Before engaging an enemy, it pays to acknowledge both of them
“That [spirit is what the ruling elite] had to roll back, and that they did quite successfully. That rollback was completed by the implosion of the Soviet Union. They sat down and said, ‘Great, now we can do whatever we want.” –from The Time Is Right for a Palace Revolution: A Conversation with Tariq Ali, By Chris Hedges, Common Dreams, March 2, 2015 (boldface added)
In Tariq Ali’s recent interview with Chris Hedges, we find the amorphous they flitting from empire to transcendent banking class, then back again. Which they? Who they? Loose pronouns can suggest conceptual imprecision. A sharper lens is warranted, especially when, as many allege, the fate of man rests in the hands of a perennially invoked elite.
This is no great criticism of Ali’s formidable work. He is an illustrious and longstanding icon of the Left. Yet he commits what has become an all-too common ambiguity. Far more than being roughly over there, the enemy is both here and then, in discrete enough form, over there as well. Those in possession of the proper dual coordinates are more effective combatants in the grand cause.
Both George Orwell (in 1949’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four) and Ferdinand Lundberg (in 1968’s The Rich and the Super-Rich) speak of a bicameral elite. The former distinguishes between the inner and outer party; the latter, the finpols and the pubpols. So the distinction is hardly a novel one.
Yet these divisions are routinely glossed today as one tends to find in the prevailing commentaries an improbably elasticized and unitary elite befitting all seasons and all conspiracy theories: call it Iluminati-itis, the durably binary us-versus-them formulation. In this one-bogeyman-fits-all permutation, the elite becomes a vaguely invoked slur more revealing of class envy on the part of the name-callers than an actual descriptor of class realities.
Though there may be even finer-grained delineations, these two essential branches of the elite have prescribed roles and features. There is (what I and others have taken to calling) a rent-seeking elite. This group is charged with serving in a visible role, in effect taking both the heat and the occasional guillotine. The rent seeking elite’s power and fate is for the most part temporal, not multi-generationally rooted, and derives from empire and discrete national sovereignty. In fact, this is most likely the ‘they’ referenced by Ali in the prefatory quote above, in this specific instance, the empire-of-the-moment, the Anglo-American Empire.
The rent seeking elite’s modus operandi can be described as bifurcated skullduggery: that is, feigning responsiveness to an electorate while doing the bidding of the transcendent class (what this essay shall call International Capital, ‘IC’ hereon). This is why the rent seeking elite are, in a very structural sense, a Janus class i.e. two-faced, yet asynchronously so. Beholden to only one real master, they must posture answerableness nonetheless to the electorate below. Sometimes even the most consummate political performers fail to bridge this gap.
From time to time, an issue comes along that stretches Janusian credibility to near-breaking. Take the American electorate’s clear preference for tightened border control. Seeing an electoral opportunity, the Republicans hammered away at illegal immigration, only to cast it aside like a hot potato immediately after their midterm election victory, indeed before the new Congress could even be seated. Shamefacedness finds no province in the rent seeking elite’s arsenal of responses.
While all may be fair in love and electioneering, clearly the decision has been taken behind the red-blue facade that the US populace is to be kept permanently off-balance with employment anxieties and low-cost labor competition. (This in turn is part of a larger IMF currency reset and ‘managed decline’ narrative that exceeds the scope of this essay.) Suffice to say, IC has spoken. The people’s will is completely thwarted as our rent seeking elite are often left looking profoundly hypocritical. Alas expendability is one of their chief hallmarks. They are the rump of the elite, hardly the entitled and aloof ‘upper body’. Survive or die. They enjoy no birthright.
IC sits astride the horizontal conflicts that engage and preoccupy the rent seeking elites as the latter populate the various dialectical positions, east versus west, communism versus capitalism, etc. Like a pendulum converging steadily on the dead-center of perfect control, the arc is loosely overseen by IC. The combatants are allowed to exhaust themselves in a never-ending cycle of directed irresolution and zero-sum, horizontal power-grabbing. Centuries-long enjoyment of the Rule of 72 has rendered a wealth-power gap so unassailable that leisurely convergence on perfect control can be indulged. Global power is destined to consolidate in pyramidic fashion as the law of large numbers ensures a relentless upward march. Time is clearly on the side of IC.
In a manner that resembles a dialectical process without being truly dialectical (no authentic syntheses are ever reached), each side of the arc converges upon the other. Ali’s ‘extreme center’ is the anticipatory prefiguring of the dead center, the pendulum stopped on Panopticon control. This dead rest will mark the end of history. Today, it seems decidedly nearer than further away from its still-point.
