Category Archives: Ethics

Alt Left: Civil War? Bring It On!

Well, low level civil war in the present form of pre-civil war or civil strife anyway is just fine. It’s not ok to promote anything beyond that right now though.

Here.

A new article in Salon says that Trump has set off a civil war in America. As a supporter of the very similar Revolutionary movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s, which also erupted into a near civil war, the Alt Left supports this low- level civil war (civil strife) completely. Right now what is going on is like a pre-civil war or what is often referred to as civil strife. The civil war will pretty much only start if and when people start killing each other, and that’s not happening…yet. Hopefully it will not come to that because not only will the enemy start dying but we will too. That means you, me, our friends and loved ones. It’s generally better if civil strife does not move to a shooting civil war level barring extreme circumstances.

The only thing that is happening now is street fights between the Left and Right, similar to the Left vs. Right street thugs fighting in the streets in Germany in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It also similar to civil strife that goes on in Latin America. Particularly in Chile, left vs. right street fighting is very common. The Right is fascist and supports Pinochet. The Left is almost Communist or socialist and supports Salvador Allende and his followers. A woman from Allende’s own party is now governing the country. The Left regularly stages what can only be called pro-Allende demos, which are regularly raided by fascists who support Pinochet. Similarly, fascists regularly stage what are more or less pro-Pinochet demos which are regularly invaded by leftists. Street fighting between the two is very common.

People do not realize it but rioting is very common in Latin America. Venezuela had regular riots, often led by university students, even before Chavez came to office. After Chavez came in, the Opposition staged regular riots and demos in their neighborhoods. After a while, the Chavista police just sat back and let the Opposition trash their neighborhoods. The Chavista police must have had one of the most hands-off approaches to rioters in the world.

In Chile once again, high school students are now staging regular demos which typically turn into riots. This is because in this wealthy country, the schools are literally falling apart. These riots have been happening about once every three weeks now. The Chilean Indians are a much discriminated against population and popular racism against Indians is at a very high level.

I had a friend in Chile whose father worked for Allende and considered himself a progressive guy. He was majoring in sociology and he planned to go to the Indian regions to do fieldwork. However, this anti-Indian racism was off the charts from an American point of view. He also had wildly classist views which would be shocking in the US. Obviously any country afflicted with crazy high levels of classism and racism along with some of the worst wealth inequality on Earth is a pretty shitty place. In a shitty country, you might as well demonstrate and riot all the time because that is exactly what shitty countries deserve. If they ever clean up their act and turn into decent countries, I think the rioters in general should knock it off.

Rioting should only be for protesting truly noxious systems, not, for instance, against Swedish social democracy. It’s a very civilized and decent system and there’s nothing to riot about. But rightwing shitholes can have all the riots in the world for all I care. They asked for it by being rightwing shitholes. If they don’t want riots all the time, all they have to do is create a decent country.

Needless to say, the Chilean Indians riot on a very frequent basis. And Indian riot is almost banal down there. That’s how common it is.

I was very close to the politics of Peru for a while there and I got regular updates of the situation on the ground. Even leaving aside the fact that there was an armed and very deadly insurgency going on, besides that, on the Left in general (which did not necessarily support the insurgency at all) there were regular strikes and demonstrations.

A lot of the strikes were by people like teachers and physicians. Teachers’ unions are very militant in Latin America, they go on strike all the time, have regular demonstrations and they even riot quite a bit. Schoolteachers rioting seems odd in a US context but down there, it’s just normal. There are also almost constant demonstrations against mining and really for all manner of leftwing causes. It’s quite common for these to turn into riots. Even setting aside the insurgency, Peru struck me as a place where leftwing riots were quite common.

I don’t know much about civil strife in the rest of the continent. I saw a recent video of young people mostly in their late teens to mid twenties who appeared to be actually demonstrating in favor of the FARC guerrillas and against death squad activity directed at civilian supporters of the guerrilla. I was surprised that the FARC had that much support. The demonstration was quite violent to say the least.

I believe demonstrations are very common in Brazil and if I am not mistaken, they regularly become riots also.

This low level civil war or civil strife is a good thing in the US right now. Bottom line is we deserve it. We are turning into a true rightwing shithole along Latin American lines, and shitty countries deserve all the riots that rioters can unleash against them. Don’t like the rioting? Fine, put in a halfway decent government. Unless and until that happens, I say let the riots go on.

All of the following are important:

  • Calling or writing to your Congresspeople.
  • Attending town hall meetings of Congresspeople.
  • New laws at the state level
  • Anti-Trump lawsuits by states
  • Anti=Trump lawsuits by individuals and aggrived parties, often being taken by the ACLU right now.
  • Appearances by Congresspeople at areas of controversy, such as Congresspeople who tried to get travelers released from airports
  • Journalists writing highly critical and rabble rousing articles
  • Openly defiant and angry press organs, even such staid venues as the New York Times. There’s nothing with the NYT calling Trump a liar on the front page.
  • Letters to the editor
  • Signing petitions
  • Refusing service to Trump supporters in the workplace
  • Ending as many friendships with Trump supporters as you can handle
  • Various organizations leading peaceful demonstrations of all sorts such as the women’s march. Those demos can get pretty loud and rowdy, but without overt violence, they are still peaceful
  • Blocking highways
  • Walkout strikes
  • Wildcat strikes
  • Boycotts
  • Shopping strikes

And also nonpeaceful protest would seem to be in order. If we are truly turning into a nightmarish Latin American style rightwing shithole, then this country deserves as many riots as rioters can stage. Shitholes deserve nothing less until they clean up their act and turn into decent countries.

Among forms of nonviolent protest:

  • Looting of noxious corporate venues, especially window smashing.
  • Bonfires
  • Fireworks
  • Smoke bombs
  • Rocks, bricks and police barricades at windows of some venues, the purpose being merely to break windows at the venue.
  • Vandalism, especially of corporate property. Window smashing is just fine.
  • Arson, particularly of corporate property but especially of the property of our class enemies, such as the limousine burnt on January 20.

Violence against people.

  • Generally not recommended at this point.

This is a very tricky area and I am wrestling a lot with this one. In wars, the civilian supporters of the insurgency or state are supposed to be left alone. They seldom are in wars anymore, but they are supposed to be. This is why the fire bombings in Germany and Japan were so wrong. Even if Germans were supporting Nazis, it was not ok to set their cities aflame with the sole purpose of incinerating as many civilians as possible. Something very similar but much worse happened in Japan.

Of course the purpose of the atom bombs was to slaughter as many civilians as possible in order to end a war. The argument is typically raised that it was worth it to murder 300,000 Japanese civilians in a couple of days to end the war and that alternatives would have been more costly. Even with a goal of ending a war and supposedly saving lives by ending a war prematurely, it’s awful hard to justify mass slaughter of civilians, even if they are supporting a noxious regime. Killing thousands of civilians even for this purpose seems wrong, not to mention 10,000’s. Killing 100,000’s of civilians even for some supposedly noble goal gets very hard to justify under virtually any circumstances.

So if civilian supporters even of armed insurgencies and noxious regimes are not to be killed or even harmed for that matter, how is it ok to beat up Trump supporters. Now granted, things are much worse in hot wars. If all Assad’s army and supporters were doing was punching out rebel supporters, I doubt if anyone would care. I doubt if many would be bothered by German patriots clocking Nazi supporters during the war, assuming they could even get away with it. Likewise in Japan. The main argument in all of these cases is that state are actually mass murdering civilian supporters of insurgencies and civilian supporters of enemy states during state to state war. The argument never gets down to the level of if it’s ok to punch out guerrilla supporters or people backing a state in wartime in a state to state war.

