Political Liquidation

Oscillations of political power, the expansion and contraction of sovereign and elite control, define the nature of conflict and cycles of politico-economic activity. Elites will always exist as political power is always in grasp so long as dynamics of status and wealth gains and the consolidation of support bases are possible. “The tendency in both the hard and soft managerial regimes has been for managerial forces to pervade all areas of political, economic, social, and intellectual life”[1]. Such consolidation is the hallmark of any elite structure. It must dominate and control so as prevent subversive elements and sub-elites from marking out their own territory and developing their own powerbases. The circulation of elites as Pareto called it is a consistent game of governance and power. Much of modern political thinking has concerned itself with the transformation and supersession of such conditions, forging a revolutionary moment or a balance of power so as to either destroy or nullify elite power structures.

Elite cultivation is a long game though. It extends beyond the immediately political and into the cultural and meta-political. The slow accrual of power isn’t done through the electoral process and popular means of messaging. It begins in the institutions of high culture, universities, broadsheet newspapers, academic journals, education, etc. Slowly it filters down into the tabloid newspapers, news programmes and political manifestos. Such cultivation isn’t measured in election cycles but in decades, slowly transposing from a minority sub-elite to a larger power-elite. In this movement from abstract intellectualism to widespread propagation, this new elite creates positions and inculcates ideological frameworks that make wider structures and institutions reliant on their expertise, control of resources and/or capacity to judge. “Until one begins to list all the professions and activities which belong to the class, it is difficult to realize how numerous it is, how the scope for activities constantly increases in modern society, and how dependent on it we all have become”[2].

The expansion of Keynesian and neoliberal modes of thought out of economics departments and think tanks into elite policy circles, civil society, corporate management and government bureaucracies and the growth of a transgressive culture industry favouring minoritarian concerns and control over educational institutions are testament to this long march. Both popular politics and constitutional restraints struggle to meaningfully curtail the circulation and expansion of elites.

The latter become increasingly reliant on the types of expertise and social capital these elites foster. Administrative managers and policy experts become interpreters and shapers of the constitutional mechanisms that undergird legal precedents and legislative parameters. Through them, new interpretations become integrated which justify new policy actions and new bureaus to manage them. We see this in the transformation of speech rights via the transgressive culture industry which is attempting to codify hate speech and Silicon Valley technocrats who narrow the range of speech available on public forums. The law isn’t changed, but expanded in its scope, creating legal arbitrage which these elite structures manipulate.

In the former, there are substantive difficulties with mounting a popular political front against emerging elite consensus. Electoral politics has little effect, as major parties converge toward general agreement over matters of economic and social policy, quibbling over details. Even when supposed outsiders like Trump are elected, they quickly find any attempts to interject into existing bureaucracies almost impossible, facing strong resistance from established groups in the intelligence communities, military brass and wider civil administration. These bureaus and their programmes have consistently expanded despite congressional and executive scepticism and pushback. This is why a policy of “retire all government employees”[3] is so hard, as it isn’t just a matter of the employees but of the educational/training materials that integrate new recruits and the impunity with which these organisations escape substantive accountability.

Forces of constitutional expansion and ideological consolidation limit the potential for any popular movement or fragmentary group to challenge elite power. The Overton window is reshaped and established methods of political participation are effectively meaningless. You cannot vote out or even question civil bureaucrats or the policy-making networks which actually dictate legal procedures and their implementation. A political liquidation occurs where the various aspects of political and economic life are closed off, to be decided amongst technocratic groups and procedures. They are nominally accountable in that they publish their meeting minutes and must answer to ministerial or presidential requests, but they intensively entrench their power, lasting longer than any one government administration. Their political power is the power of the closed network, defined by intra-competitive norms and shared cultural attributes that are beyond boundaries of electoral or legal power.

