Troubled Relations: Defining the Successor Ideology

A “peculiar species of authoritarian utopianism sweeping through the ruling institutions of American life, which I have termed ‘the Successor Ideology’”[1] is emergent in liberal democracies throughout the West. In various forms of identity politics, culture wars, NGO complexes[2] and institutional capture, a sociocultural logic is nascent, struggling to fully form into a coherent multiplicity of organisational and political structures. Through Rudi Dutschke’s formulation of a long march through the institutions, the successor ideology represents a bridge between systems of liberal government and neoliberal business practice and a metastatic superstructure of cultural revolution.

Revolution is not concerned with cyclical motion though. Instead the revolutionary element of this emergent position is an involution in the mathematical sense of being equal to its inverse. By marching through the institutions these institutions are not being destroyed or hollowed out. They are being adapted or reconfigured. The revolutionary aims of identity politics in developing racial grievance and liquefying established identity markers has found accommodation with legal and governmental norms. As Hanania notes, so-called wokeness in corporate or educational settings is a function of civil rights law. If the ideological assumption of their position is “bureaucracies are needed that reflect the beliefs in” eliminating racial disparities which they see as caused primarily or entirely by discrimination “and” anyone arguing against their interpretations should have their speech and/or influence curtailed, “working to overcome disparities and managing speech and social relations”[3], then the corpus of civil rights legislation is the backbone through which such action can take place.

Similar legal mechanisms are present in the UK through the Race Relations, Equality and Communications acts. And through these have emerged a vast race relations and DEI industry known as the blob. Through charities and trusts these industries have become extremely influential in steering legislation into diversity and inclusion frameworks, testifying before parliamentary committees and helping write government white papers on subjects around defining citizenship or combatting poverty. Within policies designed to prevent a “hostile work environment” and encourage minority hiring through affirmative action, a vast corpus of employment law and litigation has required bureaucratic intervention to streamline hiring practices and encourage a diverse workplace. As this has metastasised from business into policy-making, DEI frameworks are now commonplace inclusions in most institutional settings.

Modern culture’s fluidity in redefining concepts of nationality and citizenship, and turning community into an abstract catch-all, have only heightened the involution of this legal structure. A combined legal-cultural front now provides a new political cleavage within which disparate issues and divisions are sucked into. “We live in a world no longer divided between left and right, liberal and conservative, but open and closed”[4]. This is the primary cleavage that the successor ideology is attempting to codify, moving from the legal-cultural and into the political and governmental. Openness is an identifying marker, associated with urbanism, globalisation and fluidity. Racial grievance in this becomes another opening, one that overturns established practices and cultures in favour of a reckoning against whiteness, patriarchy, discrimination, etc. In opening up the political order, marginalised groups can establish their base and make their voices heard.

But this is a false openness, that closes much more than it opens. In opening up politics to the demands of the marginal, the definitions of who or what is marginal are closed to debate. The kind of groups which can claim such status are pre-codified. The white working class, the rural, the kulaks. These are not to be acknowledged, with their positions and struggles derided as backward-looking populism or thinly-veiled racism. Whites who have become minorities in their own communities, foreigners in the nation of their birth, have no recourse. The so-called populism of Trump or Brexit has achieved nothing as these people’s living standards and cultures have further eroded. Immigration under populist regimes has increased. There is no meaningful structure which entrenches immigration control, ethnic homogeneity, an industrial working class or the preservation/development of a national culture. There is no meaningful possibility of a politician or commentator arguing against the Civil Rights Act or Equality Act. If one expressed such views they would never make it through a selection committee and would most likely be removed from their political party. As the successor ideology adapts, its structural base becomes more widely dispersed.

