On Power

Power is an Idea. It is exactly what it is thought to be.

Even among pre-civilized social animals, where the temptation to confuse power with force is strongest, the need to demonstrate force is only sporadic, and wherever force is not continuously demonstrated, power has arisen.

That is how dominance distinguishes itself from predation. On occasions, no doubt, a predator dominates its prey, convincing a struggling herbivore that resistance is futile, and its passage into nourishment is already, virtually, over. Even in these cases, however, a predator does not seek to install an enduring dominion. It matters not at all that its command of irresistible force be recognized beyond the moment of destruction. There is no social relationship to establish.

Even the most rudimentary society requires something more. The economy of force has to be institutionalized, and power — perfectly coincident with the Idea of power — is born. When power is tested, driven to resort to force, or regress to it, the idea has already slipped, its weakness exposed.

Mere dominance has to regularly re-assert itself, rebuilding itself out of force. Under civilized conditions, in contrast, power is exempted from the test of force, and thus realizes itself consummately. It becomes magic and religion, perfectly identified with its apprehension, as a radiant assumption.

Power is thus profoundly paradoxical. Its truth is inextricable from a derealization, so that when it is practically interrogated, by forces determined to excavate its reality, it tends to nothing.

Even the force that power calls upon, when pressed to demonstrate or realize itself, has to be spell-bound to its idea. Will the generals obey? Will the soldiers shoot? It is power, and not force, that decides. No surprise, therefore, that power can evaporate like the snow-slopes of a volcano, as if instantaneously, when an eruption of force is scarcely more than a rumble. Power is the eruption not happening, far more than the eruption being contained. (Equally, anarchy is the question of power being practically posed, before it is any kind of ‘solution’.)

To conceive economic power as wealth, is to misconstrue it as (rationalized) force, and thus to miss the Idea. ‘True’ economic power is a thoroughly derealized yet authoritative standard and store of value, as instantiated — exclusively — in fiat currency. Monetary signs that are not backed by anything beyond the ‘credit’ (or credibility) of the State are the tokens of pure, supremely idealized power in its economic form. They symbolize the effective — because untested — suppression of anarchy. They live through the Idea, and die with it.

Those who recognize the completion of power in an Idea, celebrants and antagonists alike, have no reason to object to its belated baptism as the Cathedral: our contemporary political appropriation of numinous authority, served by an academic, journalistic, judicial, and administrative clerisy, prominently including the priesthood of fiat adoration and financial central planning. There is no macroeconomics that is not Cathedral liturgy, no confidence or ‘animal spirits’ independent of its devotions, no economic cataclysm that is not simultaneously a crisis of faith. A single Idea is at stake.

In macroeconomics, as in politics more generally, only one (systematically inhibited) question remains: Do we believe? Well, do we?

ADDED: Belief drain (via)

April 25, 2013admin 17 Comments »
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17 Responses to this entry

  • John Hannon Says:

    No

    [Reply]

    Posted on April 25th, 2013 at 10:16 am Reply | Quote
  • fotrkd Says:

    No
    [Reply]

    Just found the ‘Quote’ button! Thought I’d try it. Very useful. As you acknowledge it is only when the faith of the security forces wavers (or you have a popular surge that tests this faith) that you really have something. Until then even many of those questioning their faith will prefer the outward pretence of worship and the accompanying (and similarly more or less fabricated) communal order, safety, hope, nourishment etc.

    But if you take this post as a continuation of ‘Cui bono’ (belonging to the conspiracy line) and understand Boston as a pre-emptive response to a crisis of faith (reminding everyone the outside is a scarey place) the question becomes not just who benefits but what’s coming?

    [Reply]

    Posted on April 25th, 2013 at 1:41 pm Reply | Quote
  • Vladimir Says:

    The mystery and seeming paradox of power is best elucidated by analyzing it as a system of Schelling points around which human relations are organized. For those unfamiliar with this concept, David Friedman has a good introduction:
    http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Property/Property.html

    Schelling points are fascinating — and at the same time confusing and stumbling for the naive quasi-rational and liberal modern mindset — because they are as real and consequential as anything, and yet they can be influenced by mere thoughts and words about them. (As well as seemingly trivial practical actions.)

    [Reply]

    Posted on April 25th, 2013 at 5:09 pm Reply | Quote
  • Nick B. Steves Says:

    Do we believe? Well, do we?

    Enough people do… for now. Once enough people don’t, the lies will blow away like chaff, depositors won’t wait for the FDIC, the soldiers won’t shoot, and letters after your name will become a personal liability.

    [Reply]

    Posted on April 25th, 2013 at 6:42 pm Reply | Quote
  • Scharlach Says:

    Enough people do… for now. Once enough people don’t, the lies will blow away like chaff, depositors won’t wait for the FDIC, the soldiers won’t shoot, and letters after your name will become a personal liability.
    [Reply]

    I wonder how close we are to all that. People may question the Idea, but they also have a stake in the Idea because it’s what keeps them (keeps all of us) comfortable for the time being. To attack (directly or indirectly) the Real Power is to risk being uncomfortable–or dead.

