Friday, 19 May 2017

Donald Trump and the Deep State

We are certainly neither friends nor fans of US President Donald Trump. Yet it is impossible to pore over accounts of his now daily afflictions – mounting to possible impeachment when he is just over 100 days (!) into a four-year term – without reflecting on the role of the Deep State in the operation and governance of the American res publica (Latin for republic, literally “public thing”). It just so happens that Trump’s travails provide a unique illustration of the way in which the Deep State operates and governs what is supposedly a “republic” from behind the screen of the Constitution. Imagine – just imagine for a mad moment – that instead of a nutcase like Trump we actually had in the Oval Office a President who matched in zeal and purpose a reformist agenda as Trump is pursuing his own clearly reckless self-serving and deluded one. If you just bear with us for a few moments to entertain this “thought exercise” – then you will see quite clearly how constrained such a reformist President would be in his reformist path by the very Constitution that grants him such enormous powers in his (or her) office. (For further research on this, see the insuperable works by ES Corwin and R. Hofstadter on the American presidency.)

As we argued in an earlier intervention quite recently, the Constitution sets out the formal relation of certain institutions (the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature) to one another. But no constitution can prescribe who the exact person that occupies a particular office actually is or will be and what the precise actions that they take are or will be! And because no written document is ever exempt from “interpretation”, it is clear that “constitutional practice” or “tradition” or “protocol” is inseparable from the written text of the constitution. (Great Britain, for instance, never had a written constitution.)

What we are witnessing with Trump is exactly this process whereby the interpretation of a variety of actions by the current President depends clearly not on his stated intentions, but rather on the common assumptions of an entire network of office-bearers who occupy the myriad institutional positions that form both the Administration (the Executive) and the other two branches of government (Congress and the Judiciary). There is no cut-and-dried definition of “constitutional practice”; nor are there clear boundaries between all these institutions. The functioning of the Constitution depends on implicit behavioural assumptions that take a myriad divers forms until they converge into a given “consensus” (literally, “common direction”).

So here is the rub; here is the kernel of the question; here is the crux: who exactly decides on what this “consensus” is? How is a consensus reached when it comes to interpreting the practical operation of constitutional rules? For it is at this point that the clear evidence emerges that this consensus is arrived at by means of various institutional “checks and balances” that are always and inescapably the province of the various elites – the power elites – that rule America. As we are witnessing quite clearly right now with Trump, the elites – not just the leaders of the political parties, but also and above all the vast army of personalities and leaders who occupy the most powerful positions in the American “republic” (from the military to the industrial, even to the cultural, if one looks at the culture industry, for instance, which is most powerful and influential in the US) – these “power elites” all come utterly exclusively from the “one per cent” that we all know and that we can identify just by looking at their income tax returns!

The Constitution sets out the “formal” boundaries and powers of each office-holder. But the content of what these office-holders do, and the interpretation of their actions, are all subject to a very complex socio-political “informal” process of interaction within and between the “power elites”. (On the concept of “power elite”, we can go no further then C Wright Mills’s great homonymous work dating back to the 1960s. Indeed, the dearth of more recent scholarship simply reveals the extent to which the American power elites have been able to stifle and suppress all forms of countervailing socio-political and economic analyses since the 1960s and early 1970s.)

The innumerable obstacles that Trump is encountering in his maldextrous (insolently incompetent) running of the Presidential office are indeed the same obstacles that even the ablest President would encounter if his or her actions deviated from what the power elites see consensually as their overriding interests. Doubtless, this informal Constitution is what hampered Barack Obama right from the outset of his presidential mandate. The power elites always seek to personify democratic powers by concentrating them in the hands of very few “individuals”. On one hand, this makes the exercise of these heavily concentrated powers very dangerous for the bourgeoisie. Yet, on the other hand, the very fact that constitutional powers are concentrated in the hands of very few “personalities” or “leaders” means also that the bourgeoisie is better able to influence and dictate decision-making and the operation of constitutional powers in its own “consensual” interests.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Theoretical Reflections on the Concept of “Secular Stagnation”

The notion of “secular stagnation” – made famous initially by Alvin Hansen when the Great Depression was in full swing in the 1930s – refers to the secular – that is to say, constant and irremediable, in the course of time – decline of “the natural rate of interest”. There are two elements that immediately leap to our attention when considering these twin notions: the first is that secular stagnation refers to the inevitable decline of the “natural rate of interest”; and the second is that therefore the “natural rate of interest” is not “natural” merely in the sense that it is set and determined by involuntary factors beyond human control – natural in the sense of “automatic” – but also that the natural rate of interest is “natural” in the sense that the economic organism to which it applies is subject to a physiological or organic process of stagnation that resembles the ageing of an organism that is unstoppable. This would seem to bring the operation of economies, and therefore also of economics as a “science”, closer to the study of a biological process rather than a purely mechanical-quantitative one. The old notion of Classical and Neo-Classical Political Economy that located the scientific kernel of “economic science” in the determination of Value and in its distribution among various “factors of production” – this notion seems to be outflanked and entirely superseded by that of “the natural rate of interest” when it is tied to that of “secular stagnation”.

