The Ecology of Freedom : Chapter 4 - Epistemologies of Rule
(1921 - 2006) ~ Father of Social Ecology and Anarcho-Communalism : Growing up in the era of traditional proletarian socialism, with its working-class insurrections and struggles against classical fascism, as an adult he helped start the ecology movement, embraced the feminist movement as antihierarchical, and developed his own democratic, communalist politics. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "...Proudhon here appears as a supporter of direct democracy and assembly self- management on a clearly civic level, a form of social organization well worth fighting for in an era of centralization and oligarchy." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "Broader movements and issues are now on the horizon of modern society that, while they must necessarily involve workers, require a perspective that is larger than the factory, trade union, and a proletarian orientation." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "...real growth occurs exactly when people have different views and confront each other in order to creatively arrive at more advanced levels of truth -- not adopt a low common denominator of ideas that is 'acceptable' to everyone but actually satisfies no one in the long run. Truth is achieved through dialogue and, yes, harsh disputes -- not by a deadening homogeneity and a bleak silence that ultimately turns bland 'ideas' into rigid dogmas." (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)
Chapter 4 - Epistemologies of Rule
The shift from hierarchical to class societies occurred on two levels: the material and the subjective. A clearly material shift was embodied in the emergence of the city, the State, an authoritarian technics, and a highly organized market economy. The subjective shifts found expression in the emergence of a repressive sensibility and body of values — in various ways of mentalizing the entire realm of experience along lines of command and obedience. Such mentalities could very well be called epistemologies of rule, to use a broad philosophical term. As much as any material development, these epistemologies of rule fostered the development of patriarchy and an egoistic morality in the rulers of society; in the ruled, they fostered a psychic apparatus rooted in guilt and renunciation. Just as aggression flexes our bodies for fight or flight, so class societies organize our psychic structures for command or obedience.
A repressive rationality, not to be confused with reason as such, rendered the social change from organic society to class society highly ambiguous in character. Reason has always identified human fulfillment with a consciousness of self, with logical clarity, and with salvation from humanity's complete absorption into the misty world of the mythopeic. Even matters of faith and religion have been interpreted rationally — as highly systematic theologies rationally derived from a few fundamental beliefs. But this vast project of humanization — from organic to class society — occurred without a clear ethical basis for human fulfillment, one that had a definite rational content. Hence the emergence of class society was to be burdened from its outset by a paradox: how can reason, conceived as a tool or method for achieving ethical goals, be integrated with reason conceived as the inherent feature or meaning of these ethical goals?
Tragically, it was not left to reason alone, as the great thinkers of the Enlightenment so optimistically believed, to resolve this paradox. Crises have riddled class society from its inception. In the western world, at least, they have produced a legacy of domination so formidable that it threatens to push us into an abyss that may engulf social life itself. The result has been the emergence of a misplaced antirationalism so blistering and introverted in its hostility to mind that it has literally lost sight of the legacy of domination itself. In surrendering mind to intuition, rationality to mere impulse, coherence to eclecticism, and wholeness to a mystical "oneness," we may very well reinforce this legacy if only because we refuse to dispel it with the means of rational analyzes.
In our reaction to Enlightenment thought, we must rescue reason without becoming "rationalistic," without reducing reason to mere technique. Rarely has society been so direly in need of a clear understanding of the way we mentalize rule and of the history of domination than today, when the very survival of humanity is at stake. In any case, it is only in the use of reason rather than in rationalizing about reason that mind reveals its promises and pitfalls. It would be better to use our rational faculties and reflect on them later than to lose them altogether to a dark heritage that may obliterate mind itself.
The material and subjective levels on which hierarchical societies crystallized into class societies are not sharply separable. Or to use the language of Victorian social thought, we cannot comfortably speak of one level as the "base" for the other; both, in fact, are inextricably intertwined. The city, which from the beginnings of history appears as the "effect" of basic changes from kinship to territorialism, is so crucially important as the arena for dissolving the blood oath that it can only be regarded as a "cause," however ancillary it seems to important changes in technics and ideology. In fact, urban life from its inception occupies such an ambiguous place in the commonsense logic of cause and effect that we would do well to use these concepts gingerly.
This much is clear: the blood oath which, more than any single factor, held together primordial values and institutions with a certain degree of integrity, could only be surmounted after the claims of blood ties could be replaced by those of civic ties. Only after the territorial system began to dissolve the kinship system or, at least, attenuate its nexus of responsibilities, could hallowed terms like brother and sister cease to be compelling natural realities. Thereafter, "brotherhood" increasingly came to mean a commonality of material and political interests rather than those of kinship, and "sisters" were to become the means for establishing alliances — for uniting males into social fraternities based on military, political, and economic needs.
The social and cultural impact of these material and subjective factors, so clearly rooted in the development of the city and State, can hardly be overstated. Humanity was to cling to the primal blood oath with such tenacity that primordial social forms often remained intact even after they had been divested of their content. In many cases, the clans were not immediately destroyed; often they were retained and like the extended family persisted as mere shadows of the past. In fact, they were subtly reworked in certain societies into instrumentalities of the newly emerging State — first, in the service of early priestly corporations, later, in vestigial form, in the service of the military chieftains and kings.
Here; we sense the ideological activities of the early priesthood that had emerged from a reworking of shamanism. By freeing itself from the social vulnerabilities of the shaman, whose body constituted a mere vessel for spirits, the priestly corporation had acquired the role of a cosmic brokerage firm between humanity and its increasingly anthropomorphic deities — deities no longer to be confused with the nature spirits that peopled the environment of organic society. Theology began to gain ascendancy over divination. Seemingly rational accounts of the origins, workings, and destiny of the cosmos — laden with an epistemology of rule — tended to replace magic. By emphasizing the "guilt" of the human "wrong-doer" and the "displeasure" of the deities, the priestly corporation could acquire an immunity to failure that the shaman had always lacked. The technical failures of the shaman, which typically rendered his social status so insecure in primordial society, could be reinterpreted by the emerging priesthood as evidence of the moral failure of the community itself. Drought, diseases, floods, locust infestations, and defeats in warfare — to cite the Biblical afflictions of ancient humanity — were reinterpreted as the retribution of wrathful deities for communal wrong-doing, not merely as the dark work of malevolent spirits. Technical failure, in effect, was shifted from the priestly corporation to a fallen humanity that had to atone for its moral frailties. And only priestly supplications, visibly reinforced by generous sacrifices in the form of goods and services, could redeem humanity, temper the punitive actions of the deities, and restore the earlier harmony that existed between humanity and its gods. In time, sacrifice and supplication became a constant effort in which neither the community nor its priestly corporation could relent. When this effort was institutionalized to the extent that the episodic became chronic, it created the early theocracies that go hand-in-hand with early cities, whose foci were always the temple, its priestly quarters, its storehouses, craft shops, and the dwellings of its artisans and bureaucracies. Urban life began with an altar, not simply a marketplace, and probably with walls that were meant to define sacred space from the natural, not simply as defensive palisades.
It is breathtaking to reflect on the intricate variety of ideological threads in this new tapestry, with its stark insignia of class and material exploitation. By converting mundane nature spirits and demons into humanlike supernatural deities and devils, the priestly corporation had cunningly created a radically new social and ideological dispensation — indeed, a new way of mentalizing rule. The guardian deity of the community increasingly became a surrogate for the community as a whole — literally, a personification and materialization of a primal solidarity that gradually acquired the trappings of outright social sovereignty. Ludwig Feuerbach was to unwittingly mislead us when he declared that our humanlike gods and goddesses were the projections of humanity itself into a larger-than-life religious world; actually, they were the projection of the priestly corporation into an all-too-real pantheon of social domination and material exploitation.
