Back to H.F. Philosophy contents

Part IV

Here I will conclude my treatment of the chain of answers which has occupied us. We have found the prevailing doctrine of legitimacy to be flimsy – although it is unalterable so far as political realities are concerned. Speculatively, the problem of legitimacy is up for grabs.

Rousseau’s analysis made the essence of power political – although he saw a need for religion to give people a motive to be public-spirited beyond fear of punishment. He accepted the economic institutions which survived slavery with no reservations (except for his retrospective utopianism toward the rise of private property in the first place). He believed that extremes of wealth and poverty could undercut a republic, but the only remedy he imagined was to let production run its course and redistribute income at the completion of the cycle.

In the subsequent centuries, the economy has been found to be a phenomenon in its own right, with individuals only along for the ride. Thus, there are forces in society which Rousseau considers legal which have rationales of their own that divide the population into counterposed blocs. (At the same time, as I noted, there continues to be a great deal of reticence among individualist spokespeople about giving this state of affairs a label.)

What this meant was that the formula for a republic which proved successful was not Rousseau’s formula. (Well – his vision of the good life was a small city-state governed by consensus.) The successful formula assents to the division in blocs and is willing to have public policy unfold as a series of settlements between blocs. In turn, it becomes usual and necessary for the republic to have two political parties. But then the organs of news and opinion, being owned by plutocrats, can be partisan organs on behalf of their owners. Private wealth, also, can influence government officials and elections. (The phenomena are most clear-cut outside the United States.) Then the individual voter’s sovereignty is diluted. (Again, it is most clear-cut outside the United States.) The question arises whether there are political ranks, in effect, even though they are not statutory.

Rousseau believed that extremes of wealth and poverty threaten the survival of the republic. However, he had no theory of stable nonstatutory political ranks. It did not occur to him that the republic’s chances of survival depend on its ability to accommodate social divisions, to thrive on "blocism" and settlements between blocs.

Is the existence of political parties precisely a symptom that the republic is welded from opposing blocs, nothing more and nothing less? Does that, in turn, mean that all contemporary republics lack genuine political equality?

Rousseau makes another observation in the same vein. A society needs a criminal justice system to sanction lawbreakers. (If you consent to the goal of a lawful society, then you must consent to the proportionate means.) But what if we find a vast quantity of society’s resources being devoted to punishing criminals? Suppose that vast numbers of people end up in jail. According to Rousseau, that does not mean that the people are unworthy of life; it means that the regime is profoundly sick. Rousseau draws the same inference from a massive criminal population that he drew from political parties and from lack of mandates: the society is divided in blocs which create de facto political ranks.

Would a society in good order have no political parties, even though it had competitive elections for representatives, even thought it enacted laws by majority rule? Would the absence of antagonistic blocs allow citizens to see a public interest clearly? Would the typical outcome of an election be a mandate? Would resources devoted to the punishment of crime be minimal? Could consensus and national missions ever be legitimate characteristics of national life?

By asking these questions, we remind ourselves that for Rousseau, the division of the world into nations was axiomatic. The good society had to be a circumscribed jurisdiction, he claimed. The larger a jurisdiction became, the more overbearing government had to be. Different natural circumstances demanded different economic specializations, and that had to mean placing economic sectors in separate jurisdictions, not uniting them in one polity.

Rousseau did not see what was asserted by Marx, that a nation is a bloc (or a device on behalf of a bloc within the nation), that the existence of nations is blocism. In any case, the goal of abolishing nations, which is found only on the fringe of political thought, has proved to be utterly far-fetched. The Marxist regimes, above all, have insisted on their boundaries, and have not hesitated to go to war against each other. Ententes of Marxist regimes have been clearly hierarchical.

As to the questions about political parties, mandates, and national missions, they will continue to matter until it becomes possible to answer them. They remain on the shelf of thoughtful speculations which we cannot test. They have not had a proper test because the divisions in modern society have not been expendable – not remotely so. To pose a scenario can sometimes be extremely instructive. What we may learn here is that Rousseau assumed a world in which there had not been an explosion of practical knowledge as there has been in ours. The technification of the economy, nuclear power, genetic engineering, etc. Moreover, Rousseau overlooked the role of the pioneer, a person who does a new thing which slowly wins acceptance competitively (and not because a political authority imposes it by force). The inescapability of uneven development.

I have already mentioned that there is an individualist vision which is fundamentally opposed to Rousseau’s picture of good order. That vision amounts to an individualist anarchism which will grant a role to government as a traffic cop. Civic quality becomes a matter of affording citizens the opportunity to realize themselves in spontaneous ways. The primary mechanism of spontaneous social interaction, in this perspective, is the quest for private profit. Then, as we saw, the population becomes homogeneous by the back door; everyone confronts everyone else as an isolated competitor. But doesn’t that vision of the good life preclude nuclear weapons or expeditions to other planets? (Because they are only conceivable as national goals consuming massive resources, hostage to experts, necessitating governmental secrecy.) Individualist spokespeople would not be entitled to wring their hands over the poor educations which non-plutocratic children receive, since citizens’ choice of services and command of services is taken care of by market forces. Taxpayers would subsidize only those "services" which were naturally indivisible, such as the police.

