18th Brumaire, everywhere

by John Quiggin on November 27, 2016

One of the things I like about blogging, as opposed to academic writing, is the freedom to try out partly developed ideas and speculative hypotheses. On the whole, I think it’s worked well for me. But it does entail the risk of getting things badly wrong, as I did in this post a few years back, predicting the end of tyranny in the historical sense “absolute rule by an individual who has seized power, rather than acquiring it by inheritance or election”. Not only did I underestimate the number of such rulers who were still around (a point made in comments by Doug Muir), but, by ruling out election, I drew a spurious distinction about the way in which such rulers come to power.

More importantly, I posted at what looks in retrospect like a turning point. Dictatorship, or at least, authoritarian personal rule, seems to be re-emerging all around the world, mostly through the suppression of opposition by rulers who originally came to power through democratic elections

I was reminded of all this by the election of Trump in the US, which happened to occur on the same day (9 November or 18 Brumaire in the revolutionary calendar) as the coup that brought Bonaparte to power in France. That was followed by the death of Fidel Castro, the last big name among the old-style Bonapartist rulers about whom I was writing.

The continuing fame of 18 Brumaire rests not on the fact that it was the date of the original coup by Napoleon, but on Marx’s essay “The 18 Brumaire of Louis Napoleon”, referring to the 1851 seizure of power by Napoleon’s nephew, Louis Napoleon, who ruled France for 20 years as Napoleon III. The famous line that history repeats itself “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce” serves as Louis Napoleon’s epitaph.

Coming back to the point, the previous post ended with a puzzle

don’t have a good theory to explain the rise of so many tyrants in the modern period, beginning with Bonaparte (or maybe Cromwell), or the sharp decline of this form of government from around the mid-1960s.
Now that the decline looks as if it may have been temporary, the question of why dictatorship emerges, and how it can be resisted, is more urgent than ever.

{ 63 comments }

1

Igor Belanov 11.27.16 at 1:55 pm

“Now that the decline looks as if it may have been temporary, the question of why dictatorship emerges, and how it can be resisted, is more urgent than ever.”

This very question itself is anachronistic, suggesting as it does that bourgeois democracy is the natural form of governance and thus the culmination of history. Are you Fukuyama in disguise?

A more relevant question would be how over the past 20 years or so an increasing amount of regimes emerged that have shared the forms and institutions of liberal democracy while having little in common with regard to their social structure and economic base. I think the erosion of the image of democracy in many countries is just the collapse of this particular historical curiosity.

My immediate answers to your questions would be that ‘dictatorship’ is emerging again due to existential, ideological and political crises among global managerial elites, and that the first task in resisting dictatorship is to start thinking about how to create more genuinely popular democracies in the broadest sense of the word. Move on from the ’18th Brumaire’ and focus on ‘The Civil War in France’.

2

J_A 11.27.16 at 2:18 pm

“My immediate answers to your questions would be that ‘dictatorship’ is emerging again due to existential, ideological and political crises among global managerial elites, and that the first task in resisting dictatorship is to start thinking about how to create more genuinely popular democracies in the broadest sense of the word.”

Gaius Julius Caesar agrees with your diagnosis

3

bob mcmanus 11.27.16 at 2:25 pm

They are three different things. 18th Brumaire needs to be read with some context of the preceding thirty years in France. Bonapartism, authoritarianism, fascism are right populist reactions to a failure of bourgeoisie democracy, usually a period of economic displacement with accompanying failures of foreign policy or lost wars. The class struggle is between the bourgeoisie including large industry and finance and small businesspersons, land-owning farmers, the displaced “aristocracy of labor,” students without futures, etc. Unions, minorities, women, and the left are not involved, are not players…this revolution happens because the radical “left” is weakened. It is always gendered and racist.

You have to look at the specific class formations in each instance before you generalize. In 1830s-40s France and Taisho Japan the old nobility and feudalistic structures still provided much of the leadership that failed. In the 1920s and 30s it was liberalism, globalism and cosmopolitanism. Recently it is neoliberalism, as represented by Obama and the Clintons, Blair/Cameron, Hollande/Sarkozy, etc that has failed. I contend that because material conditions have changed, the participants and regimes that are arising now are different.

Two things are critical: that right populisms are revolutionary, wanting to replace current elite leadership, and 2) and that right populisms want to preserve capitalism, just usually industrial or small capitalism, as an attack on finance capitalism and even imperialism.

4

J_A 11.27.16 at 2:33 pm

“The continuing fame of 18 Brumaire rests not on the fact that it was the date of the original coup by Napoleon, but on Marx’s essay “The 18 Brumaire of Louis Napoleon”, referring to the 1851 seizure of power by Napoleon’s nephew, Louis Napoleon, who ruled France for 20 years as Napoleon III. The famous line that history repeats itself “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce” serves as Louis Napoleon’s epitaph.”

1851 coup notwithstanding (a very big “notwithstanding”), Napoleon III was neither a tyrant nor a joke, and to paint him as one is just projecting our contemporary mores 150 years back. He set up a reasonable (for the age) and fairly popular (or at least acceptable by most) constitutional arrangement. Do not forget that after Napoleon III’s abdication, France reacted by offering the Comte de Chambord, Charles X grandson, the French throne. He didn’t accept for quite frivolous reasons, and the III Republic was born by forfeit.

Indeed, very little changed in the French nation and society from what Napoleon III built until the Great War, except (Big except, again) the arrival of laicité. So he was quite succesful as a ruler and as a reformer.

5

Chris Bertram 11.27.16 at 2:38 pm

I have a cod-psychological theory to explain dictatorships, which may or may not have merit. I think countries are particularly prone to dictatorships and other strong-man forms of rule when there is a keen sense of national humiliation at the hands of outside forces. The strong leader who can shake a fist at the imperialists, colonialists and the rest can find support in the amour propre of the rest of the nation (or enough of them). Think Putin, Castro, Mugabe, Nasser, and perhaps Trump. Obviously this doesn’t cover those dictators who are not standing up to the (perceived or real) external bullies but who are rather their agents and accomplices, such as Pinochet.