Nevertheless, attacks on Trump supporters leave me a bit queasy. It may come down to that at some point, but for now, political violence against Opposition civilians doesn’t rub me the right way. Of course the antifa will do it anyway, we don’t have to stamp our approval on it. And it’s a thin line that separates a right hook from a group beating stomping someone to death. Single punches can turn into fatal beat downs faster than you can think.

For right now, nonpeaceful tactics should be limited to property damage, particularly of noxious corporations. Destroying the property of class enemies such as limousines is certainly acceptable. Even arson is ok against their property and that of noxious corporations, especially if you clear out the civilians just stick to burning stuff, not other people. A lot of limousines deserve to be torched and a lot of banks are asking for it too.

But I am going to butt out of attacks on people of the opposition. And surely, attacks with guns, bombs and whatnot are completely out of line at least at this stage. Now it may come down to a 1970’s revolutionary scenario where as late as 1972, 1,900 bombs went off in the US. That’s six bombs a day. Very few of them killed or even hurt other people as they were often set off late at night or preceded with warnings. Nevertheless, once you step it up to setting off bombs, it’s a whole new ballgame. We aren’t there yet, so such activities are not acceptable at the least.

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Filed under Amerindians, Brazil, Chile, Conservatism, Economics, Education, Ethics, Fascism, Government, History, Journalism, Latin America, Latin American Right, Left, Peru, Philosophy, Political Science, Politics, Race Relations, Race/Ethnicity, Racism, Regional, Republicans, Revolution, Social Problems, Socialism, Sociology, South America, US Politics, USA, Venezuela, War, World War 2

Is It OK to Punch a Trump Supporter at a Political Rally or Gathering?

Discuss.

Jason Y: No offense Robert but you seem to be sympathizing with Trump supporters when before you were praising all acts of rioting and other mayhem directed at Trump. Note, these anti-fas are just playing by your playbook and, of course, it is to be expected cause Trump is so infiltrated with WN’s that it all seems like fair game.

Riots are just fine. I do have some issues when it comes to people getting hurt, and these Trump supporters, let’s face it, they boil down to the definition of innocent civilians. I didn’t like the fire bombings of Germany or Japan either. You can’t kill civilians just for supporting a regime.

Well I have nothing against some property damage, but it does rather bother me to see even these Trumpsters getting beat up or even punched out. I have some real mixed feelings about it. I say they deserve it, but when I see it happens, it bothers me. Also if we see it’s ok to assault them at their gigs and if they show up at ours, they get to come to our demos or see us at their demos and assault us on sight too. I don’t really want to get beat up or even punched. If it’s ok for us to hit them, it’s going to be ok for them to hit us.

I am currently having an ethical dilemma about this stuff. Sure, I say I don’t care about them, but then I see them getting beat up and I want to run over there and shield them to keep them from getting hit anymore. Part of me says it’s ok for them to get clocked once or twice but I definitely do not want to see them get suffer long-term or permanent damage. A little temporary damage might be ok, but I am not sure about that either.

I don’t care if they clock Richard Spencer. If anyone is asking for it, it is him. But I also don’t care if they never hit him again. I disagree with the antifa that guys like Spencer are the problem. I mean Bannon, Pence, Price, De Vos, Sessions, those guys deserve a punch in the face 1,000 times worse than Spencer does. Or worse. They are actually doing some very serious damage and harm to lots of human beings. A lot of people are going to die and a lot more are going to get hurt, and it’s all going to be done by these people.

These supporters are just cheering on the attackers and killers, which I am unsure is such a serious offense.

Compared to those names I listed, what damage is Richard Spencer doing? Shooting off his mouth. If you are going to assault someone, hit someone who is actually doing some sort of concrete damage, not just flapping his gums.

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Filed under Ethics, Left, Philosophy, Politics, Racism, Republicans, US Politics, White Nationalism

Why Should I Care What Happens to My Enemies?

Regarding Trump supporters, Alt Right types going to see Milo talk, etc. getting assaulted by antifas. At first this bothered me a great deal. They struck me as innocent people guilty of little more than thought crimes, saying the wrong things or voting wrong.

But now I have changed my mind. I will not support this sort of thing, advocate it or cheer it on. But I don’t care anymore. I will just say that I don’t care what happens to Trump supporters from now on. Anything that happens to them, good, bad or indifferent, it makes no difference to me. So if they get beat up by antifas, I will just shrug my shoulders and say I don’t care. Why should I care about Trump supporters? Why should I care what happens to them? Why should I be bothered if bad things happen to them?

Honestly, if all 63 million Trump supporters dropped dead tomorrow, I would not even care. Actually I might even cheer. I simply have no human feelings for these people anymore. If you support Trump, you are my enemy, my personal enemy, and you will be treated as such until you come to your senses.

Am I right or wrong for turning somewhat sociopathic like this? Actually I have sort of been this way most of my life, but my heart went soft for a bit there but now it hardening up again in middle age as it should.

Why should we care if Trump supporters get hurt? Give us a reason why we should care about this.

Discuss.

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Filed under Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Republicans, US Politics

Is It Ok to Punch Nazis?

This website answers the important question of whether it is ever ok to punch a Nazi. This is a difficult philosophical question that the world’s top philosophers have been debating for decades now.

That’s a Black Bloc guy who hit him. The Black Bloc was behind most of the violence and destruction at the Inauguration of this Monster. They are anarchists. I do not mind them smashing windows of corporate establishments or ATM’s or trash cans. That’s all ok. And setting the limo on fire was great! Fight the rich! The rich are our class enemies so we must fight them. A limo driver got his hand cut and I am sorry he got hurt. He’s just a regular working guy. A Trump supporter waded into a cops versus Black Bloc battle and a Black Blog guy punched him in the face! Good! All in all, the rioting was really great. We need to be doing this rioting all the time now. Let’s make the country ungovernable.

We now have a dictatorship. Trump stole this election with those damned voting machines. As long as we have a dicatorship and not a democracy, that means that all peaceful roads to power are generally blocked. When  all peaceful roads to power are blocked, there is nothing left to do but to turn to non-peaceful methods. There simply is no other way. I am not advocating killing people, though a lot of these monsters deserve it, especially those involved in vote fraud. That should be a street justice capital offense right there. Surely it is moral to kill or hurt people who are involved in stealing elections.

On the other hand, the way of the gun is not going to work right now. The US military will start enforcing civilian law and the FBI is very good at solving crimes. Sure, some of the enemy will be killed which is fantastic, but a lot of us are going to be arrested too, and some of us may also be killed. When we get arrested, we will usually be convicted and sentenced to long prison sentences. As many of us will be harmed as them. It’s not worth it.

However, rioting, property destruction, etc. is perfectly acceptable for making the country ungovernable. Attacks on Nazis should be ok as long as no weapons are involved. Fisticuffs are fine. Most of them deserve a punch in the face anyway and getting punched usually does not result in death or permanent or long-term damage. About attacks on Trump supporters at rallies, that is a much more difficult question. If they wade into brawls, it may be ok to hit them, but otherwise, I think maybe we should back off.

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Filed under Conspiracies, Corruption, Crime, Ethics, Fascism, Government, Law enforcement, Nazism, Philosophy, Political Science, Politics, Regional, Republicans, US Politics, USA

Narcissistic Personality Disorder In Therapy: A Pointless and Unpleasant Endeavor

Like everyone on Axis 2, the person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder thinks they are fine. Obviously the problem is everybody else. They will just go through their whole life blaming other people. That’s how they ride.

They rarely if ever show up for therapy, and when they do, it is often at the behest of others who are forcing them into therapy because the narcissists is driving these people insane and ruining their lives. Once in therapy, the narcissist plays games, engages in a boatload of manipulation, does no work on themselves because after all there is nothing to be done, and often engages in a lot of ego and narcissistic games with the therapist, including insulting the therapist, thinking he is better than the therapist and telling him so, deciding that the therapist is a lousy therapist, etc.

