Metamorphoses of Self | Ch.II – Catagogic Discord

| André Masson - Acéphale, 1936. |

Areteus writes of sick people he saw tearing off their own limbs because of religious feelings in order to pay homage to gods who demanded this sacrifice. But it is no less striking that, in our day, with the customer of sacrifice in full decline, the meaning of the word, to the extent that it implies a drive revealed by an inner experience, is still as closely linked as possible to the notion of a spirit of sacrifice, of which the auto-mutilation of mademen is only the most absurd and terrible example. – Georges Bataille1

Ok then, sure, the transgender identity has no ontological validity and is quite immoral. But if that’s the case, that perhaps a male-body-united-intellect somehow comes to relate to itself as female, and it is a male body that allows it, how does one become deluded into such a transgender self-relation? Let’s analyse the process that facilitates this.

A sound intellect can know more truly what masculinity and femininity are and how they are able to perfect said soul, but it potentially goes awry in mixtures. Beauty, Plotinus relates, is in symmetry, in a constellational harmony. A good example is the harmony of the virtues. In Meister Eckhart’s commentary on Colossians 3:1, he argues that some people are half raised up: practicing one virtue but not another. Some, ignoble by nature, covet riches. Others of a nobler nature care nothing for possessions but are bent on honour. Yet the virtues are necessarily interdependent.2 Though a person may incline to the practice of one virtue rather than the others, they are nonetheless all interconnected. Some people are fully raised up but are not raised up with Christ. Resurrection “here” with Christ can so be thought of in this totality of will assimilation, at least insofar as we read along with Eckhart’s simultaneously allegorical reading to the ressurection “there”. “Here” refers to the perfection of man in his immediacy whereby Christ is borne “in the soul” as through him and the Father we are given the gift of supernatural grace from the Spirit qua trinitarian perichoresis, “there” refers to the historical Christ-crucified who rose again on the third day3. To be rid of death, to be resurrected “here” is such a state, then, when the full constellation of virtues are in harmony with themselves and so with Christ. All in all, ugliness does not persist when the constellational harmony of virtues persists in a musical union such that when ugliness confronts it, the soul “shrinks within itself, denies the thing, turns away from it, not accordant, resenting it.”4 

So with Eckhart and with Plotinus, in Christ-becoming or the ideal self respectively, we have the completion of the virtues in such a perfected manner that one might aspire towards perfection through. The good self-relation is then nested within this constellation of beauty and virtue. It is properly harmonious when a person through his body comes to see himself through himself as he is, biological design and all; the orientation is innately anagogic. This an anagogic metamorphosis of self best exemplified by St. Paul [Gal. 2:20]. We will return to this in the third chapter. First, let us explore its opposite in more detail.

By contrast, to see one’s self-relation as wrongly configured by the demiurge perhaps as the dysphoric do, is one of innate discordance – but a discordance that is not there because it cannot really be there, except conceptually; as a mental phantasm of sorts. So what essentially takes place is the hypostasising of an idealised mental construct or image of the other – its beauty or goodness in some veiled sense, of the opposite sex, that is unreachable in the present biological state which serves as such a veil. It’s this misidentification whereby the self goes out of itself, tries to leave itself but never returns to itself, to ‘know thyself’. n1x provides an apt and colourfully Deleuzean description (albeit serving a very different dialectical purpose):

 

The masculine cracks open its stern carcinized exterior to reveal the smooth post-human feminine alien within. The phallus becomes the Acéphallus, the body is emancipated from the reproductive humanist death drive to become the Body without Sex Organs.5

My good friend Alexander Iulianus has a great exploration of how this happens at a more psychological level here as it pertains to MtF transgenders. A choice quote:

 

There are these men, however, who are not so naturally resilient against impressions, and are more susceptible to slip towards the extremity of their internal psychological actualisation. The psychical life of these men turns malicious towards themselves as feelings of inadequacy and insecurity begin to dominate them. Pornography and their sex life ceases to be merely the fulfilment of a primitive urge towards reproduction, and it takes a totally new meaning and purpose. A ‘fulfilled sexual-self’ becomes mentally symbolised, pornography and sex becoming mediums for affirmation and confirmation. It is through these and other sexual mediums that they believe they will receive the goods they perceive to be lacking.

Instead of affirming the self, the dysphoric who find themself akin to the opposite sex affirms a relation to something else it is out there with, but not essentially united too. The process becomes quite mercantile in a very peculiar sense. In this process of, say, becoming-woman is the homo-economicus desire to strive. It is a drive downwards in nobility. It is materialistic in that it seeks its good purely in a bodily re-transfiguration as opposed to say the Christian desire to be ruled by the eternal λόγος such that Christ lives in you. This gives a whole new dimension to Nick Land’s proclamation that transgenders are the “jews of gender”. The dysphoric self-relation is a competitive process against the self for the attainment of sensual satisfaction, to attain this appetitive good for its own sake, only to feel radically unsatisfied once obtaining it – an interiorised competition between the socially present self and phantasmal otherness being reached for. The further realisation that this dysphoric state will not be ameliorated at all by going further into the process merely heightens this dreadful and disordered yearning.

Dysphoria feels like being unable to get warm, no matter how many layers you put on. It feels like hunger without appetite. It feels like getting on an airplane to fly home, only to realize mid-flight that this is it: You’re going to spend the rest of your life on an airplane. It feels like grieving. It feels like having nothing to grieve.6

I say “desire to strive” because my intuition seems to point towards a distinctively libidinal aspect at play here; a kind of perverse pleasure in the idea of such a metamorphosis – sometimes even in its irreversibility. Put back into the mythic account of Plato’s then, transgenderism could be represented as a flight towards what the gender dysphoric might see as the forms after death, which is another manner in which to reconsider what n1x called “emancipation”. We will call it death, to emphasise the dualism and shedding of the body to unite with the image of the other, much as “deadnaming” is seen as a kind of attempt at resuscitating the σώμα [“soma”: corpse] of the previously incarnate self. But of course, this isn’t really a going-out-of the self towards the truth of things which are in the soul, and the soul in it. What is it a going-out towards then? Consider the following testimony from Alex Marzano-Lesnevich:

When the world went into lockdown five months after I started taking testosterone, I thought it would be easier not to see people for a while. Maybe they wouldn’t hear my voice go scratchy or see up close the hormonal acne splattered across my face. Alone in my apartment, I imagined that all my difficulties in being seen and recognized as transgender-nonbinary would evaporate. No one would gender me except myself; my pronouns would be right there in the text box on my Zoom screen.

So I was surprised by how much my gender instead seemed to almost evaporate. No longer on the alert for how to signal a restaurant’s waitstaff that neither “he” nor “she” applied to me, or for whether colleagues and neighbors would use the right language — devoid of anyone to signal my gender to — I felt, suddenly, amorphous and undefined. It was as though when I had swapped my Oxford shoes and neckties for fuzzy slippers and soft sweatpants, I, too, had lost my sharply tailored definition.7 

It’s no wonder that when deprived of the social space that allows for the generation and sustainment of these phantasmal models, that the transgender self-relation is immediately problematised. This is a going-out towards simulacrum; towards an often pornographic in the MtF cases, perhaps commodified or otherwise fetishistic understanding of the other – but its lifeblood is a very specific kind of sociality. However, another key point to note is how such a social mode of being is generated. In the above FtM example, the exchange and display of socially mediated commodities, is very clear. Their identity is included amongst the various commodities that must be on perpetual display in order to be real. For MtF, vaginoplasty surgery expectations are quite revealing of the fetishistic aspect here;

Transgender patients who elect gender affirming feminizing genital surgery do so for a variety of reasons- often all in combination, which include gender dysphoria associated with the male appearance of their birth genitalia, a desire to have female-appearing genitalia, and a desire to be sexually active with genitalia in alignment with their gender. Indeed, many often present with varying expectations about the appearance of their vagina post-surgery. Some patients, for example, prioritize well-defined pendulous labia. Many patients also relay anxiety that their new vagina look “natural”, and often, the standard referred to are images of vaginas from downloaded from the internet (often pornography). Vaginoplasty can be performed with creation of a vaginal canal (for vaginal receptive intercourse), or without creation of a canal (what we term “shallow-depth” vaginoplasty). The choice for creation of a vaginal canal is important for patients because a canal requires strict lifelong commitment to regular vaginal dilation and douching, where failure to do so is associated with high risk of vaginal canal stenosis, and resulting chronic infection and pain. Many transgender women, however, have not considered (or have difficulty accepting) that a vagina is not defined by the presence of a vaginal canal, which is never visible – but rather, by what is visible, and its normal female urinary and sexual function.8

As we explored above, how one comes to know or understand is mediated through the senses and so irrevocably by the sexed body. We might also note how in tandem with Kitaro Nishida’s account of pure experience, we do not first have the “I” and then “experience” as a posterior phenomenon, but rather, the “I” is enveloped within experience. Experience is prior to the knowing subject. What does this mean for the catagogic metamorphoses of self? It means that there is necessarily a prior social mode of being, a 自覚 「jikaku」or self-realisation that such a sociality entails – the 自覚 of being an adolescent boy perhaps – which such pure experience presents itself as. But then in this catagogic process, there is a kind of creation of the individual that must take place. This is the creation of a subject that is able to define itself against such a sociality, against a prior 自覚, which takes the form of identifying the threats to the assent towards the reified opposite sex, and then engaging against a characteristically gnostic revolt against the social defining of the subject. Adam Katz points out that it takes the form of the demand  not to “look at me as a _____, but look at me as… the other of _____.” The demiurge has not just gone wrong is the configuration of the body, but in the configuration of the social order which generated a 自覚 whose archons must be dispelled. How does one escape the trappings of the demiurge its oppressive archons that govern the social? Through Mazdakian orgiastic rites of initiation that consist of increasingly depraved internet pornography, through castration, pharmaceutical drugs, and other such soteriological short-cuts. In such an inebriated state, the gnostico-dysphoric can only be described from the outside similarly as Bataille does: sinister, but we might add “drunken”, love of darkness. The progressive development of a monstrous taste for the obscene and lawless archontes. It is with this recognition that Bataille notes that such licentious Gnosticism, it’s sexual rites, fulfil a kind of, consequently, irreducible demand: a kind of black magic.

While to some extent we have all communed with the demons ever since we were cast out of the Garden, becoming cyborgs when Adam and Eve first decided to wear clothes and thus fuse the inorganic to the organic, the trans woman is unique. Her performance of herself and her desire has been intertwined with technocapital, in a way that could not even be cast off if she wanted to rip out a cybernetic implant. She is, in other words, perhaps the first truly molecular cyborg.

[The transwoman] mutates from castration, from the creation of the Acéphallus, the phallus perverted into a purposeless desire for desire’s sake. In this castration, in this mutation into an Acéphallus, she becomes the Body without Sex Organs: The body in a virtual state, ready to plug its desire into technocapital, becoming fused with technocapital as a molecular cyborg who is made flesh by the pharmaceutical-medical industry.10

The end of economic liberalism would asphyxiate transgenderism, and fatally so. Without the surgeries and drugs coordinated by pharmaceutical companies, spurred on by NGOs and Academia under the absolute farce that is “academic freedom” – without the domination of the investor class who are the only ones who seem to gain at all from it being a prevalent phenomenon, it would cease to be. The parallel of transgenderism through internet culture and Gnosticism could be taken even further with an exploration of e-grooming as essentially the basis of their underground cults but I shall leave that for another time. What is important to note is that while the constructed image that the hapless dysphoric goes towards might in some sense be an assemblage of signs which indeed have real referents, the unified synthesis of models becomes so far removed, whilst already gesturing towards something unreachable, that the understanding that moved intellect here might as well have moved it into an abyss. It’s not the internet pornography that spurred the realisation that one was not of the gender their body was ensouled with, but it was the internet pornography that resulted in the dysphoric delusion, to begin with. As the above paper illustrated for us, the intellect fundamentally moved it into a void because the image of the female genitalia that is reached for was totally devoid of the function that made its supposed referent what it is. It’s only natural that those who persist through their surgery do so in a kind of resignation. And so we get testimonies like this from Andrea Long Chu:

Next Thursday, I will get a vagina. The procedure will last around six hours, and I will be in recovery for at least three months. Until the day I die, my body will regard the vagina as a wound; as a result, it will require regular, painful attention to maintain. This is what I want, but there is no guarantee it will make me happier. In fact, I don’t expect it to. That shouldn’t disqualify me from getting it.11 

Returning to Plotinus, he relates that for humans, the Good and beauty are not identical. But they are identical from the supra-lunary vantage. Beauty is a feature of the intelligible world, while the Good, the Godhead, is beyond intellect, it is the spring and origin of beauty. Contrarily, ugliness is caused by an “admixture of evil living, a dim life and diluted with a great deal of death”. Speaking of moral ugliness:

Suppose, then, an ugly soul, dissolute and unjust, full of all lusts and all disturbances, sunk in fears by its cowardice and in jealousies by its pettiness, thinking mean and mortal thoughts as far as it thinks at all, altogether distorted, loving impure pleasures, living a life which consists of bodily sensations and finding delight in its ugliness.12 

Plotinus finds even ugliness poignant. In a misguided search for beauty, the soul clutches compulsively at everything that crosses its path, seeking to possess it by joining it to itself. “The soul becomes ugly by mixture, and dilution, and inclination toward the body and matter… just as pigs, with their unclean bodies, like that sort of thing.” And such is what we see with the reified, hallucinatory model that the dysphoric wields as a perverse inversion of the Plotinian ideal-self upon themselves. 

On what principle does the architect, when he finds the house standing before him correspond with his inner paradigm of a house, pronounce it beautiful? Is it not that the house before him, stones apart, is the inner idea stamped upon the mass of exterior matter, the indivisible exhibited in diversity?13

Herein lies another fundamental issue. Christ or the ideal-self operate as this indivisible pre-containment of the harmonious constellation. Consider the elements of the constellation as points on a circle. Each one of these points are one of the many virtues, excellences, and potentially infinite dramatic responses to “how should I act?” with “what Christ would do,” – let these all be individual points on a circle’s circumference. Now picture that these points recede upon their radii to the centre and watch the circle gradually shrink. But as they converge upon the centre, upon each other, the circle blinks out. Due to the harmony of this constellation, it is perfectly pre-contained in the eternal Christ. Not two, but one Christ. Two natures yet a unified person that beautifully exhibits itself in diversity with us – eternality that exhibits itself in time. The incarnation then gave humanity, body and soul together, a triumphant dignity;

John 1:14 | And the Word was made flesh, and came to dwell among us; and we had sight of his glory, glory such as belongs to the Father’s only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth.14

The bodily nativity of the Son of God took nothing from and added nothing to His Majesty but rather gave us a share in his immeasurable dignity. As the Word took the flesh into the unity of His Person, it was as if, as Eckhart tells us, that a mighty king who had a beautiful daughter gave her to the son of a poor man and so all those who belonged to that family would thereby be raised up and ennobled.15 By assumption of Manhood into God, spirit and flesh both were given immeasurable dignity just as how Christ taking on this universal human nature born from the Virgin Mary;

…through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honoured, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so, is it with the King of all…16

The foundation of the transgender self-relation does not operate this way in the slightest. Evidently enough from n1x, the body is allowed no such dignity in a transgender self-relation, not even the low dignity of being Socrates’ prison which is not just to capriciously escape from. It is necessarily discordant because the transgender self-relation creates an oppositional form of radical dualism that has no ontological basis for validity. It then is sustained by this very specific kind of ephemeral sociality that is inherently disordered, drawn away from perfection, and naturally so because the process of man becoming-woman or woman becoming-man requires immense violence to be done upon the body. It suffices to say that the only level upon which we should speak of this self-relation is upon one that is confined to its ephemeral sociality, because it is bound by it. 

Recall Plotinus’ images of soul’s relationship with body as a gardener whereby the soul and body are tied in a passionate sexual union. When a transgender self-relation dramatically manifests, what does it look like? Discordance. Naturally, between the Elizabeth Arden perfume and the 5 o’clock shadow, the miniskirt and the Adam’s apple, the narrow heart-shaped pelvic inlet and the permanent wound between the legs, what symmetry or concord could there be? To have the freedom to mutilate oneself in hopes of bodily perfection is no freedom at all. Its drive is entirely ruled by this will towards a hallucinatory material image for its sake, which culminates, through the progressive realisation though a likeness to gnostic rites, a bodily sacrifice to the demons of neoliberal technocracy. Castration for the transwoman serves as a far more grotesque and extreme version of the Israelite circumcision. Yet the need for that far humbler sacrifice of the body was overturned with the Son of Man [Acts 15:7-10, Gal. 2:2-5], being an archetype of the sacrament of baptism [Col. 2-11], “the circumcision of Christ”. Land’s statement that transwomen are the Jews of gender could thus be extended to mean that the transwomen continue their sacrificial mutilation because they likewise still are waiting for the messiah. n1x is surely still waiting for AI to truly realise itself through a technologically deterministic kind of Roco’s Basilisk retrocausitive providence and singularity eschaton. The sacrifice then operates as such: that in exchange for the act of auto-mutilation, the pharmaceutical company receives the financial and bodily devotion of the transwoman in return. The transgender person is no gardener, and not just any kind of gnostic, but a technocratic gnostic who lacerates the flesh to fit in conformity to a socially generated set of bureaucratic, reified attractions.

With this displacement of the subject, the inexorable mechanics of desire take center stage. The quasi-autonomous motor of desire forms things now in this way, now in that, legislating upon plastic matter. The body becomes a kind of prime matter, “a surface for the recording of the entire process of production of desire.” With this sentence, Deleuze explains the tattoo phenomenon. If the body is a surface on which desire writes, then desire is free to form it as it wishes. These days, this formation of the body by desire does not stop at sex. In “body modification,” people may have horns implanted in their foreheads, and worse—because the body has no innate intelligibility before desire begins to inscribe it with its blind purposes.

Thus, instead of a rational engagement with an ­intelligible—that is, already formed—material world, there arises the technological imposition of form upon the passive surface of the body. “The question posed by desire is not ‘What does it mean?’ but rather ‘How does it work?’” Deleuze insists. “Desire makes its entry with the general collapse of the question ‘What does it mean?’” Autonomous desire, the evacuation of meaning, the technological inscription of form: All are exemplified by Andrea Long Chu’s vaginoplasty.17

It’s not that transgenderism is the only case of such a thing, but it is a topical and visceral example of it with much to explore within it. This applies to dysphorias of all kinds. But also, if we follow Plato’s Symposium, what is loved by the intellect is in some sense born within. So one must ask: would you rather be pregnant with the pornographic, consumeristic desires or desires that bestow upon you nobility? As Lady Philosophy tells Boethius, those who are driven by material wealth end up covetous,  those who yearn for honours find themselves begging humbly of their giver who they long to surpass and “become cheap through the baseness of your begging”.

Do you desire power? You will lie exposed to dangers, prey to treachery. Would you lead a life of pleasure? But who would not despise and reject being primarily in service of so very base and frail things as the mere body?18

If a man has been immersed in filth or daubed with mud, his native comeliness disappears and all that is seen is the foul stuff besmearing him: his ugly condition is due to alien matter that has encrusted him, and if he is to win back his grace it must be his business to scour and purify himself and make himself what he was.19

Such catagogic metamorphosis, depravity and filth being born in the soul due to the yearning for it takes this particularly macabre expression in the intrinsically sacrificial and gnostic nature of transgenderism. Bataille notes of circumcision, that it is an initial rite which many primitive cultures have equivalents of, such as in New Guinea where in the tearing out of a tooth replaces circumcision. Keeping in mind Andrea Long Chu’s self-resignation and Marzano-Lesnevich’s loss of self due to the dissolution of the social space she constructed for sustaining her gender identity, the rupture of personal homogeneity and projection beyond the self of a part of the self in such primitive cultures, are linked to periods of mourning or debaucheries openly evoked by the ceremonies marking the 自覚 of adulthood20. That transition into adulthood meant not only the bearing of responsibility but also of a degree of self-sufficiency – the opposite of which we see with the transgender reliance on a meticulously constructed social assemblage that comes from the self’s own body-bound desires that debase and denature the body.

 

[NOTES]

[1] Footnote: 

[Areteus was] a famous Greek doctor of the first century A.D., the author of ‘De morborum diuturnorum et acutorum causis, signis et curatione’. The vocabulary of sacrifice is still used spontaneously by Montaigne when he reports a case of auto-mutilation in chapter 4 of his Essais: mortified by an amorous adventure in which he behaved foolishly, a gentleman “mutilated himself and sent his mistress the organs that had disobeyed him in his desires, as a kind of bloody victim capable of expiating the offense he believed he had committed against her.”

Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess, Selected Writings 1927-1939. 2008. Minnesota, Sacrificial Mutilation and the Severed Ear of Vincent Van Gough, 67.

[2] Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works. 2nd ed., 2009. New York: Herder and Herder, Sermon 33, 200.

[3] Joseph Quint’s footnote reads; ‘There’ refers to the historical birth of Jesus, ‘here’ to the birth of Christ in the soul.

ibid., Sermon 18, 133-136

[4] Plotinus., 1948. The Enneads. Boston: C.T. Branford Co. I.6 § 2.

[5] n1x land., 2018. Gender Acceleration: A Blackpaper. [online] Vast Abrupt. Available at: <https://vastabrupt.com/2018/10/31/gender-acceleration/&gt; [Accessed 10 May 2021].

[6] Andrew Long Chu., 2018. Opinion | My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy (Published 2018). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/24/opinion/sunday/vaginoplasty-transgender-medicine.html&gt; [Accessed 10 May 2021].

[7] Alex Marzano-Lesnevich., 2020. Opinion | How Do I Define My Gender if No One Is Watching Me?. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/02/opinion/transgender-nonbinary-pandemic-transition-.html&gt; [Accessed 10 May 2021].

