically handicapped by an overly-simplified Power Structure and Power Resource analytical framework. The interactional failures this analytical oversimplification produces in turn reproduce an inadequate tactical and strategic repertoire biased toward individual and collective de-capacitation.

The Non-elite Power-perception Error: Deploying an overly-simplified model of power, and importing elite perspectives on non-elite individuals’ object status, non-elite dispositions can misrecognize any individual power as monopolized sovereign power. For example, they can imagine that a strong individual will or passion alone can reliably overmaster and subordinate other individuals in any situation. As well, they theorize inaccurately that when an objectified will does not simply submit to the command of a presumptive Master will, this is because the objectified person is a faulty object. As with other objects that fail to ameliorate human sentience in the world, the resistant person targeted for objectification is psychologically apprehended by the presumptive Master as treasonous.

Psychological or discursive domination can work on a limited scale; but it is more limited than authoritarian non-elites tend to perceive. Psychological domination tends to work at a low hum along, and not against, categories of social status. Its effects may not be reliable or durable. In a complex society, psychological domination is not transposable to all interactions and relations.

Consequent to a misrecognition of all power as monopoly sovereign power, an authoritarian non-elite individual A (ANE-A) will tend to assign to other non-elite individuals (NE-N) the responsibility for carrying out ANE-A’s own personal interests. Probably, other individuals will not serve as instruments for the individual passion of ANE-A, but rather will pursue their own individual interests or the interests of a more-powerful, organized collectivity.

This is because non-elite individuals do not have sufficient structural social power to individually incentivize or impose what is a hierarchical functioning (subordinating others’ wills, converting other people into manipulable objects, tools, hands).

This structured experience the authoritarian non-elite individual (ANE-A) psychologically projects as a function failure, or malevolent defection, of the object (the objectified), NE-N. Psychological projection of harmful intention onto objects is natural (See Scarry 1985.); but the error that leads to the objectification of people, and projection of treasonous intent or incapacity upon insubordinate people, lies in power-relations illiteracy. The authoritarian non-elite subjectivity misinterprets insubordination as a malevolent and dysfunctional (incompetence) withholding of cooperation and credit in a world of fluid but absolute monopolized sovereignty, realized in simple domination by force of personality in individual interactions.

Emergent problem: Because the structured experience of subordination/objectification failure is rampant within authoritarian non-elite relations, incompetence and treason are perceived as ubiquitous in non-elite subjectivity, and so non-elite people tend to lean heavily on punishment as a tool for managing all but ideal patronage relations. This reinforces a tendency toward patronage-seeking behaviour and social hierarchy. Where corporal punishment is inaccessible, authoritarian nonelites will rely on moral condemnation in an effort to break down their target’s semi-sovereign (social but positionally-distinctive) self.

This produces a collective-action problem within the working-class: Working-class communities are bound up in punishing and thwarting each other. Their strategic capacities and tactical repertoires–including Power Structure and Power Resources analyses, negotiation, and cooperation–are constantly bound, atrophied, and stunted, and not just from above. Defection is universalized within the working class.

In capitalism, capitalists are relieved of universalized defection and crippling by monopoly control over resources. Their monopoly access to social power allows capitalists greater tactical latitude to make allies, form coalitions, and collaborate with rivals, while distributing patronage to delegate their agency. These rich tactical and strategic resources also incentivize capitalists to hysterically avoid expulsion from the capital-saved network and fortify class boundaries. Capitalists can be authoritarian without undermining their collective action capacity. This is not true of non-elite people.

Common “ameliorative” interventions in this serious social inequality problem tend to be constrained to moral discourse: Smallholder identity group coalitions simply exhort each other to act more deferentially, validating authoritarian non-elite individuals’ analytical error–the overprojection of hierarchical relationships of command and objectification. Doomed to fail and to proliferate a sense of alienation, the deference-demand “fix” reproduces the class’ strategic incapacitation.

Note: Some theory entrepreneurs have intimated that British Commonwealth or Southern US culture provide superior deference skills–presumably such that prevent, for example, authoritarianism from eroding nonelite collective action capacity. They suggest that a strong deference culture provides a micro-interactionist solution to collective-action capacity inequality, or makes collective-action capacity inequality a moot issue. I think this (often chauvanist) claim can be contested, including with empirical evidence from the Commonwealth and US South.

If we allow ourselves to imagine that non-elites can use their supposed surfeit of time to become psychological therapists preserving authoritarianism, then we can alternatively propose that instead, they can be assisted to better conceptualize power and improve their collective action capacity. Non-elite people need a better power-analysis framework and a relational-tactics and strategy repertoire expanded beyond authoritarian Master-servant relations, however glorified as “deference,” toleration, or accommodation. For a model, elites are not only better incentivized to understand each other as more than simple hands, they are also better socialized to use a broader array of interpersonal tactics and strategies, to work together coalitionally across rival interests. The sociological craft tradition (Mills, Bourdieu, Lamont, et al) can study and convey to working-class, racialized, and feminized people more expansive power knowledge.

Recommendation: To organize the balkanized smallholders, including feminized and racialized contingents, use the television series Game of Thrones, up through season 8 episode 3 (“Battle of Winterfell”) as a resource to stimulate power-structure and power-resources identification and theory development. Like The Prince, The Prison Notebooks, and The Power Elite before it, Game of Thrones is designed up through season 8, chapter 3 as a prolonged, multi-pronged, didactic corrective to popular misunderstandings of power relations. It was built to stimulate power-theory development. More effective would its pedagogy be if implemented as curricular discussion material in collectives.

(Note: After season 8, episode 3, Game of Thrones degenerates into a dog’s breakfast of Whiggish ideology and movie industry auto-canonization. Zeynep Tufekci (2019) recognized the show abandoned sociology for psychology at the end. If you’re the sort who enjoyed the democratic Enlightenment, or even if you’re a non-slaver American, you will hate being force-fed the Red Coat/Cold War moral framing of Daenerys’ clunky M.O. swerve, along with most of the hackneyed gruel you’re served after the Battle of Winterfell. Orly, Sam Tarly is a naive academic, but our True ‘n’ Just King is The Storyteller. Get over yourselves, Renaissance Festival. Truly, neoliberal times blow in terms of moral-fable product.)

The goal of power-theory development and tactical-strategic repertoire building amongst non-elites would be to replace the preponderance of thwarting and punitive tactics–both corporeal and psycho-discursive–with a broader, more valid power-relations analysis and skills repertoire, thereby reducing working-class political stunting.


Game of Thrones: Lessons on Power

GoT power-relations lessons are not necessarily encapsulated in pithy verbal recommendations, but rather by examining how characters embody power-relations tactics and strategies, and their effects, as well as learn over time. Still, the character Peter Baelish pivots to advise Sansa Stark, as she moves into a queen role, with an important reminder to remain strategically adroit:

Everyone is your enemy, everyone is your friend… Live that way and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before.” –Peter Baelish to Sansa Stark, Season N, Episode N.