If you tell them they are narcissists, will generally either reject the diagnosis, ignore it, blow it off with some humorous blustery remark, decide that psychiatry is a pseudoscience, or say, “So what? I like being this way.”

They might take it as an insult, but they usually will not react aggressively. Instead you will see a spark of recognition and alarm in their eyes. The narcissist is not an idiot. Many are highly intelligent and in fact, sadly it goes with the territory. At some level, most if not all narcissists now what is going on. The problems is they don’t care, or they like to be this way.

If you keep reminding the narcissist of what he is, he will stop being flippant about it and start getting aggressive. Expect dirty fighting, devious and crafty manipulation, nasty insults, or walking out of the room. Keep it up, and the narcissist will just end the relationship. The narcissist is not going to sit there and let you call him a narcissist all day. He’s too good for such degrading treatment. If he cannot do that, at some point, he will probably create a nuclear explosion of a fight and try to terrorize you into not bringing up the subject again.

Generally speaking, they are a complete waste of time in the office, therapy with them is often quite unpleasant, and nothing gets done anyway. It’s not uncommon for the therapist to simply fire the narcissist as client, informing him that nothing is getting done. This a relief to the narcissist, as now he has an excuse to quit the degrading therapy. Technically this is client abandonment and an ethics violation, but the decision is always mutual, and nothing was getting done anyway, so why prolong the pointless endeavor?

Theoretically, the narcissist can be cured. Since lions cannot change into tigers, all we can do with personality disorders is turn the bad side of a basic personality type into the good side of that type. The good side of Narcissistic Personality is Confident Personality. These people can be a bit much too, but they are healthy enough that they can function quite well especially in a hyper-competitive capitalist society like ours. The goal of therapy with an NPD is to turn them into a Confident Personality. But good luck with that.

There is so much more to talk about with narcissism and NPD, but let’s leave that for another day.

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Filed under Ethics, Mental Illness, Narcissistic, Personality, Personality Disorders, Psychology, Psychopathology, Psychotherapy

“Hinduism Versus Confucianism: An Analysis and Comparison,” by Dota

Nice essay from Dota, former commenter here who now blogs at Occident Invicta with Bay Area Guy, another former commenter here.

The societies of India and China have been structured along feudal lines for much of recorded history. Despite both societies placing a premium on hierarchy and authoritarianism, their internal motivations and ethical paradigms are widely divergent. The Chinese mind has been shaped by Confucianism, whereas the Indian mind has been shaped by Hinduism.

Let’s begin by analyzing Confucianism.

Confucianism stresses social order and postulates that no society can attain political stability by precluding social stability. Confucianism views society as a massive collection of interdependent networks that are comprised of relationships on the atomic level.

The genius of the Confucian model is that it recognizes the inherently relative nature of power and how power is also a zero-sum resource. Those that possess power do so because others do not. An emperor may possess power over a subject, but that subject isn’t powerless, only merely so in relationship to his sovereign. This same subject may be a teacher and wield power over his students.

To ensure social stability, Confucius ordained that relationships be guided by the principle of ren or benevolence. This is Confucianism’s highest virtue and arguably the philosophy’s overarching universal ethic. A sovereign treats his subjects benevolently by ensuring that they are fed, protected, and generally want for nothing (materially speaking). The subjects then reciprocate with obedience and loyalty. Those in power must treat those without (in the context of their relationship) with benevolence, while the latter reciprocate with obedience and loyalty.

Benevolence is often strictly interpreted as each party honoring their respective obligations. It would be unjust for a wife to expect her husband’s kindness if she herself were disobedient. Conversely it would be unjust for a husband to demand his wife’s obedience if he himself failed in his husbandly duties. We see a glimmer of this idea even in Western tradition. Plato argued that interdependence was at the heart of justice, and that social order was maintained when members of social classes refrained form crossing lines.

Confucianism’s approach to social justice is not dissimilar to other Eastern philosophies. The primary aim here is to ensure the prevention of abuse rather than empowering the disenfranchised (a preoccupation of modern day social justice). Sumeria’s Ur-Nammu famously proclaimed that: “The orphan was not delivered up to the rich man; the widow was not delivered up to the mighty man; the man of one shekel was not delivered up to the man of one mina.” Not unlike other ancient societies, the Chinese also believed that class structures were an inherent feature of any civilized society, as men of greater talent would naturally rise above their peers. The ancients thus focused their energies on ensuring that men of ability did not use their powers unjustly against those lodged beneath them in the social order.

Before we move on to discussing Hinduism, a few comments are in order pertaining to the success of feudalism in China. It is my opinion that feudalism was wildly successful in China for the same reasons that the Catholic Church was successful in Europe. The Church absorbed some of the most talented men in society by giving them an avenue to express their talents. Such men could not ascend in a strictly feudal order despite their talents and thus gravitated towards the church.

The Chinese state implemented that very approach and absorbed men of resource into its ever growing bureaucracy. This also had another unexpected benefit – it prevented the formation of a class of dissidents that could prove to be a source of agitation. I believe the Communist Party of China absorbs talent in such a manner even today. Men who wish to ascend the rungs of power often choose the political route (via the party) as opposed to the riskier route of commerce.

Hindu society, like its Chinese counterpart, was similarly structured along feudal lines. There is, however, one key difference in their underlying composition – Confucianism stresses the interdependence of relationship networks, whereas the Hindu caste system is the world’s oldest pyramid scheme.

As we are well aware, a pyramid structure is one where every level attempts to profit (by exploitation) off the labor of the level below, and so it goes all the way down until one reaches the base – the most crucial level and also the most exploited. Pyramids are inherently unstable and one way to ensure their longevity is by means of force. Individuals must be coerced to remain at their stations so that the structure may endure. This method leaves the structure vulnerable to rebellions and a constant tension between the levels. This point is obvious from British history alone where Barons often clashed with the monarchy.

In order to allay this source of instability, some pyramids permit upward mobility. But this makes the crucial base unstable by putting it in a constant state of flux as individuals at the lower stations climb up and leave their former stations vacant. This problem is alleviated by constantly recruiting newer members into the base so that there is always a base available for exploitation.

The genius of the Hindu caste system is that it combines both the aforementioned approaches. Hinduism forbids caste mobility in the current life, thereby ensuring the perpetual hegemony of the upper castes. However, in order to prevent tension, Hinduism allows caste mobility but only through rebirth/reincarnation. This system ensures that the lower castes are given some hope of improving their station in the social order so long as they serve the interests of the upper castes in the current lifetime. It is karma, the cosmic recruiter, that ensures that the base will always remain staffed with compliant serfs.

The ultimate difference between Hinduism and Confucianism is that the former is an escapist religion whereas the latter is at its core an ethical philosophy. While many a Westerner would disagree with the ethical rules of Confucianism, it is impossible to deny the ethical focus of this philosophy. Ethics reside within the horizontal space between individuals. Any ideology or mode of thought that attempts to address this space is ethical in nature, even if we may disagree with the rules that regulate this space and by extension the human relationships bound to it.

By contrast, Hinduism addresses a very different space: the gap between man and the universe (cosmic order). The goal of Hinduism is to escape the world and become liberated from karma once and for all. Karma and Dharma are cosmic forces that to the best of my knowledge have no equivalent in Chinese philosophy; the focus of the latter being on social and ethical matters as opposed to metaphysics.