In any case, the communal lands and their produce, once available to all by virtue of the practice of usufruct, were now seen as the endowment of a supernatural deity whose earthly brokers voiced its wishes, needs, and commandments. Ultimately, they acquired theocratic sovereignty over the community, its labor, and its produce. Communal property, to toy with a contradiction in terms, had emerged with a vengeance as the communism of the godhead and its earthly administrators. The communal whole, which had once been at the disposition of the community as a whole, was now placed at the disposition of the deified "One," if only a patron deity in a supernatural pantheon, who in the very role of personifying the community and its unity had turned it into an obedient congregation ruled by a priestly elite. The nature spirits who had peopled the primordial world were absorbed into tutelary deities. The Mother Goddess who represented the fecundity of nature in all its diversity, with its rich variety of subdeities, was trampled down by the "Lord of Hosts," whose harsh moral codes were formulated in the abstract realm of his heavenly Supernature.
The clan, too, like the priestly corporation, was transformed into an economic corporation. Community, once conceived as the vital activity of communizing, became the source of passive communal labor, a mere instrument of production. Communal traits were valued insofar as they lent themselves to technical coordination, exploitation, and rationalization — a very ancient commentary on the exploitative nature of a communism structured around hierarchy. Hence clan society, far from being initially effaced, was used against itself to produce a wealth of material objects. The priestly corporation, in effect, had become a clan unto itself that raised itself like the Hebrew Levites above all clans. It had become something quite new: a class.
Accumulated wealth, now conceived as the sum of humanity's material sacrifices to the deities, was divested of the demonic traits that organic society had imputed to treasure. The wealthy temples that emerged in the Old World and New are testimony to a sacralization of accumulated wealth; later, of booty as the reward of valor; and finally, tribute as the result of political sovereignty. Gifts, which once symbolized alliance between people in mutual support systems, were now transformed into tithes and taxes for supernatural and political security. This steady reworking of the communal clans into labor forces, of communal lands into proprietary sacerdotal estates, of conciliatory myths into repressive religious dramas, of kinship responsibilities into class interests, of hierarchical command into class exploitation — all were to appear more like shifts of emphasis in traditional systems of right rather than marked ruptures with hallowed customs. Leaving the catastrophic. effects of invasions aside, primordial society seems to have been seduced into the new social disposition of class society without clearly departing from the outlines of organic society.
But it was not within the temple precincts alone that these changes occurred. Fairly recent data from Mesopotamia and Robert McAdams's admirable comparisons of Mesoamerica with Mesopotamia reveal that the civil sphere of the male warrior was as deeply implicated in transforming organic society into class society as the sacerdotal sphere of the priestly corporation. The priesthood has the power of ideology — by no means insignificant, but a power that relies on persuasion and conviction. The warrior has the power of coercion — one that relies on the more compelling effects of physical prowess, weaponry, and violence. While the interests of the priestly corporation and the military society intertwine, at times quite intimately, they often unravel and oppose each other. The warrior who confronts his opponent tends to be more demanding and certainly more thoroughgoing in the exercise of his interests than the priest who stands between the community and its deities as a sacerdotal agent or broker. Neither the ideologies nor the institutions these different historical figures create are identical or even calculated to produce the same social effects. The warrior societies that emerged within organic society were more thoroughgoing in uprooting it than the priestly corporations that emerged outside it — after it had already undergone considerable modification by hierarchical institutions and relegated shamanistic practices to a folk magic and medicine. The warriors supplanted their theocratic predecessors, actually leaning to all appearances on the very ideological changes that the theocracies had produced. Hence, it was the warrior chieftain and his military companions from whom history recruited its classical nobility and its manorial lords, who produced the political State, and later, the centralized monarchy with priestly vestiges of its own. This largely military fraternity cut across the lineage system of clan society with the power of a battle ax and eventually all but destroyed its hold on social life. And again, the clans persisted, like the capulli of the Aztecs and the ascriptive family units of Sumerian society, although they were steadily divested of social power.
Theocracies are not incompatible with certain democratic features of tribal life, such as popular assemblies and councils of elders. Insofar as the privileges of the priestly corporation are respected, tribal democracy and theocracy may actually reinforce each other institutionally — the one, dealing with the material concerns of the body politic, the other dealing with the material concerns of the temple and the sacred. Between them, an active division of functions may emerge that the fraternal military societies can only regard as a humiliating restriction of their hunger for civil power. The earliest conflicts between Church and State were initially, in fact, three-way conflicts that involved the democratic claims of the clans — and, ultimately, their complete removal from the conflict.
As I have argued for years, the State is not merely a constellation of bureaucratic and coercive institutions. It is also a state of mind, an instilled mentality for ordering reality. Accordingly, the State has a long history — not only institutionally but also psychologically. Apart from dramatic invasions in which conquering peoples either completely subdue or virtually annihilate the conquered, the State evolves in gradations, often coming to rest during its overall historical development in such highly incomplete or hybridized forms that its boundaries are almost impossible to fix in strictly political terms.
Its capacity to rule by brute force has always been limited. The myth of a purely coercive, omnipresent State is a fiction that has served the state machinery all too well by creating a sense of awe and powerlessness in the oppressed that ends in social quietism. Without a high degree of cooperation from even the most victimized classes of society such as chattel slaves and serfs, its authority would eventually dissipate. Awe and apathy in the face of State power are the products of social conditioning that renders this very power possible. Hence, neither spontaneous or immanent explanations of the State's origins, economic accounts of its emergence, or theories based on conquest (short of conquests that yield near-extermination) explain how societies could have leaped from a stateless condition to a State and how political society could have exploded upon the world.
Nor was there ever a single leap that could account for the immense variety of states and quasi-states that appeared in the past. The early Sumerian state, in which the governing ensi, or military overlords, were repeatedly checked by popular assemblies; the Aztec state, which was faced with a tug-of-war between the capulli and the nobility; the Hebrew monarchies, which were repeatedly unsettled by prophets who invoked the democratic customs of the "Bedouin compact" (to use Ernst Bloch's term); and the Athenian state, institutionally rooted in direct democracy — all of these, however much they differ from each other and conflict with the centralized bureaucratic states of modern times, constitute very incomplete developments of the State. Even the highly bureaucratic Pharoanic State of the Ptolemies left much of Egyptian village life untouched, despite its demands for taxes and corvée labor. The centralized states that emerged in the Near East and Asia were not as invasive of community life at the base of society as is the modern State, with its mass media, highly sophisticated surveillance systems, and its authority to supervise almost every aspect of personal life. The State, in the authentically finished, historically complete form we find today, could have emerged only after traditional societies, customs, and sensibilities were so thoroughly reworked to accord with domination that humanity lost all sense of contact with the organic society from which it originated.
Clan society was not effaced in a single or dramatic stroke, any more than the State was to be established in a single historical leap. Until they were neutralized as a social force, the clans still retained large areas of land during the early urban phase of society. The warrior societies, for their part, reinforced their military power with economic power by claiming the lands of conquered peoples, not of their own folk, as private booty. Extratribal conquest, in effect, was to lead to the war chieftain's aggrandizement with large private estates, often worked by their aboriginal inhabitants as serfs. As for the warrior societies that clustered around the chieftains, the most permanent spoils of battle and victory were the lands they carved out as their own demesnes — estates, in effect — which they then elaborated into an internal manorial hierarchy of villeins, tenants, serfs, and slaves. Judging from Mesoamerican data, the manorial economy eventually began to outweigh the capulli economy in sheer acreage and produce. Indeed, Sumerian records and Spanish accounts of Aztec society tell a woeful tale of the gradual sale of the clan lands to the manors and the reduction of the food cultivators, free or captive, to a serf-like or tenant status. Beyond the city walls, in the more remote areas of the society, village life still retained much of its vitality. The old ways were to remain, however faintly and vestigially, into modern times. But the blood oath, with its highly variegated customs and rituals, became more symbolic than real. Class society had supplanted hierarchical society, just as hierarchical society had supplanted the egalitarian features of organic society.