Adorno, Theodor et al. 1950. The Authoritarian Personality. University of California Press.

Benner, Erica. 2017. Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli’s Lifelong Quest for Freedom. New York: Penguin Random House.

Game of Thrones, seasons 1-8, episode 3.

Kierkegaard, Soren. 1846. The Present Age.

McAlevey, Jane. 2016. No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age. Oxford.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. 1513. The Prince.

Mills, C Wright. 1956. The Power Elite.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1887. On the Genealogy of Morals.

Tufekci, Zeynep. 2019. “The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones.” Scientific American, May 17.




The Anticomparativist, Antienlightenment Anglo Mind

In his rather-disappointing artifact of late 20th century Anglo academic hegemony, Alex Callinicos concludes his section Talcott Parsons, “Where Weber had surveyed the formation of modernity with deep forebodings, Parsons now suggested we sit back and enjoy the ride” (245).

Sure, that’s true. It’s also not too significant without much hint as to why, and part of a decontextualizing, fetishizing approach to “illuminating” social theory that divorces theory from sociological craft, that drastically reduces meaning by divorcing it from what was at stake in theory formation. This reduction in meaning serves no one, because what was at social stake then remains at stake today. The theory textbook genre is, for the most part, counterproductive to theory comprehension.

What’s interesting, and what helps illuminate the meaning of theory and its translatability into a larger process of collectivist scientific knowledge building, is how the difference between the problems 19th c. Germany needed to solve–to reorganize to overcome British economic repression, and the problems 20th c. US was addressing–to maintain subordinated working class cooperation in the years after WWII, are reflected in social theory. Weber was gloomy about modernity because his classic, idealist German education (structured to supply generations of German princes as managers to European kingdoms) had focused him on an elite’s state problem–organizing society in rivalry, while also repressing state employees’ collective action capacity, as that might hijack the state. Specifically, when Weber was working, it was unclear and an anxiety, whether Germany would grab the horns of capitalism and ride it to the top. Like almost all products of educated German idealism, Weber was anxious that middle class bureaucrats would seize too much power, and in his era, an interruption to top-down steering would specifically mean that capitalist dominance would elude his society. Continental German-speaking peoples could become exposed to Anglo Atlantic domination.

That was not a US concern after WWII. By contrast, Talcott Parsons was working to help the newly-dominant US state secure internal cooperation for smooth global management. This is why Parsons was comparatively blithe in his read of modernity. It’s important to understand this difference, to determine the extent of these theories’ and their concepts’ generalizability and effect in historical situ.

I should hope that Sociology and social theory is not defined by a blindness to the specific interests dominating the historical region in which each component of theory is developed. Otherwise we naturalize and over-extend rather specific, historical, regional problems as abstract-universal “Problems of Man.” We fail to see the limits of the concepts these problems produce.

Fainting away from robust comparative methodology is not an Enlightenment problem. It is a problem with the diminishment of Enlightenment approach, as it has been watered down and reoriented over centuries of concerted, voluminous conservative attack. When we pick up and toss about Weberian theory and Parsonian theory without contextualizing them historically, regionally, and socially, we make bad, antiscientific interpretations of their theory, and of the theories’ significance and applicability.

Theory is not philosophy. It’s not about perfecting logic derived from mostly-elite positionality and interest (even as that is thought, dubiously, to patronize other marginal positions and interests). Theory is about recording and feeding the scientific community’s ongoing empirical research into–in the case of social science– the range of human capacities and limitations, and the comparative conditions and varieties of human relations. It is likely that social theory will be informed by elite positionality and interests, and we handle that by identifying and specifying that in historical and spatial context. That’s the metaphysics of science, a collectivist, transnational, transhistorical knowledge.

For example, Callinicos buys whole-hog the postmodern-inspired postcolonial critique of Enlightenment. That makes sense, because he’s English, and the postcolonial critique is Indian. That’s an important, but still-parochial relation unto itself. The English-language postcolonial critique, as we are increasingly admitting, is overextended. Ultimately, to support postcolonial anti-Enlightenment, the Enlightenment in Callinicos’ Social Theory account is reduced to one English guy, James Mill, who was part of the colonial apparatus. Those philosophers crassly tying together commercial power and post-monarchical governance are elevated to the totality. We lose sight of the fact that England was never the entirety or even at the center of Enlightenment, was always a wing. England’s relationship to Enlightenment has always been as an insufficient cosmopolitan refuge from the Continental political persecution of major Enlightenment thinkers.

While it temporarily sheltered these Continental refugees (because its order is relatively impervious to Enlightenment thought), England has been influenced by the Enlightenment–It informed and lent conviction to home-grown abolitionism, and Anglo culture developed its own often-commercial variants. But the culture of England, as the primary center of capitalism, has been generally incompatible with democratic Enlightenment (On the lack of British sociological imagination, see Anderson 1968; Lovell 1987). Its interpretations of Enlightenment ideas have been moderated with conservatism, saturated with anti-enlightenment. We need to start recognizing the conservative contribution to and reorientation of our ideas. The Enlightenment is a large democratic and revolutionary community of philosophers and their public–only a coddled, entrepreneurial smattering of whom believed that commerce could negate tyranny, science is reducible to math and rape, and conflict aversion alone makes social change. England, as the primary core of capitalism, has always mostly rejected all that democracy, revolution, enlightenment.

So, contra Indo-Anglo theory, England’s treatment of India was not caused by that one English Enlightenment guy, or even multiple Enlightenment exponents, but by England’s capitalist imperialism–just as, contra the Frankfurt School, the Holocaust was not a product of a distant Enlightenment’s concern with knowing the world democratically (reinterpreted in princely-managerial German idealism as fearsome rationalism). It was a product of the capitalist tendency for the core (England) to suppress the development of rival regions (Germany). That’s right. That’s the driving relation, even though England has ever been a friend to the Jewish people and Israel, and English elites did not plan or execute that genocide. Their rivals the Germans did. Both of these imperial, capitalist (as developed from feudal and slavery roots) societies are far more complex than the political and knowledge innovations of Enlightenment. To blame an undifferentiated Enlightenment–to blame the Enlightenment at all–for all the bads is a sulky, petty excuse for theory. It simply, childishly asserts that Europe has nothing to show the world, and no capacity for solidarity with the world, beyond elite cosmopolitanism. That’s not true, and it is little more than a contribution to reactionary conservatism.

It’s all well and good that Callinicos eruditely, airily dismisses the reduction of Enlightenment in his theory textbook. But that doesn’t illuminate anything for students, and he’s too glib–He doesn’t recognize when that reduction is at play in received wisdom about theory, and how we understand it relative to its function in scientific method. Whether the Frankfurt School’s inflation and grafting of one terrible case, of a persistent problem of human susceptibility to extreme estrangement, onto a world-epic narrative (This is Pagden’s critique.), or whether the parochial Indo-Anglo reduction of Enlightenment to the particular Anglo-Indian colonial relationship, the whole lazy overextension of blame upon the Enlightenment for all 19th-20th century problems has to rely for its logic on a conservative campaign to reduce the Enlightenment to cold rationalism. That anti-Enlightenment reduction is invalid, and exists only to advance inegalitarianism.

