Writing Armageddon

Writing Armageddon
Furious writing or writing furiously?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thinking about Politics Part II:The Fundamental Political Divides

In the previous post I reviewed my reaction to the book The Reactionary Mind, and discussed how despite its problems it planted fertile seeds in my mid. Here I explore them. This is long people.
So what Robin has led me to do is develop my own schema of politics if you will. Let us start by the only social science pronouncement I will make here: The majority of human beings are risk-averse. Risk averseness is mostly an evolutionary condition, and while social institutions can inhibit or foster it reality has a status-quo bias. In another name most of us have a conservative (not “Conservative”) temperament. 

When writers in National Review make fun of progressives or Leftists for failing to consider that, they also forget that people like Margaret Thatcher, or the elites that began the enclosure movement that destroyed the medieval peasantry and created the modern proletariat, also had to deal with this. Most people like stability and dislike change. Even more are unwilling to risk their life to enact change. Change has always been the purview of the sizeable minority that is risk acceptant. But while the risks acceptant are agents of change, without the stability inherent in the preferences of most people, social life would be impossible.  You can ignore the timid and the seekers of stability (Kevin Williamson, arch-libertarian on National Review, just recently penned a column making this case to supporters of the free market. One can still hope for understanding in this world).

This means that one of the first fundamental divides of life is between those who want change and those who do not. And because politics is as a prominent political theorists said, “who gets what when and how” among scarce resources, change always refers to the distribution of those resources. And in most of history this has meant a formal social hierarchy.

This then is the first issue of politics: The Role of Hierarchy.

Generally speaking the first fundamental divide is between those who believe that institutionalized hierarchies of nature or history are unavoidable, and those who believe that hierarchies of nature or history are avoidable and that they should not be institutionalized.  What do we mean by hierarchies of nature? The fact that some persons due to natural aptitudes might excel in some tasks compared to other individuals. What do we mean by hierarchies of history? The social capital accumulated in generations that assure individuals a good share of the scarce resources irrespective of natural aptitude. What do we mean by institutionalization? The existence of social and political regimes that maintain and reproduce these hierarchies.

Robin makes the case that “Conservatives” believe in the inevitability of hierarchy and its institutionalization.  People get angry is someone points out that the Fascist and Nationalist-Socialist movements were “Conservative” in their nature, and I tended to also disagree with this, but Robin’s thesis underpins how this can make sense. The Nazis and Fascists attacked many traditional hierarchies, most based on history, but their goals were still a hierarchy, one according to their view based on nature. Traditionalists espouse a hierarchy among the sexes that they believe stems from nature, while Aristocratic elitists espoused one based on history. Libertarians espouse a hierarchy according to nature, in this case nature being the Free Market. Soviet Communists espoused a hierarchy based on social worth, one according to history and a mix of nature, as expressed in the way things are produced and the role of a person in that production. 

None of these groups need espouse the belief to the same hierarchy. They can freely fight each other over what type of hierarchy becomes institutionalized. But they all nevertheless consider hierarchy unavoidable, it institutionalization unavoidable, and in many cases a net good.

On the other hand are the groups Robin calls the “Left” which believe that hierarchies are not inevitable and that social organization should eradicate or minimize them and their institutionalization.  The self-avowed goal of many egalitarian movements is a world without hierarchy. Some of them focus on both hierarchies of nature and history (what is termed “Radical Feminism”). Others focus only on hierarchies of history (most social-democratic parties). Indeed it’s a common mistake to believe that most Marxists believe that a class-less society will be one without hierarchy. This might be the slogan of the street, but some more careful reading of some Marxist texts indicates an understanding that nature will always produce differences among human beings, differences that may lead to hierarchies developing in certain issues. 

The goal is to make sure that such hierarchies are transient and never become institutionalized. The Marxist ideal is that need not be institutionalized at the social level. In another name the fact that I am more aesthetically pleasing to more people than you, or quicker in my thought than you, or a better scholar than you, should not mean that I should get more food than you, or get to decide what you do.

Just as support for some type of institutionalized hierarchy connects Himmler and Hayek and De Maistre, so an opposition to institutionalized hierarchy connects your hippy to Pol Pot. Pol Pot is to the “Left” what Fascism is to “Conservatism”. A connection that rankles. But if we accept Robin’s fundamental political divide on hierarchy, then Pol Pot cannot but be an egalitarian. A sociopath sure, but an egalitarian one. The Cambodian genocide seems to me as an effort to get rid Cambodia of one of the two causes of hierarchy, hierarchy by history by wiping out social capital and those who had accumulated it. This I feel is undeniable. Now whether such methods are efficient for this goal or even necessary is an ongoing debate in the “Left”.

