Saturday, January 1, 2011

Collectivity and Subjection (On Volunary Servitude)

I can't think of a better way to begin the new year than with a long discussion about the concept of 'voluntary servitude.'

           Early in his text, A Theological Political Treatise, Spinoza posits the following problem, “But if, in despotic statecraft, the supreme and essential mystery be to hoodwink the subjects, and to mask the fear, which keeps them down, with the specious garb of religion, so that men may fight as bravely for slavery as for safety, and count it not shame but highest honor to risk their lives for the vainglory of a tyrant…”[1]  This formulation points us to a very specific problem within political philosophy, the question of voluntary servitude.  This question is certainly not a new one, and it is a question that has such broad implications that it threatens to overwhelm the confines of the space allowed.  In an attempt to limit the question, I will confine my inquiry into a limited element of the question.  So in this sense, I am interested in following the question of the formation of a community based on this form of servitude to a leader or a tyrant. 
            Perhaps as an entrance to this question, we should begin with a remark by Jean Rousseau in his text, The Social Contract,
            “There will always be a difference between subduing a multitude and ruling a society.  If one man successively enslaved many separate individuals, no matter how numerous, he and they would never bear the aspect of anything but a master and his slaves, not at all that of a people and their ruler; an aggregation, perhaps, but certainly not an association, for they would neither have a common good nor be a body politic.  Even if such a man were to enslave half the world, he would remain a private individual, and his interest, always at variance with that of the others, would never be more than a personal interest.  When he died, the empire he left would be scattered for the lack of any bond of union, even as an oak crumbles and falls into a heap of ashes when fire has consumed it.”[2]
            Rousseau’s comments are certainly vague and allow a multiplicity of interpretations.  On one hand it could be read in manner that would suggest that ‘a body politic’ could not be formed under the conditions of tyranny. Certainly this reading would resonate with the attempt that Rousseau makes to find the original contract.  But there is another reading that is possible, one that is more resonant with the reading of the condition of voluntary servitude that I am interested in.  Within Rousseau’s work, we are told that man is born free, and yet he lives in slavery.  At the same time, we are told that the ability to enslave a society can’t be connected to individual relationships, because if that were the case, the structure that would be extraordinarily fragile, if it could even be called a structure at all.  So we must find a reason for this condition of slavery amongst the social structures of men. 
            We find ourselves at the heart of the matter, what is this social body that is created that requires a leader or even a tyrant?  I will look at this question from a multiplicity of times and places, keeping a thread running through with the metaphor of the society acting as a sort of body.  We enter this conversation initially through the lens of a number of critiques of tyrannicide.  These critiques point to a society that is structured in tyranny, rather than that structure being placed upon it.  We will begin by looking at some of the comments that Etienne de la Boetie and Louis Althusser make on the structure of such a society.  We will then move into a discussion of the libidinal economy of such a society through a discussion of Sigmund Freud and Gustav Le Bon. It will end in some critiques of the models presented by Freud and Le Bon through some readings of Clastres and Guattari and Deleuze.
            The question of tyrannicide is key to understanding this question in its relationship with the condition of voluntary servitude.  The question has be formulated in a number of different manners over the years, beginning with the question of regicide, moving into questions around a politic of “the propaganda of the deed” on the part of anarchists, to recent discussions of Q’uranic verse in the advisability of removing bad leaders on the part of political Islamic militants.  The question is not a simple one, and has its own history, but for our purposes, the question that we want to ask surrounds the nature of political power.  The most traditional conservative response to the idea of regicide is that it becomes a cyclical act, the tyrant is overthrown only to be replaced by another tyrant.  We can see a classic formulation of this on the part of Gustave Le Bon in his book, The Crowd,
            “A crowd is always ready to revolt against a feeble and to bow down servilely before a strong authority.  Should the strength of an authority be intermittent, the crowd, always obedient to its extreme sentiments, passes alternately from anarchy to servitude, and from servitude to anarchy.”[3]
             In Le Bon’s formulation, the rebellious nature of the crowd only serves to show the nature of its conservatism.  The leader is overthrown in order to discover yet another leader, one that can serve to fulfill its desires to obey.  Revolution shifts from a desire to produce a new and radical form of freedom to the desire to produce new and more complete forms of subjection.  It only becomes logical that the revolt will produce yet another tyrant, one more brutal than before, because that is precisely what the crowd desires.  It did not overthrow the tyrant out of a desire to be freed, but because the tyrant was insufficiently tyrannical.  The process can become cyclical as the crowd moves from one unsatisfying master to another.