Consider the late 20th century terror of middle-class state bureaucrats–borrowed from princely German idealism via a French philosophy academy trying to regain influence from Sociology (and finally allowing the British to convert literary criticism into a Cultural Sociology). That “critical” aversion quickly proved to be misdirection, as neoliberal interventions advanced (See for example how easy it was for capital to devise a strategy efficiently reforming the French state’s public housing bureaucracy, shifting the state to manage a mass conversion to debt-financed private housing, per Bourdieu 2005).

The logical relations between prolific Anti-enlightenment revision and Brahmin expat postcolonialism are difficult for Callinicos, as a product of second-half 20th century England, to intuitively keep track of. That’s disappointing, given Callinicos’ commitment to critical realism and science.


Notes on the British Culture,
from observations on the London Review of Books

  • An intense, often-undisciplined pleasure in crafting stories recording human monstrosity, often starring individual men–celebrities, preferably of derivative, inherited fame and fortune, whose work achieved some recognized goal.
    • For example, while his life was a product of the social and financial capital his grandfather produced, within a permissive-commercial society, Lucien Freud produced and sold art.
  • As fuel for the stories, an associated, “broad-minded” toleration for monstrous behaviour. This is the opposite of Jantelagen.
  • Also opposite of Jantelagen in that, unlike in Scandinavian case where Jantelagen is a myth thats function is to moderate egalitarianism, to open cultural space for imperial, capitalist disruption, there doesn’t seem to be a British myth that imposes reflection toward moderating the British cultural norm of tolerance for undisciplined Genius Boys.
    • You can imagine how this unreflexive Anglo variant of broad-mindedness corresponds with a World-class imperial culture.
  • The cosmopolitan performance of toleration for the Genius Boys who not only accomplish some work, but also, and more importantly, supply scintillating stories of human monstrosity, comes at the expense of the people who do assert boundaries on those Genius Boys’ behaviour: older women. These women’s boundary-setting behaviour is imagined in the stories to reflect base and narrow motivations (per Colm Toibin & William Feaver’s accounts, per “Falling in Love with Lucian,” LRB 10-10-19).
    • In this ritualistic discursive sacrifice of older women and egalitarian boundaries, Feaver and Toibin feel comfortable finding fault in a mother objecting to Freud’s relationship with her daughter. Freud never washed his own clothes, and he seeded some eight fatherless children and many more abortions. Yet according to our contemporary British authorities, the true problem was, the mother must have been prejudiced against Jews and poor people. Never mind how little sense this moralistic “critical analysis” makes. Freud was not even poor. He did enjoy gambling away the money he inherited.
    • Gratuitously manufacturing a shitload of reproductive work for (“traumatized”) women is taken, at the Genius Boy’s word, to be our definition of freedom. This equivalence would seem natural to a people subscribing to the conservative theory holding that (exclusive elite) liberty must be based upon a vast base of slavery. Obviously, these reveries upon the Genius and the Work require tastefully abandoning the inconvenient thought that any Great Man could have accomplished anything of note without creating a shitload of reproductive work for women and trauma for the next generation. The British mind must imagine that the unfree societies in which women do set boundaries, and women have constructive relationships across generations, are uninteresting, mud-dwelling, and witch-plagued.

In the same October LRB issue, Jacqueline Rose recounts the horror of the contemporary British treatment of refugee women. They are dehumanized and abused within the private prison system and policing bulwark funded by Anglo countries’ taxpayers.

I think there can be only two drivers of this sort of systematized antihuman abomination, and they are: 1) All this bullshit is done primarily to give a handful of international Anglo capitalists and managers fat income and power over other people, while diverting workers into jobs policing each other, as inequality and productivity grow. 2)  The Anglo countries are creating a global reputation for state terror, with which to manipulate the millions of people disrupted and displaced by capitalist-military resource and territory expropriation.

Or maybe it’s Enlightenment wot done it?

In the 5 December 2019 LRB, Mousab Younis authored a list of French public affronts to French Muslims. In particular, it listed all the times last fall that some French public official or persona rejected either veiled Muslim women or the practice of veiling women. The really dehumanizing statements issued from the French Right,  but, per British postcolonial taste, inegalitarian and egalitarian objections to veiled women v. veiling women are not distinguished. They are all packaged together as “racism.”

Belligerently, no acknowledgement is made in the Anglo postcolonial tradition of the historical context which might propel objections to veiling women–for example, a Catholic country that had a long, globally-influential civil war over whether it is possible or desirable to build a more egalitarian society, and where in particular, women’s substantive citizenship is a very recent, hard-won achievement.

Similarly, nor is there any specification for why many Muslim immigrants insist that Muslim women be veiled today–They have not always been. If that causal context were to be specified, then we would get dangerously close to shining a light on the shaky foundation of context-free “antiracism”: The economistic myth that migration is the result of preferences–in particular, the presumed, autonomous, context-free preference attributed to all migrants, to leave home for better economic opportunities abroad. It is shameful that this ridiculous myth is treated in Anglo culture like a sacred cow, guarantor of morality, hidden from view and not subject to debate.

(Let us not obfuscate: Most Muslim migrants to Western Europe are there because Anglo countries, for example, bombed out their home. Unlike the peregrinations of Saudi princesses and Russian oligarch expat communities, the mass migrations are not simple economic preference. It is trauma, and any immigrant First Generation typically has much difficulty seeing how or why it would contribute to the development of the receiving society. They need help with that, connecting them with the encompassing receiving society; and such help does not get done where the economistic perspective refuses to recognize that people are motivated by social reasons, rather than only reasons of petty individual optimization. This conceptual problem and institutional deficit is particularly glaring where individual optimization has been systematically thwarted, as in induced, crisis-driven migration.)

What could be (from an egalitarian perspective) politically-useful alienation, between a Muslim tradition of gender inegalitarianism and a Catholic tradition of gender inegalitarianism, is converted via the race-essentialist (both conservative racist and liberal anti-racist) reduction into a more commercially-useful antagonism between native and naturalized citizens.

Postcolonial public intellectuals assist in this political herding because it seems plausible that as migrants they would ignore the context, what is at stake, and thus the meanings of politics. In terms of their own motivating interests, they are also elites, requiring broken, pliable servants.

If the Anglicized mind tends to rush into a moral register confining sociological and geographical analysis, the British ruling class is also strategic, and, in strategy, perhaps naturally, it tends to think in archipelago terms that coordinate very well with an upper-class “nation” imaginary.

The British ruling class’ governance style is to “conspire slowly,” implement swiftly (Distilled from the January 2, 2020 LRB 42(1)). With her utterly-reliable, pitch-perfect capacity to distinguish conservative from socialist (including Red Tory) ideas and policies, Margaret Thatcher was the Conservative Party’s immediate, mass-transformation instrument. She loved the role of wresting a liberal society away from a short tilt toward socialism back toward the inegalitarian, belligerent conservative ends that could guide an extractive, expropriating global capitalism, and provide a cosseting home to a global archipelago of its klepto-plutocrats.