A political liquidation, the entrenching of a post-political consensus and the denial of a meta-political critique coming in the form of fragments (national populism, conspiracism, sectoral strikes, protest convoys, a re-emerging petit bourgeoisie), is currently happening within elite political and economic networks. The power of foundation funding toward social causes (as with the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundation and the Gates Foundation funding and depoliticising various aspects of socio-economic policy), the digitalisation of modern life (through the ubiquity of digital IDs, vaccine passports, bureaucratic smartphone apps and mass data gathering) and the increasingly technocratic bent of various institutions and functionaries both public and private (as in BlackRock’s recommendations for central bank-led fiscal policy that depoliticises wealth distribution[4] or various health committees’ control over healthcare and vaccine policies, presenting expert opinion as unitary and beyond reproach).

In establishing this political liquidation and post-political entrenchment, they are also happily propagandising their efforts and pushing the negative externalities of their policy recommendations onto the middle and lower classes. Lockdowns are easy for the managerial and administrative sectors (the laptop classes[5]) while crushing for the precariat and lower middle classes (whose businesses are closed and work uncompensated). Climate change policies around net zero and the Green New Deal push high-cost solutions onto the wider population, whether through electric cars, higher energy bills or cost-inefficient, highly subsidised food economies and health cultures. The effects of wage-less inflation (brought on through structural overreliance on tenuous and fragile supply chains combined with cheap labour as well as asset inflation via QE and risk free liquidity) are now coupled with a huge tax burden through income tax/national insurance increases. The original causes of these problems (governance failures, corporate power, inequality, closed networks) are neither questioned nor held responsible, with those who do labelled as conspiracy theorists, fearmongers or doomists.

The closed networks that inform and construct these events are immune from popular participation. Reliant on systems of educational attainment, professional credibility and internal peer review, they are susceptible to status quo and confirmation biases, creating knowledge that’s largely unquestionable. This also makes it difficult for existing elite structures to be opened up or reformed, as they exclude alternative forms of information and different methodologies due to them being outside their paradigmatic conceptions. “The interlacing of money, power and lobbying alliances deprives politics of the last crumbs of potential autonomy, to the point that democracies all over the planet now welcome our philanthropic predators with open arms, without even asking questions”[6].

Financial crises and the pandemic have entrenched elite consensus as networks of power have responded aggressively to the challenges they pose. Existing elites exist in the uchronic[7] condition of transvaluing challenges to within their sphere of influence. The 2008 financial crisis has simply cemented neoliberal ideology, as asset inflation and the financial framing of economic stability encompass responses to economic stagnation both in the light of long-term productivity inertia and the affect of coronavirus shutdowns that focus on the monetary policy toolkit as the only adequate way to tackle inflation and induce liquidity. The campaigns in the post-coronavirus era of Build Back Better and the expansion of digital identification and tracking infrastructure are simply more explicit retellings of the neoliberal narrative around financial and logistical globalisation. The WEF and the G8 simply reemphasise their continued position, that the expansion of global trade and governance are unstoppable, and that any impediment will be regulated and controlled. Whether that be the coronavirus itself, with governments of all varieties hubristically assuming they can control a respiratory virus (that flows on the very structures globalisation maintains), or those populations opposed to their integration into international databanks who are caught up in travel sites cum checkpoints that determine whether one is allowed to move based on their medical history and vaccine status. Slogans like “you will own nothing” are nothing new, just more explicit variations on a continuing theme.

Any emerging consensus amongst a new elite appears to entrench administrative objectives and ethics in a post-liberal scenario rather than extending freedom or a limitation of coercive power. The power of networks in the civil service, health and education attest to this. As do the prevailing alternatives to Western governance, such as those represented by China’s capitalist authoritarianism with attendant social credit systems. The response to coronavirus has only entrenched such false binaries as parties and interest groups compete to see which one can be more authoritarian in their pursuit of biomedical perfection.

Populist challenges of various stripes that attempt to make the various coalitions and interests groups integral to the state and wider establishment more transparent or accountable have been met with vociferous resistance. Whether in the Trump presidency, Latin American populism or the Corbyn opposition, confected media tales and smears as well as severe limitations on their capacities to act (in crafting policy or forming alternative alliances to established powerbases) hampered any efforts to meaningfully construct populism as a political force that could integrate the state into itself.

