Wednesday, 1 December 2010

So Little a Thing. — Latter-day men are loath, in many subtle ways, to acknowledge truth. [1] Take the little matter of bowing. Formerly men would set forth this little bodily token in acknowledging the truth of their standing. It is by the repetition of such tokens that truth is etched upon them. Yet nowadays they fancy that they are freer or of higher worth since they do not have to bow to their lords. Here today untruth runs through everything. It is called for everywhere. There is not a day that goes by wherein our so-called freemen do not demand to be hoodwinked or lied to. They hold their little tokens of truth-spurning pride to be of greater worth: let us seem to be as we wish to be, they cry, and do not make us acknowledge the world by body or by mind; tell us that we are all of the same rank, or even that we are lords, and our lords, our hirelings. Very well, say their managers: this is one demand at least for which we shall readily seek to uphold a plentiful supply. What untruth could be more soothing to the sore and freed envy of the masses? — an untruth and a bare-faced lie repeated, strengthened, and boastfully taken up as a hallowed truth by those whom it is meant to mislead!
     In keeping with the depersonalising of the world, latter-day men are loath to acknowledge the rightfulness of any person standing over them. [2] Only systems, procedures, and processes are allowed this higher standing. Bowing to a person is for them a token of unrightfulness; for they link this to higherness and lowerness amongst persons: why should one person be higher than another? Being crushed under the dead weight of systematic process, on the other hand, being far from equal to it, not knowing how to begin to match it, or even how to live through it as persons — all this does not seem to bother them so much, but, on the contrary, they take it as the onrush of justice after a long dark age.
     Since they will not acknowledge, or let stand, personal power over them, so they demand impersonal power — procedure and process — as the impartial judge of all things: a clockwork god. Yet, steeped in the sins of pride and envy, and drunk on utopian spirits, they do not reckon upon the outcome: that the impersonal power over them will not acknowledge them as persons. By its nature it cannot. It has neither the will nor the facility for such: only persons can acknowledge persons. But how ironic that the revolutionary struggle on the part of the masses for their acknowledgement as persons of equal worth in the state has driven the building of a state which cannot acknowledge them as persons at all! Now it must render them into fit objects for its operation. Hereby it looms to bring them justice after all, namely, having shaped them into unpersons so far as it is possible to do so, and having done so by the freeing and the encouraging of their base materiality, it threatens to do only what is fit for them: to treat them as such.
     That to which bowing is an acknowledgement would have spared them this downfall, this gross indignity against manfulness; indeed this undoing would never have stricken the bond in the first place, for that power called for persons on both sides, it called for true men, to which sadly the latter-day world is too weak and sickly to give birth in numbers.

[1] They are of course loath to acknowledge truth in greatly unsubtle ways too. Race, for instance, the denial of the stark reality of which is weird.
[2] The drive for depersonalisation has been noted for some time. Cf.: Max Stirner, Der Einzige und Sein Eigentum (Leipzig: Verlag von Otto Wigand, 1901 [1845]), p.112: “Was will das Bürgertum damit, daß es gegen jeden persönlichen, d. h. nicht in der ‘Sache’, der ‘Vernunft’ u.s.w. begründeten Befehl eifert? Es kämpft eben nur im Interesse der ‘Sache’ gegen die Herrschaft der ‘Personen’! . . . Das Bürgertum will einen unpersönlichen Herrscher.” [“What does the bourgeoisie want by inveighing against every personal command, that is, against every command not founded on ‘cause’, on ‘reason’, etc? It is simply fighting in the interest of the ‘cause’ against the rule of ‘persons’! . . . The bourgeoisie wants an impersonal ruler.”] See also: the works of Carl Schmitt, in particular “The Age of Neutralizations and Depoliticizations” (1929), appended to The Concept of the Political, tr. G. Schwab (London and Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007); and latterly those of Alasdair MacIntyre, Paul Gottfried, Bruce G. Chalton, and James Kalb, amongst others.


Alrenous said...

"steeped in the sins of pride and envy, and drunk on utopian spirits, they do not reckon upon the outcome: that the impersonal power over them will not acknowledge them as persons."

Moreover, the very impersonality of these systems is yet another lie. Did not a person design them? Do not persons run them? Can not a person manipulate them?

To count them truly impersonal is to make a hilarious mockery. They are but shades to hide the bright master from the dim mastered.

Deogolwulf said...

“Did not a person design them?”

No, but did you have someone in mind?

“Do not persons run them?”

It is unclear to me what you mean. If you mean the logical-limiting case of perfectly impersonal systems, then of course the answer is no by definition. If you mean the imperfectly-impersonal bureau-technocratic systems as they stand, then the answer is hard to give: they are vast, complex, sprawling processual systems with some personal input. Do some persons gain great power and profit from them? Indeed they do. Do some persons have their sub-domains of control? Certainly. Do personal interests and policies here and now still affect the running of the process? Yes. All of which is to say that the personal element has not been eradicated.

“Can not a person manipulate them?”

To some extent, which just goes to show that it falls short.


"let us seem to be as we wish to be"

In some ways, seeming has become being and wishing has made it so. For instance, the death of manners. People everywhere now seem not to have any. And, in fact, their lack of manners really does correlate to a lack of internal refinement.

The importance of what Jacques Barzun calls "demotic" style is enormous. Anyone insisting on refinement in his own dress, speech, or manners is mocked, and no one confessing refined taste is electable.

Anonymous said...

I bow to you, sir, as the finest writer in this infinite morass of "blogs".

Anonymous said...

Yet nowadays they fancy that they are freer or of higher worth since they do not have to bow to their lords.

To bow truthfully today would oblige us to dip our torsos to every roving blackamoor in town.