Inventing the Individual

Inventing the Individual by Larry Siedentop is yet another piece of historical revisionism which lends a significant amount of support to the absolutist interpretation of the role of political conflict and political structure in the development of culture.

The history presented by Siedentop is one which will be familiar to regular readers, but which adds a great number of twists to the story which instead of causing problems for the theory, lend it added ammunition. One of the more interesting twists provided by Siedentop is the thesis he provides that the driver for the creation of the individual was initially the papacy in an obvious political/ structural conflict with what the Church had termed “secular” authorities. This is interesting in light of William Cavanaugh’s thesis in The myth of Religious Violence which hews far more closely to standard history in placing the origin of the secular/religious split in the state building activities of the “secular” authorities leading up to the 30 Years War. The creation of the secular is laid squarely at the Church’s door with Siedentop, and it is something I was not fully aware of.

I had been intending to research in this general direction by following the logic of de Jouvenel in tracing the origins of the concept of a pre-social individual in scholastic thought, which is something that Cavanaugh had nonetheless noted. One of the main areas which interested me was the fact that many scholars have been puzzled by the apparent echoes of liberalism in the works of the likes of Nicholas of Cusa. The thesis I was following was that all advocacy of equality is the result of acute political conflict and that is clear with Nicholas, first against the papacy, and then for the papacy! but Siedentop has already covered all this ground and points to other academics who have gone through it in detail.

The general narrative provided by Sidentop can grossly be summarized as follows: the papacy began a number of reforms to increase its power, centralise and strengthen its position as an entity in itself. The process required the creation of institutions (universities, legal schools, bureaucracies) which encoded individualistic tendencies such as an interpretation of natural law which placed the human as prior to society. While Sidentop notes the dynamic of high-low versus the middle repeatedly, he does not make the express connection between political conflict and this cultural development because he is cheerleading this process as some great awakening and wonderful development. This process of centralisation, however, was a sword which could be wielded against the Church institutions, and it is something which the monarchs did. Siedentop notes that many of the monarchs purposefully aped the papal structure and reforms, and then engaged in high-low conflict citing the individual as a justification.

We can sidestep a lot of fuzziness in Siedentop’s account by approaching this individualizing process in a neutral manner. We can neither take it as bad, nor good, a priori and instead merely note that there is a clear mechanism in place here, and it is one laid out for us by de Jouvenel. The mechanism is that political conflict drove centers of power to secure their position by seeking to apply an equalizing process on power centers beneath them. This is simply what this individualisation is once stripped of the moral glow of being a freeing of souls, a discovery of natural rights, or a progressive freeing of people from chains of local relationships. The Papacy in seeking to secure its position, and its sphere of control, developed this religious/secular divided which the secular state builders shoved down their throat. This divide was created by asserting the natural rights of the human prior to customary and positive law (categories which we should be suspicious of.) This all also accords greatly with Filmer’s account of the origin of the high-low conflict in Catholic actions. Remember that in Patriarcha Filmer’s attacks against the social contract account of political organisation is directed at the Catholic Cardinal Bellarmine, and that he complains it was the papacy trying to raise the people above the kings.

Sticking with the de Jouvenelian model allows to cut out a lot of the noise from accounts like Siedentop’s and Cavanaugh’s and see where we can move past them. Individualism is the result of political conflict and can only occur under the umbrella of institutions encoding this pattern of behaviour and providing the necessary logistics to make it viable. It is not some magic process, it is not a mystical awe inspiring ascent into utopia, it is instead a very clear repeating pattern that occurs in the wake of centralision in an unsecure system which requires the centralising agent (the papacy, the monarchs) to make appeals to the individuals under subsidiary and recalcitrant centers of power (lords, feudal fiefdoms, kings, papacy) the position of the agents varies depending on time and place, and the race is always on to be the one in the position of the high, which gives the process a unidirectional nature. The individual cannot be free qua other individuals in an anarchistic manner at all, and it is a fever dream to suppose they can. If you think you have located a situation in which individuals are free simpliciter then it is going to be because you have either A) defined away governance in an act of self-deception (see the liberal nation state  overseeing “freedom”) B) simply stated events in a passive voice so you can ignored the subject of the sentence or  C) are simply delusional.