In both Classical and Neo-Classical Political Economy there simply was no room for notions such as “secular stagnation”, though there certainly was an implicit notion of a “natural rate of interest”, that is, a rate of profit “naturally” corresponding to a given type of economy. The concept of secular stagnation goes beyond Wicksell’s initial formulation of the natural rate of interest in the sense that for the first time the problem of economic science is no longer that of the distribution of Value or indeed of the growth of Value (its production) which up until now had seemed to be a “natural” aspect of capitalist production. With the notion of “secular stagnation” for the first time bourgeois economic “science”, and thus the bourgeoisie itself, seems to be coming to terms with the “decline” of its system of production, capitalism, which it now sees as inevitable to the degree that it is “secular”. At the same time, with this notion the bourgeoisie tries to shift the blame for the decline of its system of production and of its political regime to a “natural” and “organic” process – a process akin to that of the “ageing of an organism”.

In other words, whereas in the heyday of bourgeois capitalist development the focus of orthodox bourgeois “economic science” was to determine the “natural” mechanism for the production and above all the distribution of Value – now suddenly bourgeois economic science becomes aware of the inevitable, unstoppable decline of capitalist production…and quite possibly even of the demise,of this system of production – and with it, surely, also the extinction of the bourgeoisie itself. For once, the usually triumphant bourgeoisie becomes aware and wary of its ultimate mortality!

Hence, not only is the bourgeoisie aware of its system of vertiginously and intolerably destructive production (the oxymoron is a slap in the face for Schumpeter’s “creative destruction”), but yet it also seeks profligately to deflect responsibility for this onto some “natural” process of decay – without examining the causes of this degeneration and indeed the reasons behind the fact that “economic science” can no longer be an objective impersonal and disembodied, neutral-technical study but must rather concentrate on the ways in which distorted human social relations of production have as their ultimate deleterious effect the destruction of the environment in which humans necessarily operate – the destruction of the ecosphere.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

The Ultimate Causes of Secular Stagnation and Populism

We saw in our study on Knut Wicksell that “the natural rate of interest” – a phrase that he coined in his seminal works – is ultimately the rate of profit in a market economy that has established “universally free competition”. Of course, under conditions of universally free competition among both capitalists and workers, the natural rate of interest would ultimately come down to the rate of growth of the working population – because under these conditions only the marginal increase in the working population could provide the marginal product that could then be monetised by capitalists as “profit” or “interest”. Yet this phrase – “universally free competition” – alludes not just to “competition among capitalists”, but it refers above all to “competition between workers”. It follows that the chief aim of the bourgeoisie, so far as it has any political cohesion, is to de-compose and de-politicise the working class. But such de-politicisation will turn workers into a mob or “lumpen-proletariat”, if you wish – an inchoate, formless mass of atomised individuals without any political cohesion or direction.

The biggest attraction of a mob for the bourgeoisie resides in the fact that, first, a mob is easily instigated politically to do what the bourgeoisie wishes it to do; and second, that because a mob represents the decomposition of the working class, this necessarily raises the rate of exploitation or rate of profit or, if you wish, “the natural rate of interest”. The bourgeoisie despises the mob, but it fears the working class: the result is that the bourgeoisie needs continually to turn the working class into a mob as much as it can to reproduce its system of exploitation. That is why we said before that “the bourgeoisie loves the mob” – yes, but equally it despises it, and it fears the working class more than it fears its turning into a mob. Except that a mob is ultimately just as deleterious to the bourgeoisie as a cohesive working class can be.

The conundrum that the bourgeoisie faces with the creation of a mob, however, is dual: first of all, the creation of a mob – that is, the decomposition of the working class – also has the deflationary effect of lowering antagonism in the workplace, which is what drives capitalist ‘innovation’ and investment, with consequent loss of productivity; and second, the consequent lowering of workers’ living and consumption standards leads to a generalised malaise and resentment against the political system (the parties, the parliaments, and ultimately the deep-state administration) that are the forerunners to either revolution or dictatorship.

Any careful observer of the convulsions that bourgeois parliamentary regimes and capitalist economies the world over are experiencing right now and with growing exasperating intensity – any such careful observer will see that each of these phenomena – taken separately – are undoubtedly taking place before our eyes; and, if taken together, will have to agree that they present a compelling outline of the causal chain that links these otherwise seemingly unrelated socio-economic and political phenomena.

Because bourgeois, or “orthodox”, economists view the capitalist economy purely in quantitative terms of stocks and flows, they are quite unable to perceive the all-important sociological aspects of economic behaviour that affect their quantitative variables. One of the greatest conundrums orthodox economists have faced recently is precisely why so much apparent technological innovation has failed to produce any improvements in “productivity”, broadly defined. Yet the answer becomes obvious when one considers that whilst technological innovation has been applied to the “consumption” side of production, the same cannot be said for the “investment” side: and this is for the simple reason that, given the loss of working-class composition and the shift of investment to low-wage countries such as China – where workers as a class have been annihilated by the Communist Dictatorship -, then there has been and there is still no incentive for capitalists to introduce new machinery with higher productivity.