This sweeping shift from social ties based on kinship, usufruct, and complementarity to classes, proprietorship, and exploitation could not have occurred without concomitant changes in technics. Without the large-scale, animal-powered plow agriculture, now generally managed by males, that replaced woman's digging stick and hoe, it is difficult to conceive that surpluses would have arisen in sufficient quantity to support professional priests, craftsmen, scribes, courts, kings, armies, and bureaucracies — in short, the vast paraphernalia of the State. Yet several cultural paradoxes confront us. Aztec society, despite its obvious class structure, exhibited no technological advances beyond the simplest pueblo communities. Among American Indian societies we find no plows that furrow the earth, no wheels for transportation although they appear in Aztec toys, no domestication of animals for agricultural purposes. Despite their great engineering feats, there was no reduction of food cultivation from a craft to an industry. Conversely, in societies where plows, animals, grains, and great irrigation systems formed the bases for agriculture, primordial communal institutions were still retained together with their communal distributive norms. These societies and their values persisted either without developing classes or by coexisting, often ignominiously, with feudal or monarchical institutions that exploited them ruthlessly — but rarely changed them structurally and normatively.
More commonly than not, humanity either did not "advance" into class society or did so only in varying degrees. Plow agriculture, grains, and the elaboration of crafts may have provided the necessary condition for the emergence of cities, classes, and exploitation in many areas of the world, but they never provided sufficient conditions. What renders European society, particularly in its capitalist form, so historically and morally unique is that it surpassed by far every society, including the Near Eastern ones in which it was rooted, in the extent to which economic classes and economic exploitation — indeed, economics as we know it today — colonized the most intimate aspects of personal and social life.
The centrality of the city in achieving this transformation can hardly be overemphasized. For it was the city that provided the territory for territorialism, the civic institutions for citizenship, the marketplace for elaborate forms of exchange, the exclusivity of quarters and neighborhoods for classes, and monumental structures for the State. Its timbers, stones, bricks, and mortar gave enduring tangibility to social, cultural, institutional, and even moral changes that might have otherwise retained the fugitive quality of mere episodes in humanity's convoluted history or simply been absorbed back into nature, like an abandoned field reclaimed by forest. By virtue of its endurance and growth, the city crystallized the claims of society over biology, of craft over nature, of politics over community. Like the cutting edge of class society's battleaxe, it fought back the ever-invasive claims of kinship, usufruct, and complementarity, affirming the sovereignty of interest and domination over sharing and equality. For a conquering army to obliterate a culture's city was to annihilate the culture itself; to reclaim the city, be it a Jerusalem or a Rome, was to restore the culture and the people who had created it. On the very urban altars of the blood oath, the city drained kinship of its content while exalting its form, until the husk could be discarded for a mere reproductive unit we euphemistically call the "nuclear family."
How ever sweeping these objective changes toward class society may have been, they are not nearly as challenging as the changes that had to be achieved in the subjective realm before classes, exploitation, acquisition, and the competitive mentality of bourgeois rivalry could become part of humanity's psychic equipment. We gravely misjudge human nature if we see it only through an epistemology of rule and domination, or worse, class relationships and exploitation. Howard Press has observed that "separation is the archetypal tragedy." But there are different ways to separate. Although this "tragedy" may be necessary to allow the individual to discover his or her uniqueness and identity, it should not have to assume the socially explosive form of rivalry and competition between individuals.
A phenomenology of the self has yet to be written that takes into account the conciliatory and participatory aspects of self-formation. The "I" that emerges from the welter of "its," the magic boundary that the infant must cross to distinguish itself from the undifferentiated experiences that flood its sensorimotor apparatus, is not the product of antagonism. Fear has to be learned; it is a social experience — as is hatred. The commonly accepted ideology that the enlargement of egocentricity is the authentic medium in which selfhood and individuality come into their own is a bourgeois trick, the rationale for bourgeois egotism. This notion is contradicted by Piaget's lifelong researches into the early years of childhood. As he observes,
Through an apparently paradoxical mechanism whose parallel we have described apropos of the egocentrism of thought of the older child, it is precisely when the subject is most self-centered that he knows himself the least, and it is to the extent that he discovers himself that he places himself in the universe.
Accordingly, Piaget finds that language, reflective thought, and the organization of a spatial, causal, and temporal universe become possible "to the extent that the self is freed of itself by finding itself and so assigns itself a place as a thing among things, an event among events."
Early humanity could never have survived without being (in Piaget's sense) "a thing among things, an event among events." Social Darwinism aside, creatures specialized in the powerful neurophysical capacity to mentalize and conceptualize, to plan and calculate would have destroyed themselves in a Hobbesian war of all against all. Had reason, with its capacity for calculation, been used to divide and destroy rather than unite and create, the very human quality of humanity would have turned upon itself and the species immolated itself ages ago, long before it devised its armamentarium of modern weaponry.
Organic society's conciliatory sensibility finds expression in its outlook in dealing with the external world — notably in animism and magic. Basically, animism is a spiritual universe of conciliation rather than an aggressive form of conceptualization. That all entities have "souls" — a simple "identity of spirit and being," to use Hegel's words — is actually lived and felt. This outlook pervades the practice of simple preliterate peoples. When Edward B. Tylor, in his classic discussion of animism, notes that an American Indian "will reason with a horse as if rational," he tells us that the boundaries between things are functional. The Indian and the horse are both subjects — hierarchy and domination are totally absent from their relationship. "The sense of an absolute psychical distinction between man and beast, so prevalent in the civilized world, is hardly to be found among lower (sic) races." The very epistemology of these "lower races" is qualitatively different from our own.
Preliterate epistemology tends to unify rather than divide: it personifies animals, plants, even natural forces and perfectly inanimate things as well as human beings. What are often mere abstractions in our minds acquire life and substance in the preliterate animistic mind. To the animist, man's soul, for example, is his breath, his hand, his heart, or other such clearly substantial entities.
This animistic outlook in its many modifications will pervade the mind long after the passing of organic society. Our difficulty in dealing with the seemingly paradoxical qualities of Greek philosophy stems from the tension between its animistic outlook and secular reason. Thales and the Ionian thinkers, although apparently rationalistic in the sense that their outlook was secular and based on logical causality, nevertheless saw the world as alive, as an organism, "in fact," as Collingwood observes, "as an animal." It is something "ensouled . . . within which are lesser organisms having souls of their own; so that a single tree or a single soul, is according to [Thales], both a living organism in itself and also a part of the great living organism which is the world." This animistic outlook lingers on in Greek philosophy well into Aristotle's time; hence the difficulty we encounter in neatly classifying Hellenic thought into "idealist" and "materialist" compartments.
Magic, the technique that the animist employs to manipulate the world, seems to violate the conciliatory epistemology of this sensibility. Anthropologists tend to describe magical procedures as "primitive man's" fictive techniques for "coercion," for making things obey his will. A closer view, however, suggests that it is we who read this coercive mentality into the primordial world. By magically imitating nature, its forces, or the actions of animals and people, preliterate communities project their own needs into external nature; it is essential to emphasize that external nature is conceptualized at the very outset as a mutualistic community. Prior to the manipulative act is the ceremonious supplicatory word, the appeal to a rational being — to a subject — for cooperation and understanding. Rites always precede action and signify that there must be communication between equal participants, not mere coercion. The consent of an animal, say a bear, is an essential part of the hunt in which it will be killed. When its carcass is returned to the camp, Indians will put a peace pipe in its mouth and blow down it as a conciliatory gesture. Simple mimesis, an integral feature of magic and ritual, implies by its very nature unity with the "object," a recognition of the "object's" subjectivity. Later, to be sure, the word was to be separated from the deed and become the authoritarian Word of a patriarchal deity. Mimesis, in turn, was to be reduced to a strategy for producing social conformity and homogeneity. But the ritual of the word in the form of incantations and work songs reminds us of a more primordial sensibility based on mutual recognition and shared rationality.
I do not mean that organic society lacked a sense of particularity in the manifold of this experiential unity. To the animist, bears were bears and not bisons or human beings. The animist discriminated between individuals and species as carefully as we do — often exhibiting a remarkable attention to detail as revealed in late Paleolithic cave paintings. The repressive abstraction of the individual bear into a bear spirit, a universalizing of the spirit of bears that denies their specificity, is, I suspect, a later development in the elaboration of the animistic spirit. In rendering the individual bear subject to manipulative forms of human predation, generalization in this form marks the first steps toward the objectification of the external world. Before there were bear spirits there were probably only individual bears, as Tylor suggests, when he tells us that if "an Indian is attacked and torn by a bear, it is that the beast fell upon him intentionally in anger, perhaps to revenge the hurt done to another bear." A bear that has will, intentionality, and knows anger is not a mere epiphenomenon of a bear spirit; it is a being in its own right and autonomy.