This seems a clear political divide. However, once we leave the world of ideas and enter the world of history and social life we see that the vast majority of humanity, both elite and non-elite have always had mixed views on the question of hierarchy. There have always been people who have supported hierarchy or opposed it as an absolute good or evil, but most human beings probably had a more nuanced view. My own opinion informed by anecdotal evidence and reading, is that most humans do accept that some hierarchy and some institutionalization of it in society are unavoidable and practical. This is why fairly egalitarian social groupings, if large, had developed some norms of hierarchy. What people do not accept is arbitrariness, which infringes of the conservative bias of the risk-aversion of the majority as it inhibits stability.

Furthermore those at the bottom of the hierarchy and those at the top are always engaged and have always engaged in a struggle over the contours institutions of hierarchy. This predates the class struggles of capitalism, and is as old as the agricultural revolution. In many ways all of history since that Revolution is a contest between managers and producers about the relative power of each in their relationship.  And while this contest has been physically violent many times, most of the time it has not. Instead if you look at the daily routine of the contest, I believe one will see a seesaw story of compromise. 

Even avowedly radical movements, like the Levelers in 17th century, the peasant rebels of the pre-modern era, the Paris Commune of 1870, or the 1905 and 1917 Soviets, did not seek the abolishment of hierarchy as much as the re-negotiation of the relationship between producers and managers. In another name most practical as opposed to ideal politics, i.e. the politics of the majority of the human race have never lived up to the ideals of “Conservatives” or “Left”. This brings us to the second fundamental political divide.

That is the one between Idealism and Pragmatism.

Many “Conservatives” pride themselves on being pragmatists and opposed to Ideas. This primarily stems from their acceptance of the inevitability of hierarchy which they see as accepting reality. The “Left” prides itself on Ideas. But Robin makes the case that both of these are movements of ideas. As I said though I believe most human beings pursue practical politics. Change is incremental and more often the result of compromise between elites and non-elites because the larger groups engaged in it have a conservative temperament and like stability. Idealists are the minority.

The idealists are the ones who believe that not only hierarchy due to nature or due to history or both is inevitable but it is a net good that should be persuaded. Idealists are the ones who believe that hierarchy can be eradicated from human social life and always evil. Idealists are absolutists, enemies of politics which they see as dirty, impure. 

They are the ones who always fall into deep depression when the side they supported wins a struggle, and then compromise as part of the pragmatic political processes. They always feel betrayed after every great revolution or counter-revolution. They always feel that reality and society are not doing enough to pursue an ideal form. They are the poets, and the mad prophets. They mobilize elites or non-elites for great struggles, but the elites and non-elites are always unwilling to go all the way. It is this focus on the ideal character of hierarchy or the lack of hierarchy that connects people like the Romanian Fascist  Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, and a Left wing idealist like Trotsky. It is what connects Brecht to Chateaubriand.  And it is what connects practitioners of violence in the name of those ideals like Che Guevara and Henri de la Rochejaquelein.

Most people are always willing to compromise their ideals in the name of pragmatism and a social life. The masses who demand change are willing to accept a compromise with the elites that provides for many of their goals but not the ideal. Elites are willing to compromise with masses and sacrifice hierarchical ideals to avoid revolution. Indeed un-compromising revolutions and counter-revolutions are rare.

 From the point of view of the increase of hierarchy the only one to never make any compromises that I am aware off was the Enclosure movement in England. But this may be because the existence of the American colonies provided a way to deal with the disposed that required no internal compromise. The suppression of the peasant revolution in 17th century Switzerland is an example of what usually happens, in which case the victorious elites after a bloody repression largely passed laws that met many of the demands of the rebels. On the side of decreasing hierarchy, the February and October Russian revolutions both had to make practical compromises with elements of the old elite. Compromise is the standard of most politics most of the time. Radicalism is rare. And this leads to the final fundamental divide in politics.

The one between Pacifism, Radicalism and Instrumentalism towards physical political violence.

Radicalism is a willingness to use any means to pursue a goal, chief among them physical political violence. It is in the end the willingness to kill in the name of ones goals. Why do I single out the willingness to kill and physical violence as a fundamental political divide, considering the focus of many on other forces of social violence (psychological)? Why do I not talk about the willingness to die for ones goals? First, we know from psychology that most people are willing to die but not to kill. Killing is a much harder deviation from normality than dying. It is a much more radical act if you will. Second, despite comprehending why so many authors and scholars and voices of the dispossessed talk about non-physical forms of violence and how they are used to perpetuate oppression, I think physical political violence has an important characteristic that makes it unique. It has a logic of its own.