This then raises the question of what kind of revolution is being discussed. While culturally destructive, the new orthodoxy is not a vanguard for a lumpenproletariat army. While it celebrates the violence of the George Floyd riots[5], it has neither the capacity nor desire for violent overthrow of national political machines. It wants to appropriate power for its own ends, not start something new. The very nature of rewriting history in the 1619 project, pushing anti-racism as an active praxis or constructing profiteering industries around consultancy and education are not to destroy nations, but to redefine them on their terms. Americanism becomes a history of slavery. There is no longer such a thing as a native Briton or German. Everything becomes fluid while at the same time definitions of marginality or discrimination are provided which are unquestionable. Being a new orthodoxy means what it says – that there is no room for heterodoxy.

Revolution is not political, but technological and organisational. “Even as we use the word in its modern sense it is well to re-member, to re-collect, that the very letters of the word remain. It still has the prefix ‘re’ – again and again and again. Indeed the lasting ambiguity in the word (its refusal to give up its prefix) can be seen when we speak of the central revolution of our era – the technological revolution. When the managerial ideologues of that revolution speak in praise of it, they say that it is bringing something higher, something new for man. Indeed in one sense they are right. Over the last three hundred years the thrust to mastery has been in the hope of bringing forth motion towards the different, to whirl out higher potentialities of man which were not yet actualized. But in any technique, whether ancient or modern (and I am not concerned in this paper to describe the difference which has come into modern technique through its complex interaction with modern science), there is always to some degree the element of routine, a regular and unvarying procedure. The wheel revolves; the computers come out with their necessary answers; the bureaucracies organize so that events happen predictably. It is clear to anybody who lives in advanced technical society that initiation of the new and the different is now subordinated to the regular occurrence of the unvarying same”[6].

Grant recognises the innate tension of this revolutionary stance, that of eternal recurrence of the same. The pretension of an opening inevitably closes as its proponents gain power. Thus the evolution of rights legislation from “opening up” nations to marginalised populations to entrenching their gains at others expense. The successor ideology mirrors the technological and organisational revolutions which have eliminated industrial bases in America and Europe, making them primarily service sector economies. It has mirrored the ideological convulsions of neoliberalism in making the individual the prime locus of political and cultural life, of depoliticising economic decision-making and minimising the power of collective organisations in favour of governance and business networks who effectively privatise policy-making.

Following organisational developments, the successor ideology has co-opted political networks around policy-making, thus constituting the aforementioned blob. As crises continue to unfold that question and displace these networks (to some degree), new organisational methods form beyond the network that are more individualised and spontaneous with more abstract goals. Such is reflected in the idea of urban pluralism – “cities – and especially the big, global cities – are the vanguard of openness, pushing for open borders, open markets, open societies, and open minds. These cities are our best defence against the closed nationalism and populism infecting our societies”[7]. The emerging structure of the successor ideology is that of the post-network as it mirrors and adapts these organisational revolutions.

“The post-network is the aftermath of breakdown in the face of informational blockages and backlash. It is the reaction to complexity as previously settled narratives (surrounding social and economic liberalism, the end of history, financial regulation, etc.) are emplaced in conflicts that dispute their axioms. The post-network form represents a fractalisation of networks themselves, as their borders harden along certain striations due to the re-emergence of primal identities that predate global/post-national concepts. These identities, instead of reforming into their previous organisational methodologies, instead enter the space of networks and become nodes within them (as well as attacking established nodes)”[8]. The emergence of communalism as defined by Powell[9] and the formation of communities of grievance are both foundations for and outgrowths of this structural transformation.

What the successor ideology is succeeding is put into question. As a mirror of surrounding technological revolutions and their attendant crises, their quality as an anti-liberal force becomes untenable as they represent an extension of liberal excess. Wesley Yang’s allusion to liberalism as in opposition to the successor ideology misunderstands the ideology’s origins. The premise of liberalism as a system for depoliticisation and replacing government with governance centres identity politics and non-political forums (boardrooms, campuses, classrooms) as means for attaining power. As the economic structure has tended toward the service sector and consumption, so the consumer has metastasised as a concept from economic centres to everywhere, finding in itself a political identity encapsulated by concepts of “moral entrepreneurialism”[10] that Yang identifies.

