No. 11: Thoughts on the Metaphysics of Civilization

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“Some speak of The Public as if it were someone with whom they have had dinner at the Leipzig Fair in the Hotel de Saxe. Who is this Public? The Public is not a thing, but rather an idea, a postulate, like The Church.”

-Friedrich Schlegel, “Lyceum” Aphorism #35

(See also)

During a recent discussion about Neoreactionary movies I was reminded of Videodrome, which by the way is a far more subversive and interesting choice for the Neoreactionary cinematic canon than The Matrix, in any event this scene in particular immediately recalled to mind a certain species of reasoning at times employed by Neoreactionary thinkers that I’d like to discuss:

The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye, therefore the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain, therefore whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it, therefore television is reality, and reality is less than television.

This article by Bryce Laliberte in particular is one I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while for just this sort of specious reasoning. It seems that Laliberte’s theory here, that, because a physical body is comprised of individual cells “Society” must therefore be a ‘real’ being, has become an accepted part of Neoreactionary ‘theory,’ as evidenced by this exchange I had with Nick Land on twitter the other day:

What I’m curious about here is what is this even supposed to mean? The cathedral is a ‘real individual’? The logic is entirely specious:

This is Laliberte’s ‘insight’ in his essay, “On The Metaphysics of Civilization,” and rewatching that clip from Videodrome the chain of reasoning used to insist that television is somehow ‘reality’ struck me as reminiscent of what Laliberte was doing trying to claim that ‘society’ was somehow literally ‘real’. The argument makes use of the analogy that society is a body or organism, that the individuals living within society are its cells, and that its institutions and lower organizations comprise its various tissues and organs. “The brain is the dictator of the body.”

Based on this Laliberte seeks to justify a supposedly Neoreactionary view similar to the one insisted upon by Mencius Moldbug via Michael Anissimov, “Right represents peace, order and security; left represents war, anarchy and crime,” going on to say:

“With the human body we do not fail to make this mistake, and so we understand that there are extraordinary circumstances in which, for the good of the whole, it may be necessary to cut open the body and perform open heart surgery. But if rights are the domain of the individual, this allows some individual to stand in the way of the incision necessary to save the whole and insist that it is his right to remain unperturbed…

Those instances where the brain does not preserve its autonomy over the body and is incapable of fulfilling its executive function due to the constriction of its faculties by other parts of the body are recognized as disorders.”

What exactly is being suggested with all this? That for the good of the whole we should cut out parts of society we dislike as if they were malfunctioning organs? The fundamental misunderstanding here is the conflation of two entirely different things, the objective state on the one hand, and subjective humanity, or “Society,” on the other.

His error? The physical institution of the objective political state is, in his analogy, the physical body, is comprised of cells, or individual human beings, but the objective human being is not the subjective human being, or soul, and that’s what Society is, the soul of objective civilization, or the physical state. As Schiller puts it:

“Every individual man, it may be said, carries in disposition and determination a pure ideal man within himself, with whose unalterable unity it is the great task of his existence, throughout all his vicissitudes, to harmonize. This pure human being, who may be recognized more or less distinctly in every person, is represented by the State, the objective and, so to speak, canonical form in which the diversity of persons endeavors to unite itself. But two different ways can be thought of, in which Man in time can be made to coincide with Man in idea, and consequently as many in which the State can affirm itself in individuals: either by the pure man suppressing the empirical — the State abrogating the individual — or by the individual becoming State — temporal Man being raised to the dignity of ideal Man.

It is true that on a partial moral estimate this distinction disappears, for Reason is satisfied when her law alone prevails unconditionally; but on a complete anthropological estimate, in which content counts as well as form, and living feeling at the same time has a voice, the distinction is all the more evident. Reason indeed demands unity, but Nature demands multiplicity, and both systems of legislation lay claim to Man’s obedience. The law of the former is impressed upon him by an incorruptible consciousness, the law of the latter by an ineradicable feeling. It will therefore always argue a still defective education if the moral character can assert itself only through the sacrifice of what is natural; and a political constitution will still be very imperfect if it is able to produce unity only by suppressing variety. The State should respect not merely the objective and generic, but also the subjective and specific character of its individuals, and in extending the invisible realm of morals it must not depopulate the realm of phenomena.

But just for that very reason, because the State is to be an organization which is formed by itself and for itself, it can really become such only insofar as the parts have been severally attuned to the idea of the whole. Because the State serves as a representation of pure and objective humanity in the breast of its citizens, it will have to maintain towards those citizens the same relationship in which they stand to each other, and it can respect their subjective humanity only in such a degree as this is exalted to objectivity. If the inner man is at one with himself, he will preserve his idiosyncrasy even in the widest universality of his conduct, and the State will be simply the interpreter of his fine instinct, the clearer expression of his inner legislation. On the other hand, if in the character of a people the subjective man is opposed to the objective in so contradictory a fashion that only the suppression of the former can secure the triumph of the latter, the State too will assume the full severity of the law against the citizen, and must ruthlessly trample underfoot any such hostile individuality in order not to be its victim.”