To illustrate this point, consider the life of an ascetic. Hinduism places a great degree of value on the ascetic lifestyle. But the man who renounces the world resides in (to quote Arthur Danto) a space “beyond good and evil.” In such an environment, an agent’s actions have no moral content. A hermit who lives outside society will always act in a morally neutral way. The closest analogy to this in Chinese philosophy is the Taoist wanderer, who is essentially a loner. But the wanderer is not seeking escape from the world, merely freedom from discomfort and anxiety that plague those that haven’t discovered the way (Tao).

Confucianism on the other hand, by its very essence, rejects the ascetic lifestyle. Man’s place is rooted firmly in society, for as Confucius put it: “One cannot herd with the beasts or flock with the birds. If I am not to be a man among men, then what am I to be?” It is this space that Hinduism ultimately seeks release from. Consider the following illustration from India’s Bhakti tradition:

In the basic story, Tiruppan grows up as part of an ‘untouchable’ panar caste of bards and minstrels in a town near the temple of Srirangam, arguably the most revered of all Vaisnava pilgrimage sites and indisputably the single most important temple for Srivaisnava devotees. From the moment he is able to speak, Tiruppan sings beautiful songs praising the qualities of Rangi (or Ranganatha), the form of Visnu worshiped in the temple of Srirangam just across the river from his home town.

Every day he travels to the south bank of the river and sings from a distance to his beloved Rangi. Tiruppan yearns to see the image of his beloved but is unable to enter the temple due to his ‘untouchable’ status. Eventually, the beauty of his songs and the intensity of his devotion awake the compassion of Rangi, who comes in a dream to the Brahmin priest of Srirangam and tells him to bring Tiruppan into the temple on his shoulders.

The priest goes to get Tiruppan, but he refuses to come, saying, “How could you do such a thing with me, your slave, who belongs to the class of untouchables?” In another version, he states, “How can I step with my feet on to the holy temple of Ranga?” And the Brahmin replies, “Never mind! You can go [sitting] on my shoulders.” In yet another version, Tiruppan is so insistent that he cannot come to the temple because of his low birth and sinful life that the priest must physically force him onto his shoulders.

Eventually, Tiruppan enters the temple riding on the shoulders of the Brahmin priest, and gazing at Rangi in devotional ecstasy, he sings ten verses of praise describing the God from foot to head. These are the very verses that are still remembered and recited today in the Srivaisnava community. The story concludes with Tiruppan miraculously uniting with and disappearing into the image of his beloved Rangi.

This story illustrates how a man can close the gap between himself and the divine (Tiruppan and Rangi) whereas leaving the glaring gap between individuals (Tiruppan and the Brahmin priests) unaddressed.

This brings me to the final point of this essay. What is Hinduism’s overarching ethic? Western civilization’s universal ethic is moral universalism, and Confucianism’s is Ren (benevolence). It is my view that Indian civilization is unique precisely because it failed to do something which other advanced civilizations have done: produce a universal ethic. This view was shared by three individuals whom I have listed here in chronological order:

  1. St Francis Xavier
  2. Max Weber
  3. Dr Ambedkar

Francis Xavier, the Spanish missionary, made a series of observations about Indians that are quite illuminating. It is obvious that he did not think too highly of Hinduism, but it is one particular interaction that I wish to draw your attention to – a conversation between Xavier and a group of Brahmins:

When Xavier asked a group of Brahmins to summarize what Hinduism stood for, he was told that their gods “required two duties of those who desired to go to them hereafter, one of which was to abstain from killing cows because under that form the gods were adored; the other was to show kindness to the Brahmins, who were the worshipers of the gods.”

Max Weber arrived at a similar conclusion when he stated:

“There is no universal ethic but only a status and professionally differentiated dharma according to caste”

The Religion of India the Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism

Dr Ambedkar’s observations in his book The Riddles in Hinduism were identical to Weber’s. The very first chapter, The Difficulty in Knowing Who Is a Hindu, is centered around an attempt to define some common ethic or even creed that binds Hindus together. Ambedkar arrived at the conclusion that one is a Hindu precisely because one is born into the faith and not due to any universal ethic that binds individuals together under a set of agreed-upon moral rules.

Just as it is impossible to practice larceny in a culture that has no concept of private property, similarly it is impossible to practice intolerance in a culture that believes in nothing. I suspect this is the secret of Indian ‘tolerance.’ Tolerance can only be measured in opposition to what one cannot tolerate. The act of enduring what one cannot tolerate is in effect practicing tolerance. It is only in this context that tolerance acquires a moral quality. One however cannot practice tolerance when one subscribes to no real beliefs whose limits can be tested. The Indian approaches the world with extreme apathy and conflates his indifference for tolerance.

In conclusion, the difference between Confucianism and Hinduism can be observed in their differing worldviews despite some overlap in social conventions. Hinduism’s focus is on mystical objectives, as it dismisses reality as we understand it as illusionary. Confucianism’s focus is squarely on this world, and its chief emphasis is social and political harmony.

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Filed under Asia, Catholicism, China, Christianity, Culture, Ethics, Guest Posts, Hinduism, India, Jurisprudence, Left, Maoism, Marxism, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Political Science, Regional, Religion, Sociology, South Asia

Richard Spencer Addressing the National Policy Institute

Jared Taylor’s organization sponsored their annual confab, and I must say this was one of the worst ones yet. Wait, it was the worst one yet. The NPI has now gone full Nazi. I wonder what Mr. Taylor’s wife thinks about that? Jared watered these strange little plants for years no doubt knowing full well what sort of a nasty garden he was cultivating, and now that the crop is ready to harvest, is he surprised at what bloomed? Right what it said on the seed package, right?

The white sheets are coming off these guys in a big way. I recognized a few of the people there. Harlem Venison was there. I know why he went there, but I say he made a big mistake. Sometimes you just walk in the wrong party, you know? In that case, you say, sorry, wrong address. Do you stay for a drink? Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t. But with some accidental parties, you’re glad you wrote the address down once you take a good look a the revelers. Parties are usually good fun, but some folks are so seedy you don’t even want to have a beer with them, you know? And some parties are not all good fun. Some wild parties are downright dangerous, and it’s smarter to just stay home alone. Case in point.

Harlem says he’s not a White nationalist, and I agree with that. So what’s he doing here? Bad choice. He only wants to take down antiracism as a dogma. Which sort of makes sense considering what sort of weeds have sprung up in that once well-tended community garden. But really, in life you have to choose your enemies. Either antiracist dogma is the enemy that needs to be fought, and doing so by making alliance with these jugend is the right thing to do in terms of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, or it’s the other way around. And yeah, that’s a moral question all right. Not such a simple one either.

The antis hate me as much as they ever did, but that’s too bad because much as the feelings are mutual on my end, I would very much prefer to ally with the Cultural Left against this NPI malignancy than the other way around.

You pick your “enemies” in life. And so with your “friends.” Half of your enemies are really frenemies, and it’s even worse than that with your friends. First you brutally sort them into two calculatingly amoral piles. If you have any sense, you do so strategically. Sometimes allying with the bad guys against the worst guys is not only cynical realpolitik and situation ethics but also moral high reason if not moral righteousness of the highest order.

If you sit around waiting for the good guys versus bad guys war, you’ll sit out every fight because there are no good guys in war. And in so doing, you will allow your world to be potentially overrun by the worst Orcs of your nightmares all because the good guys couldn’t pass your petty purity test.

Virginity tests went out a long time ago in the West. In a world where we all sullied, they never made sense anyway. There are crystalline whores singing in the lofty crags and black-eyes virgins grunting in the boiling mud. A hymen’s a piece of flesh, not an honor badge. It’s about as meaningful as a hangnail. There’s a reason prigs are so hated. They demand purity and chastity in in a world where few humans measure up, not that anyone should anyway. Priggism is a con, a lie, a scam, a shield for projecting sinners with weighted hearts.