By abstracting a bear spirit from individual bears, by generalizing from the particular to the universal, and further, by infusing this process of abstraction with magical content, we are developing a new epistemology for explaining the external world. If the individual bear is merely an epiphenomenon of an animal spirit, it is now possible to objectify nature by. completely subsuming the particular by the general and denying the uniqueness of the specific and concrete. The emphasis of the animistic outlook thereby shifts from accommodation and communication to domination and coercion.
This intellectual process probably occurred in gradual steps. The Orpheus legend, one of the most archaic in mythology, is still based on the notion of a guardian spirit rather than a master of animals. Orpheus charms the animal universe into reconciliation and harmony. He is a pacifier in a brute world of "claw and fang." From the Orpheus legend, we sense the existence of a time when pacification and abstraction were not mutually exclusive processes. But effect a slight shift in the emphasis of the legend and we pass from the imagery of a guardian of animals into that of a master of animals. This shift is probably the work of the shaman who, as Ivar Paulson suggests, concomitantly embodies the protector of game — the master of their spirits — and the helper of the hunter. The shaman magically delivers the hunted animal into the hands of the hunter: he is the master implied in mastery. As both elder and professional magician, he establishes the new, quasi-hierarchical boundaries that subvert the old animistic outlook.
That hallowed process called Reason, of generalization and classification, appears very early in an involuted and contradictory form: the fictive manipulation of nature begins with the real manipulation of humanity. Although the shaman's efforts to give greater coherence to the world will become social power that confers upon humanity greater control over the external world, the shaman and, more precisely, his successor — the priest — initially divides this world to manipulate it. Women, as shamannesses or priestesses, are no more immune to this phenomenon than men. In either case, Weston La Barre is certainly correct in saying that early hunter-gatherers projected the social structure of secular power onto the supernatural just as other groups do: "The fit of myth to the social structure of a hunting band is exact. Myth anticipated no later social dispensation, for religion reflected only the then contemporary social structure."
Moreover, as we can suspect, the shamans and priests are always at work. They not only generalize and formulate, but they regeneralize and reformulate. The early coalitions they form with the elders and warrior-chiefs, later the conflicting issues they face with the emergence of increasingly complex agricultural societies, place new demands upon their ideological ingenuity which, in turn, lead to new generalizations and formulations. After their death, the more renowned shamans and priests become the raw materials for producing godheads. A compromise is struck between animism and religion, one that phases shamanism into the priestly corporation. The early deities reveal this new melding by combining an animal face with a human body or vise versa, as in the cases of the Sphinx and the Minotaur. Inexorably, this process of continual substitution yields a pantheon of deities that are entirely human, even in their capricious behavior.
As society slowly develops toward hierarchy and then into class structures, so too do the deities. In a hierarchical society that is still saturated with matricentric traditions, the foremost deity is the Mother Goddess, who personifies fertility and soil, the cojoined domains of sexuality and horticulture. In a well-entrenched patricentric society — one that introduces the male, his beasts, and the plow into food cultivation — the Mother Goddess acquires a male consort, to whom she gradually yields her eminence as patriarchy becomes prevalent. This process continues onward across the threshold of "civilization" into urban societies until the socialization of the deities leads to political theogonies. If the community confers in assemblies, so too do the deities; if the impact of war on primitive urban democracies leads to the establishment of a supreme ruler, a supreme deity also tends to emerge. As long as the world is under the sway of shamanistic and, more significantly, priestly mediation, it tends to remain embedded in a religious matrix. Nor does it ever free itself of the mythopeic and religious as long as human dominates human. Social divisions are obscured by myth and mythology: even the warrior-chieftain tries to validate his social status by becoming a priest or a deity. Authoritarian social forces are made to appear as natural forces, like the deities that personify or seem to manipulate them.
Where nature is touched by the works of the food cultivator, humanity had no difficulty in devising deities that are part of the earth and domestic hearth: folk gods and folk goddesses whose behavior was often determined by seasonal cycles or human supplication. Wars, catastrophes, famines, and great misfortunes occurred, to be sure, but they occurred against the background of natural order. The deities of Mesopotamia, for example, may seem more unruly and harsher than those that presided over the destiny of Egypt; the behavior of the river in the former land was less predictable and more destructive than that of the latter. Significant as they may be, however, the differences between the deities in the two great alluvial civilizations were differences in degree rather than in kind. Nature was still a nurturing mother who provided care and solicitude. She bestowed lush harvests and security to the community who revered her and never failed to provide her with a ceremonial bounty of its own.
But contrast these well-tilled lands with the arid steppes and the parched desert of the Bedouin. Here, insecurity and conflict between patriarchal warrior-shepherds over water rights and herds are a chronic human condition, and it is easy to see why new deities begin to emerge who assume a more terrible visage than that of the agriculturists' nature spirits, gods, and goddesses. Here, nature seems very much like a clenched fist that capriciously stamps out man and his herds. No domestic hearth exists from which he can warm his soul after the labors of the day; only the nomad's camp with its ambiance of impermanence. Nor are there lush fields, crisscrossed by cool streams. For the Bedouin, only the heavens are blue, presided over by a scorching sun. The wide horizon, broken by stark mountains and plateaus, instills a sense of the infinity of space, of the transcendental and other-worldly. Woman, the embodiment of fecundity and a relatively benign nature to the agriculturist, has no symbolic place in this stark universe-except perhaps as a mere vessel to produce sons, herdsmen, and warriors. She is not so much exploited as simply degraded.
These pastoral nomads, separated from agriculture by climatic changes or by population pressures on the land, are an expelled, ever-wandering, and restless people. They are accursed by the very chtonic deities that still linger among them as ghosts of a lost Eden. As herdsmen, they are a people who live mainly among domestic beasts, each of which is an alienable quantum; the mere number of animals the patriarch owns is a measure of his wealth and prestige. Power and fortune can be determined with numerical exactness: by the size of one's herds and the number of one's sons. From these people — historically the Hebrews, who articulate the pastoral sensibility par excellence — a new epistemology of rule and a new deity will emerge, based on the infinite, the harsh expression of male will, and the often cruel negation of nature. As noted by H. and H. A. Frankfort,
The dominant tenet of Hebrew thought is the absolute transcendence of God. Yahweh is not in nature. Neither earth nor sun nor heaven is divine; even the most potent natural phenomena are but reflections of God's greatness. It is not even possible to name God . . . . He is holy. That means he is sui generis . . . . It has been rightly pointed out that the monotheism of the Hebrews is a correlate of their insistence on the unconditioned nature of God. Only a God who transcends every phenomenon, who is not conditioned by any mode of manifestation — only an unqualified God can be the one and only ground of all existence.
Behind such cosmogonies lies the dialectic of a contradictory rationality, at once liberating and repressive — as reason embedded in myth. Doubtlessly, real intellectual powers are being exercised; they are actualizing themselves with mythopeic materials. The graduation of animistic thought from the individual to the species, from bears to the "bear spirits," is an obvious preliminary to a conception of natural forces as humanly divine. The deities are subtle evidence of humanity's presence in nature as a natural force in its own right.
It is tempting, here, to see the steppe lands and particularly the desert as domineering environments that brought humanity into subjugation to nature and to view the Bedouin as involved in a bitter "struggle" with nature. Yet such an image would be very simplistic. To the Bedoujn, the starkness of the nomad's arid world was often seen as a source of purification, indeed of moral and personal freedom. To the great Hebrew prophets, most notably figures like Amos, the desert was above all the land to which one returned to find the strength of character and moral probity to fight injustice. Hence the nobility that was imputed to the herdsman, who, wandering with his flocks and left to his own thoughts, came closer to the deity than the food cultivator. His contact with the desert imbued him with a sense of righteousness. The significance of the Semitic contribution to our western sensibility lies not simply in the patriarchal edge it gave to the already existing hierarchies of agricultural societies — a contribution I have emphasized here for heuristic purposes. It also lies in the moral probity and transcendental mentality that generalized the concrete image of nature so prevalent among peasant peoples into a Supernature that was as strikingly intellectual as it was willful in its abstractness.
