Belonging Again (Part 30)
What process could combat delegitimization that wouldn’t itself be delegitimated as the delegitimization occurred?
Can we hold on to hope by returning to Hunter and his “substantive democracy,” a world where people can compromise without abandoning their most deeply held beliefs?” This was also discussed in “The Conflict of Mind” by O.G. Rose, and there it was noted how people often call on “the other side” to change or “water down” what they believe, but this effort is doomed to fail. Furthermore, this way of “moderating” the society must cause the existential anxiety that works against acceptance and “belonging” (causing “the circle of acceptance” to vanish), for it must cause people to turn against their own “givens.” If existential anxiety is to be avoided, people must be able to hold to their “givens” as much as possible, and when they must abandon or “move away” from them, it is paramount that the method or process people move away be one that keeps the “givens” “given enough” to alleviate existential tension as much as possible.
If there is a way to avoid authoritarianism necessarily becoming appealing to (some if not all) members of a society (risking the creation of a feedback loop between insiders and outsiders), beyond the idea of everyone becoming “Deleuzian” or “Overmen” (which might only work for a minority), it would seem to me our only hope is process and method: the how “givens” are changed and/or done away with as a society morally evolves, Pluralizes, and so on (all inevitable and unavoidable). That said, we should keep in mind that there might be something “Deleuzian” about “substantive democracy” or other similar processes, at which point such processes might not prove to be a solution for the majority at all. At that point, we might just have to accept “the tragedy of society” while keeping in mind that humans might be inherently social, thus inescapably tragic.
What is democracy but a process that helps people feel like they can live with the results (because they had “a fair shake,” had a fair chance to vote, etc.)? No, not everyone in the society is happy with the results, but the results are easier to live with than if they were decided without any possibility of input or say from the people. If the people in a society don’t feel like they are allowed to participate in their society’s politics, they are very likely to feel alienated by their politics (hinting at why authoritarian regimes that people accept are democratically elected). Where there is no democracy, there tends to be a large police state and/or military complex to keep the alienated people in line.
What is revolution but an existential response? A successful government is one which revolting against is unappealing, as is a successful society: it is where a people feel existentially comfortable and stable with their politics and society. Where stability is lacking — where there is injustice, corruption, etc. — revolution, protesting, and so on becomes much more appealing, as does voting for a strong leader to change “the status quo.”
Since a society seemingly must entail both insiders and outsiders — those in the circle and those outside of it — there will always be some to whom revolution is appealing, because there will always be some who are (primed to be) existentially anxious. Therefore, it is paramount that there be a process by which existentially unstable outsiders can become insiders without existentially destabilizing the circle and the people in the circle. Otherwise, outsiders will be driven to accept authoritarianism or insiders will be (perhaps both in response to one another). To stop this from happening, a process is needed to alleviate existential anxiety for both insiders and outsiders. “Substantive democracy” is part of the answer, assuming that is possible, which it might not be, for even that might entail existential work and development that only a minority will enact.
But what else? Well, whatever additional process we decide is needed, we must acknowledge that it will be difficult to convince the people to accept it, seeing as we have been suffering and continue to suffer what Habermas calls a “legitimization crisis” (which is worsened by our technologies, as discussed in other works by O.G. Rose). As Berger warned, ‘[w]e have been passing through a process that sociologists rather ominously describe as delegitimation — that is, a weakening of the values and assumptions on which a political order is based.’¹ Berger also claimed that we have mostly been shielded from the consequences of this delegitimation due to the strength of Western economies, but ever since the 2008 Financial Crisis, that has ostensibly changed. It might be the case that the conflict between insiders and outsiders necessarily leads to delegitimation, and since there must always be insiders and outsiders, delegitimation must always be a threat, and perhaps it is “practically inevitable” that it occurs.
The threat of delegitimization must be mitigated and dealt with thanks to the right process, but what process could combat delegitimization that wouldn’t itself be delegitimated as the delegitimization occurred? It’s also doubtful we could find a process which “necessarily” stopped delegitimization forever, which is to say we must hope in a contingent process that’s effectiveness depends on us. As it is nearly impossible to restore “givens” once they cease being “givens” — like rebuilding a spider web with our hands, to allude to Wittgenstein — so the same might be the case with restoring legitimacy to processes and governments. If this is the case, then there might be no hope that we could avoid or mitigate the existential anxiety that makes authoritarianism appealing, at least not before everything gets much worse. This might suggest that societies don’t realize they are in trouble before it is too late, that points of no return are only recognized passed them.
¹Berger, Peter L. Facing Up to Modernity. New York, NY: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1977: 159.