Deconstructing Duality #2 – The liberty-authority dialectic

In some ways this post can be thought of as partially a continuation of the previous post on this subject, which focused on the individualism-collectivism dynamic, because of the way the authority-liberty dialectic sometimes ties into the individualism-collectivism dialectic – typically with liberty coinciding with individualism and authority coinciding with collectivism at least per conventional liberal wisdom. However, as you will see, it is not entirely bound to this theme, though undeniably connected.

Buttressing the first part of this discussion is the The Principle of Federation, which was written by the French anarchist/mutualist philosopher Pierre Joseph Proudhon in 1863. It is here that the authority-liberty dialectic is discussed in great length, and from here that discussion of the dialectic originates. Simply put:

“Political order rests fundamentally on two contrary principles: authority and liberty. The one initiates, the other concludes; the one goes hand-in-hand with obedient faith, the other with free reason.

I doubt that a single voice will be raised against this first proposition. Authority and liberty are as old as the human race; they are born with us, and live on in each of us. Let us note but one thing, which few readers would notice otherwise: these two principles form a couple, so to speak, whose two terms, though indissolubly linked together, are nevertheless irreducible one to the other, and remain, despite all our efforts, perpetually at odds. Authority necessarily presupposes a liberty which recognizes or denies it; in turn liberty, in its political sense, likewise presupposes an authority which confronts it, repressing or tolerating it. Suppress one of the two, and the other has no sense: authority, without a Liberty to examine it, to resist or submit to it, is an empty word; liberty, without an authority as counterweight, is meaningless.”

The order of a society rests on the dynamic of the forces of authority (order) and liberty (freedom), but of which are rather clearly defined here:

The principle of authority, familial, patriarchal, magisterial, monarchical, theocratic, tending to hierarchy, centralization, absorption, is given by nature, and is thus essentially predestined, divine, as you will. Its scope, resisted and impeded by the opposing principle, may expand or contract indefinitely, but can never be extinguished.

The principle of liberty, personal, individualist, critical, the instrument of dividing, choosing, arranging, is supplied by the mind. Essentially a principle of judgment, then, it is superior to the nature which it makes use of, and to the necessity which it masters. Its aspirations are unbounded; it is, like its contrary, subject to extension or restriction, but it likewise cannot be exhausted as it grows, nor can it be nullified by constraint.

It follows that in every society, even the most authoritarian, liberty necessarily plays some part; likewise in every society, even the most liberal, some portion is reserved for authority. This requirement is absolute; no political arrangement is exempt. Despite the efforts of the understanding to resolve diversity into unity, the two principles persist, always in opposition to each other. Political development arises from their inescapable logic and their mutual interaction.

This explanation also cuts right at the heart of the basis of monarchical rule in contrast to republican rule. The basis of monarchy is, indeed, the idea of the body politic as represented by a family unit, specifically the royal family, and this idea is typically intertwined with religious ideas of vertical hierarchical rule (hence, the royal family as ordained with the divine right to rule by God, or perhaps by one of many gods in pre-Christian monarchies). By contrast, republican rule is based on, as the name suggests, the principle of “res publica”, which means “public affairs” and references of the commonwealth or the commons, entailing that the domain of politics is the domain of the commons, and so it should be in principle that the body politic is represented by the people at large who inhabit the commons rather than a singular family unit.

We also see the authority-liberty dialectic play out in the realm of class, as is observed thusly:

Surprise is occasioned by the fact that a government founded by bourgeois or patricians in alliance with a dynasty should generally be more liberal than one founded by the masses under the leadership of a dictator or a tribune. The phenomenon may indeed seem all the more surprising in that the people are at bottom more interested in and more genuinely attached to liberty than the bourgeoisie. But this paradox, the great stumbling-block of politics, is explained by the situation of the parties: in the case of a popular victory, the people must think and act autocratically, but when the bourgeois enjoy supremacy they think and act as republicans. Let us return to the fundamental dualism of authority and liberty, and we shall understand the matter.