[8] Garcia, M., 2019. 010 A Novel Pre-surgery Counseling Aid for Transgender Patients Undergoing MtoF Genital Gender Affirming Surgery with Vaginoplasty, to Help Manage Patient Expectations and to Facilitate Patient’s Choice of Surgery (Full-Depth or Shallow-Depth Vaginoplasty). The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 16(4), pp.S5-S6.

[9] Bataille, Visions of Excess, Selected Writings 1927-1939. Gnosticism and Base Materialism, 48.

[10] n1x land., 2018. Gender Acceleration: A Blackpaper.

[11] Andrew Long Chu., 2018. Opinion | My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy (Published 2018).

[12] Plotinus., The Enneads. I.6 § 5.

[13] ibid., I.6 § 3.

[14] As per usual, I always either quote from the Knox Translation Bible or Douay-Rheims. Sometimes a mix but the above is purely Knox.

[15] Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 13b, 108.

[16] St. Athanasius., 1953. De Incarntione Verbi Dei. 2nd ed. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. § 9, 35

[17] Angela Franks., 2020. Deleuze on Desire | Angela Franks. [online] First Things. Available at: <https://www.firstthings.com/article/2020/04/deleuze-on-desire&gt; [Accessed 10 May 2021].

[18]  Ancius Boethius., 1978. The Theological Tractates; The Consolation of Philosophy. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, Loeb Library., Consolation of Philosophy Bk.III § VIII.5-13.

[19] Plotinus., The Enneads. I.6 § 5.1

[20] Bataille, Visions of Excess, Selected Writings 1927-1939. Sacrificial Mutilation and the Severed Ear of Vincent Van Gough, 68.

Metamorphoses of Self | Ch.I – Hylemorphic Anamnesis

| François Boucher - Madame de Pompadour (1756) |

Lord, when I found myself far from thee, it was not due to a remoteness of place,  it came from the unlikeness in which I found myself. – St. Augustine1

This is the beginning of a three-part series, each building off the last. This first part will principally set down some epistemological outlines, the second: a moral case study of transgenderism, the third: concerning the perfection of man.

As we explored in the first Sympoiesis post, the concept of self-ownership which runs through the entirety of modern political philosophy, especially the more extreme libertarian branches of it, presupposes, or ends up generating by necessity, a very acute form of radical dualism. It is a dualism that seems to have run as an inheritance from Descartes, regardless of whether liberals are keen to admit to it or not. Taking the hylemorphic understanding of man, as that of an essential body-soul composition that, man is self-moving unity but not one whereby the body is moved by a soul-substance or mental-substance that is over and above the body, we began to see that such grounds for the notion of self-ownership fall apart. 

But let us recap. If what makes man, ‘man’, is his intellective capacity as united to a sensitive body, Aristotle’s “rational animal”, it suffices to say that his body is not accidental. Why? Because how he comes to know is through the senses, and sense is of the body. Then, if we were to talk about a man “owning himself”, self-possession as a concept ceases to make any sense because there is no radical and distinct sense whereby he is over and above himself so that he might self-possess. But the point of discussion here in this post is not self-ownership. Let’s take a quick Platonic epistemological detour to flesh this out.

Many take Plato’s pre-existence of the soul, the coming from the forms at birth and going to the forms at death that allows for recollection as we see in the Phaedo, Phaedrus and Meno dialogues, as one of the strongest points for his version of radical body-soul dualism. Primarily, this is because the myths through which Plato represents this doctrine is taken in the literal sense by such people. Many pagan Neoplatonists, like Plotinus, do similarly adopt radical body-soul dualism which ends up disparaging the body somewhat. While I’m not going to argue that Platonism traditionally does not carry this form of dualism, exploring how it functions reveals a few interesting epistemological insights.

What is often overlooked in Plato’s theory of recollection, or anamnesis, is that it is most adequately an account of the togetherness of thought and being, an account of συνουσία [synousia]. Plato’s supposed argument of our coming to know the Ideas as a recollection of what we knew in a previous, discarnate existence but forgot upon being born in the body is not a ‘theory’ or a ‘doctrine’ but a myth and is presented in such a non-deductive form in the Phaedo dialogue, amongst the Meno and Phaedrus as well. The justification for the recollection-myth presented in the conversation with the slave-boy in the Meno shows, at most, that since he did not receive his knowledge of mathematical truth from outside, he discovered it within himself.

Then if for us the truth of beings is always in the soul, the soul would be immortal, so that you must boldly try to seek and to recollect what you do not now know, that is, what you do not remember… I would not altogether rely on this account in other respects; but if we hold it necessary to seek what one does not know we would be better and more courageous and less idle than if we hold that it is not possible to find it and need not seek: for this I would altogether contend in both word and deed.2

While it is beyond doubt that Plato, especially due unto his Orphic and Pythagorean inheritance, believed in the transmigration of souls, the key point on which Socrates insists, is not upon the recollection-myth itself, but that the truth of beings is possible for us, and hence we must seek it, because “the truth of beings is always in the soul.” The real conclusion of the argument is not that the soul literally pre-exists but that “the truth of beings” is found not outside of, but within, the soul. Anamnesis is not a transcendental, or otherwise deductive argument for the necessity of reincarnation in order to possess knowledge of the things-in-themselves.

But we need not discard the myths as mere window dressing. The idea that this knowledge was acquired in a previous existence should be taken as a mythic expression of the soul’s intrinsic possession of truth, that is, the intelligible whatnesses of things. Plato never presents a deductive argument for recollection, but poses these myths as what seems like a transcendental condition for the possibility of knowledge. But his epistemological argument, unlike regular transcendental arguments, does not terminate here and so cannot be an argument of such a kind – or at least not just yet.

The intellective soul is, by its nature, out there with what is given to thought. But the same is for thought and for being. This is what we call intentionality;  to think is necessarily to think of something (some-thing), that is, some being. It is not only that to intuit things in themselves apart from our consciousness is an impossible task, but that to think “nothing” would be to have no content of thought and thus not to be thinking, which is a blatant performative contradiction. Likewise, it would be incoherent to postulate an unintelligible being, a being that cannot be thought because to do so would already be to think this being in some manner and thus to commit another performative contradiction. Thus, it is impossible even to suggest that being could extend further than thought. So we might call the whatnesses of things intelligibles and how they are given to our senses, sensibles, because not only are being and intelligibility co-extensive, but intelligibility is the very meaning of being. Thinking is, wholly and solely, the apprehension of being, and being is, wholly and solely, that which is given to thought. It is with intentionality that the barriers between direct realism and idealism fall away entirely. As opposed to Rev. George Berkeley’s famous subjective idealist dictum: Esse est percipi (to be is to be perceived), we might say instead follow Aquinas’: Ens est proprium obiectum intellectus3 (being is the proper object of intellect); to be is to be given to thought. We could even adopt Kitaro Nishida’s to be is to act. The activity of knowing, which is the fuel for feeling, desiring and willing, is that which is given to such activity, and this constitutes every determinate thing that “is”. Cartesian doubt is a non-starter. Despite Nishida’s anxieties as to what might arise if we were to take the “phenomena of consciousness” as the sole reality (to take the given-to-thought as what “being” constitutive of), solipsism is nowhere in sight. Hard distinctions of noumena and phenomena need not apply due to the fact that εἶδος, often mischaracterised as noumenal, is the most given to thought, and so emphatically does not possess the quintessential Kantian characteristic of existing beyond the capacities of the intellective subject, or even his sense faculties in an absolute sense. Following Nishida once more:

From the standpoint of pure experience, this unity [of apperception] never entails absolute distinctions between itself and other such unities of consciousness. If we can acknowledge that my consciousnesses of yesterday and today are independent and at the same time one consciousness in that they both belong to the same system, then we can recognise the same relationship between one’s own consciousness and that of others.4

Returning to Plato, “the place above the sky” in the Phaedrus, “Hades” in Phaedo are both clearly mythic in the uses they have in their respective dialogues in that they represent both the soul and the forms as bodies, of which Plato could not possibly have meant literally under pains of gross self-contradiction on some of his most fundamental doctrines. The temporal location of the soul and the εἶδος that is implied by ‘pre-existence’ is as such too. If taken literally in a temporal sense, the story of pre-existence and recollection becomes quite ludicrous quite quickly: that at some point in 429BC, a year before Plato’s birth, Plato’s soul was “above the sky,” “looking at” the forms. This not only renders the soul to a corporeal object, but assimilates intellectual apprehension to sense-perception, making intellectual apprehension which a takes in of content from outside in the manner of modern subject-object dualism, whereas the whole point of the recollection-story is that our knowledge of the εἶδος is not taken in from a distinct exteriority but is “always in/with the soul” due to intentionality. What the argument for anamnesis in the Phaedo actually demonstrates is that our knowledge of the εἶδος is non-empirical in just this sense. Socrates begins by making the distinction between equal things and “the equal itself,” or the idea of equality: 

We say, I suppose, that there is something equal, I mean not a stick [equal] to a stick or a stone to a stone or anything else of that sort, but besides all these things something else, the equal itself… whence do we receive knowledge of it?5 

We do have such knowledge: if we did not know such a criterion, we could not identify anything we experience as unequal let alone equal. We need there to be equality itself to gesture towards and be ruptured by difference. As Damascius relates:

Socrates proves the existence of the forms more or less incidentally, assuming it but adding a demonstration at the same time: if there are many equal things, this manifold must derive its common character from one equal, which must obviously be real and obviously cannot exist in any of the individual things in which the many equals are found; it is therefore prior to them, since they are derived from it, and this is expressed by saying that they are ‘different’ from it. Then he outlines a second proof observing that equals existing in matter are contaminated with their own privation, but those existing by themselves are pure, and the perfect is necessarily prior to the imperfect.6

And so again from Plato:

When someone, seeing something, thinks that what I now see wants to be such as some other of beings but is deficient and is not able to be such as that, but is inferior, it is necessary, I suppose, that he who is thinking this knows beforehand that to which he says it is like, but deficiently.7

For that matter, without the knowledge of equality neither could we identify anything we experience as equal in any such manner. In making such judgments, we are bringing to bear an idea of equality and saying that the things perceived either do or do not display this εἶδος. On the one hand, the experience of equal things is what, as we say, ‘calls to mind,’ or arouses in us, the knowledge of equality:

From these equal things, although they are different from that equal, you have nonetheless come to think and have received the knowledge of it.8

On the other hand, sense-experience alone does not provide an adequate account for this knowledge. Since equality itself, like any idea, is not a sensible thing but an intelligible idea, it cannot come to us by way of the senses. Nor can we have arrived at it by ‘abstraction’ from what we perceive, for this would require that we first identify such things as equal, which in turn requires that we already have the idea of equality.

This insight helps dispel the notion that Platonism results in representationalism. We have already noted that εἶδος is not noumenal such that we only have access to “shadowy reflections” of the “things-in-themselves” as a popular caricature might run. But neither is the activity in which intellection is engaged in a kind of conceptualisation. We now have the tools to demonstrate this, and dispel representationalism by a general reductio ad absurdum.

If the intentional objects of intellection are other than the eternal εἶδος – restricting us to sense images and internal concepts we generate from them or what have you – then intellection will have to be able to compare the given sensibles or constructed concepts, of the corresponding intelligibles they emanate from or represent, with the intelligibles themselves in order to know that they are accurate. If it can compare them, it does not need the representation in the first place. If it cannot, then it cannot know being. The cognitive act would then have to have as its object something other that is other than being, but to argue as such would be absurd as the very object of intellect is being as we proved above. The same is for thought as is for being. So we might also conclude that sensibles allow us a real passage from them to their corresponding intelligibles, otherwise, they would not be intelligible as the determinate sense-data of “this” or “that”. Thus, representationalism and conceptualism are false.

A Plotinian account would extend this in supposing, alongside this argument, that eternal truth is not something possessed, where possession is understood as a representational state. So long as truth is agreed to be being in relation to intellect, the only alternative to representationalism is of any sort of identity. This identity, because it is a cognitive identity, of necessarily differentiated and determinate being, does not result in the conflation of the εἶδος. 

Since we apply this paradigmatic idea in judging what we perceive, our knowledge of it is in some sense prior, not in the temporal sense but in ontological priority to (what is most necessary for a consequent) sense-experience. If objects of knowledge are prior to objects of sense-perception, knowledge is necessarily prior to sense-perception, and therefore so are subjects of knowledge to subjects of sense-perception. As Nishida would tell us, “pure experience” is prior to the subject and the apprehension of sense experience. Therefore so is each of us as a knowing subject, enveloped in a process of apprehension amongst that which is given to thought, in ontological priority to being a perceiving subject:

Then it must be that before we began to see and hear and otherwise sense, we received the knowledge of what the equal itself is, if we were going to refer thither the equal things from the senses…9

On the surface level, this seems to problematise the Aristotelian-Thomistic account of knowledge which is taken as a major premise for the argument for hylemorphism and for the argument against radical dualism. However, it is not fundamentally incongruent. The metaphor of recollection has a peculiar power, because of the oddity of the everyday experience of forgetting and recalling.

If I have forgotten something, or simply happen not to be thinking of it at the moment, in a sense I do not know it: I am not apprehending it. But if upon being reminded, I recall it, I do not re-acquire it as a new piece of knowledge. Rather, I discover it within myself as something that, in some sense, I knew all along. What we have forgotten but can recall, we both know, in that it is within us, and do not know, in that we are not currently apprehending it. Recollection thus serves as a fantastic metaphor for our coming to know the εἶδος, which in one sense we do not initially know but which, by using the senses, we recognise as always already at work within our cognition. Then, sense knowledge remains in no slight and humble position as a necessity to spur this recollective knowledge which we are not currently apprehending. Yet, if sensibles are intrinsically tied to the intelligibles they emanate from, there is no discordance in this understanding of recollection as to the soul’s being-there with the intelligibles.

Since falsehood only exists in the mind, successful recollection is a going-out from the experiencing self to truth which is with the self-same knowing subject, it is then more intimately together with us through this recollective process of circling back upon the self. As Nishida reminds us, while we can easily go awry when we judge or recollect a “phenomenon of consciousness”, in such an instance we are no longer engaged in intuition but are operating by inference. Since our knowledge of the εἶδος does not subsist with us by way of the senses, it is nonempirical and in that sense a priori. The common philosophical expression of the a priori is itself a temporal metaphor. Heidegger too enjoys making a point out of the temporality of the a priori. What is a priori is prior to sense only in the sense that it does not directly come to us by way of such sense-experience. The meaning of Plato’s myth is that our knowledge of the εἶδος is a priori in just this sense.

Let us start fleshing this epistemological detour out in more detail such that it stats dovetailing further with our hylemorphic account of the essence of the human. The reason why we understand is not that we are moved by intellect, but rather, we are moved by our intellect because we understand. Our sensible body allows for the spurring of recollection of which we are out there with. So as a supplement to the Aristotelian-Thomist argument, an argument against something like transgenderism would run as follows:

The transgender identity relies on a discordance between body and essentiality of the person; a mind-body split which is necessarily of a radical variant due to this opposition that it supposedly allows for. The correction required for a successful fulfilment of the transgender self-relation is whereby the mind’s construct of discordant gender is impressed from over-and-above, and then upon the accidental body. But the human person comes to understand through a recollective process. This process necessitates the spurring by sense experience. Sense experience is of the body and its intrinsic faculties. What makes the human person what it is and not some other thing is that the human is an intellective creature. But such intellection only can be spurred by sense. Yet if sense is of the body, and is necessary for the proper function of intellect, it stands to reason that the body is not accidental. With a quick refresher from Aquinas [the additions in square brackets are my own clarifications];

Because, although the action of a part be attributed to the whole, as the action of the eye is attributed to a man; yet it is never attributed to another part, except perhaps indirectly; for we do not say that the hand sees because the eye sees. Therefore if the intellect and Socrates are united in the [radical dualist] manner, the action of the intellect cannot be attributed to Socrates. If, however, Socrates be a whole composed of a union of the intellect with whatever else belongs to Socrates, and still the intellect be united to those other things only as a motor, it follows that Socrates is not one absolutely, and consequently neither a being absolutely, for a thing is a being according as it is one [that is, a thing is a being insofar as it is unified].10

Let us say that you are reading Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. Sensing the words on the page through which you come to understand what Boethius is being told by Lady Philosophy involves the body, then it necessarily follows that your body is not separate from you. It is not the intellect as a motor assigned to the body, but rather your body with its biological design is you because sense is an integral part of the process of intellection and understanding. It is essential to how you come to know yourself in your united totality. Your body and intellective soul constitute the unity by which you are, it so necessarily follows that your sexed body, through which you necessarily have to use to understand yourself, together with your intellective soul, make you who you are. The sexed body is not an accident to personal identity. Likewise, what constitutes your self-identity is not a part that is radically distinct from the whole but rather is in its Body-Mind unity. Plotinus also emphasises the mutuality of the body and soul, their beneficent penchant for each other. This begins to reveal how even the Platonic body-soul dualism is also unfitting for an account of the validity of transgenderism:

There never was a time when this universe did not have a soul, or when body existed in the absence of soul, or when matter was not set in order; but in discussing these things one can consider them apart from each other… If body did not exist, soul would not go forth, since there is no place other than body where it is natural for it to be.11

Did you catch that? Even in the Plotinian dualist account, it’s only through discursive concepts, not at a level of being as such that we can set body apart from soul. But wherever the human body is, it is engendered with biological sex differences; testosterone or oestrogen fuelling bone growth, pelvic shape differences, calcium deposition differences, limb length and thickness differences, and so on. Plotinus gives us several images of the soul’s proper relationship with the body: he pictures the soul as a gardener;

…concerned about the insects lodged in [a] tree and anxiously caring for it; or we may contrast a healthy man living with the healthy and, by his act, lending himself to the service of those about him, with, on the other side, a sick man intent upon his own care and cure, and so not only living in the body but body-bound.12

The soul’s union with the body is “like a natural spontaneous jumping or a passionate natural desire of sexual union.”13 Even if one were to take Plato’s pre-existence of the soul and disincarnate after-life literally as the pagan Neoplatonists do, or even their account of body-soul dualism on its own as many Catholic theologians following St. Augustine do, the Neoplatonic account does not actually leave room for the transgender self-relation due to its moral dimension. The oppositional discordance of person and body in such a self-relation exudes a phobia, in the sense of ‘hydrophobia’, that justifies corrective violence upon the body it disparages. This is absolutely anathema to Plotinus’ soul-gardener, let alone the body and soul’s natural sexual union. We will return to the idea of violence upon the body in the second chapter. But it suffices to say for now that between the breast binding, the slicing open and inversion of the scrotum, extensive skin grafting, the body being pumped with estrogen or testosterone, this is emphatically not Plotinus’ soul-gardener at work but rather a dog digging holes in the yard, piling the dirt in another place, and hiding foreign objects in the holes it makes.

To further stress the intimacy of the body and the soul’s union let’s dive a bit deeper into their respective sensible and intelligible “objects” (concerning the words in quotations: I am using with extreme reserve – the reason why should be evident soon enough). It’s important to note that sensibles and intelligibles in the Platonic scheme are not two distinct sets of objects.  “Platonic heaven” or the “realm of forms” is another one of these spatial metaphors which should not be treated literally. The passage from sensible things to the intelligible εἶδος is not a neutral turning of our cognition from a distinct set of objects to another, but a noetic ascent from one mode of apprehension to another, and so it follows that the relation between intellectual apprehension and intelligible being is not one of extrinsic duality either. Consider the following from Plotinus;

Beauty addresses itself chiefly to sight; but there is a beauty for hearing too, as in a combination of words and in all kinds of music, for cadences and melodies are beautiful; and minds that lift themselves above sense to a higher order are aware of beauty in conduct of life, actions, character, in the pursuits of the intellect; and there is a beauty of the virtues… what then is it that gives comeliness to material forms and draws the ear to sweetness perceived in sounds, and what is the secret of the beauty there is in all that derives from Soul?14 

Sensibles, we might say, are portals or gateways that reveal pathways to εἶδος rather than reflections from or shadows of some otherworldly realm. Hence how Plotinus can then speak metaphorically of distinct orders but then use vectorial metaphors as he does throughout the Enneads, such as the above sweetness of material forms drawing us through to their intelligible wellsprings of beauty, here in this tractate, to describe their union. Seeing, the very ocular metaphorical use of the word “εἶδος”15 to mean intelligible whatness, or any mode of awareness implies not a separation between subject and object but rather a joining, a being-together, of apprehension and reality: συνουσία as we said before; a conjugal union of the knowing and the known. From Meister Eckhart;

While I was on the way here today, I was thinking about how I might preach so reasonably that you would understand me correctly. And so I came up with a comparison, and if you understand it correctly, then you will understand my intention and the basis of all the views that I have always preached. This was the comparison of my eye and the piece of wood. When my eye is opened, it is an eye. When it is closed, it is still the same eye. The piece of wood loses and gains nothing from my seeing. Now, pay close attention to my words: if it were to happen that my eye is one and unified in itself, and it is opened and casts a glance at the wood, both eye and wood remain what they are, and yet in active contemplation become one to such an extent that one can truly say: “eye-wood” and “the wood is in my eye.”16

Like the seeing eye that casts a glance at the wood and becomes one with the wood, man, through active performance, through seeing and loving, becomes that which he sees and loves in the mind. I see a tree. The tree exists for itself; the eye has its own being by itself in my organism. We can say that, however, only because we have cast our eye upon the tree. Only then is the tree there, by me. We retroactively separate eye and wood from the eye-wood unity. Thought and being copulate and unify; the phenomenon of consciousness that is the eye-wood unity produces something new: a being towards the wood.

To know beings, to come to intelligibles requires passage from sense in spurring the recollective process and so requires movement with the body. However, technically speaking not all knowledge involves sensibles. Knowledge that does not come primarily from self-motion in any sense, but from being acted upon from above is how we might describe something like a mystical union, revelatory experience or “the beam of spiritual light, piercing this cloud of unknowing that is between you and [God]”17 through which He reveals His mysteries in a non-discursive ascent. Such knowledge is beyond being, as God is not a “this” or “that”, God is not a being as such due to the fact of his infinitude, thus he is not an intelligible. His essence, the divine essence is not given to thought as such as a dog or a cup might be. The very statement “God exists” stated in the very same such manner as “this ball exists” is erroneous. Such non-discursive knowledge is not and cannot be given to the senses at all as it is from the infinite Godhead and not from determinate and finite beings.18

 

[NOTES]

[1] As quoted by Meister Eckhart in his commentary on Luke 2:22-25, Sermon 20. I am using the Maurice O’Walshe translation. It is a paraphrase of a section from Augustine’s Confessions. 

Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works. 2nd ed., 2009. New York: Herder and Herder, Sermon 20, 143.

[2] Plato, Complete Works. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett. Meno 86b1–c2, 886 

[3] St. Thomas Aquinas, 1485. SUMMA THEOLOGICA. Holy See: Benziger Brothers. Prima Pars, 5, 2, resp.

[4] Nishida, K. and Abe, M., 1992. An Inquiry into the Good. New Haven, Conn: Yale Univ. Press., 44

[5] Plato, Phaedrus 74a9–11, 74b4

[6] Damascius, 1977. Commentary On Plato’s Phaedo. Amsterdam, Oxford, N.Y.: North-Holland Pub. Co., I §§ 301, 174

[7] Plato, Phd. 74d9–e4

[8] ibid., 74c7–9

[9] ibid., 75b4-7

[10] Aquinas, Thomas, and Timothy MacDermott. Summa Theologiæ: A Concise Translation. Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1989. Prima Pars, Q:76:1, 114.

[11] Plotinus., 1948. The Enneads. Boston: C.T. Branford Co. IV.3 § 9.

[12] ibid., IV.3 § 4

[13] ibid., IV.3 § 13

[14] ibid., I.6 § 1

[15] An explanation of the Indo-European roots of the word εἶδος, from Eric Perl’s fantastic book, Thinking Being;

As has often been pointed out, [εἶδος and ἰδέα] are related to words for ‘seeing,’ and, less directly, ‘knowing,’ in Greek and other Indo-European languages. [Footnote: Εἶδος and ἰδέα are cognate with Latin video, visio, etc; German Wissen; English wit, wise, wisdom; and Sanskrit Veda. We should, perhaps, hear distant echoes of all these words when we encounter the term ‘form’ in Plato.] Their fundamental meaning is the ‘look’ or ‘appearance’ of something, the way it shows up to the gaze. This is of the utmost importance, for it means that unlike the English word ‘form,’ these words intrinsically and immediately convey a relation to awareness: to say that things have a certain εἶδος is to say something about how they show up or appear to an apprehending consciousness. Many different things “have some one same form” (Men. 72c7) in that they all display the same content to the gaze, and so are truly identified as all pious, all beautiful, or all virtues. 

Eric D. Perl., 2014. Thinking Being. 1st ed. Leiden: BRILL. 23

[16] Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 60, 309-310

[17] Anonymous, 2001. The Cloud of Unknowing. Penguin Books. §26, 52

[18] The following selection from the beginning of Dionysius the Areopagite’s ‘Divine Names’ is a nice summary of this apophatic attitude following on from the reality of God as beyond-being. That He is beyond intellection, but our ‘symbols’, our manners of speaking and depicting him actually gesture towards him:

We use whatever appropriate symbols we can for the things of God. With these analogies we are raised upward toward the truth of the mind’s vision, a truth which is simple and one. We leave behind us all our own notions of the divine. We call a halt to the activities of our minds and, to the extent that is proper, we approach the ray which transcends being. Here, in a manner no words can describe, preexisted all the goals of all knowledge and it is of a kind that neither intelligence nor speech can lay hold of it, nor can it at all be contemplated since it surpasses everything and is wholly beyond our capacity to know it. Transcendently it contains within itself the boundaries of every natural knowledge and energy. At the same time, it is established by an unlimited power beyond all the celestial minds. And if all knowledge is of that which is and is limited to the realm of the existent, then whatever transcends being must also transcend knowledge.

Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works. The Divine Names. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1.i 592C-593A. 53.

 

Anagogic Creativity & Divine Love

| Guido Reni - Angel of the Annunciation, c.1640 |

It is a staple of enlightenment philosophy and its consequent moral culture that “freedom” has come to approximate, or equate to “the freedom of the will from constraint”. This is the position commonly known as voluntarism. Usually, this is further qualified as the freedom “to do as one pleases so long as it does not infringe upon another”, or sometimes more radically; the freedom to self-assert as one pleases and so create one’s own moral constraints ex nihilo. The latter amounts to operating upon the basis of a hallucinated set of constraints that do not really exist in any real or formal fashion. Either way, both formulations seem to rest on the spontaneity of the individual’s self-causing. I stumbled upon this proposition from Proclus which perfectly illustrates how alien this view is to both the medieval and classical man, in his discussion of causality;

The originative cause of each series communicates its distinctive property to the entire series, and what the cause is primitively, the series is by remission.

For if it is sovereign over the whole series and all the members are grouped together by their relation to it*, it is plain that from it all derive the single form in virtue of which they are ranked under the same series. For either their common likeness to it is uncaused or all derive from their cause this element of identity. But the former supposition is impossible: for the uncaused is spontaneous; and spontaneity can never occur where there is order and continuity and perpetual freedom from variation. From its cause, then, the entire series receives the distinctive character proper to the being of that cause.

If so, it manifestly receives it with remission, that is, with the declension appropriate to secondary existences. For this character belongs either in the same degree to the antecedent term and to the rest – and how then can the one be antecedent, to others posterior in being? – or in an unequal degree. In the latter case it is plain that the identical element is derived by the manifold from the one; and not reversely; so that the distinctive character peculiar to the series, which pre-exists primitively in the unitary term, exists in the manifold by derivation.1

*Prop. 21

Spontaneity is effectively banished from the world by the Greek rationalists, to the sublunary world. Why is this so? It is precisely because, as it was for the medievals too, that this universal order is the best possible, true freedom being then constituted by an assent to its sublime Logos; supposed spontaneity is nothing more than an attempted interference with it. A key Dionysian insight to take in tandem is that this transcendent Logos, is Beauty-itself, “a light that flashes onto everything the beauty-causing impartations of its own well-spring ray” that gathers all things to revert upon it as their object of desire. The beautiful and the object to be “free to” collapse into an ineffable singularity2. Instead of being an object which gives off light, God is rather the ambient light itself whereby things are visible.  Freedom is thus in relation to that sublime wellspring from which one can confront and draw from for the outpouring of a purer creativity, as opposed to one that is lost, trying to project out schemes by its individual artifices. Love is likewise free, yet not spontaneous. God’s will is utterly free, yet as the Logos itself3, is in a sense spontaneous, which is to say that it is uncaused, but in another sense cannot be spontaneous as it is not arbitrary. Spontaneity of the creaturely kind, the one the Greeks dispensed with, could not be ascribed to God because it would imply disorder and privation as by way of a kind of capriciousness. Thus, as we do not speak of spontaneity in the same way as that of creatures, but in a similar fashion, we are speaking of God’s spontaneity, albeit in a delicate fashion, through analogy.

Along somewhat different lines now, I want to examine what we have discussed so far means for God’s love, but in a slightly polemical manner. Alexander Iulianus [henceforth: The Apostate4] writes that God does not love and has no will, in rebuke of St. Thomas Aquinas5. His retort can be summarised as; i) Aquinas’s argument rests on the “faculties of God”, but faculties imply not only distinction but also a lack, a two-fold privation. But this cannot be so as God is utterly perfect and absolutely simple. ii) Self-objectification violates simplicity through discursion, so God cannot be the object of himself whether by will, love or any such relation. iii) Will is the transitive mode whereby act is caused in being to move towards their perfection via either the primary (intellective) or secondary (sensitive) goods, God must not participate in this will because he is unmoved. It seems, therefore, that if God has no will, it cannot be said that God loves because love follows from will. Quoting The Apostate;

God, by his nature, is possessive of the whole and is the object of Good itself. Wholly Good and self-sufficient, any placing in God the transitive mode is to make deficiency. The ocean has no will towards any one portion of its waters, nor the whole Earth towards any one part of its totality, but yet both subsist in simple unions of being: the ocean simply the self-same whole of all its waters, the Earth simply the self-same whole of all its many particulars. In even these inferiors there is found no need for self-will, so we ought not give the efficiency of simple union to the material unions but then deny God this efficiency. 

Already, he dispels ii) for us himself. By being possessive of the whole, and wholly self-sufficient, and as utterly unlimited above all, God possesses himself entirely. That is to say, that by analogy, God stands as unsubjugated to any other principle. Humans do not possess themselves as they are subject to various other humans, and if subject to no humans, they are subject to the heavens and other such superior principles. As being subject to other such things, creatures do not self-possess, contrary to God who does so of himself. God’s self-possession is an apophatic double negative – he is not possessed by another so who else remains to possess him but himself? It is precisely because his unity with the Good, that is the object of all appetition, and himself is so intimate as to not be distinguishable from himself that he is utterly achieved. But if this is so, that he is the Good he has, there is no transitivity and so we can dispense with iii). We can also cast i) to the flames because Aquinas never predicates such faculties of God univocally, such that God has appetitive faculties as in creatures, but rather that;

Will in us belongs to the appetitive part, which, although named from appetite, has not for its only act the seeking what it does not possess; but also the loving and the delighting in what it does possess. In this respect will is said to be in God, as having always good which is its object, since, as already said, it is not distinct from His essence.

So, we can speak of God as totally content with himself and with all that come from him6. Therefore, God’s self-objectification, creating no real distinction, is by our speaking in analogy. While this so far demonstrates that self-possession, which God’s will and self-knowledge take as necessary premises, amongst other attributes, does not violate his noetically superior simplicity, we have not demonstrated that it follows. The Apostate misses not only the manner of analogous predication but also, his illustrations using the ocean and the earth are very telling of his next error; in forgetting that we only come to speak of God’s will proceeding from having established divine intellect. The Apostate, in his various rhetorical illustrations, has robbed God of the noblest of attributes. However, following on the above proposition from Proclus, we need not do this to establish his will for it is this very self-communication through subsequent series that is God’s will. God imparts himself in a real manner to all that has unity, yet to will himself is to will The Good which is what he is, and to will goodness is what it means to Love, and so God loves all things even though he needs none of them. He can be said to will their good by merely holding them in existence in this intimate, immanent manner and so being their continual cause. He wills them to exist, he thus wills their good. As the object of all desire to be reverted upon, he also thus wills the good of all that can share in further intimacy with him in the antecedent. To talk of him “holding all things” through immanent omnipresence, and no further, needlessly brackets how subsequents are generated and sustained. With no priors, it is impossible for anything to cause God to create, and so the continuous act of creation whereby unity is given to all things other than God would have to be fundamentally free, and therefore willful. His omnipresence is indistinguishable from his will. He is his will, he Good-will, and so he is Love;

1 John 4:16 | We have learned to recognize the love God has in our regard, to recognize it, and to make it our belief. God is love; he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.7

The semantic difference between, “God loves”, “Love exists in God”, and, “God is Love”, all have different conclusions. If it is the second, then The Apostate’s argument, specifically i), follows. Yet, as proclaimed by the Gospels, it is the latter, that God is Love – but then also the former, that God loves, as a consequent from establishing the indistinction between God and love-itself. So we can dispense with i) twice-over. Turning to Dionysius as quoted in Obj. 3 of the Summa article that The Apostate brings into question, that “Love is a uniting, and binding force”: God is Unity and Oneness itself8 9 10 , and also the cause of all things11 12 13. As the above Proclean proposition makes clear – that the originative cause is what the series is by remission – we have on our hands sound means by which to once more conclude that God not only is love-itself but that he loves. God is the subsistent unity that is responsible for the unity of all things14 15 16, and so naturally;

Wisdom 11:25 | For thou lovest all things that are, and hatest none of the things which thou hast made: for thou didst not appoint, or make any thing hating it.17

Everything that has unity, as such, goodness, has God as its cause and so clearly then God loves all things, willing them every perfection they possess. God’s love causes perfection in things, and one thing would not be better than another unless God loved it more.18 As individuated things such as the ocean and earth have no will, and of course no self-motion, they cannot have the Good as their object. So to dispel ii) twice over, let us return to elaborating upon God’s intellect, because it is in the same manner that God is his intellect that he is his will. For Aquinas, intellect has noetic primacy over will even though they are one and the same with God. The simple formulation is that immateriality and intellection are convertible. God is the cause of all abstract objects that inhere in particulars, and so given the principle of proportionate causality, God must possess something analogous to intellect whereby all such objects exist in Him, not entitatively but analogous to the way in which forms exist “intentionally” in our intellects. The divine ideas pre-exist in him as their cause which he so knows by his essence which all participate in some degree of likeness. So, privation of knowledge corresponds with limiting the actuality of a given thing, so we should affirm that in his infinitude, God is a simple and infinite intellect.19 For a further exploration on the congruency of the divine mind with divine simplicity, head on over to this Feser post.

But I will here break with Aquinas and affirm Meister Eckhart’s formulation that Intellect is also primary to being, and not just noetically so, but actually so. God does not know because he is, rather; est ipsum intelligere fundamentum ipisus esse. He is because he knows. Since being is proper to creatures, it is in God only as in its cause: it is not there formally. Meister Eckhart reintroduces the Proclean subordination of being into the Medieval tradition, affirming that, “as soon as we come to being, we come to creature.” If God is perfect intellect and the imperfect agent intellect knows being as created thing, God’s knowledge being without object has to be radically unconditioned. 

A common objection is in citing Exodus. 3:14 as an ontological affirmation of being. Yet in an unexpected manner, “I am who I am,” affirms this Proclus-influenced doctrine of the Meister. If God had wished to declare himself as being, he would’ve terminated his proclamation of himself at “I am”, yet he did not. If we met someone by night, Etienne Gilson illustrates to us, and wished to remain unknown when asked, “who are you?” One answers: “I am who I am.”19 And this is what Moses was answered with. Identity is left unconditioned, ephemeral; which is to say that God bypasses identity as he is totally divested of individuation. Thus being does not belong to God. The Meister tells us that God is puritas essendi, pure of all being, and by reason of such utter purity with regard to being, can be its cause. To turn Aristotle against Aquinas; Aristotle noted sight to be colourless to see colour or else its capacity is limited20, contrary to Empedocles and Democritus who held that the eye should see in virtue of some thing that issues from it21, which is backwards – God must be pure of being so he might be the cause of all being.  We must first speak of God as other, before we speak of him as cause. God stands est aliquid altius ente; higher than being in possessing all ahead of him in purity. His plenitude and perfection are the root of all, hence the fittingness of “I am who I am”, so that an anteriority to being is identified here with the act of intellection. This becomes even clearer with reference to the Gospel of John, for in the beginning was the Logos, so it follows scripturally so that intellection is the foundation of all being. Gilson notes that the Logos said of himself, “I am the Truth”22, which is to say sapientia: Wisdom. And so the Meister is correct to conclude that insofar as God is intellect he is free of all, including being. As St. Augustine before him, the Meister ranks understanding above being and life as well. The ocean and the earth “are” but do not know. Material entities are imperfectly unified as they are subject to individuation: immaterial and intelligent beings are not strictly unity because they are intelligent-beings, that is creatures whose being is not unconditioned intellection alone. It is thus only pure intellect that can be pure unity; it is one and the same to say that God is wholly Intellect and God is One. The desert of deity, the divine essence is ineffable, pure intellect which Eckhart identifies with the Father, St. Athanasius’s “One Father”; a fecund unity that is thus paternity. 

Similarly for us, as I have spoken of elsewhere, the reception of Christ by a virgin, Meister Eckhart holds to also allegorically signify the fact that for God’s knowledge to manifest, the intellect must too be ‘void’. Plato’s famous midwifery of sophia from the Symposium finds the purest offspring begotten from a virgin – Truth itself, Wisdom itself being conceived without concupiscence and born from a virgin who remained thereafter, forever a virgin. As long as the active intellect is dominant and occupied with abstraction, thought, imagination, and perception, the mind will remain incapable of receiving the unconditioned Truth and so likewise must be as divested of attachments to individuated phantasms. This is the condition of abgeschiedenheit or “disinterestedness” where the faithful can stand noble and above, without anchorage to that which may dilute the wellspring of divine inspiration. 

Under a more trinitarian light23, the hypostatic union of three loving persons can be thought of as a scene; one wherein the agents on the scene are not the same but share in the most real of unities; the homonoia they participate in that makes the scene a unity. However unlike a scene of representation such as a human community – while The Father is not The Son, who is not The Spirit, who is not The Father; all three are God – their union is far more intimate than any human community could be. After all, theirs is the primal unity that generates all subsequent manifold unities through differentiation. Being “created in the image of God”, and thus in the image of the Trinity, then also has some interesting connotations. This means that humans are moments of particularly intense and adaptive recollection within the temporal process, although such recollection is constitutive of the temporal process itself. A present moment “is”, in its repetitive holding of the past. Yet in this recollecting, it escapes at one level the temporal continuum and arrives as a meaning – abstracted from, and then unified with form, to create structures of various kinds – a process which has bestowed upon it a fluid capacity for adaptation and expansion from the primal fount from which being overflows. As St. Catherine of Siena so beautifully puts it, “the soul is in God and God in the soul, just as the fish is in the sea and the sea in the fish.”24

This comes to the heart of what sympoiesis truly means. We do not create something beautiful without another, without beauty itself, and so all “doing” that has a share in beauty is one that is assisted by grace. The pen of the poet, the brush of the artist, the hands of the virtuoso pianist are guided by the will of God. In all such cases, such creative acts, such acts of beauty are only so through the community established between man and the divine. Sacrality involves representing the gesture, constituted by religio, as compelled by divinity. Aesthetics involves discerning the intentions of the centre – such intentions being constituted by cosmological recursion and revelation – through the attention of others on the scene i.e. unfolding philosophical and exegetical corpus/priesthood and rituals they administer25. In this sense, knowledge depends upon aesthetics, and only aesthetic oscillation can dissolve those desires into the manifold forms of attention directed towards God. Naturally, all disciplines should be reintegrated into theology, to desecularise all other disciplines as a consequence of our abolition of the distinction between art and anagogic reverence. Just as with the fish and the sea, when the soul receives the sacrament, and when the apparent bread has been consumed, Christ leaves behind an imprint of his grace;

…just as a seal that is pressed into warm wax leaves its imprint when it is lift­ed off. Thus does the power of this sacrament remain there in the soul; that is, the warmth of my divine charity, the mercy of the Holy Spirit, remains there. The light of my only-begotten Son’s wisdom remains there, enlightening the mind’s eye.26

This all dovetails quite beautifully with Marsilio Ficino’s exploration of God and love. When we seek God through reason alone, we extoll much effort through a lot of time, especially if we take our acetic cues from the likes of the Meister, to make very little progress. But by loving Him, Ficino tells us, we make much progress in a very short time. 

The reason love unites the mind with God more swiftly, closely and firmly than cognition is that the power of cognition lies mainly in making distinctions but the power of love lies in union.27

Precisely because we come to know things discursively, mediated by concepts and ideas which themselves do not bless a man – unlike God who as simplex is Love and Wisdom – for man, love transcends the dialectic not just wherein the dialectic terminates in its ability to unite us with the Divine but entirely so by love’s very nature as unifying. As unity is itself one with the Good, it is by nature superior to our intellect. We might then transfigure Eckhart’s proclamation of Intellect’s anteriority to being with the equally true formulation that; “God is because he Loves.” Our intellect alone traverses only intelligibles themselves, that is to say, beings of which God stands as utterly superior to, which is why we speak of him through analogy. Hence also the superiority of the devotional life to the purely contemplative life. The life of the mere philosopher is quite radically incomplete. It lacks love and so also finds itself with a real creative limit. It is due unto the wellspring of divine love, the warmth of charity, that the philosopher finds his full realisation; his full intimacy with Wisdom. In order to thoroughly know, we must first love, to then become purely receptive to sapientia, so that we might be truly free.

A soul rises up, restless with tremendous desire for God’s honor and the salvation of souls. She has for some time exercised herself in virtue and has become accustomed to dwelling in the cell of self-knowledge in order to know better God’s goodness toward her, since upon knowledge follows love. And loving, she seeks to pursue truth and clothe herself in it.28

[NOTES]

[1] Proclus and Dodds, E. The Elements Of Theology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004, Prop. 97.

[2] Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works. The Divine Names. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 4.vii 701C-704B.

[3] John 1:1-4 | In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

[4] à la Julian the Apostate, Pagan Neoplatonist and Roman Emperor who wrote polemical works, as did Porphyry, against Christianity — while I will admonish Alexander for his affinity for heathenry, he’s still a king.

[5] Aquinas, Thomas., The Summa Theologiæ of St. Thomas Aquinas, Second and Revised Edition, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1920. Prima Pars, Q:19:1.

[6] Genesis 1:31 | And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good. And the evening and morning were the sixth day.

[7] As per usual, I always either quote from the Knox Translation Bible or Douay-Rheims. Sometimes a mix but the above is purely Douay-Rheims.

[8] Proclus and Dodds, E. The Elements Of Theology. Prop. 13

[9] Pseudo-Dionysius. Divine Nom., 13.ii

[10] Galatians 3:20 | Now a mediator is not of one: but God is one.

[11] Proclus and Dodds, E. The Elements Of Theology. Prop. 10

[12] Aquina’s Second Way Prima Pars, Q:2:3

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiæ, Second and Revised Edition, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1920. 

[13] 1 Corinthians 11:12 | For as the woman is of the man, so also is the man by the woman: but all things of God.

[14] Proclus and Dodds, E. The Elements Of Theology. Prop. 3

[15] Colossians 1:16 | For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and in him.

[16] 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 | For although there be that are called gods, either in heaven or on earth (for there be gods many, and lords many); Yet to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

[17] Douay-Rheims again.

[18] Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiæ, Prima Pars, Q:20:3.

[19] Gilson, Etienne. The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994, 110-111.

[19] Gilson, Etienne. History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages , 438.