Hence with the Hebrews, religion exhibits a growing tendency to abstract, to classify, and to systematize. For all its obvious contradictions, the Hebrew Bible is a remarkably coherent account of humanity's evolution into society. Even in the Hebrews' devaluation of natural phenomena we have a break with mythopeic thought as such, a rupture with phenomena as fantasy, a willingness to deal with life on realistic and historical terms. Social history, as the will of God, replaces natural history as the cosmogony of spirits, demons, and divine beings. The Hebrews, as the Frankforts emphasized, propounded not a speculative theory, but revolutionary and dynamic teaching. The doctrine of a single, unconditional, transcendent God rejected time-honored values, proclaimed new ones, and postulated a metaphysical significance for history and for man's actions.
The destiny of man moves to the center of the intellectual stage: it is his fate and that of his species, albeit in the form of the "chosen people," that forms a central theme in the Hebrew Bible.
But an antithetical rationality permeates this "revolutionary and dynamic teaching." With the Hebrews, the epistemology of rule comes into its own as a transcendental conception of order. Domination becomes sui generis: it divides the indivisible by fiat. Merely to relegate the Hebrew Yahweh to a monotheistic preemption of a multifarious nature or even the human deities who peopled the pagan world is a simplification. Indeed, such efforts had been in the air for centuries before Judaism had acquired eminence by turning, in its Christian form, into a world religion. Nor were the Hebrews the only people to regard themselves as chosen; this is a tribal archaism that most preliterate and later literate people symbolize in their ethnic nomenclature when they describe themselves as "The People" and others as "strangers" or "barbarians."
What renders the Hebrew Bible unique is that it is self-derivative: God's will, as it were, is God. No cosmogony, morality, or rationality is necessary to explain it, and man's duty is to obey unquestioningly. When Moses first encounters Yahweh and asks for his name, the reply is a damning intonation: "I am that I am." And further: "I Am hath sent me unto you." What Moses confronts is not merely an only God or a jealous one; he confronts a nameless God whose transcendence closes Him to all being beyond His own existence and will. The concrete now completely becomes the mere product of the universal; the principle, by which animism and early cosmogonies are to evolve from the particular to the general, has been totally reversed. The order of things emerges not from nature to Supernature, but from Supernature to nature.
Characteristically, the biblical notion of creation "is not a speculative cosmogony," Rudolph Bultmann observes, "but a confession of faith in God as Lord. The world belongs to him and he upholds it by his power." This world is now pervaded by hierarchy, by ruler and ruled, over whom presides that nameless abstraction, the Lord. Man, viewed from the Lord's eyes, is an utterly abject creature, yet, viewed from ours, a hierarch in his own right. For the Lord ordains that Noah will be "feared" by "every beast of the earth," by "every fowl in the air," and by "all that moveth upon the earth and . . . all the fishes of the sea." The communication that the animist magically achieves with the hunted animal, first as an individuated being and later as an epiphenomenon of a species-spirit, is not transformed into "fear." That animals can feel "fear" still acknowledges their subjectivity — a feeling, ironically, they share with people who are inspired by the "fear of God" — but it is a subjectivity that is placed under human domination.
Equally as significant, people too are caught in a nexus of human domination. Biblical power is the mana that all masters can use against their slaves: ruler against ruled, man against woman, the elders against the young. Hence we need have no difficulty in understanding why the Hebrew Bible becomes a universalized document: the supreme code of the State, school, workshop, body politic, and family. It is mana that has acquired metaphysical trappings which make it virtually invulnerable to the incredulity an increasingly secularized world brings to the mana of the warrior chieftain, divine king, and domestic patriarch. "Hebrew thought did not entirely overcome mythopeic thought," observe the Frankforts. "It created, in fact, a new myth — the myth of the Will of God." Yet more than myth is involved in Yahweh's injunctions. Behind the stories, episodes, and history that the Hebrew Bible contains is a nascent philosophical apriorism that links human sovereignty with aggressive behavior. The perpetuation of hierarchy, in effect, appears as a matter of human survival in the face of inexorable forces.
Yahweh's will completes the growing separation between subject and object. More significantly, His will divided the two not simply as particulars that make for a richer wholeness, but antagonistically: the object is subjugated to the subject. They are divided as opposites that involve a denial of the concrete, of facticity, and of the body by the abstract, the universal, and the mind. Spirit can now be opposed to reality, intellect to feeling, society to nature, man to woman, and person to person, because the order of things as expressed by Yahweh's "I Am" has so ordained it. One does not have to invoke custom, law, or theory to explain this order; the transcendental Will of God — a god who is sui generis — has ordered this dispensation. It is not for man to question His omnipotence.
This religious separation of the world's order in terms of sovereignty rather than complementarity was to serve its acolytes well. For the emerging ruling classes and the State, it provided an ideology of unreasoned obedience, of rule by fiat and the powers of supernatural retribution. And it had achieved this sweeping transformation not by invoking nature and her deities — the "bear spirit," the part-human and part-animal deities typified by Egyptian religio-animism, or by the irascible anthropomorphic deities of Sumer and Greece — but by invoking a completely disembodied, abstract, and nameless Supernature that allowed for the codification of pure belief without the constraints of empirical reality. The desert landscape of the Bedouin merely sharpened this ideology but did not form it, for the "Bedouin compact" tends to belie its political claims of unrestricted sovereignty. Indeed, it is doubtful that an ideology so demanding of subservience and obedience by patriarchs as well as their wives, children, and retainers could have come from simple Bedouins who were soon to settle down to an agricultural way of life. This ideology was patently fashioned by priests and military commanders, by stern lawgivers and Spartan-like soldiers so clearly embodied in the figure of a Moses. That the Lord demands from Moses a tent of goat's hair for his earthly dwelling suggests that the ideology, in its early parts in the Hebrew Bible, was formulated when the confederated Hebrew tribes were pushing their way into Canaan. Later it was elaborated, after their conquest of the land, into a richly humanistic and highly idealistic ethical document.
With the Greeks, the epistemology of rule is transformed from a moral principle, based on faith, into an ethical principle, based on reason. Although mythopeic thought is never absent from the Hellenic cultural legacy, it either takes on a highly intellectualized form or is preempted by mind, or nous. The Greek realm of reason is not focused on Supernature; its authentic locus is the polis, or the so-called city-state.
Like the Semitic patriarchal clan, the polis, too, is partly shaped by a compelling natural environment: mountains that wrinkle the Greek promontory and foster a high degree of communal autonomy and personal virtuosity in nearly all tasks from agriculture to metallurgy and war. The word amateur is Latin in origin, but it accurately reflects the Hellenic predisposition to a modest degree of competence in all fields, for balance and self-sufficiency (autarkeia), that has so characteristically marked mountain-dwelling communities in the past and placed the imprint of self-reliance, character, hardiness, and a freedom-loving spirit on their inhabitants. For such peoples, independence of spirit tended to become an end in itself, although their isolation could also yield a narrow parochialism that militated against any real breadth of vision.
Hellenic intellectualism was centered primarily in the coastal and island poleis of antiquity, where a rare balance was struck between the free-ranging spirit of their mountain origins and the cosmopolitan spirit of their maritime contacts. Within these poleis, specifically the Athenian, a new dualism emerged: Home, or oikos, and the agora (a marketplace which, in time, was transformed into a highly variegated civic center) were counterposed to each other. The agora, more broadly, the polis itself "was the sphere of freedom," as Hannah Arendt has noted, echoing the motif of Aristotle's Politics. To the extent that home and polis were related to each other, it was a matter of coarse that the mastering of the necessities of life in the household was the condition for freedom of the polis . . . . What all Greek philosophers, no matter how opposed to polis life, took for granted is that freedom is exclusively located in the political realm, that necessity is primarily a prepolitical phenomenon, characteristic of the private household organization, and that force and violence are justified in this sphere because they are the only means to master necessity — for instance, by ruling over slaves — and to become free. Because all human beings are subject to necessity, they are entitled to violence toward others; violence is the prepolitical act of liberating oneself from the necessity of life for the freedom of the world.