    What was it Chesterton said? Something to the effect of: the most secure tyrant is the one whose peasants are content, nothing more, nothing less.

    [Reply]

    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    This may be my own, imbued American Exceptionalism, showing itself, but I think it will come from America. While America may not have necessarily given birth to the current unpleasantness, they certainly inherited it… and (for now) continue to benefit from it.

    When American kids under 30 are faced with the shit-fest that, for example, Spanish under 30’s are faced with, they will respond favorably to, shall we say, an alternative voice… an alternative voice that is not constrained by the Shibboleths of the Cathedral in any way. PC will be forgotten like Sunday School lessons. My only hope is that we DON’T get a Hitler out of the deal. Punk became mainstream, and in so becoming became tame, oh so tame. But what will they do when punk cannot be constrained. The leftist professors will shit in their drawers, and die having no idea just how radical their chargelings could be.

    [Reply]

    Posted on April 25th, 2013 at 7:00 pm Reply | Quote
  • admin Says:

    Power is a consensual hallucination running on a substrate of real and irreducible anarchy — that’s what fascism at its most intelligent understands, and its why fascists tend to win. People are humans, humans are gregarious hierarchical apes with hardwired paleolithic morality, and most of them like to be told what to do. Even more, they like other people being told what to do. The more things come unstrung, the more precious power will seem, from the majority perspective, since it promises that something can be done — in a way that ordinary people understand (deliberately, charismatically, and in keeping with ape-band intuitions of ‘justice’). As the situation gets more desperate, the masses will become even easier to manipulate, and the mesmerists will get ever better at what they do, which is to deepen popular delusion. Dysfunction deepens dependency, which exacerbates dysfunction. Eventually cybernetics achieves what politics cannot, as runaway dynamics propel the collective power-dream into catastrophe, complicated by unintelligible things slanting in from outside. Then it gets really interesting …

    Libertarians become neoreactionaries when they recognize that the people have no desire to be free. Yet some neoreactionaries remain libertarian enough to suspect that freedom might ultimately be compulsory.

    [Reply]

    Nick B. Steves Reply:

    As the situation gets more desperate, the masses will become even easier to manipulate, and the mesmerists will get ever better at what they do, which is to deepen popular delusion.

    Though that is a strong tendency in humans, I think different races of men do not respond equally to desperation. Nor do they to mesmerism. r-selection works well until it doesn’t, whereupon the K-selecteds get to have their day.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    I worry that K-selection types are the worst for this — look around the world for glassy, hypnotized stares and tell me I’m wrong …

    [Reply]

    Thales Reply:

    Even more, they like other people being told what to do.

    The killer app for language: the command.

    Julian Jaynes would be proud.

    (Tagline: “Killer App for the Killer Ape!”)

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Yes, sold through the Killer Apple Store

    [Reply]

    Posted on April 26th, 2013 at 3:19 am Reply | Quote
  • Scharlach Says:

    People are humans, humans are gregarious hierarchical apes with hardwired paleolithic morality, and most of them like to be told what to do. Even more, they like other people being told what to do.

    In addition to being one of the most quotable things you’ve ever written, this also makes a question pop into my head: is your treatment of Power here merely descriptive, a statement of fact about the destiny of hardwired hierarchical apes? Or are there some implicit lessons here for how neoreactionaries should theorize Power if (when?) the current Idea of it–the Cathedral–begins to lose its purchase?

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Nothing remotely that organized! With everyone telling me (persuasively) that neocameralism collapsed into ruins at some point when I wasn’t paying proper attention, I’m just trying to think things through, and — of course — to suck the Outside in high-Vulcan commentariat into helping me with that.

    [Reply]

    Scharlach Reply:

    I’ll have to go back and follow the critiques more carefully. I still think neocameralism has utility, if not in the details at least in the broad vision. Even if you think it has fallen into ruins, I imagine there is valuable rubble, or perhaps even the foundation is still in tact.

    [Reply]

    Posted on April 26th, 2013 at 11:45 am Reply | Quote
  • fotrkd Says:

    Zero Hedge just posted a ‘nobody really believes, but they’re waiting for somebody else to do something about it’ piece. It actually reminded me of a George Monbiot guardian article calling for citizens to rise up and unite, which all put together made me think of Hitler and my school history lessons. America with its unique relationship with communism may be a special case, but I do remember being told that the fear of communism was a significant factor in terms of boosting support for national socialism. On that logic isn’t the popular support and anger of the left a more accurate indicator of where we are in terms of ‘belief’?

    [Reply]

    Posted on April 26th, 2013 at 10:44 pm Reply | Quote
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