6

bruce wilder 11.27.16 at 3:42 pm

One “reason” for dictatorship is connected to the ability of a kleptocrat at the head of a small and cohesive clan, cadre or extended family to seize control of a critical source of productive wealth and hold onto it with international support. This has been connected to the legend of the resource curse.

The “reason” for a Napoleon Bonaparte is connected to the incapacity of preceding governing institutions of a more broadly democratic character to accomplish even obvious and urgent public tasks.

These are two quite different narrative hypotheses, but both seem to have applicable cases to illustrate their operation.

The original Napoleon secured his power by resolving several urgent problems of governance that the successive regimes of Revolutionary France had allowed to fester. Just from my memory, in short order, he instituted a Banque of France, established a concordant with the Pope regularizing the Church in France, and most famously, put into vigorous motion the process of rationalizing law and legal procedure in the Code that bears his name. His military success against hostile monarchies internationally was of course not incidental.

The farcical Napoleon III was more recognizable to us as a populist grifter, but he relied for the credibility of his coup on the distant precedent of his legendary uncle, but also the then more recent precedent of democratic incapacity. The haute bourgeois rentier regime of Louis Phillipe had resisted too much too long.

A Grand Unified Theory has to look in two directions: the first is the international ecology, the second is the domestic capacity to generate governance from broad strata — or at least from the professional and managerial classes.

It would be reasonable to suppose that the end of the Cold War altered the terms of the international game for kleptocrats and dictators even while neoliberal globalization and financialization were introducing a new deal.

I basically agree with Igor Belanov: the success of dictatorship is the obverse of the failure of democracy, but I would be more specific in identifying the problem as the rival siren of kleptocracy and the palsy and paralysis corruption can introduce into democratic deliberation. Democracy needs interests as much or more than formless ideals and material needs must be met by government of social and economic cooperation; simple purity is clueless. But, sometimes, an interest is so parasitic that it paralyzes democratic process — then, what do you do?

7

Yankee 11.27.16 at 4:27 pm

When you pile up a lot of power in one place, in one integrated system, just naturally (some) people are going to maneuver to control it. Arrow theorem! It seems to me the intractable (so far) problem is how to construct a system where bigness doesn’t (usually) automatically win.

8

Nick 11.27.16 at 4:55 pm

I have a modification of #5 — countries are prone to dictatorships when things get worse, and there is a sense of the ‘pie’ getting smaller. Dictatorships are the product of people playing political zero-sum games, which they are more likely to do when they think they are in danger.

The ‘national humiliation’ or whatever is a manifestation of the same thing — nations in which everything is going right don’t suffer reversals, or don’t look for reversals to explain what went wrong.

9

Peter Westwood 11.27.16 at 5:04 pm

Woodrow Wilson, in “‘The New Freedom” (1913):
“Since I entered politics, I have chiefly had men’s views confided to me privately. Some of the biggest men in the U.S., in the field of commerce and manufacturing, are afraid of somebody, are afraid of something. They know that there is a power somewhere so organized, so subtle, so watchful, so interlocked, so complete, so pervasive, that they had better not speak above their breath when they speak in condemnation of it.”
Edward Bernays, in “Propaganda”:
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
There are many more equally disquieting words from powerful reality shapers which recognise that there is no such thing as ‘Democracy’ and has never been. Rather, there has been solely the illusion of democracy, played out theatrically for the entertainment and distraction of the great mass of humanity.
Dictatorship is a blunt statement of the reality that human beings are easily cowed, that mobsters and gangs rule our playgrounds and our societies, that we are not free because we are afraid, because we fail to recognise that the meek are, in fact, the vast majority.
In this way, it could be said that this reality and humanity’s destiny are at odds and that some sort of rectification is inevitable.

10

nastywoman 11.27.16 at 5:10 pm

There was this ‘great’ quote in the comments of: ‘as I did in this post a few years back’

“Men too often ask why is it so, without first asking, is it so?” – and in the ‘kissing the ring thread’ some ‘kidneystone’ posted what he called an ‘Excellent discussion of Bannon’ were some dudes and a woman discussed if ‘Darkness is really ‘good’ and Dick Cheney and Darth Vader and Satan – that’s power – and if it’s cool if such dudes want to built a whole new movement and if it’s a conspiracy or not – or if it is realistic what this Bannon says that he -(supposedly together with F…face von Clownstick and some more serious Fascist and Racists) – wants to built ‘a whole movement’ – and the great thing about this century
that one can believe it – or the complete opposite while sitting on a beach in California and to know that not one of your (surfing) friends believes in F…face von Clownstick or that he is even worth the comparison to some ’18 Brumaiere’ –

(is that a new Designer Beer?)

11

David 11.27.16 at 5:21 pm

We could start from the commonplace observation that politics abhors a vacuum, and there is no such thing as a political space without an organising principle of some kind. So as a political system falls into decline or disrepute, it will be replaced by another, and the range of possibilities, whilst great, is not unlimited. In the 1970s and 1980s, authoritarian or one-party states were in the majority in the world, in part because of the results of the complexities of introducing multi-party systems into divided and fragmented post-colonial states. The attempts after the end of the Cold War to force multi-partyism onto some of these states (think of Rwanda, Burundi and the Côte d’Ivoire) were not always happy.
As several people have already said, the issue is not really “dictatorship” but the failure of democracy (not just multi-partyism) as a consequence of the way in which political elites have allowed the system to decay and be captured. It’s hard to remember, sometimes, that up to a generation ago governments were actually elected to do things: today they seem largely composed of people explaining why nothing can be done, because markets, globalization, blah blah. Governments have been very largely reduced to representatives of financial and political interest groups, afraid to offend any of their supporters; In the circumstances it’s less about democracy/dictatorship than it is about effectiveness vs. uselessness. I don’t think people want dictatorships, nor are they voting for them. They want governments that actually do something for a change.

12

chris y 11.27.16 at 5:24 pm

Chris B @5 probably has a point, but the agent of the perceived humiliation doesn’t need to be external or acting on behalf of external forces. Indeed the original τύραννοι of ancient Greece typically propelled themselves to power at the head of popular movements organised around large numbers of economically insecure and dispossessed freeholders who saw themselves staring down the barrel of debt bondage and blamed the traditional elites for their predicament. I do not wish to draw any analogies here.

