Part II: A reunion of State with Civil Society

This is part of a three-part series on “Governance in a Time Between Worlds”. Read part I, here. Part III, here.

Governance in a Time Between Worlds, Part II

Today we ask ourselves for forgiveness. We had once thought that the path toward liberation was to be blazed in liberation from governance. And yet today, we stand here at this moment. The values which we have called ‘liberal’ no longer move our soul. We stand here with a succession of time behind us. We stand with an unimaginable amount ahead of us. Here, at this moment of our journey, we find ourselves in a “time between worlds” — a time characterized by this very confession. In this moment we find the presence of a fresh logical articulation — one which has brought the phenomena of our experience into accord once again. The forgiveness which we ask for is only possible on account of the demand for this vision. The vision pulls us forward. We repent and we forgive ourselves.

It has been said that the world is constituted by the language which we take up in talking about it; and that this world is the total collection of objects talked about; and furthermore, that those objects themselves are nothing other than what we are able to say about them. Even in talking of the ‘mysterious’, we say something about the constitution of that which is mysterious — we know it, as part of its very constitution, as a mystery. This is an epistemological and ‘constitutive’ understanding of the world. Another argument suggests that language is a tool. Much like the hammer drives the nail, language disturbs the molecular composition of the air in order to affect another material object — a human ear, a human brain, a human body. However, we must also acknowledge that prior to such language-as-material-tool there exists a ground for the possibility of language. That is, we must acknowledge the primordial condition from which language is possible. Following the work of Martin Heidegger, we take talk of this primordial condition as ‘discourse’.

Discourse is that which is a condition for language. It is prior to language, pre-linguistic. As such, it is likely best expressed figuratively. Perhaps we could talk of discourse as something of a ‘harmony with nature’. And only on account of this rhythmic harmony can the world come to be articulated as the world that it is. In this sense, we think of language (whether body, verbal or written) as a mere refinement — a further articulated form of discourse. For those who are more economically attuned, we might express this discourse as something of a pre-intellectual (or pre-cognitive, to use the scientific word) ‘wheeling and dealing’ with nature. A ‘dealing’ which takes place not only between people but with the entirety of phenomena in experience. British economist E. F. Schumacher captured our dependency on the pre-intellectual through its economic expression. In Small is Beautiful he writes of a work which, “brings forth a becoming existence”. Existence becomes — that is, existence is ‘intellectually refreshed’ in each moment of articulation. At this moment the mechanical and social hierarchy of the world is presenced. Equally, a history is presenced. And through such a presencing we find ourselves animated — pulled toward — that casual chain of events. Such a feedback loop with nature has been characterized psychologically as a ‘flow’ — a process of challenge and resolve.

In as much, we must admit that the understanding of the epistemologist’s Tabula Rasa — John Locke’s ‘white paper’ — feels like a quite appalling interpretation of our human condition. Such an alienation of man from the mechanics of nature has produced ‘episteme’ — that unquenchable desire to reunite with an alienated world by way of rationalism and empiricism. From the Roman Empire to the Catholic Inquisition and the industrialized sciences, the language of Latin has carried with it the monotheistic residue of imperial economy—that economy which seeks a quantified and totaled ‘uni-verse’. This economy today manifests through market economy and growth economics — facilitated by way of industrialization, mercantilism, and a capitalist infrastructure. And while the critiques to industrialized economy have long been trivialized, the romanticized picture of the polytheistic agricultural civilizations proves itself time-and-time again. Of course, we could never forgo the expediency which industrial manufacturing has provided to the production of food, housing, transportation, and other goods and services. Yet, we find it all-too-easy to picture ourselves out of this technological luxury. We imagine every action, from the tiling of the land to the collection of the harvest, as a communication (a communion) with the most supreme being — actions which satisfy our God, who proves himself through each encounter with the material substrate of labor.