This epistemological dualism between necessity and freedom, a dualism utterly alien to Hebrew monistic thought, rested on such sweeping assumptions about nature, work, individuality, reason, woman, freedom, and technics that it would require a separate work to deal with them adequately. Here, I offer a cursory examination of some of these assumptions, with particular reference to the western legacy of domination, and leave their implications to a later study.
To begin with, Greek rationality did not quite foster a rejection of nature. A nature tamed by man, notably the orderly fields of the agriculturist and the sacred groves of the deities, was a pleasing desideratum. They were refreshing to the eye and to the spirit. Nature, in this form, was infused with reason and sculpted by human creativity. What the Greeks thoroughly feared and resisted was wild, untamed nature (as Havelock Ellis was to emphasize) — a barbarian nature, as it were. Wild nature was not merely prepolitical; it was beyond the realm of order. Neither reason nor necessity could find a home in the tangle of the unbridled forest and its perils. The Greek notion of man's domination of nature — a notion that was no less real than the modern — could not find fixity and meaningfulness there. In the Greek mind, the polis, which included its well-tilled environs, waged a constant battle against the encroachment of the unruly natural world and its barbarian denizens. Within its confines, the polis created a space not only for discourse, rationality, and the "good life," but even for the oikos, which at least had its own realm of order, however prepolitical in character. Underpinning the supremacy of the polis over the oikos was a more universal dualism, the supremacy of order or kosmos over meaningless dissolution or chaos. All of Greek nature philosophy took these intellectual coordinates — particularly as they referred to the coherence of the polis against the forces for incoherence — as their basic reference points. The love of wild nature was to come later, with the European Middle Ages.
By the same token, Greek rationalism did not denigrate work and materiality. Indeed, the Athenian yeoman, the hoplite who as farmer-citizen formed the military backbone of the classical democracy, worked hand-in-hand with his hired help and such slaves as he could afford to own. Often, this small labor force shared the same fare and material conditions of life. The Greek love of the human body, of athleticism, and respect for physical form is proverbial. What Greek rationalism thoroughly denigrated — and we speak of its elites — was the toil associated with trade and the pursuit of gain. For in the marketplace lay the forces that threatened to undermine the Hellenic ideal of self-sufficiency, balance, and limit — that is, of the kosmos that could be undermined so easily by chaos when the vigilance of reason was relaxed.
In a widely quoted passage, Aristotle articulated this fear with a clarity that is characteristically Hellenic. There are some people who believe that getting wealth is the object of household management and the whole idea of their lives is that they ought either to increase their money without limit, at any rate not to lose it. The origin of this disposition in men is that they are intent upon living only, and not upon living well; and, as their desires are unlimited, they also desire that the means of gratifying them should be without limit.
For Aristotle, the threat of the unlimited lies not only in imbalance and dependence; it also lies in the subversion of form — without which identity itself dissolves and the meaningful is supplanted by the meaningless.
Hence, even more than the equipoise provided by balance, the Greeks sought an orderly arrangement of the dualities they had introduced into the western intellectual tradition: the duality between nature and society, work and free time, sensuousness and intellect, individual and community. The dualities existed and acquired meaning only because they existed contrapuntally, each in opposition to and in conjunction with the other. The genius of reason was to recognize and adjust the tension between them by giving both epistemological and social priority to the second term in the duality over the first. Even the polis, conceived as the realm of freedom, was continually beleaguered by the problem of whether the community would be capable of maintaining an identity between the collective interest and the individual. "In Athenian ideology the state was both superior and antecedent to its citizens," observes Max Horkheimer. As it turned out, at least for a brief period of time:
This predominance of the polis facilitated rather than hindered the rise of the individual: it effected a balance between the state and its members, between individual" freedom and communal welfare, as nowhere more eloquently depicted than in the Funeral Oration of Pericles.
But in the Hellenic mind, order always had to resist disorder — kosmos to resist chaos. This imagery is essential in achieving any understanding of how the Greeks — and every European ruling class that was to follow the decline of the polis — were to think about the human condition. Its accolades to balance and equipoise notwithstanding, the predominant note in Hellenic thought was always a hierarchical organization of reality. It was always stated in rational and secular terms, but we cannot forget that chaos had a very mundane and earthy substantiality in the form of a large population of slaves, foreigners, women and potentially unruly freedmen who were placed in an inferior status within the polis or had no status at all.
The principal architects of Greece's hierarchical epistemology — Plato and Aristotle — had a long philosophical pedigree rooted in pre-Socratic nature philosophy. How to account for domination of literally half of the polis, its women, and a very substantial number of slaves? How to deny civil and political rights to the alien residents and freedmen who literally infested the polis and provided for its most essential day-to-day services? These questions had to be resolved on rational terms, without recourse to myths that opened the door to chaos and its dark past.
For both Plato and Aristotle, a rational answer required intellectual objectivity, not the divine revelation and deified Will of early Hebrew social thought. The notion of human equality (which the Bible does not exclude and which its greatest prophets, in fact, emphasized) had to be impugned on naturalistic grounds — an ordered rational nature that the Greek mind could accept. Here, both Plato and Aristotle agreed. But they were divided on the locus of this nature, the actual cauldron in which differences between people could be stratified in systems of command and obedience.
Plato's strategy was, in many ways, the more atavistic: Differences in individual capacities and performances stem from differences in souls. The few who are equipped to rule — the guardians in Plato's idealized society (mistitled The Republic) — are born with "gold" and "silver" souls. Those with "gold" souls are destined by their inborn spiritual qualities to be the philosopher-rulers of the polis; those with "silver" souls, its warriors. The two are trained alike in a rigorous regimen that fosters athleticism, communal sharing of all possessions and means. of life — a family-like solidarity that essentially turns the entire stratum into a large oikos — and a Spartan-like denial of luxuries and comfort. Later, the visibly "gold" and "silver" souls are functionally separated — the former, to develop their intellectual and theoretical qualities, the latter to elaborate their capacity to fulfill practical, generally military, responsibilities.
The remainder of the population — its farmers, craftsmen, and merchants, who have "bronze" or "iron" souls — are hardly mentioned. Apparently, they will enjoy more secure lives sculpted by their guardians. But their lifeways do not appear to be very different from that of the commoners in Plato's day. The Republic is thus essentially authoritarian — in some respects, totalitarian. The philosopher-rulers are free to blatantly (or "nobly," in Plato's words) lie to the entire populace in the interests of social unity and purge the polis of "ignoble" ideas and literature. Here, Plato notoriously includes Homeric poetry and probably the contemporary drama in his day that he viewed as degrading to humanity's image of the gods.
On the other hand, women in the guardian stratum enjoy complete, indeed unrestricted, equality with men. Plato, having removed the oikos from the life of the ruling class and replaced it with a form of domestic communism, has shifted the realm of necessity, of the prepolitical, to the shoulders of the commoners. With inexorable logic, he sees no reason why women in the guardian stratum should now be treated any differently from the men. Hence, all that is to limit their activities — be it war, athletics, education, or philosophical pursuits — are their physical abilities. They may be philosopher-rulers no less than men of comparable intellectual stature. Nor are the "gold" or "silver" souls that "mutate," as it were, among the commoners to be kept from entering the guardian stratum. Similarly, "bronze" or "iron" souls that appear among the children of the guardians are to be plucked from the ruling stratum and placed among the commoners.
Despite all the accolades The Republic was to receive over the centuries after it was composed, it is not a utopia, a vision of a communist society, or in any sense of the term a democracy. It is an ideal form, an eidos, in Plato's metaphysical world of forms. What must be emphasized, here, is that Plato's rationality is ruthlessly, even cynically or playfully, hierarchical. The polis, if it was to survive from Plato's viewpoint, had to yield to the "cruelty of reason," so to speak, and follow the full logic of domination. Without hierarchy and domination, there can be no kosmos, no order. The Greeks — and they alone are of concern to Plato — must drastically alter the polis along the lines dictated by a repressive epistemology.