[20] Aristotle. The Complete Works, Sense and Sensibilia. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995. 3, 439a8-14.

[21] ibid., 2, 438a25-28.

[22]  John 14:6 | Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.

[23] See: Milbank, J., 1991. Postmodern Critical Augustinianism: A Short Summa in Forthy Two Responses to Unasked Questions. Modern Theology, 7(3), 225-237.

[24] St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogues. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2, 27.

[25] My spin on Katz’s logic of aesthetics;

Sacrality involves representing the gesture as compelled by the object; aesthetics involves discerning the intentions of the centre through the attention of others on the scene. p.90

Aesthetics would serve the purpose of introducing, welcoming, drawing participants into the sacred scene, providing ways for those participants to inhabit the scene and minimize the distance between ritual performance and the scene of origin. p.91

Knowledge depends upon aesthetics; only a centre free of usurpationist desires can sustain attention on the gap in imperatives issued by the centre, and only aesthetic oscillation can dissolve those desires into the manifold forms of attention directed towards that centre. p.92

Bouvard, D., Anthropomorphics. Perth: Imperium Press.

[26] St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogues. 112, 211.

[27] Allen, J.B., Michael,  Rees, V., Davies, Martin. Marsilio Ficino: His Theology, His Philosophy, His Legacy. The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2002, 211.

[28] St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogues. 1, 25.

Proclus, Vico and the Myth of Self-Interest

| John William Waterhouse - Echo and Narcissus, 1903. |

It is a staple of liberal moral psychology, stemming from the ahistorical anthropological assumption of the individual preceding social formation, that man’s nature is an inherently self-interested one. Typically, the liberal arguments for the creation of social orders first presuppose some version of self-interest as an explanatory efficient cause. The various flavours of liberalism may qualify self-interest differently yet the core claim of the moral agent being principally motivated by that which is of most use to him holds true through most formulations.

Giambattista Vico’s argument against such a view of self-interested man begins from the quintessentially Aristotelian claim that the social order precedes man. Man, as seen from the liberal view, may ceaselessly act for what he takes to be personal particular ends, but said ends are ultimately are contingent upon the various institutional roles he occupies. When he is a father he identifies his interests with those of his kin; when he is a citizen he identifies them with those of his city; and when a national, with those of his nation.1 In each stage of social complexity, something new is disclosed about a given moral agent which makes what his interests are, intelligible. A man’s intentions fundamentally rest upon the social institutions which give his life meaning. Strip him of these and you lose the agent whose good you are inquiring into. So naturally, the verdict to be concluded upon regarding self-interest-itself is that it is a meaningless concept because there is no man, and has never been any man, that existed and developed outside of social orders or authorities of any kind.

If one is to identify pleasure with self-interest then, one must ask what kind of socialisation such a man has had to conclude that such a good is his primary good. Indeed if it is this masturbatory self-pleasure, this is the closest we get to pure self-interest, but such disposition in man can only come about after he is made to define himself against his social institutions, or is otherwise lead into such a life that deracinates him of his connection to the shared good of which his institutions allow him participation in. Historically, this process of individualisation is a product of political centralisation2, so we must also conclude that pleasure as self-interest is also artificial. One may indeed argue that in all such circumstances man desires principally his own welfare, but what it is that constitutes his own welfare is disciplined by his social order.

The fundamental question self-interest seeks to answer after all is, “why this good and not another?” Even if we were to posit man as this inherently hedonistic, desiring machine, he must still make that evaluative judgement between the various goods he may choose to enjoy. If he is intimately connected to his social institutions, he will use the role he plays in them as a chief factor in making such an evaluation. If he is disconnected, atomised, he will look elsewhere to other authorities, often nowadays without even identifying such agents as authorities, that will discipline him into desiring other goods. Such is the fate of the wage-slave who finds no fulfilment because he exhausts himself in a role that hardly serves as a true vocation. Naturally, he turns into a hollowed consumer. Yet even his existence as a consumer, as we see with consumers generally, ends up constructing new identities and loyalties which unifies him, and others like him, to corporate authorities. 

Let us now consider the nature of the Good from Proclus. He argues that it belongs as a primary quality of God, the primal Good, to conserve all that exists. Likewise, if that which conserves – holds together the being of a multiplicity of things – is unity, then goodness, wherever present, makes the participant one, and holds its being together in virtue of this unification. Every good tends to unify what participates in it, and all unification is good in some manner.3

This gives us a very interesting manner in which to continue talking of social institutions and the human identification of goods. As we see from Vico above, it is this unification of the moral agent with the institution he is defined by that inebriates him with identification of goods which he sees as in his interest, but this can go much further than the individual. This ontological subordination of agent-to-institution is inherently good, as abused as it might otherwise be under advanced capitalist modernity and democracy, because it subsumes the individual good within the shared good. 

Yet the logic of political and economic liberalism is always to lead away from unity and appeal to this mythic individualised self-interest, even if its success is predicated upon a more fundamental unity of which it exists in spite of. After all, it is the competitive logic of the market and of the electoral struggle – the institutional conflict between entities – not the cooperative logic of the unified social order that seeks internal goods which underlies both capitalism and democracy. 

Unity allows for the development of grand projects; whether they be intellectual, artistic or political, they all depend on this homonoia to function. Insofar as it is unified, it is thus good, because it allows for such projects to flourish in an unfrustrated manner towards the interior goods of their respective practices. 

Thus we can conclude in a Proclean fashion, as Vico himself does, that there is an inherently divine quality to the unity that allows for the flourishing of such shared projects. Vico identifies this divine quality with Providence itself. Unable to attain all the goods he wishes, man is constrained to pursue that which he is due, which is just. Any new set of institutional arrangements must always involve some manner of underlying agreement about the practices they make possible and the determinate content of this depends upon the inherited institutions of the historic social order. This regulating force of human justice, as Vico magnanimously declares; is divine justice which is administered by Providence to preserve social orders.4 That is how intrinsic authority is to human nature, which is to say, it is more fundamental than human nature itself. It is not for no reason that authors of the Gospels write that everyone is to be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established (Rom. 13) and that the faithful are implored to give all men their due, to; 

1 Peter 2:17 | Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.4

[NOTES]

[1] Pompa, Leon., Vico – A Study of the ‘New Science’. Syndics of Cambridge University Press, London. 1975, 21-27.

[2] For a detailed exploration of the relationship between political centralisation and individualism, see C.A. Bond – Nemesis and Larry Siedentop – Inventing the Individual.

[3] Proclus and Dodds, E., The Elements Of Theology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004, Prop. 13, 15.

[4] Vico, G. and Bergin, The New Science Of Giambattista Vico. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1948, 341, 90.

[5] I always either quote from the Knox Translation Bible or Douay-Rheims. Sometimes a mix but the above is purely Douay-Rheims.

Notes on Platonism Vol.1

§ I

Aug/19

All the different political formations that Plato identifies, are all identified as ruled by elites. It is only the case that democracy is the exception because it is merely an ephemeral interregnum prior to tyranny.  In this manner, there are really only three stable types of rule – rule by military, rule by merchant, rule by despot. Each implicitly performs the priestly/clerical function of enforcing  and upholding some shared good/moral life.  Thus, to make a MacIntyrean conclusion, modes of political organisation only fundamentally differ in regards to the inherited traditions of thought that the rulers operate within. Said traditions of thought are what predispose the human character of given rulers to making certain assumptions about moral psychology/human nature etc., which colour how they confront political problems. Rule by “despot” becomes the clearest in light of (bio)leninism – a ruler who secures loyalty not through martiality or money, but through raising the periphery’s status to secure their loyalty – levelling the social order. This is despotism. “Democracy” is the most ethically repugnant form of political organisation. 

 

§ II

Aug/23

The Platonic tradition is right to argue that writing is fundamentally precluded from capturing certain features of the subject of discourse. For Plato, writing externalises memory with the undesirable result that consciousness appears to fail to include its own contents. For Plotinus, writing temporalises the space of consciousness and translates the simultaneously present contents of consciousness as an extension within time. Either way, writing naturally lends itself to the profane and to reification and in so doing has this fundamentally phenomenal relation to the various objects-themselves that writing is supposed to represent. Writing can never truly produce a structure that thoroughly captures its object. 

For the Platonic tradition; intellect is its objects, and truth is revealed through a self-disclosing intellectual activity, i.e. recollection. Yet, truth is itself a veil for an origin that falls outside of all representation. Such an understanding of truth then means that truth cannot adequately linguistically be communicated to another because any representation would rupture the unity of subject and object.

 

§ III

Aug/25

Creation, says Plotinus in a thoroughly poetic manner, is awake and alive at every point. Each thing has its own peculiar life though we, as our senses cannot discern the life within wood and stone, deny that life; 

Their living is in secret, but they live.1

By this conception, from the Timaeus’s world-soul, Neoplatonism bridges the gap between appearance and reality, solving the paradox of multitude in unity. 

We do not declare the Soul to be one in the sense of entirely excluding multiplicity. This absolute oneness belongs only to the higher nature, we make it both one and manifold; it has part in the nature which is divided among bodies, but it has part also in the indivisible, and so again we find it to be one.2

 

§ IV

Aug/30

Plotinus writes that the reason souls turn from the divine is due to the evils of resulting from a dominance of self-will over the naturally endowed, higher intellective capacities of man that make man, man. As per the Aristotelian definition, to be human is to be an animal possessing logos. Naturally then, his highest possible activity is a contemplation of sorts, and his highest end must be something that fully satisfies his intellect. The evil results from denying this, and in denying this, instead of intellect, will is dominant. If will dominates over intellect, man in his justifications of self-ownership and freedom of will from higher reality/universals, the identification of his natural end drifts and differs. In more extreme cases it is totally abolished from his view – this is the natural consequence of voluntarism. 

He cannot be fulfilled lest he by chance wills himself to his right end, but this possibility seems contradictory, as this would mean willing himself back into being governed by logos. Plotinus and Aquinas converge in identifying man’s natural end in the primal principle of generation; God – whose vision of, and thus union with, alone can be the full satisfaction of his nature, for contemplating the divine is man’s highest activity given his essence as logos-driven, and so to have union with and direct knowledge of the highest truth is his natural telos. 

Now, merely it being in his nature does not make it by necessity how he will act, but by necessity how he may be truly fulfilled – that is, happy – or in the much more robust Greek – Eudaimonia (from Eudaemon meaning “good spirit(ed)”). In such a unified state, Plotinus writes of it as;

…rest unbroken: for how can that seek change, which all is well; what need that reach to, which holds all within itself; what increase can that desire, which stands utterly achieved?3

In union with the Divine Mind, man’s intellection is fully satisfied. In union with the perfect, man achieves perfection. Now this divinity is in someway already in him, as per Aristotle’s maxim that causes subsist in some manner in their effects, yet his essence isn’t the divine essence – that is external to him. By it being external to him, he does not possess it in perfect fullness, and in so identifying said externality he identifies it as his superior and so humbles himself in making said external identification. 

 

§ V

Sep/07 

Socrates saw that the use of ethical predicates must only be governed by given evaluative criteria whereas Plato supposed that if this is to be so, that if there are to be objective standards for the use of such predicates. Moreover, that for Plato, it must be the case that such predicates are used to refer to objects, and objects belonging not to the multifarious changing world of sense but to another unchanging world. Said realm is apprehended by the intellect precisely through its dialectical ascent, whereby it grasps the meaning of abstract nouns and other general terms. 

Their objects are the Forms through the imitation of which or participation in which the objects of sense-perception have the characters that they have. The highest of these objects being the Good, the Republic presenting progress in rational argument, culminating in a vision of the Form of the Good. However the Good, is not one among the other forms we contemplate: they belong to the realm of unchanging existence – the Good dwells beyond. As is later developed through the course of philosophical history, through the later Platonists and Medievals, this is God. 

What the forms and the Good and their treatment by Plato here mean is that a theory of meaning has been thrust upon the scene of western philosophy. As MacIntyre writes, 

the logician has entered moral philosophy. Moral philosophy, forever, will necessarily incorporate the logical analysis of moral concepts, the theory of human purposes, motives, of social formation.4

We can see all three interests that underlie these pursuits, the epistemological, the psychological and the political meeting in the central parts of the Republic. We could even say that the best parts of the Republic display a kind of tripartite harmony. Such is the beauty of Plato’s work. 

 

§ VI

Sep/08 

The One is all things and no one of them; the source of all things is not all things; yet it is all things transcendentally – all things having run back to it: or more correctly, not all as yet are within it, they will be.5 

Plotinus, as does Aristotle, privileges, of the four causes material/formal/efficient/final, the final cause. All things are One in that they are all teleologically constituted by the One – they all have their final end in him. Yet the One is none of them, because prior to any of the objects of creation having fully united themselves with the ineffable One, they are distinct from him. The One is totally subsistent, not dependent on anything, seeking nothing, possessing nothing, lacking nothing – totally perfect and generates the cosmos by an exuberant overflowing of itself. 

The Plotinian cosmology is generated through hypostatic emanations – each emanation never completely severed from its prior. Consequently, this cosmology is a Chain-of-Being in a very strict sense whereby each prior is necessarily dependent on that which is above itself. Nature dependent on the World Soul, dependent on the Nous, dependent on The One. When something is ensouled, that is to say – has life, it is not seen as ensouled in the spatial sense. To illustrate – when you have a plant which you prune, the parts of the plant you have lopped off for the most part are now dead. Yet the plant itself is very much alive. 

This phenomenon misled many of the Presocratics to identify soul as a spatially extended substance that permeates through the plant. Lop off one part and you’ve amputated the plant – the disconnected part is dead because you dispersed it’s soul atoms or something or rather. Plotinus rejects this absurdity. Nothing here must be understood spatially because Soul never was in space. Rather, the World Soul imbues nature with the life-principle and you have merely severed the connection with this part of the plant to it. This raises the issue of our previous elaboration on emanations however, because each emanation can never be completely severed from its prior. The Neoplatonic explanation then would be that the dead plant part is in some sense it is now further down this Chain of Being, further from the Soul than it was prior. 

But, looking more minutely into the matter, when shoots or topmost boughs are lopped from some growing thing, where goes the soul that was present in them? Simply, where it came: soul never know spatial separation and therefore it was always within the source.6

Soul exists independent and transcendent to the plant. At the furthest reaches of these emanations, you get pure matter, which is really just noise which cannot exist independent of some sort of form. 

 

§ VII

Oct/02

Plotinus writes that for there to be any subsequent creation, it must be grounded in a non-composite, absolutely single unity that is the foundation and first principle of generation. This is the One and it is a necessary being that transcends Being, insofar as Being is of composition and the One is beyond such composition. Standing before all things, he writes, there must exist a Simplex, differing from all its sequel, self-gathered not interblended with the forms that rise from it, and yet able in some mode of its own to present to those others.  If there were nothing outside all alliance and compromise, nothing authentically one, there would be no Source. No source, no creation. Nothing from nothing. Yet that would be contrary to all immediate experience and contrary to the very fact of a given agent capable of said experience since both of these things are composites that exist in some manner. Deduced from this starting point of the thinking agent and his composite experience we arrive at a transcendent, non-composite cause of our very relation between thinking agent and composite objects of experience. As the Scholastic maxim goes – there is nothing in the intellect that is not first in the senses. Even to posit Plato’s anamnesis, recollection would have to be awoken somehow, and this would primarily happen as a result of sensory experience. God is perfect – no privations, the beginning of all powers and perfections which all other powers and perfections are a partial imitation of.

 

§ VIII

Oct/16 

Lord my God, grant, I beseech you, 

That I may be made beautiful within, 

And that everything outside me may become dear within me.

May I consider only the wise man to be rich.

Bestow as much of this gold, 

Refined by fire, 

As none but the temperate man may bear or take away.

 

§ IX

Oct/16

The first part, of the above prayer, is an allegory to the somewhat disputed Second Alcibiades which concerns the nature of prayer. Prayer in Marsilio Ficino’s formulation is;

…the ardent disposition of the pure soul, a disposition devoted to God and desirous of what is seen to be good.7

Naturally, it is the object of the intellect that the Platonic/Aristotelian and Christian tradition hold to be the most fitting object of desire for man. The highest of all things one can contemplate being God himself. On the “gold, refined by fire”; 

Revelation 3:18 | I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.

Socrates seeks the good. Which good? Marsilio Ficino writes that it is; 

Wisdom, that is, consciousness of divine truth, which God alone can grant, which the beautiful soul alone is strong enough to receive, the soul that is temperate, pure, and bright.8

What should we ask for first? Ficino tells us that it is wisdom that may make us worthy. It is certainly the action of an intemperate, perhaps even irrational man to ask for any gift of which he cannot be due. So, we might also ask then; who is exactly worthy of divine wisdom? Who is ready to bear its light? The man who the cardinal virtues, that is, through the civil and purifying virtue of the purified soul, has cleansed his soul so that he has become beautiful, that is, totally pure and clear, and has chosen virtue, divine wisdom alone, the treasury of all riches, as his model.

For this reason we beseech God, the Father of all, and His servants to breathe favourably upon us, that may be cleansed by their kind and gracious favour. Socrates directly asks for this shining gold of divine wisdom in this dialogue. He does not ask proudly, nor yet mildly. Indeed, intemperate men are granted very little consciousness of truth but God embraces within Himself the whole of this limitless consciousness.9

Therefore he has asked for as much of this gold as only a temperate man is able to carry. This is indeed the burning gold which John, in Revelation, advises us to buy.

 

§ X


Oct/07

Meister Eckhart writes that by the eternal generation of the Logos through the Father’s self-quest, the Father becomes conscious of himself, and the love reflected back to the Father by the Son is the Holy Spirit10. Marsilio Ficino writes that there is nothing in the world more like the divine trinity than the Sun11. In the singular substance of the Sun a three-fold nature of sorts exists that distinct in relation yet exists in a subsistent unity. The first of said natures is a natural fecundity from the senses, the second being its manifest light flowing out of this fecundity, ever equal to it, and thirdly its power to heat which is a virtue equal to both. The fecundity represents The Father as the first principle from which all derive their existence; light, likened to intelligence, represents The Son conceived of intelligence; and heat stands for the loving Holy Spirit.

The reception of Christ by a ‘virgin’, Eckhart holds to analogously signify the fact that for God’s knowledge to manifest, the intellect (Christ as Logos, hence the analogy of intellect) must be ‘void’. As long as the active intellect is dominant and occupied with abstraction, thought, imagination, and perception, the mind will remain incapable of receiving the unconditioned Truth. Consider the Buddhist parable of the monkey mind. No idea represents or signifies itself. It always points to something else, of which it is a symbol. Since man has no ideas, except those abstracted from external objects, he cannot be blessed by mere idea. Analogously, this means that no interpretation interprets itself – hence the absurdity of sola scriptura. All interpretations (e.g., rules, abstracted principles, symbols, etc.) point to something else. Since all abstracted forms are interpretations, abstracted forms themselves cannot render content determinant as previously explored. Hence, as long as one is focused on mental constructions, perceptions and other such things, one cannot begin to adequately approach the source of all these manifestations.12

 

§ XI

Oct/24

God doesn’t make mistakes – God has not “forsaken the world” or his creation. To assert as such is nonsensical and requires holding to a mix of deism and anthropomorphism. Let us consider two arguments, one from Proclus, another from Aquinas.

From Proclus; 

For if all things which exist have a natural appetition of their good; and if further there are things which derive their well-being from themselves and things which demand another’s help, things which have the cause of their good within them and things to which it is external: then in proportion as the former are nearer to the giver of their desire, so must they be superior to that which needs an extraneous cause of good and has its existence or its activity completed only by reception from without. Since, then, the self-sufficient has more likeness to the Good itself (yet falls short, in that it participates good and is not itself the primal Good), it is in some way akin to the Good, inasmuch as it can furnish its good out of its own being, whereas that which not only participates, but does so through an external medium, is at a further remove from the primal Good which is nothing else but good.13

This is all to say, that which is self-sufficient either in its existence or in its activity is superior to what is not self-sufficient but dependent upon another existence, said other existence which is the cause of its completeness. Said completeness may be as fundamental as its own existence. God is pure actuality, and thus without privation and so utterly perfect – God is the primal Good, Goodness itself. Now turning to Aquinas;

Everything that can be and not-be has a cause. For, considered in itself, it is indifferent to either, so that something else must exist which determines it to one. Since, then, it is impossible to go on to infinity, there must exist a necessary being which is the cause of all things that can be and not-be. Now, there is a certain kind of necessary being whose necessity is caused. But in this order of things, also, progression to infinity is impossible; so that we must conclude to the existence of something which is of itself necessary being. There can be but one such being…14

This, all men speak of as God.  Continuing the quotation;

Everything other than God, therefore, must be referred to Him as the cause of its being. Moreover, God is the maker of things inasmuch as He is in act. But by virtue of His perfection, God embraces the perfections of all, thus He is virtually all things. He is, therefore, the maker of all things. But this would not be the case if something besides God were capable of being otherwise than from Him; for nothing is of such a nature as to be from another and not from another, since if a thing is of a nature not to be from another, then it is through itself a necessary being, and thus can never be from another. Therefore, nothing can be except from God. 

God is transcendent but also immanent in the world – not a first principle that creates and then as a separate entity that leaves creation to be. If such a Deist God were the case, a God that creates then can be radically distinct from creation, creation would lose its universal predicate of existence and so cease to be. But that would mean that creation wouldn’t exist, which is evidently not the case and so Deism is not true. Only God is truly self-sufficient.

God has far from “forsaken” the world, or made it or any such particular of it out of mistake because he consciously supports the very existence of everything that has a particularised existence. In fact, as God is the Good, and causes subsist in their effects, creation, man, by his very existence is supported by this Primal Good, is dependent on the primal good and so is also good in some manner too. Perfection-itself makes no mistakes because that would be a privation of intellect, yet pure act has no privations of any kind and so makes no mistakes. 

[NOTES]

[1] Plotinus., 1948. The Enneads. Boston: C.T. Branford Co. IV.4 § 3.