Instead of becoming another such political force, it was diminished into a fragmented base (the Red Wall or Brexit voters in Britain; Trump voters and the flyover states in America; Zemmour supporters or the Gilets Jaunes in France; the trucker convoy in Canada; the farm protesters in India; anti-vaccine passport and anti-lockdown movements in various countries) that were reviled. They were accused of various transgressions that the elite cannot abide: antisemitism, xenophobia, protectionism. That they dare question a socio-political consensus (however concocted) was beyond the pale. “Against recalcitrant groups, organizations, even whole states, our ruling class uses its control of communications to wage demonization campaigns akin to two-minute hates, except lasting much longer”[8]. Thus the bleating around expert-opinion and purging democratic systems of these obfuscatory and dangerous forces. Politics here is impossible as the capacity to make systems of governance transparent is met with extreme resistance from the full coterie of established interests.

Alternative sub-elites are thus hampered, either cast off as populist recalcitrance or easily integrated within the ideological apodictic. As Francis notes regarding the development of elite challenges to the current soft managerial elite, the cleavage of this conflict concerns cultural control rather than a wider meta-political critique[9]. An emerging sub-elite would co-opt existing institutions and use their wide-ranging powers for their own ends, potentially exacerbating such powers in the tyrannical direction they’re already heading. The so-called post-liberal direction of populations that favour increased economic intervention alongside a culturally conservative ethic have proved amenable to coronavirus regulations, as UK opinion surveys attest to. Strong government messaging and media fear campaigns have turned ordinary citizens into glorified covid wardens and snitches, happy to be locked down despite the stratified risk and endemicity of the virus. If such a cleavage were to occur where elite consensus moves from soft managerialism to hard managerialism, the prospects for individual liberty and the capacity for decentralised autonomy would only decrease, as more securitised governance becomes commonplace.

A libertarian response to the permanency of elites and their oscillations of power is to be a mechanism of exit rather than a political programme of actionable proposals. Such is the nature of elite functioning (their cyclicality and desire for control), that in the case of elite co-option the answers for decentralist movements must remain as bottlenecks in the system, pushing it beyond its boundaries and sitting within its interstices, rather than acquiescing to such power due to ideological alignment. Successor elites are still elites and will exhibit the same tendencies of authoritarianism and expansive control. By maintaining a level of autonomy and/or resistance, such elites can be tempered, subverted or ignored as they move from dynamic flexibility to ossification.

The game of the “intellectuals” that Hayek writes on is one libertarians have struggled to exist within. Where it has been successful as through the move from the Mont Pelerin Society and other free market think tanks to neoliberal hegemony, it has inverted the very goals of libertarianism to proscribe coercive entrenchment and institutional ossification and extend mechanisms of freedom, compromising with sovereign and corporate power centres to the extent it is now part of coercive power structures, extending their power rather than ameliorating it as they become part of the intra-competitive dynamics of elite policy-making networks[10]. This game cannot be won by libertarians.

Beginning to escape this trap means defining what individual liberty and political freedom really mean in the modern context of sovereign power, elite consensus and coercive apparatuses. Freedom shouldn’t be defined by a means-ends matrix of understanding that moves from deontological to consequentialist axes. Rather it should be seen as a capacity to act, affecting both means and ends as they involve forms of decision-making. Such capacity also extends upwards in scale, from individual to institutional levels as each has abilities to act. In these acts, individual and collective actors produce constraints and tensions that induce conflicts as capacities of freedom delineate into different courses of action. How these tensions are worked out is through means of negotiation and force (both defensive and offensive), which involve varying levels of conflict and violence in their resolutions or continuations.