What individualist slogans leave unexamined is whether the nation has a national goal – springing from the private sector – in reality if not by governmental proclamation. (The goal of technocapitalist expansion.) And there is more. The modern republic in fact requires every member of society to be two people in one: a self-interested individual in the private sector, and a dutiful citizen in the public sector. Incidentally, Rousseau’s delineation lacks a clear perception of this dichotomy because he was not enthusiastic about the private side.

What I did in "Philosophy of Bourgeois Justice" was to attempt to codify the successful or surviving formula for a democratic republic intuitively. It was a synthesis of themes which historically were supplied by heterogeneous political philosophers. I then noted a long list of tensions to which this solution was liable. In this study I have taken a different route, placing the emphasis on the "upper hegemony" which Rousseau discerned and which is a consequence of the existence of a government or republic at all.

What makes Rousseau relevant to the doctrine of legitimacy which prevails today is that he discerned the indivisibility and irrevocability of sovereignty, discerned a pre-governmental unity of "the people," advocated popular sovereignty, championed political equality. Rousseau is irrelevant to the extent that the crucial element of the successful formula was the acceptance of the division of society in blocs, the two-party system, the series of settlements between blocs. And the acceptance of governmental secrecy, consignment of a large fraction of the population to unemployment or prison, etc. Moreover, Rousseau did not resonate with individualist anarchism as a sensibility. The nearest he came to it was the vision of a multiplicity of small city-states – but they were to be governed by consensus.

If I may speak in a slashing way, the formula for the republic which has become standard is: vicious political equality – vicious economic inequality. Successful as this formula is, our analysis has found the accompanying doctrine of legitimacy to be conceptually flimsy. (Or perhaps what I am trying to say is that the doctrine of legitimacy is a strained mythology.) Our analysis also finds that any state will make irresistible claims on its citizens which have not sunk in with thinking people. Law, for example, articulates the public interest in immense detail and is binding on everyone. All the while, when a government’s survival is threatened, it will set aside any law. Most people have never really grasped that the existence of government implies "upper hegemony."

As I intimated at the beginning of this part, the doctrine of legitimacy is in stasis as far as political realities are concerned. (The alternative proposals are regressive or crackpot). Nevertheless, to repeat, it is a strained mythology, and so conceptually up for grabs. While the provision of new solutions is not the purpose of this essay, I will list a few pertinent reference points.

Let me begin with a last word about anarchism. My claims about government as an upper hegemony are not borne out when government is weak, when a territory is in political dissolution. We have an immense amount of evidence as to what political dissolution is in reality. Characterized as it is by domination of the population by gangsters, and unregulated personal vassalage, it is far removed from customary utopian promises. To me, claims that we can achieve the good life by simply stripping society of government seem outrageously thoughtless – a scapegoating of government.

Are the avenues of influence that matter in contemporary society identified in Enlightenment political philosophy? As to undeclared influences, one will think first of the economy and plutocratic power, because there is already a vast literature which discovers them.

Contemporary society has a glaring disorder, if you will, which we classify as economic. There are millions of people in the United States to whom legitimate social roles are not offered on reasonable terms. (The individual has to viciously compete his or her way out of the community just to find a legitimate role in the larger society.) Populations and neighborhoods become reservations for the unemployed. Whoever you wish to blame for this consignment of populations to the trashbin, it is a social circumstance which it is beyond the power of "democracy with a market economy" to correct or change. And it does not end at a nation’s border. Entire nations effectively fall in a global underclass. That, too, is a circumstance which "democracy with a market economy" cannot correct or change.

As long as we live in a world of nuclear power, genetic engineering, and so forth, experts, expert knowledge, and secrecy have a life-or-death importance. Our lives will depend on what experts do, whether the Constitution assigns them control of our lives or not.

Sophisticated public opinion is still pervaded by the vestiges of the secularism and naturalism which were among the defining features of modernity. (Or should I say the hoax of modernity?) Rousseau’s proposal of a mandatory civic religion would be seen as outrageously regressive today for just this reason. Scientism comes together with the individualist vision of separate self-realization in the marketplace to yield a public life which is not supposed to have any formidable spiritual aspect, for want of a better word. In our time, spirituality can mean nothing more nor less than religion-shopping – permission to intellectually drop one’s trousers. All the while, the religion that matters is the same one, the worship of the same god in the sky who issues commands to humans, the god whom Jefferson struggled to second-guess. Modern intellectuals have learned everything about exotic religions and cults and they have learned nothing.