[2] ibid., IV.9 § 2.

[3] Plotinus, The Enneads, V.1 § 4.

[4] MacIntyre, A., 2011. A Short History Of Ethics. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 43.

[5] Plotinus, The Enneads, V.2, § 1. 

[6] ibid., V.2, § 2. 

[7] Ficino, M. and Farndell, A. Gardens Of Philosophy. M-Y Books, 2012. 19.

[8] ibid., p.20.

[9] ibid., p.20.

[10] Eckhart, Meister. The Complete Mystical Works. The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, Sermon One Pf.1, Q101 , QT.57, 32.

[11] Ficino, Marsilio. De Sole, Book of the Sun. Sphinx 6: A Journal for Archetypal Psychology and the Arts, London, 1994, § XII, 14.

[12] Kurak, M. The Epistemology of Illumination in Meister Eckhart. Philosophy and Theology, 13(2), 2001, pp.275-286.

[13] Proclus and Dodds, E, The Elements Of Theology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004, 11.

[14] Thomas, Aquinas. Summa Contra Gentiles. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975. Book Two: Creation, 48, 49.

Nomosthetes and Ordinary Language

| Cesare Maccari - Cicero Denounces Catiline, 1889. |

Language’s core function is to represent. A representation requires both a referent and an agent presented with the referent to produce the representation. The first linguistic sign, the ostensive, was performed in presence of its referent.1 Linguistic acts generally are assemblages of sorts, that if we continue following through, lead us to something of an infinite regress which ends up being circular on the macro level. i.e This word’s meaning can only be explained with reference to these words, whose meaning can only be explained with reference to these words, whose meaning can only be explained with reference to these words… ad infinitum. So what breaks through language, being constituted by this regress, is to consider the given agent which constructs and/or presents the linguistic construct.

The Medievals also knew this – Meister Eckhart wrote that no communicative construct or apprehension of an external referent represents or signifies itself. It always points to something else, of which it is a symbol. And since man has no ideas, except those abstracted from external things, he cannot “be blessed by mere idea”.2

A given communicative act is only intelligible with regard to the intention of the agent who makes said act. If you were alone in a forest and the sound of the rustling leaves started sounding like English words, perhaps even an intelligible phrase, say, “When the ruler’s seat is insecure, the great ministers revolt and the smaller ones pilfer.”3 Unless we were to associate agency to the leaves and the breeze which would posit that they have intellectual capacities, regardless of this audible construct corresponding to being a fragment of ancient Chinese wisdom from the Lî Yun, it would be meaningless. 

It would just so happen coincidentally to sound like the Lî Yun, unless the leaves and breeze were somehow not just alive but intelligent. Language, communicative acts, words themselves, are only intelligible with reference to the intentional agent who presents them to us, otherwise, we must construct our own meaning through interpretation, from words/phrases/ideas, of which we have inherited from other intentional agents. To consider this more socially speaking, in any scene of intentional agents, there will always be one who is the most “influential” at any given point in time – influence being constituted by having dominant representations over other rival representation presented by other intentional agents.

Because, out of all groups, there will be one whose representations are the most dominant. And within that group there will be an agent who is the most “influential” – the de facto Sovereign; herein lies the essential stupidity of libertarianism and its understanding of politics which fails to see authority as anything beyond mere coercive power. Power, at least as it is politically constituted, is rather the ability to direct attention to a given object – linguistic acts are its techne (tactics/tools/craft) through which it does this.

To illustrate; obviously, it is not the king’s coercive power over his military that keeps them inline but that loyalty is conferred, maintained and communicated through some set of representations. Whether this be payment for their services, mythology that holds them in awe or a complex ideological superstructure, all of this must be mediated through linguistic representation from King to military in some fashion. As a good friend of mine Alexander Iulianus remarked the other day, if you stick to your own definitions of language and simply assume that everyone else will operate on the same definitions, you will never know what they are truly saying. I think he hits the nail on the head. God, afterall, only becomes God when creation says “God”, or otherwise ho Theos, Deus, The Good, YHWH, Guđán, 천주, 上帝, He Who Is, and so on and so forth.

Take this in tandem with say Derrida’s understanding of language, specifically writing, that a signifier that can be made radically detached from what it signifies, moulded and “played with” – misconstrued even purposely so to rupture some totality4 – unlike speech which becomes unintelligible without its agent, writing can be retroactively reinterpreted by whatever dominant agent exists to do so, whether or not they be the original speaker. You can reinterpret a written signifier but reinterpreting a spoken signifier always traces back to a present intentionality. With writing, the agent that anchors meaning through intention is absent. 

By enregistering speech, inscription has as its essential objective, and indeed takes this fatal risk, the emancipation of meaning – as concerns any actual field of perception – from the natural predicament in which everything refers to the disposition of a contingent situation. This is why writing will never be simple “voice-painting*.5

*“Voice painting” is a reference to Voltaire’s rather naive understanding of writing.

Subsequently, we do have to conclude upon a fundamental fluidity to human language but also that it is only fluid insofar as it is not anchored by human agents. Its anchorage to intentional agents also follows in an implicitly hierarchical fashion, to Derrida’s horror – hence why he considers writing less “totalitarian” than speech, given writing’s ability to be played with. Surely to Derrida, Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistics was nothing short of Fascism. There’s no real way for an audience to “play” with the speech of a speaker. There is no possibility for forcing absence through rupturing structure because unlike speech, writing can persist without the continuous effort of its writer. It can be written on the page, passed around in different contexts, reinterpreted regardless of accuracy or what have you.

This is not to say that choices about the use of words are themselves entirely fluid and arbitrary; humans always deliberate towards some end, and in light of that agent-cause, the scope of uses and also interpretations of a given word naturally narrows.

So, a given word is really made fundamentally intelligible by virtue of the principal-agent who leads “linguistic frame”, that is to say, has the most influence over the word’s use and application and disciplines the social scene to use it as such, towards his chosen end/deliberated purpose. With writing, this applies to whoever deliberates the dominant interpretation, and so it seems as though that Derrida’s attempt to play and fondle with writing to escape Caesar, to suspend and exit structure, utterly fails.

In this sense, you cannot actually appeal to “ordinary uses of language” for the basis of meaning. Human language is a structure meant to represent something, it is not the referent it represents. To treat language as such is quite a gross absolutisation of it. Hence why something like biblical/scriptural literalism is contrary to the religion itself – you end up deracinating the meaning of the text in thinking that its representation can be the same as its referent. E.g. Christ speaking the actual words of the Sermon on the Mount is not the same as the written Sermon on the Mount in either the Greek Septuagint, or in whatever version one might read — writing loses the illocutionary force that speech has, hence “deracination”.

Marcus Cunningham has a fantastic article on illocution and scriptural interpretation here.

Consider again what I paraphrased Eckhart saying above. Analogously to that argument, this means that no interpretation interprets itself – hence the absurdity of sola scriptura. All signs and interpretations point to something else, and so the only way to fix them to the spot is through power itself. Hence the practical necessity of a centralised authority like the Church and its Priesthood. Do people reappropriate words/ideas/phrases for new purposes, sometimes malicious purposes? 100% they do. What is the appropriate countermeasure to this? Well, it sure isn’t appealing to a supposed normality of language which does not really exist as most people tend to do, especially the no-frills brand of western conservatism does.

To conclude, let us consider Plato’s argument from Cratylus on the nature of names, the unification of form and meaning, precisely what Derrida designates as structure6, which runs almost entirely parallel to what I have just said now;

Socrates: Don’t we instruct each other, that is to say, divide things according to their natures?

Hermogenes: Certainly

Socrates: So just as a shuttle is a tool for dividing warp and wood, a name is a tool for giving instruction, that is to say, for diving being.

Hermogenes: Yes.

Socrates: Is not a shuttle a weaver’s tool?

Hermogenes: Of course.

Socrates: So a weaver will use shuttles well; and to use a shuttle well is to use it as a weaver does. By the same token, an instructor will use names well; and to use a name well is to use it as an instructor does.

Hermogenes: Yes.

Socrates: Is everyone a carpenter or only those who possess the craft of carpentry?

Hermogenes: Only those who possess the craft.

Socrates: Good. So whose product does an instructor use when he uses a name?

Hermogenes: I do not know.

Socrates: Can you at least tell me this? Who or what provides us with the names we use?

Hermogenes: I don’t know that either.

Socrates: Don’t you think that rules* provide us with them?

Hermogenes: I suppose they do.

Socrates: So, when an instructor uses a name, he’s using the product of a rule setter.

Hermogenes: I believe he is.

Socrates: Do you think that every man is a rule-setter or only the one who possesses the craft?

Hermogenes: Only the one who possesses the craft.

Socrates: It follows that it isn’t every man who can give names, Hermogenes, but only a name-maker, and he, it seems is a rule-setter – the king of craftsman most rarely found among human beings.

Hermogenes: I suppose so.7

*The greek here is ‘ho nomos’. 

Names are a function of the law-giver in relation to real natures/referents which are fixed by form. Form has normality as Plato would argue, sure, but its signifiers don’t have normality by any necessity – the name is not itself identical to the form, and hence why Plato considers names to be more immediately a function of the “nomothetes” – the lawgiver, i.e. authority. 

[Notes]

[1] Gans, Eric. The Origin of Language. Spuyten Duyvil, New York City, 2019, 38.

[2] Kurak, M. The Epistemology of Illumination in Meister Eckhart. Philosophy and Theology, 13(2), 2001, pp.275-286.

[3]  Max F. Muller. Sacred Books of the East. London: Routledge, 2004, Li Ki, Lî Yun, 2.11.

[4] Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference. London and New York: Routledge, 2001, Force and Signification. 86-87.

[5] ibid., 13.

[6] ibid., 4.

[7] Plato and Cooper, J. Complete Works. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2009, Cratylus 388b – 389a.

Concurrent Centrality

| Arthur Georg von Ramberg - The Court of Emperor Frederick II in Palermo, 1865. |

I was recently posed with the question that if the Centre/Sovereign has primary authority over the scene within which social life is undertaken, and that the Centre is always held regardless of how ephemerally it might be, and that for this reason, the Centre is in many regards immutable to the social order, what about the authority of the father over his children, of the teacher over her students, of subsidiaries broadly speaking? 

Or of moral agents under the dominant authority in general? 

Do they have any real autonomy which allows them real authority as it pertains to the disciplines they reside over? 

I think a useful analogy from Thomism can be used in explaining the answer to this question and that a proper exploration of Aquinas’s natural-theology-grounded politics would be of much value. Take the distinction between principal/primary and instrumental/secondary causality in the concurrentist scheme. I will not be going into detailed justifications for concurrentism as a resolution to the free will vs. determinism debate because – I am primarily using it here to illustrate how the logic behind this argument works. Edward Feser’s excellent discussions of it are here, here and here for you to explore. 

For St. Thomas Aquinas, God is the primary cause for the existence of things and imbues within some things the possibility for self-causing; humans being primary among such things with this quality. God, having set limitations upon, and given existence to agent A, has not robbed A of his own ability to act within the confines of said existence; A still retains instrumental causality.  If you will excuse my use of an analogy within an analogy for a moment;  if you draw a triangle with a red pen, both you as primary cause and the pen as secondary cause are simultaneous causes of the effect. You are the cause of there being any triangle there at all, the pen being the reason the triangle is red. God is the cause of there being a reality within which moral agents can engage in metapolitical discussion through analogy-ception yet we are the instrumental reason why metapolitical discussion through analogy-ception is taking place.

The political order is a microcosm of this cosmological distinction. When talking of the function of governance, St. Thomas writes;

The aim of any ruler should be directed towards securing the welfare of that which he undertakes to rule. The duty of the pilot, for instance, is to preserve his ship amidst the perils of the sea, and to bring it unharmed to the port of safety. Now the welfare and safety of a multitude formed into a society lies in the preservation of its unity, which is called peace. If this is removed, the benefit of social life is lost and, moreover, the multitude in its disagreement becomes a burden to itself. The chief concern of the ruler of a multitude, therefore, is to procure the unity of peace. It is not even legitimate for him to deliberate whether he shall establish peace in the multitude subject to him, just as a physician does not deliberate whether he shall heal the sick man encharged to him, for no one should deliberate about an end which he is obliged to seek, but only about the means to attain that end.1

Note that the ruler’s obligation to carry out the duties of a ruler are not imposed upon him, but are a quality of him occupying such a role in the first place, however he may come to inhabit the Centre. The unity of peace, social cohesion, the absence of political factionalism – imperium in imperio – is crucial for his ability to rule. Hence why it is not even legitimate for us to speak of him as to whether or not he will seek to establish peace in the multitude subject to him. Even if he were to support a proxy against a given opposing political faction, he only does so in order to remove said political faction from being an impediment to his rule, that is, to procure peace and social cohesion.

Ontological absolutism finds a comfortable home in the Aristotelian-Thomist tradition. The action of a client, the periphery in the case of High + Low vs. The Middle and/or otherwise the subsidiary, is only explainable with relation to the agent that actualises their political significance; The Centre and the ends to which said agent actualises them; centralisation for political security. Why this end and not another? A simple Aristotelian explanation. Assuming insecurity, the political agent in question who holds the centre naturally will attempt to centralise, that is, to secure its hold over the Centre. Insecure power is by its nature in a position of direct competition and conflict. Due to this condition, to do good to itself – that is to act as a power, not qualified further as “insecure” – said power centre must circumnavigate said competitors or raise some force against them in order to create the conditions in which he might come to rule directly. With the ability to rule directly, his access to their principle good is restored. Without it, the prerequisite good of political cohesion must be established. Insofar as he cannot rule directly, that is, insofar as he is insecure, the ruler must centralise to establish said cohesion. Continuing the quotation from Aquinas;

Wherefore the Apostle, having commended the unity of the faithful people, says: “Be ye careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” Thus, the more efficacious a government is in keeping the unity of peace, the more useful it will be. For we call that more useful which leads more directly to the end. Now it is manifest that what is itself one can more efficaciously bring about unity than several—just as the most efficacious cause of heat is that which is by its nature hot. Therefore the rule of one man is more useful than the rule of many.

The Centre is what principally holds together a given social scene, within which it sets boundaries and upholds the social rules of interaction within which political/social/economic life is undertaken. It does discipline the moral agents within its scope but the sheer existence of the Centre does not rob them of their instrumental agency. To argue that it does would be to argue for a degree of omnipotent determinism that could not be the case for much of human history prior to the rapid centralisation of power proceeding the industrial and liberal revolutions, and that does not exist now, as of yet. For an example, your choice to work within this or that profession, while such a selection might be narrowed due to the nature of the social order, contingent on the Centre, yet your choice of this or that profession is still your decision. Likewise, this goes for the company that potentially hires you.

This also helps address another notion in simultaneity, that of the ethics of governance from an ontologically absolute position. To answer this, we need to get at the heart of the essential role governance plays, of which St. Thomas has already outlined quite nicely for us. The function of the king, the Sovereign, the Centre is to maintain the unity of the political order – its absence of factionalism, of imperium in imperio, allows for the unity of peace. Insofar as the Centre cultivates this peace, moral agents can flourish in their various social roles, including the Sovereign himself.

As it is interior peace and social cooperation which allows the ruler to conduct his various political projects, to upset this is to throw a wrench in his own works. It is very much in the ruler’s interests to pursue the interior goods to this practice; social cooperation, and human flourishing, human perfection and so forth, whether the given agent holding the centre is consciously aware of such a reality or otherwise. 

Nonetheless, much like a muscle, the habitual exercising of the various virtues that constitute what is in the king’s nature to rule further actualises the ruler as kingly. It is through hexis that virtues are developed. As, to be courageous, one must develop and exercise the capacity to do courageous acts, the king in learning how to command well and coordinate political life well comes to embody the virtues constitutive of kingship better. To engage in some act that is not conducive to his role doesn’t in any way rob the ruler of his virtues, they still do persist as real potentials by virtue of being in the political position that is most conducive to those abilities and their exertions and as a real nature by virtue of holding the Centre. 

So, subsidiaries and moral agents within a given political scene do retain agency, perhaps not the agency to collectively overturn the Centre qua vox populi seeing as such voice is a construction of authority, and that historically speaking “the people” or what have you require some fundamental authority to actualise said “collective will” into force of political significance, such act subordinates the very notion of popular will to the final cause of said patronage by the efficient political cause – that of the aforementioned sovereign authority. Yet moral agents still retain autonomy within the space allocated by said authority to act. Power, after all, is not merely the exercise of force, but the ability to lead and hold shared attention. To hold to ontological absolutism is not thus to hold to the position that all is disciplinarily executed by the will of the Centre within a political scene, but the production of dominant representations and the maintenance of some unified understanding by some fundamental agent.

Much as God is necessary for there to be any existing thing and is the prime mover of all that exists, the centre is necessary for there to be any political entity and is the prime mover of all under its domain. There is by necessity a pronomian relationship between God and creation, centre and political order. It is explicitly pronomian under the Thomistic formulation as Logos governs creation, man being the animal that possesses logos – given the human that occupies the centre – his logos governs the social order. At both levels, it is intellection that governs. 

Revising the Platonic logic that the techne of rule, as analogous to medicine, must be practised for the prosperity of another upon whom the practice is exercised – medicine is for the benefit of the patient, not the doctor – yields now an interesting result. For it is not just that the secure sovereign would indeed exercise his virtues of authority with his subjects as the ends but also that the flourishing of his subjects is in his interests. They are both means and ends. We now have a relationship with a degree of circularity, a feedback loop. That a healthy population that is not engaged in social diatribes is more useful for the secure ruler than a dispossessed and diseased population goes without saying. A military that cannot fight and construct shared projects is no military at all.

In further exploration the ontologically absolute character of St. Thomas’s political thinking; the possession of property, and the existence of inequalities of one sort or another, and thus authority, Aquinas sees as natural to man even in the prelapsarian state of innocence. This has particularly interesting as it pertains to the Katzian challenge posed to Christianity;  namely that Christendom ultimately failed to establish the divine sanction of kings due to its over-turning of sacrificial “violent centralisation”2, and so is much to blame for the developments of liberalism. This critique should be kept in mind as we continue. Aquinas effectively severs much of the connection between political authority and the economy of salvation, evident in his willingness to recognise the legitimacy of non-christian states, notably pagan ones even when they exercise political authority over members of the faithful. Such was also the position of Pope Innocent IV3. How he came to this conclusion, as Francis Oakley argues in his work Mortgage of the Past, was in reasoning that if it was only as a result of the Fall that servile subjection had come into being, that this was not the case with civil subjection to political authority. Political authority by its nature is established upon, and cares for homonioa; the common good of unity. 

Dominion is grounded in human law whereas the distinction between those who are faithful and those who are not, is from divine law. Divine law being a law of grace, does not abolish human law which is founded upon natural reason; note here the concurrentism. As the broader theological and philosophical Thomistic framework goes, politics finds its foundations in natural theology rather than the revealed theology of Redemption allowing for a Christian Neoplatonic system to have Aristotle’s teleological political naturalism subsumed within it. 

That Aquinas’s treatise on kingship began with the affirmation of man’s social and political nature, as should be expected of his Aristotelianism, and he is firm in the view that political order exists not simply to ensure material well-being but rather to make possible the life of virtue is instrumental to the integration of Christian and Aristotelian morality into his natural political theology.  He is insistent that men live in their given social order for the very purpose of living well together, a thing which the individual living alone could not attain; but of which we might add is would be an absurdity to try and affirm because nowhere does or has man lives radically distinct from any authority or social order. But insofar as he is apart from social life, he is despondent and pathetic. The good life is the virtuous life; the virtuous life is the end for which men gather together. 

To quote directly from Oakley; 

Understandably, in discussing the directive principle needed to govern the political community as an end-ordered-entity, he should depart from Aristotle and straightforwardly affirm monarchy to be his ideal and the government of a king to be the best.  In support of that position, and affirming that “in all things nature does what is best,” he points out that “every natural government is government by one.” Such is the case in every species of government, from that of the “king bee” over the bees to that of the one God over the universe as a whole. 

Here one can detect once echoes and harmonics of that Hellenistic philosophy of kingship which, having been mediated by Philo Judaeus, and Eusebius, had come to be domesticated in the political thinking of Christian antiquity and medieval Byzantium. Man, Aquinas points out, is microcosm paralleling the macrocosm both in the political and the cosmological. What the soul is to the body, the king, a “shepherd to his people”, is to the kingdom, and God is to the world. The position of king, then, is clearly an elevated one. Behind his authority stands the law, both natural and divine. As St. Paul insists (Rom.13), those who resist such authority “bring upon themselves damnation.”4 

Thus in response to the Katzian critique, it seems quite clear that Thomism’s concurrent relationship between human law and divine law – between God and Earthly authority – allows for the unique enshrinement of kingship-itself as inherently divine, with scripture at hand to support this, whilst also keeping the quintessentially Christian abolishment of sacrifice. I’m guessing that this line of thought did not present itself to Katz because he brackets off metaphysical inquiry due to the fact that it takes declarative language for granted. Yet, one need not then fret that Christianity necessarily lends itself to liberalism – one of its greatest apologists having quite easily presented a divine sanction of kings whereby the according cosmogony is one in which authority is hard-baked into human orders – a chain of being governed by Logos as at all levels. Much as our cosmos is monarchic, so are our social orders – just as they were meant to be. To end on an extended version of the nuggets of scripture Oakley previously provided;

Romans 13:1-4 | Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation. For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good: and thou shalt have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.5 

[Notes]

[1] Aquinas, Thomas, Gerald B. Phelan, Joseph Kenny, and Ignatius Theodore Eschmann. De Regno: Ad Regem Cypri. Bismarck, ND: Divine Providence Press, 2014. Ch.III:XVII, 12-14. 

[2] Bouvard, Dennis. Anthropomorphics. Perth: Imperium Press, 2020, 48-50.

[3] Oakley, F. The Mortgage Of The Past. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012, Chapter 7.

[4] ibid., 113.