13

Kurt Schuler 11.27.16 at 5:39 pm

Arnold Ludwig’s book King of the Mountain: A Study of Political Leadership, which assesses the personal characteristics of all 20th century rulers of states, suggests that (as I would crudely paraphrase it) in most people who aspire to the highest political leadership there is in effect a little dictator inside, which becomes bigger the more success they have. George Washingtons are exceedingly rare.

14

P O'Neill 11.27.16 at 5:52 pm

Marx’s essay is also the one that features the term lumpen proletariat which of course has acquired renewed currency.

Different reversions to authoritarian rule will have different causes but for eastern Europe, one issue which needs more attention is the scale of migration that has occurred over the last quarter century. Here’s a recent rundown of the numbers and the economic outcomes associated with them. It would be surprising if migration and demographic factors on that scale did not have political consequences.

15

bob mcmanus 11.27.16 at 6:08 pm

Immediately after the surrender, thousands of Chinese businessmen and entrepreneurs flooded into Manchuria and North China, accompanied by soldiers, to grab under the cover of law and at ridiculous prices the factories, lands and other properties that had been possessed by the Japanese and collaborators. These then told the peasants and workers to get back to work under new bosses, and the peasants slipped off to be soldiers for Mao.

Chiang only had a following and an army because he could promise hierarchy and exploitation to his followers. Performative racism, nationalism and/or loyalty to the leader can publicly express solidarity, but when it gets down on the ground or site, the soldier of party member asks what the Fuhrer can do for him, if in this room with this person the dictatorship empowers and protects an individual’s greed, cruelty, and barbarism.

Politics is always “bottom-up.” Clinton, Sanders and Trump have constituencies that believe these leaders will deliver to and for them, at somebody else’s expense. The revenge and ressentiment are important. Yes, revolutions can be about competing elites, but the elites are competing in order to deliver to their followers, in order to maintain their positions.

Dictatorships and fascisms so often follow bourgeoisie democracies because the bourgeois democrats are very good at establishing institutions and ideologies (meritocracy) that maintain and protect their advantageous positions yet have the appearance of universality, social justice, and procedural fairness. The violence and action outside the law is a necessary element of delegitimization and terrorization.

16

bruce wilder 11.27.16 at 7:03 pm

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Turkey), Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore), Franklin Roosevelt (USA), Charles DeGaulle (France) — I can certainly think of figures who exercised powerful and sometimes forceful leadership without making their countries into oppressive dictatorships.

I doubt that politics is ever really “bottom-up.” The French Revolution was conducted by lawyers for the most part, which ancien regime France had overproduced. The literal “bottom” can scarcely even imagine what government might be for, and is rarely agitated by ideas more than hunger; revolution is just another unpleasant form and means of deprivation and precarity.

The thesis of delivering to the bottom runs into the curious problem, why doesn’t the bottom or even the middle revolt more promptly or effectively against the horrifying? Nicolae Ceaușescu (Romania), Macías Nguema (Equatorial Guinea), Kim Il-sung (North Korea), . . . [very long list]

17

stevenjohnson 11.27.16 at 7:39 pm

In general, the rise of “dictatorships” is prefigured in the final efflorescence of liberalism, the pan-European wave of revolutions in 1848. Given the choice between keeping democracy and peacefully losing power to the socialists or accepting dictators of one stripe or another…well, it’s no choice at all.

A few random peculiarities: Yeltsin was a dictator, and Putin merely continued it with a veneer of competence and humanity (no Gaidar or Chubais.) Offended national pride had nothing to do with either, it was the need for a state to defend capitalist property from the majority of people.

Someone like Mugabe or Castro were very much like Washington or FDR or Lenin or Mandela or Nasser: Their prestige as liberators or saviors was so immense that in many respects only a loyal opposition has any political viability.

Professional and managerial classes aren’t really things like a peasantry or working class.

It is not at all clear that majority rule is agreed to be a principle of democracy.

18

b9n10nt 11.27.16 at 7:40 pm

I agree that rule-by-personality represents a failure among elites to coordinate policy and solve problems (it is now traditional to refer to this rule among disparate elite factions as “democracy”). The following is an argument that “democracy”/aristocracy/oligarchy is always at a disadvantage to autocracy:

Human history reveals a trade-off between economic efficiency (specialization) and political agency. The gains from specialization and hierarchical organization have allowed individuals to forfeit any direct, non-symbolic interest in communal decision making.

What do we do? Where do we go? Who is our ally and our enemy? In a small (prehistoric) society of unspecialized producers these are urgent questions that confront us directly. In complex modern societies, when the “we” becomes an “imagined community”, they are abstract, symbolic, and tangential to our lived experience. (Our lived experience: Where do we go? To our job! What do we do? What we’re told! Who is our ally and our enemy? Office/union/guild politics!)

Actual democracy is so radical as to seem untenable in a society of specialized producers. Mass politics, for the great mass of low-status citizens, then becomes more matter of psychological projection than immediate self-interest. And in this realm, political agency in the form of a person has a distinct advantage over a party, an ideology, or an abstract interest (these latter being quite sufficient to legitimate the goals of factions of high-status individuals who DO discover immediate self-interest in policy). Rule in the form of a person will engender popular legitimacy.

19

Collin Street 11.27.16 at 7:48 pm

Indeed the original τύραννοι of ancient Greece typically propelled themselves to power at the head of popular movements organised around large numbers of economically insecure and dispossessed freeholders who saw themselves staring down the barrel of debt bondage and blamed the traditional elites for their predicament. I do not wish to draw any analogies here.

You get democracies when the general population people see the political elite as more-or-less trustworthy, and dictatorships when people see them as more-or-less untrustworthy: in each case, the response is a sensible way of maximising the chances of altruistic and reasonable governance.

[law-of-large-numbers: the larger the number of people involved in decision-making, the more those decisions are pulled towards the mean and the less likely they are to be on the “massively better than average” side. If the mean is “good”, you want things to be close to the mean and you want lots of decision-makers to minimise the chances of getting dominated by an odd dodgy one; if the mean is “bad”, you want things to be as far from the mean as possible to maximise the chances you get an odd decent one. ‘Course, dictatorships hammer minorities more than they do “mainstream” “normal” people, but that’s not a huge concern for the majority of voters, obviously.]