In real life, you get your hands dirty, you don’t always get to wash up right away, and the stains don’t always wash out. Cloisters are for nuns, and they have earned the privilege of residence. The rest of us don’t have that luxury. We have to wrestle in the mud like everyone else. A man chooses his battles wisely, and almost almost no one wears black or white in war anymore. Every army is a shade of one or the other or both or neither, and that’s when the colors are discernible at all. Roll them unfiltered,  drink it straight, and die with your boots on. Dead is dead, but at least you went down fighting.

Pick your poison and head to the front. Some wars can’t be sat out.

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Filed under Anti-Racism, Conservatism, Ethics, Fascism, Nazism, Philosophy, Political Science, Racism, White Nationalism

Hindu Proves That Racism Is a Core Value of India and Hinduism

KsytriaKhalsa is a rightwing Hindu Nationalist fanatic who posts in the Comments a lot. Apparently he is a Sikh, which makes even less sense. Here he is discussing racism:

Why is racism bad? You can’t come up with a coherent answer except muh equality.. A core western value. No material benefit.

Why is racism bad on a spiritual (moral) level? No answer except muh equality.. A core Christian value. No spiritual benefit.

ਜੈਸ਼ਿ੍ਰੀਰਾਮ।।

Apparently he is saying that racism is tied in with equality which is a Christian Western concept apparently alien to not only the Hindu religion but possibly to India itself. Which of course jibes perfectly with everything we know about Hinduism, India and Indian people.

Apparently racism is a core Indian value as they reject antiracism as a Christian alien concept imported from the West.

Surely racism is a core Hindu value as this is reiterated endlessly in their scripture and the very religion itself. So Hinduism is about all sorts of different things, but one of those things is racism, which is apparently a core Hindu value.

There you go folks. Straight from the horse’s mouth. What you’ve always suspected or known about India and Hindusim – that they are both at core extremely racist entities.

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Filed under Asia, Christianity, Culture, Ethics, Hinduism, India, Nationalism, Philosophy, Political Science, Racism, Regional, Religion, South Asia, Ultranationalism

Stealing to Survive – A Grave Sin in Conservatism

I knew a man who was homeless for a while. Of course he needed food, so he told me that he would go into corner markets, grab a sandwich or whatever and walk out the door, announcing to the stunned clerk, “Hi, I am homeless and really hungry. I am going to steal this, ok? Bye.” He said almost all the shopkeepers just let him steal the item, and in some places, he did it over and over, and the clerks never cared. Surely a conservative thinks this man belongs in jail.

I know another man who became disabled and unable to work. He applied for disability but was waiting to get on. In the meantime, he had no income. He had a bunch of credit cards, and he started running them all up just enough every month to survive. At the same time, he stopped making payments on his cards. He was able to do this for a while somehow, and I think he borrowed $3-4,000 this way. He kept transferring money from one card to another and then running up the new card.

After a while, they all cut him off and started demanding payment. He told them that he was not working and had no money. They got mad, but he blew them off. Then they sent him to collections agencies, and those pestered him for many months.

Finally he filed for bankruptcy to wipe out $13,000, mostly in credit card debt. He told one bankruptcy attorney what he had done and the man excoriated him in the lawyer’s office.

“You stole money! You are a thief! I cannot work with you. Bye.”

Never mind the absurdity of an attorney criticizing anyone on moral grounds. This attorney probably made $150,000/year, if not a lot more. Here was a man making $150,000/year excoriating a man for stealing so he could survive. I certainly do not begrudge a man who steals so he can survive, especially from a large bank, which probably deserves to get ripped off anyway. At any rate, they can afford the lost money more than the man running up the card.

And there is conservatism. You have no right to steal, even to survive. However, when it comes to business, to conservatives, business = theft. That’s called “the free market.” The biggest and best thieves of all are praised for their “ruthlessness” at stealing money with a pen.

After all, a man can steal a lot more money with a pen than with a knife.

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Was Joseph Conrad a Neoliberal? Are We? A Contemporary Reading of Victory

I participated in a session with this fellow on Academia.edu. I believe the author is a professor at a university somewhere in the UK. I really liked this paper a lot. It’s a bit hard to understand, but if you concentrate, you should be able to understand. If I can understand it, at least some of you guys can too. It is an excellent overview of what exactly neoliberalism is and the effects it has on all of us all the way down to the anthropological, sociological and psychological.

Was Joseph Conrad a Neoliberal? Are We? A Contemporary Reading of Victory

by Simon During

Over the past decade or so “neoliberalism” has become a word to conjure with. It is easy to have reservations about its popularity since it seems to name both a general object — roughly, capitalist governmentality as we know it today — and a particular set of ideas that now have a well-researched intellectual history.

It also implies a judgment: few use the term except pejoratively. I myself do not share these worries however, since I think that using the word performs sterling analytic work on its own account even as it probably accentuates its concept’s rather blob-like qualities. Nonetheless in this talk I want somewhat to accede to those who resist neoliberalism’s analytic appeal by thinking about it quite narrowly — that is to say, in literary and intellectual historical terms.

I begin from the position, first, that neoliberalism is an offshoot of liberalism thought more generally; and second, that we in the academic humanities are ourselves inhabited by an occluded or displaced neoliberalism to which we need critically to adjust.1 Thus, writing as a
literary critic in particular, I want to follow one of my own discipline’s original protocols, namely to be sensitive to the ways in which the literary “tradition” changes as the present changes, in this case, as it is reshaped under that neoliberalism which abuts and inhabits us.2

To this end I want to present a reading of Joseph Conrad’s Victory (1916). To do this is not just to help preserve the received literary canon, and as such is, I like to think, a tiny act of resistance to neoliberalism on the grounds that neoliberalism is diminishing our capacity to affirm a canon at all. By maintaining a canon in the act of locating neoliberalism where it is not usually found, I’m trying to operate both inside and outside capitalism’s latest form.

***

1 Daniel Stedman-Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics, Princeton: Princeton University Press 2014, p. 17.
2 This argument is made of course in T.S. Eliot’s seminal essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1921).
Let me begin with a brief and sweeping overview of liberalism’s longue durée.3 For our purposes we can fix on liberalism by noting that it has two central struts, one theoretical, the other historical. As generations of theorists have noted, the first strut is methodological individualism: liberal analysis begins with, and is addressed to, the autonomous individual rather than communities or histories.4

Methodological individualism of this kind is, for instance, what allowed Leo Strauss and J.P Macpherson to call even Thomas Hobbes a founder of liberalism.5 Liberalism’s second strut is the emphasis on freedom as the right to express and enact private beliefs with a minimum of state intervention. This view of freedom emerged in the seventeenth century among those who recommended that the sovereign state “tolerate” religious differences.

It marked a conceptual break in freedom’s history since freedom was now conceived of as an individual possession and right rather than as a condition proper to “civil associations” and bound to obligations.6 We need to remember, however, that methodological individualism does not imply liberal freedom, or vice versa. Indeed neoliberalism exposes the weakness of that association.

