All posts by Dan Corjescu

Commitment and Authority

The great Italian writer, Ignazio Silone, often described himself as a “Socialist without a party, a Christian without a church”.

With this, he expressed his belief in commitment outside of authority and all forms of hierarchy.

Because Silone, as a historical witness of both Stalinism and Fascism, knew the dangers inherent in organized belief. Group think, in the extreme, can lead to mass executions and, even, genocide.

To believe sincerely is to stand apart from the crowd. To believe rightly is not to compel but to express. To welcome debate. To be ready to stand alone without recourse to power, influence, or money.

Commitment, at its best, is a beacon of moral conviction which intensity is that of logic, humanity, and action.

In these times of frenetic moral assertion, we should remember that the final worth of an argument is not its general commonness, institutional levels of support, or media attractiveness but its eventual outcome for the total dignity of man. The elevation of such is the only true moral, political commitment worth having.

Structures of authority/hierarchy have a strong tendency to insidiously warp even the most beatific intentions. One need only think of the Catholic Church here and Dostoevsky’s famous “Grand Inquisitor”. The original founder returns only to be criminally rejected by his future foundation.

Perhaps the answer lies in an anarchic epistemology and praxis. In the belief that individuals are the safest examples of commitment, while institutions are their pale shadows at best. To act publicly but alone. An ideal, yes. But today, with new technology, more realizable than ever.

It’s time we all left the spurious safety of large numbers and instead aspired to more clarity of thought, empathy, and non-violent self-directions.

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The Trump Covid Hoax?

Political theater is nothing new. And Trump is, arguably, a master at it.

The speed with which Trump was diagnosed, “hospitalized”, and, as of now, seemingly set for early release must raise a few seasoned eyebrows.

What would Trump have to gain by pretending to be sick with Covid?

Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!

If this tweet doesn’t strike you as a campaign message/strategy, think again!

The message here is clear: Don’t concentrate on Covid. Think about other issues. Covid is not the horror the media portrays it to be. And in any case, we have successfully come up with a cure. All this will soon pass and we will be better for it.

Clearly, the president knows that the electorate has been harshly judging him according to his conduct of the Covid crisis. What better (brilliant?) way to deflect this criticism than to present oneself as personally going through the Covid “fire” and coming out of it “better than I did 20 years ago!”. I did it. You can do it. There’s nothing to it. And most importantly, it’s all not what you think.

The problem is, of course, that this boy has cried wolf too, too many times. And that means that whether or not Trump contracted Covid for real is, in the end, irrelevant. No one believes in anything he says, does, or thinks. He has so debased the currency of the truth that no one will accept even a brass penny’s worth of it from him.

And his die-hard supporters? Well, it was never  about the truth for them. It was always  about sticking it to the global elites, whom they hate more than anything else. Trump the faux, unstable billionaire was their culture warrior and even, to a certain extent, their class hero. His hatred was their love. His disrespect was their honor. His moral failings their proof of grace and mercy.

Does all this sound irrational? Yes and no. Trump has always understood that class, culture, and social psychology are, when intertwined, a potent elixir of power. He also understood that globalization had exacerbated class antagonisms and that linked to that globalization had arisen an ideology (it’s left leaning version) that was anathema to many who perceived themselves the losers in the new global game and that oftentimes those elites who represented that globalization made them publically look like the “deplorables” they themselves often feel like. Hence, Trump is no aberration, but a historical trend that will rise and fall only according to the acceleration or deceleration of global economic, political, and cultural trends. Not everyone wants to see “one world”. Many want to see “their world” preserved, protected, and, yes, praised. “Make my world (insert any local, regional, national identity here) great again!”

Trump’s Covid episode was a last ditch effort, real or not, to manipulate the narrative and capture electoral victory. It was also perhaps the last gasp of cynical hate that helped fuel his political rise in the first place. On this November the 3rd the current messenger of global disgruntlement may well be gone, but his audience of millions will be as angry, if not even more angry, than ever.

The post The Trump Covid Hoax? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

To Be a Dissident

What does it mean to be a dissident?

At its simplest, it means to critically engage with and seek to change the material and the ideological structures of the society in which you find yourself, whether local, national, regional, or global.

It means the ability to say “no” to those in power, even if the immediate opportunities for real change are seemingly minimal to non-existent.

It is continuous intellectual and moral opposition in the face of repression and/or marginalization or both.

It is also the belief in the sanctity of human life and the dignity and worth of each human being.

It is the belief that the stronger is not automatically in the right.

It is the attempt to give voice to those who are voiceless.

It is the revolutionary unleashing of the human imagination to pose uncomfortable questions while offering apparently fantastical plans for the future.

To be a dissident is to live the Socratic life. The life of questioning. To ask unsettling questions about oneself, ones society, and even, at its most extreme, Being itself.

No answer is the final answer for the dissident.

“Truth”, as understood as the reconciling of the perennial spiritual/material needs of the individual, with the necessary functioning of society, and the ideologically fair summation of both, is always the goal.

“To live in truth” is to live in a place where the human personality is most free.

“To live in lies” is where the actual material situation of one’s life is hidden by those in power and by the material and ideological structures that support them.

The dissident unmasks that which drains the collective life force of humanity seeking the release of the spontaneous breath of life in all its forms and potentialities.

The dissident believes in the future which is contained in the present. That nothing is given and that all positive change is a propulsive mix of time, will, and ideas.

And finally, the dissident is moved by the spirit of love in all its highest forms.  It is the driving force behind all his or her acts or thoughts. The purer the force the greater the effect. Or so it is ever hoped.

Of Friendship and Politics

Although it is somewhat banal to say, it should never be forgotten how the First World War traumatized the political and cultural life of Europe, especially in the German speaking world. Heidegger’s, Jasper’s, Freud’s, Junger’s, Hesse’s (not to mention Hitler’s) inter-war works are unthinkable without this bloody caesura in European history. In a profound sense, the inter-war period in Germany (but not only) could be viewed as a psychic expression of what we would call today: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

One of the more notable of these dark intellectual manifestations was Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political.

In this work of both clarity and brilliance, the young Schmitt, a notable legal scholar and political theorist of the first rank, declared the essence of politics to be based on what he called “the friend-enemy distinction”.

This was a distinction which postulated that any true political grouping would be one that was able to define who was its existential enemy, the enemy that threatened its very existence and thereby its accustomed way of being.

For Schmitt, the decisive political grouping so defined did not, necessarily, have to be organized by a state. It could well be another group or groups which had such normative, genuine power and, if so, the state would become “an annex” to them.

More fundamentally, Schmitt believed, as did Hobbes before him, that whoever protects you is owed obedience. This, in my opinion, reveals the mafia-like qualities of such an arrangement.

However, Schmitt did not share this sentiment. For him, the nature of politics was a deadly serious affair giving life an aspect of nobleness, a reason to live and to die for. The sacrifice of life and the authorization to shed blood and kill other human beings is the very essence of the political, and although he never says so directly, much of “manly” life as well.

It is here that we see that this is very much a traumatized soldier’s book, a book which tellingly was dedicated to his friend, August Schaetz, who fell at Moncelul in 1917. Would it then be so far fetched to see this book as an attempt to give meaning to such a personal loss and more widely to make sense of Germany’s military defeat and post-war humiliation embodied by the Treaty of Versailles?

There is much that is disturbing to the modern reader of this short book. His definition of the enemy as the “stranger” the “other” who is “in a specially intense way existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible” especially stands out in our world where much time, effort, and energy is spent to diffuse any possible enmity that may arise from cultural, political differences.