[5] I always either quote from the Knox Translation Bible or Douay-Rheims. Sometimes a mix but the above is purely Douay-Rheims.

Ch.IV | The Economy

Contra Libertarians, A Post-Liberal Critique

Ch.I • Ch.II • Ch.III • Ch.IV

The following critique of Libertarian economics is also implicitly a further critique of Neoliberalismーof Economic Liberalism at large; its presuppositions, its conclusions, it’s after-the-fact justifications.

The Libertarian tells us; Capitalism is the most natural economic system because markets and the like are just the default mode of human economic interaction. Contradicting this nature produces inefficiencies hence why Capitalism is the most desirable system and has produced the most wealth.

Murray Rothbard writes; 

 

What we need is for government to get out of the way, remove its incubus of taxation and expenditures from the economy, and allow productive and technical resources once again to devote themselves fully to increasing the wellbeing of the mass of consumers. We need growth, higher living standards, and a technology and capital equipment that meet consumer wants and demands; but we can only achieve these by removing the incubus of statism and allowing the energies of all of the population to express themselves in the free-market economy.1

 

Capitalist markets are an emergent phenomenon and not spontaneous. The “state of nature” and likewise for Adam Smith’s “land of barter”, are both historical fictions and refuted by very cursory anthropological evidence ー the earliest records of the development of money is as a debt system for the accounting bureaucracy for the Sumerians. Money is a product of a given authority looking to centralise, and as we have already explored, the demand for a given object is a product of a given authority itself, in all senses beyond perhaps mimetic desire. Geoffrey Hodgson argues that a key factor in the development of Capitalism was a powerful and sophisticated state apparatus able to protect property and trade; 

 

John Kenneth Galbraith (1987, 299) wrote: “The separation of economics from politics and political motivation is a sterile thing. It is also a cover for the reality of economic power and motivation. And it is a prime source of misjudgement and error in economic policy”. Similarly, Douglass C. North, John J. Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast (2009, 269) argued: “The seeming independence of economic and political systems on the surface is apparent, not real. In fact, these systems are deeply intertwined.”  I also concur with Bruce R. Scott (2009, 4) in his claim that capitalism is both “a political phenomenon” and “an economic one” and that “specifically it requires the visible hands of political actors exercising power through political institutions.” Capitalism always involves legal and political institutions: pure “anarcho-capitalism” is an unrealisable fantasy.2

A key factor [in the emergence of capitalism] was the development  of a new and sophisticated state machine that was strong enough to protect property and trade, but adequately restrained by checks, balances [etc.,] to protect a relatively autonomous legal system and to allow the development of self-governing organisational forms that could engage in productive activity and reap the rewards of innovation.

Once a merchant class became well established in [European nations], it became a political lobby to defend its interests, reinforce countervailing power, and enable the development of a relatively autonomous system of law. In countries where merchants had greater power and autonomy (contrast England with Spain) the rewards of global trade made this class even more powerful and led to institutional changes that further checked the arbitrary power of the state. Access to emerging Atlantic trade routes enhanced this process of positive feedback between commerce and countervailing power.3

 

Note Hodgson’s illustration of ‘countervailing power’ leading to further checks of state power, which we should recognise immediately now as imperium in imperio. In other words, capitalism is an inherently deterritorialising process, it emerges and exists within prevailing positive-feedback loop systems of insecure power, selecting for more of itself and is contingent upon such processes. The state isn’t dependent on capital, and capitalism cannot exist within every type of statist order, but instead is contingent upon a very specific kind of statist order ー of divided power, one that historically self-selected, and continued to select for the levelling process ad nauseum. The conclusion that must be drawn then is that capitalism is a direct development of centralisation under insecure power, and could not otherwise exist with formal sovereignty. Furthermore, as David Graeber exploresーmoney itself is a product of bureaucratic centralisation;

 

Credit Theorists insisted that money is not a commodity but an accounting tool. In other words, it is not a “thing” at all. You can no more touch a dollar or a deutschmark than you can touch an hour or a cubic centimeter. Units of currency are merely abstract units of measurement, and as the credit theorists correctly noted, historically, such abstract systems of accounting emerged long before the use of any particular token of exchange.

The obvious next question is: If money is just a yardstick, what then does it measure? The answer was simple: debt. A coin is, effectively, an IOU. Whereas conventional wisdom holds that a banknote is, or should be, a promise to pay a certain amount of “real money” (gold, silver, whatever that might be taken to mean), Credit Theorists argued that a banknote is simply the promise to pay something of the same value as an ounce of gold. But that’s all that money ever is. There’s no fundamental difference in this respect between a silver dollar, a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin made of a copper-nickel alloy designed to look vaguely like gold, a green piece of paper with a picture of George Washington on it, or a digital blip on some bank’s computer. Conceptually, the idea that a piece of gold is really just an IOU is always rather difficult to wrap one’s head around, but something like this must be true, because even when gold and silver coins were in use, they almost never circulated at their bullion value.4

 

For an example;

 

The Sumerian economy was dominated by vast temple and palace complexes. These were often staffed by thousands: priests and ocials, craftspeople who worked in their industrial workshops, farmers and shepherds who worked their considerable estates. Even though ancient Sumer was usually divided into a large number of independent city-states, by the time the curtain goes up on Mesopotamian civilization around 3500, temple administrators already appear to have developed a single, uniform system of accountancy—one that is in some ways still with us, actually, because it’s to the Sumerians that we owe such things as the dozen or the 24-hour day. The basic monetary unit was the silver shekel. One shekel’s weight in silver was established as the equivalent of one gur, or bushel of barley. A shekel was subdivided into 60 minas, corresponding to one portion of barley—on the principle that there were 30 days in a month, and Temple workers received two rations of barley every day. It’s easy to see that “money” in this sense is in no way the product of commercial transactions. It was actually created by bureaucrats in order to keep track of resources and move things back and forth between departments. Temple bureaucrats used the system to calculate debts (rents, fees, loans …) in silver. Silver was, effectively, money.5

 

The money is thus in no way as spontaneous or “natural” to human social life in the manner that Libertarians like to think it is, but a bureaucratic, one could say statist, creation whose legal enforcements are vital for its modern, Liberal existence. The Liberal social order, divided power, preceded the much later development of Liberal Capitalism. A specific political configuration was required for the generation of capitalism, not the other way around. On the development of money as a product of centralisation, Bond writes;

 

With the arrival of the Germanic kingdoms, we find that the Roman taxation system and the circulation of coinage inherited by these kingdoms seem to have all but disappeared. These non-monetary kingdoms operated on a system of land dispersal, where land was granted to vassals from whom they could provision their own forces. It appears that a similar process occurred in the Near East, where land reforms were instigated as a means to maintain an army following the collapse of the Byzantine coinage system. In the West, such an arrangement required a substantial devolution of power to the local lords, who were granted the land to maintain. The monarchs had to rely on the lords agreeing to supply men and resources under the lord’s immediate control, which presents a case of subsidiary power centres having a great deal of leverage vis-à-vis the primary Power centre.

This first stirrings of the centralisation of monarchy become apparent with attempts by monarchs to reintroduce coinage on a large scale. This may seem somewhat surprising given that the modern economic assumption that money is both natural and an extension of barter, but this is erroneous. To understand why monarchs would wish to implement a coinage system, we need to understand that a monetary system is not a natural and spontaneous affair, but, rather one that requires a demand which itself is not spontaneous.6

 

Well, this should all seem fairly familiar to you by now dear reader. Demand for a given social object of attention is a construct of some intentional agent ー in the case Bond is illustrating it is for the purposes of undermining local lords, whilst in Graeber’s case, it was for bureaucratic administrative purposes. Both are essentially two strains of centralisation. Bond continues;

 

All of these aspects of a monetary system have to be created with great effort, but despite this effort, the benefits are great for centralising power. We must consider that a coinage system bestows on the minting authority a source of profit in the form of reminitng and debasement, a form of monetary manipulation which also weakens subsidiaries by making their wealth depreciate in comparison to those who are miniting coins. The coinage system also allows the central Power to engage in disintermediated relationships with elements it would previously have been unable to engage. Money, for example, allows the purchase of mercenaries who can be used in lieu of the nobility, thereby offering the central Power access to a body of men directly loyal to itself. In addition, once this system is widespread, the possibility of transferring wealth over long distances becomes feasible. Discharging feudal dues in the form of produce is an inherently localised system; discharging it in coinage is not. The implementation of a wide spread taxation system premised on coin the makes it possible for a kings court to reside in one place indefinitely, and so we see the development of capital cities following the  establishment of coinage systems.7

 

What we consequently see is that money, that the Libertarian takes for granted as spontaneous and natural, is not only an emergent product of central authority but also is precisely what makes the Libertarian’s nightmare, taxation, possible in a widespread manner. A strange irony. Conversely, is the abolishment of money possible? Maybe it is? Good question. Is it a desirable thing to abolish it? Perhaps, but this is definitely worth exploring, as is market consciousness itself, which I will endeavour to do at a later time. To continue, another of the economic liberal’s sacred cows to slaughter is free trade. Milton Friedman writes; 

 

In the economic jargon coined more than 150 years ago, that is the principle of comparative advantage. Even if we were more efficient than the Japanese at producing everything, it would not pay us to produce everything. We should concentrate on doing those things we do best, those things where our superiority is the greatest.8

However, Ricardo’s Principle of Comparative Advantage is rendered defective in exploring a few key underlying presuppositions;

 

(1) Domestic capital or factors of production like capital goods and skilled labour are not internationally mobile, and instead will be re-employed in the sector/sectors in which the country’s comparative advantage lies;

(2) Workers are fungible, and will be re-trained easily and moved to the new sectors where comparative advantage lies.

(3) It does not matter what you produce (e.g., you could produce pottery), as long as you do it in a way that gives you comparative advantage;

(4) Technology is essentially unchanging and uniform; and

(5) There are no returns to scale.

Assumption (1) doesn’t hold today and what happens is movement of capital under the principle of absolute advantage (Lavoie 2014: 508). This results in a type of race to the bottom for industrialised countries that do not protect their industries. (2) is of course highly questionable. (3), (4) and (5) are utter nonsense. Abstract pro-free trade arguments often seem to make the implicit assumption of full employment, or the effective tendency to full employment, in all nations as well, which is yet another mad and unrealistic assumption (Lavoie 2014: 508).9

 

Of course, as we can intuit, (2) relies on a very malleable, denuded individual, which a liberal like Ricardo takes as natural, but is actually as we know a product of centralisation. Moreover, protectionism is better for economic development, so much so that the industrial revolution would not have happened without Walpole’s protectionism (a strange irony). Despite its widening technological lead over other countries, Britain continued its policies of industrial promotion until the mid-nineteenth century. Britain had very high tariffs on manufacturing products even as late as the 1820s, some two generations after the start of its Industrial Revolution. Ha Joon Chang also points out, the industrial revolution might not have even happened in Britain as it did, in absence of the policies that were promoted by previous governments at the protection of infant sectors which perpetuated their industrialisation;

 

Symbolic as the repeal of the Corn Law may have been, it was only after 1860 that most tariffs were abolished. However, the era of free trade did not last very long. It ended when Britain finally acknowledged that it had lost its manufacturing eminence and re-introduced tariffs on a large scale in 1932 (Bairoch, 1993, pp. 27–8). Thus seen, contrary to the popular belief, Britain’s technological lead that enabled this shift to a free trade regime had been achieved “behind high and long-lasting tariff barriers” (Bairoch, 1993, p. 46). 10

 

Chang’s argument generally follows the idea that the initial explosion of industrialisation, the industrial revolution itself which predates this period and easily had a much larger scale and proportion of development than that of the 1860s to 1910s, was propelled by the likes of Walpole’s interventionist policy reforms of 1721 and its continuation through the first half of the 1800s. To be kind of reductionistic about it for clarity’s sake, the process for many European nations generally went: 

Adoption Protectionism  → Technological development  → Adoption of Economic Liberalism.

Chang, in addition to illustrating in detail the Walpolean parallels with Hamiltonian U.S. policy, interrupted by only a brief interlude, 1913-1929 until impinged by the  GATT in the 1950s;

 

[The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, portrayed by free-trade economists such as Jadish Bhagwadi] as a radical departure from a historic free-trade stance, only marginally (if at all) increased the degree of protectionism in the U.S. economy. As we can see from table 1, the average tariff rate for manufactured goods that resulted from this bill was 48%, and it still falls within the range of the average rates that had prevailed in the United States since the Civil War, albeit in the upper region of this range. It is only in relation to the brief “liberal” interlude of 1913–1929 that the 1930 tariff bill can be interpreted as increasing protectionism, although even then it was not by very much (from 37% in 1925 to 48% in 1931, see table 1). 11

 

 

(Table 1)12

Because it wasn’t until the 50s, after the 1947 establishment of the GATT that the US truly liberalised trade ー that is after it was able to establish itself as a political and economic superpower. Chang also cites that post-war economic development followed a model similar to Walpole’s protectionism and moderate regulatory intervention citing Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, however, their interventionism was more sophisticated than Walpole’s.

 

They used more substantial and better-designed export subsidies (both direct and indirect) and much less export taxes than in the earlier experiences (Luedde-Neurath, 1986; Amsden, 1989). Tariff rebates for imported raw materials and machinery for export industries were much more systematically used than in, for example, eighteenth-century Britain (Lueede-Neurath, 1986). Coordination of complementary investments, which had been previously done in a rather haphazard way (if at all), was systematized through indicative planning and government investment programs (Chang, 1993 and 1994). Regulations of firm entry, exit, investments, and pricing intended to “manage competition” were a lot more aware of the dangers of monopolistic abuses and more sensitive to its impact on export market performance, when compared to their historical counterparts, namely, the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century cartel policies (Amsden & Singh, 1994; Chang, forthcoming).  The East Asian states also integrated human capital and learning-related policies into their industrial policy framework more tightly than their predecessors had done, through “manpower planning” (You & Chang, 1993). Regulations on technology licensing and foreign direct investments were much more sophisticated and comprehensive than in the earlier experiences (Chang, 1998). Subsidies to (and public provision of) education, training, and R&D were also much more systematic and extensive than their historical counterparts (Lall & Teubal, 1998).13

 

At this point I anticipate that the Libertarian will be foaming at the mouth, ready to eject the words; “SINGAPORE, HONG KONG, DUBAI”. But on very cursory examination, it wasn’t the free market, rule of law or any such liberal platitude that made them as lucrative as they became, rather it was the fact that they were administered personally14, where Lee Kuan Yew, Sir John Cowperwaithe and Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, respectively, had and exercised near-total executive authority, which allowed for the cultivation of their material prosperity. 

In summary, Libertarianism is either fatally incorrect or advocating for impossibilities regarding nearly everything it purportedly stands for. Where it is wrong, it is corrosive, perpetuating that which would frustrate your telos, would rob you, and does rob you, of your happiness and is merely apologetic for a predatory system it cannot change. It is inimical to that which is purely good, goodness itself, and your intimacy with such goodness ー ideologically setting itself against moral social ordering. It tries to justify itself with what might frankly be called spooks. It doesn’t even understand the enemies ー authority and coercion, that it sets up for itself, and even when it falls back on the most base economic justifications, it still fails as it starts out with historical absurdities as key presuppositions. It is then further refuted in regards to “economic prosperity” compared to other economic systems. This isn’t necessarily to praise the industrial revolution and its consequences however, as it is also in part to blame for our schizophrenitisation and for the acceleration of capitalism which compounds this process after all. Rather, it is to illustrate that the justifications Libertarianism presents for itself are equally as easy to shoot down. Nonetheless, the various strains of the Liberal tradition that Libertarianism largely participates in, that have successfully inculcated modern man, have proven to be destructive at the most fundamental levels in the perpetuation of social orders inimical to the cultivation of perfection and the execution of justice. Baseless and corrosive, this ideological malaise must be handled by a cooperation of anti-capitalists and social conservatives, a Post-Liberal unity that goes beyond the petty left and right, and should be dealt with extreme prejudice. 

 

~ • ~

 

[Notes]

[1] Rothbard, Murray Newton. The Ethics of Liberty. New York: New York Univ. Press, 2002, 252.

[2] Hodgson, Geoffrey Martin. Conceptualizing Capitalism: Institutions, Evolution, Future. University of Chicago Press, 2016, 11-12.

[3] ibid., 17.

[4] Graeber, David. Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Melville House, 2014, 46.

[5] ibid., 39.

[6] Bond, C. A. Nemesis: The Jouvenelian vs. the Liberal Model of Human Orders. Imperium Press, 2019, 11.

[7] ibid., 12.

[8] Friedman, Milton, and Rose D. Friedman. Free to Choose: a Personal Statement. Paw Prints, 2008, 43.

[9] Keynes, Lord. “The Cult of Free Trade in a Nutshell.” Heterodox Economics Blogs, July 4, 2016. https://heterodox.economicblogs.org/socialdemocracy21stcentury/2016/keynes-cult-trade-nutshell.

[10] Chang, Ha Joon. Kicking Away the Ladder. Cambridge: FPIF, 2003, 5.

[11] ibid., 6.

[12] ibid., 2.

[13] ibid., 11.

[14] In response to this Foundation for Economic Education piece Bond writes;


Whoah, whoah, whoah… hang on a second. 

Hong Kong had a competent government, pursuing market economics under the rule of law. 

But;

Cowperthwaite had almost complete control of Hong Kong government finances and used it to implement his policy of “positive nonintervention.”

Eh? So which is it? Rule of law made this possible, or someone with” almost complete control of Hong Kong government finances” am I missing something here? Is this making any sense?


Bond, Chris A. “Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai: Classical Liberal Paradises” reactionaryfuture (blog), June 14, 2016, https://reactionaryfuture.wordpress.com/2016/06/14/hong-kong-singapore-and-dubai-classical-liberal-paradises/.

Ch.III | Authority and Human Orders

Contra Libertarians, A Post-Liberal Critique

Ch.ICh.IICh.IIICh.IV

The Libertarian tells us; When we speak of authority, of authoritarianism, we mean the ability to coerce, and the actual exercise of force.

I answer that authority is more than just the ability to exercise force or exercise the threat of it. Imagine that I am a public figure. My ability to capture the shared attention of thousands, if not millions of people allows me to draw the shared gaze of these people towards ideas and objects in manner begotten from my inclinations. In this sense, I am an authority, without exercising coercion, much like schools & academia, the media. If I were wealthy I could likewise fund proponents of my ideas, like NGOs/Think Tanks/Foundations do, who need not exercise coercion to do so.

The Cathedral does not need to exercise martial authority to spread its malaise.

The Libertarian tells us; But woke capitalism, just like any cultural trend, is a consequence of consumer shifts in preference, not the other way round. Politics is downstream from culture. F.A. Hayek writes;


Adam Ferguson expressed it, “nations stumble upon establishments, which are indeed the result of human action but not the result of human design”; and that the spontaneous collaboration of free men often creates things which are greater than their individual minds can ever fully comprehend.1


The reality is that spontaneous order does not exist. Here is where we can finally tackle the idea of there being a pre-society from which social orders emerge ー the state-of-nature. The very nature of language precludes such spontaneous manners of organisation. To illustrate; to understand the language, words/phrases/ideas we utilise in thinking and speaking, and as language is a mode of intentional discipline, we must posit an intentional agent(s) who is/are directing or has directed the forms of language we are using2, of which we have acquired through socialisation with said intentional agent(s).

The ideas, words and phrases you are using to think and speak with are not your own creations as such, but in so far as they can be said to exhibit originality, you can only really explain what they are and mean by appealing to the meaning of its related words, concepts and phrases of which you inherited from elsewhere. Perhaps you inherited these linguistic forms from your family, and they inherited it from somewhere else. Perhaps you learned it in school or university. From work, or television. From some tradition of thought that has imparted it upon them and perhaps then unto you, external from yourself. Someone must have been the first to use these words, thoughts and phrases because it would be impossible for them to just causelessly manifest in our minds and if they did, they would be meaningless because they lack necessary anterior intention which makes them intelligible. Linguistic forms are diachronic3, that is to say, that a given idea has a history which makes it intelligible in its use. 

A given agent’s use of the word “liberty” for an example, not only means you must understand his or her inclination in using the word, but for it to be fully intelligible you need to know of other words it is related to such as “tyranny”, “dictatorship”, “freedom”, “democracy”, “rights” as well as to know how liberty has been fought forth, or as we have seen, how it has been used as the post hoc justification for the levelling of social orders. For you to have come across those words related to liberty, say word/phrase/idea ‘X’, someone must have directed your attention towards ‘X’, and likewise for your intentional director’s encounter with ‘X’ and so on, recursing back to an originary moment whereby one is confronted with the sublime and newーexternal to themselves and must grapple with communicating it in some mode. An originary scene4 from which language itself arises, we could say.

So how is this relevant? Well as we see, market demand, as well as political desire, is thus a product not of purely economic factors, or biological factors, of rational individuals reaching a conclusion through discussion, or through the competition of said ideas. Desire/demand for a given social object is a product from whoever is able to capture the shared attention of a given population to direct their collective attention towards said social object, and thus is a construct of some authority. So it follows that spontaneous order in all senses is also nonsensical because it violates the basic relationship between act and potency of communicative acts. A given social order does not spring up from nowhere ー no society has contracted into existence, no cultural form is generated outside of inherited traditions which are themselves, sometimes created but often merely perpetuated by some authority, that being how they get their proliferation, nor do they get proliferation without the sponsorship of authority and “wokeness” is no exception. Woke capitalism is thus a product of authority, capturing those who seek social emancipation within its own processes. Similarly, as Adam Curtis explored in his BBC documentary, ‘The Century of the Self’, the consumer as we know it today is a very recent development and was entirely a product of authority in this same manner thanks to the likes of Edward Bernays who pioneered Public Relations.5

Further down the line we also see that progressivism, the strains that have been successfulーespecially in displacing working-class movements in favour of identity-based movements, have been selected for by power;


Not all foundations adopted the cause of social change, of course; but the overwhelmingly “progressive” large foundations set the tone for the entire sector—especially such giants as Ford, which got radicalized in the sixties, and Rockefeller and Carnegie, which followed suit in the seventies. Such foundations wield enormous financial might: a mere 2 percent of all foundations (or 1,020) provide more than half of the approximately $10 billion that foundations now give away each year, and in 1992 the 50 largest foundations accounted for more than one-quarter of all foundation spending. 