20

Igor Belanov 11.27.16 at 9:10 pm

One reason why liberal democracy becomes possible is that the spread of capitalist relationships tends to break-up classes in a political sense, replacing them with the idea of the ‘citizen’. Where capitalism is successful in eliminating the influence of older classes and social groups such as the aristocracy and petty bourgeoisie, where it is able to reduce the autonomy of the bureaucracy and get it to follow the broader interests of capital, and where it is able to ‘buy off’ or neutralise organised labour, bourgeois democracy has been very secure.

Before WWII, and afterwards in the Third World, bourgeois democracy was most under threat or overturned where discontented older groups such as military castes, aristocracies and the lower middle-class were still powerful enough to establish regimes on the basis of nationalism, or where the organised working-class was so intractable in the face of economic instability that the bourgeois felt the need to tolerate or establish a dictatorship.

Currently, the ‘threat’ to bourgeois democracy seems to come from the very atomisation that global capitalism has produced over the past 40 years. ‘Citizens’ have been replaced by ‘consumers’, but this has only succeeded in destroying the pluralism that liberal democracy depended on for its legitimation. In the Western world organised labour had been one of the main sources of political stability, but the right’s determination to crush trade unions and their political associates has weakened this greatly, along with the economic forces that have encouraged working-class alienation.

In place of the political stability provided by pluralism we now have the emergence of identity politics on a grand scale. Both emerging political saviours and established political elites are obliged to try and manipulate issues of abstract personal identity in order to seek political clienteles of enough size to provide influence or win power. The recent US election saw this achieve an almost ridiculous level. Given that these identity struggles tend to eschew most issues and concerns of collective interest as opposed to sectional identity, they are almost begging for a ‘unifier’ to stand above political, economic and cultural concerns and bring about the smack of firm government either through the force of personality or the evocation of nationalism, where this is sufficiently appealing to enough people.

Thus the ‘threat’ to democracy is just the continuation of trends that have gathered pace over decades. The tendency of liberals to privilege forms and institutions and ignore underlying social and economic behaviour has simply obscured this. I expect that 21st Century liberalism, buried as is in the managerial elites within politics, the economy and civil society, will manage to accommodate itself quite comfortably to its new dictatorial masters once it adjusts to the initial shock. The spread of political dictatorships is not a result of social revolution but simply a slight revision of older forms of managing the populace.

21

Hidari 11.27.16 at 9:41 pm

@5 Given the ratio of dictatorships (or at least non-democracies) to democracies, surely it’s democracy which is in need of an explanation?

22

Lee A. Arnold 11.27.16 at 10:54 pm

Two different bits of Sunday news:
1. On the one hand Trump is claiming that millions voted illegally, but on the other hand he doesn’t want a recount. (Trump, on Twitter)
2. Trump is warning Hillary that if she asks for a recount, he may see to it that she is prosecuted. (Conway, on CNN)

The logical conclusions are:
1. Trump doesn’t care about the truth of an election.
2. If Trump won’t prosecute someone whom he believes is guilty, unless she asks for a recount, then Trump doesn’t care if someone may be guilty of a crime.

23

bob mcmanus 11.27.16 at 11:37 pm

As a materialist, I have never really understood the imaginary mechanism by which an idea transmits desire thousands of miles from the leader to the trigger. Those who seek power over anything larger than a room are reliant on the power of abstraction, or the idea of powerful ideas. But people largely act because of the 5-15 people in their immediate vicinity, physical or psychic. The platoon, the cell, the finishing room of the assembly line.

Marxian collectivism is not an abstraction, but about bodies in close contact, denuded and deprived of (or liberated from) abstractions like property or nation. The vanguard was about training to disperse, forming cells on the factory, finding new apostles. American megachurches work the same way, in thousands of cells of particular interests.

Daniel Little’s blog “Understanding Society” is a little too meta, but is good on whether “social or sociological entities” even exist, whether such concepts have any explanatory power. Little is currently into DeLanda and assemblage theory, Bhaskar and critical realism.

Trump has no power. Trump like any general can give commands or orders, and hope that something in the vicinity of his desires gets executed at the bottom. I don’t know if liberals and institutionalists hope Trump gets “obeyed” or not, for the sake of preserving the hierarchies and chains of commands and rule of law they have handed to Trumpism, but it is my fervent hope that the people realize that they just don’t have to do anything they’d rather not.

24

John Quiggin 11.28.16 at 12:36 am

@23 Genuine question: If you’re such a strong materialist, why do you bother reading and writing so much?

25

Ronan(rf) 11.28.16 at 1:05 am

I bought this book recently and plan to read it over Christmas

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_Rising

though I’m sceptical enough of the argument (as far as I Can follow it) as laid out in the link, it’s related to the post and might be of interest to some.

26

GeneralLerong 11.28.16 at 1:18 am

Dunno, John – This piece by Robert Shiller seems to distill the situation perfectly:

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-sense-of-power-by-robert-j–shiller-2016-11

27

bob mcmanus 11.28.16 at 2:00 am

24: Lord, what a question. I am too old and too lazy to abandon my vices. I spent a decade gardening, doing jigsaw puzzles, and listening to baseball on the radio, but then the Internet came and ruined me.

Too personal and I am not good at that. Perhaps greed and gluttony, addiction, a convenient justification for antisocial behavior, a search for connection. I find it difficult to pass by a uncovered name or concept without attempting to know their histories and know I am not alone in aimless curiosity for there they are, Wikipedia and tv tropes.

There are other readers. Ask them instead. Ask Scialabba.

28

Anarcissie 11.28.16 at 2:38 am

Hidari 11.27.16 at 9:41 pm @ 21 —
That’s what I was thinking. The attraction to leaders, monarchs, gurus, popes, etc., seems to be a chronic problem. Pandemic. I suppose it goes back to prehistory, indeed, prehumanity, gangs of baboon-like creatures running through the woods with an alpha at the head.