Yet Carl Schmitt is closer to us than we are usually likely to admit.

Samuel Huntington, one of the most influential American political theorists of the last half century, famously served up a version of Schmittian politics in hisThe Clash of Civilizations.

In this work, Huntington wrote that after the cold war the defining distinction among nation states was not their politics per se but their cultures. Put in another way, culture, or way of life/religion/habits/history/shared beliefs became the existential criteria for future cooperation and conflict. He especially focused on what he perceived to be the triple threat of Chinese civilization, Arab Civilization, and what he discerned to be the “Hispanization” of the United States. All this however would have been eerily familiar to readers of Schmitt. US political hegemony, its very basis was being challenged by the “other”, threatening in the extreme case its future continuance as a coherent political entity. Like Schmitt, Huntington called upon America to have the political courage and social fortitude to meet these potentially mortal threats or else as Schmitt would have put it the US will either be “absorbed into another political system” or, in the final analysis, “only a weak people will disappear”. Profoundly skeptical in tone, as was Schmitt, Huntington was not placing any secure bets on America’s political survival.

Yet how true were either of these two visions as compared to Immanuel Kant’s much older political vision in his Perpetual Peace?

In this work, Kant foresees the development of man’s rational natural faculties over time, as a species, working through harrowing bouts of historical trial and error to solve the “final” problem of collective peace. The solution Kant believed was to be had in a not too distant future where states had individually organized themselves into republics that represented their people’s collective will and afforded them a good deal of political and social rights as autonomous, rational beings. Additionally, Kant envisaged the possibility of a leading republican state around which other republican states would be able to coalesce and establish a federation dedicated to peace and prosperity as well as collective security. As has been often noted, such an Enlightenment vision overlaps well with comparable current institutions as NATO and the EU, as well as numerous other interstate and inter-regional organizations.

For Kant, then, political friendships of a sort were possible between political groupings/states. They were based on a commonly shared belief in the ultimate political value of human beings as rational, autonomous agents worthy of deciding their own fates both privately and publicly. Once such political values are widely shared there can be no existential threat and thus no politics either in the Schmittian or Huntingtonian sense. Neither of these pessimistic thinkers thought that the Kantian solution was either viable or practicable. At best, they either thought that it was a cynical ideological ploy (Schmitt) or an example of unrealistically dangerous ideological hubris (Huntington).

Yet the world continues to be a politically friendlier place than it ever was. For some concrete evidence of this read Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, or his The Better Angels of Our Nature or Hans Rosling’s Factfulness or even Yuval Harari’s wonderfully entertaining best seller Homo Deus. What you will find in all these books is that there is, quantitatively and qualitatively, such a thing as Progress, something which both our political skeptics would be loathe to bring undue intellectual attention to. Furthermore, as Harari might argue, the four horsemen of the apocalypse: Famine, War, Plague, and even Death are, for the first time in human history, in relative retreat. (Compare the likely outcome of the Corona virus epidemic to that of the Spanish Flu a hundred years earlier).

If such horrors as War and Famine can be reasonably contained should we not expect the goal of political friendship to be far easier fruit to pluck?

It was after all Abraham Lincoln who, when asked what was the best way to defeat your enemy, disarmingly said:  “Make him a friend”.

The diffusion of existential political angst continues apace. Political enmity between nations is not what it was in Schmitt’s feverish inter-war years or even Huntington’s period of overwrought fears for the durability of a uni-polar world. Friendship between nations is eagerly sought after and cultivated. It is here where alongside Aristotle’s famous tripartite explanation of personal friendship (utility, pleasure, and the good) we could add Kantian political virtue. That virtue which makes friends between nations those who first befriend their own citizens as equals and partners within a rational community of competing yet concerned individuals for the social and political goods necessary for a good life which includes but is not limited to: international peace, domestic tranquility, continuing progress, and substantive freedoms.

Human Rights and Natural Facts

Where do human rights come from? And can we establish a firm philosophical base for their existence?

For Hobbes, a thin version of human rights stemmed from the fact that humans want to persist in their existence by doing whatever necessary to preserve their own life. From this, Hobbes deduced that humans have the “natural” right to always protect their own lives. This is generally believed to be the modern start of human rights theories.

Locke added to this basic idea by arguing that human beings are ultimately a sort of “divine loan”. What he means by this is that God created human beings literally loaning them their bodies which they thereby have no right to destroy or to unduly abuse. For Locke, it is this source of original divinity from which in the end all claims to human rights spring. Through God we are famously “endowed… with certain unalienable Rights”1 a thought which profoundly influenced the American and French revolutions.

Locke’s conception of human rights becomes untenable however if one rejects its basic premise: a divine creator. Take away the religious foundation of Lockean political theory and you have no adequate basis for human rights.

Hobbes conception presents us with another problem for human rights theory. If it is a natural “fact” that humans seek their physical preservation it does not thereby logically follow that they have any kind of normative human rights. This is the famous “ought/is” problem of David Hume otherwise known as the “appeal to nature fallacy”.

For Hume, and similarly for G.E. Moore a few centuries later, no moral property can be identical with a natural property, in this case humans’ observable propensity to seek their own physical continuance does not mean, in anyway, that they have any kind of moral and/or political rights. To repeat Hume’s simple argument, you cannot get an “ought” from an “is”, you cannot derive prescriptions from descriptions.

So where does this leave us? Are we at a fatal impasse where we cannot derive any foundation (if we are agnostics and atheists) for human rights at all? Are human rights only willful moral assertions or, even worse, just a form of wishful thinking?

Yet perhaps we can look at the problem in another way. More specifically in an Aristotelian way which recalls Aristotle’s crucial insight that “Man is a social/political animal” (Zoon Politikon).2

First, we can say that it is a natural “fact” that contemporary humans need what they call political morality to live orderly, productive, and subjectively happy lives in groups. That is an observable fact.

Second, we can say that it is also a natural “fact” that historically not all forms of political morality and/or political theories were equally and practically effective in producing factual situations where a large number of humans flourished for a significant length of time.

Third, if we accept the first and second propositions, this means that “factually” some political philosophies, when put into practice, were better able to produce more effective human groups both in number and in quality and in terms of order, productivity, and happiness and other public and private goods.

Fourth, if it is an historical and thus natural fact in the world that political societies based on human rights were more capable of delivering on what humans generally considered their public and private happiness, then in terms of a combination of historical fact, subjective human well-being (also a natural observable fact) and the overall truth that human beings need some kind of political system/morality to exist that human rights have their independent philosophical basis.

Thus, human rights have their objective moral basis embedded within the natural fact of the way humans are actually constituted, that they are a social species by nature whose modes of sociality develops historically and was in need of ever better solutions as regards order, productivity, and happiness. Such a natural solution to the natural problem of human sociality is human rights.

  1. From the Declaration of Independence, of course
  2. From Aristotle’s Politics

The Happy State

Imagine if you will the following: Country A has a government which provides its citizens with free and adequate housing and two special daily pills free of charge. The first pill contains all daily nutritional requirements while the second pill guarantees a sense of happiness and contentment throughout the day and night. Our question then is: would such a state of affairs be both good and desirable?

On first thought, many would argue that the universal provision of housing and food is a general good. They are goods which are required for the furtherance of human happiness. Without them we would be significantly restrained in pursuing our future projects of self-realization. These are things we necessarily need to become who we most fully can be.

However, the last theoretical public provision, the happiness pill, is potentially more controversial.

