A NONFICTION BOOK BY O.G. ROSE
Belonging Again (Part 15)
Does the State train us to love humanity more than individuals?
“How does the Cosmopolitan belong (again)?” — on this question, so far, we have established that fixing democracy will help soften the tensions of the State which all are increasingly “toward.” This will help Cosmopolitans feel more at rest, contributing to the possibility of feeling belonging, but will that alone be enough? Perhaps so if the State itself can be that which a people can be “rooted” and “grounded” in — in other words, can we “belong again” in the State? Can the State provide “quiet certainty?” After our journey so far, exploring this possibility may seem silly, but if it is not possible for us to cease being Cosmopolitan, to answer the question, “How do we belong again?” well, we must explore all possibilities best we can.
According to Conyers, the State is precisely what is making us feel increasingly rootless, and as the State, toleration, and all the forces of our Pluralistic Age necessarily inflate away the authority and power of communities, even if a person is less Cosmopolitan (increasingly impossible), it will still prove difficult to find a community that has the power to totally and convincingly root a person in it. But is this such a problem if the State can ground us (which, as communities inflate away, we naturally appeal more to)? If it were theoretically possible for the State to efface all “first principles” of various communities in Pluralism and unify us all under the same umbrella (arguably negating Pluralism), couldn’t this State give us “belonging?” Yes, this is likely an authoritarian regime, but could such a regime give us “quiet certainty?” Surely if any State could, an authoritarian regime would be the one, but even if possible, would “quiet certainty” in a dictatorship really reflect the kind of “belonging” we seek? Perhaps so.
On how the State forces communities to tolerate one another while lessening their authority, author of The Long Truce, A.J. Conyers wrote:
‘As the centers of power become further removed from us, they act upon us in a more impersonal way, but also — because the machinery that makes it all possible is bureaucratic in nature — in a more inflexible way. We are saved from the personal animosity of the malicious neighbor only to be delivered into the hands of the indifferent, faceless, nameless, unknown functionary — or else the celebrity ruler who we only think we know. The anonymity and abstractness of the whole process fixes us all the more firmly in its grip.’¹
The State is always distant: even if we as Americans live in Washington D.C., it is far from us: “in” the White House, in the Capital, in the Pentagon. And yet even within those “symbols” of the State, the State cannot be found: it is everywhere and nowhere. It is all of us, and yet we cannot say how. The State is not an illusion, but it is real like fog: there, but ungraspable. To be “toward” the State is to be “toward” an emergent and perhaps dysfunctional absence of us. In other words, “there is no Big Brother,” only us — Josef K — but this is a topic we must wait to address at another time, notably in “There is No Big Brother” by O.G. Rose.
Arguably, all communities are general and less concrete than the individual, and perhaps this is one of the realities contributing to the focus on the individual over the group in modernity (and to ontological visions of humans like that found in Cartesianism). On this line of thought, there is an argument to be made that there is no such thing as “humanity,” only “individuals” (at least in terms of phenomenological experience). There is easily truth to this, but it does not follow from this that generalities add no (necessary) value to individual lives, or that the generality of “the Church” is equal in abstraction to “the State” (though perhaps they are tantamount). The State is far more abstract than one’s local congregation or the community that one literally lives and breathes in: the metaphysical “local community” is much more grounded in a physical reality a person experiences and can relate to than the abstract “State” in which a person holds citizenship. Hence, though still to some degree abstract, a local community can “anchor” a person in reality far better than can “the State” (though this is not to say the State has no role at all).
Discussing the thought of F.H. Hinsley, who believed the ‘growth of central government authority was a necessary evolution in modern society,’ Conyers noted that ‘[o]verlaping authorities, most of them arising naturally out of the existence of distinct groups within society, once made up the patchwork of a political community.’² Now, today, the very distinction between “community” and “the State” has been erased; to reference Murray Rothbard, the words “society” and “State” have become similes. To quote Conyers at length again:
‘In order for this to happen, it is expedient for the individual to feel a lessened obligation to these natural groups and to identify more strongly with the centralizing state. The result of this ‘rationalizing’ tendency in the growth of the bureaucratic power is the homogenizing of society. Rather than articulated hierarchies and complex associations, society becomes a ‘mass society’ — one whose form is imposed from above. Society is less and less articulated along lines of social groups formed by kinship, locality, and faith, and it is made up instead of individuals who relate directly to the bureaucratic organization from the larger political entity. They might then be identified with ‘parties’ whose purpose is to influence or seize control of the state, but in this case they are all the more absorbed into the centralizing process. The only authority left, and the only one worth identifying with, is that of the [S]tate.’³
Can we “belong again” in a “mass society” in which the State is increasingly the only thing we share and perhaps the only possible source of “quiet certainty” and/or “rest” (though this paper has not made that claim yet)? Abstract, forceful, distant, and ironing away “first principles” versus harmonizing them, I don’t believe it is possible for the State to provide us with “belonging.” If Conyers is right, then the State by force helped efface the “symbolic boundaries” between communities that lead to “disagreement, tension, and even conflict,” causing for citizens a life which proves increasingly “intolerably disjointed” — it would seem reasonable to assume the State would only worsen the situation. Additionally, I don’t believe the State could address our extensional anxiety without itself becoming a totalitarian regime against which civil strife (like has been seen in Yugoslavia and Ireland) or even terrorism proved probable.⁴
In the past, as Charles Taylor observed, societies were more “bundled,” which is to say that the State, the community, and the individual all ascribed to the same basic ideology (Christianity, Islam, Atheism, etc.). Now, the individual exists in a secular State while observing Islam and working for a Buddhist. In the past, societies were more “total” in ascribing to an ideology and living it out, arguably like a “totalitarian regime,” but this “totality of ideology” arose emergently and organically with the people, more freely and “bottom up” (not that everyone liked it). To reestablish such a totality today in our Age of Pluralism, force and totalitarianism seem necessary: the age when totality could be achieved without totalitarianism seems gone forever.⁵ Hence, unable to restore totality without resorting to authoritarianism (which would lead to existential backlash like we’ve seen with Trump and Brexit), the question becomes, “How do we live without ‘totality,’ and in that situation, achieve a sense of belonging and ‘quiet certainty,’ which by definition is challenged by the very nature of Pluralism itself?”
