Building Dwelling Populism

Let’s dwell on the populus a little bit longer. There were a few thoughts I didn’t quite express yesterday, and plus it is worth replying to the comments.

Addenda

  1. Part of the subtext of this conversation is, as Doug notes, the Right’s critique of the Cathedral and the priestly class that runs it. I have so many drafts going I can’t remember if I’ve already said this:
    • The Right attracts a lot of Vaisya/Ksatriya who express anti-Brahmin sentiments because they resent their subordinate position. (They’re blowing off steam.)
    • The Right also attracts a lot of Brahmins who eagerly pursue opportunities for self-flagellation for Brahmin-reasons.
    •  And one of the most important rhetorical weapons against the Cathedral is to attack and belittle the Brahmin who operate it.
  2. However, being anti-Cathedral and anti-Brahmin are two different things. It’s like the difference between being anti-sunburn and anti-photon. We’re realists. When we hypothesize that societies have three psychosocial types with different goals, drives, functions, strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities, the validity of the hypothesis lies solely in its explanatory power, and ultimately in its truth. Whether a realist likes the caste-structure of society or not has nothing to do with whether he judges society to have a certain caste-structure. (And maybe it’s time to start “taking Brahmins seriously” as a realist counterweight to the inevitable skew which anti-Cathedral rhetoric gives our thinking on this question. Sometime in the next 7-70 days I’ll say something on this issue.)
  3. Furthermore, we can see from The Best Analogy Ever that targeting Brahmins and offending Brahmins are two different things, as well. In a demotism, the cornerstone of Brahmin power is the principle that democracy is good. In America in 2017, it’s fundamental to Brahmin sensibilities that Hitler was bad.
    • Thus the typical American Brahmin finds nothing more obvious and inspiring than to observe that Hitler was bad because he was undemocratic.
    • A right-winger attacking the power of the Cathedral will, no doubt, want to counter that democracy is bad. If he is purely concerned with attacking the Cathedral he will have no problem saying, when goaded into it by a Brahmin, Hitler was good because he was undemocratic.
    • Conversely, a right-winger who is above all concerned with the respect of the Brahmin caste cannot let any impure statements like Hitler was good (!!!) cross his lips. He would lose caste! He might be reincarnated as a McDonald’s burger-flipper, or a policeman! He will instead articulate the position Hitler was bad because he was democratic.
  4. I am toying with the position that the most significant subterranean fractures in the Right over populism at the moment surround this exact issue. Group X consists of those born into Vaisya/Ksatriya, plus various outliers and mongrels, who worked their way up the lower rungs of the Brahmin caste and have an exaggerated regard for its pieties. (You can think of them as “People who hate being confused with rednecks.”) Group Y consists of those who either have a political strategy or a personal political/intellectual career whose success depends, in some degree, on winning Brahmin approval. Group Z consists of everyone else, who have figured out that willingness to smash Brahmin pieties to smithereens is not only an effective rhetorical technique, but also a pretty damn good shibboleth for who is actually on the Right. (I have written a fair amount about Z – that is the focus of part four of the series I referred to yesterday – but X and Y I need to think more about.)
  5. Terms. I’m not sure if “esotericism” is the right word for the populism-as-popularity contrast (“E”). Snob would express the memetic meaning very precisely, but I would prefer not to build a pejorative connotation into the label itself. —Maybe hermeticism would be better? There seems to be some confusion about whether the term “hermetic,” as a cultural descriptor, refers to one specific esoteric tradition which is built on the works of Hermes Trismegistus or to any movement, school, or clique which is “hermetically sealed” (also a reference to early chemistry techniques pioneered by Hermes Trismegistus). In the latter, broader sense (which in principle I think is a misapplication) the ideological tactic of dismissing a popularity which you yourself cannot obtain could be called “hermetic”, but there might be an even better word lurking out there.

(Update, 2017.07.07: I noticed a related point in a Dividuals post on fascism. D claims the term “fascism” pertains to one’s relation to the demos-intellectuals circuit. Basically, anyone who tries to circumvent the significance of the intelligentsia, whether by ignoring the power of the demos they direct or by gaining influence over the demos independently of the intelligentsia, is a “fascist”. I have my own views on the meaning and form of fascism, and as a historical question D may be misrepresenting the factions involved, but it’s a worthwhile observation on the varieties of populism.)