First, is it a universal human right to be happy? Once again, one could argue that without some sense of happiness it becomes exceedingly hard to realize oneself and ones future projects to the fullest extent.

Conversely, one could also argue that without adversity and struggle, human beings fail to develop themselves intellectually, spiritually, and morally. Under this view, obstacles must be put in our way by either fate, society, or circumstance to become the final best versions of ourselves. In this way, achievement becomes an integral part of being a successful and fully rounded person.

Given this, the question now becomes, does one need to be generally disgruntled, in various bad moods, or downright seriously unhappy to be motivated towards self-development? If one is subjectively happy all the time, day and night, what possible motivation could there be for someone to change their life circumstances. If,  as David Hume famously said, “Reason is the slave of the passions” 1 what reason could there conceivably be to better ourselves when our emotive life would be continuously bathed in a warm fuzzy feeling of contentment both with ourselves and our environment?

Indeed, arguing thus, we can begin to see how our theoretical “happy pill” might easily open the door to a paradoxical totalitarian society, maybe even the ultimate totalitarian society.

In our happy Totalitarianism all citizens would, indeed, feel themselves to be content. Yet, at the same time, their ability to change, to criticize, to acutely examine themselves and their environment would be sharply curtailed. Total happiness here would afford total control not unlike the world depicted in Huxley’s prescient novel “Brave New World” where the drug, soma, plays the same societal role as our happy pill.

Does this mean that we should be arguing for the beneficial moral function of all sorts of misery and discontent in the development of humankind? No, although such awful states of being did indeed play a not insignificant part in our historical development. After all, it is the experience of injustice that stimulates the thirst for its opposite. It is the knowledge and experience of evil that impels us to formulate and seek the good both politically and individually. In a sense, evil provides us with some necessary form of knowledge that leads us to the good, a yet higher state of knowledge. Moral development might well be a necessary dialectic between states of unhappiness resolved into higher states of happiness by which a kind of knowledge is attained in the first state which is in itself insufficient but through the further exercise of reason is made more tolerable because both its sources and consequences are now more fully understood. All this is another way of saying what Socrates believed long ago: That evil, which is also a profound state of unhappiness whether the doer knows it or not, is done through ignorance. While the good is predicated on knowledge and leads to the most profound state of happiness. Thus happiness is a kind of contented wisdom, gathered, in part, from prior states of unhappy ignorance.

Bringing our discussion up to the present day, are we trending to such a hypothetical state of social political affairs? In one sense, the rise of virtual reality should give us pause to think. Would the ever increasing sophistication and corollary immersive capabilities of virtual reality provide for a world where all would feel themselves increasingly content while progressively neglecting the actual concrete social-political relations in the real world? Similarly, would the advance of the biological sciences both genetically and pharmaceutically not soon be able to provide us with something analogous to our as yet unrealized happy pill? Is a society like ours, strongly predicated on the actual pursuit of happiness, in a potentially strong position to give away its freedom in exchange for spiritual states of contentment, happiness, and joy? And is this, in itself, not a symptom of yet another current existential situation, that of the loss of control over significant portions of ones life within an increasingly bureaucratic, administrative, oligarchic world society? The very same material situation and moral sense which led to the rise of the first Stoics?

What price then are we eventually willing to pay for what kinds of happiness?

  1. A Treatise of Human Nature: Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects, 1738-1740.

Fearing Kantian Globalization, Democracy, and Migration

Globalization, Democracy, and Migration are themes which continually ignite both scholarly and non-scholarly debate.  Not so surprisingly, none of this is new. In his own inimitable way, the German Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant, touched upon all these current hot topics and more.

Kant’s political writings have only relatively recently been appreciated by the likes of political philosophers in the Anglo speaking world, a fact that was given a significant boost by the works of no one less than John Rawls especially in his A Theory of Justice and The Law of  Peoples.

Putting the recent reception of Kant’s work aside, we now focus our attention as to how Kant’s writings can be construed to have said something relevant about modern trends in Globalization.

Kant famously described man as “crooked timber” (“Aus so krummen Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden.”) and readily admitted that the prospects of his “perfectibility” were made that much more difficult by his inherent “crookedness”.  Similar in some respects to Rousseau, Kant believes that man’s imperfect nature can nevertheless be improved through institutions such as republican (democratic) government, international laws, and treaties.

The psychological-ethical engine of man’s possible social and political improvement lies in what Kant calls his “unsocial-sociability” (ungesellige Geseligkeit). Here, mankind is seen as living out a fundamental tension between his desire of living in community with others and at the same time his strong desire to be left alone. This tension leads to, among other things, a strong competitive rivalry for prestige and material goods between individuals. However, this cardinal and at times necessarily violent struggle leads to the dialectical (in terms of “unsocial-sociability”) unfolding of man’s telos (End Goal).

Mankind’s telos, according to Kant, cannot be realized in one single individual but in the species as a whole. So it is that man’s “species-being” (Gattungswesen) develops over time through this core conflict in man’s being. This concept is clearly echoed in Marx within his own teleology.

What is the substance of Mankind’s telos for Kant? Arguably, it is the achievement of reason and reasonableness both within the individual himself alongside other individuals in a rationally organized community/state, and, finally, between different foreign communities/states.

Mankind is to have liberated itself through a long historical period of trial and error and much sorrow and achieved an equilibrium of wisdom as an endstate for both the microcosm and macrocosm of human affairs.

Man is not to have his reason dictated by authorities outside of himself whether ultimately based on religious doctrine, customs and traditions, and/or political authority.  Human reason is to be unfettered to its utmost and be put to use to serve man as man which in the end means an increase in the general welfare and common good of all humanity.  Ultimately, world peace and “gentle commerce” is to reign.

Crucial to this final outcome is humanity’s construction of republican states that are able to broadly organize themselves on a global basis, preferably led by a large and powerful republican “leading power”.  States that are rationally constructed to serve the rational goals of the majority (which presumably include life, liberty, and the pursuit of property) see no intrinsic, rational benefit to destroy these common goods which are equally pursued by the other rationally organized states.  The logic here is simple: man does not knowingly will his own destruction and, thus, if possible will resort to arbitration, treaty making, and other peaceful methods of conflict resolution if he is able to erect a national/international structure or structures that will permit him to do so.

As has been frequently noted, most recently by Steven Pinker, Kant was herewith the first to hit upon the notion that “democracies do not fight each other” even if he was not the first to mine Thomas Friedman’s corollary of the “Golden Arches” doctrine (that no two countries with McDonalds franchises have gone to war).  Yet, the hypothesis that “gentle commerce” brings with it a softening of international mores and a binding of political interests was a common theme of the seventeenth century (See Jacques Savary’s The Perfect Merchant). However, the correctness of this opinion has been often challenged by those who have pointed out the high level of trade and commerce in the late nineteenth century which, of course, did precious little to stave off the calamity of the First World War.

Clearly, then, Kant has situated a kind of “Kantian Globalism” within the psychological tensions of man himself. Man struggles to satisfy his inner self which is disinclined to combine with others but nevertheless is rationally cognizant of the fact that without the “others” his ultimate ground for being, telos, cannot be fully satisfied.  His task is to find the right, rational combination or organization between himself and others both on a local as well as a global level. The key is the global spread of republicanism (democracy in our modern conception) which allows for the effective and stable construction of global guarantees for security and prosperity.

