Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Cotton Economy

Professor Gates on the Cotton Economy:

On the Economy of Slavery:

Mearsheimer, Revolution and the Will to Power

In The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, John J. Mearsheimer lays out certain principles that form of the basis of his theory of "Offensive Realism".  The first is the fact of international anarchy, that there is no worldly power that stands above the nation-state.  Vanquished nation-states that cannot protect themselves are at the mercy of the Victors.  Second, nation-states are faced with the uncertainty of the intentions of their rivals.  No nation can be secure that its enemies are not plotting against them, and so all nations must assume the worst.  The only way that a nation-state can confidently be secure is to amass a relative level of military and economic supremacy over its rivals.  Thus, invariably, each nation-state plots to increase its relative power over its enemies and competitors, that is to attain hegemony.  If a nation can achieve hegemony, it will be (relatively) safe so long as it lasts.  Because all nations are constantly competing against one another for military and political dominance, when the smoke clears, what emerges is an international balance of power.

Mearsheimer notes that the will to power is primarily a means to the end of survival.  Ironically, in a nuclear age, the means poses the risk of negating the end.  But it is important to note that a nation is motivated by a conservative interest, survival, not a revolutionary interest of usurpation.  This phenomenon can also be observed in sub-national groups.  The upshot is that those individuals with a revolutionary program must be mindful that most large groups or institutions will not be brought into the folds of a revolutionary struggle unless they perceive an existential threat to their existence from the status quo.  An expansionist nation-state that is perceived to threaten other nations will provoke an alliance against it for its defeat and/or containment.  Likewise, an elite group that, through their mismanagement of the affairs of state, succeeds in provoking a sense of existential threat in the wrong sub-national groups will place itself, and the stability of the nation-state, in great peril.  The choice of a domestic enemy is always a delicate one for a ruling elite, and it is not without accident that historically the public target is a relatively powerless one that the people can rally behind. A competent elite group that governs with restraint based out of a concern for the common good will court less resistance. 

          For example, the American civil war was fueled by the anxieties of white laborers created by the expansion of slavery into the territories.  White laborers feared the "outsourcing" of paid labor to slaves would erode the economic conditions of white laborers, reducing them in effect to wage slaves.  The Dred Scott decision rendered by the Supreme Court reaffirmed these anxieties, that the Court and the Federal Government would support the big banks financing the slavery system and the capitalist slave owning class (slaves being capital goods) at the expense of workers.  Had the Federal Government been more effective in restraining the roll out of the plantation economy into the territories, the Civil War might have been averted.  As Lincoln coyly noted, "this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free."  The sub-text of his message was that if the expansion of slavery into the territories was not stopped, white laborers would be reduced to slaves.  These existential anxieties that gave rise to the Free Soil movement, the Republican party, the election of new political leadership, and ultimately, America's bloodiest war, a class struggle between labor and capital. The civil war was not fought to free the slaves, but to prevent the expansion of an inhuman economic system beyond the Southern States.

          Likewise, the Communist Manifesto played upon the same anxieties of labor.  Marx predicted that Capital would converge into centralized monopolies, dominate the media, legislatures and government policy, and work to maximize profits and control and to reduce wages to a pittance.  Marxism obtained its rhetorical power not from its promise of a future class-less society founded on total equality, but by playing to worker fears of being permanently trapped in poverty and debt, working jobs which did not even pay enough for adequate food and shelter.

          Returning back to the national level, Communism, in the developing world, gained an increasing foothold in the Twentieth Century due to its capacity to rapidly industrialize traditional societies, and allow them to catch up with the West.  Because industrial production is inherently linked to the capacity to mobilize armies, Communism allowed developing countries a means to resist the dominance of European and American powers.  Today, the Beijing Consensus provides a similar, but more efficient, platform for development. 

         In many ways, Marxist theory fails because it never took the notion of national sovereignty seriously.  The model of the Marxist revolution is, in effect, a civil war, a nation tearing itself into two.  Further, Marx, naively, conceived of workers developing an international class consciousness, whereby an assembly line worker in West Virginia would feel strong solidarity with an assembly line worker in Bangladesh, notwithstanding enormous differences in ethnicity, language, customs and religion.  As attractive as Marx's conception is for university students, such behavior has seldom, if ever, been observed in the real world.  Stalin, in his style of ruthless pragmatism, set to rectify this limitation, incorporating nationalistic elements into Soviet communism and even pushing the notion of a Pan-Slavic unity in Eastern Europe, at least until his falling out with Tito.  Stalin understood that although a revolution necessarily entails a destruction of national unity, the post-revolutionary phase necessitated the resurrection of a new national body.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reason and Revelation

From our discussion of might and right, we can come to some understanding of the proper relationship between reason and revelation.  History is the incarnation of meaning in the realm of fact.  History is distinguishable from a mere chronicle in that it attempts to impose a system of organization on a set of factual occurrences.  A good history makes the facts intelligible, a bad history, to maintain its coherence, must sacrifice the facts.