The eighteenth century, it seems, was characterized by a passion for responsibility and for idealistic institution-building. Today, collective life is certainly characterized by a wealth of new opportunities and by institution-building of great scope. However,

the outlook typical among the smart set today – called Postmodernism among other things – is a different matter. It may selectively assert its own moral superiority, but it much more characteristically treats responsibility and what is sneeringly called idealism with total contempt. The value-system is nakedly mercenary and sordid.

One circumstance here is especially revealing. The eighteenth-century thinkers thought that people would be made fit for the responsibilities of citizenship by education. Again Jefferson:

if we think [the people] not enlightened enough to exercise control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take [control] from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

Education was virtually thought of as the new panacea. But how far we have come! Today, Postmodernism messianically denies the existence of the subject and of personal responsibility. At the same time, it denounces the notion of cognitive competence, of the right answer to 2 + 2, as a lie of the oppressor. Seemingly what it wants is a population which is vacant and illiterate, which is blown this way and that by the winds of demagoguery. Then the very program of progressively elevating the people to be worthy of sovereignty has been discarded. If the Postmodernist campaign is successful, the public, so far from ascending to the responsibilities of citizenship, will descend from the station it had already attained.

To summarize, spirituality means permission to intellectually drop one’s trousers. The value-system is nakedly mercenary and sordid. The urban middle class is urged to descend into vice. The prevailing intellectual fashion takes as its goal the disabling of plebeians for responsibility. A question that has bedeviled me and my associates for decades is whether we have evidence here that the civilization (as a public vision, more than as a collection of things and technologies) is dying. The smog of exhaustion is overpowering. But if the civilization is dying, then it is dying amidst feverish commercial and governmental activity, and with a feverish cultural marketplace. Is it the evolution of a dead culture? – it is mind-boggling. If it is dying, it possesses the scientific knowledge to annihilate itself. There are no historical precedents by which to judge the situation.

That the actual trend is so enigmatic makes all the difference. There is no easy identification of the dominating force in collective life, as a philosopher of government would need. We do not want to be like the employment counselor who finds a new occupation for a dying client, and does not take the client’s impending death into account because nobody said anything about medicine or illness.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, social commentators from various camps, including Lenin, Mosca, Michels, Schmitt, identified various weaknesses in the republican doctrine of democracy. They claimed precisely that the democracies were oligarchies in fact. Lenin and the authoritarian Marxists went much farther than that and I will return to them in a moment. All of these commentators concluded that since they had exposed democracy as a disguised tyranny, democracy itself was a vain slogan and we might as well commit to an overt tyranny. Actually, the German population at the beginning of the Thirties was in a life-or-death crisis with no clue as to how bourgeois legality was supposed to extricate them. One can say the same for Russia in 1998.

In some of the twentieth-century challenges to democratic legitimacy, there was nothing formidable or deeply considered about the principles which were supposed to supplant democratic legitimacy. A national mission was proclaimed at the top and the population was mobilized by governmental propaganda and force. Popular sovereignty was replaced by the cult of the leader and imposed uniformity. Militarism was embraced. The state bonded with the large corporations.

In other cases, it was much more convoluted. Authoritarian Marxist regimes claimed to have liquidated the expendable property class, thus stripping society down to a single bloc, give or take the divergence between workers and peasants. Nothing was supposed to be left but unanimity and a single national purpose. Nevertheless, oppression had left the proletariat, the historical protagonist, unfit to discern its own true interests; so the role of being the consciousness of the class was assumed by a self-appointed, secretive, hierarchical political cadre.

Subsequently Stalin announced that a new human being had or would be created, one without an individual fate and without an autonomous inner life. Heterogeneity of opinion could not be attributed to irreducible psychological reality, as Rousseau had done. It was treason. I sought to gain some perspective on this episode in political history in "The Fantasy of Absolute Stalinism" (January 1997). There are suggestive similarities between Stalinism and Postmodernism: both hope for the vacant, politically suggestible "victim" as history’s protagonist, both want a Lysenkoist approach to all scientific knowledge.

Something remains to be explained. According to Marxist doctrine, once the capitalist class was liquidated and society was characterized by a uniformity of economic role, the causes had been set in motion to realize a genuinely pervasive public interest. The autocratic leaders should have been temporary, should have abdicated, because (supposedly) there was no partial interest in society on behalf of which they acted. The working class was supposed to outlast individual lives. It was supposed to count for far more than the mortal humans who assigned themselves the task of representing it. The objective homogeneity of the followers was supposed to weigh far more heavily than the personal ambitions of the leaders in determining what was or was not politically possible. There is no evidence that Lenin did not believe his own claims – that he did not believe that his personal domination would escort the proletariat to sovereignty – that he did not believe that the revolution abroad would take its cue from his leaps, and buttress his undertakings objectively. If Marxism had been true, Lenin could have acted in good faith; but Marx misread the modern world to the point of insanity.