            We find this oddly cyclical structure later in the book,
            “In the course of it we see the crowd at first monarchical become very revolutionary, then very imperialist, and again very monarchical.  In the matter of religion it gravitates in the same lapse of time from Catholicism to atheism, then towards deism, and then returns to the most pronounced forms of Catholicism.  These changes take place not only amongst the masses, but also amongst those who direct them.  We observe with astonishment the prominent men of the Convention, the sworn enemies of kings, men who would have neither gods nor masters, become the humble servants of Napoleon, and afterwards, under Louis XVIII, piously carry candles in religious processions.”[4]
            For a man of Le Bon’s conservative tendencies, there should be something oddly comforting in this revelation, but the term ‘conservative’ seems to be a bit deceptive when it comes to Le Bon’s notion of the crowd.  The crowd, rather than indicating a form of conservatism, indicates a form of regression or barbarism.  “Crowds are only powerful for destruction.  Their rule is always tantamount to a barbarian stage.”[5] This ‘barbarism’ had previously been placed under check by the few, who held onto their individuality.  “Civilizations as yet have been created by a small intellectual aristocracy, never by crowds.”[6]  Moments of civilization are created by the few keeping this profoundly destructive and leveling structure of the crowd under check.  But Le Bon sees the checks and balances to this destructive nihilistic power on the wane; increasingly the crowd will define the state of politics.
            We find a profound contradiction within Le Bon’s work.  On one hand, he wants to argue that the evolution of man occurs within the silent realm of race.  He goes as far as to argue, “The true historical upheavals are not those which astonish us by their grandeur and violence.  The only important changes whence the renewal of civilizations results, affect ideas, conceptions and beliefs.  The reason these great events are so rare is that there is nothing so stable in a race as the inherited groundwork of its thoughts.”[7]  At the same time, he needs to confront the fact that the crowd, the masses, is increasingly defining the political stage.  We can find this in both the Boulangist movement that he describes, as well as the burgeoning socialist movement which he is so afraid of.’
            Ultimately we find that the interesting formulations that Le Bon presents in his critique of a politic of regicide based on fairly flimsy terms.  It comes down to a reading of the nature of the Anglo-Saxon races more sensible nature as opposed to the fickle Latin races.  But at the same time, there is something to hold onto within this logic.  For all of its problems, it still recognizes the fact that the tyrannical leader is to an extent produced through the libidinal desires of the crowd.  To merely remove such a person would not get rid of those structures.
            To push forwards the implications on this injunction of regicide or tyrannicide, we need to look elsewhere, away from the mystifying factors of race.  Philosopher Benedict Spinoza becomes an interesting alternative on this question.  Initially, one would expect something quite different of Spinoza when it comes to such a question, particularly when you consider his definition of the ideal government.
            “A body politic of this kind is called a Democracy, which may be defined as a society which wields all its power as a whole.  The sovereign power is not restrained by any laws, but everyone is bound to obey it in all things; such is the state of things implied when men either tacitly or expressly handed over to it all their power of self-defense, or in other words, all their right.”[8]
           In a manner that will be echoed in the most radical elements of Rousseau’s The Social Contract, Spinoza sees the ideal form of government defined by the most radical form of democracy possible.  This places Spinoza distinctly outside of the framework of Le Bon, who conceives of the best forms of government as formed by the few rather than the many.  Spinoza instead imagines a form of governance that will contain and be produced by all.  The question then remains, what to do with the constituted power structure that remains in place?
            Within this framework, Spinoza is against the idea of regicide, and the manner in which he expresses it has some distinct connection with Le Bon’s thought.  As he notes in the Theological-Political Treatise,
            “For the prophets, prepared against every emergency, waited for a new reign, which is always precarious, while the memory of the previous reign remains green.  At these times they could easily pronounce by Divine authority that the king was tyrannical, and could produce a champion of distinguished virtue to vindicate the Divine right, and lawfully claim dominion, or a share in it.  Still, not even so could the prophets effect much.  They could, indeed, remove a tyrant; but there were reasons which prevented them from doing more than setting up, at great cost of civil bloodshed, another tyrant in his stead.  Of discords and civil wars there was no end, for the causes for the violation of Divine right remained always the same, and could only be removed by a complete re-modeling of the state.”[9]
             Again we find the trope of the tyrant being murdered only to be replaced by another tyrant.  If anything, we find it formulated in a much more explicit manner in Spinoza’s work.  The act of removing such a tyrant will only lead to bloodshed, and then the rise of yet another tyrant.  But we don’t find the same inherent ‘durst nach Unterwerfung’ within Spinoza, although he is in his own way, a formulator of a theory of ‘voluntary servitude.’  Instead, Spinoza ends his statement on the inadmissibility of tyrannicide with a curious statement.  He states that the tyrant “could only be removed by a complete remodeling of the state.”