We are born to particular parents at a particular time in a particular culture.  We learn a particular language.  We live in a particular neighborhood.  We may belong to a particular ethnic or religious group.  We belong to, from an anthropological perspective, a particular race.  We do not choose any of these facts, they are arbitrary or providential depending on our perspective.  Memory is not solely a characteristic of an individual.  A language is collective, and within a language, speakers share a sense of collective meaning.  Similarly, the same is true of religious or ethnic customs.  To be born a human, a social and political animal, is to be born into a particular system of collective meaning and memory.  From a biological perspective, human beings are more or less the same.  From a social and political perspective, human beings are fundamentally different.  For example, consider different culture attitudes toward child marriage or eating dog meat or marriage between siblings.  Imagine a small community composed of secular Western educated feminist vegans living side by side with a tribal people who regarded eating dogs to be a delicacy and marrying off twelve year old girls to prosperous middle aged men a good way to provide a stable life.  These two forms of life cannot be reconciled:  one group must dominate the other and impose their way of life on the other.

Our form of life, in the first instance, is not chosen, it is entirely a historical accident.  There are a plurality of forms of life, and never, in the history of the world, has one form of life succeeded in attaining hegemony.  There is no a priori means of judging between forms of life.  I say this as dogma, but it may warrant a return in a subsequent post--simply treat it as a hypothesis if you disagree.  What we can say, as a description of history, is that forms of life compete with each other for power.  Moreover, to say "form of life" implies a condition of stasis which is absent.  Forms of life transform in the struggle for power and survival.  Augustine spoke of rational seeds, rationale seminales, essentially dynamic processes enacted in history.  Like plants, forms emerge, grow in strength, decay and weaken, and eventually die off.  Languages and religions die out.  Governments collapse.  Techniques of production disappear.  The sands of time consume everything.

In history, we engage in a type of comparative morphology, looking dialectically at similarities and dissimilarities between historical processes.  We start from historical accident, and we order these accidents in terms of forms, and we make discursive judgments based on the comparison of forms.  In so doing, we consider the meaning of history.  One arche, or first principal, for looking at the history of anthropos is the notion of original sin.  The origin of the idea of original sin is obviously a historical accident, but the use of the concept of original sin lies in its explanatory power, its capacity to make historical facts intelligible.  Likewise, we can see certain general cultural traits, such as courage or industriousness, emerging in forms of life through historical accident, but giving rise to cultural success in the struggle for dominance and hegemony.  A courageous and industrious people will have a will to fight, and the resources to fight, and will triumph over a cowardly and lazy people.  This is not to say that all members of group A are courageous and industrious, and all members of group B are cowardly and lazy, but rather that group A, in general, is more virtuous than group B.

According to Carl Schmitt, politics is based on a distinction between friends and enemies.  To be a member of a political group is to define internal friends and enemies and external friends and enemies.  Domestic politics is a struggle to dominate internal enemies, and international politics is an attempt to dominate external enemies.  All complex societies are controlled by an elite, managed by a bureaucracy, and most people are subjects of the state.  Domestic politics involves a struggle between factions for dominance.  Those in charge want to stay in charge, and those who harbor ambition seek to displace the current elite, usually through alliances with disaffected elements of the bureaucracy and the masses.  Likewise, the same may be said of the struggle between nations, those seeking to maintain the balance of power, and the usurpers.

The basic human dynamic principle is, as Nietzsche noted, the will to power.  This principle does not drive all people, but it drives all political struggle.  Because the attainment of power means the capacity to legislate, the legal rules, the defined right, is always parasitic on constituted power.  Thus, we have a basis for ethical considerations, namely, those customs and practices which create a vibrant and dynamic political life and which are conducive to the creation and preservation of a stable order of power, such as the Roman Republic or the Byzantine Empire.  These would be virtues per Aristotle, and would not be deduced from autonomous reason, but reveled in history.  From this viewpoint, wisdom would consist in the practical application of the virtues to present circumstance, and philosophy could not be ultimately distinguished from statecraft.  To the extent the philosopher possessed wisdom, and guided the ship of state successfully, the state would flourish.               