George Orwell, as is well known, wrote toward the end of the Stalin era that humans had an innate, sadistic lust for power. Supposedly the Stalinists did not represent anything except themselves and their desire to be ultimate policemen. Orwell was as extreme as Stalin in claiming to have discovered that human nature was far more rudimentary than it had been thought to be. But, as I may or may not have said in "The Fantasy of Absolute Stalinism," once the veil of repression was lifted, matters were found to be very different from Orwell’s portrayal. The people who actually wanted to be inhuman and robotic did not exist. Secretly, the comrades hungered for what they perceived as the normal human life which went on in the outside world. (With all its faults, I am compelled to say.) Secretly, they did not want to be robots of the future, not at all. Entire nations acquiesced to impostures which enjoyed little real commitment.

The river of economics ran much deeper than voluntarist Marxists assumed. The capitalist class was not expendable. The Communist Party somehow became a proxy for the capitalist class it expropriated – until the whole imposture became so strained that it collapsed. What is so very revealing is that when the return of capitalism was proclaimed, the Communists simply assumed ownership of the enterprises they formerly managed. What, then, do you suppose was their real relation to the enterprises before the change? Homogeneity cannot simply be wished on society. Forms of property have life-cycles. For a form of property to reach the end of its life-cycle is evidently an affair of millennia – whereas Marx said it was an affair of decades.

In 1922, Bukharin wrote an article which was little noticed and never translated, namely "The Bourgeois Revolution and the Proletarian Revolution." In it, he proposed that laborers cannot become masters of society under any circumstances, because specialization in menial labor is inherently servile. This sort of speculation may matter greatly in the future. But it calls for more clarification. Does it mean that a managerial class will differentiate itself in every society and manage stably? Or does it mean that the situation will not stabilize until the means of production fall into the hands of a class of private owners?

• • •


Part V

There is another way of analyzing the material we have already seen which brings more of its features to light. Let us consider the leading governmental types in the modern world, say, fascism, Stalinism, Liberalism, social democracy, and also absolute monarchy and theocracy. We may imagine that we have a manifesto-like document for each type, making the case for it in an argumentative way. What we will notice about these documents, I suggest, is that they all begin with platitudinous assumptions and platitudes meant to undercut competing ideologies.

In fact, we may speak of ideologies which seek holistic commitments from their audiences. Religious, ethical, and political ideologies have that in common. But we know when we are looking at a political ideology, because the vocabulary is that of the mundane life-world; the first premise is that humans live "socially" (associatively, communally); and the topics are aspects of social authority and economic activity.

Certain exceptions to my remark about platitudes have to be dealt with. Stalinism, upholding its Marxist antecedents, assures us that its goal is to abolish classes, money, family, nations, the army, the police, the civilian government, and law. That is uncommon enough. But as the Stalinist argument proceeds, there is an abrupt reversal – and wage labor, nations, the army, the police, civilian government, and law return with a vengeance (along with tortured claims that there has been a transmutation such that law is no longer bourgeois law, government is no longer bourgeois government, etc.). Frankly, it just wastes our time to have to chase down this particular diversion. Absolute monarchy, on the other hand, brings the supernatural into the political formula in a specific way. But that is no advantage here, because we assume that the Christian argument for absolute monarchy lost its credibility in a previous century. (But the past does not let go so easily. Numerous nations in Europe remain Christian monarchies.)

Political manifestoes take it as truistic that humans live associatively or communally. Given that slavery and payment in kind have been left in the past, most adult males, and now the majority of adult females, have to live as if earning money is an end in itself. The ideologies truistically assume the family as the primary human association. Large numbers of people will marry and have children; although the modern ideologies do not really endorse the sanctity of the family. (Indeed, the modern governmental types assault the family in one way or another.)

The ideologies speak in platitudinous ways of history, nations, wars, conquests, heads of state, national wealth, personal wealth, commerce, technology. Science is grudgingly acknowledged for the technological advantages it confers. More specifically, the ideologies speak about wealth and the aspiration to material comfort. They speak about the ability of some humans to command others. About authority, which is declared and legitimate. About undeclared compulsion, e.g. the power that comes from immense personal wealth, e.g. permanent governments and invisible governments. They speak of birth-identities: nationality, language, geographic region, races or "peoples." Here religion enters not for its supernatural tenets and goals but as a social loyalty. As we scrutinize the manifestoes closely, we discover that economic classes are given crucial roles in them, although most ideologies are reticent about class. Slaves and slaveowners, peasants or farmers, labor and capital.