 

Replies

DougModern discourses of the Right of any kind are always anti-Brahmin…

An interesting question in itself. Can a discourse be anti-X without recognizing X as a category? This is not just a semantic quibble. Nozick wrote an essay decades ago attacking the intelligentsia… in fact, it’s kind of a minor classic [pdf version] and I suspect it’s still valuable as a de-programming tool:

By intellectuals, I do not mean all people of intelligence or of a certain level of education, but those who, in their vocation, deal with ideas as expressed in words, shaping the word flow others receive. These wordsmiths include poets, novelists, literary critics, newspaper and magazine journalists, and many professors. It does not include those who primarily produce and transmit quantitatively or mathematically formulated information (the numbersmiths) or those working in visual media, painters, sculptors, cameramen. Unlike the wordsmiths, people in these occupations do not disproportionately oppose capitalism. The wordsmiths are concentrated in certain occupational sites: academia, the media, government bureaucracy.

… but was Nozick anti-Brahmin? I think of libertarianism as an arch-Brahmin ideology, which demonstrates extremely high levels of holiness (no coercion, man!) and consistency. The fact that it never accomplished anything is neither here nor there; in fact, ineffectiveness may make the ideology’s Brahminical purity that much more pristine. Nozick is attacking one subcaste of Brahmin as he jockeys for position within his own subcaste, and given that Nozick was already at the pinnacle of the Cathedral such HLvM intra-Brahmin tactics should not surprise us.

This is an important distinction to make in part because nearly all intellectuals are involved, at one time or another, in whipping up class-hatred of (certain subtypes of) intellectuals. Intellectuals who happen to be their enemies, that is. (You didn’t think Brahmins get their own hands bloody, did you?)

So there is a distinction between Brahmin-on-Brahmin conflicts on the one hand and generalized anti-Brahmin rhetoric on the other. And saying mean things about (some or all) Brahmins is very different from disdain for Brahmins. You can target Brahmins without offending them, and you can offend them without targeting them. Some people who love the priestly caste praise/support it in ways that could never inspire anything but contempt from the priests themselves; but many who rail against it do so in a way that is carefully calibrated to win its respect.

DS: …and to the extent that they are dissident by definition find themselves at cross purposes with those who run the place, and are thus at least a little populist.

As I see it this is actually B1-elitism: the explanation of the trajectory of the status quo (which dissidents reject) is a certain elite that controls political life. The reason this kind of explanatory elitism is always at least a little populist is because, depending on your theory of the elite’s motives, you will probably need to look outside the elite for an Archimedean point from which to disrupt their control.

DS: But the new ones take the part of the common man, as opposed to arguing that the common man ought to rule; you could call it a game of high-low against highest.

“Taking the part of the common man” is exactly the sort of thing we should be analyzing, trying to nail down. Obviously there will be multiple connotations, maybe even multiple audiences and multiple rhetorical functions. For example, in nearly all cases “I’m taking the part of the common man”-statements function as “The people ought to rule!” in the demotism-illusion. But are we talking about stressing the importance of the common man, trying to convince him that what he does is important, that the elite needs him more than he needs them? Are we defending the dignity of the common man, the moral value of his needs or his perspectives? Are we saying that the common man is what makes a certain country worth living in? Or something else entirely?

Now let’s turn the microphone over to Nigel:

Nigel: Populism can very much be cosmopolitan, if the populist speaker believes in some form of proletarian internationalist solidarity and uses the historical-materialist definition of class to rail against his idea of the who elites are.

Yes. You can be a D-type anti-populist (a cosmopolitan) or an E-type anti-populist (a snob) but still be a B-type populist (anti-elitist). This is especially appealing during the emergence of a new ruling caste or a bifurcation within the ruling caste because, as per C, you can explicitly label a certain group as “the elite” for class-warfare purposes while implicitly recognizing a different group as high-status in one’s D/E pursuit of their approval.

NTC: Indeed, most populist economic debates outside of the right don’t fit the “population mobility” schema well.

