|Carl Schmitt quotes Vergil’s Fourth Ecologue at the close of his Der Begriff der Politischen (The Concept of the Political), “Ab integro nascitur ordo.” A new order is born from the renewal.
Schmitt claimed that a world state could not exist, that such an attempt, where legitimacy rested primarily on economic means could and would lead to a dystopian world state — a system in which a people might be legitimately, according to this emerging economic order, be exterminated merely for being unable to pay their debts.
As Leo Strauss commented in response, Schmitt’s affirmation of the political “is nothing more than the affirmation of the moral” which is necessarily undermined by purely technological culture, such as that provided the anti-narrative mentioned in a previous essay (and also described by Strauss). While Schmitt ultimately falls back on a weak moral category, resistance, Strauss dissolves the possibility of the moral — there is no imperative.
Thus, we witness this dystopia emerging, not only in that the legitimacy of states is articulated by their ability to maximize the participation of their citizens in markets, as with Philip Bobbitt’s work, but where not only the default but also primary evaluative mechanism for the value of any thing, including human relationships, is in reference to personal (or corporate) utility.
Thus, in a world in which numbers, especially when cast as “science” in the field of economics, are the primary evaluative method, the default mechanism for evaluating the value of any relationship must accord with personal utility. The same is true for all functions related to relationships (e.g. sex). Accumulation of partners may not be the goal, but, as specified by economic science, accumulation of ‘good moments’ likely will be, often taking the primacy of ‘fun’ (see our discussion of the fall of Batman).
This means that no-fault, previously the exception, becomes the norm. Every contract should be able to be broken by any party when the exchange of words/fluids leading to any other exchange is not kept. Which is to say, any purely quantitative system tends towards complete fungiblity as a ‘perfect’ state. Descriptions here serve a purely cosmetic function. Any usage of word ‘marriage’ approaches a lie, as its origin and intention are not in keeping with the purely cosmetic function which it now serves. ‘Relationship’ would be closer to the truth, but really, any words are acceptable as the fundamental nature of the transaction and conceptions remains unquestioned.
Thus, each sphere of action becomes little more than a game, one should/must play to win in order to maximize. Is it permissible to use words with purely cosmetic function, allowing the other party to think according to old structures, while one embraces personally the new, the entirely economic? Certainly it does not make sense to be in the middle, embracing both new and old paradigm, neither fully. The probable answer within the means presented is, it does not matter — do what you need to succeed. Thus, not only do relationships and marriage cease to exist in any meaningful way, so also does the concept of a truth and a lie. There is only utility, which is frequently reducible to pleasure.
We will not comment at length on the moral salves available to those who wish to utilize them. Nicholas Kristof compares the estimated 800,000 trafficked each year with the 80,000 at the peak of the American slave trade, but advocates neither starting at home nor fundamentally rethinking, but more overseas initiatives (and lobbying!) for the globally connected. Anthony Daniels looks closer to home:
A hundred yards from where I write this, twelve-year-old prostitutes often stand under streetlamps on the corner at night, waiting for customers. The chief of the local police has said that he will not remove them because he considers that they are sufficiently victimized already, and he is not prepared to victimize them further (his job, apparently, being to empathize rather than to enforce the law). The local health authorities send a van round several times at night to distribute condoms to the girls, the main official concern being to ensure that the sex in which the girls take part is safe, from the bacteriological and virological point of view. It is the authorities’ proud boast that 100 percent of local prostitutes now routinely use condoms, at a cost to the city’s taxpayers of $135,000 a year, soon to be increased by the employment of a further outreach worker, whose main qualification, according to the recent job advertisement in the local press, will be “an ability to work non-judgmentally”—that is, to have no moral qualms about aiding and abetting child prostitution. Meanwhile, local residents (such as my neighbors, a banker, a lawyer, an antiquarian bookseller, and two university professors) who object to the presence of discarded condoms in their gardens and in the street outside their homes have been offered a special instrument with which to pick them up, in lieu of any attempt to prevent them from arriving there in the first place. And at the same time, the overwhelming majority of the work done by the social workers of the city concerns the sexual abuse of children, principally by stepfathers and mothers’ boyfriends who move in after biological fathers move out. (Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses)
In this arena one observes the previously ‘free-range’ people, the American homesteaders, struggling to adapt to their life gravitating in the same direction as the mechanized cattle industry, not realizing that the dictum “do unto others” has always related also to the animals around them. Neither die with or from a surfeit of artificial hormones, they simply cease to live in a meaningful way. Moreover, “resistance” is primarily a function of debates over cosmetics. Given this context, it is surprising they fight for the word or even discuss fighting for ‘marriage,’ a concept they have abandoned in every meaningful sense, just as they fight for “life” for those who, by virtue of physical infirmity or terrible situation will never have a “life” in any sense more than a simple binary assertion.
In fact, whether or not a copy of the Ten Commandments hangs in a courtroom matters not at all. What matters is the concept of jurisprudence applied within that courtroom, the basis of which has been abandoned for multimedia spectacles and megachurchs. Should we be surprised when the spectacle ends and the citizens involved return to speculating on current and afterlife fortunes, rendering all attempts at “change” null and void? Or that the book supposedly at the center of their religious practice is primarily presented as tool to help them achieve this maximization? Or that end times prophesies, the rapture, or the Jewish people are going to help them achieve this mystical jackpot?
While cattle ‘moo’ in their mechanized pens, Schmitt offers us this chilling reminder of the nature of the existential struggle which remains, even if covered in the shadows:
“If a people no longer possess the energy or the will to maintain itself in the sphere of politics, the latter will not thereby vanish from the world. Only a weak people will disappear.”
As Clausewitz notes, it is the defender of the city who will and must be the first express violence if he wishes to be successful in his defense. The arsonist with the torch can burn down an entire village if he is not first apprehended, and this apprehension will likely require an act of violence. But as Strauss also realizes, it is exceedingly easy to go from to this point to advocacy for “dangerousness” for its own sake.
Thus, the question is not simply what constitutes a weak people, but what constitutes a people, and the failure to ask the question and, perhaps, define what constitutes a people (or race) worth preserving ultimately undermines the strength of the people in question. Consequently, the quest for the definition of the political is necessarily a question of an ideal sense. Thus, we cannot reach it simply at the extremes, and to focus solely on the extreme case is to abandon the search for the political for politics.
Knowledgeable readers will know where this took Schmitt, and, indeed, it is emblematic of the whole struggle. Liberalism, as defined by Schmitt, must be separated from modernity, which is simply the necessary multiplication of loyalties on the basis of multiplicity of communities based on new forms of connectivity provided by technology. Which is to say, it is not necessarily an ideal, it is simply fiberoptic cables lying across the ocean floor and politicians suddenly able to talk on the phone.
Indeed, if merchants pursued this connectivity for its own sake, or for their sake, does this invalidate the connectivity? It is neither a barrier nor a help towards awareness; a multiplication of contingent loyalties is not necessarily an abrogation of a single essential one.
We then affirm the importance of the search for the essence of the political, and find that we must first, in the words of Rosenstock-Huessy, go back to Descartes, hoping that we may find a new order along the way.