Early in the nineteenth century, liberalism became a progressivist political movement linked to enlightened values. But after about 1850, non-progressive or conservative liberalisms also appeared. Thus, as Jeffrey Church has argued, Arthur Schopenhauer, the post-Kantian
philosopher who arguably broke most spectacularly with enlightened humanist progressivism,

3 Among the library of works on liberalism’s history I have found two to be particularly useful for my purposes here: Domenico Losurdo’s Liberalism: a Counter-History, trans. Gregory Elliot. London: Verso 2014, and Amanda Anderson’s forthcoming Bleak Liberalism, Chicago, University of Chicago Press 2016.
4 Milan Zafirovski, Liberal Modernity and Its Adversaries: Freedom, Liberalism and Anti-Liberalism in the 21st Century, Amsterdam: Brill 2007, p. 116.
5 Van Mobley, “Two Liberalisms: the Contrasting Visions of Hobbes and Locke,” Humanitas, IX 1997: 6-34.
6 Quentin Skinner, Liberty before Liberalism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1998, p. 23.

can be associated with liberalism.7

Likewise Schopenhauer’s sometime disciple, Friedrich Nietzsche, no progressivist, was, as Hugo Drochon has recently argued, also an antistatist who prophesied that in the future “private companies” will take over state business so as to protect private persons from one another.8 Liberalism’s conservative turn was, however, largely a result of socialism’s emergence as a political force after 1848, which enabled some left liberal fractions to dilute their individualism by accepting that “a thoroughly consistent individualism can work in harmony with socialism,” as Leonard Hobhouse put it.9

Conrad himself belonged to this moment. As a young man, for instance, he was appalled by the results of the 1885 election, the first in which both the British working class and the socialists participated.10 That election was contested not just by the Marxist Socialist Democratic Federation, but by radical Liberals who had allied themselves to the emergent socialist movement (not least Joseph Chamberlain who, as mayor of Birmingham, was developing so-called “municipal socialism” and who haunts Conrad’s work).11

The election went well for the Liberals who prevented the Tories from securing a clear Parliamentary majority. After learning this, Conrad, himself the son of a famous Polish liberal revolutionary, wrote to a friend, “the International Socialist Association are triumphant, and every
disreputable ragamuffin in Europe, feels that the day of universal brotherhood, despoliation and disorder is coming apace…Socialism must inevitably end in Caesarism.”12 That prophecy will resonate politically for the next century, splitting liberalism in two. As I say: on the one side, a

7 Jeffrey Church, Nietzsche’s Culture of Humanity: Beyond Aristocracy and Democracy in the Early Period, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2015, p. 226.
8 Hugo Drochon, Nietzsche’s Great Politics, Princeton: Princeton University Press 2016, p. 9.
9 L. T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, London: Williams and Norgate, 1911, p. 99.
10 It was at this point that one of neoliberalism’s almost forgotten ur-texts was written,Herbert Spencer’s Man against the State (1884).
11 For instance, he plays an important role in Conrad and Ford Madox Ford’s The Inheritors.
12 Joseph Conrad, The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, vol 1., ed. Frederick Karl and Laurence Davis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1983, p. 16.

 

progressivist, collectivist liberalism. On the other, an individualist liberalism of which neoliberalism is a continuation.

By around 1900, liberalism’s fusion with socialism was often (although not quite accurately) associated with Bismark’s Germany, which gave anti-socialist liberalism a geographical inflection. Against this, individualistic liberalism was associated with Britain. But this received British liberalism looked back less to Locke’s religiously tolerant Britain than to Richard Cobden’s Britain of maritime/imperial dominance and free trade.

Which is to say that liberalism’s fusion with socialism pushed socialism’s liberal enemies increasingly to think of freedom economically rather than politically — as in Ludwig von Mises influential 1922 book on socialism, which can be understood as a neoliberal urtext.13 By that point, too, individuals were already being positioned to become what Foucault calls “consumers of freedom.” 14

They were now less understood less as possessing a fundamental claim to freedom than as creating and participating in those institutions which enabled freedom in practice. Crucially after the first world war, in the work of von Mises and the so-called “Austrian school”, freedom was increasingly assigned to individual relations with an efficient market as equilibrium theory viewed markets. This turn to the market as freedom’s basis marked another significant historical departure: it is the condition of contemporary neoliberalism’s emergence.

Neoliberalism organized itself internationally as a movement only after world war two, and did so against both Keynesian economics and the welfare state. 15 It was still mainly ideologically motivated by a refusal to discriminate between welfarism and totalitarianism — a line of thought already apparent in Conrad’s equation of socialism with Caesarism of course. As
13 See Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: an Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane. New Haven: Yale University Press 1951.
14 Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, p. 63. One key sign of this spread of this new freedom is Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous appeal to the “free trade in ideas” in his 1919 dissent in Abrams v. the US, a judgment which joins together the market, intellectual expression and the juridical.
15 See Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe (eds.), The Road from Mont Pèlerin, Cambridge: Harvard University Press 2009.

 

Friedrich Hayek urged: once states begin to intervene on free markets totalitarianism looms because the people’s psychological character changes: they become dependent.16 For thirty years (in part as confined by this argument), neoliberalism remained a minority movement, but
in the 1970s it began its quick ascent to ideological and economic dominance.

Cutting across a complex and unsettled debate, let me suggest that neoliberalism became powerful then because it provided implementable policy settings for Keynesianism’s (perceived) impasse in view the stagnation and instability of post-war, first-world welfarist, full-employment economies after 1) the Vietnam War, 2) the collapse of the Bretton Woods agreement; 3) OPEC’s cartelization, and 4) the postcolonial or “globalizing” opening up of world markets on the back of new transportation and computing technologies.17

In the global north neoliberalism was first implemented governmentally by parties on the left, led by James Callaghan in the UK, Jimmy Carter in the US, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating in Australia, and leading the way, David Lange and Roger Douglas in New Zealand.18 At this time, at the level of policy, it was urged more by economists than by ideologues insofar as these can be separated (and Hayek and Mises were both of course).

As we know, neoliberals then introduced policies to implement competition, deregulation, monetarism, privatization, tax reduction, a relative high level of unemployment, the winding back of the state’s participation in the economy and so on. This agenda quickly became captured by private

 

16 Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, p. 48.
17 This history is open to lively differences of opinion. The major books in the literature are: Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France 1978-1979, London: Picador 2010; Philip Mirowski, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown, London: Verso 2014; Stedman-Jones, Masters of the Universe; Joseph Vogl, The Spectre of Capital, Stanford: Stanford University Press 2014; David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007. My own understanding of this moment is informed by Stedman-Jones’s account in particular.
18 It is worth noting in this context that the left had itself long been a hatchery of neoliberal economic ideas just because liberalism’s absorption of socialism was matched by socialism’s absorption of liberalism. See Johanna Brockman, Markets in the name of Socialism: the Left-wing Origins of Neoliberalism, Stanford: Stanford University Press 2011 on the intellectual-historical side of this connection.

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interests, and from the eighties on, it was woven into new, highly surveilled and privatized, computing and media ecologies, indeed into what some optimists today call “cognitive capitalism”.19

In this situation, more or less unintended consequences proliferated, most obviously a rapid increase in economic inequality and the enforced insertion of internal markets and corporate structures in non-commercial institutions from hospitals to universities. Indeed, in winding back the welfare state, renouncing Keynesian and redistributionist economic policies, it lost its classical liberal flavor and was firmly absorbed into conservatism — a transformation which had been prepared for by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.20

But two more concrete conceptual shifts also helped animate this particular fusion of conservatism and liberalism. First, postwar neoliberalism was aimed more at the enterprise than at the individual.21

Largely on the basis of van Mises’s Human Action (1940) as popularized by Gary Becker, the free, independent individual was refigured as “human capital” and thereby exposed instead to management and “leadership.” At the same time, via Peter Drucker’s concept of “knowledge worker,” which emphasized the importance of conceptual and communication skills to
economic production, postsecular management theories for which corporations were hierarchical but organic communities also gained entry into many neoliberal mindsets.22 At that

 

19 Yann Moulier Boutang, Cognitive Capitalism, trans. Ed Emery. Cambridge: Polity Press 2012.
20 Nietzsche and Schopenhauer’s influence is no doubt part of why neoliberalism emerged in Austria. Indeed the Austrian context in which contemporary neoliberalism emerged is worth understanding in more detail. In their early work, Hayek and Mises in particular were responding to “red Vienna” not just in relation to Otto Bauer’s Austromarxism but also in relation to its version of guild socialism associated with Hungarians like Karl Polanyi, with whom both Hayek and Mises entered into debate. See Lee Congdon, “The Sovereignty of Society: Karl Polanyi in Vienna,” in The Life and Work of Karl Polanyi, ed. Kari Polanyi-Levitt. Montreal: Black Rose Books 1990, 78-85.
21 Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, p. 225.
22 Drucker was another Austrian refugee who turned to capitalism against totalitarianism in the late thirties and his profoundly influential work on corporate management shadows neoliberal theory up until the 1970s.