Of course, there is a contrary understanding, popularly held by the progenitors of industrialization — one which is accepted by both employer and employee — that labor is ultimately something which is to be reduced and preferably obliterated. ‘Labor is expensive’, says the employer — and for the employee, labor takes time away from pleasure. Man is made to believe he is something of a hedonist — that the natural condition of human existence is pure sensual satisfaction. The hourly worker is paid for his time from such satisfaction. Such understanding gives cause for a prophecy — that one day an automatized manufacturing will relieve man from his fetters. This day will constitute some kind of holy day for humanity, and then we can all go on holiday. And yet, standing here in this very moment, in this “time between worlds”, we understand the folly of this understanding.

Today, we stand present with a vision. This vision promises a reunion of that which was separated very early in the story of liberal governance — a separation of church and state — or more precisely, between belief and action. This vision calls for “a political approach to community that mobilizes the resources of locality” — a political approach which “involves citizens in governing through participation” a governance which “blurs the line between state and civil society —passages we repeat here by way of Margaret Kohen’s Radical Space, Building the House of the People. A reunion of state and civic engagement promises redemption of that primordial harmony with nature — between belief and action. This reunion promises a re-communion with our idols, such that they may once again bless us with their presence.

Of course, we must also admit that ‘civic engagement’ carries with it residue from the period of neoliberal policy. During this period civic engagement was characterized by a discomforting elitism and privileged volunteer work  —  a work which was for the sake of ‘humanity’ or ‘the global’ — or whatever other alienating abstractions that decadence could provide. This was a civic engagement which had “primarily leveraged human needs for connection, sharing and belonging” constituted by a “needs-based action” which “tends to be re-active, not pro-active, functional, or creative” — passages we repeat by way of generalist intellectual Bonnitta Roy. And yet, there can be no doubt that this ‘belonging’ activity, birthed from industrialization’s alienation and estrangement, “is inadequate to the 21st-century imagination fostering thrivability and flourishing”.

Presented with the promise of state and civil society we feel an atomic resonance. A movement of the soul. There can be no doubt that the spirit of conservatism, having once been satisfied with liberal economic policy  —  now positioned against the weaponizing of the free market, including the information industry’s capital surveillance, in itself including the dangers promised by the accelerationist — will find new manifestation. There can be no doubt that the conservative spirit will manifest in a people who sustain the ideal of civic engagement toward ‘nation’ — one which fosters the “thrivability and flourishing” of that cultural-geological region. One which is characterized by a work which, as Schumacher puts it, “…gives a man a chance to utilize and develop his faculties” and “enables man to overcome his egocentredness by joining with other people in a common task”. The conservative spirit will find satisfaction in a ‘nationalization’ of human economy. This economy will deliver us from modernization’s epistemology. It will likewise deliver us from the postmodern appropriation of episteme. A realization of this economy will manifest the vision which accompanies us—that which has been called metamodernity.

Having now announced civic engagement and a nationalization of human economy as a solution to liberalism’s failures, we require one further article. Undoubtedly, we would benefit from a few examples of urban and geo-regional civic projects. Examples that can be used as prototypes for political activity beyond the kind of patriotism and militarization which is often associated with 20th-century nationalism. And yet, before we close this chapter, one final thought teases us. Having felt the atomic tremble of conservatism, each for ourselves, we must also admit to an unexpected confession. We should not be surprised that platforms like Bernie Sanders ‘socialism’ and Donald Trump’s ‘protectionism’ both lean towards a ‘nationalization’ of human economy. Of course, this parring of opposite character-types under the same banner might be quite jarring. And yet, there should be no doubt that the self-authoring creative human spirit pines after such nationalization on both sides of liberalism’s left/right political divide. Across the board, the future belongs to a civic national governance-economy by way of conservatism. The perverse extrapolation here is, of course, we can no longer expect that socialism will realize by way of a progressive liberal spirit. And if we could ever one day enjoy the utopia promised of Marx’s communist revolution, then it will be by way of the conservative spirit arising from the ruins of liberalism’s global free market.

Justin Carmien is a lecturer on philosophy at Spinderihallerne, Vejle, Denmark. He teaches philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, metaphysics, and political metamodernism.

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