            Pushing further this thought on ‘remodeling,’ Spinoza makes an interesting and provocative statement about the problems of a model of transformation dependent merely on the removal of the head of power in his description of the failures of the Dutch republic.  He notes,
            But if anyone retorts, that the dominion of the Dutch has not long endured without a count or one to fill his place, let him have this reply, that the Dutch thought, that to maintain their liberty it was enough to abandon their count, and to behead the body of their dominion, but never thought of remolding it, and left its limbs, just as they had been first constituted, so that the country of Holland has remained without a count, like a headless body, and the actual domain has lasted on without the name.  And so it is no wonder that most of its subjects have not know, with whom the authority of the dominion lay.”[10]
             This statement moves us in a curious direction.  In reply to an argument that the Dutch republic has not lasted without a count at its head, he points out that the republic’s mistake was to place too much importance of that position to create a free republic.  Spinoza, instead, argues that the continued need for such a position exists within the structure of the society.  The figure of the leader then becomes a part of a particular structure, rather than something that is essential to the functioning of a society.  The figure of the king can neither be understood as the prime guarantor of the continuation of society, nor is the king a merely negative figure resisting the formation of a free and natural republic.  Rather we need to understand him as a part of a complex social body that is historically produced, and to an extent is contingent in that this structure can be remodeled.
We find ourselves in a curious double bind with this statement.  The tyrant or the king goes against the most ideal form of government.  Yet, at the same time, the most obvious form of removing such a person will only lead to another person taking his place after much bloodshed.  The question then becomes, what does it take to enact this ‘remodeling of the state.’  We can see an effort of this occurring within his work, A Political Treatise, which looks at the forms of monarchy and aristocracy.  In both cases, he makes an argument that the preservation of these forms is dependent on the expansion of popular power within them.  A short way of expressing this could be formulated in the following manner.  Both Le Bon and Spinoza are interested in a system of checks and balances, but the reasons for those structures are opposing.  Le Bon wants such a system in order to stifle the desires and actions of the many, while Spinoza proposes this for the few.
            Still another provocatively democratic argument can be made out of the failure of the figure of the prophet to bring an end to tyranny.  As Spinoza points out, the prophet could only remove the figure of a tyrant, which would only lead to the rising of another tyrant.  The limitation could be found in the continuation of a particular structure of power, rather than a condemnation of deposing such figures.  What the prophet lacks could possibly be made up by something else.  Ultimately, its seems that the compensating factor needs to be a form of democratic power.  When discussing the failure of the Dutch republic, he also notes, “so the sudden overthrow of the said republic has not arisen from a useless waste of time in debates, but from the misformed state of the said dominion and the fewness of its rulers.”[11]
            Much can be said of the fears and doubts that Spinoza feels about this democratic body of the multitude.  His primary works were produced in an atmosphere where popular power was defined by the torture and murder of the Staatholders of the republic, the de Witt brothers.  It should be noted that he went as far as to suggest that they should not read his earlier book, A Theological-Political Treatise, on the premise that they wouldn’t understand it.  Still, the injunction against regicide or tyrannicide seems to go against the idea of a particular form of political action, on that would be later defined by the figures of the Jacobins and Blanquists, rather than a denial of the possibility of transformation itself.
            There has been a cynical interpretation of Spinoza that I have heard.  The interpretation is as follows, that Spinoza, in effect, argues that all revolutions are illegitimate until they succeed.  There is, no doubt, an element of this form of Machiavellian shrewdness and cynicism contained within his work.  But perhaps there is another way of reading his statement in relationship to regicide.  To think through that, I would like to turn to another thinker of the time, Etienne de la Boetie.  There occurs a very curious moment in his work, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude.  In discussing the return of a state of freedom, he makes the following statement,
From all these indignities, such as the very beast of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free.  Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed.  I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces?”[12]
In a provocatively simple statement, la Boetie begins to give concrete meaning to Spinoza’s statement concerning the ‘remodeling’ of the state.  The figure of the tyrant does not need to be murdered in order to end tyranny; rather the structures of society that he rests upon must be changed.  This transformation could never occur with a simple Blanquist conspiracy.  Instead it needs to occur from below.