The Kantian presupposition or even “prophecy” of an eventual “perpetual peace” ties in nicely with another idea of his that of the “universal right of hospitality”.  Here Kant’s cosmopolitan conception of right is based on the idea that human beings all have at least a weak right to inhabiting every part of the globe and, as such, should be offered the opportunity of help or “non-harm” while temporarily sojourning in other lands.

This Kantian germ of universal cosmopolitanism in a universal right of hospitality can be worked in with his vision of the spread of republicanism, and the setting up of a “league of nations” for us to glimpse the emergence of a kind of global feedback loop.

The more republicanism and with it cosmopolitan ideas and rights spread throughout the globe, the more potentially are the doors opened for the greater migration of individuals and peoples.  This, of course, is a hotly contested phenomenon that is by no means modern or new.  The right of individuals and peoples to move to any place they choose is, in principle, a rational right to a better life.  In principle, it can only be restricted by the equally rational claims of maintaining the economic, political, and cultural stability of the desired target country. And thus, not surprisingly, in between these two rational claims unfold the oftentimes heated political debates in modern industrialized countries (which may or may not be always fully democratic, think Singapore or Malaysia here).

Thus, perhaps unknowingly, Kant had opened the door to the idea that democratization may lead (although not necessarily) to greater levels of global integration based on ever widening definitions of cosmopolitanism and its concomitant rights of hospitality.  If every place on earth becomes rationally organized into republican spaces, what is to prevent a rational individual who aims equally with these communities at peace to situating him or herself within a particular chosen space?  Or is the future of the global movement of peoples something else?

For instance, it is conceivable that if the world becomes politically and economically homogenized, as Fukuyama once famously suggested, it would then, perhaps, lessen the incentive for greater flows of peoples between borders. As Steven Pinker might put it, the world through a process of greater democratization will have fostered a stage of globalization that would necessarily decrease the need for economic/political migration (“Peak Migration”) and would eventually leave a less urgent reason for departing one’s land of origin, perhaps even just an aesthetic one (the preference for a particular landscape or culture, for example).

Thus, one could say that the speed and spread of democratization fuels globalization and therefore it is not surprising that the fear of globalization expresses itself, as often as not, in anti-democratic, illiberal political movements. But now to dabble here in the dangerous arts of prophecy: this will be a temporary political reaction as long as the democratization process will continue to spread to those lands (such as sub-Saharan Africa) where it is needed most. And according to Steven Pinker’s rather Kantian bestseller Enlightenment Now historical odds/data trends are that it will.

In this way, we can say that the modern Western democracies are, at the moment, showing themselves true to Kantian anthropology. They wish to remain alone, in a world that wants to join them.  Here we can see that Globalization, in a sense, is also the greater release of the principle of individual desire and the broadening of the possibilities of the individual imagination. A closer world means that I can come closer to you, not just as a foreigner, but as a potential co-national, a friend, a lover.  Globalization means that the bounds of potential intimacy with the other increase dramatically.  And it is this fact that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

The forces of reaction in the West cannot ultimately win unless they are willing to reject the process of democratization. True Globalization is predicated on it.  Without it, Globalization will cease to exist or will become dangerously unstable as it was in the nineteenth century where exuberant commerce was mistakenly considered sufficient for world peace. As Norman Angell once wrote, this was indeed a “great illusion” but ironically not as Angell meant it.

In conclusion, we might offer the not altogether original insight that it is democratization and not the spread of “gentle commerce” that offers the more secure form of peaceful globalization and along with it the general resolution of the movement of peoples with either greater cosmopolitan rights or the gradual, necessary dissolution of their reasons for their moving in the first place. 

 A Totalitarian Republic?

Faction: A number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community
— James Madison, The Federalist No. 10, “The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection”

The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie
— Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto,  Chapter 1, “Bourgeois and Proletarians”

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
— Pete Townshend, Won’t Get Fooled Again, The Who’s 1971 album “Who’s Next”

Third Fisherman: Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.
First Fisherman: Why, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Shakespeare, Act 2, Scene 1

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary
— H.L. Menken, In Defense of Women, 1918

Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they  still enjoyed their ancient freedom.
— Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1 and 2

As in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, when writers would hold up a “mirror” for the instruction of princes, so too this essay is an admittedly speculative mirror held up to allegedly democratic republics to help them judge whether or not they are truly democratic and in what ways it could be said that they are truly republics.

Human beings are collaborative, interdependent animals. Much of the good and the bad that we as a species have created has been achieved through cooperation on both small and grand scales. The simple, primary thesis of this essay is that private interests have effectively organized themselves throughout the complete fabric of modern society to both control that society in order to extract value from it and, most importantly, to maintain continuous power over it. I call this by now global system of surreptitious governance: Neopatrimonial Factionalism (NF). It is the private “steerage” system behind the public formalities of “democracy” “party” “state” “nation” “citizenry” “republic” or even “politics” as such. It is the partial realization of the ancient argument of Thrasymachus that the “stronger” decides what is “just”. And that this overwhelming strength of both action and decision is ultimately derived from the effective organization and coordination of a relatively vast amount of people whose somewhat covert membership cuts across class, race, ethnicity, gender and ideology.

It is also another key contention of this paper that NF has led to a modern type of Totalitarian Republic which is both a curious and a specific political hybrid that has taken hold of all the so called liberal democratic countries of our time. In part, its development and full historical realization is a reflection of the insights contained within Michels’ Iron Law of Oligarchy combined with a Gramscian capture of the leading institutions of society. While in its default position, the Totalitarian Republic operates as an ostensibly fully functioning liberal democracy; there are nevertheless many political, social, and economic instances where the direction of society is non-democratically manipulated using what would generally be seen as totalitarian methods of control. Both individuals and society as a whole lie within the grip of NF; it determines both the character and actions of present day democracies.

Since the “Faction” which existence we are here theoretically supposing both crosses and unites disparate classes in its maintenance and function, it is, from a Marxist point of view, deeply reactionary in practice and, at its core, ideologically ultra-conservative.  It cannot be stressed enough that NF is not an “ executive committee of the Bourgeoisie” or a conspiracy standing outside of society but is located within the key interstices of society itself interested in the maintenance of collective power for power’s sake and not a particular advocate of a class or classes. Thus, NF need not hide itself; in fact, it is “hidden” in plain view. It seeks to benefit its collective members irrespective of their class positions and individual ideological inclinations or sympathies. Since the faction is privately highly organized and disciplined, it does not fear the wide spectrum of diverse ideologies. Ideology is but a social-cultural smokescreen that conveniently lends itself to NF’s various actual projects of biopower. In this, our view of ideology, culture, and politics is very similar to Marx’s idea of  “superstructure”. Indeed, what could be more ultra-conservative in essence than a private collective socially operative organization based on a structured society wide patron-client relationship(s)?

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the death of ideology coincided with the rise and control of factional neopatrimonialism. When key positions of power are factionally occupied, radical visions have little chance to realize themselves in such a situation. They can be talked about, written about, even voted on, but their implementation, if ever, will be a carefully guided, manipulated affair.

Following Carl Schmitt, it is in the exercising of the “exception” that the power, resources, and organizational reach of NF is most fully apparent. The handling of the exception is always under the cover of legality/normality. The key, as always, is to have members of the faction occupy the necessary positions in society; civil or political, usually both. If no current member is available; bribery, extortion, blackmail, or other methods can and may be used to further any particular end of long or short range power projection.