According to her 2019 biography by Charles Moore, when the Tory fraternity pulled the plug on Thatcher in 1990 as she was organizing the Gulf War, she was sad and angry. The fraternity substituted in John Major to block any swing back toward egaliberte policy with Red Tory Michael Heseltine. Thatcher (1992), however, felt that England needed further molding at her hands, in order to convert into the “Singapore of Europe,” a global elite asset or key node in the “growth areas of the world,” as she phrased it politically.

As difficult as it must have been for her to relinquish the changemaker role, Thatcher could have been more sanguine at the denouement of her 11-year turn at extreme agency. The elite British fraternity was not for relaxing on the Singaporization task. Her reforms and the subsequent policy consolidations arranged by Tony Blair’s neoliberal Labour Party were sufficient to accomplish the conversion.

Today, as a next step in support of their Singaporization, the British voting public fervently supports the Tories arranging Brexit. What policies did England’s ruling class forge to secure cross-class national cooperation through this transformation? In implementing policy devised to coordinate interests within the UK, Thatcher made policy errors, such as the poll tax. More successfully, however, Thatcher promoted state support for low interest rates, consolidating the interests of smallholding mortgage-holders and FIRE rentiers. While such policy excludes the interests of renters and following generations, dissent is muffled with a distribution of political representation favoring property owners. A supporting contribution, the Red Ken Livingstone government managed investment in urban amenities, including arts, attracting global oligarchs to set up a home in London, the heart of Europe’s Singapore.

In recounting this history, I’m interested in how what’s advantageous for Europe’s Singapore also produces a policy industry, managerial expertise uncritically, inappropriately exported to other Anglophone jurisdictions (“colonies”), to their disorganization and expropriation.

LRB 6 Feb 2020, Jonathan Perry, Shortcuts pp. 12-13. I read this because I’m tired of LRB authors saying nothing insightful, repeatedly, about Brexit. Here Perry terrifies me (as an American). He lays out a liberal monarchy-functionalist story which seems to me to be saying, between the saggy, hyperbolic lines (no monarchy = fascism), that monarchy helps political parties operate free of democracy. Well, huzzah, Brits. He seems very unexplicably unhappy that Harry, Second Prince of the UK, has made some moves toward exiting his hereditary job, a job for which he has already sacrificed his mom and his childhood. At the same time, Perry seems fairly cynical about his royalty. He makes a sexist and cute point: “Few women still want to mother Macaulay Culkin, let alone Prince Andrew.” Since, Perry feels in a surprising bit of self-unaware transference, it must be insanely-maternalistic lady punters that are keeping the UK monarchy chugging along, we can reason that the aging men of the monarchy have no social role worth much social subsidization. Then, somehow, Perry goes on to imagine that the only alternative role for a royalty drop-out is as a dissolute playboy (Prince Andrew). Then, somehow, this “analysis” suffices for him as a kind of justification for monarchy. Why even bother with cynicism? Why do some people get paid to publish their turgid free associations? In the case of the British, we all know the answer: “Public” School Caste Network.

“Britain has become a polity plagued by a fear of its own rejuvenation.”–William Davies

That’s because, just as with its soccer teams, Britain does not rely on its own for reproduction. Britain is a nation full of filicidistes.


Peter Paul Rubens


“For most (elderly) readers of those newspapers, the cultural threat posed by ‘millennials’–generally defined as those born between 1981 and 2000–is that they are relativist when it comes to personal values, gender and the family, and internationalist when it comes to history.”

Those are the politics of orphans, see Melville.

Always see Melville.



Antienlightenment & “the Venerable Arsenal of Catholic Theology”: Themes and Weaknesses

McMahon, Darrin M. 2002. Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-enlightenment and the Making of Modernity. Oxford University Press.

Hylton, Forrest. 2019. Left Business Observer interview, December 5. http://shout.lbo-talk.org/lbo/RadioArchive/2019/19_12_05.mp3

Forrest Hylton describes 2019 upheavals in Latin America, including the unusual mystery of  the Brasilian middle class supporting conservative elites to stop middle class expansion and supports.

I suggest that Latin American politics are illuminated by (investigation into imperial power interventions and) Darrin McMahon’s analysis (2002) of the conservative Catholic French Ultra Royalists and the ideological legacy they have bequeathed the West.

Experientially, as an educated working-class American with some background at a Latin Americanist university and traveling in Latin America, I have generally found Latin American elites to be impossibly belligerent–savage–in interaction. They have so much passion, interest at stake. They rely on extraordinary patronage. Though Western commercial-state communications professionals work to convince working-class northerners that we share values and interests in common with Latin American elites, that comms strategy is only plausible so long as the Northern educated working class stays within the All-Inclusive and never actually meets a Latin American elite. It is a case where it is quite possible that Latin American elites and anyone with some democratic socialization do not share any common concept of what it is to be human. Here’s why.

As Corey Robin has observed (2011), conservatives are ideological opportunists surrounding a non-negotiable core commitment to inequality. Their interests (passions) are inflamed: Conservatives cannot imagine a world in which they thrive if others are allowed to develop like humans. Starting and staying with the assumption that hell is other people, conservatives are committed to the enslavement of humanity. Hence, distributed semi-sovereign human development is verboten, an abjected unthought in the conservative tradition.

(Side note on theoretical hybridity: Conservative-social democratic hybrid psychology centaur Svend Brinkmann reduces human development to a variety of managerialism, and then lays out a nice case for asserting boundaries on HR excesses in order to permit (not semi-sovereign human development but) distributed “moral integrity.”)

Correcting T.H. Marshall’s (1949) ideal-type argument naturalizing the advent of social citizenship rights, Albert O. Hirschman (1991) reminded us that conservatives push back, influencing knowledge and social developments in reaction to democratic institutional progress. For example, McMahon points out that although they lost to democracy in their time, French Ultra Royalists threw themselves upon the printing press, churning out blizzards of right-wing text (McMahon 192, 199), deeply influencing French (and beyond) common sense, politics, sociology, and philosophy.

Hirschman analyzed the three tactics conservatives use to defend their inequality pole: Arguments accusing democracy of perversity, futility, and jeopardy. But McMahon’s research leads him to insist that beyond the instrumentalist deployment of these Anti-enlightenment discursive tactics, religion is also an essential tool for conservatives in defending their core principle, inequality. The ancient, philosophically-elaborated, legally-codified, imperial-warlord support institution that is Roman Catholicism is necessary to sacralize inequality, and to demonize equality, universal human development. Roman Catholic tradition is necessary to laden the thought of shared sovereignty and distributed human development with irrational fear (Robin 2004). Christian religion also provides a competing alternative to the socio-materialist, commons, and democratic Enlightenment concept of human development within shared sovereignty.  Conservatives tell us, You’ll get change when you die, and you’ll like it. Or not.

