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A Totalitarian Republic?

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Faction: A number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community... James Madison.

The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie... Marx.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss... Pete Townshend.

Third Fisherman: "Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea." First Fisherman: "Why, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones"... Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Shakespeare.

As in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, when writers would hold up a "mirror" for the instruction of princes; so too this essay is an admittedly speculative mirror held up to allegedly democratic republics to help them judge whether or not they are truly democratic and in what ways it could be said that they are truly republics.

Human beings are collaborative, interdependent animals. Much of the good and the bad that we as a species have created has been achieved through cooperation on both small and grand scales. The simple, primary thesis of this essay is that private interests have effectively organized themselves throughout the complete fabric of modern society to both control that society in order to extract value from it and, most importantly, to maintain continuous power over it. I call this by now global system of surreptitious governance: Neopatrimonial Factionalism (NF). It is the private "steerage" system behind the public formalities of "democracy", "party", "state", "nation", "citizenry", "republic" or even "politics" as such. It is the partial realization of the ancient argument of Thrasymachus that the "stronger" decides what is "just". And that this overwhelming strength of both action and decision is ultimately derived from the effective organization and coordination of a relatively vast amount of people whose somewhat covert membership cuts across class, race, ethnicity, gender and ideology.

It is also another key contention of this paper that Neopatrimonial Factionalism has led to a modern type of Totalitarian Republic, which is both a curious and specific political hybrid that has taken hold of all the so-called liberal democratic countries of our time. In part, its development and full historical realization is a reflection of the insights contained within Michels' "Iron Law of Oligarchy" combined with a Gramscian capture of the leading institutions of society. While in its default position, the Totalitarian Republic operates as an ostensibly fully functioning liberal democracy; there are nevertheless many political, social, and economic instances where the direction of society is non-democratically manipulated using what would generally be seen as totalitarian methods of control. Both individuals and society as a whole lie within the grip of NF; it determines both the character and actions of present-day democracies.

Since the "Faction", which existence we are here theoretically supposing, both crosses and unites disparate classes in its maintenance and function, it is, from a Marxist point of view, deeply reactionary in practice and, at its core, ideologically ultra-conservative. It cannot be stressed enough that NF is not an " executive committee of the Bourgeoisie" or a conspiracy standing outside of society but is located within the key interstices of society itself interested in the maintenance of collective power for power's sake and not a particular advocate of a class or classes.

Thus, NF need not hide itself; in fact it is "hidden" in plain view. It seeks to benefit its collective members irrespective of their class positions and individual ideological inclinations or sympathies. Since the faction is privately highly organized and disciplined, it does not fear the wide spectrum of diverse ideologies. Ideology is but a social-cultural smokescreen that conveniently lends itself to NF's various actual projects of biopower. In this, our view of ideology, culture, and politics is very similar to Marx's idea of "superstructure". Indeed, what could be more ultra-conservative in essence than a private collective socially operative organization based on a structured society-wide patron-client relationship(s)?

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the death of ideology coincided with the rise and control of factional neopatrimonialism. When key positions of power are factionally occupied, radical visions have little chance to realize themselves in such a situation. They can be talked about, written about, even voted on, but their implementation, if ever, will be a carefully guided, manipulated affair.

Following Carl Schmitt, it is in the exercising of the "exception" that the power, resources, and organizational reach of NF is most fully apparent. The handling of the exception is always under the cover of legality/normality. The key, as always, is to have members of the faction occupy the necessary positions in society; civil or political, usually both. If no current member is available, bribery, extortion, blackmail, or other methods can and may be used to further any particular end of long- or short-range power projection.

Neopatrimonial Factionalism has a much greater chance of starting, spreading, maintaining, and taking control of a society, if that society is initially what we call "a free and open society"; conversely in an authoritarian society or even more drastically in a classical totalitarian society the faction becomes palpably visible in the sense that it consists of the party members and/or the secret services and usually both; in the first instance the faction is partially invisible while in the second instance the faction need not hide its face since it is explicitly tasked with controlling its society; thus in the first instance we are talking about implicit, surreptitious control while in the second instance control is explicitly visible and total. In the first instance, not every aspect of society has to be controlled since that would be superfluous; only the important power-defining aspects of society need to be under control. Mundane or everyday life aspects need not be monitored or controlled directly. You don't have to control everything to be in total control. In this sense, the first model is far more rational, economical, efficient and therefore effective both historically and actually.

Thus, our "democratic" institutions function as they are widely imagined to function until faction leaders decide on the exception and it is then that what I call surgical totalitarianism comes into play; the exception runs always counter to the democratic spirit of our institutions, the rules are bent or crossed, actions are carried out that are inherently unjust and undemocratic; a stock or bank is manipulated, an unfavorable (or favorable) law is passed, a person is even murdered (Jeffrey Epstein?), all under the guise of normality and within the law: nothing can be definitively proven and more often than not nothing seems to have even really significantly "happened" or gone wrong; the choice of the exception is specific, the actions taken towards its desired denouement seamless and unseen. Great care is always taken that no incriminating fingerprints are left during even the minutest manipulation of surgical totalitarian power.

Following the Hobbesian tradition, man seeks power after power and the means of power, which is domination. He seeks to control both people and things. However, the control of people is the most important. Even the partial mastery of human subjectivities and through them human actions opens up almost unlimited opportunities for not only the control of society but the power to shape it in the directions one chooses. Power holds the present in its hands and paves the pathways of the future.

If Antonio Negri's and Michael Hardt's "multitude" is not identical with Neopatrimonial Factionalism, it is and will ever remain powerless.

As Gramsci understood, who controls the institutions controls social life.

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PhD in Continental Philosophy. Teach Political Philosophy at Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen, Germany.

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