This is part of a three-part series on "Governance in a Time Between Worlds". Read Part I, here, Part II, here.
Governance in a Time Between Worlds, Part III: Redrawing the Divisions of Governance
Today we stand in a “time between worlds.” We had once thought that the path toward liberation was to be blazed in liberation from governance. And yet the values which we have called ‘liberal’ no longer move our soul. No doubt, we have inherited an infrastructure in which each man is judged equal to another — each subordinate before the law. Yet, the economy of governance-as-law is an economy of violence. Legislation, patrol, surveillance, and punishment. This is an economy of the domestication of the human-animal. Today, standing here in this moment of our journey we have been made painfully aware of the deficiency. The state is a function devoid of inspiration; hope; communion. The state cannot produce a people who are able to move beyond the law, into freedom. The state is not invested toward the ideal of a nation.
No doubt, this moment has been provoked, in part, by the liberal economic policy of the late second millennium. Through a liberation of an ‘open market’ the state had become a mere auxiliary to the market. The state had devolved further “from a protective function to a function of destruction of its own civil society.” A destruction “not in the ‘totalitarian’ form, but in the ‘utilitarian’ form, which is hardly less violent.” And although these passages have been reproduced here by way of Etienne Balibar’s essay Our European Incapacity, it is no less true for the US state subjected to federal structure in service to market demands. Having been delivered over to the value creation of the market, one which has equally become weaponized in the economy of violence, there can be no doubt that governance-as-law can no longer satisfy the creative human spirit. We should not be surprised to find that a spirit for economic conservation has manifested on both sides of liberalism’s left/right political divide. Whether it be found in Donald Trump’s ‘protectionism’ or Bernie Sander’s ‘socialism’, across the board the future of conservatism belongs to a nationalization of human economy. And yet having announced ‘nationalization’ we feel a movement of the soul. An atomic resonance. The liminal ‘today’ of our moment is marked by the presence of 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 promises a redemption of that primordial harmony with nature. A reunion by way of a marriage between the civic and state spheres. With this promise we turn toward a perhaps unlikely source for such a reunion within the United States.
Roughly ten years ago southern Europe gave rise to several grassroots urban-based civic projects defined by a returning socialist ideology from the nineteenth century, ‘municipalism’. By way of urban renewal projects, the municipalist movements manifested something of a prefigurative approach to politics — an approach that is not ‘pre’ in the developmental sense, but which is a constant pre-configuration. As the ‘figuration’ which it takes is secondary. The promise of a prefigurative approach is a political activity beyond liberalism’s ‘battle of selfishness’. Such a prefigurative politics is a stage for the self-authoring creative human spirit from out of the ruins of liberalism’s epistemological warfare—beyond the weaponizing of identity. The liberals vs the conservatives. Feminists. BLM. In an interview from 2016, Luigi De Magistris, Mayor of Naples had remarked that these new municipalist movements offer, “an absolute novelty in the institutional and political panorama: that between civil society, social movements and local institutions there exists a relation under construction”. This ‘relation under construction’ proved these municipalist movements beyond the civic sphere. They came to successfully contested local elections. However, activists within these movements realized that local elections do not have to be a way to seize an escalating power (such as we read throughout the story of modernization) but instead, can be used for establishing foundation for a new type of human economy. Municipalism offers, “the possibility of constructing a new kind of power in society which is precisely in the hands of ordinary people.” A “local governance, which allows for proximity” and “allows us to project our experience on another scale” — passages repeated here by way of an anonymous representative of Argentina’s Ciudad Futura.
Of course, we can also be critical of such a program for political action. While municipalism offers a novel venue beyond state and federal infrastructure, we should also be critical to a continued celebration of the city as a flagship venue of human economy. Such a celebration harbors residue from unipolarity, namely, a spirit of commerce and cosmopolitanism — from New York, to London, Paris, and Tokyo. A spirit that has exacerbated the contention between the city and rural provincial communities. No doubt, this contention is at odds with the promise of municipalism as a prefigurative political activity. If we return to British economist E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful we recall the announcement of a “becoming existence” — one which is characterized by a work which “gives a man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties” and “enables man to overcome his egocentredness by joining with other people in a common task.” Schumacher himself acknowledged that for such a prefigurative economy “there is need for a ‘cultural structure’ just as there is need for an ‘economic structure’.” “Each region, ideally speaking, requires some sort of inner cohesion” with a capital city serving as a center. His program for a nationalization of economy was equally a regionalization — one in which the metropolitan center did not function as a canvas for the global ‘international’ identity. Instead, this center represented the cultural-economic region. If something resembling municipalist political activity could bring anything novel to the United States, then it would climax in a regionalization which would overcome the contention between ‘the blue states’ and ‘the red states’.
Today, the icons of twentieth-century giantism have come into question. The very icons of patriotism are an embodiment of totalitarianism, imperialism. The Stars and the Stripes. The very shape of our country — from the north western Washington border to the Florida peninsula. Even the Capitol Building; the White House. These icons call towards the wars of liberalism. Of course, pictures of a fractured United States are often painted with strokes of fear, anger, or exhaustion — from out of moments of forfeit. These pictures are not only used to pander to the spirit of conservatism, but equally those resonating with left narratives. However, what is strikingly absent from either is an ownership of such fracturing. What is lacking is a map for future governance beyond liberalism’s battlefield. Following Schumacher, we can imagine an investment into civil engineering programs which are themselves an embodiment of ‘national’ cultivation. These formations would not merely construct the material infrastructure—the bridges, the streets, or power plants—but also manifests the aesthetic expression of this cultivation. That which we find in art, literature, and philosophy. We imagine these civil engineering formations not estranged from the people, but themselves “we, the people.”
Presented with such a fantasy, we conclude this series with a platform directed to the highest administration in the country. Of course, presenting this platform should not be considered a self-subjection to the slavish and democratically weaker outlet for the conservative spirit — authoritarianism. Such a platform can be taken up by the self-authoring individual as a guide for democratic activity beyond the mere ballot. This platform involves a regionalization of governance, including a transition within the executive branch of federal governance, from military to regional civil works. In fact, we have inherited a structure for such transition. The United States Army Corp of Engineers offers a regionalized infrastructure for flexing military to civil resources. No doubt, a map is a guide. Through such a guide we encounter a temporal-spatial manifold. The manifold presents a landscape. And within this landscape, we discover a realm of possible activity. The mechanical and social hierarchy of the world announces itself. We are pulled through the possibilities within. A map is not merely for those traversing geological terrain. A map captures — captivates us. A map moves the human soul. The Corp of Engineers maps offers such an exercise for the human soul. We should not be afraid of subjecting ourselves to such power.
To compliment such a transition of federal governance, our platform should equally champion for block grants in order to build-up local infrastructure, with a longer horizon to nationalize public services under local administration. In short, this platform seeks a de-federalization of the legislative and judicial power and a transformation of the executive branch. It should be noted that the executive branch of federal governance is the only branch which preserves that primordial communion between belief and action. It is the only branch that preserves an investment toward the ideal of a nation. We should not be too quick to forfeit this function.
Today, we’re standing here in this “time between worlds.” Behind us we find a succession of time, and ahead of us an unimaginable amount. Here at this moment, we stand beside the vision of a reunion of state and civil society. The vision calls after those who are humbled before it — in order to understand its promises. We can only hope that in this moment of our journey we stand beside social reformers who understand the promises of this vision. Those who can embody those promises — those who have the capacity for such embodiment. That we ourselves may be those social reformers.