I am interested in analyses of conservatism because I want to aid working-class, colonized, racialized, and feminized people’s understanding of how to incorporate knowledge for democratic development, and how to set boundaries on knowledge that denies working-class people’s development of their own human capacities. The problem with philosophy, social theory, and the social sciences is not that they derived from the Enlightenment effort to build human science knowledge–knowledge beyond authority and habit–but that they became infused with Antienlightenment thought, and so dissipated. Science was reduced to scientism, and conservative philosophy stepped in. This needs to be disentangled and clarified. For example, meritocratic ideology in the context of capitalism is a variant of antihuman aristocratic ideology. Meritocratic ideology’s capacity to permit human development is severely limited. There’s no need for antidemocratic social science, except as an instrumental, disposable conservative tactic.

According to McMahon’s analysis of French Catholic conservatism, these are the themes that the Ultra-Royalists‘ voluminous literature (McMahon 192, 199) bequeathed to Western thought, particularly Postmodernism (McMahon 201-202):

  • Animosity toward the Enlightenment.
  • The critique of Enlightenment as about little more than cold rationalism.
  • Philosophes were depicted as abstract speculators, and as intolerant and fanatical, a “Dry Terror” like their tyrannical “Wet Terror” offspring, the Jacobins.
  • Locating the cause of the Terror not in the clash between Enlightenment and Counterenlightenment, but as the sole responsibility of the Enlightenment (McMahon 201). Philosophes were depicted as mob fluffers.
  • A Pandora’s Box, Enlightenment caused an expansive package of related social ills: the decline of faith, Breakup of the family, Moral turpitude, Separation of church and state, Political upheaval, Tolerance, free speech, civil marriage and divorce, moral and economic laissez faire, democracy, and natural rights.
  • The Enlightenment as the sign and source of modernity’s ills: rationalism, intolerance, the Holocaust, antisemitism, totalitarianism, racism, environmental destruction, imperialism, misogyny (201-202).
  • Philosophes created both capitalist individualism and international pacifism.
  • Enlightenment is on the evil side of the world-epic drama between Christian Civilization and counter-civilization. Per Gustave Gautherot and up through Samuel Huntington et al., counter-civilization extends from previous opponents and rivals of major European imperial powers to Enlightenment to communism to Islam.
  • The Enlightenment was a “conspiracy against the social order in a clear line of descent from the philosophe bugbear of the eighteenth century through the Freemason, Jewish, liberal, and socialist pariahs of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (McMahon 194, citing Johannes Rogalla von Bieberstein’s analysis of conservative conspiracism).
  • Enlightenment thought was antisocial, in that it advocated for the interests and extra-religious pleasure of nonelites. The social is a steep, immobile hierarchy; thus, the “interests” of nonelites would be nested under the interests of elites. But their natural subordination means that nonelites do not have their own interests, though as Homo Vir, Passionate Man, they can be recognized as related to proper, elite humans.
  • In addition to the hierarchical social, the primacy of history and human fallibility all mean that collective action for democratic social change is not natural or possible.
  • Happiness is bestowed exclusively by submission to religious authority, particularly for the servile classes.
  • Individual rights deplete organic (True, patriarchal) community, family.
  • Restore religion to politics. Religion is identical with both morals and culture.
  • A belief in the power of the individual Mind to make human history. Some men are essentially demigods; their existence transcends the material world. The conservative conceptualization of the human is bipolar. Corresponding to the apotheosis of some men, most people are subhuman, dirtbags. As every Latin American elite knows, the people are either to be tapped (1), or ushered to their “change” (death, 0). Like an HR lady clinging to her salary and self-concept as a People Person, the church manages nonelites, human resources, through their binary states.

Extrapolating McMahon’s analysis of French Catholic conservatism, here is the weakness of conservatism in contests against rival paradigmatic communities:

  1. The conservative conception of the “mob” is too alienated to maintain a social network under the pressure of a rival. Conservatives conceive of the people as fatally dehumanized, crippled, stunted herd animals to be corralled by the fearsome, shock ‘n’ awe institution of religion. This conceptual reduction results in conservatives failing to build a strong base to their pyramid, to support them when a rival social order is organizing. It results in conservative overconfidence in religion as a social control institution. And it results in conservatives failing to recognize that rivals may rebuild the human collective action and solidarity capacities of the people, diverting those people from the conservative institutions of social control. Note: At this point in history, with the help of slavers’ racialized ideology and institutions, it looks like American conservatives have polished their “mob”-control game. Also, the Democratic Party has not been an alternative to the Republican Party–They both rest on variants of aristocratic ideology.
  2. Like other historical victors, Ultra-Royalist conservatives did not recognize the limits of their victories. In particular, Ultra-Royalists did not recognize that their pro-monarchy allies were pragmatic, not as idealist as themselves. After some democratic changes were institutionalized by the Republic, when monarchy was restored, even French pro-monarchy allies failed to care enough to work with conservatives to crush democratic institutions and culture, and install an inegalitarian utopia in their place (McMahon 192).
  3. Catholic conservatives have had their own international network, based in Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Quebec, Poland, Hungary, Martinique, and Latin America (McMahon 195). This network is not identical with France’s allies. France’s international allies, even monarchs, were not necessarily Catholic conservative. Sweden was one of France’s most steadfast allies. Its monarch used Swedish troops and took down the Holy Roman Empire.
  4. It’s probably a good temporary strategy to maintain one core principle, and otherwise be super instrumentalist, as conservatives are. But under serious pressure from rivals (not, for example, the Democratic party, or ambient liberalism), all the hypocrisy can pile up and block the view. Sometimes all the (Leo) Straussian exoteric posturing can become so obfuscatory that it loses its audience. Under the fast-changing conditions of heightened class warfare, conservatives drown out their own voice, leaving everyone to notice that they’re wearing the emperor’s new clothes.
    1. One among many examples from the Ultra-Royalists is that when the king revoked their speech privilege, they embraced freedom of speech, which they had just previously been repudiating savagely. As mounted such expedient deviations from previous, furiously-held “principles,” conservatives lost discursive power. “They glorified power, hierarchy, and deference yet were quick to break ranks when their particular interests clashed” (McMahon 191). They began to appear “incoherent.” Conservatives did not see their crowd fading until too late, because they took their exceptionalist privilege too seriously, and failed to recognize other, lesser humans as necessary adherents to their social network. Cosseted by Catholicism and other conservative traditions, conservatives can care too little what others think.
    2. However, this conservative vulnerability at the margins tends to be optimistically overgeneralized by lazy liberals. Under normal conditions, conservatives are correct that few non-comms pros care how hypocritical they are. Hence, Trump and the modern Republican Party. Unfortunately for liberal party tacticians, conservatives disintegrate not when they are hypocritical (Exceptionalism is the privilege of the boss, so exercising hypocrisy only affirms conservatism.), but only when they become incoherent. Before that happens, they have a big, familiar arsenal to unload. And it’s comfortingly encoded in all sorts of institutions, from Catholic doctrine, to Evangelical Christian doctrine, to American law.
    3. Still, conservative incoherence can happen in class warfare, because conservatives cannot publicly name their central principle, inequality, and maintain sufficient social support. Meanwhile, they enjoy themselves, getting off on surfing the risk of exposure.
  5. The religious backing, the sacralization of conservatives’ interest, inequality, encourages conservative savagery in inequality’s defense. Savagery reduces their degrees of credibility and tactical freedom when conservatives excessively, instrumentally switch tactics. (“Why are these jackasses moral authorities again?”)
  6. As well, when you’re trying to sell predatory obfuscation as “enchantment” (See McMahon 197), the savagery undercuts the brand. This is why Romanticism, attuned to the suffering of the hi-lo coalition of the marginal, is friable.
  7. Since they cannot really consolidate publicly around their fundamental platform of elevating themselves by stepping on everyone else, conservatives can be divided along secondary “principles” and clashing advantage-securing strategies, undercutting their coalition. Crucially, dividing conservatives requires previous success circulating a captivating egaliberte justice telos, as was accomplished in the Enlightenment.
    1. The French Right’s internal disintegration was caused by revolutionaries manipulating an ongoing history of conflict among the king, the nobility, and a clergy vacillating between France and the Vatican.
    2. Likewise, in Sweden, when GIVA was ready to lead the nobility slyly into British-style capitalism, the elite was unmanageably divided–including along gendered networks.  For many reasons, the nobility no longer trusted the king. Moreover, and crucially, elements of the Swedish nobility, including female aristocrats, had subscribed to some Enlightenment ideas. Elites could not coalesce; Swedish democrats were able to organize for political power instead.
    3. Legion are the modern (20th-21st c. neoliberal era) examples of how conservatives cannot be substantively divided where there is no egaliberte justice telos to capture any elites.
  8. Discursive determinism is an idealistic right-wing projection (McMahon: 200). However, discursive essentialism can also keep your enemies on life support. When conservatives narrated the Enlightenment as sin committed by individual Minds, they cast memorial statues to Enlightenment contributors. Now any CBC radio program can run an evening feature on Diderot.
  9. In short, there are plenty of ways for organized democrats to skin a conservative.
    1. The reason why the liberal parties like the US Dems fail to dominate the conservative parties in the modern era is because the liberal parties are not equipped to oppose the conservatives. This is a result of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce tacticians’ (Mises & Hayek’s) great political insight: Just remind the capitalists that they are also aristocrats, with all the predatory privileges these power-elite classes may claim, and their liberal servants will be pulled into conservatism’s wake.