La Boetie phrases this in the simplest manner possible as to make it seem as if this act could be based on but it is obviously far from it.  In order to start to ask such a question we need to move into a discussion of what has only been eluded to, what is the nature of the society that requires such structures of dominance?  This question is not a simple one.  We cannot be content with the notion that tyranny is sustainable merely through the repressive power of the head of state.  Instead, we need to look at the structures that sustain it.  We need to ask this question both institutionally and libidinally.
To begin an examination of the institutional process of creating such a society, it is best to continue looking at the work of la Boetie.  In looking at the formation of such a society, he points to the fact that it operates on a particular model.
This does not seem credible on first thought, but it is nonetheless true that there are only four or five who maintain the dictator, four or five who keep the country in bondage with him.  Five or six have always had access to his ear, and have either gone to him of their own accord, or else have been summoned by him, to be accomplices in his cruelties, companions in his pleasures, panders to his lusts, and sharers in his plunders.  These six manage their chief so successfully that he comes to be held accountable not only for his own misdeeds but even for theirs.  The six have six hundred who profit under them, and with the six hundred they do what they have accomplished with their tyrant.  The six hundred maintain under them six thousand, whom they promote in rank, upon whom they confer the government of provinces or the direction of finances, in order that they may serve as instruments of avarice and cruelty, executing orders at the proper time and working such havoc all around that they could not last except under the shadow of the six hundred, nor be exempt from law and punishment except through their influence….  And whoever is pleased to unwind the skein will observe that not the six thousand but a hundred thousand, and even millions, cling to the tyrant by this cord to which they are tied.”[13]
           We find a society that is built on a series of long chains of hierarchical relationships, each piece receiving certain benefits and the ability to command the link below it.  Through this relationship, larger and larger groups of people are made accomplices of the tyrant by means of bribery.  “Thus the despot subdues his subjects, some of them by means of others, and thus is he protected by those from whom, if they were decent men, he would have to guard himself; just as, in order to split wood, on has to use a wedge of the wood itself.”[14]
            We can find an excellent example of this system with the German Gauleiter system during the Third Reich.  The party system worked on a chain of command that was very similar to what la Boetie described.  Each Gauleiter would be in command of a district, a city etc. and would benefit from the criminal extraction from that city.  At the same time, the system encouraged savage competition and mistrust amongst its participants.  This was put in place in order to discourage any formation of alliances that could possibly topple the leadership.  We find a system that is built upon mutual implication rather than friendship.  We can see how la Boetie pushes this thought further.
“The fact is that the tyrant is never truly loved, nor does he love.  Friendship is a sacred word, a holy thing; it is never developed except between persons of character, and never takes root except through mutual respect; it flourishes not so much by kindness as by sincerity.  What makes one friend sure of another is the knowledge of his integrity: as guarantees he has his friend’s fine nature, his honor, and his constancy.  There can be no friendship where there is cruelty, where there is injustice.  And in places where the wicked gather there is conspiracy only, not companionship: these have no affection for one another; fear alone holds them together; they are not friends; they are merely accomplices.”[15]
 There is an interesting parallel here with a comment of Le Bon’s.  In investigating “The Leaders of Crowds and their Means of Persuasion, he comments, “For the crowd to admire, it must be kept at a distance.”  For this structure of prestige and fear to continue to exist within a society, the egalitarian bonds of friendship must be kept at bay.  In this fact, there is something very fragile about this structure of society.  It is constantly under threat of conspiracy and the means for the formation of that conspiracy must be constantly crushed.  In effect, this form of societal structure, which can be linked with the concept of charismatic leadership is limited and doesn’t lead to long term sustainable structures in and of itself.  In effect, Rousseau’s comment, “when he died, the empire he left would be scattered for the lack of any bond of union, even as an oak crumbles and falls into a heap of ashes when fire has consumed it” would hold to be true.