When McGeorge Bundy, former White House national security advisor, became Ford’s president in 1966, the foundation’s activism switched into high gear. Bundy reallocated Ford’s resources from education to minority rights, which in 1960 had accounted for 2.5 percent of Ford’s giving but by 1970 would soar to 40 percent. Under Bundy’s leadership, Ford created a host of new advocacy groups, such as the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (a prime mover behind bilingual education) and the Native American Rights Fund, that still wreak havoc on public policy today. Ford’s support for a radical Hispanic youth group in San Antonio led even liberal congressman Henry B. Gonzales to charge that Ford had fostered the “emergence of reverse racism in Texas.”

The notion that the 1960s represented a “populist upsurge,” or that New Left values bubbled up from the American grassroots rather than being actively disseminated by precisely such rich, elite institutions as the Ford Foundation, could only be a product of foundation thinking.6


We see a similar case for the similarly bourgeois notion of ‘human rights’;


[The UN’s Declaration of Human Rights] was drawn up for the UN in the wake of WWII by a transnational elite with clear aspirations to world governance. That it should appeal to all of humanity and should deign to grant to all equality as well as a newly minted collective identity, seems much like the repetition of James Madison’s invention of the “American people” [previously discussed in the text as the pretext to centralise the US government in spite of the subsidiaries that were the states]. In this case, it is not the sovereignty of individual continental states being targeted but rather that of nation-states.

Finally, a much less recognised development of human rights occurred in the early 1970s. This last development is of special importance as it is not widely known beyond specialised histories of human rights, and only clearly comes to light upon recognising the connection between conflict and the expansion of individualising culture.7

At this time, elites in the UN, and specific elements of the American power structure, began to focus on the concept of human rights as a means to undermine the legitimacy of Latin dictatorships, communist regimes, and most importantly, the foreign policies of the Republican presidency of Richard Nixon. This final point of conflict is central, and well within the Jouvenelian dynamic of rival centres engaging in conflict over political centralisation. Human rights were not first devised and then implemented; they were raised to prominence by the needs of particular actors in the midst of conflict. As Clair Apodaca writes of structural conflict’s importance to the adoption of human rights in the 1970s American foreign policy in Understanding U.S. Human Rights Policy: A Paradoxical Legacy:

U.S. human rights policy was not an intentionally planned strategy. Congress saddled presidential foreign and domestic policy initiatives with human rights mandates in order to restrain the immoral, if not illegal, behavior of an imperial president. (p.23)

To this end, Congress dominated by the Democratic Party, voted to withhold funds for foreign assistance programsーsomething which had never been done beforeーand began congressional hearings in the Subcommittee on International Organisations. These hearings, led by Democratic Party congressman Donald Fraser, were justified on the basis of concerns over “rampant violations of human rights and the need for a more effective response from both the United States and the world community”. The result of these hearings was a report entitled Human rights in the World Community: A Call for U.S. Leadership, which led to the State Department creating the Office of Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs. This report also called for greater promotion of the concept of human rights in the UN, and beyond, something which was evidently achieved.8

These human rights organisations, funded by the Ford Foundation in conjunction with other influential foundations, were then put to use in undermining not only the latin dictatorships but also towards the end of the 1970s, the communist regimes of Eastern Europe by way of the Helsinki accord. Soviet acceptance of the presence of human rights watch groups with this accord would prove to be a disastrous mistake, one which effectively allowed subversive American institutions to develop and operate within Soviet territories.9


More of this is documented in Bond’s book and his Journal of Neoabsolutism including the promotion of Neoliberal Chilean dictator Augusto-Pinochet and his victims both by competing U.S. power centres, the further promotion of Human Rights and their development by various interconnected NGOs, the development of radical Islam, as well the rise of Behaviourism and modern International Relations as Foundation led projects just to mention a few. To wrap up the small case study on Human Rights;


These various developments of rights that we have chartered up until the present now appear to have a systematic nature, even if proponents do not fully appreciate it. By developing human rights or the individual as concepts, the thinkers of modernity have been providing the intellectual justifications for a specific structure of authority. That there were, and are, advocates who have not understood themselves as doing so is irrelevant to the result. Indeed we could argue that the less aware the thinkers are of this relationship between the individual and a centralised structure, the more earnest and effective the intellectual disguise for it will be. Disturbingly, this charge can be levelled across vast areas of modern thought. There is scarcely any aspect of modern thought which does not, in some way, depend on, or imply, the individual that has followed in the wake of political conflicts.10


With Human Rights as just one prominent example of an idea that has captured the totality of political discourse for the purpose of centralisation, there is no such marketplace of ideas. Human sociality is fundamentally not conducted through a transactional or contractual mode of intellectual competition, but rather as the drawings of authority to social objects for a variety of other reasons prior to the creation of any space within which disciplinary inquiry is undertaken. Human Rights did not “win” through competition. It won through patronage. Sure, but Libertarianism is not predicated on Human Rights as such. So let us take a look at how a diachronic and intentionally directed understanding of language can explain Descartes as they have previously explained Walpole and Locke;


From biographical information, we know that Descartes spent his adult life moving between France, Holland, Central Europe and Germany where he fought in the Thirty years’ War, finally ending his days in Sweden at the court of Queen Christina. The regions where in Descartes lived, the reader may note, were among those that had been heavily marked by the expansion of protestant bodies of thought, and by the centralisation that brought them into prominence. While Descartes was, admittedly, a Catholic, this makes little difference, since much of the thought of his time and place, even in Catholic regions, was following the same pattern as Protestant thought, as evidenced by Jansenism. The overall structures of authority made this all but inevitable.11


Descartes was operating in modes of thought, inherited from social orders which had been conditioned in a certain manner by centralising Power, from which we derive the individual ー his relationship with the Swedish royal court having served as his patronage. This process of centralisation is quite the vicious positive-feedback loop.

The Libertarian tells us; The government can only govern insofar as it has the consent of the governed. John Locke writes;


‘Tis true, in land that is common in England, or any other country where there is plenty of people under government, who have money and commerce, no one can enclose or appropriate any part without the consent of all his fellow-commoners; because this is left common by compact, i.e., by the law of the land, which is not to be violated.12


The idea that the President/Prime Minister (government institutions etc.) derive their authority from “the people through the democratic process” isn’t one unique to Libertarianism but one that is very much in its contractual character. This is the bedrock of the idea of democracy from which it derives its supposed legitimacy. Our previously explored intentionally directed understanding of diachronic linguistic forms renders the idea of a social contract null and void. 

How? 

No voter votes in an absence of intention, even those who spoil their ballot. Voters come to understand and formulate judgements about who it is they should vote for through ways about thinking, about say policies and other political problems, that they did not create, yet inherited in some form (perhaps through the previously discussed lenses of “human rights” or “individualism”, or perhaps of Democratic Socialism, Neoconservatism and so on and so forth) and receive information concerning, candidates, parties, ideologies and relevant events etc., from media they did, not themselves create (ie. Academia which produces ideologies, NGOs which perpetuate political ideologies and media companies who distribute political information, current event news and propaganda). Inevitably, we see that the voter is conditioned in such a manner to select for centralisation, given the dominant strains of political thought and understanding lending themselves to this.

Naturally in line with the thinking of both Vilfredo Pareto and Robert Michels, when we trace back the flow of intention and discipline we will find only a specific few, who are responsible for who should be elected President. The democratic process, just as with the generation of culture and market demand, are run by unelected, highly influential, intentional agents. They are themselves anterior to elections and the like, transcending term limits and are thus potentially more influential than democratically elected leaders. To take the Italian Elitist conclusion further, we might also note that the idea of spontaneous collective decision making is refuted on St. Thomas’s note that;


Every natural governance is governance by one. In the multitude of bodily members there is one which is the principal mover.13 


We know this to hold true considering that the direction of attention proceeds from a unified agent. So for any given decision, as there is at any given point a most influential agent in any oligarchy, perhaps Walpole as previously explored, there is a singular agent most responsible for said decision. Albeit, since the inauguration of liberalism, these decisions never truly are of any anagogic finality. In this sense, the “consent of the governed” is  inherently manufactured, yet the very notion of consent is beside the point because we never contracted into social orders, to begin with. Any scheme that posits the individual as prior to the social order, the “state of nature” vis-a-vis Locke, Hobbes Rousseau et al., is a model of anthropological minecraft ー whereby individuals spawn into existence and contract into anti-griefing rules or something as equally absurd for real-life application. There is absolutely no historical record for the existence of such a state of human affairs because there is always a centre ー someone or something that holds the most influence, the most shared attention.

But can’t we revolt against the system?

Sure, ok. How and with what means?

To be effective, revolutions need to be;

・Organised in some fashion

・Sponsored

There has to be a revolutionary vanguard as such, but also some kind of sponsorship to get off the ground in the first place. 


Without the assistance of a centre of power, any action by the periphery is, by virtue of lacking institutional embodiment and political protection, at best sporadic and ineffective. A popular protest, rebellion or any other form of dissenting action by the periphery, if it has no support from an element in the power structure, will quickly fade into irrelevance; if it does have this support, it will find itself supplied with the resources, exposure, protection, and institutional embodiment.14


As such, revolutionary bodies must be organised into an authority, in a manner that is congenial with an existing authority of their own much as we have described earlier whereby the political desire for a given social outcome is created through direction by an intentional agent already capable of capturing the shared attention of enough people, or perhaps of merely the right people, to realise said political aim. In practical terms, this means an intentional agent more capable of galvanising the masses than the mainstream media, academia, the intelligence community, most NGOs and corporations all combined, or of capturing other power centres such as the Military Industrial Complex, if it is supposed to truly counter the prevailing order. After all, no matter how ephemerally, whether it be a monarch, a network of institutions, or perhaps for an “egalitarian” pre-civilisation order ー the Gods and a metaphysical hierarchy, someone, something, always occupies the centre. Evidently, curtailing the influence of the network of private NGOs who have been instrumental in the process of 20th-21st Century centralisation efforts would not be very libertarian, and neither would the curtailing of corporations in their subversive PR psychological operations. Looks like we have quite the hurdle to subvert or jump over somehow or another but either way, authority is inextricable.

The Libertarian tells us; Rule of law is the most desirable mode of political operation for the state as it allows the subordination of men to a neutral order and a government limited from exercising abuse. So a government ruled by law is thus a just government. Ludwig von Mises writes that;


The contractual order of society is an order of right and law. It is a government under the rule of law (Rechtsstaat) as differentiated from the welfare state (Wohlfahrtsstaat) or paternal state. Right or law is the complex of rules determining the orbit in which individuals are free to act.15


Carl Schmitt proved that rule of law is also a spook as sovereignty ー he who decides the exception, is always conserved ー but we already know this because we know of the centrality inherent to human orders. Moreover, rule of law, as is rule of science, are both rule by formula. Sir Robert Filmer writes;


Whereas being subject to the Higher Powers, some have strained these Words to signifie the Laws of the Land, or else to mean the Highest Power, as well Aristocratical and Democratical, as Regal: It seems St. Paul looked for such Interpretation, and therefore thought fit to be his own Expositor, and to let it be known, that by Power he understood a Monarch that carried a Sword: Wilt thou not be afraid of the Power? that is, the Ruler that carrieth the Sword, for he is the Minister of God to thee — for he beareth not the Sword in vain. It is not the Law that is the Minister of God, or that carries the Sword, but the Ruler or Magistrate; so they that say the Law governs the Kingdom, may as well say that the Carpenters Rule builds an House, and not the Carpenter; for the Law is but the Rule or Instrument of the Ruler.16


The application of  political formula necessitates an actor to actualise its operation and is inextricably coloured by the human action of said application. In the fallacy of “rule by law,” and the fallacy of “rule by science,” we see a common thread: the fallacy of “rule by formula,” in which it is pretended that a government can be conducted by some mechanical process, in which the human character of the governors is irrelevant.17

Therefore there is no rule of law, only rule of men. Do you want these men & women to be wise, to be virtuous? To exercise phronesis? You probably know what I’m getting at already.

~ • ~

[Notes]

[1] Hayek, Friedrich A. von. Individualism and Economic Order. London: Routledge, 2016, 7.

[2] Here’s a further elaboration on the intentional character of communicative acts from Knapp & Benn Michaels;

John Searle, for example, asserts that “there is no getting away from intentionality,” and he and others have advanced arguments to support this claim. Our purpose here is not to add another such argument but to show how radically counterintuitive the alternative would be. We can begin to get a sense of this simply by noticing how difficult it is to imagine a case of intentionless meaning. Suppose that you’re walking along a beach and you come upon a curious sequence of squiggles in the sand. You step back a few paces and notice that they spell out the following words:

A slumber did my spirit seal;

I had no human fears:

She seemed a thing that could not feel

The touch of earthly years.

This would seem to be a good case of intentionless meaning: you recognize the writing as writing, you understand what the words mean, you may even identify them as constituting a rhymed poetic stanza-and all this without knowing anything about the author and indeed without needing to connect the words to any notion of an author at all. You can do all these things without thinking of anyone’s intention. But now suppose that, as you stand gazing at this pattern in the sand, a wave washes up and recedes, leaving in its wake (written below what you now realize was only the first stanza) the following words:

No motion has she now, no force;

She neither hears nor sees;

Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course,

With rocks, and stones, and trees.

One might ask whether the question of intention still seems as irrelevant as it did seconds before. You  will now, we suspect, feel compelled to explain what you have just seen. Are these marks mere accidents, produced by the mechanical operation of the waves on the sand (through some subtle and unprecedented process of erosion, percolation, etc.)? Or is the sea alive and striving to express its pantheistic faith? Or has Wordsworth, since his death, become a sort of genius of the shore who inhabits the waves and periodically inscribes on the sand his elegiac sentiments? You might go on extending the list of explanations indefinitely, but you would find, we think, that all the explanations fall into two categories. You will either be ascribing these marks to some agent capable of intentions (the living sea, the haunting Wordsworth, etc.), or you will count them as nonintentional effects of mechanical processes (erosion, percolation, etc.). But in the second case-where the marks now seem to be accidents-will they still seem to be words? Clearly not. They will merely seem to resemble words. 

Knapp, Steven, and Walter Benn Michaels. “Against Theory.” Critical Inquiry 8, no. 4 (1982): 723-42, 727-728.

[3] Ferdinand de Saussure on diachronic linguistics;

Diachronic linguistics studies the relations which hold not between coexisting terms of a linguistic state, but between successive terms substituted one for another over a period of time.

Immediately, we see the parallels within the historical process of individualisation and its relationship to centralisation – the process replaces the previous form(s) employed for centralisation with a new form(s) over the course of history as the political problematic that centralisation itself faces; from Divine Right, all the way down to Human Rights. Each one not coexisting but successive, and often in conflict with each other, in their employment by Power. There is a Heraclitean element here as Saussure continues;

Absolute stability in language is never found. All parts of the language are subject to change, and any period of time will see evolution of a greater or smaller extent. It may vary in rapidity or intensity. But the principle admits no exceptions. The linguistic river never stops flowing. Whether its course is smooth or uneven is a consideration of secondary importance.

The paragraph that follows concerning literary language is of specific interest to our enquiry concerning the hierarchy of intentionally directed linguistic forms within a given field of shared attention;

It is true that this uninterrupted evolution is often hidden from us by the attention paid to the corresponding literary language. A literary language (cf. p [267] ff.) is superimposed upon the vernacular, which is the natural form a language takes, and it is subject to different conditions of existence. Once a literary language is established, it usually remains fairly stable, and tends to perpetuate itself unaltered. 

Saussure, Ferdinand de, and Roy Harris. Course in General Linguistics. London: Bloomsbury, 2016, 167.

[4] The origin of language, the first sign, emerges from the mimetic crisis of the originary event;

According to the originary hypothesis, the first occurrence of language was in the originary event or scene of language. The birth of representation within the mimetic triangle involves a new form of consciousness. Not only is mimesis of the human other not essentially conscious, it essentially excludes language. (The game of Simon Says exploits the fact that language interferes with rather than aids imitation.) In contrast, in the case of mimesis of the object, or representation, my sign imitates not the object’s actions but its formal closure, to which I must be attentive in a new way.

But although the mimetic triangle contains all the elements necessary for the emergence of the sign as the solution of the mimetic paradox, language as the foundation of the human community can only have arisen in a collective event, where the multiplicity of the participants multiplies mimetic tension. The object desired by all members of the group becomes the center of a circle surrounded by peripheral individuals all mediating each other’s desire. The aborted gesture of appropriation occurs as the solution to an originary mimetic crisis in which the group’s existence is menaced by the potential violence of mimetic rivalry over the object. Animal hierarchy that previously prevented general conflict by limiting rivalry to one-on-one relationships breaks down in the intensity of this crisis. The emission of the first sign is the originary event that founds the human community.

“A Brief Introduction to Generative Anthropology.” Anthropoetics, May, 2017, http://anthropoetics.ucla.edu/gaintro/.

[5] Essentially, Freud’s theories concerning the self became widespread in the ruling class, the centre, largely at the behest of his nephew Edwards Bernays who was extremely well connected. He assisted with President Woodrow Wilson’s WWI propaganda efforts, President Calvin Coolidge’s PR, and went on to spread his theories through Hollywood, most of marketing in the earlier parts of the 20th Century, and became quite influential with the likes of Goldman Sachs. The goal was to produce ‘happiness machines’, denude and individualise the person to such extreme degrees so that “in an age of mass democracy”, per the Freudian paranoia that was in vogue, the masses and their “underlying dark forces of desire” could be subdued and managed in such manners to produce high volumes of economic output. This meant that advertising became a kind of psychological warfare against the general public, to break down their various limitations on their desires and demands for consumption, so they would consume for consumption’s sake.

The Century of the Self. BBC. United Kingdom, 2002. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJ3RzGoQC4s.

[6] Another curious note is how even though many of the Foundation personnel may have at one point been leftists, or even Marxists;

Schrank, a former Communist, recalls the “secret anti-capitalist orientation” of his fellow program officers. “People were influenced by the horror stories we Marxists had put out about the capitalist system,” he says; “it became their guidance.”

By the 1990s, anti-capitalism had all but taken a back seat. 

Today, the full-blown liberal foundation worldview looks like this:

First, white racism is the cause of black and Hispanic social problems. In 1982, for example, Carnegie’s Alan Pifer absurdly accused the country of tolerating a return to “legalized segregation of the races.” The same note still sounds in Rockefeller president Peter C. Goldmark Jr.’s assertion, in his 1995 annual report, that we “urgently need . . . a national conversation about race . . . to talk with candor about the implications of personal and institutional racism.”

Second, Americans discriminate widely on the basis not just of race but also of gender, “sexual orientation,” class, and ethnicity. As a consequence, victim groups need financial support to fight the petty-mindedness of the majority.

Third, Americans are a selfish lot. Without the creation of court-enforced entitlement, the poor will be abused and ignored. Without continuous litigation, government will be unresponsive to social needs.

Fourth, only government can effectively ameliorate social problems. Should government cut welfare spending, disaster will follow, which no amount of philanthropy can cure.

Notice how the enframing of the latent foundation led flavour of anti-capitalism is entirely within that of narrative led by racial periphery grievances rather than economic grievances themselves? By the time Kimberlé Crenshaw’s “Intersectionality” and Critical Race Theory is rolled out by the Rockefeller Foundation in the form of the Bellagio project, the diachronic nature of centralising forms is all but painful as the new form of racial and sexual equality replaces that of economic justice for the purposes of centralisation.

MacDonald, Heather. “The Billions of Dollars That Made Things Worse.” City Journal, 1996.

[7] The most significant upswing in the use of the term is dated around the mid 1970s by Google’s Ngram Viewer.

Bond, C. A. Nemesis: The Jouvenelian vs. the Liberal Model of Human Orders. Imperium Press, 2019, 48.

[8] ibid., 49.

[9] ibid., 51.

[10] ibid., 54.

[11] Footnote;

Jasenists, despite being Catholics, adhered to many doctrines shared by Calvinists, such as double predestination and justification by faith. 

ibid., 58.

[12] Locke, John. The Second Treatise of Government ; and, A Letter Concerning Toleration. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002. Ch.V §. 35, 15.

[13] Aquinas, Thomas, Gerald B. Phelan, Joseph Kenny, and Ignatius Theodore Eschmann. De Regno: Ad Regem Cypri. Bismarck, ND: Divine Providence Press, 2014, Ch.III:XIX.

[14] Bond, Nemesis, 7.

[15] Mises, Ludwig Von, and Bettina Bien. Greaves. Human Action. a Treatise on Economics. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007, 198.

[16] Filmer, Robert, and Peter Laslett. Patriarcha and Other Political Works of Sir Robert Filmer. The Legal Classics Library, Division of Gryphon Corporation, 2013, Ch.III, II, §. 4.

[17]  Moldbug, Mencius. “Three Homeworks for Professor Hanson.” Unqualified Reservations (blog), June 27, 2010. https://www.unqualified-reservations.org/2010/06/three-homeworks-for-professor-hanson/

Ch.II | Ethics and Justice

Contra Libertarians, A Post-Liberal Critique

Ch.ICh.IICh.IIICh.IV

The Libertarian tells us; Who are you to judge what someone else does with their property (implicitly also their body), insofar as it doesn’t infringe upon another?