An artifact of the 1924-1965 period of low population mobility? Everyone (left and right) had a pretty good grasp on the effects of immigration on wages before that. (Although to be clear, what I have in mind is immigration slowdowns in the USA and Australia, and restriction of the mobility of the rural population all over the communist world. Did European capitalist countries have problems with continued migration of peasants into urban areas? Or were they too depopulated to have any worries along those lines?)

NTC: Nor should elitism necessarily be defined in relation to any greater intrinsic moral and economic worth of the elite. As Zippy Catholic points out: “The basic purpose of an aristocracy is to preserve its inheritance, including the common good of the community of which that inheritance is an integral part, and otherwise not screw things up. So aristocrats need proper indoctrination in how wealthy and powerful civilized people must behave for the common good: a good aristocracy, that is, requires not genius or intrinsic greatness in its human raw material, but proper civilized cultivation.” Therefore, a middle-of-the-road aristocracy is fine and natural.

This question falls under the C-aspect of populism. There are as many elitisms as there are conceptions of “the elite”. In my opinion the linked post is wrong. A hereditary ruling aristocracy needs certain abilities to obtain its position, to exercise its functions, and to preserve the aristocratic order. If the aristocratic class as a whole is unable to pass these abilities on to its children, the aristocrats will lose their status… whether individually or collectively.

Zippy is making one of two errors. Either he is looking at 4-sigma statesmen who rise above their 2-sigma cousins and calling the 2-sigma cousins “mediocrities” when they are still head and shoulders above the overwhelming majority of the commoners; or he is conflating the legal principle of nobility (legitimate birth is in itself a valid title to hereditary privilege) with the underlying formal principle which governs the genesis of a class, as well as its degeneration.

NTC: Nor is elitism necessarily related to the Great Man theory of history. Indeed, I find it rarely is today.

Great men have had a rocky time in contemporary historiography, but there is still a continuum between those most interested in personalities, and those least interested; and while it is a premise of the way I’m dissecting “populism” that you could deny the Great Man theory yet still be an elitist in a dozen other ways, I’ve noticed an affinity between (relative) attraction the Great Many theory and (other kinds of) elitism.

(By the way, it passed for a cliché during the siècle de Louis XIV that fulsome praise of historical figures was a discreet way to belittle the great and powerful of one’s own time, while dismissing or qualifying the accomplishments of the dead glorified the living.)

NTC: [Elitism] more often seems to be based either on Filmerite or Schmittian theories of necessity for someone to stand atop a hierarchy (from the pro-elitist side)…

Filmer I don’t know well, but Schmitt’s theory of sovereignty is authoritarian, full stop. That is aspect A. You may want to propose other words (or use symbols or whatever), but I’m distinguishing between authoritarianism and elitism for a reason. The goal is to move away from semi-automatic conflation of different things that circulate under the label “populism”. (Schmitt, of course, is something of a populist himself in senses D, E, and sometimes B.)

NTC: … Besides a more explicitly biopolitical emphasis, the left and right criticisms of globalization are highly similar, hence the possibility of syncretism and collaboration as in the case of American Affairs Journal and the French Nouvelle Droite. IMHO, this combination of biopolitics with Naomi Klein-style rhetoric is the worst of both worlds, but so be it.

Naomi Klein is gross, but let’s try to be more specific when we throw around Foucauldiana. Is “biopolitics” just the same as the D-aspect of populism (a biological reservoir of co-nationals as one of the great goods the state promotes) or does it denote something else that interacts with various aspects of populism?

(By the way, the crowd at American Affairs is, um, quite different from the Nouvelle Droite. Perhaps a topic for another day.)

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12 thoughts on “Building Dwelling Populism

  1. Re: Nozick. It does appear that the Manchester type “harmony of interests” economic liberalism ought to be an “arch-Brahmin” ideology, but yet the majority academic reception was highly negative and to this day Nozick remains something of a bogeyman for advocating an alleged Social Darwinist (per Hofstadter’s tortured definition of it) perspective. He has been scorned at just a slightly lower level than Charles Murray, perhaps.

