Without Political Form: Narrato-Political Self-Critique
Br. Mark last week crafted an excellent post criticizing his own political views which generated some interesting back-and-forth commentary. It comes highly recommended. Mark asked other members of the League if they might follow suit and that got some ideas kicking around between Mssrs. Scott, ED, and myself. So this post marks an initial foray into that venture, which I believe Scott is calling Ideological Dexterity Collaboration.
For the first round anyway Scott has agreed to play his skilled role of moderator. He sent me this question to start us off:
So Chris, as one of the two people at the League who likes to remain ideologically amorphous, do you see this tendency as a bug or a feature of your writing and analysis?
For those not in the know, Scott is the other ideologically amorphous member of the League.
So before I answer Scott’s very penetrating question, a bit of background on my ideological amorphous-ity (sidenote: that’s the word of the day, though I’m not even sure if a non-word can constitute word of the day but there it is).
Most readers know that my background is in history, theology (mostly the study of mystics from various religious traditions), and philosophy. Related are side interests in the history of technology, philosophy of science, and the study of military warfare. My study of political science comes through those lenses–lenses that emphasize large historical change, technological eras and science/technology as the driver of economic history.
I’ve been very influenced by the work of Philip Bobbitt whose book The Shield of Achilles lays out a theory of the evolution of Western politics at the nexus of military, technological, legal, and economic changes. Bobbitt talks of the current paradigm as the Market State which has replaced the nation-state as a guiding construct. While that notion is true socially and economically we live in a weird time when the governments of the nation-state are still around and politically hold much power, but nobody has bothered to tell them their time is up.
In that sense, it’s hard for me to be identified with any particular political point of view, as I generally see them as secondary to the real drivers of change. At most I think of the various political points of view as coherent philosophies that are largely questions of how to best deal with the conditions already coming into existence–mostly through science and technology and the drive of consciousness. I realize of course that isn’t how the various political philosophies see themselves.
My amorphousness is perhaps seen as amorphousness (which perhaps it isn’t) or at least complicated by a further issue which is that to the degree that I have a political view it is not one of liberal democracy and capitalism. My views on what I would actually implement were I philosopher-king would be so radically different than what we have now that there’s really no way to get from here to there. What I adhere to goes under various names but basically is subsumed under the concepts of mutualism, resilient communities, distributism, sociocracy, and possibly Christian socialism (emphasis on the Christian part). Similar trajectories include left-conservatism and Scott’s burgeoning concept of glocalism. Terms essentially no one knows or understands (myself probably included in the non-understanding part). Though an interesting part to start would be this essay by John Milbank.
In the debate between the Front Porchers and the Postmodern Conservatives, I’m a Front Porcher when it comes to how we should arrange neighborhoods, grow food, circulate alternate currencies and create a social stigma upon usury, as well as the need to have some moral foundation to our economics. But I’m a postmodern conservative (or even potentially a liberal) in terms of social mores within that world–which casts me out from the Front Porcher ethos.
In the US debate between liberals and conservatives I don’t really fit. Worse still is the reduction of liberals and conservatives to partisan hack Republicans and Democrats. I tend to see both (parties certainly but philosophies as well) as past their best by use date versions of modernity–big, industrial, over-sized, slow, unable to respond efficiently, poorly scaled. With the only difference being (generically) a difference in emphasis towards unrestricted corporate power versus corporate power plus the state (with some attempted side benefits for the middle class). In that scenario I generally vote for the left hoping they might not screw up too badly, but not with much in the way of emotional connection. But in the end, the GOP is unserious and worse dangerous while the Democrats are frankly pathetic.
A quick and dirty way to characterize my view is that capitalism is the best mechanism for generating wealth, but it has no inherent mechanism for just distribution of said wealth. Nor does it consider–in its foundational practice or theories–the reality of constraints. Constraints like energy and the environment, as well as labor. This makes me not a libertarian in that I’m not a utilitarian (which is the only logical ethical view for a libertarian in my mind); I don’t believe the market is anything more than a morally neutral mechanism of wealth generation. And just to be clear, that’s not a shot at libertarians. I know the stereotypical critique is that they are some heartless bastards or whatever. I generally don’t find that to be the case, only that they have a flawed anthropology and therefore do their best, within that limited vision, to have some ethics or reduce some suffering. Given their anthropology, they have to generally veer to the best lowest common denominator possible. (Weirdly the lowest common denominator turns out in a pluralistic age to be the highest common denominator). Hence utilitarianism.
