Not Quite the Essence of Totalitarianism III: Social ≠ Collective, Research Time, 11/03/2015

Continued from last post . . . Well, I say continued. If you compare the last two days of posts, you’ll find they actually share a common outline, rather than being subsequent parts of a larger argument. It starts with my befuddled reaction to the far-right’s depiction of Barack Obama as a socialist and socialism as totalitarianism, followed by an explanation of Friedrich Hayek’s focus on institutions and the problems of doing so, and closes with a gesture at the better philosophical analysis that Arendt offered in The Origins of Totalitarianism.

That’s a benefit of publishing every day. Each post is a new crack at an idea, revisiting a notion in the light of what has come since the last attempt. Even if all that’s come is the last attempt. It can still teach you something.

I may take another crack at this arc on Friday, now that this more meta-textual approach has been published. Thursday, the second part of my dialogue with Steve Fuller will post, and this weekend will see another fanfic post about my imagined Star Trek series, To the Farthest Stars

The state is no longer the answer for social
revolutionaries today. Genuinely progressive forces
organize individuals and communities in networks,
which many, more conservative, organizations and
people don't fully understand.
I’m not sure whether I’ll look into Karl Popper next, a pdf of Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? that a friend linked me a while ago, or divert a little (at least directly) from the themes of the Utopias project and read some network theory that’s more directly relevant to my career in strategic communications that I’ll try to get off the ground over this year. 

All these ideas are related in very broad strokes. For one thing, they all occur to me in an intellectual and political climate where our state institutions are taking more power over our daily lives to surveil us in the name of our security. It creates a curious dilemma for libertarian-influenced thinkers. State surveillance is a power of government that almost all people agree is incredibly dangerous. 

But the maintenance of national and individual security is one of the few legitimate domains of government activity according to Robert Nozick, whose Anarchy, State, and Utopia set the philosophical framework of most libertarianism today. 

Specifically to Canada, since Idle No More began their revolutionary civil agitation, a major topic in our political discourse has been over violence that aboriginal women suffer. They are disproportionately the targets of violence, whether rape, murder, or both, and are regularly the targets of predation throughout Canadian society. 

When an aboriginal woman disappears, there is at best only nominal police response. The institutions of the state that are supposed to protect these people obviously fails to do so. There are systemic, social causes why aboriginal women are treated tragically differently in our society. It’s a systematic racism where no one actually needs to hold any racist beliefs, what Hayek called crude prejudice. The racism emerges from how our institutions and our social processes that manifest only at the aggregate scale of whole cities and nations treat our aboriginal populations.

Harper's statements about sociology over the years
and his gutting of Statistics Canada's powers to
collect census data show clearly the post-Hayek
right's hostility to understanding society as having
real affects beyond individuals.
The Harper Government’s reaction to political agitation about aboriginal women, and
I’d go so far as to say that Stephen Harper himself, regards each crime against an aboriginal woman as a terrible tragedy. But it couldn’t be a product of racism because racism is an individual’s belief. To believe otherwise is to “commit sociology.”

This is a product of the new liberalism that Hayek was so pivotal in producing. To address racism as a systematic cause is to run the government by means of fictions. Even worse for a new liberal, those fictions provide a framework for understanding what are properly individual beliefs like racism as properties of a whole society. 

Treating a society as an individual is the essential category mistake of totalitarianism in Hayek’s analysis, the mistake which grounds the intuition that a society needs the conscious direction of a leader, just as an individual can’t function properly without the direction of an intentional consciousness.

But the new liberals of our own time make a category mistake of their own, fighting the same battles as Hayek did, when those battles have already been won. We in the West no longer believe that nationalizing the economy and running it through a bureaucratic state management institution bolsters freedom or even encourages prosperity. Belief in nationalization and bureaucracy to protect and encourage freedom is what Hayek wrote Road to Serfdom to fight.

The longevity of a philosopher's ideas depend on
how relevant they are to the problems a society
faces in its present. I'd say now that Arendt's ideas
will prove more durable than Hayek's. Even though
they were writing at the same time, Arendt's
concepts overcome many limitations of Hayek's.
Sociologists and sociological philosophers like Hannah Arendt and I explore processes that constitute racist environments without actually forming any racist beliefs or intentions. An example is the social structures and processes that result in most crimes against aboriginal women going unsolved and uninvestigated. Another example is the social structures and processes that send an entire civilization on an industrialized genocidal explosion of death. 

True social and political progress is leaving behind the paradigms and ideas of old battles and conflicts that no longer exist. If a self-identified leftist still thinks that total nationalization of industry under a bureaucratic state is the path to overcome oligarchy and make society more free, he hasn’t learned the lessons of the last century. 

Similarly, the new liberals of all political self-identifications* still don’t understand that you can talk about concrete social and historical processes without the implication that society is a unified organism. Harper and his fellow travellers still believe that talking about aggregate social processes in any language other than the abstractions of economic modelling means that you believe in fictions that undercut individual liberty.

* Remember that Hayek directed Road to Serfdom to “the socialists of all parties.”

The left today is truly progressive when we develop the language that makes the systematic causation of aggregate processes – contexts, conditions, presumptions, and catalysts – into a language of popular politics. The right today is truly progressive when they understand that these processes exist, and can erode or encourage liberty.

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