So we cannot limit ourselves to a question of charismatic power in order to understand how the world can be held in slavery.  To push this conversation further, we can also begin to look at the ways that Louis Althusser sees such a society being created through ideology.  In doing so we risk appearing to go slightly afield, because, for Althusser, the figure of the king has been replace with the figure of Capital, and class domination.  Althusser wants to get out of the terms of debate that have traditionally defined the opposition to this structure; this includes concepts such a ‘false consciousness’ which imply that it is a distortion of a true human nature.  Instead, he places a whole series of institutions, “Ideological State Apparatuses”, alongside the more traditionally understood, “Repressive State Apparatuses” in reproducing the nature of the dominant society.  The Ideological State Apparatuses produce a system where “the vast majority of (good) subjects work all right ‘all by themselves’, i.e. by ideology.”[16]  This works through a series of structure ranging from schools to churches to trade unions.
We find ourselves in a structure that is much more powerful, and that is capable of naturalizing the subjection of its subjects to a far greater degree.  This power comes through its process of naturalization.  It is not just that there is a society based within dominance and exploitation, but that it also presents those structures as eternal, and good.  This is produced through the process of interpellation, or as Althusser expresses it, “all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects, by the functioning of the category of the subject.”[17]  There is never a point where one is out of such a structure, as that it operates on a particular form of self-recognition.  It is itself a product of the class struggle, and it is in constant flux due to that struggle, but it views itself.  When we eventually come to the question of epistemology, we will find that it is dependent on a particularly limiting form of epistemology.
            We find ourselves in a society that is not surprisingly built upon complex structures of dominance and the naturalization of that dominance.  We also are pointed to the fact that these structures are dependent on a certain formation of the subject, a willing subject that recognizes and acts in accordance to them.  In order to understand such a subject, we need to move into a discussion of the libidinal bonds that hold him within it.  In order to do this we will move into a discussion of the ways that this is discussed by Gustave Le Bon and Sigmund Freud.
            Returning to Le Bon means dropping much of the complexity of the discussion at hand.  For Le Bon, this hypnotic power that comes over crowds is a very simple thing.  The crowds that he examines are defined by their spontaneous and temporary nature.  This even holds true of the manner in which he examines institutions such as parliament and the creation of popular political movements.  It is almost completely defined in terms of regression to a primitive state, linked with the status of women and children.  Ultimately, this nihilistic power seems to come under the sign of a form of racial unconscious, which does very little to understand the complexities of modern society.
            I don’t mean to dismiss Le Bon completely, although his conception of the unconscious is extremely problematic, it nonetheless is crucial to the discussion of the relation of a crowd to a leader,
            Crowds, doubtless, are always unconscious, but this very unconsciousness is perhaps one of the secrets of their strength.  In the natural world beings exclusively governed by instinct accomplish acts whose marvelous complexity astounds us.  Reason is an attribute of humanity of too recent date and still to imperfect to reveal to us the laws of the unconscious and still more to take its place.  The part played by the unconscious in all our acts is immense, and that played by reason very small.  The unconscious acts like a force still unknown.”[18]
 Like Le Bon, Freud is extraordinarily interested in examining the unconscious nature of the bonds of various groups of individuals.  But unlike Le Bon, Freud understands the unconscious on a libidinal basis, although ultimately the two will concur on a certain form of regression that takes place in the formation of the group or the mass.  For Freud, the formation of this group process is founded upon the structure of identification.
“But after the preceding discussions we are quite in a position to give the formula for the libidinal constitution of groups, or at least of such groups as we have hitherto considered—namely those that have a leader and have not been able by means of too much ‘organization’ to acquire secondarily the characteristics of an individual.  A primary group of this kind is a number of individuals who have put one and the same object in the place of their ego ideal and have consequently identified themselves with one another in their ego.”[19]
The groups that Freud is interested in examining are ones that provide important elements for the structuring the psyche of its subjects.  By doing this, he accomplishes two things, first he deconstructs the distinction between an individual analytical framework produced in the family, and at the same time an analytical framework for groups, produced elsewhere.  Instead, the formations are much slippier than that.  At the same time, there is mechanism for understanding the powerful forces of subjection contained in such groups.  The group is built upon the powerful dimension of the figure of the one.  A sort of empty figure that is driven by the groups desires.  There is an institutional analysis of this sort of social structuring, and then a much more problematic formulation based upon anthropology.