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Feyerabend on empiricism

Classical empiricism, which really is an update of sola scriptura, is as political as it gets. The central contention of both sola scriptura and empiricism (where it becomes more concealed) is that we do not need to rely on other’s interpretations of so called “data” and that any person can access the “facts” as is. In effect, empiricism is a denial of authority, a denial of the necessity of a cultural background, and an assertion of man being able to come to knowledge as an individual without assistance of any kind. The depth of how incoherent empiricism is, is so great that it is hard to see without some assistance, plus it seems to be one of those things where like a crime that is enormous there is no mechanism in place to correct it, hence it goes unpunished.

Here is Edward Feser referencing Feyerabend on empiricism, and I will ask the reader to note that this explicitly references authority, tradition, as well as culture and the health of the observer:

“For the Aristotelian, Feyerabend says, “experience [is] the sum total of what is observed under normal circumstances (bright daylight; senses in good order; undisturbed and alert observer) and what is then described in some ordinary idiom that is understood by all” (p. 35).  It also involves interpreting what is currently perceived in light of “tradition” or “preconceived opinion” (p. 37).  Hence ordinary, everyday statements like “The gunman was wearing a ski mask” or “This apple is stale” — which presuppose that we already know, from past experience, what a gunman typically looks like, what stale apples taste like, etc. — would for the Aristotelian provide examples of the sorts of things we know immediately via experience.”

Empiricism, meanwhile, takes the observers as just given. He just appears, or just is, and this parallels with the manner in which the state of nature man at the center of liberalism just exists. The reason for this is that these people, these liberal “thinkers”, really just engaged in political conflict. They were building just so stories to justify what they wanted to happen in their political milieus.

Now we could go round in circles like poor old Feser and countless others before him in refuting in detail every silly claim of empiricists (see here for example,) or we can get to the root of the problem. We are all pretty busy, so we should take option two. The root of the problem is that empiricism is as I have mentioned a politicization of epistemology as a means of political attack by unsecure power systems. The system, being the system, is total. Anything favoring the system gets selected by the system and promoted by the system. If it didn’t then it wouldn’t be a stable system at all. Feyerbend has the devil by the tail here as Feser notes:

“His [Feyerabend’s] aim is to provide an illustration of how the purported “success” of the empiricist interpretation of science — which might seem to confirm that interpretation, despite its conceptual problems — involves selective and inconsistent application of empiricist scruples, question-begging assumptions, ad hoc hypotheses, and so forth.  And once again he sees parallels with sola scriptura.  In both instances, Feyerabend thinks, partisans of the doctrines in question claim “success” by focusing their attention on cases they think confirm the “rule of faith” while dismissing problematic cases as relatively insignificant puzzles raised by heretics and other oddballs.  Though question-begging, this procedure seems reasonable to them because they are surrounded by a “community… which is already committed to a certain doctrine” (p. 38) and which thereby reinforces their perception that the doctrine is the one that is accepted by all reasonable people.  These communities inculcate a “party line” (p. 39) which determines how one perceives the weight of various objections, the significance of the relevant pieces of evidence, etc.  Hence the doctrines in question — classical empiricism and sola scriptura — “although logically vacuous, [are] by no means psychologically vacuous” (p. 38).

And further:

“Sola scriptura and early modern empiricism were both self-consciously revolutionary doctrines, intended decisively to rein in what their proponents thought to be epistemological excesses.  Hence they were formulated precisely so as to lay down an unambiguous line the crossing of which is strictly forbidden, thereby to take down in one fell swoop enormous bodies of doctrine (Catholic theology in the one case, Scholastic and rationalist metaphysics in the other).”

You will note that at all points here the target is Catholicism as well Aristotleanism underpinning Catholicism at the time. Why would this be? Well it only comes into view clearly from the absolutist political analysis of unsecure systems in conflict. What occurred was a significant battle between state power centers and the Catholic Church power centers and this epistemology was center stage. So when Feyerabend talks of empiricism’s doctrines as being “although logically vacuous, [are] by no means psychologically vacuous”” he is understating the situation. We can add that they are indeed (internally) logically vacuous but are by no means psychologically vacuous nor (and this is key) vacuous in their logic to power.”