The successor ideology is not in contradiction to liberalism, but an outgrowth of its depoliticising tendencies that turn the banality of personal politics into arenas of contestation. Governance, as a meliorative set of systems, opens avenues to the expression of identity through the mode of a consumer and/or manager which then develop political bite as they change the operating procedures of universities, businesses and bureaucracies. The regimentation of bureaucrats that Weber identified is inverted as it travels from down to up, regimenting the upper management and board into ideological decision-making with limited choices.

Yang’s position as a liberal contesting the successor ideology falls into the year zero thinking of the ideologues he criticises. The premise of liberalism is that of a blank slate as the backward thinking of feudal arrangements and medieval concepts of slavery or servitude are eliminated or transformed into choice matrices (as in the wage labour relation where choices are extremely limited but existent) and constitutional arrangements are conjured that restarts the clock, eliminating old privileges and elites. The successor ideology is simply an exposition of this thinking but with a more nuanced understanding of power. Liberalism fools itself into seeing power as a product of free exchange i.e. we all start out equal but as we trade and parry, some gain more than others. The successor ideology is more honest in seeing power as an expression of constituted facts like freedom of speech and human rights. Rights are just expressions of power vested in certain concepts. The successor ideology is attempting to warp those concepts to ingratiate its own thinking into existing institutions. This shows both the weakness of liberalism in that its criticisms of tribalism, communalism or identity politics cannot seriously engage in the claims they are making, for if they did so they would undermine their own ideological precepts. The liberal concepts of egalitarianism, liberty and free pursuit are only possible because particular ideological and institutional arrangements hold power. By marching through the institutions as the successor ideology has done, it has taken those concepts to extremes that still exist within the liberal fold.

For all the talk of a successor ideology as antithetical to liberalism, we are really seeing the deep ambiguities of liberal thought that make it extremely difficult to escape. As Greer has said, conceiving a world beyond liberalism is extremely difficult[11] as the ingrained notion of shared liberties goes beyond philosophical introspection and toward the preservation of autonomy within particular communities. So long as entities wish to hold elite power and maintain the prestige of their own communities, then so long will their associated liberties last. In this sense the successor ideology is about liberal communalism i.e. the manifestation of real and imagined communities staking claims to their so-called rights, which are themselves self-defined. This is neither the antithesis nor apotheosis of liberal politics, but its bastard child making a claim on the inheritance.

“Liberalism won the battle for modernity in 1945 and 1989. What exists today as globalism is the final stage of liberalism after a millennium-long march, beginning with medieval nominalism, advancing through colonialism and modern capitalism, and currently accelerating into digital post-humanism”. Being emergent within post-network forms of power, the successor ideology takes forward liberalism toward a situation of fully fragmented communalism and identity fluidity (with its inherent contradictions either repressed or ignored) where “ultimately individuals themselves are atomised into intersectional identities and post-human parliaments of organs”[12].

Fundamentally the successor ideology is the superstructure of mismanaged decline. The self-perception among its proponents that things can be corrected through a revolutionary turning is a reaction to the slow degradation of the material and cultural forms around them. This is expressed in Sarah Jeong’s criticism of the anti-identity politics brigade. At the end of the piece she quotes Mark Twain regarding the French Revolution, “There were two ‘Reigns of Terror,’ if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions”[13]. It’s the kind of drivel someone detached from consequence would happily say or quote. At its heart is the belief that terror is justified in the name of grievance. But the actual work of delineating legitimate from illegitimate grievances is ignored by Jeong because attempting such a work would reveal its innate arbitrariness.

Grievance is defined by power. Those wielding it delineate the spoils to those it is friendly with. There is nothing more to it. Much like the French Revolution, the successor ideology covets language as a cover for naked power. The pretension of overturning the existing order is given the air of purity, cleansing brutality through utopian production of a never-existing tomorrow. The reality though is of a new order, with new hierarchies and new mechanisms for wielding power. As the new orthodoxy winds its way through various elite institutions, this pretension wares thinner. It is a power grab for a new way of thinking the world, whether in the New York Times or Google’s HR department.









[9] Simon Heffer, Like the Roman





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