In turning to the libidinal structures of a society built upon the notion of voluntary servitude, there is a productive shift in the groups examined from Le Bon to Freud.  Freud looks at the questions that Le Bon asks, but he also looks for group formation in its more long lasting formulations.  He goes as far as to make the statement.  “And, in complete opposition to the usual practice, we shall not choose a relatively simple group formation as our point of departure, but shall begin with highly organized, lasting and artificial groups.”[20]  We find Freud willing to do something that Le Bon clearly is not willing to do, which is to recognize modern group formation has its roots in powerful bureaucratic structure, not in simple groups that somehow add up to those institutions.  He makes the following argument in favor of looking at such groups in his discussion of group formation.
He takes on two organizations as his ideal types of the artificial organization, the army and the church.  Each is built on structures of leadership that encourage the modes of identification that are discussed above, although their structures are quite different.  “It is to be noticed that in these two artificial groups each individual is bound by libidinal ties on the one hand to the leader (Christ, the Commander-in-Chief) and on the other hand to the members of the group.”[21]  The army type is based on a hierarchical structure that in many ways replicates the chains of association that la Boetie discusses in his understanding of a society built on tyranny.  Freud puts this structure of association in much less cynical terms.  “The army differs structurally from the Church in being built up of a series of such groups.  Every captain is, as it were, the Commander-in-Chief and father of his company, and so is every non-commissioned officer of his section.”[22]  It also depends on a certain charismatic mode of leadership.
The ‘Church’ group operates in a different manner.  Freud defines it in the following terms, “It is true that a similar hierarchy has been constructed in the Church but it does not play the same part it in economically; for more knowledge and care about individuals my be attributed to Christ than to a human Commander-in-Chief.”[23]  The libidinal economy operates on a firm egalitarian ground.  Its mode of identification is based in the notion of equality and equivalence in the love of Christ.  There is also another difference in the two structures, where the leadership in the army can be found in a charismatic formulation; the leadership in the Church is ultimately based on an idea, the concept of Christ.
Obviously, these two organizations are idealized types, and in the same way that Althusser notes that Ideological State Apparatuses have repressive structures within them and vice versa, the Church type and the army type are mutually implicated.  But more significantly, Freud has presented an understanding of the ways that subjects are created within structures of modern society.  He has also shown that the forms of pathology that those structures produce, panic in the army and persecution in the Church are in some sense immanent to them.  They both produce those effects, and are designed to repress them.  If we were to stop here, mode of subjection, even tyrannical forms of this can be understood within the modern forms of institutions that produce them.
At the same time, Freud gets bogged down in the same arguments around regression that obsess Le Bon.  Like Le Bon, Freud is interested in examining the powerful unconscious bonds that keep group formations together, and like Le Bon he wants to do this in critical and non-judgmental way, but both ultimately recoil from the powerful libidinal structures of groups.  This puts them in distinct contrast to Spinoza, who recognizes them without such dominating fear.  This fear comes out somehow in the belief in a form of ‘regression’ that is tied to the libidinal elements of the formation of the group.  Freud insists that there is something essentially primitive about the ties that make up the group formation as we can see in the following formulation.
“The uncanny and coercive characteristics of group formations, which are shown in the phenomena of suggestion that accompany them, may therefore with justice be traced back to the fact of their origin from the primal horde.  The leader of the group is still the dreaded primal father; the group still wishes to be governed by unrestricted force [Gewalt]; it has an extreme passion for authority; in Le Bon’s phrase, it has a thirst for obedience [den Durst nach Unterwerfung].  The primal father is the group ideal.  Hypnosis has a good claim for being described as a group of two.  There remains as a definition of suggestion: a conviction which is not based upon perception and reasoning but upon an erotic tie.”[24]
 The pathological element that is contained in the group, and that is even immanent to it can be tied to the ancient past.  The desire for subjection comes from this hereditary imperative that is linked to a urgroup of humanity, the primal horde.  A father with unrestricted force ruled this horde.  It was ultimately destroyed by a band of brothers, but they in turn incorporated its formation into themselves as penitence for the murder of the father.  Freud argues that this repressed mythic structure can be found in the stories and myths of people in repressed form.