NF has a much greater chance of starting, spreading, maintaining, and taking control of a society, if that society is initially what we call “a free and open society”; conversely in an authoritarian society or even more drastically in a classical totalitarian society the faction becomes palpably visible in the sense that it consists of the party members and/or the secret services and usually both; in the first instance the faction is partially invisible while in the second instance the faction need not hide its face since it is explicitly tasked with controlling its society; thus in the first instance we are talking about implicit, surreptitious control while in the second instance control is explicitly visible and total. In the first instance, not every aspect of society has to be controlled since that would be superfluous; only the important power defining aspects of society need to be under control. Mundane or everyday life aspects need not be monitored or controlled directly. You don’t have to control everything to be in total control. In this sense, the first model is far more rational, economical, efficient and therefore effective both historically and actually.

Thus,  our “democratic” institutions function as they are widely imagined to function until faction leaders decide on the exception and it is then that what I call surgical totalitarianism comes into play; the exception runs always counter to the democratic spirit of our institutions, the rules are bent or crossed, actions are carried out that are inherently unjust and undemocratic; a stock or bank is manipulated, an unfavorable (or favorable) law is passed, a person is even murdered (Jeffrey Epstein?) all under the guise of normality and within the law: nothing can be definitively proven and more often than not nothing seems to have even really significantly “happened” or gone wrong; the choice of the exception is specific, the actions taken towards its desired denouement seamless and unseen. Great care is always taken that no incriminating fingerprints are left during even the minutest manipulation of surgical totalitarian power.

Following the Hobbesian tradition, man seeks power after power and the means of power which is domination. He seeks to control both people and things. However, the control of people is the most important. Even the partial mastery of human subjectivities and through them human actions opens up almost unlimited opportunities for not only the control of society but the power to shape it in the directions one chooses. Power holds the present in its hands and paves the pathways of the future.

If Antonio Negri’s and Michael Hardt’s “multitude” is not identical with NF, it is and will ever remain powerless.

As Gramsci understood, who controls the institutions controls social life.

Even if NF may indeed ultimately trace its historical origins to ethnically organized gangsterism in the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries, it did not long remain that way. The methods, practices, and ethos of gangsterism may have formed the structural core of its organization but its spread throughout society and thus its inclusion of more and more members went much beyond the early gangs and thugs and took on a pragmatic structure and ideology that cared more for efficiency, profit, and societal control by any means and through whatever types of people necessary. The organizational structure became wide open to talent from all walks of life. All that was required was obedience to the faction’s wishes and desires, aims and methods. And where inclusion was not possible, human frailty did the job just as well; extortion, bribery, blackmail are time honored traditions for getting what one wants. In this, the Borgias can serve as an historical example for some of the more extreme methods of the modern neopatrimonial faction.

The faction does not necessarily control all the means and forces of production or occupy each and every point of power and influence in society but they control enough of them; but, to repeat, what is most crucial and necessary are not the control of things but of people. It is the readiness of people in positions not only of great power, but of temporary useful strategic convenience to commit carefully hidden unlawful acts that is of paramount importance to the effective functioning of the system as a whole. Indeed, organized people power is key. Technology and wealth are surely helpful, but nevertheless secondary in this scheme of control.

We can only guess at the number of actual participants in NF. The East German Stasi and its web of informants comprised by some estimates 2% of the population or perhaps considerably more, the Romanian Securitate numbered 1 million, 6.5% of Chinese are Communist Party Members; as one can see from these statistics it doesn’t take a large number of well organized and disciplined people to control and, if necessary, intimidate a much larger society of people. The key factors in control are a high level of discipline and organization and a willingness to use violence when deemed necessary; if just 7% of the American population were members of a hypothetical factional neopatrimonial system that would make a not inconsiderable total of about 23 million; more than enough, especially if strategically placed, to control the general outlines and rhythms of social life.

The inherently deep pessimism of this view of life is that whether under the name of Mosca’s and Pareto’s circulation of elites, or Michels’ Iron law of Oligarchy, or Mills’ Power Elite or factional neopatrimonialism the organization of a network of preferential power and opportunity will remain the main feature of all modern societies whatever their ideology as long as human nature remains what it is. There is no political revolution or societal upheaval or gradual reformism of any kind that can substantially dissuade people from surreptitiously organizing themselves for mutual advantage and self-protection. It is the logical outcome of both modern development, historical circumstances, and basic psychological and material needs. Factional neopatrimonialism is a society wide phenomenon that will effect, if not always completely direct, all of our lives for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, the supposed existence of the Totalitarian Republic is a curious phantom like amalgam of select democratic principles contradicted by totalitarian organization and practices. It is the inevitable outcome of two strands of modern history; the rise of human rights’ ideology and the concomitant rise of sophisticated totalitarian methods of societal control. It is a dynamic contradiction that holds in its hands the daily lives and destinies of many of the world’s people.

The idea/concept presented here of the “faction” is not to be misinterpreted as a newer version of Marx’s Bourgeoisie or Mills’ Power Elite; although it contains aspects of both. To be sure, the “faction” contains within it extremely wealthy and politically powerful people but not only; it also consists of people of the lowliest extremes of status, power, and wealth. For NF to comprehensively work, patrons need clients just as much as clients need patrons.

The faction should not be considered identical with the leading institutions of society. They do not control every member of every institution, nor do they need to. Neopatrimonial factionalism is based on partial control, more specifically functional control. For this they only need what I call a functional majority to control an institution. This is not the same as an arithmetic majority. A functional majority in this case means that the faction controls key top positions in the institution while at the same time controlling specific middle and lower levels of the organization as well. Once again, the faction is neither class-based, nor the promulgator of a specific ideology, unless, of course, you view the acquisition of power as an ideology and not a natural and thus necessary result of human nature. The functionality of power is what is of interest to the faction, not numbers, not ideologies. How many people in what functions are necessary to wield power? If the faction can be said to have a motto it would most certainly be: The Right Person in the Right Place.

The “faction” comprises all classes and all ideologies; from communist to conservative. This is because people of all classes and thus professions are very useful under certain circumstances while ideology only serves as a convenient veil to cover the real interests, methods, and motives of the faction. If the realization of factional interests coincide with the general interest, so be it; but such an outcome is often only a by-product of more specific factional political and economic aims. However, since a substantial fraction of factional members come from the working and non-professional classes; the faction has an inherent collective bias in bettering these “lower class” members’ life situation through a combination of legislation, media influence, career and economic opportunities and education. In a sense, therefore, the faction can be seen as a specific instance of a kind of surreptitious labor union which has the political power to resort to totalitarian tactics and methods; particularly through their de-facto control of the security and police forces but not only.

The technological dominance of the faction affords them with the greatest scope for totalitarian action. Surveillance and other technologies greatly aid where specific goals of either general or individual manipulation are concerned. Having an assortment of hackers, software engineers, and other specialists within the faction are of an obvious benefit here. But technology, by itself, would be useless if it was not embedded within a legal, political, economic factional net of influence and control. Once again to drive home a point, faction is not dependent on any one technology, but on the people who control, develop, implement, and manipulate those technologies whatever they may be. Of course, the more powerful and penetrating the technology, the more powerful and penetrating the faction. Thus, NF does not reign solely or even primarily through technology, but is certainly helped by it.