This is something that Nicolo Machiavelli and more clearly Carl von Clausewitz have argued about. Physical violence, killing exerts its own inexorable influence on those who use it, and influence that can easily dominate any instrumental motives for its use. When you begin killing people for a goal, you may find yourself losing your goal in due time. This independent logic of violence, which Machiavelli and Clausewitz cautioned against, means that physical political violence is a very dangerous means to any end. 

Your violent revolution might lead to a regime that has nothing of the ideals you espoused, as many people of the “Left” found out with the Soviet Union. Robin points out the deep dissatisfaction of many “Conservatives” with the victory of the US in the Cold War. The victory did not bring the world they thought it could. Many an idealist has hoped that blood will clarify the great divides only to find that war just forces all to be sacrificed to the needs of military strategy.

Physical Political Violence is important and unique because it is an agent of its own, independent of the bearer and of the goal. And the position of an individual towards its use for political means is important. At one side of the divide we have the absolute pacifist. That person is willing to die for an idea but not to kill for it. But absolute pacifists are rare. On the other side we have the Radical.  The Radical is willing to kill for their ideal. Not only that, but the Radical may come to see killing as something pure and grand in itself. Of course they will not call it killing instead using words like “struggle”, “contest” etc. But make no mistake it is killing we are talking about.

The killing of the enemy in the name of the ideal is a liberating thing, as Franz Fanon declared. Robin shows Burke, De Maistre and Theodore Roosevelt extol the virtues of the warrior and conflict. In the mind of both Fascists and Militant Anarchist an apocalyptical class or ideological war is a good thing, a chance to destroy the old corrupt world and build something new. It is this willingness to kill and exultation of killing that connects people like the Red Brigades with ideologically opposed groups like Iron Guard. My Left wing friends get angry when one proposes the Theory of the Two Extremes, and there is some justice in this anger. But on this one axis of politics, it is correct. From the point of view of unleashing the independent logic of violence in the political stage both the killer of the “Left” and the killer of “Conservatism” are one and the same. Killing is good and proper.

Most people do not have that view of killing. Instead I would argue that most of the elites and non-elites in the world have an “instrumentalist” view of killing for political goals. They abhor violence, especially outside the regimes of society. However, they are willing to use it as part of a political strategy to attain a goal in extremis. This majoritarian view is what Machiavelli and Clausewitz captured in their work.

 If one looks carefully at many rebellions of the non-elites they will see this element of moderation, especially in the pre-industrial era. Rebels were almost always “His Majesty’s Rebels” and the use of violence, like the use of the strike by workers, had an instrumental goal. Radicals of course accompanied these movements and political demands, but in due time they either became disillusioned or were expelled when they were not useful anymore. In the few cases they overtook the will of the rebelling masses, as the Bolsheviks did with the Soviets in 1917; the political program quickly became victim of the logic of violence.

From the side of elites, the clearest example of an “instrumentalist” would be Cardinal Richelieu. Both domestic and external violence for him had specific goals and once those goals were attained violence must be stopped. His defeat of the Huguenots was followed by meeting some of their religious demands, not by their destruction. That said, it must be clear to all that instrumentalism is a rife position, because even the instrumental use of violence will unleash the Radicals. The logic of violence will create Radicals where those did not exist, and will empower those that do exist. This is what King Louis XIV forgot when he joined the Jacobins in declaring war on Austria. He thought it would let him tame the Radicals. Instead it put them in the position of power and cost him his head.

 It is very hard for Radicalism to be chained once unleashed. Lenin did it thanks to the length and size of the Russian Civil War. Castro never really did it, but his Radical left of his own free will when disillusioned. The German traditionalist “Conservatives” failed to do so when they succored Hitler.

 So instrumentalism is a risky proposition of violence. Which is something I think the masses of elites and non-elites do understand. 

And we are talking about masses. Even if you accept the 1% arithmetic of who is the elites (more correct would be a 10-20%) we are still talking about 70.000.000 people out of 7.000.000.000 people.  Most of those are not exponents of killing and so are not most of the 6.930.000.000 non-elites. Physical Political Violence is a rarity, and this frustrates some Radicals of different ideals. 

I conclude in the third part going back to the personal which is the wellspring of these thoughts.

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