We are dealing, then, with social authority and control in relation to material comfort, as they are colored by birth-identities which amount to involuntary blocs, such as nationality, religion, language, geographic region, race, class. Certain more specific truisms are notable. Under capitalism – the norm – worker and capitalist are crystallized as roles and as social blocs. In turn, "society," the nation, is liable to crises of the capitalist economy: hyperinflation, national debt, balance of payments, deflation, recession. Passing to a different issue, whether or not governmental policy is guided by the wishes of majorities, it is entirely possible for the majority not to know what is good for it.

The foregoing, then, are truisms from which the political ideologies are launched. But as our manifestoes proceed, they abruptly diverge from one another. Each purports that the initial truisms require acceptance of chains of highly sectarian propositions – which deserve to be called crackpot. Let me marshall some of the propositions distinguishing the different governmental types to show how provocative they are.



Humans are separate atoms, and the fact that they live in associations having lines of authority is problematic. Each human is a seeker of selfish, momentary pleasure, of material comfort. Humans interact in their association by collision; they are like colliding atoms.

Each human is the owner of self and of a quantity of nonhuman property – the individual’s assets. So private property is a foundation of the human association. Each human employs his or her assets to gain pleasure or comfort. That means that the paradigm for the creation of wealth is commerce. Not only the exchange of products for money in the marketplace. The exchange of labor for money in the workplace. In this sphere of life, the individual is strictly self-interested. Thus, we can be more concrete about human interaction and say that it consists of the cut-throat competition of all with all.

Each human is entitled to seek a separate realization. Thus, on the one hand, each human will have as much or as little wealth as he or she can legally procure. But the large human associations have to have general authorities, called governments – unfortunately. The proper role of government does not go beyond that of traffic cops, maintaining order as individuals go on their separate ways. The government’s authority is in conflict with the individual’s discretions. Thus government is something to be minimized and resented. There is a boundary between governmental authority and individual discretion which is zealously preserved.

Each adult should have the same part in giving the traffic cops their authority and instructing them. So government is directed by the wishes of majorities. Everyone has a public self, and public selves are all equally entitled. (Already there is the possibility of a tension here, because the distribution of property wanted by the majority may be different from the one which resulted from private pursuits in the marketplace. Federalist 10.)

Liberalism concedes the reality of the past and of the involuntary birth-identities such as nationality, language group, religion. However, the individual does not owe anything to any group except to the national government in its capacity as the traffic cop. For people to come together in a religion or fraternal organization has the character of a permitted hobby; it does not define citizenship.

Sometimes the attempt is made to link Liberalism to science or positivism. They are supposed to be natural allies because both are opposed to supernatural allegiances and to traditional authoritarianism. Both seem to have a materialist-behaviorist view of human personality. However, the alliance is profoundly fraudulent, because there is nothing in the individual aspiration to selfish, momentary pleasure that can possibly explain the motivation necessary for scientific creativity – the priestly withdrawal into detached observation, the code of honesty, the mental elaboration of an abstract harmony.

In a sense, Enlightenment modernity and Liberal modernity sold "modern man" a vast delusion. They arrived at the atomistic, colliding, competing individuals by stripping away the fantasies of religion and aristocratic absolutism. We would throw off claims on ourselves from remote authority, and retreat to claims on us that issue from within, from self-interest. Well, it may be defensible to strip off religion and the divine right of kings. (Although as we have found over and over, while Christianity may have been put on the defensive in some quarters, in general, political publics are not abandoning religion in the least.) But the doctrine of the atomistic individuals who only collide with each other is like behaviorism. It reduces human life to dead particles, so to speak; but these tenets are just as dogmatic as those of supernaturalist ideologies. We do not become less dogmatic, less credulous, by believing that we are greed machines than if we believed that we harbor spirits which have transcendent fates.

Liberalism cannot, in fact, proceed without history, without the nation, without belonging. If there is no spirit of sacrifice, it cannot field a conscript army. Precisely because it throws the responsibility for the direction of government on citizens, each individual is affected by whether other individuals have the capacity to be responsible.

Nowhere in pure Liberalism is there any guarantee that the collisions of atomistic individuals in the marketplace will make everyone affluent and comfortable. In fact, precisely the opposite is guaranteed. Among other things, that means that there will be capitalist crises.

When we come to the economic crisis, Liberalism cannot make palatable the circumstance that individual human acts combine to become an impersonal force which throws society into chaos. Liberalism also cannot make palatable that it does not consider it a fault that society is thrown into chaos.

Liberalism is certainly reductionist. But we are fooled if we suppose that to espouse reductionism is to minimize the amount of faith one harbors. In the last two and a half centuries, Liberalism has been the most resilient governmental type. What that means is that its advantages have outweighed its disadvantages, given the compromises it has submitted to. Back door compromises such as conciliation of religion and the family. Front-door modifications such as government recognition of unions, and "welfare" measures.