Nozick states that  if the world were wholly just the only people entitled to hold anything, that is to appropriate it for use as they alone wished, would be those who had justly acquired what they held1. Friedman writes that;  

 

The consumer is protected from being exploited by one seller by the existence of another seller from whom he can buy and who is eager to sell to him.2

 

Aside from the fact that this notion already presupposes “self-ownership”, there are further problems with this sentiment ー with the NAP. When someone engages in a socially destructive manner ー in the privations of reason that are the vices, but they are permitted insofar as they do not “infringe upon others”, we are presented with what we call negligence. Apathy is a vice. Libertarian morality is such that there is a fundamentally negligent ethos coded into a system of morality ー a fundamentally vice-ridden scheme. Libertarianism venerates Mao’s 8th type of Liberal that;

 

…see[s] someone harming the interests of the masses and yet [does] not feel indignant, or dissuade or stop him or reason with him, but to allow him to continue.3 

 

Evidently, by “dissuade”, Mao doesn’t mean solely through polite argument, but with force or the threat of it as well, which is another thing; the exercise of force isn’t an evil in and of itself. It has its place beyond mere self-preservation and of the defence of property rights as we shall explore later. The fundamental problem, however, is the lack of reference to moral desert inherent in a scheme predicated upon negative rights. A (perhaps our mentally ill modern from Fisher’s example) enters into a contract, willingly with B (perhaps our predatory pharmaceutical companies from Fisher’s example) in which B is allowed to exploit him in some manner ー even in scenarios where A is aware of such exploitation. This is perfectly fine under the libertarian conception morality, and no punitive measure is to be taken for the objective wrong being done to A. A acted purely voluntarily.

It’s not about A’s feeling of approval of what B does to him or her that makes such a contractual, yet exploitative relationship right, which is the fairly recursive Emotivist view, but rather it is about the objective good and as to whether this relationship actualises or robs either of them of this. There must be poena (punity) in response to culpa (evil) for there to be dikaiosune (justice). But it is worse than just that. 

Goodness itself is a perfection in some manner, evil a privation ー privatio boni

 

The perfection of the human being is the end to which every healthy social institution must be subordinated, and it must be promoted as much as possible.4 

 

The Libertarian social order is one that is at best apathetic to the cultivation of human perfection and at worst antithetical to the achievement of eudaimonia. Desiring one’s perfection is intrinsic to human nature but perfection cannot come about through the self-actualisation of the individual by itself, from itself. For A to become more than A, A cannot rely merely on A. A must know how to become perfected, which presupposes being taught. Being taught presupposes a teacher ー some authority. To perfect a society it naturally follows you must have some authority to capture the attention of the entire populace and to be able to organise it as such that it may begin to even grasp this perfection ー a socially harmonious and healthy centre. Though, because humans are not without privations, we are not perfect (to be as such would be to be God) the closest one might get is thus in the eudaimonia of theosisーintimacy with and knowing of the perfect divine. Per Plotinus’s formulation of divine simplicity;

 

I. There must be a first principle of all if there is to be an explanation of why the world exists.

II. If the first principle of all were composed of parts, then those parts would be ontologically prior to it.

III. But in that case it would not be the first principle of all.

IV. So the first principle is not composed of parts, but is absolutely simple.

V. If there were a distinction between what the first principle is and the fact that it is, then there could be more than one first principle.

VI. But in order for there to be more than one, there would have to be some attribute that distinguished them.

VII. But since a first principle is absolutely simple, there can be no such attribute.

VIII. So there cannot be more than one first principle.

IX. So there is no distinction in the first principle between what it is and the fact that it is.

X. So the first principle is not only absolutely simple but utterly unique: the One.5

 

As this first principle per privatio boni is purely simple, it lacks privations and is thus purely good. Lacking in privations it is lacking in limits, and is thus unbounded. Yet, as so above, so below ー we should then see that achieving unity with God is in the cultivation of a unity of human goodness, a full capturing and blossoming of which must encompass the life of the person. Quite the opposite formulation of libertarianism, which not only refuses to see the unity of such a lifeーfocusing in on the atomised individualーbut also cares not for requisites for theosis, and consequently of ultimate human happiness or eudaimonia. Libertarianism is actively opposed to the subordination of institutions to the ideal of perfection because it would appropriately require coordination from a central authority which would mean the exercise of force. However, authority is not entirely constituted by the capacity to exercise force as we shall explore later. Note that this order aimed at human perfection doesn’t require levelling centralisation, the circumventing or destruction of intermediaries/subsidiaries, but of their cooperation rather than competition. As St. Thomas writes, this human perfection that culminates in eudaimonia is the highest good;

 

Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence. To make this clear, two points must be observed. First, that man is not perfectly happy, so long as something remains for him to desire and seek: secondly, that the perfection of any power is determined by the nature of its object. Now the object of the intellect is “what a thing is,” i.e. the essence of a thing, according to De Anima iii, 6. Wherefore the intellect attains perfection, in so far as it knows the essence of a thing. If therefore an intellect knows the essence of some effect, whereby it is not possible to know the essence of the cause, i.e. to know of the cause “what it is”; that intellect cannot be said to reach that cause simply, although it may be able to gather from the effect the knowledge of that the cause is. Consequently, when man knows an effect, and knows that it has a cause, there naturally remains in the man the desire to know about the cause, “what it is.” And this desire is one of wonder, and causes inquiry, as is stated in the beginning of the Metaphysics (i, 2). For instance, if a man, knowing the eclipse of the sun, consider that it must be due to some cause, and know not what that cause is, he wonders about it, and from wondering proceeds to inquire. Nor does this inquiry cease until he arrive at a knowledge of the essence of the cause.

If therefore the human intellect, knowing the essence of some created effect, knows no more of God than “that He is”; the perfection of that intellect does not yet reach simply the First Cause, but there remains in it the natural desire to seek the cause. Wherefore it is not yet perfectly happy. Consequently, for perfect happiness the intellect needs to reach the very Essence of the First Cause. And thus it will have its perfection through union with God as with that object, in which alone man’s happiness consists, as stated above (Articles 1 and 7; I-II:2:8).6

 

We can only be satiated in coming to know what is itself truly unlimited; in participation in and knowing pure goodness, through faith and the exercise of the virtues in works, culminating in the vision of, and unity with, the Divine Essence. As this is purely good in and of itself, it is appropriate to not only exercise influence, but force as appropriate to cultivate a social order conducive to the realisation of our respective telos. However, this isn’t merely to prepare us for some external existence to that of the world you currently inhabit. I must stress that there is a reflective aspect to eudaimonia. For our highest perfection to be theosis, we must first participate in the fullness of our possible being in goodness as we live in the world. We must play the game of life as best as possible, in the most perfect manner. This is the role of the virtues. There is no guarantee for our theosis as such, and so our worldly existence must be of virtue for the fulfilment of our telos ー enabling the person to pass from a present state to a true end;

 

We thus have a threefold scheme in which human-nature-as-it-happens-to-be (human nature in its untutored state) is initially discrepant and discordant with the precepts of ethics and needs to be transformed by the instruction of practical reason and experience into human-nature-as-it-could-be-if-it-realized-its-telos. Each of the three elements of the schemeーthe conception of untutored human nature, the conception of the precepts of rational ethics and the conception of human-nature-as-it-could-be-if-it-realized-its-telosーrequires reference to the other two if its status and function are to be intelligible.7

 

To assert the goodness of something then is not merely reducible to an assertion of personal approval, but rather it is an evaluative term as it relates to the ergon or function of a thing, which is dependent on social context which ordains the manner of the fulfilment of goods. Another essential problem with this entire scheme predicated on free choice in this regard is a Schmittian one. Liberalism is fundamentally an eternal injunction against anyone ever making a final decision as to what is most sacred and valuable, in favour of perpetual and thus an ultimately pointless conversation about it, which can never reach these goods, either internal to practices for which virtues are cultivated for, or in our final end (or does so only incidentally for a few select people independent of said decision). I’m sure you’d rather our conversations to be fruitful, you would want the best for other people and want a functioning political order that mediates resentments instead of selecting for their acceleration ー all of which means that at the end of the day, we need to have a shared understanding of the good, and the goods that allow participation in higher goods ー an ordering of the goods that we can all agree upon. To draw together our previous discussion on centralisation’s creation of the individual and the vacancy of decision, I present you some ancient Chinese wisdom as a dash of irony considering our favourable dealings with elements of Maoist thought;

 

When the ruler’s seat is insecure, the great ministers revolt and the smaller ones pilfer. Punishments are then made severe, laws become irregular, rules of ceremony uncertain. Then the people do not turn to what is right.8

 

To return to Mao and the discussion of force, setting aside his aversion to anything other than scientific materialism, this shared good, homonoia, from which a just social order may be built upon is exactly what should be defended with force ー and because social orders and their unity are never contracted into as we shall later explore, this view of the moral use of force transcends the use seen appropriate by the NAP. Force in poena also has its place in defence of, and employment for, the cultivation of higher goods as we shall now see.

The Libertarian tells us; Justice is only possible when we consider the individual in and of himself and his acts from self-interest. The individual is the smallest minority and is also the truest, most fundamental measure of humanity.

To make the subject of political justice the individual abstracts away from all the identities that comprise an individual identity itself. Again, you’re left with accident-salad without anchoring-substance, συμβεβηκός without οὐσία. A just social order requires social harmony, social unity ー homonoia. The Libertarian forces you into a gestalt that renders these very identities which would allow for the cultivation of a just polis, invisible. This gestalt bears similarities to the Rawlsian veil of ignorance in trying to grasp a kind of noumenal individual-in-itself. However, the veil of ignorance is also deficient in conceptualising justice as the veil of ignorance could never actually be operated within. As Alasdair MacIntyre argues, if the rational actor behind the veil of ignorance neither knew;

 

…whether and how his needs would be met or what his entitlements would be, ought rationally to prefer a principle which respects needs to one which respects entitlements…, the immediate answer must be [that] we are never behind such a veil of ignorance.9

 

Operating in a contextual vacuum, one has denied the necessary social contextualisation needed to be able to decide whether the capitalist or the worker, the trans person or the conservative, the white man or the black man, is more deserving of compensation for a given injustice, as what is just must first be informed by inquiry into moral desert ー the lack of which, coupled with individualistic premises being what Nozick and Rawls both share. 

The truth is in the whole, fulfilled in its result, but the result cannot yet be reached in denial of that which comprises the whole. A deprivation of context frustrates any fulfilment of justice by denying an adequately informed assessment of desert. Thus the project of justifying morality from an “original position”, from an attempt at evaluating the “the individual” fails, and by extension, so does Libertarian attempts at formulating a conception of justice as they both preclude critical components for the attainment of truth itself. As MacIntyre illustrates in his exploration of the two;

 

Nozick is less explicit, but his scheme of justice being based exclusively on entitlements can allow no place for desert. He does at one point discuss the possibility of a principle for the rectification of injustice, but what he writes on that point is so tentative and cryptic that it affords no guidance for amending his general view point. It is in any case clear that for both Nozick and Rawls a society is composed of individuals, each with his or her own interest, who then have to come together to formulate common rules of life. In Nozick’s case there is the additional negative constraint of a basic set of rights.

In Nozick’s argument too, the concept of community required for the notion of desert to have application is simply absent.

It is, from both standpoints, as though we had been shipwrecked on an uninhabited island with a group of other individuals, each of whom is a stranger to me and to all the others. Nozick’s premise concerning rights introduces a strong set of constraints; we do know that certain types of interference with each other are absolutely prohibited. But there is a limit to the bonds between us, a limit set by our private and competing interests. This individualistic view has of course…, distinguished ancestry: Hobbes, Locke…

Thus Rawls and Nozick articulate with great power a shared view which envisages entry into social life as – at least ideally – the voluntary act of at least potentially rational individuals with prior interests who have to ask the question ‘What kind of social contract with others is it reasonable for me to enter into?’ Not surprisingly it is a consequence of this that their views exclude any account of human community in which the notion of desert in relation to contributions to the common tasks of that community in pursuing shared goods could provide the basis for judgements about virtue and injustice.10

 

Ah, so both Nozick and Rawls are back to being premised on the idea of the individual as prior to social existence. The ghost of Locke walks their pages. In counter to the Libertarian position, Aristotle illustrates that the virtue of friendship, of the shared good and social willing of goodness which Libertarianism is made inimical to, is the foundation of a functioning polis, preceding justice;

 

Friendship seems too to hold states together, and lawgivers to care more for it than justice; for unanimity seems to be something like friendship, and this they aim at most of all and expel faction as their worst enemy; and when men are friends they have no need of justice, while when they are just they need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is thought to be a friendly quality. 11

 

It is unity, homonoia, through agreement that constitutes the healthy polis. The reason for Aristotle’s assertion is that justice is the virtue of rewarding desert within an existing social order. The rewarding of desert also implicates the social distribution of poena. Friendship, which homonoia is treated as the political expression of in a shared conception of ‘the good’, is required for this civil constitution. Threats to this unity should be placed at the end of the barrel of a gun in order to preserve justice.  We also have overwhelming empirical verification as to the detriments that the decline of homonoia, and its causes bear12. Population heterogeneity decreases social cohesion. As homonoia is the necessary prerequisite to justice, unrestricted movement of labour, of individuals ー immigration which would lead to population significant heterogeneity, threatens the very basis of justice within the polis. Given an already unified polis, population heterogeneity decreases cooperation substantially, in other words compromising the necessary social constitution of friendship from which justice proceeds.

After all, you are more inclined to will the good of another that you know, that you share a common social existence with, than someone totally alien to such social existence and shared understandings. Here we see quite clearly the moral imperative for the state to obstruct the free movement of labour with force to uphold immigration laws and border enforcement in the preservation of homonoia.

Katz’s accusation of individualism as “gnostic theology” is in full viewーthe psychopathy of individualism is in revolting against an ill-perceived evil ー against the unity of the social order of which is a fundamental political goodーfor something beyond that, which cannot exist, namely the sovereignty of the individual. Moreover, it becomes clear how a competitive social order of the minorities of individuals against each other in their self-interest would be inimical to the kind of ethical life that Aristotle correctly proposes; that of a decision and affirmation of shared goods. Imperium in imperio13 itself;  what Aristotle calls ‘faction’, the checks and balances of countervailing power, implicitly the competition between power centres, is intrinsically hostile to the social cooperation homonoia demands. The social virtue of friendship, human perfection and man’s attainment of eudaimonia has been repeatedly compromised and frustrated by divided power & centralisation of which the futile ideological exercise of Libertarianism only serves to exacerbate in both its minarchist and nonsensical anarchistic forms.

~ • ~

[Notes]

[1] Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. Oxford: Blackwell, 2017, 151.

[2] Friedman, Milton, and Rose D. Friedman. Free to Choose: a Personal Statement. Paw Prints, 2008, 228.

[3] Mao, Zedong. Mao Tŝe-Tung’s Quotations; the Red Guard’s Handbook. Nashville: International Center, George Peabody College for Teachers, 1967, Combat Liberalism, Selected Works, Vol. II, 31-32.

[4] Evola, Julius, Guido Stucco, and Michael Moynihan. Men among the Ruins: Postwar Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist. Inner Traditions International, 2002, 139.

[5] Feser, Edward. “Plotinus on Divine Simplicity, Part I.” Plotinus on Divine Simplicity, Part I (blog), January 15, 2010. https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/01/plotinus-on-divine-simplicity-part-i.html.

[6] Aquinas, Thomas, and Timothy MacDermott. Summa Theologiæ: A Concise Translation. Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1989. Prima Secundæ Partis, Q:3:8, 178.

[7] MacIntyre, Alasdair C. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. Bloomsbury Academic, 2014, p.53.

[8] Max F. Muller. Sacred Books of the East. London: Routledge, 2004, Li Ki, Lî Yun, 2.11.

[9] MacIntyre, After Virtue, p.288-289

[10]  ibid., p.298-290, 291

[11] Aristotle, and Jonathan Barnes. The Complete Works of Aristotle: the Revised Oxford Translation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk.VIII.I, 1154b20-28, 1825.

[12] Quite a few resources linked here but here are some choice selections. On the micro-scale;


In this article we tested whether ethnic diversity in one’s immediate residential surroundings has an impact on social trust. Using survey data merged with data from the national Danish registers, our results show that ethnic diversity of the micro-context— measured within a radius of 80 meters of a Downloaded from asr.sagepub.com at University of Otago Library on April 23, 2015 16 American Sociological Review person—has a statistically significant negative impact on social trust, controlling for a large number of potentially confounding variables. When expanding the size of the context, the effect of ethnic diversity is diluted, and we take this as an indication that interethnic exposure—which is inevitable in the micro-context, but not in more aggregate contexts—is the mechanism underlying the negative relationship between residential ethnic diversity and trust.


Dinesen, Peter Thisted, and Kim Mannemar Sønderskov. “Ethnic Diversity and Social Trust.” American Sociological Review 80, no. 3 (2015): 550–73. https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122415577989, 15-16.

On the macro-scale;


Our analysis shows that peace does not depend on integrated coexistence, but rather on well defined topographical and political boundaries separating groups, allowing for partial autonomy within a single country. In Switzerland, mountains and lakes are an important part of the boundaries between sharply defined linguistic areas. Political canton and circle (sub-canton) boundaries often separate religious groups. Where such boundaries do not appear to be sufficient, we find that specific aspects of the population distribution guarantee either sufficient separation or sufficient mixing to inhibit intergroup violence according to the quantitative theory of conflict. In exactly one region, a porous mountain range does not adequately separate linguistic groups and that region has experienced significant violent conflict, leading to the recent creation of the canton of Jura. Our analysis supports the hypothesis that violence between groups can be inhibited by physical and political boundaries. A similar analysis of the area of the former Yugoslavia shows that during widespread ethnic violence existing political boundaries did not coincide with the boundaries of distinct groups, but peace prevailed in specific areas where they did coincide. The success of peace in Switzerland may serve as a model to resolve conflict in other ethnically diverse countries and regions of the world.


Rutherford, Alex, Dion Harmon, Justin Werfel, Alexander S. Gard-Murray, Shlomiya Bar-Yam, Andreas Gros, Ramon Xulvi-Brunet, and Yaneer Bar-Yam. “Good Fences: The Importance of Setting Boundaries for Peaceful Coexistence.” PLoS ONE 9, no. 5 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0095660.

Why does violence erupt in some ethnic conflicts but not in others? To answer this question, I introduced a theory of ethnic war called the theory of indivisible territory. I argued that the likelihood of ethnic violence rests on how a conflict’s principal antagonists—a state and its dissatisfied ethnic minority—think about or value a disputed territory. Attempts to negotiate a resolution short of war will fail when, [1.] the ethnic minority demands sovereignty over the territory it occupies, and, [2.] the state views that territory as indivisible. Ethnic war is less likely to break out if one condition only is met, and very unlikely if neither condition is met. 


Toft, Monica Duffy. Geography of Ethnic Violence. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010, 127.

1 | As we shall explore later, such demands are only truly spurred by political patronage, irrespective of Toft’s categorisation of them as ‘charismatic demagogues’ or ‘representative statesmen’, which is made accessible for, and actively selected by, centralising power in situations of power insecurity.

2 | A centralising authority would never, and does not ever delegate territory to subsidiaries in such a manner that make territory divisible.

Liberalism has various mechanisms at its disposal to keep civil conflict from emerging, namely the fact that the demands of the periphery are conditioned and directed by centralising authority, and of course various technological developments, from money to surveillance, which make this easier. Nonetheless, it follows that population heterogeneity could be and, as Toft explores, is exploited repeatedly for centralisation.

[13] Here is Bond’s elaboration upon imperium in imperio, and power security;


In categorising unsecure power and secure power Mencius Moldbug correctly identified that the primary motivations for power centers to engage in leveling conflict were the insecurity of their positions and the blocks they faced, they simply could not, and cannot, govern in a direct and concise manner. This has many further ramifications which we shall cover later, but for now it suffices to note that as these power centers were placed in positions of chronic conflict within society. The centers were unable to engage in actual direct conflict to resolve the tension, so the alternative option was, and still is, to pursue that of advancing their attempts at centralisation and conflict against competing power centers by appeal to greater societal good.

Secure power in contrast is power which is not placed in a position of conflict. This conflict can take the form of either the balancing of institutions against one another, such as with the republican structure and the balance of power it enshrines, or by claims of law or human rights being bounding, thereby placing the judiciary as a competing institution – there are many variants of imperium in imperio.

In pursuing this line of investigation over a number of years, an extremely accurate and effective model of the current liberal power structure was developed on the Unqualified Reservations blog which managed to trace the development of power by virtue of ignoring the frames of analysis which current political theories take as relevant. This analysis neither took the human individual as the relevant point of analysis, nor did it take current political institutions such as nation states as relevant. Instead, by placing the analysis on the manner in which internal institutions have been allowed to operate in a state of permanent surreptitious conflict, a picture emerged of a strange governing entity which centred around the Ivy League universities, media, the civil service and additionally non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society foundations in a systemically logical conflict against all other intermediary structure which have been under sustained and continued destruction. The key point to note is that the systemic conflict provides all of these centers with the context within which their decisions are enacted, rendering their actions predictable to a large degree. This is why we can see all the progressive institutions acting in a similar manner without need of a central governing body. Unsecure Power is then definable as power acting in a system designed on (or degraded to) internal conflict.

Secure Power in contrast is Power acting within a system in which institutions are complementary and not conflicting. Authority flows down only. Similar entities are seen in the form of corporations, the very same entities which actors in governance have been engaging on ever greater levels as a means to provide effective and efficient services, something which the national governance structure of the modern state has been unable to maintain. The great expansion of private military companies and privatisation in everyday walks of life are premised on the idea that the profit motive is a strong driving force for competence, but fails to take into account that the profit driven companies are first and foremost driven on a model of governance which is a rejection of imperium in imperio, thus ensuring a means of management which allows for clear and effective action. No one creates a business with an imperium in imperio design. 

The modern system has managed to ingrain imperium in imperio not as a solecism, but as an unalloyed good. Institutions in unceasing conflict are assumed to balance out society and ensure no center in particular may hold total power…., Jouvenel’s great observation [was that] this division of power has led to continual and unceasing conflict between internal institutions using the concept of equality as a means of undermining competitors.


Bond, Chris A. “The Patron Theory of Politics.” The Journal of Neoabsolutism (blog), May 2, 2017. https://thejournalofneoabsolutism.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/36/