 

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point, neoliberalism also became a quest to reshape as many institutions as possible as corporations.

At this point too Foucault’s consumers of freedom were becoming consumers full stop. To state this more carefully: at the level of ideology, to be free was now first and foremost deemed to be capable of enacting one’s preferences in consumer and labour markets. It would seem that preferences of this kind increasingly determined social status too, and, more invasively, they now increasingly shaped personalities just because practices of self were bound less and less to filiations and affiliations than to acts of choice.

This helped the market to subsume older gradated social and cultural structures of identity-formation, class difference and cultural capital. At this juncture, we encounter another significant unexpected consequence
within liberalism’s longue durée: i.e. the sixties cultural revolution’s reinforcement of neoliberalism.

This is a complex and controversial topic so let me just say here that, from the late seventies, neoliberal subjects who were individualized via their entrepreneurial disposition and economic and labour choices, encounters the subject of post-68 identity politics who had been emancipated from received social hierarchies and prejudices, and was now attached to a particular ethnicity, gender or sexuality as chosen or embraced by themselves as individuals. These two subject formations animated each other to the degree that both had, in their different ways, sloughed off older communal forms, hierarchies and values.

Governing this ménage of hedonism, productivity, insecurity and corporatization, neoliberalism today seems to have become insurmountable, and is, as I say, blob-like, merging out into institutions and practices generally, including those of our discipline. And it has done
this as a turn within liberal modernity’s longer political, intellectual and social genealogies and structures rather than as a break from them.

Nonetheless, three core, somewhat technical, propositions distinguish neoliberalism from liberalism more generally:

  1. First the claim, which belongs to the sociology of knowledge, that no individual or group can know the true value of anything at all.23 For neoliberals, that value — true or not — can only be assessed, where it can be assessed at all, under particular conditions: namely when it is available in a competitive and free market open to all individuals in a society based on private property. This is an argument against all elite and expert claims to superior knowledge and judgment: without prices, all assessments of value are mere opinion. In that way, market justice (i.e. the effects of competing in the market) can trump social justice. And in that way, for instance, neoliberalism finds an echo not just in negations of cultural authority and canonicity but in the idea that literary and aesthetic judgments are matters of private choice and opinion. In short, neoliberalism inhabits cultural democracy and vice versa. By the same stroke, it posits an absence — a mere structure of exchange—at society’s normative center.
  2. There is a direct relationship between the competitive market and freedom. Any attempt to limit free markets reduces freedom because it imposes upon all individuals a partial opinion about what is valuable. This particular understanding of freedom rests on the notion of the market as a spontaneous order — its being resistant to control and planning, its being embedded in a society which “no individual can completely survey” as Hayek put it.24 Not that this notion is itself original to neoliberalism: Foucault’s historiography of liberalism shows that, in the mid eighteenth century, this property of markets was thought of as “natural” and therefore needed to be protected
    from sovereign authority’s interference.25 But as Foucault and others have argued, neoliberalism emerges after World War 2 when the spontaneous market conditions of freedom are no longer viewed as natural (even if they remain immanently lawbound) but as governmentally produced.26
  3. Neoliberalism has specific ethical dimensions too. While it generally insists that individuals should be free to “follow their own values and preferences” (as Hayek put it) at least within the limits set by those rules and institutions which secure market stability, in fact individuals’ independence as well as their relation to market risk, provides the necessary condition for specific virtues and capacities. Most notably, in Hayek’s formulation, a neoliberal regime secures individuals’ self-sufficiency, honor and dignity and does so by the willingness of some to accept “material sacrifice,” or to “live dangerously” as Foucault put it, in a phrase he declared to be liberalism’s “motto”.27 This mix of risk-seeking existentialism and civic republicanism not only rebukes and prevents the kind of de-individualization supposedly associated with socialisms of the left and right, it is where neoliberalism and an older “Nietzschean” liberalism meet—with Michael Oakeshott’s work bearing special weight in this context.28 But as soon as neoliberalism itself becomes hegemonic in part by fusing with the spirit of 1968, this original ascetic, masculinist neoliberal ethic of freedom and risk comes to be supplemented and displaced by one based more on creativity, consumerist hedonism and entrepreneurialism aimed at augmenting choice.29

***

23 See Mirowski, Never Let a Serious Crisis, p. 55.
24 Friedrich von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom: Texts and Documents. The Definitive Edition, ed. Bruce Caldwell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007, p. 212.

25 Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, p. 19.
26 This is argued in Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval’s The New Way of the World: on Neoliberal Society, London: Verso 2014. For the immanent lawboundedness in Hayek, see Miguel Vatter, The Republic of the Living: Biopolitics and the Critique of Civil Society, New York: Fordham University Press 2014: pps. 195-220. Vatter’s chapter “Free Markets and Republican
Constitutions in Hayek and Foucault” is excellent on how law is treated in neoliberal thought.
27 Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, p. 130. Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, p. 66.
28 See Andrew Norris’s forthcoming essay in Political Theory, “Michael Oakeshott’s Postulates of Individuality” for this. We might recall, too, that Foucault argues for similarities between the Frankfurt school and the early neoliberals on the grounds of their resistance to standardization, spectacle and so on. See The Birth of Biopolitics, p. 105.

 

I have indicated that Conrad belongs to the moment when socialist parties first contested democratic elections and which thus split liberalism, allowing one, then beleaguered, liberal fraction to begin to attach to conservatism. In this way then, he belongs to neoliberalism’s deep past (which is not to say, of course, that he should be understand as a proto-neoliberal himself). Let us now think about his novel Victory in this light.

The novel is set in late nineteenth-century Indonesia mainly among European settlers and entrepreneurs. Indonesia was then a Dutch colony itself undergoing a formal economic deregulation program, which would increase not just Dutch imperial profits but, among indigenous peoples, also trigger what was arguably human history’s most explosive population growth to date.30

Victory belongs to this world where imperialism encountered vibrant commercial activity driven by entrepreneurial interests, competition and risk. Thus, for instance, its central character, the nomadic, cosmopolitan, aristocratic Swedish intellectual, Axel Heyst, establishes a business— a coal mine — along with a ship-owning partner, while other characters manage hotels, orchestras and trading vessels. Victory is a novel about enterprises as well as about individuals.

But Conrad’s Indonesia is other to Europe as a realm of freedom. Importantly, however, its freedom is not quite liberal or neoliberal: it is also the freedom of a particular space. More precisely, it is the freedom of the sea: here, in effect Indonesia is oceanic. This formulation draws on Carl Schmitt’s post-war work on international law, which was implicitly

 

29 The history of that displacement is explored in Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello’s The New Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Gregory Elliott. London: Verso 2005.
30 Bram Peper, “Population Growth in Java in the 19th Century”, Population Studies, 24/1 (1970): 71-84.

 

11
positioned against liberal and neoliberal theory. In his monograph The Nomos of the Earth (1950), Schmitt drew attention to the sea as a space of freedom just because national sovereignties and laws did not hold there.