Political Consequences: The Rise of “Populism”

The conspicuous and perspicuous consequences of this de-composition of the working class the world over are, first, the ideological irrelevance of political parties and, with them, of the parliamentary system; and second, the growing need for the Deep State – the executive or bureaucracy – to intervene in politics in the first person, with the consequent re-politicisation of its role in the running of the society of capital. The more political parties lose their very raison d’etre, as is clearly happening everywhere around the world, the greater grows the need for “technocratic governments” to take over the reins of the economy and society at large. For a long time, for instance, central banks were able to make decisions that were then presented by political parties as part and parcel of their overall political strategies. But now that political parties and political governments are unable to legitimise such decisions cohesively – because they no longer “represent” the real conflicting interests of specific constituencies – it is unavoidable that central bankers themselves are called not just to make the decisions (which they always did in any case), but also to explain and justify them to an irreparably divided and antagonistic society of isolated abulic or headless “individuals” whose “opinions” change as fast as the next television drama on Netflix! This is what has come to be known as “populism” – a word that may roughly capture the symptoms of this phenomenon, yet also certainly misses its real origins and causes.

Monday, 8 May 2017


The frightful writhing convulsions of the Deep State that we are witnessing each new day – indeed, it may be said, even on an hourly basis now, and not just due to the 24-hour news cycle – are only the symptoms of much deeper and ominous causes. They are a warning to the bourgeoisie – at the international, not just national level – that its margin of manoeuvre (what Weber called “Ellebongsraum”, elbow room) is shrinking alarmingly quickly. The alarums and warning bells are there for everyone to hear. And because the room to manoeuvre of the bourgeoisie is shrinking so rapidly this has immediate and, again, terrifying consequences at the inter-national, geopolitical level. The surreal part of this coming denouement for the global bourgeoisie is that it seems to come at a time when indeed its power and global reach seem almost unlimited: but if Nero fiddled while Rome burned, it is also true that the flames of the coming conflagration will reach the temples of the nonchalant and indolent bourgeoisie much sooner than it realises.

That margin of manoeuvre (again to return to Weber, see “Politics as a Vocation”) is afforded to the bourgeoisie by the parliamentary system and, deeper down into the grassroots of society, by the party system. Thus, the first harbinger of growing social antagonism and of the loss of legitimacy of bourgeois rule – the earliest warning sign of the tsunami that is about to hit the thus-far impregnable fortress of the Deep State – is the precipitous, spectacular decline of the influence and appeal of political parties in the parliamentary system. Of course, without popular and strong political parties able to ensure the adherence of the mass of society to parliamentary institutions, it is parliaments that will collapse quite rapidly and sink without a trace in the groundswell of political conflict that will arise.

Parliaments were initially intended by the bourgeoisie as political devices to ensure the representation before the feudal Absolute Monarch of the propertied classes: remember that the initial war-cry of the bourgeoisie was “no taxation without representation”. But with the numerical and political rise of the working class from the 18th Century onwards, the bourgeoisie was forced to grant political representation to the vast majority of the population (universal suffrage) and also to allow workers to assemble in a political party. It was the rise of social-democratic workers’ parties that compelled the bourgeoisie to seek its own form of party-political representation in the shape of conservative formations seeking the political support of middle class electorates.

Bourgeois political parties were always parties of “notables”, popular figures or personalities or “leaders” who could draw the support of large numbers of the population through connections and influence. Of course, proletarian revolutionary or “opposition” parties always posed a danger to bourgeois supremacy in the parliamentary system, so a way had to be found to integrate or assimilate these opposition parties in the “parliamentary system”. And the way to do this was to force them to become “mass” or “umbrella” parties with political programs that did not embody the “partisan” interests of their members but extended their appeal to “the people” or “the nation”. Of course, the more political parties have become engulfed and mired in the parliamentary game, the more their appeal has become “national” to the point where they have entirely lost any antagonistic substance, that is to say, to the point where political parties are no longer able “to represent”, as they were meant to do initially, the conflicting and antagonistic interests of their members.

Yet this very “massification” of political parties – the fact that they have been forced to channel and adapt their antagonistic drive to the homologating strictures of parliamentary and constitutional rules set up by the bourgeoisie – has emptied their “political” function of all content and substance and reduced mass parties to the status of football teams! The real reason behind the decline of bourgeois “liberal democracy” is the very success of the bourgeois effort to reduce political parties to arms or instruments or indeed extensions of “the State”: in short, by turning into arms of the bureaucracy, of the Deep State, political parties – even and especially(!) “opposition” parties – have signed their own death decree! The respective electoral mottos of Emmanuel Macron and of Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election just concluded were “Ensemble, la France” for the former and “Choisir la France!” for the latter. It would be absurdly laughable if it were not also tragic! As is amply obvious, the real antagonism that threatens to tear French and European society asunder is now hidden and farcically disguised behind besotted appeals to “unity” and “la France”!

The much-trumpeted “decline of social democracy” in Europe and around the world, which is celebrated by the haute bourgeoisie as the seal of its ultimate triumph, is in reality the beginning of the end for the bourgeoisie itself – because once it cannot channel and control by means of the parliamentary game the antagonism rampant in capitalist society, the bourgeoisie will find that it is impossible to control its own population let alone that of other national bourgeoisies, themselves in the throes of de-legitimisation and political dissolution.

Of course, the massification and dilution, the evisceration of antagonistic political parties has been achieved not just through the bureaucratic parliamentary regime established by the bourgeoise through the Deep State, but also and above all by the cultural and organisational “massification” of the body politic itself. We have said repeatedly here that “the bourgeoisie loves the mob”: and it has made monumental efforts to create a mob by turning the body politic into a shapeless mass of abulic individuals through concerted attacks on the organic composition of the working class and, to no small extent, through the brutalisation of everyday life consequent upon the denial of social services and also, last but not least, through the culture industry – the entire bizarre machinery of panis et circenses (bread and circuses) that ranges from Hollywood to show business broadly as well as advertising and marketing.