    I think Jonathan Bowden was on to something when he said that:

    “…There is a species of social democratic Leftism that regards libertarianism as more cruel than fascism. Regards it as worse, because fascism has a socialist side and looks after people at the bottom for reasons of national paternalism, whereas libertarianism has no softness at all, and basically those at the bottom go to the wall or they find ways in which they can serve those at the top. Now, that’s not how libertarians think of their own ideas at all, but it’s how Left-wing critics think of them and libertarianism is regarded by socially-minded thinkers – not all on the Left, actually, because this would be a New Right critique of libertarianism along de Benoist’s lines – as very much the morality and the law of the jungle.”

    (Obviously you can point to mutualism and to pre-capitalist or even pre-absolutist forms of alms, aid, poor relief and mutual aid, but those are rather esoteric subjects, anyway, and the broad schema is correct.)

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    1. Lol no, Nozick was not scorned. He was extremely popular and widely admired.

      >(Obviously you can point to mutualism and to pre-capitalist or even pre-absolutist forms of alms, aid, poor relief and mutual aid, but those are rather esoteric subjects, anyway, and the broad schema is correct.)

      I don’t think that’s esoteric at all (possibly because in America we still have fairly high levels of charitable giving, so a return seems possible); in particular I don’t think you can possibly understand the instability of a progressive gov’t without seeing the way it makes older forms of social problem-solving impossible, then adopts the problem as an additional responsibility for itself. (I mentioned this in “Our Thermidor” two or three weeks ago, I think you read it.)

      Re: Bowden, I say both/and: both Gleichstaltung and law of the jungle. It’s the only way to be sure.

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      1. Really? Was there some migration from Rawls to Nozick I missed? And with regards to his legacy, one of the front page Google hits for Nozick’s name is a Slate article against him subtitled “the liberty scam” in its URL.

        Certainly, the response to Nozick did trigger plenty of shifts in analytical philosophy, like Analytical Marxism, Philip Pettit’s theory of republicanism as non-domination, and communitarianism. But generally none as or more rightward than Nozick’s ASU.

        (I agree that Nozick was admired for his work outside of Anarchy, State, and Utopia.)

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  2. Excellent set of distinctions here.

    Concern for the “common man” is different than “common man ought to rule”. Good distinction.

    “In a demotism, the cornerstone of Brahmin power is the principle that democracy is good. In America in 2017, it’s fundamental to Brahmin sensibilities that Hitler was bad.
    Thus the typical American Brahmin finds nothing more obvious and inspiring than to observe that Hitler was bad because he was undemocratic.”

    Triple Strike:

    1: Democracy killed Socrates.
    2: Democracy killed Jesus.
    3: Democracy killed (six million) Jews by giving the world Hitler.

    That’s pretty powerful no?

    Brahmins hate hate hate Nozick and libertarians. Carl is on to something there about the way that Brahmans see libertarians as “cold” and “cruel” etc etc. However, Nozick to my knowledge was never in the kind of bad odour that Murray is.

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    1. I do not think Brahmins hate Nozick even slightly. That is a simple misreading of the situation. Whether or not Brahmins hate libertarians or not is a different question, but again I think the answer is “no”, and in fact libertarianism is highly-evolved to be *compatible* with Brahmin prejudices in every way (thus making it a ritually acceptable gesture against dominant tendencies in the Cathedral)

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  3. “However, being anti-Cathedral and anti-Brahmin are two different things.”

    This is the point Angelo Codevilla has been making for a long time, most famously in “The Ruling Class.” Regimes have elites, that’s a given. America’s problem is that rarely in history have a great nation’s elites been so foolish, cowardly, feckless, obsessed with petty trivialities, destructive to their countrymen, ignorant of history, and pursuing ideological fashions likely to result in ruin.

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  4. Hate to be such a blog nerd, but… links to the conversation alluded to would have been useful. Unless it was a private conversation, in which case… carry on.

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  5. Would it be OK if I cross-posted this article to WriterBeat.com? I’ll be sure to give you complete credit as the author. There is no fee, I’m simply trying to add more content diversity for our com5munity and I liked what you wrote. If “OK” please let me know via email.

    Autumn
    AutumnCote@WriterBeat.com

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