29

nastywoman 11.28.16 at 3:07 am

@25
it’s related to the post and might be of interest to some.
@26
‘Dunno, John – This piece by Robert Shiller seems to distill the situation perfectly:’

and there is this theory: Never before in history so many different and contradicting ‘pieces’ seemed to have distilled the situation perfectly and are ‘related’ or of interest to some?

Did you guys look at Taylor Swift’s Mannequin Challenge?
-(and this is ‘trolling’ – cancel it!)

30

Val 11.28.16 at 3:09 am

Arnacissie @ 28
The attraction to leaders, monarchs, gurus, popes, etc., seems to be a chronic problem. Pandemic. I suppose it goes back to prehistory, indeed, prehumanity, gangs of baboon-like creatures running through the woods with an alpha at the head.

Doesn’t matter how many times I say that there appears to be no evidence from pre-history that this some kind of ‘normal’ form of human existence, people will still say it. What is this apparently endless desire to avoid recognising that people are in fact, quite variable in the way they live and that “gangs” and “alphas” are no more ‘normal’ than cooperative or peaceful groups?

Thousands of years of patriarchy has normalised this way of thinking I guess. But in fact if you looked at your own life, I am sure you would see that it is more likely to be peaceful and cooperative than it is to be a form of endless gang warfare – unless you are in the mafia or something?

31

Val 11.28.16 at 3:16 am

On the subject of the OP however, is it more “authoritarian personal rule” that we are seeing world-wide or are we seeing a bigger divide between the left and the right?

Eg noting that Clinton campaigned on a platform that was ultimately more left than the Democrats have been in recent years and won the popular vote in the US? or that in Australia we are seeing the rise of minor parties, as the Melbourne Age puts it, “at the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum – the Greens and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation”
http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/a-plague-on-both-your-houses-fairfax-ipsos-shows-minor-parties-prospering-20161127-gsynjt.html

32

Anarcissie 11.28.16 at 4:55 am

Val 11.28.16 at 3:09 am @ 30 —
I meditate a lot on the seemingly invincible unreason of authoritarianism, tragic, ludicrous, absurd, all at once. What can explain it? Not just the modern instances, but 7000 years of it? (At least.) Sometimes I find myself blaming bad evolutionary luck, as above. At the same time, we do choose it. Or maybe I shouldn’t say ‘we’; I often feel that I’m from another planet.

The old rabbi in my head asks me to write this for you. I told him you had heard it before, but he said, ‘Write!’

‘And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.

Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.‘ [1 Sam 10-20]

33

Val 11.28.16 at 5:53 am

@ 32
Several of the ‘ecofeminist’ authors and researchers of whom I have spoken before have written a considerable amount of analysis of how this patriarchal ‘kingdom’ model that you describe was imposed upon societies, such as those at Çatalhöyük, various places in old southern Europe, and historically more recently in Crete, which had previously been relatively egalitarian and peaceful, and which worshipped both female and male gods, rather than one male god.

So it seems we may be agreeing in fact that human beings are not ‘naturally’ in a perpetual state of gang warfare dominated by “alphas” but rather that the tendency to draw on this as an ontological explanation of human behaviour is actually the result of thousands of years of patriarchy influencing people’s thinking, rather than being a ‘true’ description of the essential nature of humans?

You haven’t actually said whether your own everyday life (domestically, at work, in your local community) is a perpetual state of gang warfare dominated by ‘alphas’. One of the messages I would like to get through to people at CT is that a lot of the stuff they appear to believe about the ‘nature of humanity’ is not actually born out in their own lives, which I suspect are – like my own – predominantly peaceful and cooperative. The fact that we can be peaceful and cooperative in our everyday lives is not some weird anomaly that can be safely ignored when talking about humanity and politics, rather than question is, if we can be like that, why aren’t we more like that at a political level? To which I of course suggest that it’s because of the historical legacy of patriarchy, which is just a historical stage that has happened, not something we are forced to relive forever.

I think the support for ‘big men’ like Trump, can be at least in part explained by a longing for the apparent security and meaningfulness of the patriarchal past, when your security depended on having the strongest and most powerful king.

34

Peter T 11.28.16 at 6:14 am

One driver of greater or less participation in politics (defined, roughly, as the size of the political nation) is how much the elites need the masses. There’s no single driver to this – the need might be environmental pressure, or competition against other groups, or some production technology that works best with wide commitment. And it will change with material and social technologies, external relationships and so on. But one general trend is that, absent pressure to maintain or increase participation, elites will seek to limit participation.

Feudal Europe was an unusually participatory society for its technology (by contrast with classical Rome or most contemporary polities in Eurasia). The warrior elite always needed local support (castles are not defended from horseback), farming technologies were communal, multiple overlapping jurisdictions meant lots of elite competition… Europe built on this, with ups and downs, to the apogee of 1945-80, the age of mass politics, the mass welfare state, mass armies. Widely imitated elsewhere, if only as a way to win against or free of Europeans. Many – not all – communist states were fairly participatory, if not democratic.

The technological trends since 1980 or so have been running the other way. Assembly lines have withered, armies are no longer mass, elite competition much diminished. Oligarchy is the new black and , unless firmly institutionalised (think the Venetian Republic) oligarchic faction promotes authoritarian rule. I must admit to being surprised by the speed of the shift.

Will the pressures of climate change lead to increased participation? Reactions are mixed but, it appears that for the most part, they will not.

35

mclaren 11.28.16 at 7:40 am

An objective observer might correlate the rise of tyrants like Bonaparte with the brutal impoverishment of formerly rural landowners dispossessed and forced into cities in brutal 14-hour-a-day factory work at the dawn of capitalism.
The advent of the USSR offered a momentary respite from the relentless march of c(r)apitalism toward total obliteration of the bottom 99% of the global population. After the USSR disintegrated and China switched gears to capitalism post-1989, the governor got removed from the steam engine powering global capitalism, and now the boiler is ready to explode.
Why is any of this mysterious?
The end game of c(r)apitalism is obviously mass genocide. Once robots + neural nets + data-mining replace 90% of the population, there’s no need for the great unwashed anymore. Off to the ovens with them.