For Aristotle, The Republic's rationalistic ideality is misplaced. Its theoretical purity removes it from his category of practical reason to which the formulation of a rational polis and its administration belong. Hence Aristotle stands at odds with Plato's "cruelty of reason," which dematerializes the pragmatic problems of ordering the polis along workable lines. His Politics undertakes a severe critique of the ideal polis as such, including Plato's and those proposed by his predecessors. Perhaps no work was to exercise a more profound influence on western social thought. What counts for our purposes is Aristotle's intensely critical strategy and concerns. Reason must exorcize its own myths, notably Plato's attempt at ideality and its proclivity to remove itself from the practical problems of social administration and reconstruction.
Aristotle's principal concerns in the Politics are distinctly those of his time: slavery, the nature of citizenship, and the rational classification of poleis that validates the choice of one type over another. Throughout, reason must be informed by ethics and by the desire of rational man to lead the "good life," which by no means is confined to the material. The work clearly establishes a rational basis for slavery and patriarchy, and a political meritocracy as the authentic arenas for citizenship. For Aristotle, the Greeks have been endowed by geography, climate, and their innate intellectual qualities to rule not only the barbarians, but also slaves and women — both of whom are "prepolitical" and benefit profoundly by the "higher" mental faculties of their male masters. Given the woman's and slave's "inferior" rationality, their inability to formulate policies and meaningful courses of behavior, they, no less than their masters, benefit from his "superior" rationality and his capacity to give them direction and govern their nonrational behavior. Slavery and patriarchy, in effect, are seen as the gifts of reason, not its chains.
Despite their differences, Plato and Aristotle elaborated social theories with a consistency and logic that must have seemed impeccable to many of their successors. And both laid not only the foundations for a rational social philosophy but established a repressive epistemological tradition that spans entire ages of western thought. Various sociobiologies were to draw their inspiration from Platonistic and neo-Platonic theories. Aristotelian theory was to acquire an incredible composite legacy that reaches into Thomistic theology and, despite its severe class orientation, into "scientific socialism."
Most important of all, the two thinkers, indeed Hellenic thought as a whole, universalized hierarchy as rational — perhaps democratic when possible, often totalitarian when necessary. By its very existence, the polis created a new tradition in western notions of citizenship and imparted to them an unprecedented secularity that gave modern social thought its authentic foundations. It also created the issues that were to beleaguer the western mind and praxis for centuries to come — and a thoroughly repressive mentality for dealing with them. For better or worse, we are in no sense free of this legacy's worldliness, candor, and logic. Cross-fertilized with Hebrew thought, European intellectuality was born in classical Athens and wound its way through the centuries until, like it or not, we still remain its heirs.
The Hebrew and Hellenic mentalities were similar in their firm commitment to hierarchical relations structured around faith or rationality. Objectively, we have come a long way from the cunning of the priestly corporation in turning clan values against organic society; from the rise and commanding role of the warrior-chieftains and their entourages in the expansion of the male's civil sphere; from the disintegration of a communal economy into a manorial one; and finally, from the emergence of the city as the arena for dissolution of kinship relationships and the blood oath by citizenship, class interests, and the State. We have seen how the transcendental will of Yahweh and the rational elements of Hellenic epistemology have structured differentia along antagonistic lines, violating the animist's sense of complementarity and interpretation of concrete reality along conciliatory lines.
The legacy of domination thus develops as a manipulation of primordial institutions and sensibilities against each other, often by mere shifts of emphases in social reality and personal sensibility. Abstraction and generalization, whether as faith or reason, are used not to achieve wholeness or completeness but to produce a divisive antagonism in the objective and subjective realms. Other possible epistemologies, which might have favored a more "relaxed opening of the self to insight," to use Alvin Gouldner's words, have been ignored in favor of "values centering on mastery and control." This needlessly divisive development can be seen as a betrayal of society and sensibility to what the western mind has claimed for itself as the "history of mankind." Now that we are beginning to reap the terrible harvest of this betrayal, we must challenge the claims of that history to sovereignty.
But the story of this betrayal does not end with these institutional and subjective changes. It reaches further into the core of the psyche by internalizing hierarchy and domination as eternal traits of human nature. More than Yahweh's will and classical antiquity's rationality are needed to secure rule as an integral feature of selfhood. This feature entails not only humanity's commitment to its own self-repression through faith and reason; it must also police itself internally by acquiring a self-regulating "reality principle" (to use Freud's terms) based on guilt and renunciation. Only then can the ruled be brought into full complicity with their oppression and exploitation, forging within themselves the State that commands more by the power of the "inner voice" of repentance than the power of mobilized physical violence.
Neither Freud nor Marx have helped us fully understand this process. Each in his own way has absolved "civilization," specifically its western form, from its very real guilt in formulating a reality principle based on rule. By making self-repression (Freud) and self-discipline (Marx) the historic knout for achieving mastery over nature — and ultimately Freud's view, no less than Marx's, comes down to precisely this Victorian social project — they have made domination an indispensable phase or moment in the dialectic of civilization. Whether as sublimation or production, the self-mastery of humanity persists as a precondition for social development.
Terms like repression, renunciation, and discipline, used in their typical psychological sense, have all too often been euphemisms for oppression, exploitation, and powerlessness. And they have been shrewdly linked to "historic purposes" that have never served the ends of "civilization," whatever these may be, but simply the aggrandizement and power of elites and ruling classes. To a large extent, the theoretical corpus of Marx and Freud blur and conceal the extent to which such attempts to manipulate the self are actually extensions of class interests into selfhood. But it is now becoming patently dear that these interests are forging an apathetic, guilt-ridden, will-less psyche that serves not to foster social development but to subvert it. The mastery of human by human, both internally and externally, has actually begun to erode selfhood itself. By rendering personality increasingly inorganic, it has been pulverizing the very self that presumably lends itself to repression and discipline. In terms of contemporary selfhood, there is simply very little left to shape or form. "Civilization" is "advancing" not so much on the back of humanity but, eerily enough, without it.
More recently, sociobiology has provided its own reinforcement to this Freudo-Marxian "paradigm." The notion that the human brain, as a product of biological evolution, contains primal autonomic, "animalistic," and, capping them both, "higher," more complex cerebral components that must modify, repress, or discipline the raw impulses of the "lower" "animalistic" brain to avoid behavioral and social disorder is patently ideological. Its genesis in Hellenic dualism is obvious. That we have layered brains that perform many functions unthinkingly is doubtlessly neurologically sound. But to impute to specific layers social functions that are distinctly biased by hierarchical and class interests; to create an all-embracing term like "civilization" that incorporates these interests into a biology of the mind; and, finally, to foster a Victorian hypostatization of work, renunciation, guilt, sublimation, and discipline in the service of industrial production and profitable surpluses — all of this is to anchor the shibboleths of Yahweh's will and Hellenic repressive rationality in evolution and anatomy.
To render this ideological development more clearly, let us return to certain assumptions that are built into psychoanalytic categories and see how well they hold up anthropologically. When speaking of organic societies, is it meaningful to say that social life creates a repressive "reality principle"? That the need for productive activity requires the deferral of immediate satisfaction and pleasure? That play must give way to work and complete freedom to social restrictions that make for security? Or, in more fundamental terms, that renunciation is an inherent feature of societal life and guilt is the constraint that society instills in the individual to prevent the transgression of its rules and mores?
I admit that these questions greatly simplify the role that the Freudians and Freudo-Marxians assign to a repressive rationality. Yet it is precisely at levels where psychoanalytic arguments are most simplified that we find the most important differences between organic and hierarchical societies. Perhaps the best general answer that might be given to all of these questions is this: there is very little to renounce or repress when very little has been formed. The sharply etched instincts that psychologists of the past imputed to human nature are now known to be rubbish. A human nature does exist, but it seems to consist of proclivities and potentialities that become increasingly defined by the installation of social needs. The sexual instinct becomes an object of repression when society overstimulates it and concomitantly frustrates what it has exaggerated in the first place — or, of course, when society just blocks the adequate satisfaction of minimal biosexual needs. Even pleasure, conceived as the fulfillment of desire or as a broad "principle" (to follow Freudian nomenclature), is socially conditioned. If immediate gratification is frustrated by the natural world itself, no renunciatory apparatus is required to "repress" this "need." The "need," if it exists at all, simply cannot be fulfilled, and what is most human about human nature is that human beings can know this harsh fact.