Freedom as capacity goes beyond the dichotomy Friedman identifies as inherent to libertarianism: that of deontological versus consequentialist defences of libertarian political thought. The former, defined as “that most natural and universal of all human activities: the persistent attempt on the part of humans to achieve . . . mutual understanding”[11], is subverted as capacity doesn’t necessarily lead to mutual understanding, rather the extension of projects and collective formations that put their claim onto resources and propagate their ideological underpinnings. Consequentialism too is undergirded by capacity. Friedman’s defence of a consequentialist mode of libertarian thought serves to recognise the underlying variable of freedom and liberty are the capacity for actors to extend and secure their rights in distinction with others, as does Nove’s distinctions in property ownership definitions as emerging from the consequences of their control[12]. Both come back to the fundamental proposition of the capacity for control to extend freedom and rights.

Political freedom at its most basic is the capacity to take and conserve force. Friedman’s and Nove’s arguments regarding expansive definitions of freedom only extend force in a particular direction, while libertarian “limitations” of coercive force are themselves nothing more than the preservation of a particular order of property relations. Coercion and political force that comes from it are the fundamental premises of freedoms. Friedman then makes an error in assigning to Hayek’s knowledge problem an aprioristic quality of freedom in showing that the assertion of spontaneity doesn’t provide a ground for the production of the good. The point of the knowledge and calculation problems is to demonstrate the very limits of freedoms themselves and their capacity to expand toward integrated orders. Spontaneity is not a mark of morality, but a recognition of the inability of coercive authorities to necessarily contain all economic and political actions within their plans or purviews. Within their interstices always grow new methodologies of action that exist in their blind spots.

This then invokes a defensive concept of property acquisition and the implementation of effective authority. “When these things are said to be ‘important,’ to ‘matter’ to people, these are not value judgments on my part, directly, but rather observations on what matters or is important to them — that is, to all persons, to ‘us.’ We shall have to consider altering our proposed course of conduct in the light of how others react, if their reactions can influence the likelihood of success in those courses. Other people in that sense become the source of special problems (and opportunities) for us. When we contemplate people’s potential to affect us for good or ill, we may find ourselves motivated to do something about it, in particular in the way of modifying previously adopted programs of behavior”[13].

The essence of individual liberty is the extension of actions into the social space, modifying and curtailing them in the face of potential conflicts with other such individuals and groups who retain potentials for defensive force and negotiable outcomes. In many ways, the wider libertarian focus on negative liberty and associated concepts of self-ownership are abstractions of the very conditions of coercion, force and the negotiation of action over the social space. In the social space of modern states and other coercive institutions, this entails libertarian engagement with said institutions in the manner of both positive and negative (offensive and defensive) force and negotiated outcomes. At a wider level of abstraction, it is the fracturing of sovereignty into the wider social space, limiting their coercive potential while extending the potential actions of other individuals and groups i.e. increasing the means of their liberties.

This process is described by Olson[14] as the negotiation over the social field of distributional coalitions that extend their own means of power at the expense of other groups (both other distributional coalitions as well as fragmented populations that bear the costs). In particularly advanced societies (those characterised by a long-term minimisation of wide-scale conflict and a largely integrated governing structure) the extent and depth of distributional coalitions is such that monopolisation and stagnation are commonplace in multiple sectors. This produces ungovernability where there is an inability for wide-ranging authorities to coercively enforce mandates in the face of powerful distributional coalitions that collate and occlude power from wider society. In such a situation, libertarianism should act as an interstitial agency, exploiting the ossification brought about by societal gridlock that ungovernability entails.

As Olson notes regarding the Indian caste system, this is representative of a distributional coalition that ossified power and limited access to outside groups. However, as Doniger noted[15] regarding the various offshoots and alternative practices of Hinduism, the Dalits and lower classes of Indian regions created horizontal patterns of socio-religious organisation that routed around the domination of the caste structure. In a similar manner, libertarian engagement with elites should be to encourage their circularity amongst various groups, making themselves ungovernable and presenting avenues for alternative/innovative modes of socio-political activity.

