Issue #2 · 2021-07-07

Ideological Exile and the Phenomenology of Authority

by Joel Davis

Thought without presupposition is impossible, a thinker gains agency not by eliminating presuppositions (which if pursued to the end would ultimately eliminate thought itself) but by delimiting their necessity. We restrict our agency as thinkers when we obscure the contingency of a presupposition, enclosing our thought within a world in which it reigns. Opening our thought onto its potential to escape this enclosure is the fundamental purpose of theory. Of course most "theory" fails to realize this purpose, but instead performs the role of masquerading ideology with rationalizations which conceal the possibility to think differently. The task of this essay is to reveal a horizon beyond a rather subtle ideological trap contemporary political thought so often falls into, sociological functionalism.

Sociological Functionalism is the presupposition that society can be best understood a system and is therefore descriptively reducible to a nexus of functions. In sociology, "conflict theorists" are supposedly the main opponents of the so called "functionalists", but conflict theory can still be said to be functionalist in the sense that conflict is itself a function they alledge the system to be performing. Thinking of society as a system (whether it is collaborative or conflictious) has become so pervasive in political thinking that very rarely do you encounter anyone questioning whether the notion of society is reducible to the notion of systematicity. This goes far beyond the discipline we name "sociology", it permeates all contemporary political theory. But what if society is something more than a system? How would we know if we presuppose that it isn't uncritically?

Of course, we so commonly presuppose that society is a system for good reason. How else would one model society if not as a system? How could one model anything as anything but a system? The very act of modelling presupposes systematicity, to construct a non-systematic model of something would be an absurdity. We must ask ourselves then, why do we need to model society? Why would our model of society be the highest authority on what it is? In the act of describing society, we prescribe how it should be understood. In other words, the description of society prescribes the context within which all political decisions are made. The modeller of society then with such subtlety that he usually doesn't even himself notice, places himself in authority over the political order by delimiting its possibilities. Hence the form by which all sociological functionalisms are applied in political critique is an explanation of the incompatibility of a political authority's self-rationalization with arguments for a particular sociological description.

In proclaiming that society must be described differently, a political rationalization which conforms to this difference is demanded. How the political is rationalized is vital to its actual functioning precisely because the political order is made up of a series of roles which apply these rationalizations to concrete situations. These roles are in turn governed by roles which review the correctness of these applications, this is basically what a legal system is and how bureaucratic hierarchies work. The sociological description implicit in institutionalized political rationality then is not neutral, it is enforced, this imposition literally defines society's self-relation through its political institutions. Institutionalized thinking about society as a system therefore imposes this very systematicity upon it. This is profoundly important to recognize because the delusion of sociological modelling is that we are merely "describing" society when we engage in it, but we aren't. We are commanding it to restructure itself to fit into our model. When a sociological model becomes implied by political institutions in their self-rationalization, this model does not simply describe these institutions, it rules them.

There are two fundamental modes of sociological function; collaboration and conflict. Both presuppose survival. Collaboration, the survival of the society as a holistic unit. Conflict, the survival of one part of the society. Of course sometimes conflict is key to collaboration, it can be seen as necessary to the survival of the whole to protect parts of society against the interests of other parts of society. It can also been seen as necessary to stage controlled conflict (competition) within society to facilitate the demonstration, selection and reward of functions performed to the benefit of society's survival. So why do I have a problem with this 'sociological functionalism' thing? This all seems pretty reasonable doesn't it? In short the problem I see can be distilled to the question of why we must assume that 'survival' is the only purpose served by society. Why is society trying to survive? Survive to do what exactly? Are conflict and collaboration the only things society ever does, or are these merely the two modes by which it survives?

We can't answer such questions of the purpose of survival within sociological functionalism. This is because the very notion of function presupposes a purpose. Purpose cannot itself be a function, functions have purposes. So we can never derive a purpose for society from a model of society. This is why the only purpose for society that sociological functionalism can come up with is the tautological assumption that society must keep functioning (surviving). Sociological functionalism then in its application, is the institutionalized denial that society serves a purpose. Placing a model of society in authority over a society will make that society nihilistic. It will make its political system incapable of serving any purpose beyond its own survival, in other words power for the sake of power. Conflict and collaboration are the means of society, to posit them also as its ends is to deny that society has any.

