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Emperor, Hostage, Despot!

you do what you want when you poppin 🤷🏿
Published onDec 11, 2022
Emperor, Hostage, Despot!

My introduction to comparative studies of major European ideological shifts was through Foucault, Discipline and Punish, Hannah Arendt, On Revolution, and Robert Owen Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism. I think I hold some anthropological determinism stemming from McLuhan's interpretation of how perception is affected by expressive mediums1. But all lead me to believe:

  • 16th-century ideology to today in Europe can be interpreted anthropologically. Think rise of material standards as opposed to some historical determinism set out by Fukuyama.

  • pre-revolution and post-revolution France, Russia, and the US were concerned with centralized power.

  • Fascism is a conservative brain phenomenon in societies that are stressed and can be identified by

    • homogenous identities

    • the need for “an enemy”

    • populist leaders

    • wealthy conservative elite

Very much today’s worst case in the US:

In March, the journalist Jeff Sharlet (a Vanity Fair contributing editor who covers the American right) tweeted that the “intellectual New Right is a white supremacist project designed to cultivate non-white support,” and he linked it to resurgent nationalist and authoritarian politics around the world: “It’s part of a global fascist movement not limited to the anti-blackness of the U.S. & Europe.” — James Pogue, vanityfair

During a recent road trip, I listened to the revolutions podcast. What stood out through this entire era of revolution was Napoleon Bonaparte, an accomplished Corsican general of the middle class who rose to become an emperor for a short while. Like a hundred days. I had always shit on France for having a revolution just to restore a king. And you know, wildly decapitating people and fostering the reign of terror.

And I use to think, yeah, the state monopolizes power.

but no. Kings are disposed often. Like in the Northman movie.

Napoleon’s success could be seen as a triumph of the liberal policies France introduced to balance the estates. But, more puzzling about the restoration of the monarchy was that the French revolution was directly concerned with figures like Napoleon rising to power. Who held the authority to tax citizens and build armies competently was the main catalyst for the revolution. The rights of the three estates had all been radically altered to more generally suit the French population’s needs in the midst of an economic crisis. And as members of the council watched Napolean's rise with extreme scrupulousness, the people chose him. At least until the forces of a united Europe brought about a good chance for french liberals to dethrone Napolean. His heir nonetheless still has a claim to this day.

In a lecture on post-modernity Zizek describes monarchs as having the appearance of rule. These figures are unfortunately tasked with bearing the burden of the masses as well as their own greed. He says these figures are at their best in their himbo-bimbo era. Motivated monarchs should be feared. Is it possible cult-like leaders are the only egomaniacs who would take on the task of fronting civilization building? I doubt that2, but we love them.

And it’s what keeps me up at night. There is no singular authority. Most often, whatever whims can be met by a state as transmitted through some society. I know, I learned a lesson Foucault reiterates over and over. Power and knowledge are capricious constants. I suppose the upside is we can construct institutions such that the wildest threat to them is absorbed. These threats should make the future of human organizations a bit more of an object to reason about. Fascinating it is for anyone to become emperor; more fascinating is to create a society in which emperors get wrecked. I now have a new belief:

  • Hierarchical leaders may or may not be corrupt but their power is being the foreign relations person for the group. It is valuable to have a monarch as a group pathologizes its place in the world.

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