The aim of such interstitial ungovernability is the maintenance of sufficiency and a degree of control over one’s livelihoods, against the spirits of globality and abstraction. Instead of trying to break or reform elite consensus, thus entering the intellectual game which breeds co-option, there should be a libertarian strategy of exits that envelop autonomous institution-building and a defence of liberties against wider coercive forces as well as more offensive, violent interactions that indirectly challenge the state’s and capital’s monopolies on force and economic exchange.

However, traditional notions of exit that libertarianism has pursued around “free markets” are limited in their capacity to engender true exits from monopolistic power structures (both state and non-state). Escapes via the means of the market are themselves doomed to failure. The crude libertarian construction of markets as purely spontaneous phenomena underlies a serious deficiency in their worldview, ignoring the overwhelming power of sovereign bodies in constituting and directing markets, as well as the autonomous nature of capital in developing market power which aims at monopolisation, the accrual of profit and the limitation of creative destruction. All markets develop distributional coalitions that aim to extend their own power.

Any truly free market in the sense that all exchange and all parameters are organised through voluntary methods and are constituted by contracts (around security, law and property) are extremely decentralised and limited in their scale (not that this is necessarily a bad thing). Fundamentally, they are premised on the means of exit as a constant mechanism for any actor. Modern markets by contrast are constantly caught in the paradoxical contradictions of both denying the involvement of the state while constantly relying on it to set the rules of the game. As Gamble notes, “the paradox for neo-liberals is that their revolution in government requires that a group of individuals be found who are not governed by self-interest, but motivated purely by the public good of upholding the rules of the market order. Yet if such a group existed it would contradict a basic premise of neo-liberal analysis”[16]. As the groups that make up government are governed by the same motivations as others, they will inevitably attempt to accrue power to the detriment of wider society, specifying rules to their benefit and creating selective incentives that favour particular traits, backgrounds and statuses thus constituting an elite structure.

The nature of capitalist markets “are ideational, being understood as structures that have an almost static quality in relation to existing capitalism. Epitomising markets as simple conduits of capitalist activity constitutes a form of authority, recognising instrumental rationality and its subsequent socio-economic actions as the generalised mode of action in a market economy”[17]. In other words, the formative construction of political violence and the development of governance as an overarching system precede markets as economic phenomena. They are not separable from their political context, making the notion of free markets as a desired policy goal completely reductive. Markets are an expression of power, whether it be the voluntary power of contractarianism or the coercive power of interest groups controlling prices and the provision of credit.

Instead, cultivating forms of financial and economic autonomy are crucial. Whether through cryptocurrencies, mutual exchange systems or securing control over cultivatable land, a multiplicity of options is necessary. Political liquidation portends homogenisation, and selective violence must accompany solid foundations of micro-power that can affectively hold their own in the machinations of monopolistic capital and coercive sovereignty. In the defensive stance, this means the development of counter-institutions in the agorist tradition of black market activity, becoming middlemen and exploiters of weaknesses and bottlenecks in the “free markets” and corporate machines. Figures like the economic middleman, the dishonest cop or the private counterfeiter as described by Block[18] represent meaningful interventions into monopolistic and coercive practices, delegitimising government functions while opening up pockets of freedom. The middleman can exploit bottlenecks and move goods on their own terms, having one foot in and one foot out of the system.

On the offensive front, the focus should be targeted forms of violence that always keeps centres of power on their toes rather than waging war on leviathan. War entrepreneurialism[19] as the use of terroristic and insurrectionary force to extend political gains and hold control over owned space presents means through which decentralised forces can circumvent and strike coercive powers. As a military corollary to the economic middleman, the war entrepreneur can exploit the bottlenecks of bureaucratic armed forces and their slow chains of command to quickly affect battlespaces and become guerrillas rather than trying to emulate massed shows of strength. Things like assassination markets are potential mechanisms for how such targeted, decentralised violence could be enacted. “The reason we’re still stuck under the thumb of the government is that to the extent it’s true, ‘we’ve’ been playing by THEIR rules, not by our own. By our own rules, THEY are the aggressors and we should be able to treat them accordingly, on our own terms, at our own convenience, whenever we choose, especially when we feel the odds are on our side”[20].