36

Peter T 11.28.16 at 7:48 am

addendum: Maybe I should not have been surprised. Highland clan chiefs, no longer needing the military or political support of their tenants, started swapping them for sheep as little as 15 years after Culloden.

37

Brett 11.28.16 at 8:40 am

@Val

I think of patriarchy as something that emerged because of a particular era in human history (the rise of agrarian societies, adventurism by bands of armed men and the need for protection against them, etc). It then “stuck” because once you’ve established a warrior caste, it’s extremely difficult to get rid of it.

@Peter T

It depends on what level the elite can secure themselves at, I suppose. City-sized enclaves are vulnerable in a way that nation-sized ones are not, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we did get a rise in solidarity and some concessions to the public citizens of particular countries in exchange for protecting the existing order and keeping the inevitable climate refugees out (or bottled up in terrible camps).

38

Collin Street 11.28.16 at 9:10 am

The logical conclusions are:
1. Trump doesn’t care about the truth of an election.
2. If Trump won’t prosecute someone whom he believes is guilty, unless she asks for a recount, then Trump doesn’t care if someone may be guilty of a crime.

In australia at least, the requirements for running for elected office are the same as the requirements for voting: that you “[capable] of understanding the nature and significance of enrolment and voting”. Now, to me… Trump doesn’t qualify. If you think that getting elected makes you god-king, or what-have-you… you’re wrong, you don’t understand the nature and significance of voting, and if you can’t be made to understand that, then ipso-facto you’re, you know, incapable of understanding the nature and significance of &c. And can’t vote.

39

Z 11.28.16 at 10:35 am

this patriarchal ‘kingdom’ model that you describe was imposed upon societies, such as those at Çatalhöyük, various places in old southern Europe, and historically more recently in Crete, which had previously been relatively egalitarian and peaceful

FWIW, the historical anthropology I am familiar with agrees 100% with Val on that point, not only about the Fertile Crescent and Europe but generally speaking wherever we have data. In fact, there is this amusing/depressing correlation (that mostly holds for Eurasia, though) between geographical remoteness from the historical center of the civilized world (middle-east, Fertile Crescent and the alluvial plains of China) and a high anthropological status of women yielding in turn a correlation between geographical remoteness from this center and level of development in the XXIst century (the second term of the correlation reflecting first the very strong correlation between anthropological status of women and achievements in education, then the very strong correlation between achievements in education and level of developments). Ironically, the reason why Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, the stan countries, northern India and Mongolia are relatively underdeveloped and unfree today is that they were “civilized” for the longest time.

About the orignal point of the OP, I believe it is quite intuitive that genuine democracy requires a shared belief of belonging to a common demos. Historically, this common belief gained credibility (in the developed Western world) thanks to the (fortuitous?) synchronization of total war mobilization, the great leveling effect that these wars had on economic conditions and the universalization of first primary then secondary education. The widening gap in economic and educational achievements has all but destroyed this shared fiction. The end game even in the middle-term seems clear: either the continuous rise of inequalities will be dramatically reversed or democracy understood as sovereignty of the people as reflected by majoritarian opinion under the one person/one vote will disappear, either because élites will succeed in ruling in total disregard of the rest of the population or because the rest of the population will hate them so much that they will choose authoritarian thugs just to spite them (and most likely because of both simultaneously, as the Trump presidency will perfectly illustrate).

40

Val 11.28.16 at 12:24 pm

Well I still think it could go either way – what we seeing could just as easily be the bifurcation of politics into a new, left, egalitarian, green politics and an old reactionary, racist, xenophobic, patriarchal ‘big man’ (even if some of the patriarchs are actually iron ladies) politics.

In fact I see the resurgence of the right as an attempt to resist the inevitable – the coming of green egalitarian societies. Partly perhaps because I’m optimistic by nature, but partly because I don’t think society can function much longer if it doesn’t become more green and egalitarian, and even though people can be pretty stupid, they’re not that stupid.

So my optimistic hypothesis is, Trump and his ilk are potentially a last gasp of the old conservative white men’s fossil fuelled order. But it does depend what we do.

41

Val 11.28.16 at 12:26 pm

Z @ 39, are there any readings you particularly recommend from the historical anthropology you’re familiar with?

42

Salazar 11.28.16 at 12:51 pm

Val @ 33 and 41. Which of the ‘ecofeminist’ authors you reference at 33 would you recommend?

43

nastywoman 11.28.16 at 1:16 pm

@40
‘In fact I see the resurgence of the right as an attempt to resist the inevitable – the coming of green egalitarian societies.’

– not ‘coming’ – already here in the ‘greatest’ US economy in California and the ‘greatest’ economy in Europe Germany – and life is really ‘great’ in ‘green egalitarian societies.’

44

chris y 11.28.16 at 1:53 pm

Is there actually any evidence for “relatively egalitarian and peaceful” societies in the neolithic, except insofar as the scale of their operations was necessarily smaller than in subsequent periods?

45

Z 11.28.16 at 2:03 pm

are there any readings you particularly recommend from the historical anthropology you’re familiar with?

A good general reference is L’Origine des systèmes familiaux (Tome I) by Emmanuel Todd and its bibliography. You can probably find it online, but probably not in English.

46

Ronan(rf) 11.28.16 at 4:12 pm

Nastywoman @29, I’m not sure I fully understand your cryptic comment ‘re Taylor swift.

47

Anarcissie 11.28.16 at 5:25 pm

Val 11.28.16 at 5:53 am @ 33:
‘You haven’t actually said whether your own everyday life (domestically, at work, in your local community) is a perpetual state of gang warfare dominated by ‘alphas’.’

Well, as a child I was overpowered by the adults and beaten up by my peers, but one emerges from that. As a young adult I entered a world in which alpha males had the most social, political, sexual, and business success, but I could deal with this by developing a few lucrative talents and by learning to use physical and other weapons to defend myself. Of course, one may develop another, less Hobbesian life beside this, but due to the atomization of familial and other social structures in advanced capitalism, many are unhappily isolated and others suffer domination and exploitation even in the bosom of the family. In two areas I have seen the disease of leadership arise, seemingly spontaneously: one, of course, is the area of collaborative office and factory life, which I probably don’t need to explain, and the other is in political and cultural activism, which is more curious since my prejudices attract me to anarchistic and communistic groups. It turns out so often that ‘everybody is equal, but some are more equal than others.’