This specific form of propaganda comes naturally to the capitalist bourgeoisie: capitalism, after all, is a form of domination whereby workers “freely” alienate their living labour “in exchange for” the objectified products of their activity (“dead labour”), which the capitalist then uses “to purchase” the living labour of other workers, and so on ad infinitum. This impossible exchange involves, of course, the coaxing of workers to purchase their own products from the capitalist – something that we know as “consumerism”. And consumerism requires marketing as the main form of persuasion (recall V. Packard’s famous work “The Hidden Persuaders”). In short, the bourgeoisie is masterful in devising infinitely devious and diabolical ways of selling its peculiar brand of slavery. By the same token, this sales effort must be able to hide and disguise – indeed, to present as desirable – all the deleterious and despicable practices that debase, defile and distort human instincts and values. Thus, for instance, motor vehicles that pollute the ecosphere are sold with lakes and mountains in the background, driven on roads with no other vehicles in sight… It takes just one simple instance like this to illustrate once and for all the self-destructive suicidal bent to which global capital, the bourgeoisie, is driving humanity.

Even more than the mob, the bourgeoisie is entranced by the degree of political and social mastery and command over their populations exhibited by “Oriental” and Eurasian dynasties such as those of Imperial and now Maoist China, and those of Czarist and then Stalinist Russia. In the guise of Donald Trump, of course, this extends to Putin’s Russia, as we know. Perhaps the most odious aspect of late capitalism is the way in which it presents new and more insidious and powerful methods of political domination such as “artificial intelligence” as ineluctable aspects of human Progress, as capable of solving all human problems when in fact they are just hideous illustrations of the intolerable brutality and hubris of the bourgeoisie against which we shall either rise up or else to which we shall infallibly succumb.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

The Party System and the Deep State

The common belief shared almost universally even by the most trenchant critics of “liberal democracy” is that it is the legislative arm of the State – the Legislature or Parliament or Congress – that determines the political direction of a country and its people; and that the Executive (the bureaucracy or public administration) merely executes or implements what is decided by the Legislature. And it is an even more ingrained belief that this political will emanates directly from “the electorate” through the election of political “representatives” to the Legislature or Parliament. And, as we know, this political will is expressed through an electoral process that is monopolised by political parties.

What few understand, however, is the simple truth that even the political organisation of electoral parties must conform to strict “constitutional guarantees” that allow the Deep State (the bureaucracy or, if you wish, “the system”) to control the constitution of political parties – their membership, their charters and programs, their funding. Even before it begins to formulate its political program, therefore – indeed, right from its political birth and inception – a political party must conform to the organisational rules laid out by the Deep State in the Constitution. Remember that, as Carl Schmitt incessantly reminded us, the Constitution sets out the rules – but it does not tell us who precisely is the person who decides! In other words, there are two levels at which the Deep State controls the outcome of elections and the implementation of the so-called “political will of the people”. The first level is by setting out strict rules – the strictest possible because they are legislated in the Constitution – with which all political participants and parties must comply. Indeed, as we know, many constitutions either explicitly or implicitly institute political parties as being already part and parcel of the Constitution itself! In other words, even before political parties can express the will of their members, they are already obliged to play “by the rules”!
But the second level of control is that even though the rules are set out clearly in writing since the Code of Hammurabi or the Roman Decalogue, the reality remains that the Constitution does not prescribe who precisely will decide upon the rules and – most important – on their “exception”! The constitutional rule is ultimately dependent both for its interpretation (the Judiciary) and for its enforcement (the Police or the Army) upon the decision of a particular person or group of persons! This means that the bourgeoisie is always able from the outset to determine the outcome of “the parliamentary game” by sheer virtue of the fact that its own members occupy the offices of political power in the Deep State!

Of course, once political parties succeed in having their “candidates” elected to the institutions prescribed by the Constitution – and most specifically to Parliament -, then the candidates elected, the “electoral or party representatives”, are even more constrained and bound by the parliamentary rules set out in the Constitution! One thing is for an elected representative to get to Parliament; it is quite another once that “representative” gets to Parliament – because once in Parliament the representative can no longer simply represent the electorate or party that got her or him elected but must indeed first and foremost represent the Constitution! He or she must be bound by the myriad rules laid out either in the Constitution and in all its instrumentalities. Essentially, a representative or member of parliament must act always “in the interests of the nation” – which is to say, in the interests of the persons who already are the guardians of the Constitution, which is to say, in the interests of the Deep State as it is constituted by the bourgeoisie!

It is not the case that the bureaucracy of the Deep State is impersonated or embodied by functionaries selected at random or indiscriminately from the body of the population – from the body politic. As everyone knows, the selection of the bureaucracy is almost exclusively decided by the existing bureaucracy – and this bureaucracy goes back to the early establishment of modern bourgeois parliamentary regimes. This is a way of saying that the old Absolutist State, the Ancien Regime, never truly died: it simply metamorphosed into the present-day State bureaucracy, into the Deep State. The Parliaments that the bourgeoisie established since the American and French Revolution, and since the earlier English Revolution with Oliver Cromwell and the Long Parliament – these parliaments had the paramount and indispensable function of absorbing and neutralising the conflicts and contradictions and antagonisms existing in our societies provoked predominantly by the sheer violence and brutality of the bourgeoisie, by its domination over the rest of society. And the bourgeoisie achieved this aim, albeit reluctantly, through its co-optation of social antagonism by means of the institutions of parliament and ultimately of the political parties.