– Schiller, “On the Aesthetic Education of Man” #4

Order, hierarchy, an affected opposition to something called ‘Enlightenment Individualism,’ these are themes all too present, not only here, in this particular piece, but across the whole of Reaction and the Dark Enlightenment as well.

The Sovcorp sells a product to its customers, or clients, in the way that a brokerage form or insurance agency does. The product, or service in this case, as Moldbug puts it, are personal, as opposed to political rights. This however isn’t adequate I feel, and I think in the abstract sense the service of the state, or sovcorp is the provision and guarantee of impartial arbitration or mitigation of competing claims by individuals to interpret reality. We may distinguish, not between personal rights and political ones, but between physical and ideal, or subjective freedom.

“Through all Schiller’s works,” continued Goethe, “goes the idea of freedom; though this idea assumed a new shape as Schiller advanced in his culture and became another man. In his youth, physical freedom occupied him and influenced his poems; in his later life, ideal freedom.

“Freedom is an odd thing, and every man has enough of it if he only knew how to be satisfied and settled. What avails a superfluity of freedom which we cannot use? Look at this chamber, and the next — in which, though the open door, you see my bed. Neither of them is large; and they are rendered still narrower by furniture, books, manuscripts, and works of art; but they are enough for me. I have lived in them all the winder, scarcely entering my front rooms. What have I had out of my spacious house and the liberty of going from one room to another, when I have not needed to use them?

“If a man has freedom enough to live healthily, and to work at his craft, he has enough; and so much all can easily obtain. Then all of us are only free under certain conditions, when we must fulfil. The citizen is as free as the nobleman, when he restrains himself within the limits God appointed by placing him in that rank. The nobleman is as free as the prince; for, if he will but observe a few ceremonies at court, he may feel himself his equal. Freedom consists not in refusing to recognize anything above us, but in respecting something which is above us; for, by respecting it, we raise ourselves to it, and, by our very acknowledgement, prove that we bear within ourselves what is higher, and are worthy to be on a level with it.

“I have, on my journeys, often met merchants from the north of Germany, who fancied they were my equals if they rudely seated themselves next me at table. They were, by this method, nothing of the kind; but they would have been so if they had known how to value and treat me.

“That this physical freedom gave Schiller so much trouble in his youthful years, was caused partly by the nature of his mind, but still more by the restraint he endured at the military school. In later days, when he had enough physical freedom, he passed over to the ideal; and I would almost say this idea killed him, since it led him to make excessive demands on his physical nature.”

— Goethe to Eckermann, Thursday evening, January 18, 1827

We might wonder at this passage, as few separate or make any distinction between physical freedom, that is, freedom from any external constraint which other individuals or institutions (most importantly the state) besides ourselves may seek to impose upon us, and, on the other hand, subjective freedom, which is only the condition of our acting freely in particular instances.

Ideal freedom is not first-order constitutive, but regulative, meaning purely free action is forever impossible for the individual. Typically the conception of freedom in circulation today is as follows:

The government, ie the objective state, may not impose upon, that is to say, be the cause of, any circumstance constraining the ability of the objective, individual person to freely determine the circumstances in which he finds himself and is to live as a product of his own physical activity.

One can see in this conception how it gives rise to the perceived problem of ‘Enlightenment Individualism,’ if I find myself in an undesirable circumstance, poverty, or living in a housing project for example, if I were free to determine my reality I would obviously determine it to be something else, so the fact that I live in such circumstances is proof that some outward force is infringing upon my ‘right’ to determine my objective reality. This outward force being termed “White Supremacy” or “The Patriarchy”.

The state then owes people who find themselves in poverty welfare, it is obligated to determine the circumstances of people in the way they would like because the state must not be a cause, however indirect, of people not being able to determine the outward circumstances of their life.

Calling it individualism is misleading, as it’s really idealistic in the sense that the outward reality of a person is deemed to be constituted by the thought or desire of that individual. The problem of Rationalism though has always been the existence of other minds, and in this case the individual is really presuming to determine other minds in a subjective sense. Believing that all other minds are really products of my own thought is not so much individualistic as dogmatically idealist.

Ideal freedom consists in the subjective freedom of individuals to conceptualize or narrative shared social reality by imposing form. But in the case of the transsexual, just because I can narratize the events of my life so as to conceptualize myself as the opposite gender, I cannot infringe upon the freedom of everyone else to conceptualize or exercise their judgement in their own way. The immorality of the state legally forcing all individuals to validate subjective narratives of gender identity rests in the state, as one institution or individual attempting to determine shared reality in universal way for all inhabitants of society.

The ‘order’ of the state therefore is the mitigation of competing judgements. In the case of the rape trial for instance. Here you have a set of objective facts constituting a shared social experience or reality, two individuals attempt to narratize these facts or conceptualize them so as to determine truth. No narrative is ever ‘true’ in a strict sense, rather, like historical narratives generally, the true narrative is simply the most rhetorically persuasive. Because both individuals, subjectively, are free to narratize events, and neither can make an absolute claim upon reality, the mechanism of the jury is called in to provide an (always imperfect) mitigation.

“Might makes right,” because you don’t have the might to determine how individuals think or conceptualize, you do not have the right.

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