48

nastywoman 11.28.16 at 6:27 pm

– and I suggest reading:

‘The era of Outsourcing is Over!’

By a great poet of the 21h century – Bernie Sanders.

49

Guy Harris 11.28.16 at 7:13 pm

nastywoman:

not ‘coming’ – already here in the ‘greatest’ US economy in California and the ‘greatest’ economy in Europe Germany – and life is really ‘great’ in ‘green egalitarian societies.’

California? Green perhaps, but not so egalitarian.

50

hix 11.28.16 at 8:28 pm

The alpha male thing seems to be tied to this weird everything in life is a competition, especially one for social status attitude. Rather unlikely that authoritarian regimes rely on that for their appeal accross the globe. Cant really see the popes or whoevers in charge in China now appeal in his status as “the winner alpha male”
When someone says “suceeding alpha male”, i picture Barney Stinson…..

51

engels 11.29.16 at 2:23 am

If you graph global temperatures or national gini coefficients over the last few decades, the idea that a ‘green egalitarian society’ is just around the corner looks.. optimistic.

52

Val 11.29.16 at 3:02 am

@ 47
In two areas I have seen the disease of leadership arise, seemingly spontaneously: one, of course, is the area of collaborative office and factory life, which I probably don’t need to explain, and the other is in political and cultural activism, which is more curious since my prejudices attract me to anarchistic and communistic groups. It turns out so often that ‘everybody is equal, but some are more equal than others.’

Hmm yes I have also seen this. You skim a little over domestic life, leading me to think that perhaps you do experience some cooperation and harmony there? – since you seem to be saying ‘not everybody can enjoy this’ – however if you don’t wish to talk about personal life too specifically I won’t try to push it.

But yes I see that you are saying you have seen the rough and tough side of life in many ways, as I have I in some ways – I think it is partly my age and that I am out of the stage of ‘having to earn a living’ (I’m semi-retired) and the toughest days of child rearing (I still help out as a grandparent but that’s a lot easier). However I don’t think that entirely undermines my point – the experience of age, plus my studies for my thesis, has just given me space to see what I didn’t see before – that for me at least, conflict and violence are highlighted in my life because they are NOT normal.

Looking back on my life, I was fed, I was cared for, I was educated, I had meaningful work and a family and friends – much of that however (apart from the work part) is ignored or largely overlooked in public discourse because, as I would say, it is the work of caring – the subordinate sphere largely of women, that the patriarchy has seen as unimportant, subordinate, when it fact it is the sphere that makes life possible (like the ecology of which I could say much the same).

So while not trying to minimise the problems you – or others – have undoubtedly had with competition, conflict and ‘alpha males’, what I am saying is that we shouldn’t ‘normalise’ them, by saying that’s just the way ‘human beings’ are. We should look much more closely at what it is that makes societies function as relatively peaceful and cooperative systems – and in particular we should look at the everyday work of caring and peacemaking.

53

Val 11.29.16 at 3:07 am

re my comment @ 51
where I said
“I think it is partly my age and that I am out of the stage of ‘having to earn a living’ (I’m semi-retired) and the toughest days of child rearing (I still help out as a grandparent but that’s a lot easier)”

I should have added ‘that makes me more aware of the less competitive, more cooperative side of life’ (doesn’t quite make sense without that!)

54

Val 11.29.16 at 4:15 am

Excuse long comment but here is a quick selection of readings with some notes for those who have expressed interest in ecofeminist theory/prehistory

Greta Gaard ‘Ecofeminism revisited’ – looking at ecofeminism as a body of theory and activism, why it became unfashionable in the 1990s and why it is still relevant

Ariel Salleh ‘Eco-sufficiency & global justice: women write political ecology’ (edited book, many good chapters including one by Marilyn Waring)

Couple of key ideas from Salleh that struck me:
• “embodied materialist analysis”: marginal groups can model sustainability – notion of subsistence and commons, “ethic of cooperative labour” p 303 – women as leaders rather than victims
• “alter-mondiale” concept: three interweaving goals: “ecological sustainability”, “socio-economic justice”, “cultural autonomy” (protecting difference) p 307

Judith Bennett ‘History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism’
– concept of “Patriarchal equilibrium”: patriarchy is not a “committee” of old men deciding what to do, nor is about individual men, but it is a loose and flexible system of many structures and processes.

On the nature of early societies:
Ian Armit ‘Violence and society in the deep human past’ (My summary: The evidence that is available varies, suggesting some societies were peaceful, others were violent.)

Riane Eisler ‘The chalice and the blade’ (book) – lot of scholarship in looking at religion and myth and how they were adapted/rewritten/written to fit with patriarchal discourse

Gimbutas, Marija – various

Gerda Lerner ‘The creation of patriarchy’ (book)

One of the criticisms that is made of early ecofeminist historians and archaeologists (such as Lerner, Eisler, Gimbutas) is that they supposedly posited a single female goddess who was overturned by monotheistic male religions with the development of hierarchical patriarchal societies – I think this is an over-simplification, but accept they may have ‘over-corrected’ – however what gets overlooked is that ‘correction’ of mainstream ‘malestream’ history and archaeology was needed.

Possibly the ‘truth’ in so far as there is such a thing, lies somewhere in the middle – that the idea of peaceful societies worshipping a beneficent female goddess who took many names but was essentially the same entity, is an exaggeration, but no more than eg Weber’s ontological view of the origins of social life, politics and the state as arising from natural competition between men over “women, cattle, slaves [and] scarce land” and
“[l]ike all the political institutions historically preceding it, the state is a relation of men dominating men, a relation supported by means of legitimate (ie considered to be legitimate) violence”

Ian Hodder, the archaeologist currently in charge at Çatalhöyük, wrote a popular article for Scientific American ‘Women and Men at Çatalhöyük’ – I think his aim was to debunk what he saw as the claims by ecofeminists that there was a predominant unified goddess worshipping or matriarchal society (in fact no feminist I have ever read on this has actually claimed there was a matriarchy) but what he ultimately concludes is that gender roles at Çatalhöyük were quite flexible and there was a fair degree of equality between the sexes – which in fact seems to support a lot of what the feminist historians and archaeologists were saying.