From the divergence of these two principles, and under the influence of contrary passions and interests, two opposite tendencies, two currents of opinion, emerge. The partisans of authority tend to reduce the scope of liberty — individual, corporative, or local — as much as possible, and by this means to exploit to their own profit and at the expense of the mass the power with which they ally themselves. The partisans of the liberal regime, on the other hand, tend to restrain authority and to conquer the aristocracy by relentlessly limiting public functions and the acts and forms of power. Because of their position, because of the modesty of their wealth, the people seek equality and liberty from governments; for the opposite reason, the land-owning, financial, and industrial patricians favour a monarchy which will protect the great interests and secure order for their own profit, and as a result stress authority at the expense of liberty.

In order to understand this from the lens of the modern day, consider the proclivity of the petty-bourgeois or upper-middle classes to embrace a very peculiar type of cosmopolitan liberal progressivism. This brand of liberalism one whose remit for freedom, in its allowance for the prosecution of “hate speech”, derives legitimacy not from the kind of post-Stalinist Bolshevism imagined by classical liberals, conservatives and the far-right, but instead from the logic of the paradox of tolerance constructed by the liberal Karl Popper, and whose arguments for the increased heterogeneity of Western societies, decreasing immigration controls (see for example Vox’s Ezra Klein who claims that allowing an influx in lax migration will make the global richer) and in general support globalization under the premise that it will spread cosmopolitan liberalism and welfare capitalism across the world and eliminate tyranny -the irony, of course, being very rich considering that, in supporting the European Union and related initiatives they invariably support the centralization of government both national and supra-national. An example of the way this is tied to class is how affluent and cosmopolitan areas of the UK that used to consistent support the Conservative Party have moved to Labour over the issue of the European Union. Or how the bourgeoisie slammed the British government for making rhetorical overtures towards controlling immigration.

Of course the expansion of state power is something that liberals across the spectrum find themselves forced to support, with classical liberals such as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises historically on record for supporting the regimes of Augusto Pinochet (the Chilean dictator who removed the democratically elected Salvador Allende in a coup in 1973) and Engelbert Dollfuss (the fascist chancellor of Austria who ruled between 1933 and 1938) respectively. Even today you will find classical liberals online who will defend not only those figures in spite of their support for dictators but also support politicians like Jair Bolsonaro, who is an open supporter of military dictatorship, and Donald Trump, who has done nothing to reduce the NSA dragnet and has sometimes suggested that people be fired for disagreeing with him and under whose administration the US is looking to implement hate speech legislation under the guise of fighting anti-semitism. What’s more they do so, as Proudhon observed, convinced of their own devotion to liberalism. If social democracy is seen as an inherently authoritarian system, even when it lacks authoritarian governance or indeed is the result of democratic choice, then imposing free market authoritarianism ceases to be authoritarian in the mind of the liberal because of the framework they operate under.

Following this analysis, let us explore the liberty-authority dialectic in a different tangent, beginning with the theme of anarchy and anarchism. In a way I think it can be argued that the principles of anarchy and tyranny are but shadows of each other. Think of it this way: tyranny, in practice, is nothing but anarchy for the ruler. The tyrant has the total freedom for him/herself to exercise his/her rule however he/she desires, unmoored by the constraints of law, guided only by their own will to power. Conversely, anarchy represents the abolition of the state, and in so doing abolish the constraints of law that allow for an ordered existence and prevent the wholesale violation of another person’s rights. What this means is that the . If that sounds silly just consider the anarchist solution for, from their perspective, dealing with “hate speech” and how to punish people who commit it – something that common sense would tell you requires some sort of state apparatus. From what I’ve managed to get out of the anarchists I’ve talked to on the subject, their answer can be summarized as follows: if someone attempts to speak publicly about immigration being bad, or gays being lunatics, or race being tied to IQ, or whatever far-right bile you can think of, their answer is for the community to basically just agree to beat them up or else some black kid gets murdered by Nazis or some shit because apparently minorities only die because of mean words. The result, in essence, is a kind of mass tyranny – the absolute freedom not of one ruler but a mob to misuse force and power unmoored by the constraints of law. Of course this does not even get into the doctrine of anarcho-capitalism, which in its abolition of the state prefers to concentrate tyrannical power into the hands of private entities.