Indeed, it is a historical fact that the organisation of working-class parties themselves – the European social-democratic parties and Labor parties – quite faithfully mirrored the bureaucratic organisation of the bourgeois Deep State because, once the “elected representative leaders” of these parties joined the Parliaments it was impossible for them even to begin to govern and legislate without complying with and strictly adhering to the bureaucratic decision-making processes of the bourgeois Deep State. As we have seen with greater intensity and frequency recently, political parliamentary representatives are invariably torn between formulating and promoting their political “mandates”, on one side, and then winning over the co-operation of the existing bureaucracy in order to implement them!
Almost invariably, elected representatives find that by the time they attempt to implement their mandates the bourgeois bureaucracy – empowered by the constitution – bluntly forces them to restate and indeed recant and renounce their original “democratic mandates”. To the degree that the democratic mandate of parliamentary representatives has to be translated into the rules of the parliamentary game and then be made to fit into the straitjacket of bureaucratic execution – by that time any “transformational” and indeed “revolutionary” or even “democratic” content that these mandates had is totally lost in the bureaucratic maze!

The Deep State – the bureaucratic Executive – thus has the power to neuter and defeat any conflictual and antagonistic content that the bourgeois constitutional electoral process might have placed in motion. As one droll but piercingly accurate anarchist motto has it, “if elections could change anything, they would be outlawed!” This histrionic motto in fact quite accurately and brilliantly summarises the reality that “elections” (parliamentary democracy) are entirely dependent on “the constitution” (the deep State) which ensures that elections cannot change the Constitution erected by the bourgeoisie: - quite simply because such a change - and not this or that insignificant policy, fruit of the squabbling between political parties and politicians – would clearly amount to the most serious crime! There is no crime more serious in a constitutional democracy than any attempt to change the Constitution! The Constitution is sacrosanct to the bourgeoisie not because it contains the infamous “democratic guarantees” idolised by Benjamin Constant and Alexis de Tocqueville or Edmund Burke, but simply because these “guarantees” are the foundations of bourgeois domination over the entire nation and its population! They are “guarantees” – in other words, they are legal rules independent of the democratic will of the society, and specifically of the working class – that do not emanate from the society itself but – as the word “guarantee” suggests – from a pre-existing “constituted power”! Modern bourgeois capitalist regimes adamantly and rigorously and violently proscribe any and all attempts at “constituent power”!

In the “parliamentary game”, the sheer connivance of political parties in the bolstering of the Deep State is starkly evidenced by the phrase “Her Majesty’s loyal opposition”. The concept of “loyal opposition” clearly illustrates and demonstrates how the “alternation” of political parties in forming governments is entirely subordinated to maintaining the status quo embodied in the Constitution and administered by the Deep State! The “loyal opposition” to which all political parties must subject themselves under the Constitution demonstrates the ultimate supremacy and pre-eminence of constituted power over constituent power – of the status quo over any revolutionary velleity by the antagonistic movement; it represents the forswearing and abjuration by political parties of any activity that may challenge the established constitutional order. (For a revealing exposition of the historical development of political “opposition” parties in the United States, see R. Hofstadter, The Idea of A Party System. For Europe, see our already cited M. Duverger, Les Partis Politiques.)

Thursday, 4 May 2017

THE DEEP STATE and the Parliamentary System

As we have sought to explain in this Blog, the Deep State that governs Western bourgeois parliamentary regimes – otherwise known as “Western liberal democracies” – is called so because it is virtually invisible to the greatest majority of its “subjects”, because it lies buried deep in the machinery of government. The part of government that most people see every day is “the spectacle”: the circus of rock-star politicians smiling in front of cameras or giving interviews in the media. This is the unseemly “parliamentary cretinism” that is mawkishly paraded before us “citizens” by the bourgeoisie and its loyal acolytes in the deep state, in the bureaucracy. It is usual for most of us to dismiss “bureaucrats” as mere acolytes or “clerks”, as monastic nerds and “scribblers” or “hacks” that slave behind the walls of government buildings. But in fact, it is this less visible army of functionaries who truly “run government” not just in the sense of day-to-day administration, but also and above all in the sense of decision-making, of actually preparing and dictating the policies (from “politics”) that those smiling politicians put to us as if they had been freshly excogitated by them almost ex nihilo. This is the true Eskamotage – the heist or magic prestidigitation – performed by our beloved politician clowns: it is a game of smokes and mirrors behind which, deep within which, lies the omnipresent power of the bureaucratic elite.

At the end of the feudal era, with the abolition of monarchies and Absolutist States, the most vital problem for the nascent capitalist bourgeoisie was how to replace political regimes that founded their legitimacy in God and faith – in the divine descendance of the King or Queen – with a new legitimacy and legality based on strictly secular and supposedly “rational” bourgeois capitalist principles. (We have discussed elsewhere here the strict Weberian link between “rationality” and factory discipline of living labour.) Liberalism was the ideal ideology for this purpose: first, liberal ideology presents the State (the liberal State) as the necessary tool to protect individual private property: in this sense, the State is mere Police (Hobbes, Schopenhauer). But this is a purely “negative” role for the State – a role that merely protects individuals as they are found in the mythical “state of nature” that liberalism presumes to have existed before human beings entered into a “contract” to form a society for mutual protection. What this “negative” rationalisation of the State fails to do is to lay out a “positive” reason for the existence of the State – because without such a “positive” rationalisation it is virtually impossible to make the liberal State palatable to those members of society who have little or no property for the State to defend!