However, the French conservatives were modern, used all the technology, published the discourse, helped create the Terror, and their thoughts weigh heavy on our thought today. They didn’t really lose the long game, any more than the American slavers lost.

The Enlightenment philosophers strove to build a global community seeking philosophically-informed, comparative, empirical knowledge with which to suggest, for democratic consideration, the varieties of ways that humans can live together. The Enlightenment didn’t create all the problems. Conservatives are very much with us today, doing what they need to do to us to make their utopia.

Next step: Find articles on Scholastic influence on American constitutional law developments after 1986 (Reagan’s appointment of Scalia to the Supreme Court).

Susan J. Stabile, “Catholic Legal Theory,” Journal of Catholic Legal Studies 44, no.
2 (2005): 421-432.

Stabile doesn’t lend insight into what I’m looking for– How Scholastic legal education imbues neoliberal constitutional thought in the US. She clearly mashes Catholic and Enlightenment concepts (development, metaphysical specification of the good society, positive freedom) in arguing for the importance of Catholic morality in legal formation for cultural change. Where science advances knowledge (not linearly) over time, idealism merely disguises its metaphysics with borrowed language.

In Stabile’s effort to sell the Catholic tradition as an important corrective to “secular” law and society, with a smattering of some general consensus points most people can agree with (The need for “curbing excessive individualism where that interferes with the common good” (426); the tacit importation of private privilege into Rule of Law, as it is bereft of metaphysical specification), you can still see a number of persistent issues with the Roman Catholic paradigm that make it an unsatisfactory corrective to capitalist law. After all, it’s the unsatisfactory, imperial feudal institution from whence unsatisfactory, imperial capitalist institutions developed.

According Stabile, Catholicism is all about, and introduces the following three novelty principles into American law:

1) the principle of the dignity of each individual. This dignity is guaranteed by the extent to which the individual signifies the Catholic God, is “in God’s image” in this idealist paradigm. Thus, Catholicism has traditionally supported not egaliberte, as Stabile disingenuously intimates in asserting that all humans are made in God’s image, but an allocation of dignity based on a Great Chain of Being. If humans are all in God’s image, some humans are more so, some are less so, with consequences for dignity distribution. This isn’t about recognizing difference; it’s about reproducing inequality.

Stabile specifies that human dignity in the Catholic tradition means that Catholic authority, and not life-giving women or selves in socio-material context, governs all individual decisions involving reproduction and  human life length. While life chances and life quality are governed by the allocation of rank and obligation, the supplemental Catholic algorithm determines that length of individual existences will be optimized within that governing framework. Since perinatal life is in our big-cranium mammalian species on Earth an extension of women’s lives, “dignity” requires Catholic institutional management of women.

Perhaps hinting at one of the reasons for its capitalist replacement, Catholic obligations are heavily, permanently enforced on some kinds of individuals. For Catholics, it is not a priority to enforce any collective responsibility to create conditions supporting human longevity, and the Catholic tradition is not going to expend as much effort fighting pollution, war, exploitation and expropriation as they are going to expend micromanaging the ladies. In the first place, targeting institutional and systemic threats to human longevity would require scientific knowledge, which, as we shall see, is not a kind of knowledge Catholicism recognizes. Rather, it is individuals’ (women’s) obligation to the community to make the Catholic life-length optimization algorithm work.

When did “universalist” Catholicism master the trick of smuggling sociological inequality within universalist abstractions? Long enough ago to be very swift and sure in hot-potatoing the critique upon its rivals?

Each individual has 2) obligations within a non-exclusive, mystified community. Because community must be mystified (Stabile: 427), the rank and obligations that any particular individual or group must fulfill are worrisomely underspecified in Stabile’s persuasion essay, see discussion under principle 1, human dignity, above. It must be that the allocation of rank and obligations are to be managed in part by the institution of the Roman Catholic church, both because of its monopoly on Truth and because mystified relations (community) require expert management.

Rank and obligations can also be, and have been established and allocated via economics and politics, including war. Catholicism traditionally performs a supplementary function in managing and enforcing individual obligations to the community. It seems evident that Catholicism’s rigid focus on women’s obligations to the community is overly determined by the atavistic manpower and tax revenue (marketable crop) requirements of feudal warlords, which interest and associated morality shifts somewhat under capitalist conditions.

Similarly, 3) freedom must be distributed according to Catholic “truth.” Again, Catholic authorities must be the institution required to distribute freedom across any community, which Stabile terms “Authentic Freedom,” because Catholic authorities have monopoly access to Truth.