Because of this anarchy can be considered the shadow in many ways. It serves as theoretically its polar opposite and yet also sharing desire of tyranny to abolish all limits to the ability to exercise power over others. For tyranny, this is the power of a single ruler, but for anarchy it is power of a mass or an individual. Freedom and liberty therefore are the not the offspring of anarchy, but of law; more specifically, the law of the republic, and its highest forms as encapsulated within the tradition of democracy.

Though the main focus of this post is on the dialectic between authority and freedom, I think I can extend this discussion to the broad theme of order and chaos which, if we’re being very honest, is a rather meta-philosophical form of the same dialectic at least in terms of the modern discourse of it (with most of the ancient mythological discourse centering around the primitive stage of creation its transformation into an orderly cosmos by the gods).

One of the problems of chaos, at least in the social sense, is that it is never a permanent state and cannot be such a state. In the end, it will and must always consolidate itself into a new order. Every revolution inevitably generates – in fact, the whole point of revolution is to establish a new order after displacing the old one; indeed, revolution is never an end in itself but rather a means to an end. Thus, human social organization cannot be based on a state of chaos without reforming into an orderly society. As such the only question that follows from that is whether or not the outcome is for the better or the worse.

The other problem of course is that, a lot of times, what we think of as chaos is often another piece of the pervading order, a side effect of it. In cosmic terms, it can be seen as part of the spiral that is the universe, part of the processes of the universe, the entropy that is but a necessary component of the life force of the cosmos. In politics, one can think of it in perhaps a more sinister sense, as so much what appears to be mere senseless violence in the Middle East is but a single manifestation of the modern global economic order, which presently requires war and conflict over resources to sustain itself. It is as Carl Jung famously said, in all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.

Thus, when we discuss the overthrow of the old order, we invariably discuss the formation of a new order, even if we are anarchists – that is unless our sole business is merely insurrection for its own sake. It is like as I say in my Christmas Day post for this year – there is the order of the Light of Logos, that of YHWH and his creeds, and there is the order of the Light of Nature, that of the pagan entities and creeds and, indeed, of the morning star. Indeed, it can be said that perhaps one does not truly abolish norms, but rather transforms them.

In my youth I have often discussed the concept of chaos not in this sense, but rather as a primordial, energetic force of being – one which brings power to those who imbibe it, awaken it within themselves, or become possessed of it or connected to it. Reflecting on it, perhaps if there is such a force, does it make more sense to think of it simply as “Chaos”, or does it in fact make more sense to think of it as an agent of order in the sense that it is a spiritual means that allows a being to arrange the world around him – invariably entailing transformation of a given substance into a different orderly matrix?

Finally, there is something worth saying about freedom within context of the order-chaos dialectic which might defy the way popular imagination dictates these concepts and indeed the way I may have thought of things years ago. We imagine freedom in conjunction with archetypal chaos, we imagine chaos as the space of freedom, but if we think about it there is no freedom for the individual without the ability to direct oneself, and there is no possibility to direct oneself without the ability to exercise control. And this is not an immaculate state of affairs either. We often have a general idea of a strong, self-reliant . We sometimes see this in old action movies where there is one guy who gets pretty much everything done on his own, like in Commando. But how does one get to be a Commando? When I try to imagine it, I imagine a lifetime of military training undertaken to get to the state where you possess the strength and know-how necessary to do what you’re expected to do as, effectively, the kind of one man army you see in the movies (if such a thing could be realistic to start with), with John Matrix telling his former superior about how he got to be so “silent and smooth”.