But what could provide a positive justification for the bourgeois State? Obviously, the function of the State could not consist only of protecting property: rather, the function of the new bourgeois State had to be that of increasing and enhancing the private property of individuals – in other words, to ensure what we call “economic growth” or, in the words of Adam Smith’s paramount work in the new science of economics, “the wealth of nations”. The two legs of liberal ideology were conceived thus: possessive individualism is one, and the “science” of economics is the other.
In both instances, however, the emergence of the bourgeois liberal State still has no legitimacy because, (a) it does not explain how those who have property came “legally” or “legitimately” upon it, and (b) it does not explain the link between present ownership and the legal claim to produced social wealth which is paramount in a capitalist economy.

Because of this evident lack of legitimacy, it was essential for the bourgeoisie to erect a State-form that could give at least the appearance of direct representation to all members of “society” – to establish, in other words, a State-form that is “liberal” because founded on possessive individualism but also and above all one that is “democratic” – a State-form that arises from “the will of the people”. The initial war-cry of “no taxation without representation” was meant by the bourgeoisie to maintain this strange link between “property” and “sovereignty” – because clearly pursuant to this motto only those who had enough property to be “taxed” by the State could be politically “represented”; and they had to be represented in proportion to the amount of taxation they paid! It was only belatedly and after epochal political struggles by working-classes in the West that “universal suffrage” and “one man one vote” finally became established principles of what is known as Western democracy. Yet these political struggles by workers and proletarians had to be “absorbed” and co-opted within the structure of the old feudal State now transformed into a capitalist nation-state (this precious link between the nation-state and the economy is preserved in the earliest German word for economics – National-oekonomie, meaning that “economics” has no sense outside of “the nation”, just as Adam Smith linked “wealth” with “nation” in the first textbook of economics, “The Wealth of Nations”).

So how could the revolutionary working class be absorbed and co-opted within the structures of the old Absolutist monarchic State which, as we mentioned above, was constituted by the Bureaucracy and by the Army? The clever answer was: the extension of the Parliament to workers’ representatives organised as “parties”. This was the start of the “parliamentary” or “political party system”.
It is of the utmost importance to understand and appreciate that the parliamentary system and its political parties did not itself originate and constitute the State: on the contrary, it was the old Absolutist State that created the parliamentary system as its “constitutional” progeny.

In other words, the State was never and has never been the product of parliamentary democracy or of universal suffrage: on the contrary, it is “parliamentary democracy” and the party system that have been created and regulated and controlled “constitutionally” by the pre-existing State! That has made it all the more likely, first, that the State could conceal itself behind the “democratic” façade of parliamentary institutions such as “free elections” and “the party system”, and second that these so-called “democratic” parliamentary institutions could operate only within the specific narrow and highly regulated confines of the pre-existing or “deep” State!

Most people, even the most informed political analysts, see “the State”, the Executive, as an emanation of “the democratic will of the people”. But in reality, as we have demonstrated through our rapid review of the evolution of the modern bourgeois liberal State, democratic institutions are emanations or creations of the Deep State – which controls and directs them through the Law, through the Constitution! The Constitution is not the product of constituent power; it is instead controlled by constituted power. (This essential distinction is enucleated in H. Arendt, On Revolution and more recently in A. Negri, Insurgencies.)

In the next contribution we shall examine how the Deep State absorbs the real contradictions of bourgeois-capitalist into the false “democratic” heaven of parliamentary cretinism.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Liberalism and The Deep State

The greatness of Carl Schmitt as a political theoretician is to have exposed mercilessly the utter incompatibility of liberal principles with parliamentary institutions. The political core of liberalism, Schmitt argues, is the principle of homo homini lupus (man is a wolf to man), the grim reality of the Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes (the war of all against all). The bitter pursuit of self-interest - or possessive individualism, which is the cardinal principle of liberalism - will lead inexorably and inevitably to civil war: - this is a reality that we are confronting right now all over the world, within nation-states and between nation-states. Because of this, the only way to avoid the annihilation of human society is for self-interested individuals to elect a Sovereign with plenipotentiary powers - in essence, an Absolutist State, a Monarch with all powers concentrated in his person - a veritable Deus mortalis (mortal God). - And again, this is what we are witnessing with the slow and excruciating death of Western liberal parliamentary regimes as the powers of Parliament are taken over by individual Leaders (from Presidents to Prime Ministers) who are elected increasingly in a plebiscitary manner - directly by "the people", as in the US or France or through "primaries" organised by political parties.

What we are witnessing, then, is the agonising demise of parliamentary regimes in favour of "strong leaders" who answer only to "the people" without any of the "mediating" functions served previously up to now by institutions such as Parliament, political parties, and last but not least "the media" or Public Opinion. Already, Jurgen Habermas had signalled but not fully realised the epochal implications of this "structural transformation of public opinion" in the early 1960s. But it was Johann Agnoli with his "The Transformation of Democracy" who truly alerted us to the slow death of Parliaments and Political Parties.