At this point that only real recourse from empiricists is to appeal to the success of empiricism, but the simple counter to this is to ask what does this success mean? Feyerabend asks the same question in the essay Feser is referencing and he makes the following claim regarding what he calls the classical empiricism of Newton:

“For just as in the case of Protestantism the success of the chosen theories is entirely man-made. It is due to the fact that the psychological result of a complex process of indoctrination was turned into a basis. In the case of Protestantism the basis supported faith. Here it supports a scientific theory which is constantly being expanded by the addition of ad hoc hypotheses (that is what the ‘success’ of the theory really amounts too.) In both cases we are dealing with nothing but a party line.

Let us reconsider what we have discovered so far. We have discovered that the rejection of authority, of tradition, of the results of speculation that is such a characteristic outer feature of both Protestantism and of the empiricism of Bacon does not lead to a more critical attitude. It leads to the enthroning of new authorities which demand slavish attention: scripture on the one side, experience on the other. We have seen how the vacuity of the rules makes them excellent allies in the defence of partisan ideas. If we follow the demand for an authoritative foundation such ideas are first made plausible, they are then based upon their own most plausible parts and are justified thereby. In the case of Protestantism the plausible parts are the intuitions resulting from a strict and merciless education. In the case of empiricism the plausible parts are those elements of a theory which can be readily illustrated by experiment.”

Feyerabend, being Feyerabend then turns around and declares this complete shambolic system is then actually quite good because it means that effectively it opens the doors to anarchism:

“Any idea can now be presented in a manner that makes it acceptable and capable of winning followers.

[…]

The fact that we are dealing with party lines is therefore not really a drawback. Quite the contrary: party lines play a most important role in many civilised institutions, such as the democratic process

[…]

Party lines are not the problem. Problems arise only when an attempt is made to turn subjective conviction that makes a particular party line stand out into an infallible objective judge who withstands criticism and demands that his dictum be obeyed. Classical empiricism which adopts this procedure has not yet completely overcome its even more restricted ancestry.

That Feyerband could make this conclusion is premised on being unable to account for exactly what has outlined in the preceding parts of the chapter. This being that both empiricism and Protestantism share the same structure, with both being anti-authority (a specific authority.) That this is so can be seen in the following passage:

“It is rather interesting to examine the similarities between the theories of Protestantism and Baconian empiricism. These similarities are expressed not only in the structure of the respective doctrines, but even in the phrases which are used to direct attention to the respective bases (scripture; experience): reverence is demanded of both of them, success and a clear view of an all-embracing entity (God; nature) is promised in both cases, and in almost the same exalted terms. A detailed description of such phenomena is a challenging task for the historian of ideas.”

What we can add to this history of ideas is the illumination provided by the role of power in promoting these specific party lines. This means that there is no possibility of epistemological/ methodological anarchism because both Protestantism and empiricism in this guise are explainable in terms of political structure. Feyerabend fails to account for the fact that party lines require institutions within which the parties exist. In Newton’s time this would be the Royal Society, in our time they are the progressive foundations. What we see in both instances is not an encouragement of many ideas but as Feyerabend points out, a rabid stomping out of dissident ideas which considering the motto of the society is quite impressive. Feyerabend is again instructive on this “fascinating, tortuous, schizophrenic combination of a conservative ideology and a progressive practice” in which a revision of any part is allowed regardless of experience, but that the stable foundation is experience which itself needs of no “support or interpretation” a state of affairs which is impossible as it does not allow us to “identify” experience in the same way a call to sola scriptura doesn’t allow us to identify the scripture. The whole things stands or falls logically on experience, which is to say it falls.

The obvious response to all of the above is to assert the correlation between empiricism and technological development, but the Jouvenelian mechanism which places empiricism within the purview of unsecure power would indicate that this correlation is significiantly more complicated than on first appearances. It would seem to indicate as has been put to me elsewhere that there are two processes at play at once. One is a destructive process of no intellectual value and is fact absurd, the other is a surreptitious integrative process which is of extreme value; the second process developing in the shadow of the first parasitic process which claims the success of the second. Empiricism then becomes a camouflage covering the real developments, and not a cause.

Religious/ Secular, Civil Society/ Formal Government.