What is real is the will to power. But the will to power materializes not anarchically, in the clash of individuals, but in the relation of human associations to leaders, who are those with the strongest ideas. Fascism starts with the nation as a historical reality, but at some point it executes a conceptual rollover and gives the State, an artificial political construct, priority over the historical nation (which in Europe was a Christian principality).

The capitalist crisis is decisive for fascism, because fascism gains its credibility as a way of coping with the crisis. The State and its leader become the ends which the populace has to serve. The State takes charge of the economy and irons out the division between labor and management, welding the classes together in a monolith.

Legitimate authority, then, issues from the national will to power and the individual who can best direct it. The economy requires the counterposed roles as before, but the State welds the classes into a monolith. The depressed economy is revived by public works and other State measures. Since the law of life is the will to power, the nation either grows or else it decays. Thus, conquest is the nation’s normal occupation, and war is the most admirable of activities.

The Nazis extended fascism’s destructiveness by propounding what amounts to an occult biology, in which humankind was discovered to be fragmented. Certain branches of the species, then, were unworthy of the rights of citizens even though they had broken no republican law. The state could purge itself by eradicating them.

Again, the role of the participant citizen is not to seek comfort, but to sacrifice self to the glory of the State. Private associations are banned. Spontaneous activity is treason. The state is the source of all meaning, all worthy values. Its will recognizes no limits.

The fascist leader and his associates in the dictatorship must claim to be the most excellent people in the world in every field of endeavor. We find that the fascist leader is unable to relate to his companions as self-actuated, judging, choosing persons. He can relate to them only as farm animals. Actually, it is by propaganda and force that fascism gives the nation a single mission.

The absolute submission to a mundane and artificial human organization is bizarre, but we can see several reasons why it found a following. First, even though religious identity is still operative and even though fascism conciliates it, people were no longer prepared to accept a priesthood as a government, or as an authority appointing government. Secondly, there was a popular revulsion toward the mechanical, atomistic, anarchic existence which Liberalism had assigned to citizens. Thirdly, by taking on the role of an ultra-monopoly, the State was able to arrest the capitalist collapse and enrich itself through public works and conquest (in the short run).





Absolute monarchy

Government derives its just powers from God, who, acting through the highest priest of the established religion, anoints an individual as the sovereign. That individual does not obey the law; he or she decrees the law. It is up to him or her to see that the law is Godly and does not cater to the ignoble desires of the multitude. The purpose of human life is not happiness; it is the service of God.

Ever since the eighteenth century, it is commonplace to charge that these tenets are decrepit illusions, imposed by a few humans on the rest to gain special advantages.



The directive forces of history are dead particles (the means of production and their development) and blind involuntary conflict (the objective class struggle). Leaders typically do not understand the interests which they help to advance. Marx was uniquely able to get outside subjectivity’s blur and to see the inanimate forces which direct events.

Marxism is rigorously modernist in that it flatly denies the supernatural. Religions justified the rule of exploiting classes, and made excuses for the fact that the masses had no material comfort in this life. The Stalinist state which will claim to realize Marx’s program makes war on religion.

The class struggle culminates with the emergence of the industrial proletariat, the last class which is socially indispensable. Capitalism long ago exhausted its potential for further expansion. The proletariat now seizes political power. As the indispensable economic class, it confers all political legitimacy. What the proletariat wants and must receive is material comfort, prosperity. Government, nation, law, private property, the family, and the money economy exist solely as means of class oppression. All these will be abolished in a proletarian world.

But wait. Decades of capitalist oppression have rendered the proletariat unable to perceive its true interests. Thus, for the time being, the proletariat has to be led by a self-appointed, hierarchical, secretive political cadre. Temporarily, this cadre will establish a national government. Then this cadre, representing the proletariat as its consciousness, confers legitimacy on itself. Government, law, wage labor, and even the family will be rehabilitated as socialist institutions.

The revolution in which the proletariat seized power via the Party is continued by the Party after the socialist state is established. Obstructionists have to be removed; so repressions and executions continue – without legal constraints.

The ideological party-state will be the source of all value, will recognize no limits. The individual must sacrifice self to the party-state absolutely. Thus the duty of sacrifice overrides the promise of material comfort. Private associations are banned. Spontaneous activity is treason. Religion is to be crushed. What is even more outlandish is that Stalinism issues political challenges to science, and then shows by its actions that it cannot make those challenges work.

The governed are asked to sacrifice on the basis that ultimately this sacrifice will yield a world which is the opposite of the sacrificial polity which brings it about. The means is at the opposite pole from the ends.