Insurrectionary violence here then is the capacity to invert the ideological presuppositions of the elites themselves. They talk of the essence and importance of liberties yet happily destroy them on a whim. Rights then are temporary entities granted which must be seized if they are to have any permanent fixture in life. The trucker convoy in Canada has done such a thing as they’ve exposed the hypocrisy of Canadian liberalism as a sham. Protests now can only be government mandated and certainly cannot inconvenience the managerial classes in Ottawan high-rises or disrupt cross-border trade. It’s fine if violence is directed at small businesses or street corners, as ruling elites don’t care much about them (as lockdowns showed). But when protests start to bite into their lives, then they show how arbitrary liberties really are in their eyes. As the trucker convoy becomes a “‘state within a state’ of co-ordinated services”[21], we see the authorities’ complete lack of tolerance for any degree of autonomy from their power but also their fragility as they are reliant on trade infrastructure that can be switched against them. They show their true face and their weakness all in one go.

The evental potential of decentralised political violence can thus invert the dynamics of systems that first legitimated such violence. Strategies for exit emerge in the violent tumult of unconstrained excess. “Terror then is the nature of the entropic breakdown of institutionalisation, with their re-founding requiring truly anti-systemic properties that will always have the potential to fail”[22]. Political violence of this kind is beyond the control of central authorities, placing buffers and boundaries that constantly oscillate in relation to sovereign power and coercion.

The capacity to cultivate such defensive and offensive capabilities will become the main factor through which individual liberties and exits are maintained, expanded and consolidated. There is no compromise with coercive entities but nor is there is a utopic endpoint at which the state, capital and it’s elite structures will whither away. They must be fought and undermined. “A contemporary Libertarianism demands an intellectual and cultural labour of striving towards freedom as a value against technological and utilitarian temptations including a willingness to bear the costs of this freedom. It also needs to understand its limits. It acknowledges the logic of technology and accepts the historical state as a necessary form, while rejecting its cultural implications of heteronomy. Like seldom before, Libertarianism has identified the need to secure untouchable spaces in the home, family, and body to secure against statist intervention. On the cultural front, it celebrates unconstrained individualism with all its pitfalls and dangers, which the technological state will always code as dangerous madness. It chooses it over the dangerous submission to the norm which can always be perverted by propaganda and enforced by the folly of crowds”[23].

[1] Samuel T. Francis, Leviathan & Its Enemies

[2] Friedrich Hayek, The Intellectuals and Socialism

[3] https://graymirror.substack.com/p/coriolanus-and-the-conservatives

[4] https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/insights/blackrock-investment-institute/publications/global-macro-outlook/august-2019

[5] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2022/02/07/the-covid-caste-structure/

[6] https://thephilosophicalsalon.com/prolegomena-to-a-franciscan-capitalism/

[7] Paul Virilio, Ground Zero

[8] https://claremontreviewofbooks.com/the-continuing-crisis/

[9] Samuel T. Francis, Leviathan & Its Enemies

[10] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2022/01/12/big-government-libertarians-biomedical-tentacles/

[11] https://philpapers.org/rec/FRIPVP-2

[12] https://philpapers.org/rec/NOVQFP

[13] https://philpapers.org/rec/NARLPA

[14] Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations

[15] Wendy Doniger, The Hindus: An Alternative History

[16] Andrew Gamble, The Spectre at the Feast

[17] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2016/11/09/modern-markets-as-a-dialectic/

[18] Walter Block, Defending the Undefendable

[19] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2021/09/19/war-entrepreneurs/

[20] Jim Bell, Assassination Politics

[21] https://www.ft.com/content/1f83d3dc-a95b-4947-92ba-4f08899228a3

[22] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2021/08/07/violent-machinations-capital-revolution/

[23] https://im1776.com/2022/01/21/post-libertarianism/

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