If we accept the Jouvenelian model of high-low versus the middle as an expression of unsecure power, and if we accept that William Cavanaugh and others are correct in identifying the Reformation as a cultural phenomena driven by elites in conflict (Church versus the monarchical state,) then it raises an interesting way of interpreting current events, especially regarding Trump.

To briefly recap, the claim of neoabsolutism is that unsecure power creates conflicts which then produce cultural changes. The division of power between State and Church lead to an all-out conflict played out over centuries, with both sides trying to out high/low the other. From this conflict we get the division of secular and religious which on their own terms make little sense. From the angle of power conflict, however, they make total sense. The state institutions won and proceeded to render the realm of the Church as toothless and harmless as possible. A category of religion as a matter of individual conscious which cannot be compelled (by the Church) was instigated, and total adherence to the state institutions was promoted. It was a matter of power.

Well, given the above, and the fact that we still exist in a divided unsecure system in a state of total conflict, we can ask what the current instantiation of this comprises of. I mean the conflict between Church and State still rumbles on but is not really a hot one any more in the west, maybe it is still in other areas of the world. What we would need to see is two sets of institutions in a state of conflict. Are there any slowly gestating cultural developments which indicate the framework of the current conflict lines? The answer is yes, and is provided by Moldbug in the form of the Cathedral. The name “Cathedral” has been a source of some complaints, and I would agree to a great deal of the criticisms as the name allows for all sorts of lazy assumptions. One of the key ones is that the solution for banishing progressives is to label them as religious and then demand their removal from state machinery. This is an example of assuming that culture drives politics, and is not a post hoc justification for the acts of Power. This is completely wrong. If we leave the name aside for a second, what we can instead do is look at the general contours and then note how it echoes the religion/secular split and the underlying Church/State conflict.

In the current incarnation, it is the state apparatus which has become the party under siege thereby taking on the role of the Church. The new institutions underlying the attack and giving rise to the new cultural trends are non-state institutions. The ruling elite began a migration in earnest in the 20th century from the state institutions to the NGOs, Foundations and other civil society institutions because they offer much greater power. These institutions allows for direct, uncontrolled governance under the umbrella of being civil society. They are merely entities allowing the free acts of private citizens. Government agencies are subject to all manner of checks and balances, foundations for example, are not. They do whatever they want, from promoting gay marriage, to encouraging the movement of women to the workforce to reduce birth rates. These institutions have given rise to a slow cultural drive to etch out a segment of society which has been given the label “civil society” within which (formal) government intervention is deemed inappropriate, oppressive and downright creepy. These institutions have become transnational affairs with space called “civil society” in all countries being increased, strengthened and made into a bastion of power for these institutions. Recall that previously the state building elites did exactly the same with the creation of a secular category of life from which religion (the Church) was expelled.

For a time, these institutions have existed as complementary to the state and as a means to correct the necessary failings of the liberal categories which imply that there are areas of none governance in society. But now a conflict has broken out between them; we see it as nationalists versus globalists. A more accurate split would be to describe it as civil society versus formal governance, or rather, the civil society institutions versus government institutions. While for a great amount of time the formal institutions have been staffed by people willing to act as facilitators of the transfer of power to civil service institutions (to NGOs, foundations, corporations which have been retconned as civil society created “private” entities,) this has changed in a number of places and this transfer of power is being rejected. Eastern Europe in particular has been an area of innovation in curtailing civil society, which is not surprising in some respects as it was a place in which civil society institutions (Ford foundation and the Soros foundation, privatization etc.) ran wild and caused havoc, again under the banner of spontaneous developments. The US is now the epicentre of this conflict in the form of Trump who is currently engaged in constant squabbles with these institutions.

I contend that this all indicates that either there is a great reaction and the entire concept of a civil society space of spontaneous order is rejected entirely and the institutions governing this area fraudulently are dealt with accordingly, or this process will continue in its current absurd direction, and we end up with a new deranged form of governance.