In organic societies, social life more or less approximates this state of affairs. Nature generally imposes such restrictive conditions on human behavior that the social limits encountered by the individual are almost congruent with those created by the natural world. The "superego" and "ego," to use Freudian categories, formed by the child seem to be (as they so often are in fact) the products of natural limitations transmuted into social relationships. The sharp tension between the child and its parents and between the individual and society, which repression presupposes, is attenuated by the fact that the natural world forms the matrix for the social world and places limits on its development. Stated in Freudian terms, the "pleasure principle" is formed by the "reality principle." The two are simply not distinguishable from each other to the extent that they are in hierarchical and class societies. Hence, they barely exist as separate principles, and the antagonism between them is virtually meaningless. The receptive sensibility, so characteristic of organic society, has yet to be subverted by the demanding, aggressive attitude that provides "civilization" with its rationale for repressive reason and institutions.
Accordingly, organic societies do not make the moral judgments we continually generate against transgressions of our social rules. In the preliterate world, cultures are normally concerned with the objective effects of a crime and whether they are suitably rectified, not with its subjective status on a scale of right and wrong. "Viewed from certain African data, a crime is always a wrong done to society which has been detected," notes Paul Radin. "A wrong committed in full knowledge that it was such but which has not been detected is simply a fact that has no social consequences." While there may be a "spiritual" dimension to a "wrongdoer's state of mind," there is "no feeling of sin in the Hebrew Christian meaning of the term." All that society asks of the wrongdoer is that he or she merely recognize that an offense has been committed against the harmony of the community. If the offense is redressed, no stigma is attached to the action. "This serves, as a matter of fact, as the best and most effective deterrent to wrongdoing," Radin emphasizes with characteristic utilitarian fervor. He goes on to note that when a Bantu was asked whether he was penitent at the time he committed a certain crime and the native answered, "No, it had not been found out then," there was no cynicism implied nor was this a sign of moral depravity. No disturbance in the harmony of the communal life had occurred.
The native may feel shame if the transgression is discovered or may lose face as a result of public disapproval, but he or she does not feel guilt, notably, an internalized sense of self-blame and anxiety that evokes repentance and a desire for atonement.
Guilt and repentance, as distinguished from shame and the practical need to redress the effects of a social transgression, become character traits with the emergence of morality. Historically, the formulation of moral precepts is initially the work of the prophet and priest; later, in its more sophisticated forms, as ethics, it is the realm of the philosopher and political thinker. These precepts reflect an entirely different mental state than what occurs in organic society. To say that social transgressions are "bad" and that obedience to society's mores is "good" is quite different from saying that one behavior upholds the harmony of the group and that another disrupts it. "Good" and "bad" are moral and later ethical judgments. They are not delimited exclusively to acts. What makes "good" and "bad" particularly significant is that they are evidence of the subtle introjections of social codes into the individual's psyche: the judgments individuals make when they take counsel with their consciences — that enormously powerful product of socialization. We shall later see that morality, particularly as it phases into its rational form as ethics, fosters the development of selfhood, individuality, and a new cognizance of the good and the virtuous. Here, I am primarily concerned with those highly opaque emotional sanctions called customs. Viewed from this perspective, morality was devised to mystify and conceal a once-unified, egalitarian system of behavior. The seemingly moral standards of that community were centered not around the "sinfulness" of behavior or the unquestioning commands of a patriarchal deity and a despotic State, but around the functional effects of behavior on the integrity and viability of the community.
With the breakdown of the organic community, privilege began to replace parity, and hierarchical or class society began to replace egalitarian relationships. Moral precepts could now be used to obscure the mutilation of organic society by making social values the subject-matter of ideological rather than practical criteria. Once acts were transferable from the real world to this mystified realm, society's rules were free to mystify reality itself and obscure the contradictions that now emerged in the social realm.
But, as yet, this process was merely the ideological side of a more crucial restructuring of the psyche itself. For morality not only staked out its sovereignty over overt behavior as restraints on "immoral" acts; it went further and assumed guardianship against the "evil" thoughts that beleaguered the individual's mind. Morality demands not only behavioral "virtue" but spiritual, psychic, and mental as well. The rational evaluation of right and wrong is ignored. That was to be left to ethics. Hierarchy, class, and ultimately the State penetrate the very integument of the human psyche and establish within it unreflective internal powers of coercion and constraint. In this respect, they achieve a "sanitizing" authority that no institution or ideology can hope to command. By using guilt and self-blame, the inner State can control behavior long before fear of the coercive powers of the State have to be invoked. Self-blame, in effect, becomes self-fear — the introjection of social coercion in the form of insecurity, anxiety and guilt.
Renunciation now becomes socially meaningful and "morally" invaluable to history's ruling elites because there really is something to renounce: the privileges of status, the appropriation of material surpluses, even the lingering memory of an egalitarian order in which work was pleasurable and playful and when usufruct and the irreducible minimum still determined the allocation of the means of life. Under the conditions of class rule, a "pleasure principle" does, in fact, emerge. And it stands sharply at odds with a "reality principle" whose limits were once congruent with those imposed by nature. To the extent that the ruling few are freed from these limits by the toiling many, the tension between the two principles is increasingly exacerbated; it assumes the form not only of a social trauma, notably, as class conflict, but also of psychic trauma in the form of guilt, renunciation, and insecurity.
But here the Freudian drama completely deceives us — and reveals an extraordinary reactionary content. The fact that nature's limits constitute the only "reality principle" of organic society is ignored; indeed, it is displaced by a mythic "pleasure principle" that must be constrained by guilt and renunciation. Cooperative nature is turned into predatory nature, riddled by egoism, rivalry, cruelty, and the pursuit of immediate gratification. But "civilization," formed by rationality, labor, and an. epistemology of self — repression, produces a "reality principle" that holds unruly nature under its sovereignty and provides humanity with the matrix for culture, cooperation, and creativity. Freud's transposition of nature and "civilization" involves a gross misreading of anthropology and history. A "reality principle" that, in fact, originates in nature's limits, is transmuted into an egoistic pursuit for immediate gratification — in short, the very "pleasure principle" that social domination has yet to create historically and render meaningful. The natural home of humanity, to borrow Bloch's terminology, which promotes usufruct, complementarity, and sharing, is degraded into a Hobbesian world of all against all, while the "civilized" home of humanity, which fosters rivalry, egotism, and possessiveness, is viewed as a Judea-Hellenic world of morality, intellect, and creativity. Freud's drastic reshuffling of the "pleasure principle" and "reality principle" thus consistently validates the triumph of domination, elitism, and an epistemology of rule. Divested of what Freud calls "civilization," with its luxuriant traits of domination, repressive reason, and renunciation, humanity is reduced to the "state of nature" that Hobbes was to regard as brutish animality.
Shame has no place in this Freudian universe — only guilt. "Civilization," whose ends this specious "reality principle" is meant to serve, turns out to be precisely the class and exploitative society unique to western capitalism — a "civilization" of unadorned domination and social privilege. Freud's congruence of views with Marx is often remarkable in their common orientation toward "civilization." For Freud, work "has a greater effect than any other technique of living in the direction of binding the individual more closely to reality; in his work he is at least securely attached to a part of reality, the human community."
Ultimately, it is not the ends of "civilization" that are served by the Freudian "reality principle" but the ends of the "pleasure principle" that the ruling elites have preempted for themselves. It is not nature that fosters an unruly psychic animality with its appetite for immediate gratification, but a hierarchical "reality principle" — an epistemology of rule — one that rests on domination and exploitation. The truly brutish "mob" that Freud fearfully associated with the ascendancy of aggressive instincts over sweet reason exists on the summits of "civilization," not at its base. Freud's pessimism over the fate of "civilization" may have been justified, but not for the reasons he advanced. It is not a repressed humanity whose aggressiveness threatens to extinguish "civilization" today but the very architects of its superego: the bureaucratic institutions and their "father-figures" that rule society from above.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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