The collectivist model (with its implications for mass docility), so important for ultimate IC control, suddenly finds a receptive audience in the US, something that was inconceivable in decades prior. One doesn’t have to be a committed John Bircher to see that what founder Robert Welch warned against here in 1974 as being the ten steps to America’s ‘destruction’ have, in large part come to pass, even as the negative or positive cast of it can be left to the eye of the beholder. The rapidity of the transformative convergence is the point here.
All ideologies are normalizing to dead-center. In its embrace of mass surveillance, centralized healthcare and the command economy style (interest rates by diktat), the US has claimed many features of the empire it was thought to have defeated, the USSR. IC’s goal is an undeviating quest for complete power and control. Its stance towards various ideologies is purely opportunistic. Indeed the ideology astride all ideologies is Machiavelli wed to Nietzsche’s will to power. Ideologues are thus exuberant and useful idiots. (I don’t care for the latter term and have a great deal of affection for many of them, much as one is prone to love the poets despite their equally doomed charters.)
Those who become smitten with ideology forget (or perhaps never understood) the transient, vehicular nature both of ideology and empire. Ali is right when he alludes to the de-spiriting nature of this process. However escalating disaffection and powerlessness is less a byproduct of history as one of its central purposes. The proles are to be excised of all spirit. Within this historical process, ideologies must be allowed to fully express themselves before being hung out to dry, their inherent unworkableness well-advertised to all parties. In a strange sense the battles that IC allows are comprehensive and fair, albeit directed with a cynical telos in mind.
All reservoirs of belief, be they religious or nationalistic, must be drained of meaning. The last gasp for political change presented itself in the highly attractive figure of Barak Obama who dangled the prospect seductively only to crush all remaining vestiges for its potential realization. Et tu, the people cry, morally exhausted. Even today, much of the supposed Left can’t bring themselves to acknowledge the cruel depths of the betrayal. IC views this as a necessary process. Heartfelt belief must wither away. There can be no wounded alternative left brooding in the corner plotting its reemergence.
The Panopticon is to be conceptually uncontested. IC has a need to be thoroughly believed and consensually adopted as saviors. The Abrahamic faiths will gasp their last when WW3 fails to yield its expected Final Day–unless of course the Messiah appears, in which case the meek will indeed obtain their withheld inheritance. Who dares say?
In many crucial ways, this nihilism has already succeeded. If a referendum was held today, most Americans would opt for the soma of immersive media, happy to leave the driving to an overclass. Machiavellian principles suggest the indolent will not enjoy their slumber for long.
Hyper-exceptionalism decrees that higher consciousness (soul or human spirit if you prefer) will be the sole province of the combined elite, no longer a human birthright or common aspiration. Nothing will be inalienable except the Panopticon itself. Soma is a tempting daydream. Frankly, how have the masses earned it? The combined elite will be loath to indulge mass, mindless pleasure. More likely the masses will suffer some combination of benign and malign neglect on the way to radical attrition. The conspiracists love to point to the Georgia Guidestones and the like for evidence of malevolent forethought. (Oh, and can we please retire that infernal angel music on Youtube?). When you think about it, death ensures an attrition rate of 100% for all of us. So, patience combined with an increasingly Hobbsian existence will accomplish most objectives.
The sense one gets from Ali, especially his wistful accounts of the sixties, is that the latter period was imbued with an oasis of exogenous authenticity. Whereas today, ‘by contrast’, that authenticity resists replication for a number of reasons. Alas, his analysis seems clouded with nostalgia.
Arguably, the current period lacks the energy of the sixties, but only because the preordained arc of the pendulum is nearing its dead center. The pendulum is an energy-dissipating device constructed to the specs of IC. Nothing occurring along the arc can reasonably be deemed independent or un-orchestrated movement despite a prior era’s passionately invested actors claiming there once existed ‘change we could believe in’. How do we know they have succumbed to retrospective idealization? Where is the definitive change that era brought forth? Even the daydream has been reversed.
Occasionally, the hint of a potential derailment pokes through: Huey Long, Martin Luther King, the Kennedy’s perhaps. Yet no movement is allowed an unsupervised autonomy for long. Jumping the arc altogether is a permanently foreclosed option. Subversive energies are either infiltrated and corrupted or eliminated outright. In the final analysis, all sides are colonized and expropriated by IC.
Hollywood has a knack for claustrophobia. Imagine the movie Rosemary’s Baby, except the coven has by now managed to engulf the entirety of Manhattan, then extended its domain across the world with mortared gray determination. What exists outside the confines of this expropriating scaffold? Apocalyptic faiths whose competing brands of transcendence look to a world-beyond to where the Machiavellian tentacles of expropriation presumably cannot reach. Is salvation a genuine reality or yet one more diversionary hoax perpetrated by IC? Only the dead can say for sure.