Ignoring the obvious empirical problems with this formulation, it also plays into the distinctively modern trope of the search for origins.  I think that we need to take up the assessment of Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The “unshakable confidence in the possibility of world domination,” which Freud anachronistically ascribes to magic, corresponds to a realistic world domination only in terms of a more skilled science.”[25]  Freud himself has made a powerful displacement of the instrumentalist drive of domination, reading it on the past, rather then in the present.  In what sense, can we understand the forms of subjection that define our society in terms other than modern?  We need to finally take up this topic of the primitive within an understanding of the production of tyranny and subjection.
In doing this, we need to look at the fascinating, but problematic work of anthropologist Pierre Clastres.  Clastres essential argument is that we need to understand the formation of primitive societies as societies against the state.  As he says explicitly, these societies are not under the same bonds of voluntary servitude that define modern societies.  They avoid this through a whole series of mechanisms that ultimately depend on warfare.  The leader in such a society plays an entirely different role than the ones discussed above.  Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari have an excellent description of the mechanisms that Clastres describes.
 “Clastres describes the situation of the chief, who has no instituted weapon other than his prestige, no other means of persuasion, no other rule than his sense of the group’s desires.  The chief is more like a leader or a star than a man of power and is always in danger of being disavowed, abandoned by his people.”[26]

Obviously, there is a commonality within the formulations.  The leader is produced through the libidinal desires of the group, and must fulfill those desires to continue, but the instability of the formulation gives much more agency to those who follow.  It is ultimately a structure of prestige without institutional backing.  At the same time, the figure of the chief is crucial to the formation of the group.  As Clastres notes,
“Indian cultures are cultures anxious to reject a power that fascinates them: the affluence of the chief is the group’s daydream.  And it is clearly for the purpose of expressing both the culture’s concern for itself and the dream it has of transcending itself, that power, paradoxical by its nature, is venerated in its impotence: this is the Indian chief, a metaphor for the tribe, the imago of its myth.”[27]
 The figure of the chief acts as a libidinal bond for the tribe.  He is, in Clastres view, “the imago of its myth.”  But that structure is placed within powerful restraints, to the point where the chief is, in a sense, a political prisoner of the tribe.  In no sense do we find the sort of ‘den Durst nach der Unterwerfung’ that Freud insists that we should find here.  The leader is still here but the ways that he is inscribed in the social body is distinctly different. 
Obviously, there is an element of Clastres’ reading that is very romantic, that is based in a certain understanding of a ‘state of nature’ that is very problematic, but his assessment that the ‘primitive’ cannot be understood in terms of Freud’s subjection seems to be true.  Another way of approaching this issue can be found in Mahmood Mamdani’s Citizen and Subject.  Mamdani discusses the ways in which colonial officials rewrote the notions of the ‘customary’ within colonial rule in Africa.  He points out that the officials removed the various inhibitory features of such structures in regards to the authority of the leader. It also ignored the multiplicity of structures put in place.  Instead it worked on a single model.  “That model was monarchical, patriarchal, and authoritarian.  It presumed a king at the center of every polity, a chief on every piece of administrative ground, and a patriarch in every homestead or kraal.  Whether in the homestead, the village, or the kingdom, authority was considered an attribute of a personal despotism.”[28]
The origins of the sort of despotic rule that Freud is discussing can in general be found instead in the colonialist and modernist formations of power.  It would be more proper to say that the modes subjection that he pursues are produced through the instrumental use on the part of colonialism of the ‘tribe’ rather than something that exists in the tribe itself.  Obviously, the possibilities of this formation already exist in the tribe itself, otherwise the transformation could not occur, but this transformation needs to be understood within its modern parameters, not to some sort of throwback to ‘barbarism.’
 But in pursuing this question, we need to ask if the libidinal bond to a leader is necessarily tied up in a formation of a hierarchical and dictatorial state?  What if in the end, there is another way of approaching the creation of a social body that operates with a leader in a completely different fashion?  I want to turn to another example given in Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, one that focuses on the structure of youth street gangs.