If the secular/ religious split is anything to go by, it will probably take the form of creating a category with the name politics that consists of extremely limited power. It will probably end up as some kind of opt in governance which is not really government. Like choice between having a different company supply day to day documentation. Do you want a UK passport, or a German passport? You choose, it’s your internal right by conscious decision that cannot be forced on you and it makes no difference – there are no borders bigot. On the other hand, you must submit to being a member of civil society as an individual and if you don’t great punishment will be visited upon you. You will be added to a list, your human rights score will be reduced, you will be no platformed, you will be unemployable, you will be made example of, you will go to prison. Note the legal system will be more tied up with these new institutions than with the formal governance structure on the basis of it being apolitical and part of civil society and not governance. The legal system will complete its journey from being a delegation of the monarch to being a “independent” and “impartial” judiciary.

Is this going to be a stable state of affairs? either way it portends a world governance under the absurd category of civil society in the international community.

The Anti-Civilisationism of Liberalism

The second volume of the American Affairs Journal has come out and it is even better than the first volume. Whereas the first volume seemed promising, the second volume is simply excellent. Of special interest is the paper titled The Corporate Contradictions of Neoliberalism by David Ciepley. This paper is especially interesting if read in conjunction with a further more substantial paper by Ciepley titled Beyond Public and Private: Toward a Political Theory of the Corporation. It is well within the framework of absolutism.

The papers in question, whilst still holding to the undefendable concept of the sovereignty of the people, take aim at the neoliberal conception of the corporation as being the creation of shareholders. Ciepley makes the point which is evident to anyone reading the liberal oeuvre carefully that liberals are really agrarian primitivists totally at odds with advanced industrial civilization. What is remarkable about them though is that despite holding agrarian primitivism in all areas, they then are able to turn around and claim credit for developments which they opposed based on classical liberalism. Just think of all those libertarians and classical liberals lauding Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, to name only a few examples, as the exemplars of classical liberalism and (this is where it gets hilarious) capitalism. Ciepley makes it evidently clear that the corporation is not liberal, is opposed to liberalism, and has been subject to disastrous liberalisation which has rendered them deranged institutions that have begun simply cannibalizing society.

The papers make it clear that the corporation is in effect a delegate of the sovereign. Furthermore, logically it is obvious that a company cannot be the result of shareholders as shareholders are made by the board, not the other way around. Neoliberals including Milton Freedman turned this on its head by claiming the shareholders are the owners and the board are their employees. This is nonsense of the highest order. Worse, what he was doing was bringing Lockean state of nature idiocy into the world of the corporation. This article from Forbes is much more scathing of the concept than Ciepley, and rightly so. Friedman violates the very concept of the corporation as an entity and makes it a sort of pooling of individual partners in the form of state of nature shareholders. Pure gibberish from (and I can’t believe this now) one of the most influential economists of the 20th century- he simply did not know how a company works. As Ciepley takes pain to note, this violates the concept of the corporation from every conceivable angle. Not only does it negate capital shielding that allows the corporation to own the property and not be subject to shareholders withdrawing funds (and property) in the way a partner may in a partnership, but it also negates the limited liability of the corporate structure. If the property of the company was indeed the shareholders’, then there is no limited liability. Worse than this, by removing the corporation as the legal owner of the property (the very function of its status as a company) it requires an individual contractualism in which the corporation becomes a kind of metaphysical fraud hiding the true nature of the situation as a giant contractual web of individuals. This is reminiscent of Hayek’s/ Mise’s methodological individualism. The corporation in this bizarre Lockean retconning is effectively a giant partnership of individuals (the corporate layer is fraud) like a giant Leviathon, or Lockean state, in a kind of social contract thingy. Ciepley amusingly considers this seriously and is dismissive on the basis that this would require all individual shareholders to engage in individual contracts with all that deal with the corporation (employees, customers, debtors, lenders,) and other shareholders, an absurd state of affairs…is anyone getting déjà vu from liberal political theory and the complaints of Filmer here?

The results of this absurdity are noted by Ciepley in the collapse of the American corporation from being a capitalist entity in the sense of accumulating capital and investing in expansion and development of new products, to one which doesn’t. Corporate boards were encouraged to become shareholders to align the principal-agent problem based on the error- astonishing error- of shareholders being the owner of the company’s property. The pay of CEOs then went from being wages and no shares in 1984, to being 66% share options in 2001.  The results are simply astounding. In 1950 60% of Corporation profits in the US were retained for expansion and R&D. In 2003 this was just 3% (in China it is apparently 50%.) The Liberals in effect created a nominalist dream world in which the corporation was just metaphysics to the concrete liberal individual who had to be tied into the role of being subject to consequences by being made a shareholder; an absurdity. Liberal capitalism is a contradiction in terms, the essence of liberalism is anarcho anti-civilisationalism. The idea of society as a network of contractual individuals is literally opposed to the legal construct of the corporation which gains its legal personhood from the sovereign.