Social Democracy

Social democracy does not have an independent justification for itself from the ground up. It arose as a phenomenon of economic opportunism. The same capitalist crisis that has been mentioned before motivates the social democratic compromise. Marx’s promises to the proletariat can be realized by democratic political reform of capitalism. The majority of the electorate empowers the systemic authority, the government, to override private economic rights: in order to redistribute wealth and create demand. The capitalists acquiesce because for them it means labor peace; otherwise production would be halted by strikes and hyperinflation or deflation or the like. Of course, the state must not only continue to exist, but take on a greatly expanded importance. The classes continue to exist, but now the state secures their collaboration.

Again, social democracy does not have a political philosophy of its own. Its economic textbooks assume that capitalism exists, and proceed from a laissez-faire core. The state guides the economy from outside the productive process. In the more aggressive version, the state purchases and operates a few key industries.

Now the economic classes have been reconciled peacefully on the basis of mutual advantage and are no longer blocs dividing the nation. As for the larger question of the purpose of human life in governed associations, social democracy finds its purpose in alleviating the suffering of the humblest people in society, and more generally, in affording all citizens material comfort. In other words, through politically imposed modification of the rigors of capitalism, everyone in the nation can be made comfortable, and that is the purpose of life.

Another key feature of the social democratic mix is that the government secures self-governed scientific faculties as its consultants. This consultative role is known by the contemptuous term social engineering. By ordering society on scientific principles, the experts can produce incontestably desirable outcomes. The purpose of education becomes the production of the well-adjusted, compliant individual.

Social democracy made at least two miscalculations and it is for history to show us how great they have been. First, it assumed that a nation’s government has ultimate power and can mold the private economy virtually as it wishes with no adverse effects. In fact, for whatever reason, toward the end of the twentieth century, social democracy got in trouble economically, and had to make large concessions to more or less Liberal interests. (One consideration was that global capitalism was able to reach inside social-democratic nations from above and to whipsaw their mixed economies.) Also, while social democracy ostensibly preferred peace to war in the name of a scientifically administered world, in practice it remained national and could not eliminate national rivalries.

Secondly, social democracy assumed that governmental manipulation of the economy is a technique with no adverse effects which can make any nation prosperous. As it turns out, however, the success of social democracy depends entirely on the nation’s location. Its successes are all in Western Europe. It has no successes in the Southern Hemisphere, where entire nations effectively belong to the underclass.

Again, social democracy can only define itself by splitting the difference between things it is not. It does not actually disprove laissez-faire economics; nor does it leave behind the polarity of labor and management. It arrives at material comfort as the national goal on the basis of Marx’s version of hedonism and on the basis of popularity: a comfortable electorate does not rebel. It makes no attempt to explain its inapplicability in the Southern Hemisphere. The human sciences on which social democracy relies have nothing in common with its economic core except that they all stem from European modernity.

Here we have a sketch of how doctrines of legitimacy might be reframed so as to expose the rational dependencies within each. At the same time, I have to note that I have limited the discussion to Liberalism and its later competitors. Moreover, I must allow that the balance of the doctrines are opportunisms which sprung up during crises. Although fascism, for example, is a real solution in the sense that it was attempted numerous times after the debacle of 1945, it is nothing but an attempt to hold capitalism together by propaganda and force. It depends on the withdrawal of citizens’ discretion; and citizens miss the amenities, and want them restored. Stalinism is just as dubious: it proposes to attain Marx’s utopia by reversing all of his promises – attempting, to express it harshly, a fascism without capitalists.

To craft a system of governance is an audacious venture, and in the cases we reviewed, the venture proceeds dogmatically. We are assumed to have choices; we are assumed to make our milieu. Some assumptions about the whole of reality and the possibility of knowledge are required: in order to repel claims on my life which issue from an established religion or formerly established religion; in order to establish the natural world in which humankind lives. In particular, the role of scientific technology in the economy is validated.

Then we must have affirmations about the nature of humankind. All of our doctrines presuppose history. They presuppose languages. They presuppose nations. They assume industrial society and a technified existence. They assume the factory worker’s role (in the case of Stalinism, it is brought back in as a reversal of the promise to abolish work – but we cannot keep inserting such qualifications as a homage to Stalinism). These doctrines occupy themselves with average people and workaday lives.

The circumstance that the response to exigencies is so important in shaping these ideologies means that they are based not only on a doctrine of of reality in the large but an assessment of a specific juncture in social history.

Our ideologies take a position on human purpose or realization. It is one of our conclusions that a doctrine of legitimacy cannot be agnostic on this score. Liberalism stands out because it proposes to leave the question of human realization up to the individual’s spontaneity – but it can only do that with respect to details. In the large, Liberal society makes people slaves to the market and the need to expand it, and there is no appeal therefrom. The doctrine that all human gratifications (values) can be created and distributed via the market is a pre-empting answer.