Stabile seems to be simply suggesting legal principles which require reattaching the Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, to the state.

Throughout, Stabile’s bete noir is “secularism,” where the issues cited are clearly rooted in capitalism, eg. It is capitalism that fosters sociopathic individualism, Homo Economicus. Perhaps this conflation is motivated by the tradition of Catholic opposition to Enlightenment, as well as the venerable Catholic tradition of supplementing power elites, see the history of fascism. Without sufficient capacity to even correctly (or, acknowledging the Liberation Theology offshoot, reliably) identify a global, motivating, mobilizing, governance institution like capitalism, the fundamental institution allocating rank and obligation, Catholicism must be little help in dealing with the central social problem Stabile identifies: The widespread diminishment of human welfare, integrity, and development where the common good is dismissed, deprioritized, and distorted.

The relation between the individual and the common good is a central concern of much secular philosophy. Reducing secularism to capitalist problems obfuscates (not only Catholicism’s Aristotelian supplement but also) non-imperial, secular, non-mystifying, sociomaterialist traditions–such as informed the Enlightenment philosophes–investigating and weighing how to best permit social humans’ development, integrity, and welfare. These sociomaterialist community traditions are well known to imperial Roman Catholicism, which has long attacked them as rivals and enemies. As secularism is reduced to capitalist culture, and the varieties of sociomaterialist philosophy and praxis are excluded, then Stabile’s case for catholicizing law relies on an additional, unspoken assumption: To optimize collective and individual human life, humans need to be governed by mystification. That is an interested assumption. It also belies Catholicism’s incompatibility with Rule of Law, which telos requires transparency improvements. Stabile’s is not a good-faith argument, as suggested by her argument’s deployment of opaque, institutional-brand “truth.”

Is the Roman Catholic tradition, with its specialization in mystification, actually adept at centering the human, as Stabile claims (430), or is its real forte obfuscatory shock-and-awe population management as a supplement to warlord rule? Why don’t we ask the surviving legions of systematically-molested altar boys? At the end of her article, Stabile tries to make a relativist argument for including Catholicism in law–arguing that Catholicism’s vision of the common good is adequately specified and defended (430), for example, where Catholic rhetoric implies that simply advising maturing youth to ignore their sexuality is identical to the common good of no youth sex. In so doing, Stabile demonstrates that Catholic Truth/faith is  hopelessly mired in parochial idealism: Assuming that everyone can “know” that ignorance and denial in the mind = nonsexual behaviour in the sociomaterial world, where this is an authority “knowledge” that has been scientifically demonstrated invalid and would only be evident and reasonable to a committed dogmatist.

As well, Stabile’s closing example demonstrates that Catholic Truth prohibits (or drastically deprioritizes) curiosity, empirical investigation into the context-embedded efficacy and validity of that institution, policy, or practice (sex education or instruction in abstinence) putatively optimizing human welfare. How compatible with legal discovery is that religious commitment to dogma? On its margins, nervous Roman Catholic monks may have once unleashed the Renaissance; but Roman Catholicism’s anti-Enlightenment prohibition against expanded and normalized empirical investigation and curiosity, its prohibition against methodical (designed to deploy human capacities and adjust for human limitations), collective self-correction–science, casts in deep doubt whether the Catholic tradition can adequately specify the institutional support for human dignity, community, and freedom-to.

The Catholic tradition cannot fill in capitalist law’s holes. It can only dig them deeper, witness the modern US Supreme Court. Why should this be surprising? Capitalists to a great extent emerged from the wealth of aristocracy. Capitalist exploitation rests upon an ocean of expropriation, the source of wealth familiar to all feudalists. What the Catholic institution is designed to do is supplement expropriation with human resources management. But is the feudalist institution Catholicism a better population manager than capitalist HR ladies? It is! It’s got sturm und drang, rituals, amazing buildings, lovely candles, songs. And it’s an HR department run by guys!…which has its pluses and minuses. But resourceful capitalism has more population-management departments than corporate HR and religious institutions.

Excessively rigid, authoritarian Catholic interpretations (“truth”) of superficially-consensus humane and pro-social principles sure are old, elaborate, and opaque to most; but mystification cannot provide appreciable corrective upon existing capitalist epistemological problems impinging a collective good that permits individual human development–epistemological problems such as are evident in scientistic communities like conservative economics, which also excessively serves power elites, limits collective learning, and prohibits Kuhnian paradigmatic adjustment (Varoufakis 2011). If a tradition cannot offer improvements–observable in outcomes–in coordinating individual development and the collective good, then it’s not what’s needed to address (not “secularism”‘s shortcomings but) capitalism’s failings.

For compelling insight into how conservative Evangelical Protestantism works, see Adam Kotsko’s “The Evangelical Mind.” The important distinction is that Evangelical Protestantism violently dispenses with Christian Good Works as a framework disciplining community members. For Evangelicals, Good Works, or acts of benevolence consign non-Evangelicals to Hell. Committing evil upon people and other life outside of the Evangelical community is sanctified as proof of the individual’s hermetically-sealed, mutually-chosen relationship with the Divine. In the Evangelical view, sabotaging an atheist or bombing a Muslim neighbourhood is what demonstrates God’s favor and gets individual Evangelicals into Heaven.

Whereas Weberians once imagined Evangelical Protestantism as a path to capitalist affluence, we can now recognize Evangelical Protestantism as a framework fit for a militarized society of soldiers and guards.

Understanding this solves a mystery. I had a roommate, raised Calvinist, with a half-sister recovering from terrible self-esteem, likely due a lot to her businessman step-father’s abuse. While we were roommates for a couple of years in grad school, the half sister would travel to visit us, along with her children. To get out of the house, as a teenager the half-sister had gotten repeatedly knocked up by a criminal, drug-addict ne’er-do-well. They had joined a suburban Evangelical church. While the Calvinist-background young woman raised four tiny children, kept home, and stayed fit, her ne’er-do-well partner stole, got caught, had affairs, beat her in front of the children, beat the children, and continually relapsed into very hard drugs. Through it, their church supported her partner, the young man. When, after many years, the young woman finally drew a line– her family had been too beseiged, she was separating from the thug, the church and its congregation shunned…the young woman and her children.

I couldn’t understand it at the time; but that’s because I didn’t understand Evangelical Protestantism. Likely, the young woman, raised Calvinist (a fairly f’d-up religion itself, see Weber), didn’t adequately understand contemporary Evangelical Protestantism either. In the Evangelical view, the young man was repeatedly proving his close relationship with God. By laboring diligently to create a non-traumatizing household life, including for the children, the young woman was, in the Evangelical faith, only demonstrating that she was hell-bound. The Evangelical Church sided with its hand-grenade “God,” such as it is.




Varoufakis, Yanis. 2011. “Chapter 9. A Most Peculiar Failure: The curious mechanism by which neoclassicism’s theoretical failures have been reinforcing its dominance since 1950,” pp. in Modern Political Economics.