In a broad sense, because you come to know what you know through the environment around you, most notably through other people, the only way you will learn how to survive on your own under your own power, much as a lot of hardcore individualists or indeed the very young do not like to admit it, is through others. This typically means going through the channel of a support system within society, such as family, friends, the tribe, the community etc., or from a teacher or an academy. And this invariably means that, in order to go through those channels and come out of them a self-functioning human being, you have to deal with having someone to answer to within what is, although conditional, a dominance hierarchy of sorts. The student-teacher relationship is one such hierarchy, with your continued progression being dependent on whether or not you follow the course you signed up for as laid out by the teacher.

I would also use this point to stress necessity of having an encompassing support structure in place that would, in a rather engrossing manner, serve to teach people the skills they need to survive on their own and in a communal setting in the event that modern society should collapse. There’s a scene in an episode of Red Dwarf called “White Hole” where two of the characters, Dave Lister and The Cat, are trying to cope with life on the Red Dwarf space ship with only a couple of months of oxygen left and no power except for the emergency backup generator being used to generate the hologram Arnold Rimmer. The two characters take turns powering a hair drier to try and cook eggs, and then at the end of the scene an electric blanket (though really it’s just The Cat having Lister do everything). When they fail to fry eggs for dinner, they lament not only about how they have to go back to eating canned beans, but also that they have to saw the lids off of the cans because they can’t use the can openers due to them being electrically powered. At that point Lister says:

Everything on the smegging ship’s electric, man. Heat, light, doors. I never realised how dependent we were.  I never realised how little I know. I just plugged things in walls and pressed the “on” button.  I don’t even know how to make oxygen.  All I know is it’s got something to do with plants and ends in “osis.” Or is it “esis?” I — I don’t know! Why is it I never paid attention in Biology class?  Why did I always turn to page forty-seven and start drawing little beards and moustaches on the sperms?

Here in the early 21st century, a great deal of modern life is dependent upon electricity, and the Internet, and I fear that, within not too long, perhaps a few decades if we’re being entirely generous to be honest, there will come a time where the life we have taken for granted will be all but destroyed as a result of our failure to regulate or neutralize the effects of anthropogenic climate change (that is if most of the world isn’t destroyed by nuclear fire in World War 3). And if you don’t think the Internet will be adversely affected by such developments, you would sorely mistaken given that it is predicted that the rising sea levels might destroy underground internet cables. Because of this,and many many other reasons that I’m sure we don’t need to go through for now, learning how to survive in the aftermath of the scenario that awaits us is essential, particularly because I am convinced that we, like Lister, have no idea how dependent we actually are. We depend on the comforts of industrial society and support modern life and we depend on the internet to keep us attuned to what’s going on in the world and even to relate to other people; without any knowledge or preparedness of life outside this sphere, the destruction of all of this would be catastrophic to the majority of people. It is for this reason that I support the creation of some sort of community infrastructure set up to arm the populace with the skills and information needed to make sure they can cope with these situations, perhaps something that would be called a “survival academy”, because the simple reality of it is that without the knowledge and skill to cope with ourselves we will be sitting ducks at the mercy of the wrath of the Earth, and all freedom will mean is the freedom to hunt for scraps and die in a world that begins its transformation into a second Venus (a planet that, I must stress, is the dutch oven of our solar system).

Hence, it is important to see the path to freedom as necessarily a structural one, a dialectical one, one that bases itself not on some Randian idea of the atomic individual, or the Ernest Junger ideal of the Archon, or on basically what life would be like if that one episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia happened in real life. It is to be based on a social individual, an individual that is guided, taught and conditioned so that it can learn to guide itself, an individual that, without such conditioning, cannot transcend the state of a baseline animal subject to the winds.

I will try to make it a point to make new posts in this series every month (until its completion of course), maybe within a shorter period than that, while I publish other posts that I would like to write.

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