Nowhere does NF show itself more as a totalitarian system of governance and control than in its determination of what constitutes an “exception”. Here, an exception is meant as an active suspension of not only the spirit of democratic rule but its procedures, rules, regulations, and laws. A good general example of this is the much vaunted formal separation of power between the branches of American government. If it is true that NF strategically inhabits and thus is in de-facto control of all the branches of government; then what we have is not separation but a carefully orchestrated functional collusion between the branches. This would explain the oftentimes “carnival” nature of the fabricated disputes (the Clinton and Trump “Impeachments” come to mind here) that often arise between the “separate” branches and “competing” parties. It is above all a question of the manufacture of spectacle rather than a competitive discourse of existential political seriousness. The members of the “branches” of government dance a dance of figurative power, but are mutually informed of their desired direction; they are collectively, after all, the principle music makers and thus the theme, melody, and general score of government has been decided well in advance. The same could be said of seemingly impossibly complex designs such as markets. Supremely organized human coordination is able to reduce the ostensibly complex. The influence and control of a set of organized people blurs not only institutional lines but gives an underlying order to the seeming public experience of “chaos” “impersonal algorithms” and “unforeseeable black swan events”. Market chaos, rogue machine algorithms, and devastating black swans are convenient stories that hide the truth of organized power. The story that something is “out of control” hides the reality that it is, in fact, very much in control.

In a world controlled by NF there is both stability and stagnation. Stability in the sense that political consensus is sought for projects and plans both near and far; and stagnation from the very same source. In this factional system political participation whether in the form of mass demonstrations, media campaigns, or other forms of ostensibly public pressure has a chance only if it dovetails with the long term goals of faction. If it does not, it will be slowly but surely diffused, dispersed and ultimately forgotten. Marginalization is one of the effective social tools of faction. Either de facto if not de jure oblivion awaits for societal elements that seem overly destabilizing; either that or  some form of disarming co-optation usually through the harmless commercialization of their ideas or their careful recruitment into the ruling institutions.

Modern society is made up of machines and people. People control the machines. Who controls the people and decides when an “exception” of rules, regulations, laws, and the spirit of justice and democracy is to take place controls and directs that society.

Historically, how did the criminal class origins of NF launder themselves and come in from the cold? Quite simply their formula was time, children, education. The Time for one generation to pass on the knowledge of the old ways of power, organization, and cohesion but now mediated through education opening the doors to the professions and through them the institutions. The children and grandchildren of those who were once professional gangsters have gone on to become politicians, film makers, doctors, lawyers, judges, policemen, pop-stars and every other conceivable line of work. As Daniel Bell once put it the once primitive criminal world has undergone full “Embourgeoisement”. Like the rest of America, the gangster families moved up in social rank through the traditional move of advancement afforded by a good education. In this, they embodied the American dream as it is commonly believed. However, their “natural” rise through society did not, by any means, signify that they abandoned their traditional ties, habits, and lessons concerning the organization, maintenance, and control of power; on the contrary their new found social, educational, professional status made it that much easier. The functional solidarity of the faction was/is maintained between and within the institutions; it is their ultimate strength and they have no intention of ever letting go.

Yet when all is said and done the faction does possess an ideology of sorts which closely resembles a certain important strand of modern liberal belief. Since the historical origins of the faction lay with ethnic minorities (the Irish, Italians, Jews, and Blacks, for example) who were, initially, excluded from participation in various aspects of society and its institutions, the members of the faction never forgot this psychologically searing aspect of their hardscrabble origins in the violent, multi-ethnic cauldron that was the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this way, they retained and developed a bias towards the “opening of all talents to all careers”. Their opportunities dramatically increased with the arrival of the sixties in which they became champions of the civil rights movements concerning all minorities. Their goal was for ethnic identity to become a background issue and for it never again to take the bigoted foreground of violent intolerance and the denial of equal opportunity. This ideological viewpoint of the faction was backed up with the fomenting of action on several ethnic fronts, in particular: Afro-American, Jewish, Italian (Sicilian), Hispanic, and even Irish.

Over time the concern for equal opportunities for all ethnic groups developed into an interest in women’s rights, gay rights, and even animal rights. In this then, the faction is part and parcel of overall American ideological development. Indeed, the faction was in large part responsible for the significant progress in this area. Yet, before we congratulate them on their farsighted benevolence, we should understand how this ideology of civil rights dovetails with their organizational goals. The faction grew out of the multi-ethnic reality of an urban America, their strength lies, in no small part, with their ability to use and recruit talent from the total mosaic of American life. It is therefore in their interest to maintain as much organizational cohesion as possible and the ideology and practice of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multiple identity politics helps to provide the cement for such a cohesion. The faction is a reflection of the variegated reality of the social life of the United States, thus, it too, must believe and practice the politics of the colorblind. For whatever they ultimately are, the factionalists are not racists and or bigots. If they were, they would not be able to effectively rule and influence the daily life of the polity in which they find themselves.

In the Republic, Socrates talks about thieves needing a modicum of justice if they wish to take any concerted and effective action; so it is with our faction; there are clear rules and they must be obeyed. A sort of rough justice along the lines of “I wash your back and you wash mine” applies. Draconian sanctions are applied when the rules are broken.

As for the command and control center of the faction, it should come as no surprise that due to the faction’s historical origins in organized crime, central authority and effective decision making is structured along the lines of a traditional criminal organization meting out rewards and punishments as deemed necessary and appropriate.

In the end, class struggle is not the motor of history, the capture and control of institutions is the prime directive of world history; elites become elites through their closeness and/or absolute identity with leading institutions.

As mentioned before,  NF has a profound effect on both domestic and international politics. Domestically, NF deflates or empties the contents of the purportedly dialectical nature of ostensibly democratic politics. When the leadership of political parties is infiltrated by NF collaborative actors they no longer really serve the interests of either their parties or constituents but the collective interests of NF. If this is true, we could take for purposes of illustration the recent election of Boris Johnson rather than Jeremy Corbyn. The outcome of this election can be looked at in a certain specific way if both parties are indeed merely “theatrical” facades covering the deeper structure of NF organized power we are suggesting here. If, for example, both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are members of the same NF then any number of collaborative strategies would be available to them. For instance, strategies that would favor one or the other’s election that would serve the longer term interests of the NF and certainly not their specific parties or countries. Any number of engineered “scandals” or “false steps” or “scare tactics” or “fake news” could be easily manufactured to strongly favor one or the other candidate. To be even clearer, this means that the underlying structure of NF would, almost every time, dictate the preferred candidate/party through the active, if covert, cooperation of the “opposition”. Indeed, in a world of NF there is no real opposition; only formal democratic “theatrics”.

We could take another recent example. The ongoing impeachment process of Donald Trump. If the leadership of both parties are members of NF then, like the recent British elections, a wide variety of imaginative collaborative strategies are open to them. For instance, what may seem to the uninitiated as a “principled” pursuit of “justice” would, in fact, be just another example of democratic theatrics as usual. The real substantive goal of the impeachment process would be to ensure the reelection of Donald Trump by rousing his base, as well as others, to his defense and eventual (landslide?) reelection. After all, the likelihood of his impeachment by the senate is a very small one, if almost a “toothless” forgone conclusion in the house of representatives. Thus it is that NF reduces democratic (as well as other kinds of politics) to a performance art, rather than a real clash of interests, or real servants of the “people”. The “res publica” is here revealed to be what it truly is: a “res privata”. Citizenship is reduced to a mockery of itself. The citizen is at best, a tool of private interests here described as NF, and if not that, then an unconscious fool or sleepwalker lost in the dreamscape of past political visions such as those of the contract theorists, the founding fathers, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, and many others. Thus Marx was closest to the mark when he described the state as merely a mask for private, economic interests. The particular ways in which NF differs from Marx’s interpretation of “democratic” “bourgeois” politics is that we do not see NF as primarily made up of capitalists or even just the “rich” but as a vast assembly of actors that criss-cross the socio-economic spectrum. NF does not primarily seek wealth (although it certainly requires and wields it) but power. Power over politics. Power over business. Power over media. Power over education, culture, and science. NF is the steering mechanism of both domestic societies and, increasingly, international relations. If true, substantive public opposition has evaporated within the intricate networks of private interests.

