Politics of People – Not Subjects, Composing, 23/05/2017

There's a politics of the state and a politics of the people. Ironically, politics of the state is a lot more personal than politics of the people, even though the latter is where the people live.

The politics of authority.
This post will be a more literal Composing than usual. I’m literally playing with the ideas and even some of the phrases that will make up the Utopias manuscript. In conceptual writing – you could call it pure philosophy – you often have to take a lot of passes at your argument to find the precise words. So here’s an early pass.

I got started thinking about this in reaction to that essay I came across. Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction method applied to the concept of power that’s fundamental to every analysis of of International Relations theory. Pretty straightforward.

A good challenge to the dogma, but there’s no sense of where to go from there. There’s nowhere to go that doesn’t look suspiciously vulnerable to the same kind of attack. Because there isn’t.

Instead, keep your eye on the real differences. Thomas Mercier asked how Machiavelli could be considered an ontologist, even though he never used the word. It’s because Machiavelli described the human world as the power of the people.

He spoke of ancient and modern politics, but in terms of individuals’ desires living in communities. He analyzed them in terms of how their public moral beliefs, expectations of their leaders, expectations about what share they should have in leadership. The feedback loops among these communities and the institutions through which they govern themselves.

The politics of the people. Symbols, of course.
That’s a politics of force – the material power of a society is in the jostling action of free people all conditioning each other’s activity, as they each slam into walls around them more durable than almost anything they’ve known. Or at least it feels like it when you hit them.

The politics of the people.

So what is the politics of the state? Well, IR seems to provide a great expression. It’s the politics of power, and power as the capacity and ability to command. The politics of law, enforcement, and obedience.

Politics as sovereignty – space where your command is absolute, or at least so unquestioned as to be taken for granted. The state has this space over its borders, enforced with legitimate violence. Authority is violence that has been authorized. The uniform and the badge.

The lawgiver as comprehensive, total command. But not just the state. The individual is a sovereign too – a person’s rights are their absolute powers within the borders of their world. Powers where no other person or authority can legitimately force me to compel, areas where I am the only legitimate compulsion.

I'm inspired quite a lot by Deleuze and Guattari, whose work together
was a groundbreaking masterwork in political ontology. The tradition
shouldn't be loyal to them by following all their terminology. Their
direction to us was clear – "You've read ours. You know how to do it.
Now write your own."
We call them freedom only because we think of them as territory that must be staked, an inviolable border never up for negotiation. When we think of power as sovereignty of command, all politics reduce to competing claims for command. Negotiated to create contracts called constitutions, charters, legislation, and regulations.

Social contracts, by which we subject ourselves to authorities, each among the other.

That’s the politics of the state.

We’re very familiar with that. Now, the task for Utopias – take a really good shot at figuring out what a politics of the people would look like in real life. It'll be a work of political ontology.

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