But Schmitt’s implicit point was that liberal freedom needs to be thought about not just in terms of tolerance, recognition, rights or markets, but
geographically and historically inside the long history of violent sovereign appropriation of the globe’s land masses so that elemental freedom was enacted on the oceans where law and sovereignty had no reach. From this perspective, piracy, for instance, plays an important role in freedom’s history. And from this perspective the claim to reconcile radical freedom to the lawbound state is false: such freedom exists only where laws do not.

The sea, thought Schmitt’s way, is key to Conrad’s work. But, for him, the sea is also the home of economic liberalism, free-trade and the merchant marines by whom he had, of course, once been employed, and whose values he admired.31 Victory is a maritime tale set on waters which harbor such free trade at the same time as they form a Schmittean realm of freedom — and violence and risk — which effectively remains beyond the reach of sovereign law.

Let me step back at this point to sketch the novel’s plot. Victory’s central character Heyst is the son of an intellectual who late in life was converted from progressivism to a mode of weak Schopenhauerianism or what was then call pessimism.32 Heyst lives his father’s pessimism out: he is a disabused conservative liberal: “he claimed for mankind that right to
absolute moral and intellectual liberty of which he no longer believed them worthy.”33

Believing this, Heyst leaves Europe to “drift”— circulating through Burma, New Guinea, Timor and the Indonesian archipelagoes, simply gathering facts and observing. But, on an

 

31 For Conrad and trade in this region, see Andrew Francis, Culture and Commerce in Conrad’s Asian Fiction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2015. For Conrad’s affiliations to free trade proper see my unpublished paper, “Democracy, Empire and the Politics of the Future in
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness”. This is available on this url.
32 Joseph Conrad, Victory, London: Methuen 1916, p. 197.
33 Conrad, Victory, pps. 92-93

 

12
impulse, while drifting through Timor he rescues a shipowner, Morrison, whose ship has been impounded by unscrupulous Portuguese authorities, and through that act of spontaneous generosity, becomes obligated to Morrison.

The two men end up establishing a coalmine in the remote Indonesian island of Samburan, backed by local Chinese as well as by European capital. The company soon collapses. Morison dies. And, living out his Schopenhauerian renunciation of the world, Heyst, the detached man, decides to stay on at the island alone except for one Chinese servant.

He does, however, sometimes visit the nearest Indonesian town, Surabaya, and it is while staying there in a hotel owned by Schomberg, a malicious, gossipy German, that he makes another spontaneous rescue. This time he saves a young woman, Lena, a member of a traveling “ladies orchestra,” who is being bullied by her bosses and in danger of abduction by Schomberg himself.

Heyst and Lena secretly escape back to his island, causing Schomberg to harbor a venomous resentment against Heyst. At this point Schomberg’s hotel is visited by a trio of sinister criminals: Jones, Ricardo and their servant Pedro. Taking advantage of Schomberg’s rage, they establish an illegal casino in his hotel. To rid himself of this risky enterprise, Schomberg advises them to go after Heyst in his island, falsely telling them that Heyst has hidden a fortune there. Jones and his gang take Schomberg’s advice but disaster awaits them.

The novel ends with Jones, Ricardo, Heyst, Lena all dead on Heyst’s island.
The novel, which hovers between commercial adventure romance and experimental modernism, is bound to neoliberalism’s trajectory in two main ways. First, it adheres to neoliberalism’s sociology of knowledge: here too there is no knowing center, no hierarchy of expertise, no possibility of detached holistic survey and calculation through which truth might command action. Heyst’s drifting, inconsequential fact-gathering, itself appears to illustrate that absence. As do the gossip and rumors which circulate in the place of informed knowledge, and which lead to disaster. Individuals and enterprises are, as it were, on their
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own, beyond any centralized and delimited social body that might secure stability and grounded understandings. They are bound, rather, to self-interest and spontaneity.

This matters formally not simply because, in an approximately Jamesian mode, the narrative involves a series of points of view in which various characters’ perceptions, moods and interests intersect, but because the narration itself is told in a first person voice without being enunciated by a diegetical character.

That first person, then, functions as the shadow representative of a decentered community, largely focused on money, that is barely able to confer identity at all, a community, too, without known geographical or ideological limits just because the narrator, its implicit representative, has no location or substance. This narratorial indeterminacy can be understood as an index of liberalism at this globalizing historical juncture: a liberalism divesting itself of its own progressive histories, emancipatory hopes and institutions. A bare liberalism about to become neoliberalism, as we can proleptically say.

More importantly, the novel speaks to contemporary neoliberalism because it is about freedom. As we have begun to see, Heyst is committed to a freedom which is both the freedom of the sea, and a metaphysical condition which has detached itself, as far as is possible, from connections, obligations, determinations. This structures the remarkable formal
relationship around which the novel turns — i.e. Heyst’s being positioned as Jones’s double.

The generous Schopenhauerian is not just the demonic criminal’s opposite: he is also his twin. Both men are wandering, residual “gentlemen” detached from the European order, and thrown into, or committed to, a radical freedom which, on the one side, is a function of free trade, on the other, a condition of life lived beyond the legal and political institutions that order European societies, but also, importantly, are philosophical and ethical — a renunciation of the established ideological order for independence, courage and nomadism.

To put this rather differently: Heyst and Jones’s efforts to live in freedom — to comport themselves as free individuals — combines economic freedom — a freedom of exchange, competition and

 

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entrepreneurial possibilities— with a state of nature as a line of flight (or emancipation) from received continental laws, values and social structures. Freedom, that is, which combines that which Carl Schmitt and the early neoliberals imagined, each in their own way.

The novel’s main point is that there is, in fact, nothing in this freedom to sustain true ethical substance. It is as if Schmittean freedom has smashed both liberal freedom and pessimistic asceticism, along with their ethical groundings. Or to come at the novel’s basic point from another direction: it is as if the absence at the heart of a free society has transmigrated into these characters’ selves. It is at that level that individual freedom cannot be separated from violence and risk and good from evil.

Without an instituted social structure, Heyst cannot stay true to himself: his commitment to freedom and renunciation is compromised because of his spontaneous acts of generosity and sympathy which lead to his and Lena’s death. On the other side, Jones, a homosexual shunned by respectable society, is afflicted by those key nineteenth-century affects, resentment and boredom as well as a quasi-Nietzschean contempt for “tameness”, which drive him towards living outside of society, at contigency’s mercy, and towards reckless, malevolent violence.

Heyst and Jones die together almost by accident, in deaths that reveal them not just as entangled with one another at existence’s threshold, but as both attuned to death, even in life. It now look as if while they lived they wanted to die. In that way, the novel makes it clear that the risk, disorder and emptiness which inhabit their striving for a radically liberal practice of life corrode distinctions not just between violence and renunciation, not just between good and evil, but also between life and death.

We can put it like this: the freedom that these characters claim and the risks that it entails and which bind them together are inclined more towards death than towards life, just on account of freedom’s own conditions of possibility, namely radical autonomy, absence of sovereign power, and maximum choice.

***

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As I say, this is a reading of the novel which, at least in principle, helps to canonize Victory just because it claims that its form, plot and characters address versions of our current neoliberal social condition, and does so in metaphysically ambitious terms. Victory is a critique of freedom, I think.

Conrad is insisting that even in a liberal society devoted to free trade,
enterprises and markets, the law — and the sovereign state — comes first. It is, if one likes, beginning the work of detaching liberalism from freedom. To say this, however, is to ignore the most pressing question that this reading raises: to what degree should we today actually accede to Conrad’s ambivalent, pessimistic and conservative imagination of radical freedom?

How to judge that freedom’s renunciation of established hierarchies, collectivities and values whether for adventure, risk and spontaneity or for violence and death? It is a condition of the discipline’s neoliberal state that the only answer we can give to that question is that we can, each of us, answer that question any way that we choose.

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