If NF is also a salient feature of world society and not just domestic societies (in a global age it would not be surprising that NF would also become global) then certain political tendencies should be observable. One is that the necessity of overt violence of one formal state structure versus another should decrease, particularly among reciprocally significant trading partners. The overwhelming benefits of covert cooperation would consistently outweigh destructive behaviors leading to unnecessary loss of life and property. Thus, the decline of major warfare would be the result not of the spread of democratic politics or the spread of commerce, per se, but of an understanding among private elites of the mutual benefits of a “pax mafiosa”.

From time to time, in order to sustain the last great mass illusion of publicly competing states, artificial crises would need to be created. This fundamental idea was first brilliantly described by George Orwell in his book 1984. The illusion of potential conflict; of China vs the US, or the US vs Russia, or the US vs North Korea etc..etc..would have to be sustained to essentially keep fundamentally deluded populations mobilized, cohesive, and obedient to their separate state powers. As Hegel long ago remarked, a state of conflict (war) makes for good political hygiene (cohesiveness). If the world were all of a sudden to be definitively revealed to be a vast con game structurally steered by privately motivated players, then an immense anarchic backlash of peoples would most likely result. Such an outcome is, however, highly unlikely since NF, by it’s very nature, is highly impervious to empirical verification. If a criminal organization is large enough, it will be able to effectively cover its actions no matter how minute in the short term or overwhelming in the long run. He who is able to organize and discipline the most people wins the planetary game. It is here that small private moves can potentially determine vast public permutations.

Thus it has come to pass that the historical, titanic battle for “the planet of the Apes” in the twentieth century: Red (Communist) mafia, Brown (Fascist) mafia, Multi-Ethnic American mafia was settled and won: American gangsterism won the global game of thieves and bestrides the world as a colossus; largely undisturbed and unchallenged in its might and influence. But it is important to remember that it won, in part, because of its remarkable powers of co-optation. After all, it was Abraham Lincoln who said that the best way to defeat an enemy was to make him your friend. We can think of no better expression that encapsulates the quintessential imperial American strategy than this.

The growing homogenization of the world reflects the growing political, economic, social cohesion of the global faction and its collective goals; globalization reflects, in part, the removal of obstacles to further effective rule by the faction and the growing coordination among its members and their aims.

Capitalist economic relations and formal democratic institutions are the most efficient systems through which the faction can rule; it provides ideological legitimacy, real economic and social benefits, and regulates the vast majority of problems that arise within the system and that are of no particular interest to the faction. In other words, the system works, in part, as advertised. It is only when the vital interests of the faction are concerned that action that is deemed necessary is taken and the contingent nature of the regime is revealed. Democratic rules are broken and the ethos of the system becomes a mockery of itself.  The system reveals itself, in its occasional temporary suspensions, for what it is: A Totalitarian Republic. A system where a large faction that has captured the commanding heights of all major institutions decides upon “the exception”; who or what will be protected, eliminated, and fostered by the system. To a certain extent, it retains the consensus and unanimity of its members, not out of a quaint concern for the democratic “spirit, but because they understand that their material well being depends on the system’s continual exercise and distribution of preferential power.

Why would a vast number of people except such a system? Answer: scarcity and opportunity. There are just so many good jobs, desirable goods, and other material benefits that can be distributed. A semi-surreptitious social system which helps to provide you with any possible edge or preference for you over another equally deserving, if crucially uninformed, member of society would be, almost needless to say, of great and lasting personal advantage. And it is a synergistic system based on the well known game of “Tit for Tat”. Each member strives to not only benefit himself but all the others in the network, thus creating an enormous collective advantage. In playing for the team, you, inevitably, help yourself. In such a system, defection would be supremely irrational not to mention deadly.

The capture and arrest of “mafia” figures today is the roundup of old non-integrated remnants that have for whatever reason been unable to successfully infiltrate the institutions whether corporation, committee, political party, university, hospital: they are the anachronistic outsiders feebly battling both the formal institutions of society and their real content of direction and power. The real mafia IS society; it does not stand outside of it; it is a Gramscian story of the march through the institutions; it is a neopatrimonial compact between individuals to ensure first their survival, then employment and career advancement, then social and economic influence and then finally the careful projection and deployment of various forms of non-democratic practices. This is beyond conspiracy; this is a system of collective collusion based on a collective understanding of an ultimate aim; the maintenance and projection and control of power wherever and whenever it matters. For the most part, the actors are not hidden; they are almost all public figures. What is hidden is the organization of their methods and the ultimate outcomes of their collective actions: this is a methodological conspiracy with a public face. Make no mistake, though, coordination, organization, and the ability to conceal ones actions is of the utmost importance here. Keeping with its American origins, the methodological conspiracy recruits from all nationalities, ethnicities, religions, genders, classes; the socio-cultural origins of the recruits do not matter in the least, the willingness to accept the rules of the game and to execute them is the vital component; and who wouldn’t join them if asked, especially the socially disadvantaged? Since the immediate gains and the harshness of punishment is so evident: the combination of carrot and stick are almost perfectly effective here. Ultimately, we cannot empirically prove our assertions here; we can but offer a theory of the partially unseen that may one day be proven by those more fortunate, intrepid, or courageous than ourselves, or perhaps when the system we are describing will have, for whatever reason, reached its historical end; no system lasts forever after all; even the most efficient and popular. An entrenched neopatrimonial structure rules the West which is at sharp odds with its ideology of universal human rights and individual freedoms and pretensions to  equality; surreptitious networks of power form the web, while a compact of silence affords them their universal protection. All wish to partake in the bounty of the political and economic system and will use any means necessary to unfairly obtain it; connection, influence, and collective solidarity are the means to this end. The West is still framed by a system of competition under conditions of the relative scarcity of desirable social goods; any organizational structure that could effectively take advantage of this situation would be of great long term benefit to all participants in it.

Can such a system be defeated? Unfortunately, probably not because it is eminently rational. As Hegel once said “The Real is Rational and the Rational is Real”. This idea fits well with our system. Under conditions of modernity, it will always make sense for a group of people to furtively combine their efforts to penetrate and control as many modern institutions as possible in order to tilt the game of survival and the scarcity of all kinds of goods in their favor. Even slight advantages would add up quickly in such a system. Under modernity, whether in its fascist, communist, nationalist, liberal-democratic form; factional groups always arise whose interest it is to capture the commanding heights of society. And they will always do this under the cover of some ideology with which to more generally regulate those that are not directly included in the leading group. The group which does this most effectively is the one which not only disturbs the social fabric the least but is also able to satisfy some, even many, of the demands of the uninitiated majority. Thus the successful factional neo-patrimonial system has a dual mandate: maintain its in-group benefits and advantages while at the same time maintain and produce real social/economic/political benefits for the out-group. Here, selfishness has its limits. “For things to remain the same, things are going to have to change”. Thus the system is inherently dynamic and fair to the extent that those who occupy important positions within it are generally qualified to do so; their membership has given them career advantages but nevertheless they had to exhibit the requisite talents to be given those advantages in the first place. There must be some kind of consensus for the selected person’s basic functionality for the position that is sought. Thus, here we can see how the dual aspect of the political system dovetails with one another. Both sides of the system are modern, rational, and to some extent, fair. Where they differ is in the exercise of preferences for members of the in-group and thereby in the projection of both ideological and practical consensus in the real world. In this factional set-up not everything is allowed or is possible. Another world is not coming any time soon.