Liberalism, liberal “capitalists” and classical liberals fundamentally theoretically oppose the concept of an agglomeration of capital having a separate existence in law from the individuals that comprise it. They are parasitic primitivists and it is only through an absolutist lense that this can be seen in stark clarity. As Ciepley quotes Smith (anti-corporation) as making clear:

“The directors of such companies … being the managers rather of other people’s money … it cannot well be expected, that they should watch over it with the same anxious vigilance with which the partners in a private copartnery frequently watch over their own…. Negligence and profusion, therefore, must always prevail, more or less, in the management of the affairs of such a company. (Smith
[1776] 1976, II, 264–65)”

 

High-low versus the middle.

Basically, society is comprised of three parts when it is in a state of unsecure power. It is still so in a state of secure power, but the management of this state of affairs is at least tolerable under the second circumstance. The value of holding this understanding is that it enlightens us on events, as well as a whole plethora of theories.

Under current theories of society, such things as capitalism, communism, anarchism and liberalism are seriously considered thought systems. None of them are actually serious though, they are all deeply flawed. The key to all of them is that they only consider two parts of society and embrace the concealment of the third. They all accept the existence of the low in society, and the middle in society; they all studiously refuse the existence of the high in society.

Looking at capitalism first, we can skip the various definitions and go straight to the underlying premise linking all of them, this being that wealth accumulation by independent individuals acting in a non-coordinated manner overall is a thing. This gives rise to all sorts of varying theories, and to counter theories, which complain of the victimisation of those not benefiting proportionately from the resultant relationships. So in effect we have the middle (the capitalists) and we have the low (the exploited.) Except this is wrong from every conceivable angle. Businesses, for example, are incorporated within law, they operate within infrastructure laid down by government, they operate in financial systems created by governance and are in effect merely extensions of governance. It requires a great deal of creativity, and frankly willful ignorance, to maintain a framework in which governance is claimed to be superfluous. You literally have to declare recorded history inadmissible.

Communism likewise is premised on assumptions taken from political economy which works on this refusal to countenance anything other than the existence of a middle and a low in society. The middle are always framed as the dominating group. Communism and Marxism then frame society as in a perpetual conflict between these groups.

Anarchism meanwhile takes these categories and work along the same lines. You have some left anarchists who take the side of the low, and you have “conservative” anarchists who provide the anarchist framework in a defence of the middle. You get all sorts of weird combinations such as Ayn Rand and Rothbard from this. It is all still working on this middle and low (though Rothbard seems to have caught on a little that this is all wrong.)

Liberalism meanwhile is a pure form of refusing to admit of a high. It just forms the default non-thinking form of this system. Its advocates don’t consider any intellectual ramifications of liberal premises, as they are too busy being apologist for power and staying within the popular and successful mishmash of syrupy nonsense that benefits power.

All of these thought system then share the same underlying premise – there is the middle in society, which oppresses/ justifiably exists above the oppressed/ the unworthy. Right versus Left. Except this picture is missing a serious ingredient. The left is composed of two factions, not one. The left is the high within society aligned with the low in society to destroy the middle in society.

This system, this recognition, changes the status of capitalism, anarchism, communism and liberalism from being justifiable means of viewing events, into unsecure power apologetics that serve no purpose other than to confuse. All of these thought systems are perfectly designed to camouflage the role of power in society. That this did not occur on purpose seems obvious. That this occurred quite naturally as a result of the logic of the power system appears clear to me.

The recognition of the existence, which is a constant, of this high in society gives us a brand new framework for viewing society. Where everyone else sees a two way conflict between the right (middle) and the left (low) we can see that the conflict is a three way tussle in which the left is centralising power; a centralising power which doesn’t advertise its actions but covers it with claims of emancipation and freedom.