It seems to me that, today, there is increasing hope that we might find belonging in the State, but again, I don’t believe this is possible, precisely because once we realize that “the State isn’t the society” and grasp the distinctions, we find ourselves left with nothing but bureaucracy, legal force, and impersonal procedure. The State, as distinct from the society (to no fault of its own), cannot provide us with what we need to be fully human: there’s nothing there but “form,” per se, while we decide on the content which the form cannot provide. I am no anarchist, and believe the State is necessarily for a society to function well and provide people with what they need to be fully human (Aristotelian). However, if the State comes in conflict with society, the necessary State works against itself, and in that environment, it seems likely more people will flirt with notions of desperation and anarchism, threatening society (perhaps in the name of society).
To further the case, the State cannot give us rest because the more “toward” it we are, the more we (unintentionally) come to “love humanity instead of individuals,” per se, contributing to civil strife — which is to say the more The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky is forgotten.⁶ In Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, in addition to the legendary Grand Inquisitor, there exists an ‘accursed old man who loves mankind so stubbornly in his own way.’⁷ ‘[U]nquestionably intelligent’ like Ivan Karamazov, the old man confesses his sin to Father Zosima, admitting that ‘the more [he loved] mankind in general, the less [he loved] people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons.’⁸ The old man continues:
‘In my dreams […] I often went so far as to think passionately of serving mankind, and, it may be, would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days, this I know from experience. As soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I can begin to hate even the best of men: one because he takes too long eating his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps blowing his nose. I become the enemy of people the moment they touch me […] On the other hand, it has always happened that the more I hate people individually, the more ardent becomes my love for humanity as a whole.’⁹
This paradox is a theme that runs throughout Dostoevsky’s work. When he was younger, Dostoevsky was a revolutionist who favored Socialism, but as he aged, his opinion of Socialism changed. He believed that, in the name of “loving humanity,” Socialism doomed humanity and turned people away from Christ, the only true hope people had for real love. Dostoevsky wrote “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” in the name of this conviction, and changed “The Great Conversation” forever.
I find it hard to argue with Dostoevsky, and I agree that the more people are “toward” the State, the more they increase in their “love of humanity,” but not necessarily in their love of actual individuals (and please note how the “love of humanity” can conceal from us our loss of “love for individuals,” for it feels like we love actual people — lots of them, in fact). Yes, people may “like” those who are part of their tribe (rather Progressivism, Conservatism, Christianity, Atheism, investment banking, or what have you), but it will likely become increasingly difficult for them to “love” people, especially those who don’t think like them. Why? First, the State is ultimately an abstraction, and by placing an abstraction at the foundation of our identity, we set ourselves up to habituate ourselves to think and “be” “toward” abstraction, which could result in us treating people and others like abstractions (which would be to commit the sin of the old man in Dostoevsky). Second, the State is impersonal and abstract, and hence always resembles the image of those observing and “projecting over” it. Currently not a “substantive democracy,” the State doesn’t teach us to love those who aren’t like us (which is ultimately everyone), but to rather win elections and enforce our “first principles” upon everyone else (contributing to existential anxiety). This doesn’t mean the State is inherently evil or unimportant, but it does mean that it cannot teach us to love individuals as well as can local communities and personal associations. Conyers may very well argue that one of the main purposes of community is to help us overcome our love of our ideas of people so that we can love actual people, but as communities lose their power and authority, it will increasingly seem up to the State to teach this lesson, but the State will likely be doomed to fail, it itself being as abstract as “humanity.” And as a society is increasingly filled with people who can only love humanity versus actual people, this too will increase the existential tension that threatens social order, and furthermore make us feel increasingly like isolated individuals (ergo “modern’), for as Conyers says, modernity is defined much by ‘the lonely quest of the solitary seeker.’¹⁰
To close this section, I don’t believe the State can provide us with “belonging” and/or “quiet certainty,” not only because today to restore sociopolitical “totality” it would likely have to become an authoritarian regime, but also because the State itself is an abstraction that makes us “toward” abstractions like “humanity” over “individuals.” Furthermore, it is precisely the growth of the State which causes the inflating away of communities — it is a prime force behind the emergence of Cosmopolitanism — and in it being a (perhaps well-intentioned) source of the problem, it is doubtful to me it could also be the solution. Not an anarchist, I agree with Aristotle that individual happiness is achieved when an individual finds his proper place in the “polis,” but I fear the State, though necessary for the polis, is not the polis itself, for the State is not the society. In it, we can find a place, but not a place we can call our own.
¹Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 222.
²Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 118.
³Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 118.
⁴Hunter, James Davison. Evangelism. The University of Chicago. 1987: 157–158.
⁵This is similar to the loss of the “Goldilocks Era” when increasing employment necessarily followed increasing GDP, as discussed in Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford. The loss of totality and the “Goldilocks Era” may feed one another.
⁶All roads lead to The Brothers Karamazov.
⁷Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002: 262.
⁸Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002: 57.
⁹Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002: 57.
¹⁰Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 92.