“The importance of this thesis is first of all to draw attention to collective mechanisms of inhibition.  These mechanisms may be subtle, and function as micromechanisms.  This is easily seen in certain band or pack phenomena.  For example, in the case of gangs of street children in Bogota, Jacques Meunier cites three ways in which the leader is prevented from acquiring stable power: the members of the band meet and undertake their theft activity in common, with members of the band sharing of the look,  but they disperse to eat or sleep separately; also, and especially, each member of the band is paired off with one, two or three other members, so if he has a disagreement with the leader, he will not leave alone but will take along his allies, whose combined departure will threaten to break up the entire gang; finally, there is a diffuse age limit, and at about fifteen a member is induced to quit the gang.”[29]

Deleuze and Guattari avoid the problems that continually plague Clastres.  They look for the possibilities of non-hierarchical organizations in a multiplicity of locations rather than in a form of idealized past.  The leader is present within the formulation that they discuss above, but it is formed in a way that allows for a complex dynamic of contestation and transformation.  We need to think about the dynamics that can be produced and that are produced within our society that allow for such a transformation to take place.  To turn back to Spinoza briefly, this is predicated on transforming and ‘remodeling’ the state.
The leader in and of itself becomes a blind alley.  As long as the libidinal economy of our society demands such an individual, we will continually produce dictator after dictator.  The function of the tyrannical leader is, in effect, a result of the uneven structures of our society.  This question and the questions of the modes of knowledge that are needed to produce such a structure still need to be asked.  However, the answers will be found the in the social constructions of our society, and not in the charisma of a leader.
Ironically, but not surprisingly, I end my comment on voluntary servitude with the possibilities of resistance to its domination.  We need to remember this to avoid mystifying voluntary servitude into a totalitarian mode of power.  The continual possibility of such a transformation is noted by Spinoza,
“I thence infer that rulers possess rights only limited by their power, that they are the sole guardians of justice and liberty, and that their subjects should act in all things as they dictate: nevertheless, since no one can so utterly abdicate his own power of self-defense as to cease to be a man, I conclude that no one can be deprived of his natural rights absolutely, but that subjects either by tacit agreement, or by social contract, retain a certain number, which cannot be take from them without great danger to the state.”[30]

[1] Benedict de Spinoza, A Theological-Political Treatise and A Political Treatise, trans. R.H.M Elwes (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1951) 5.
[2] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, trans. Maurice Cranston (London: Penguin Books, 1968), 58-59.
[3]Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, trans. unknown (New York: The Viking Press, 1960), 55.
[4]Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, trans. unknown (New York: The Viking Press, 1960), 148
[5] Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, trans. unknown (New York: The Viking Press, 1960), 18
[6] Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, trans. unknown (New York: The Viking Press, 1960), 18
[7] Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, trans. unknown (New York: The Viking Press, 1960), 13
[8] Benedict de Spinoza, A Theological-Political Treatise and A Political Treatise, trans. R.H.M Elwes (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1951), 205.
[9] Benedict de Spinoza, A Theological-Political Treatise and A Political Treatise, trans. R.H.M Elwes (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1951), 236
[10]Benedict de Spinoza, A Theological-Political Treatise and A Political Treatise, trans. R.H.M Elwes (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1951), 376
[11] Spin Benedict de Spinoza, A Theological-Political Treatise and A Political Treatise, trans. R.H.M Elwes (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1951), 376.
[12]Etienne de La Boetie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, trans. Harry Kurz (London: Black Rose Books, 1997), 52-53
[13] Etienne de La Boetie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, trans. Harry Kurz (London: Black Rose Books, 1997), 78.
[14] Etienne de La Boetie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, trans. Harry Kurz (London: Black Rose Books, 1997), 79.
[15] Etienne de La Boetie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, trans. Harry Kurz (London: Black Rose Books, 1997), 83.
[16] Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), 181.
[17] Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), 173.
[18] Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, trans. unknown (New York: The Viking Press, 1960), 7.
[19]Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Ed. and Trans. James Strachey (London:  W.W. Norton and Company, 1959), 61.
[20] Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Ed. and Trans. James Strachey (London:  W.W. Norton and Company, 1959), 32.
[21] Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Ed. and Trans. James Strachey (London:  W.W. Norton and Company, 1959). 35.
[22] Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Ed. and Trans. James Strachey (London:  W.W. Norton and Company, 1959), 34.
[23] Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Ed. and Trans. James Strachey (London:  W.W. Norton and Company, 1959), 34
[24] Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Ed. and Trans. James Strachey (London:  W.W. Norton and Company, 1959), 76-77
[25] Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (New York: Continuum, 1999), 11.
[26] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 357.
[27] Pierre Clastres, Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Zone Books, 1989), 47.
[28] Mahmood Mamdani, Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996), 39.
[29] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 358.
[30] Benedict de Spinoza, A Theological-Political Treatise and A Political Treatise, trans. R.H.M Elwes (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1951), 10.

No comments:

Post a Comment