Oakeshott Establishes the Bien Pensant on Nietzsche

In a 1948 Cambridge Journal review of a book (by Lavrin) on Nietzsche, conservative Catholic English toff Michael Oakeshott announces the correct interpretation of Nietzsche.

Oakeshott identifies Nietzsche as an artist. This means that Nietzsche’s work is to diagnose European culture. Nietzsche’s diagnosis is that European culture is plagued with nihilism, irreligion, and weakness, which pathologies Nietzsche illustrates “in every field of human activity” (Oakeshott 1948). European culture is decadent and inclined to disintegration.

Nietzsche’s syphilis Oakeshott and Lavrin consider a mystical font of truth. Like a smoldering lightning strike from a god, syphilis bestowed not just suffering and mortality but as well divine Sight, Nietzsche’s prophetic diagnosis of Europe.

Where both liberal and socialist analysis would locate private troubles within social relations (which for the socialist could be alterable, if the private troubles undermined distributed sovereignty), and in so doing diminish shame as a social weapon, conservative logic rather reassigns the Great Man’s problems to others’ shame: “The disintegration of me, a Great Man, is in Truth the disintegration of society.” Oakeshott and Lavrin affirm the equivalence as especially “sharp-eyed,” “sharp perception,” “vigilant,” “clear-eyed,” even “clairvoyant” “scrutiny.”


Instructively, Oakeshott spills a lot of ink insisting that up to the late 1940s idiots (“culture-philistines up from the suburbs”) misattribute Nietzsche’s importance to his reform platform, calling for the reinstitution of aristocracy. Focusing on Nietzsche’s reform platform, Oakshott warns, is akin to abridging or systematizing Nietzsche; it’s all destruction of Art. Not the reform platform, but the artist’s complaint (His J’accuse! corpus) is Nietzsche’s contribution, Oakeshott insists. It is not knowledge. It is a stimulus to sweet, sweet, manipulable affect. Nietzsche is a primer.

(To be fair to him as an individual contributor to the conservative community, Oakeshott advocated Homo Motus issuing a total kingdom of aethestics: Everything that should exist ought to be understood as art, inducer of emotion, and everything produced should be art, inducer of emotion. Metaphysics, sociology, interests, strategies are not fit topics for polite society.)

Oakeshott is at pains to point out, a few times in a two-page review, that only a Great Master could correctly conduct a genealogy–be it Nietzsche or his interpreter. This foundational requirement of conservative theory tends to escape Sociologists, impressed by the bold conservative command to black box the metaphysics of Nietzsche’s work. These Sociologists adopt genealogy and encourage their students to adopt it. This is an odd manoeuver, because the authority of genealogy as a conservative epistemology relies strictly on an ontological precondition, the recognized social power of and behind the interpreter. Foucault had the power of the French state behind him. Little Debbie Hinterlands Masters Student has jack shit.

She has the erstwhile backup of Latour and other 20th century German-inspired French philosophers cherry-picking cases to argue that collectivist scientific knowledge has no capacity to allow people to know their world beyond the habituated thought conferred by state (commercial) power. But that’s not much, as the point of that argumentation is to frighten and splinter scholars off from scientific communities of scholarship, reasserting the Cartesian compromise with the church (scientific knowledge of the inert material world v. divine, expert knowledge of the soul), driving them back to submit to the authoritative, decisionist expertise of French state-backed philosophers (at best). We hope these patriarchs mean us well?

In adopting genealogical method against social scientific craft, the student both repudiates democratic knowledge accumulation and proliferates claims without social power. It’s fine for pumping out cheap commodities in a market without demand; but recommending individualist genealogy for students ill-equips them for effective civic engagement, thereby fulfilling its domineering conservative logic. To paraphrase Anatole France, the idealist philosophy, in its majestic equality, permits the commodified as well as the patronized to pronounce bridges, streets, and bread unnecessary.

In another essay, Oakeshott locates Germany’s philosophical rebuttal to democratic science in the works of (Dane) Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.



Elements of Stoicism

Stoicism as a materialist philosophy in reaction to materialist  has the following elements:

1) The charismatic male father-substitute proselytizer-guru.

a) Aphorism and self-help register aim at converting a popular audience.

b) Contemporary version: Male academic psychologist: Jordan Peterson, Svend Brinkmann.

2) Establishing human limitations, but not shared human capacities.

a) Stoicism is less oriented to scientific knowledge, remaining a knowledge of Great Men, although Great Men challengers to established, idealism-protected power.

3) Rejection of idealism, marketing, moralistic marketing.

a) In refuting their sped-up treadmill work discourse, Svend Brinkmann aims to supplant the moral authority of marketeering management. He emphasizes that we need to consider what we lose in valorizing continuous adaptation and work speed up, qua “self-improvement.”

4) Stoicism can blend with Platonism, eg in Nietzsche.

a) Brinkmann does not historicize managerial morality of continuous work speed-up–It’s not a moralistic strategy of labour control he’s critiquing, and he’s not suggesting the possibility of an alternative path of change. Rather, his goal is to save ethics, qua fealty to social contract, by the Stoic strategy of recognizing only human limitations, and categorically denying that humans share the capacity for development. In doing so, he attempts to organize a psychological “slave revolt,” refusal of the worker/slave-corroding moral-rhetorical strategy of the neoliberalizing Masters.

While the Stoicist rhetorical strategy is overblown, its organizing ambition is modest. Stoicists will let you understand yourself as enthralled and sub-humanized. They will not demand you organize into a collective with the capacity to intervene in the world in opposition to dominant economic, marketing, managerial, military, and idealist networks’ interventions. Stoicism is a step. It’s not an endgame. But as a step toward making slavery less miserable, it carries with it some conceptual Trojan Horses. Epicureans seek to dismantle Stoicism’s Trojan Horses.

The Stoicist rhetorical strategy is not just a check on marketing-strong idealism. It does not correspond with reality. It will be an alarming move to American pragmatists in the Deweyan tradition, as well as to developmental biologists, social epidemiologists, and epigenetic post-cartesians. As Dewey argued in Democracy and Education (1916), humans can be understood as having two complementary development capacities or strengths, the child strength of plasticity (responsiveness to environment) and the adult strength of efficient praxis (theoretical frameworks that efficiently permit interventions in the world).

If neoliberal idealism and skepticism have operated to turn workers into slaves by reconceptualizing us all as perpetual children, the essence of malleable, Stoicism doesn’t help us remember that we also have adult human capacities for intervening in the world in a democratic and (real) pro-life way (by which I mean Earth life-affine, not patriarchical control over women, as the term was brand co-opted by conservatives).

Stoicism may function as an intermediary, indirect conceptual reorganization where a dominant network is geared for destroying direct challengers, but the cost is that Stoicism preserves anti-realism and patriarchy, and these remain levers for tyrannical power to strategically reassert itself against a mystified, dehumanized, and internally-divided working/enslaved class.

b) Historically, while Epicureanism started out as a rejection of idealistic Platonism, it became the main opponent of Stoicism, as per the above critique model. Epicurean materialism uniquely asserts the human capacities basis for normative shared sovereignty.

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