Stalinism and fascism took a turn, regarding the nature of humans, which has to be mentioned. Fascism explicitly made the will to power and predation the essence of humankind. Stalin announced that a new human being had or would be created, one without an individual fate and without an autonomous inner life – and fascism largely adopted that thesis. In general, totalitarianism claimed to discover that human nature was far more rudimentary than it had formerly been thought to be. As to Liberalism and social democracy, if we disregard the nominal personal discretion and spontaneity which they afford, and demand acknowledgement of the collective purposes which they engender, they also find human nature to be rudimentary, to be targeted on material pleasure or comfort.

All of our doctrines to have a mundane object of human aspiration or commitment, even if they cannot maintain that position consistently. Again, it is typically material comfort. Fascism is the exception in that it proposes to sacrifice the citizen to the State’s will to power.

Another way of framing one of our questions: what is the field of claims in which the individual lives? Claims from within and from without, from near and from far, impinge on me. Momentary and selfish pleasure-seeking, which Enlightenment psychology placed inside the individual. Family. Nationalism. Tradition. Religion. The State’s will to power. The national leaders of the class to which I belong.

Finally, we identify the source which properly grants authority to the nation’s rulers. For Liberalism and social democracy, it is electoral majorities. Scientific expertise has a role which is not accounted for constitutionally. For fascism, the Leader commands his own credibility. Certain branches of humanity get excluded outright. For Stalinism, the proletariat is the only source of legitimacy. However, exigency transfers the source from the proletariat to the self-appointed spokesmen.

We look back today, and judge that the great twentieth-century challenges to democratic legitimacy were disasters. In every case – in fact – it came down to the cult of the leader and the state’s police function. There was outright militarism, or there was at least mass mobilization as for a war. If the state did not bond with the large corporations, it assumed their function like an impostor. Then the disillusionment with democracy somehow became an excuse to replace it with systems which were worse, non-negotiably worse.

We find that the ventures of bullies and demagogues (or if that is too harsh, of leaders intoxicated with crackpot theories) fail to appropriate the persistent consent which the democracies enjoy. The difference of degree as between a covert and an overt oligarchy, if that is all it is, proves to be decisively important. All the same, the challenges will keep coming – as they came in Germany in the early Thirties – for the very simple reasons that the democratic republic will continue to be unable to engender a unitary public interest and that the market economy will not be able to seek "prosperity" without jarring, life-threatening adjustments.

Clearly, to speak of government and law is to circumscribe a sphere of material wealth, and of human relations of coercion and obedience, and to attempt to attain a preferred position within that sphere.

These are only aspects of human life. But social philosophy has seen many blunt declarations that they are the aspects of life which are real. (Any awe which the founders of religions once enjoyed has receded in the developed world.) Can we think of any exceptions to this clay-fisted realism? Well, we have to agree with Marx that ruler-centered social doctrines underestimated the autonomous power of commerce, its role as the motive power of social adaptations. Then, there is the genuinely new impact of technification: its radical alteration of the character of war and human survival. Scientists have made certain dreams of the priesthoods of old come true; they can bring down the power of the incomprehensible on society. They are still treated like lackeys, but they are the most dangerous people in today’s world. Technicity is the most profound usurpation yet of the consent of the people.

As we ponder new ways of conceiving political law and sovereignty, let our question not be, as it was for the anarchists and for the spokesmen of totalitarianism, whether we can imagine a stupid or preposterous alternative to the status quo. Let our question be, as it should in every sphere of life, whether we can imagine a formidable and principled alternative to the status quo.

Here are some guideposts for further reflection on political law and sovereignty.

1. To pick up from our last conclusion, if one is helpless relative to the power of science – if one cannot control, overmaster, the efficacy of science – then one is helpless altogether.

2. Modern reductionism is a brutalizing fiction or dogma.

3. I have spoken of the pioneer, a person who does a new thing which slowly wins acceptance competitively. Whether this phenomenon is a good thing or a bad thing, it structures the collective in some decisive way. There is no escape from uneven development. While modern education has demonstrated that formerly illiterate populations can be rendered semi-literate, it has done nothing remotely like making people equally percipient. Scientists are gruesomely vindicated when ideas which common sense ridicules end by enabling power-hungry leaders to behave in unprecedentedly destructive ways.

4. Large numbers of people want to be told what they are; they accept their jobs as the major part of their definition and identity. Nevertheless, the jobs in our society have no business being accepted as human fulfillments. It is not just that the work is mechanical; it serves the emergent national goal called consumerism, which is artificial, fetishistic.

If you accept the world of work as it is today, then you consign the vast majority of people to an artificial, fetishistic servitude – not even as honorable as the toil of the farmer.

All the same, people do not simply flee effort. People are gratified by opportunities to stretch their abilities when the aims are credible.