Who’s In Charge II?: In Unity There Is Weakness, Research Time, 16/11/2016

Continued from previous post . . . Unity is an important political theme. I mean this in general. Rulers do generally tend to justify their rule, the state government, and other institutions as unifying the people.

As if that was a good thing.

Unity is often an ideal of politics and social organization – it brings peace, simplicity, and strength to a complicated, messy community. Let me move from general discussions to a simple case. Unity is the ideal of Donald Trump’s major theme in his platform speech at the Republican National Convention.
“I am your voice.”
"I alone can fix it.” 
And others in his administration echo fascist ideas.

There's also a fairly large literature on the links between fascism and
narcissism. After Trump, there'll be a lot more evidence for those links.
Strength through unity is an old fascist notion and slogan. It seems, in the abstract, like the kind of thing we want to embrace. We want our society to be unified, because we often consider the opposite of unity to be discord and conflict. So unity is a path to peace.

But when we apply that principle, we end up with fascism, because the unity of an entire society needs total enforcement. And total enforcement only comes through a secret police apparatus, a ubiquitous police enforcing behavioural and ideological conformity.

Enforcing social unity is a form of suppression and oppression because people’s natural tendency is to diversify. When there’s a social order of conformity, rebels appear all the time. They’re the divergent paths, the new vectors of departure from apparent social consensus.

Remember what I’ve been saying in the last few posts on radical democracy. Human freedom is the creation of liberation vectors – new kinds of living and directions of development. A free society permits as many of these vectors to flourish as can co-exist without conflict. And quite a few of those vectors can easily co-exist.

As Jacques Rancière wraps up Hatred of Democracy, he riffs on what a free society and democratic institutions should do. Democracy, as the regime that institutionalizes freedom as much as any institution can, should actually encourage society’s division instead of unification.

Our institutions should encourage people to come up with new ways to live, to pursue their freedom and desires in as many ways as possible. They should create space and opportunities for people to become different from their fellows and different from what they once were. Institutions should settle conflicts among people so they can all continue to pursue those freedoms and desires.

Going into an era of difficult politics, we need to take action to look
after each other. But we also need our theorists and thinkers to
understand why we should preserve freedom against authoritarianism
and what our society should look like when we've come through the
struggle for a new century of freedom.
Oligarchical institutions, like the ones most countries have, run a little differently. They’re about government by management – they identify and maintain a balance of wealth and class in a society. They settle conflicts among people so mollify them and keep the status quo humming along.

Now, there isn’t an either-or between oligarchical and democratic institutions. You can have a government that encourages people to pursue their desires, while also propping up some unfortunate class divisions.

I actually think Canada is lucky, relatively speaking. Our state institutions do have some pretty clear oligarchical tendencies (heavy campaign finance costs, dependence on established political parties, revolving doors of politicians and lobbyists, some nasty surveillance powers).

But those are tempered by institutions that encourage liberation (Charter rights, government transparency, social norms – at least in major cities – that encourage diversity).

Quite a few states have more oppressive institutions. Strong ethnic-nationalist social values in many European countries. Far more powerful police in the United States, along with a much more elitist political party culture.

So if you’re going to ask who’s in charge of an institution, you shouldn’t look at the office holders. You should look at what freedoms an institution’s activity encourages or suppresses. You should look at its material affects on people’s freedom.

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