In all, this is not a Marxian theory of structural control, private obedience, and public fiction; it is a Hobbesian even Augustinian story; certainly a Machiavellian one. It is the story of the man of power, not necessarily the man of wealth and industry.

Yet, in the end, it should come as no surprise that such a vast, efficient, mutually beneficial, disciplined network of collaborators arose in human history. In a sense, cooperation is what defines human beings’ success throughout history. Through effective collaboration and individual discipline pyramids have been built, cathedrals erected, people placed on the moon, and atomic bombs dropped on cities. But no system, however beneficial to its members, lasts forever. Collaboration can fray, coalitions can change their minds, ideologies and new religions may spring up, unforeseen environmental hazards may prove fatally disruptive and key centers of power may collapse through excessive corruption, indiscipline, or even a kind of culturally deadly ennui.

Alien Invaders and the Ethic of the Earth

Imagine this rather typical SF scenario: alien invaders arrive on Earth. They are vastly superior in intelligence, technology, and most importantly, ethics. They quickly perceive that Earthlings are a dire mortal threat to the Earth’s biosphere. They reason that they must take decisive action soon, or else the Earth will meet its biological death. What are they to do?

First, they take up a consequentialist position and reason that eliminating a significant portion of the human population would immediately alleviate Earth’s acute environmental problems while saving countless numbers of species.

Second, they reason deontologically according to a “planetary ethic” that the biosphere of a planet and all the species that inhabit it are sacred and must be protected at all costs. If one species is destroying it, it must be destroyed before it is further able to inflict greater and lasting damage to it.

However, some aliens see the problem more complexly. They in their turn try to work out a maximally “virtuous” solution that will both ensure the continuance of the human race and the flourishing of the biosphere.

Of course, in this tale, most humans would root for the third option.

The question for us then is how do we get there?

If we adopt a mix of all three perspectives perhaps we will be closer to a solution.

If we accept some version of a “categorical planetary ethic” then we as a species have an absolute duty to both the biosphere and all its inhabitants. We have a sacred duty of care and preservation.

If this first premise is widely agreed upon then a number of possible restrictive actions follow:

1) Human reproductive freedom should/must be immediately limited to a rate of replacement and thus 0 growth. It is neither rational nor ethical that human population growth should be unlimited while the capacity of the biosphere to sustain such growth is not.

2) Human economic, political, scientific endeavors should be structured/organized in such a way as to produce the maximum benefit to the biosphere and its inhabitants. The source of all life takes precedence over particular lives and their parochial interests.

3) Humans should be educated and sensitized to their universal duty to the planet viewing themselves not just as “cosmopolitans” but as “defenders of the biosphere”.

4) Radical green politics should coordinate their policies on a voluntary, if urgent, worldwide foundation. Thus, Global governance should “green” with time.

These, of course, are just some basic ideas. The future of the Earth and not just humanity depends on both a change of consciousness and new ethical practices. We must leave our old nationalist, productivist, consumerist, paranoically competitive identities behind and become a new collectivity of planet loving “aliens” who have come to rescue us from ourselves.

On the Persistence of Religion

We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus, 1922

Recently I received an angry note about the persistence of religion in the modern world as proof of the world’s ongoing irrationality in response to some of my comments in my lately published article “The Metaphysics of Revolution.”

I found the response interesting on many levels.

Firstly, the level of anger.

The emotional quality of some atheists’ responses to religion remind me of the worst characteristics of religious fanatics: intolerance, hatred, invective, and a blind desire for collective uniformity.

Why all the rancor if reason is on your side?

Calmly make your argument (as many indeed do, such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett) and let that be your most potent, deliberative weapon.

After all, I thought emotional appeals are for religious people?

Clearly, for some, personal history and psychological trauma have a defining role to play in their world-view regarding religion (and other matters as well).

Full disclosure, here. I do not consider myself a religious person, but I am sympathetic to those who profess religious inclinations so long as they do not impinge on other people’s freedoms and beliefs. You can believe in whom you want to, but don’t tell me to whom I should bow down to.

With that said, I think the persistence of religion is, contrary to its vociferous detractors, at its a base a mildly rational one. What do I mean by that?

Well, it might all boil down to a frequent childhood question: Why is there something rather than nothing? Modern physicists will tell you that it has something to do with a “negative quantum vacuum” and “an infinity of parallel multiple universes.” Ok, sounds cool. But at the same time, if true, it is a concept that can only be fully grasped by a handful of people on the planet. Which curious fact sets them up as a kind of a new class of priests interestingly enough. They possess the ultimate truths which they proclaim in relatively easy to understand images for the general public. At the very least, this goes against the trend of the democratization of religion in the Western tradition (at least since the advent of Protestantism)

So we have a new naturalistic priesthood who can offer us scientific explanations that do not require any type of metaphysics. Fine and good. Yet, however, the very nature of science is expansive and ever changing, so what is believed today might very well not be believed tomorrow. Furthermore, what we believe in science can only be as good as what we can in some way perceive and test and convincingly confirm. Is it not therefore conceivable, scientifically, that a myriad of unknown unknowns have existed during the vast time since the supposed big bang? Unknowns that, if known, would lead to vastly different ultimate explanations than the ones we entertain currently? The recent discovery of “dark matter” and “dark energy” might be a relevant case in point. Furthermore, since we cannot go back 12 billion years to the beginning of time and space can we ever really be sure that the events which our current models describe took place as we think they did. We will, probably, never be able to perform that experiment (My apologies to CERN).

Thus, there are many naturalistic reasons that may give us pause as to the ultimate knowability of all that is. Science can and will explain many things, but in the end and by scientific necessity will all its theorizing about ultimate origins only serve as a possible, and forever necessarily partial explanation for all that is? And I can hear a true scientist say to that: It’s as good as you’ll ever get, live with it!

The problem is, of course, that the human being (for good and for evil) is endowed with a fertile imagination and (if he or she is lucky) a rich emotive life. The universe and ourselves seem to cast for many a mystical aura. This, of course, can be explained away by evolutionary psychology. But the logical reasoning behind it cannot be dismissed so easily. For as was just argued, science may forever be doomed to offer only theoretical explanations for fundamental questions. In other words, the child’s question of why there is something rather than nothing may forever be out of definitive, scientific reach. This scientific predicament leaves the door open to dreaming. Human dreaming about divinity, epiphany, and mystical teleology of all kinds. Yes this is certainly unscientific, but it fulfills a human need to answer childlike questions. And while we could soberly and severely say with Wittgenstein that: Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent; such a resolution to the problem will not do for the vast majority of mankind. Man abhors silence. He will hear the universe speak, even if the output is insoluble riddles.

And perhaps most importantly, science cannot offer us values, reasons to live. Only religion and philosophy can do that. And, yes, science can help to enlighten both but it can never make of its facts and experiments a universe of value, beauty, and love; indeed by its very nature and practice it is not allowed to speak the words “good” and “evil.” It is thus both the morally creative faculty of humankind tied to its aptitude for wondrous imagination that I think will guarantee the survival of religion, or at least the religious instinct, for sometime to come.