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Don Colacho Aphorisms

"Nothing upsets the unbeliever as much as defenses of Christianity based on intellectual skepticism and internal experience."     --   Don Colacho Aphorism 2961

"The Gospels and the Communist Manifesto are on the wane; the world’s future lies in the power of Coca-Cola and pornography."   --  Don Colacho Aphorism 2983

"Historical events stop being interesting the more accustomed their participants become to judging everything in purely secular categories.  Without the intervention of gods everything becomes boring."  --  Don Colacho Aphorism 2953

"Why deceive ourselves? Science has not answered a single important question."  --  Don Colacho Aphorism 2919

"Modern man lost his soul and is no longer anything but the sum total of his behaviors."   --  Don Colacho Aphorism 2904

See Link:

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Law Redux

"Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach."   --Heb. 10:1.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Power and Law: Might and Right

We speak of power, which comes to us from the Latin "potentia", which is also the source of our word, potential.  Power is potential from this perspective.  Power is related to decision.  There are many options, many potentials, but the one with power decides what is to be.

We also encounter these terms in physics, where power is not potential.  Potential energy, the rock on the cliff face, has the possibility of falling and translating its potential in kinetic energy.  The rock has potential energy, but of its own power, it has no capacity to fall.  Someone has to choose to roll it off the cliff.  Power in physics, on the other hand, is the ratio of work over time (work, of course, being the exertion of force over a distance).  It relates to the rate of energy consumption.  When the rock falls, it falls due to the power of gravity.

It is interesting that one reads a good deal of political philosophy, especially the Anglo-English drek, which gives no thought to the concept of political power.  I suspect because we find physical power so widely accepted, we fail to see anything different about political power.  It is the same word after all, so why be suspicious.  But let's consider the loaded gun pointed in the face.  The trigger is pulled.  Death results.  It's not the same when the jury comes back with a verdict of death, is it?  There are appeals, requests for new trials, habeas corpus proceedings.  But let's say the highest court comes down affirming death.  The convict awaits execution, meets with the priest, smokes his last cigarette (unless he is in an American prison), the electric chair is charged, but then at the last moment, the Governor's Office calls and commutes the sentence.  That is power, political power, quite a different thing from physical power.  The Governor makes a decision, makes a call, the life is spared.

But we can think about this situation also.  What if the Warden gets the call and proceeds with the execution anyways?  Perhaps he or she does not tell the others the truth.  Perhaps the Warden reveals that the call was from the Governor, commuting the sentence, but orders the execution to proceed anyway.  If the guards comply with the Warden, then the Warden has the power.  If the guards refuse, then the Governor has the power.

We have to ask where the sense of should arises from?  Should the guard follow the Warden's command or should they follow the Governors?  How would history have shifted if the soldiers had pointed their guns in the other direction?  Note there is no should for the bullet proceeding out of the barrel of a gun.  Political power requires authority and obedience.  It is not enough to issue a command, there must something (although there is nothing in fact) behind the command, something that compels another to follow it.  A governor, a warden, these are just people in roles, and the roles are simply defined by the players.  There is not even a real director.  The roles can be changed or exchanged, not at will, but through collective transformation.  There is no solidity in the whole thing, beyond reverence for custom and tradition.

Charisma is the word that is related to this quality of leadership and authority.  People say charismatic leader, meaning that one follows out of a sense of personal loyalty versus under the acknowledgment of a social defined duty.  We can ask, what is charisma, where does it come from?  We can note there is no comparable concept in physics, unless we look to the magnetic field.  How does a person generate a magnetic field?  Whatever we wish to say about government and politics, can we have any doubt that, at least in its most primitive form, politics has always been founded on this capacity of charisma.  

Political scientists speak about legitimacy.  But what is legitimacy?  I presume a government is legitimate if a functionary of the government, issuing an order that they are authorized to give, issues the order and it is obeyed without question.  If orders are issued and ignored or secretly thwarted, then there is clearly a lack of confidence in the functionary.  Likewise, if any and all orders issuing from a government are ignored or thwarted, the government suffers from a lack of legitimacy.

A political system creates a network by which human beings can cooperate and accomplish collective objectives without thinking or deliberation.  Clearly, the leadership decides on the objectives, with or without deliberation or reflection, but the bureaucrats carry out the orders (perhaps with resistance) and the subjects bear the brunt of the operations of state (taxes, imprisonment, conscription, etc.).  Given that all complex political systems are hierarchical, the few decide on behalf of the many, and the many carry out the instructions.  Further, many more are the passive objects of administration.  Pseudo-Dionysius, in describing the Divine Bureaucracy, assigns three layers (each composed of three layers).  On one level, you need deciders, implementers, and subjects.     

The system works well if there is a sense of identification between the ruling class and the subjects.  If the subjects believe that the rulers have their best interests at heart, they will follow without resistance.  On the other hand, if the subjects believe that their rulers are corrupt or acting against their interests, grumblings, unrest, and even insurrection may rise up.  We have only to consider the Whiskey Rebellion in American History to see this principle at work.  Because political systems are always hierarchical, there is always the need for coercion to make the system function.  The ruling class must have carrots as well as sticks to insure compliance.