Of course, explicit nihilism isn't a particularly functional means of running a political system. Rationalizing and motivating political action generally requires more than the mere proclamation that we live in a society. Political discourse within a nihilistic paradigm incapable of affirming anything but "survival" has no option then but to engage in conflict analysis. Politics under a nihilistic backdrop can only be understood in defensive terms. The survival of Group X is under threat, Group Y is responsible. This is true even for self-proclaimed "individualists" who reject "collectivism", as their primary concern is that these individuals are threatened by those pesky collectivists. In all cases the purpose of society is either the oppression of one group by another or their liberation. Enemies meet in reciprocal belief that they are the liberators and their opponents are the oppressors. Liberated for what exactly? For the survival of the group? Why must it survive? Only an traitor would ask such a question.

Within the paradigm of sociological functionalism then, the political can be understood only through the binary of domination/liberation. Such a rationalization for pursuing liberation (or domination, if one dares to make this explicit) can only be understood in negative terms. We can only oppose domination or liberation, we cannot affirm either in themselves for we are trapped in nihilism. We are ruled by an intellectual model which infinitely recurses in self-referential presupposition. This abstract vortex alienates us from the possibility of encountering any authority which transcends this idolatrous act of worshipping our self-enclosure in its denial. The act of subordinating society to our model subordinates us to its meaninglessness. In a society where authority has no meaning, power can only be grasped through acts which conceal it. Delusions of liberation are cultivated by our sorcerer ("intellectual") elite as the means of this subtle domination. The denial of an authority which supervenes upon the projection of a model by the intellect upon society rendered this inevitable.

So, what is the solution? How do we approach society without projecting systematicity upon it, without self-systematizing society in service of its purposeless domination by power incapable of acting as a genuine authority? What posture can be counterposed to the modeller? How can we transcend systematic thinking and receive authority's significance without projecting a model which obstructs its revelation? If society has a meaning, if a genuine authority exists, it must be making itself available to us somehow. The act of modelling itself would have to be an act which denies this availability, it would have to be an alienation from a more fundamental mode of perception within which authority's significance is apparent.

To take the position of modeller as our foundational relation to society is to grant oneself the position of subject in implied ontological priority to society as its object. Of course we are modelling society from within society, so this "subjective" apprehension of it would necessarily (yet absurdly) be both a product of society and somehow paradoxically also be capable of perceiving it from an exterior position as object. Of course if society is an object, its analysis of itself therefore is a product of what it analyses, a circularity. How the hell are we perceiving society then? Clearly it exists, we're in it right now! Either society is an illusion, or our perception of it must be prior to our taking up of the position 'subject' and our projection upon it of the notion 'object'.

The way out of this confusion is the way out of the subject-object (Cartesian) distinction, a path that was worked out by the tradition of Phenomenology and fully realized in Merleau-Ponty's critique of Cartesian Dualism (a metaphysical disease which infected almost all of Western Civilization's subsequent grand theorists). A key feature of this critique is the transcendental roles of significance and intentionality in the perceptual phenomenon. Merleau-Ponty points out that for a figure to stand out in perception from its background as a thing, we must already sense a significance within it. This sense of significance is the basis of our intentionality to look for the object. So, the object in perception is not the cause but the product of our directedness toward significance.

This directedness is not "subjectivity", for it is not self-generated but drawn into the thing by its significance. This significance is always already there, it cannot be generated by the subject or the object but is the basis upon which either could be constructed. Without being subjected to a sense of significance there is nothing to make an object stand out, and with no object to be subjected to there can be no subject. Therefore the subject and object cannot be alienated from one other, or come prior to one another. The perceiver and the thing perceived are co-extensive aspects of any perception, neither generate perception but are both generated by the significance of the world-horizon within which perception occurs.

Phenomenologically then, perception is a direction, an intention, not a function. This means we don't have to perceive society as a system, as a mere set of functions. Instead we can see society as a horizon of intentions aiming at revelations of significance, as modes of reverence and perversion, of affirmation and denial. The difference between authority and power is this difference between reverence and perversion. Authority can only be given, whereas power is always taken. But how do we distinguish the given from the taken? In this perversity we call modernity it seems like all is taken and nothing is given, but from who and how was it taken? Authority must first have been given before power was taken, for otherwise it never existed and there was nothing to take.