On the other hand, I’m not from the left insofar as I don’t think the concept of nation-states and increased national bureaucratic regiments are the way to deal with the negative problems/flaws inherent in the market. I think the nation-state suffers from an inverse Goldilocks problem–it’s too big and too small simultaneously, it’s just not right.
Politics and economics–in this bizzaro world I occupy–would be about human flourishing. It would be a process of learning, an art. Not an imposition of power or worse in our post-political age essentially a sideshow farce. A form of media entertainment with the lowballing stupidity of thinking voting in elections is fulfilling some “democratic duty”. As Milbank says classical liberalism is sourced in the myth of violence, anarchy, and distrust. Hence we need both A)a powerful state to defend us and B) to assume no deep moral/social/emotional connection between any of us, therefore all we can do is leave each other alone. Sidenote: This is why I also don’t fit as a libertarian because I think Milbank is right and that libertarianism has to assume/found a huge growing beast of a Leviathan state. Or if you like there is no real libertarianism that isn’t already liberaltarianism. Which is not to say I don’t appreciate various libertarian takes/policies on certain issues (I do), just that I can’t call myself one and have all kinds of negative names for people who disagree.
Still, what other realistic option–prior to some mass social collapse–is there then the nation-state behemoth? So, for a number of years then on my old blog Indistinct Union I promoted a kind of left-right fusionist pragmatic politics—thinking that if the real vision I would like to see would never happen, I could still be slightly optimistic that some good things could be achieved nonetheless. Something along the lines of a Radical Middle. [This style included both my thinking on domestic policy/philosophy and foreign policy. The latter of which I’m at least a little more conventional].
But then I was naive. A kind of classic liberal naivete. Namely that people actually were interested in solving problems through politics. That they saw politics as an art and a calling. That good ideas were be understood self-evidently to be good ideas and therefore implemented.
It took me a number of years to be sufficiently disabused of that illusion. Blogging accelerated that process, including here at the League. In the end no one is really interested in transpartisanship. I used to think they should be, now I’m agnostic on that point. The most that can be done in the meantime, before a new politics can arise that will transcend some of these divides, is what we try to do here at the League and form civil discourse between the warring parties. A kind of linguistic temporary truce and gentle-“personliness”.
Which by this country road I’ve taken us, brings us back to Scott’s question–this frame of mine, feature or bug?
In the practicality of the down and dirty it’s a bug. You need to be a team to play in this game. You have to have your team’s talking points at the ready and your artillery aimed. I mean s–t, how many people are left reading at this point and what do you do with a post like this? Not much. It’s too Jester-like.
Plus in the end, I suppose there are still places like The Atlantic or The Economist or maybe some organs on the left (Think Progress?) where the blogging world actually has impact on policy. Maybe? That used to be more common on the right–via their think tanks, publications and the like–although now having a positive policy vision on the right is somehow to hate our country and love our freedom-hating enemies.
But otherwise political blogs are just echo chambers for the partisan fight. Or warriors attempting to control the all-important media narrative. And in that sense, I’m not suited up for battle. So again it’s a bug. What’s the point of reading/writing politico-philosophically on a blog? I used to think people who didn’t were just conditioned fools, just hacks playing their role. That it was my job to bring ‘depth’ or something to this arena. But other than the intermittent “deep” post that sends the hearts of the bloggers aflutter and their fingers flying in responses and counter-responses, as they ache for some moment of clarity and sincerity in this otherwise godforsaken format, the reality is the reality. I’m sinner as well as saved within it, so I’m not pointing fingers at anyone nor possessed any longer of some mission or so.
So the amorphousness is a feature of my writing. But I think by feature there Scott means a net positive. I was originally taking feature to mean something more like an essential quality or element thereof. In that sense, the answer is easy–my amorphousness is a feature. But is it a positive?
That I really don’t know how to answer. I’m too conditioned in my amorphosity to be anything different. If it’s not a positive, then I’m just going kamikaze and might as well enjoy the ride downward. I don’t know. I think in the end that’s really up to the readers. All I know at this point is that I can’t do otherwise.