Because elites, being elites, inevitably resort to enriching themselves at the expense of the people, and the people, being the people, inevitably begin to bear resentments against the elites, there is an inherent level of paranoia and mutual suspicion in the system, between all levels of the political system.  At the same time, more or less publicly, there is a public proclamation of mutual agreement and sympathy, some of which may be legitimately felt and expressed.  However, in the core of their being, every elite knows and realizes that the day may come when they may be perceived as "fungible", and if their exit is on bad terms, the results may be bloody.  In fact, the more repression the elite deals out to keep the masses in fear, the more likely that the inevitable transfer of power will prove ugly.

But in so much as there is human cooperation, there is the reality of power, and the power belongs to the deciders within the measure of their discretion.  One way that power is expressed is in the positive enactment of laws.  As Carl Schmitt pointed out, legitimacy precedes legality.

One view of the nature of justice is that power is justly exercised when it conforms to positive law, and unjust when it ignores the law.  This understanding may be fine and well, but we must be led to understand that power always enacts the law (or the constitution) in the first instance, power always executes or applies the law, and power always decides whether its application conforms with the written requirements.  Paper rights may in theory protect against tyranny, but paper rights inevitably leave the fox guarding the hen house.  The rule of law may exist in the practical sense of a consistency in legal outcomes, but it results not from the articulation of vague general principles, but from respect and reverence of government functionaries for the traditions and customs of the Republic.  The progressive "expansion of rights" is, in effect, the progressive destruction of the constitutional order.

The so-called "expansion of rights" argues for the abrogation of long-standing practices in favor of the creation of new practices.  The rationale is generally some abstract general principle, but in actual fact, an abstract general principle that was understood one way, e.g. as consistent with an existing form of practices, is now re-conceptualized to forbid existing practice.  Rather than, as claimed, the rule of law restricting the operation of power, in actual fact, these revolutions effectuate the rule of power over the rule of law.  On the other hand, this may be how it should be, or rather, how it always is in practice.  Expansion of rights tracks the expansion of centralized power and control over subjects.

If we leave our analysis at the level of the world, then we can see that might always makes right, because might in the ultimate analysis defines right.  If we stay at the level of agnosticism or atheism, then we must come to realize that the only ultimate reality is power, which in turn defines truth, justice and morality.  The question of whether creation science or evolution is taught in school, for the consistent naturalist, must ultimately come down to which faction possesses control over the national government.  The question of what should be taught serves only as a litmus test over which faction one belongs to.  After all, truth can only be understood as a function of which system of ideas obtains hegemony over the noetic territory. 

Let us entertain an alternative notion.  What if right precedes might?  On one level, this is absurd.  Might always precedes what is defined to be right.  If we speak of right here, we must be speaking of Right, which is by nature undefinable.  If Right could be defined, it would be limited, subject, to worldly might.  Let us suppose that Right exists.  In this case, might could be judged with reference to an undefinable norm of Righteousness.  If might conforms to Right, it is just.  If it deviates, to the extent that it does deviate, it is unjust.  Further, since all positive laws define Right, which is by nature undefinable, it is clear that might must always deviate from true Right.  In other words, life isn't fair.

But what purpose does Right serve?  Say might grossly deviates from Right.  Right has no power.  In order to have power, there must also be Might, an undefinable power, which enforces Right.  But how could this Might and this Right, combined, act in the real world, where might is might and defines right.  If Might and Right exist in combination, then these principles must be incarnate, however so inchoate, in history.  Where might and right coincide with Might and Right, a Nation flourishes.  Where might and right deviate from Might and Right, a Nation flounders and falls into ruin.  The first is the just realm, the second a tyranny.  Here we also encounter Goodness and Truth.  The True, the Good, survives.  The false and wicked destroys itself.  The more wicked the order, the faster it implodes.

What this presupposes is a (super)natural limit on any political order.  Worldly might can define the truth for itself, but worldly might withers in the Sun of Justice, which passes judgment and damnation down upon it.  I am forced to conclude that the existence of Might and Right provides a more intelligible way of viewing human history, morality, and politics, than merely confining our analysis to the positive fact of a constituted power and a positive law.  Moreover, if I am right, then my analysis, even if presently unfashionable, will ultimately prove victorious.  On the other hand, if I am wrong (whatever that means to the mighty), my views might still find favor with might, and ultimately prevail.  In contrast, my opponents views are either destined to be proved demonstrably wrong, or in the alternative, they can only prevail by virtue of a political struggle, the outcome of which to date is uncertain.