Yet, somewhat surprisingly, the one work that most incisively and penetratingly as well as insightfully perceived the full implications of this decline of Western bourgeois liberal parliamentary regimes, and specifically of Political Parties, was that of the French sociologist Maurice Duverger with his masterful study on "Les Partis Politiques" dating back to 1969. In essence, the explicit aim of Duverger’s great study was to trace the decline of political parties in the second post-war period, once the Communist threat was contained through the Marshall Plan and through Stalinist legacies and, therefore, bourgeois Christian-Democrat parties could return to their pre-war role of “administering the State” on behalf of the bourgeoisie. Yet in reality, Morin’s political historical genius extended far beyond this explicit aim because his study also traces the history of the birth of parliamentary regimes and of political parties in particular out of the old European Absolutist States, especially in France, but extending to Germany and Britain.

What Duverger demonstrates – quite extraordinarily without almost being aware of doing this – is that “the party system” that has kept alive Western liberal parliamentary regimes was really simply an escamotage by the old landed, but increasingly capitalist aristocracy that governed under the rule of monarchs the Absolutist States that emerged out of the feudal system – an escamotage by this freshly embourgeoisified (to coin a horrible term) aristocracy to contain and control the emergence of revolutionary workers’ parties at the time of the Second Industrial Revolution from the mid-1850s. And the new bourgeoisie achieved this goal of containment by devising a parliamentary façade of political representation while all the time retaining control of political power through (a) the imponent bureaucracies established by the monarchic feudal Absolutist States, and, (b) quite obviously, through the military complex. This union of bureaucracy and military – which constituted a major focus of Max Weber’s studies of the modern bourgeois State – constitutes what we may call a Deep State that controls and moderates “the alternation” of Labour/Socialist and Liberal/Conservative parties and their governments in Western bourgeois parliamentary regimes.

Furthermore, this Deep State leads to the further concentration of decision-making power into the hands of increasingly stronger Executives (Presidencies and Prime Ministerships) that, first, supplement the de-legitimisation of parliamentary regimes due to their growing political ineffectiveness and impotence, but, second, lead to the further de-legitimisation of the parliamentary systems dependent on ever-weaker political party electoral representation!

This sociological thesis and its political denouement advanced by Duverger had already been prophesied by Carl Schmitt in his pioneering studies of the 1920s and 30s – The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, and Dictatorship. (For a similar study applied to the US, see C. Rossiter, Constitutional Dictatorship. I take the liberty to refer to my own study, FDR and the New Deal.)

Theoretical Appendix:

Capitalism, Liberalism and Despotism – Locke and Hobbes


Classical political theory assumes that the State is the holistic ethico-political ex-pression and pro-duct of more fundamental social components that precede the State both historically and analytically. The bourgeois theory of the State, known as liberalism, shares this vision of the State with the added ingredient that society itself can be separated into a scientific economic spheregoverned by the “laws of the market” and “economic value”, on one side, and a political sphere of public opinion guided by ethical values, on the other. In other words, if Economics is the bourgeoisie’s scientific rationalisation of capitalism, then Liberalism constitutes its quintessential political ideology. Liberalism is the political expression of capitalism in that it proclaims that it is possible to separate the economic sphere of social life which is the realm of necessity or “free-dom”, that is, the rigid constraint of each individual free-dom imposed by the free-doms of others all understood strictly as “individual freedoms” (the optimal utilisation of resources made scarce by the insatiable nature of individual self-interest – whence the dismal science – this is the constraint that founds the scientificity of capitalist social relations, the Objective Value of neoclassical economic theory) from the sphere of freedom or public opinion in which individuals can air their most subjective beliefs, the Subjective or Ethical Values of the liberal public sphere, without – for that very reason, that is, by reason of the “ideal” nature of opinions and beliefs – upsetting the politico-technical neutrality of the State which, again, is founded on the scientificity of Economics, that is to say, on the liberalist presumption of the scientific workings of the self-regulating market mechanism.


It is the subjectivity of these ethical values – their origin in the ideal “freedom of the human will” -, and the fact that this ethical-moral “freedom” can be founded exclusively on the objectivity and “scientific” operation of the market mechanism and on the “laws of Economics” – it is these two factors combined that liberalism can exploit ideologically to vaunt its unique affinity with democracy. The central tenet of liberalism is that “democracy” is socially impossible unless the sphere of economic production and exchange is kept hermetically separate and protected from the sphere of public opinion with its “irrational” ethico-moral and religious beliefs! Locke and Constant are the great theoreticians of liberalism. For Locke, the separation of economic and political spheres is made possible by the fact that it is possible to assign individual property rights to resources by means of “individual labour” – by which Locke means also the labour of others exchanged like any other product of labour or commodity. Constant goes further by treating liberalism as the social state that allows the transformation of proprietary antagonism from war to commerce. In other words, for Constant, commerce, or the Lockean appropriation of resources on the basis of supposedly “individual” labour, leads not just to social peace guaranteed by a neutral State, but also to international peace between nation-states on the basis of the disciplining effect of property and capital movements between nation-states! This could not be achieved without the existence of “natural rights” that precede the State.