55

kidneystones 11.29.16 at 10:45 am

Missing from this discussion of Brumaire are the pay-offs that were part and parcel of gaining and holding power. The Bonapartes bought the support they needed to isolate Barras. Lucien Bonaparte played at least as an important role as his brother during the actual event. The marshals, like Cromwell’s generals, played pivotal roles in the new aristocracy of dictatorship. And the inside circle got crowns, or just got rich.

Democrats prefer to find corruption and dynastic politics on the other side of the aisle and god knows there’s plenty. Nothing quite rivals the Kennedy’s for my money, but you have to say the Clinton crime family has given it a good try.

http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/737513/Hillary-Clinton-charity-received-millions-in-German-cash-after-praising-Angela-Merkel

Chelsea versus Ivanka in 2024. Many will cheer!

56

Z 11.29.16 at 10:56 am

Well I still think it could go either way – what we seeing could just as easily be the bifurcation of politics into a new, left, egalitarian, green politics

I would like this to be true, but I don’t believe it, for sociological reasons. People adhering to “new, left, egalitarian, green politics” belong (overwhelmingly) to urban, dynamic, mobile, educated groups. As these people (us) have actually played as ruthless a game of reproduction of educative capital as the rich have with respect to economic capital and as the boundaries between the two groups are actually quite fluid, they (we) have tolerated if not accelerated as much as the 1% (OK maybe the 10%) the destruction of the social prospect of the 50% to 80% lowest educated. That did not escape the attention of the latter group. Unfortunately, “new, left, egalitarian, green” ideas have consequently become social markers indicating a despised enemy for this latter group. Without them, no democratic mass movement can rise.

and even though people can be pretty stupid, they’re not that stupid.

I am not sure. Look at the behavior of the elites in the last 30 years. And they (we) don’t have the excuse of being uneducated.

57

Layman 11.29.16 at 12:25 pm

kidneystones @ 55, your link continues the dishonest trick of conflating the Clinton Foundation with Clinton’s presidential campaign. Since I’m sure you know the difference, one wonders about your motivation for posting it.

58

Anarcissie 11.29.16 at 5:14 pm

Val 11.29.16 at 3:02 am @ 52-54 —
I conceal much about myself on the Net in order to avoid boring ad-hominems, slanders, and death threats.

It’s too bad I can’t impart more anecdotes. Most of my theories about politics are based on my and others’ experiences and observations of ordinary daily life. The old-time radical personal-is-political feminists have been most enlightening in this area. The home, the schoolyard, the office, the street: it’s all there, including the deep, irrational attraction to violence, domination, and exploitation, as well as more pleasant phenomena. Of course I am not the first to notice this.

Clearly I must not be utterly pessimistic, because I do activism, I try to construct, inspire, and support situations in which cooperative and communistic behavior can be seen and maybe catch on. For all its faults, liberal capitalism (when its masters play by their own rules) does offer enough political and economic space for at least some of its inmates to construct its successor(s), ‘building a new world in the shell of the old’. But people have to want to do it; it can’t be done for them by elites, the government, or other state institutions.

59

Howard Frant 11.29.16 at 7:09 pm

kidneystones@55

Are you serious?

The latest about the “Clinton crime family”: Clinton said something nice about Angela Merkel to a journalist. and at *almost exactly the same time* Germany gave her foundation money to plant trees in Africa! It’s like a scene from “The Godfather”!

My question: Are you actually in the grip of some Clinton mania, or are you consciously trying to mislead people?

60

Collin Street 11.29.16 at 7:55 pm

kidneystones @ 55, your link continues the dishonest trick of conflating the Clinton Foundation with Clinton’s presidential campaign. Since I’m sure you know the difference, one wonders about your motivation for posting it.

Why are you sure?

Look: “a deliberate attempt to mislead” is not a plausible explanation for his behaviour, or at least not a sufficient and plausible explanation for his behaviour, because what he writes is has obvious gaping flaws and is, thus, not convincing.

On the other hand, “he genuinely believes that what he writes is convincing” is self-consistent and consistent with the observed phenomena. But if he thinks that we’d find it convincing, then it must also mean that he thinks it’s convincing.

But then we’re back with “cognitive problems”, aren’t we.

61

Howard Frant 11.29.16 at 11:21 pm

As an American, I am seriously frighten about the future of my country. I was hoping that among these people, who are so well versed in history, etc. (the truth abut Louis Napoleon!), I would find something useful about “why dictatorship emerges and how it can be resisted”. So far, not much. Still a lot of people who prefer some so far imaginary, and therefore much superior, alternative to liberal democracy. Really, people, do the decorating when the house isn’t on fire.

62

bob mcmanus 11.30.16 at 12:35 am

61: Are you sure you read all the comments? I’ll link again.

A Time for Treason New Inquiry reading list, with hundreds of separate items, most of which will each have bibliographies. Years of reading, and they absolutely don’t like Marxists there, so Trotsky and entire schools are missing. But very good at the resistance part.

Adding at a glance:

Carl Schmitt – Dictatorship – Modern Concept of Sovereignty
Natasha Ezrow Eric Frantz – Dictator and Dictatorships
Nicos Poulantzas – Fascism and Dictatorship – 3rd Int’l and Fascism
Barrington Moore – Social Origins of Dictatorship
Acemoglu I spose, but I don’t like him

63

Tamara 12.01.16 at 11:02 pm

Years ago in graduate school a professor told me that some people, by accident of when they were born, are “wet ecologists,” some are “dry ecologists,” and nobody ever talks about this in the literature. In other words, it’s very easy to look at the 30 years of data on salt marshes or grasslands and think that your 30 years are representative of all time.

My birth year sent me to history classes that told me “freedom” and “choices” and “wealth” will always win out, that what you call liberal democracy is the natural state that everyone desires. But every political arrangement I’ve ever read about turned out to be temporary. I think I’m a wet ecologist mistaking a 30 years of good rains as normal.

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