Obviously according to liberalism, authority must given by the people, any other form of government would be an illegitimate taking of power. Authoritarianism therefore is the supposedly great evil which liberalism negates due to its regard for the democratic process. But where did "the people" get the right to grant authority from? Themselves apparently, at least according to liberalism. However, in order for liberalism to make this determination it must presuppose a model of society which accounts for this. This implies a model within which authority is fundamentally generated out of participation in the formal practice of democracy itself. This social-ontological privileging of democratic practice implies that political meaning can itself be conjured entirely within each individual's acts of deliberation. These acts must be denied object-characteristics in themselves, they must emerge out of pure void. As if the act of deliberation is itself the foundation, prior to it can come nothing, for otherwise this act of deliberation would be subordinated to a more fundamental process which determines it.

This notion of deliberation within a void as social-ontological foundation implies the aforementioned Cartesian schema of subject and object. Liberalism requires the subject to function as the spontaneous ground of authority's generation, but this subject can therefore be literally nothing unto itself. To reprise my earlier argument, there can be no subject without an object, and no subject-object relation without a sense of significance already being intended. The subject is nothing unto itself because it is nothing in itself, distinguishing it and granting it ontological priority is profoundly incoherent. To be subjected to political deliberation and democratic practices is to find oneself immersed within a world of always already existing significance. In other words, anything significant that we could see in the political we discover, it was already there before we deliberated it and without regard to our "consent". The significance of the political then is not given by the people, but given to the people.

Liberalism then, in its denial of the legitimacy of all assertions of this significance which it determines the people have not consented to, instructs the people to take power from what has already been given. For if it was given by anything but "the people" themselves, it would be "authoritarianism" and therefore bad, by definition. Of course, "the people" aren't capable of wielding this power which they take, for they don't even realize that they are taking it. According to liberalism of course, "the people" don't take power, they already have it! The role of "the people" under liberalism is to give power to the State, and so long as the State gives the people the impression that they are giving it its power, it has the right to do what it wants. (on the people's behalf, of course!)

Deluded by Liberal sorcery, "the people" don't even realize they are taking power under pretences that offer them no capacity to do anything with it but grant it to the State. So in reality the people aren't really taking anything, the State takes power and then casts the spell of liberalism to justify its nihilistic denial of any higher authority or non-arbitrary meaning to its actions. Democratic consent is an illusion crafted to seduce the State's subjects into denying the possibility of meaningful authority, inducing the nihilism necessary for power for power's sake to reign unchallenged. But it doesn't have to be like this, it wasn't always like this. For starters I must point out that prior to the emergence of Machiavellian absolutism and its concealment by liberal sorcery, our civilization held an extremely different notion of how and from where authority is given.

"Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God." - Romans 13:1

Through the embodiment of the Divine in Jesus Christ and his founding of the Church, a means was given for the successors of Christ's apostles to ordain political authorities. Divinely ordained, Monarchical authority was embedded in the Christian tradition only within which did it have meaning, as symbolized by the crucifix which adorned the sceptre. Authority must be given to be genuine, for if it is taken it becomes mere power, and precisely this way and no other was it given to us. Here then in the historical process by which the State rebelled against Divine ordination is where power was taken, and only through a deep historical and theological examination of this rebellion will we discover the means by which repentance is possible. The only alternative is the hell of power for power's sake, our spiritual degradation by ideological sorcery, the State liberated by nihilism to do whatever the fuck it wants. The meaning of the political must have already been given to us, otherwise it doesn't exist. If it wasn't given to us by Jesus Christ, then who?

"But knowing that man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ; we also believe in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified." - Galatians 2:16

Authority cannot be generated from a model or given by deliberation, as I have established they both implicitly deny that authority can be given in their circularity. Either power is taken or through faith it is given. Within the secular modernist worldview, the only thing that can be done is to take power from those who have taken it, but this power can have no real meaning or purpose. The significance of authority must be given, it cannot be modelled or systematized, it cannot be generated through the strategic application of analytic methodologies. It must already exist. Its compulsion must be discovered through revelation. This is was concretely embodied in Christendom, so the question is, if not Christ then how?

If there is another way, write me a paper about it and I'll publish it in the next issue of this journal. Otherwise if we just decide to be nihilists, the task before us is to try to out-sociopath an elite with a brutally massive headstart on us on every conceivable material metric. Even if we were to win, what would be the point? To survive? Survive as what exactly? Power for power's sake but not ours, we wouldn't have one! Can you really take power, or does power take you?

The only way to beat "the system" is to become non-systematic, to discover a genuine authority revealed by faith which cracks through the matrix.

Blackpill or Christpill, pick one.