It is just such a jusnaturalist position that Hobbes denies steadfastly and intransigently – and one that he demolishes with the ruthlessness of his logic. The greatness of Hobbes lies precisely in having demonstrated that a society run strictly along capitalist lines on the basis of possessive individualism is quite impossible because it will inevitably descend into civil war – that, paceConstant, it is not possible for commerce to replace war as a means of resolving the conflict implicit in commercial transactions (possessive individualism, private ownership of social resources) either within or without the boundaries of the nation-State. Auctoritas, non veritas, facit legem. The essence of laws, says Hobbes, is not their “content”; it is not the “truth” of their injunction – for the simple reason that there can be no universal Truth of which the laws are dictates. For Hobbes as later for Nietzsche, the real essence of the law, its actual “truth”, is the very fact of its enforcement – the fact that a particular Will is able to impose it on the subjects to which it applies and who are forced to obey it. It is the authority of the Sovereign, the actual physical ability to enforce the law that makes it “law”; it is certainly not the correspondence of the law to an intersubjective universal human Truth that makes it “the law”. (Wrong therefore are the theses of Leo Strauss and Warrender thatclaim Hobbes for liberalismAnd equally wrong is Macpherson to claim that Locke’s theory of theState is in all analogous to Hobbes’s.)


Hobbes’s political theory, therefore, contra Habermas, is clearly not an attempt to scientize politics – because for Hobbes it is quite impossible to give politics any scientific basis – again, for the simple reason that there can be no scientific “truth” upon which a hypothetical “ideal polity” (a Utopia) can be founded. On the contrary, for Hobbes what science dictates is that politics begins and ends with the authority of the Sovereign. But this authority is legitimated contractually by the subjects of the common-wealth, of the State, not because it is the settlement dictated by scientific “truth” – but rather precisely for the opposite reason (!), that is to say, that science shows conclusively that no commonwealth or society or State can be founded on the dictates of science! It is this negative conclusion – the impossibility of a commonwealth or State that answers to a summum bonum or Truth – that is the real foundation of the Hobbesian status civilis or State as the supreme and ultimate endeavour of human beings to escape the otherwise ineluctable state of civil war, thestatus naturae or bellum civium (war of all against all).


To reinforce his point, Hobbes distinguishes between laws or rights or moral rules that operate in foro interno – in the sense that each individual human being may repose credence in them – and the utter impossibility of applying these individual rules in foro externo by virtue of the fact that these “internal” ethical rules can never coincide with the “external” objective rule imposed by the State! The only “rule” or Value that can be agreed upon is the scientific fact that human beings wish above all to preserve their individual “life” from violent death at the hands of other human beings. And given the ability of any one individual human being to threaten the life of any other individual, it is this metus mortis, this fear of violent death, which can be the only “scientific” basis of the State. The State is the deus mortalis in the sense that its godliness – its omnipotence - is not derived from theological sources but from the very mortal forces of human voracity, of human appetite for endless possession. Whereas the old mediaeval Scholastic theories of the State remained theo-cratic in that the supremacy of the State over its subjects remained still ethico-moral in nature because of its “patriarchal” analogy to the Divinity and the Judaeo-Christian family, Hobbes’s theory of the State breaks radically with all previous political theory by asserting and demonstrating geometrico-mechanically the absolute primacy of the State in the foundation of human society. The basis of the State is not rendered “scientific” thereby: or rather, the State is “scientific” only to the extent that science requires it to proscribe the Political so as to prevent the otherwise inevitable descent of humanity into total civil war. (As Leo Strauss put it in reference to Schmitt, Hobbes theorised a State that put an end to politics understood as the state of nature, and Schmitt theorises a state of nature that reintroduces politics to the State. Both Hobbes and Schmitt, moving in opposite directions, theorise the incompatibility of State and politics.)


It is evident therefore that for Hobbes there can be no distinction or separation of any sphere of civil life, including the “economic” sphere, from the existence of the State: for Hobbes, society and the State are one indivisible entity: there is simply no human society or natural society or civil society possible outside the State. The State is a restauratio ab imis fundamentis of human society – a total constitutional order – founded solely on the ability of the Sovereign to enforce its decisions (the law). It is equally impossible therefore for a law to be “natural” and thus to be “just” independently of the State that enforces it: a conduct is “just” in a State that enforces it, and the very same rule can be “unjust” in a State that proscribes it. A law can be “right” in one State and its very opposite can be equally “right” in another State that enforces its opposite. The “truth” of the law is the authority of the Sovereign, not an independent and intrinsic Value possessed by or contained in that law.


The same applies of course to economic “laws” based as they must be on the notion of property (the individual claim to social resources), individual labours or utility (as the subjective individual ethical basis for property rights), and exchange (as the foundation of market prices and commerce). All economic science is based on the “exchange” of pro-ducts between individuals. But “exchange” implies by definition the existence of property rights possessed by individuals over the pro-ducts that they are meant “to exchange”. As we have shown, however, for Hobbes no such property “rights” can exist outside of the State; and they cannot constitute therefore an objective scientific basis or an ideal ethical basis for the science of “economics”. For this very reason, the HobbesianState is not an ideal State – it is not a prescription: it is instead a statement of fact! For Hobbes, every conceivable human society, to the extent that it is viable, must be founded on his analytical doctrine of the State! This means that for Hobbes liberalism is not only impossible as a political foundation for human society, but to the extent that it appears to hold sway it can do so only on ideological veils that obscure the real nature of the State on which all human society must be founded. For Hobbes, liberalism is impossible – a fraud or a fib at best – owing to its very theoretical premise, that is, possessive individualism.