The Ecology of Freedom : Chapter 5 - The Legacy of Domination

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(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.)
• "The historic opposition of anarchists to oppression of all kinds, be it that of serfs, peasants, craftspeople, or workers, inevitably led them to oppose exploitation in the newly emerging factory system as well. Much earlier than we are often led to imagine, syndicalism- - essentially a rather inchoate but radical form of trade unionism- - became a vehicle by which many anarchists reached out to the industrial working class of the 1830s and 1840s." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "...the extraordinary achievements of the Spanish workers and peasants in the revolution of 1936, many of which were unmatched by any previous revolution." (From : "The Ghost of Anarcho-Syndicalism," by Murray Book....)
• "We are direly in need not only of 're-enchanting the world' and 'nature' but also of re-enchanting humanity -- of giving itself a sense of wonder over its own capacity as natural beings and a caring product of natural evolution" (From : "The Crisis in the Ecology Movement," by Murray Bo....)


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Chapter 5 - The Legacy of Domination

5. The Legacy of Domination

The hierarchical origins of morality occur in the early and classical forms of family organization — in the moral authority claimed by its male head. The Bible provides ample evidence of the sovereignty enjoyed by the patriarch in dealing with his wives and children. To put it bluntly, they were his chattels, like the animals that made up his herds. His power over them lacked all restraint but that evoked by compassion and by the feeling of immortality he derived from the living products of his loins. Whether or not the son be cast in the image of the father, both are nevertheless made in the image of the deity who thereby unites them by covenant and blood. The demanding characteristics of father-love, in contrast to the selfless characteristics of mother-love, represent the male's resolution of his quarrel with eternity. The Hebrew patriarchs required no heaven or immortal soul, for both of them existed in the physical reality of their sons.

More intriguing, however, is the paternal authority claimed by the Greeks, whose philosophers tried to give moral precepts a rational or ethical — not a divine — sanction. Initially, the head of the household occupied an almost regal position with respect to other members of the family. Despite the rational dimension Hellenic philosophy tried to impart to social relationships, however, its capacity to invade the family was initially limited. As E. R. Dodds was to observe in a fascinating study of the issue:

Over his children his authority is in early times unlimited: he is free to expose them in infancy [that is, engage in infanticide] and in manhood to expel an erring or rebellious son from the community, as Theseus expelled Hippolytus, as Oeneus expelled Tyedeus, as Trophios expelled Pylades, as Zeus himself cast out Hephaestos from Olympus for siding with his Mother.

Until well into the sixth century B.C., the son "had duties but no rights; while his father lived, he was a perpetual minor." In its classical form, patriarchy implied male gerontocracy, not only the rule of males over females. The young, irrespective of their sex, were placed rigorously under the moral and social authority of the oldest members of the family.

The Greek patriarch's commanding position over the private lives of his wards was to be sharply attenuated by the State, which was to stake out its own claims over young males whom it needed for bureaucrats and soldiers. But in that shadowy period of transition when the late Neolithic phased into Bronze-Age and Iron-Age "civilizations," when strongly patriarchal invaders were to overwhelm settled, often matricentric, cultures, male-oriented family structures formed the basic social elements of the community and starkly imprinted wide-ranging values on social life. Indeed, they helped to prepare the moral underpinnings of political institutions and the State — ironically, the very structures by which they were to be ultimately absorbed.

Even before social classes emerged and the priesthood established quasi-political temple despotisms over society, the patriarch embodied in a social form the very system of authority that the State later embodied in a political form. In the next chapter, we shall examine the curious dialectical tension between the patriarchal family and the State that gave rise to ideas of justice and ethics — a dialectic in which the father was transformed from a tyrant into a judge and later from a judge into a teacher. But until patriarchal power was attenuated by political forces, it was the father who embodied not only a prepolitical morality of social domination, but more specifically, a morality that entailed visions of the domination of nature.

The earliest victim of this domineering relationship was human nature, notably, the human nature of woman. Although patriarchy represents a highly authoritarian form of gerontocracy in which the elders initially began to rule society as a collective whole, woman increasingly lost her parity with man as the latter gained social ascendancy over the domestic sphere of life with the expansion of his civil sphere. Patricentricity and finally patriarchy came completely into their own. By the same token, woman became the archetypal Other of morality, ultimately the human embodiment of its warped image of evil. That the male still opposes his society to woman's nature, his capacity to produce commodities to her ability to reproduce life, his rationalism to her "instinctual" drives has already received enough emphasis in the anthropological and feminist literature. Accordingly, woman enters into man's moral development as its antipode — the antithetical and contrasting factor par excellence — in shaping its tenets. Personally, she has no part "in the efficiency on which [the male's] civilization is based," observe Horkheimer and Adorno in their superb discussion of her status:

It is man who has to go out into an unfriendly world, who has to struggle and produce. Woman is not a being in her own right, a subject. She produces nothing but looks after those who do; she is a living monument to a long-vanished era when the domestic economy was self-contained.

In a civilization that devalues nature, she is the "image of nature," the "weaker and smaller," and the differences imposed by nature between the sexes become "the most humiliating that can exist in a male-dominated society . . . a key stimulus to aggression."[28]

Yet woman haunts this male "civilization" with a power that is more than archaic or atavistic. Every male-oriented society must persistently exorcize her ancient powers, which abide in her ability to reproduce the species, to rear it, to provide it with a loving refuge from the "unfriendly world," indeed, to accomplish those material achievements — food cultivation, pottery, and weaving, to cite the most assured of woman's technical inventions — that rendered that world possible, albeit on terms quite different from those formulated by the male.

Even before man embarks on his conquest of man — of class by class — patriarchal morality obliges him to affirm his conquest of woman. The subjugation of her nature and its absorption into the nexus of patriarchal morality forms the archetypal act of domination that ultimately gives rise to man's imagery of a subjugated nature. It is perhaps not accidental that nature and earth retain the female gender into our own time. What may seem to us like a linguistic atavism that reflects a long-gone era when social life was matricentric and nature was its domestic abode may well be an on-going and subtly viable expression of man's continual violation of woman as nature and of nature as woman.

The symbolism of this violation already appears early in primordial ceremonies, almost as though the wish is father to the act and its ritualistic affirmation in mere drama is a harbinger of its later reality. From the depths of the Ituri forest to the gilded confines of the Church, woman is raised up to her appropriate eminence all the more to cast her down in subjugation to man. Even the central African pygmies, Turnbull's Forest People, have the equivalent of Eve or Pandora, who alternately seduces and succors the male, but in the end must never be permitted to "dominate" him. Her association with the arts of "civilization" is permeated by an envious negativity. Eve seduces Adam into eating the fruit of the tree of right and wrong, only to afflict him with the curse of knowledge. Her Hellenic sister, Pandora, exposes man to the ills that follow the loss of all innocence. And the Sumerian "harlot" who sleeps with Enkidu in the Gilgamesh Epic irrevocably denatures him by separating him from his friends, the beasts of the plains and forest. The Odyssey is a spiteful expedition through history in which the epic exorcizes the ancient female deities by ridiculing them as perverse harridans.

But patriarchal morality reduces woman not merely to a generalized Hegelian Other who must be opposed, negated, and contained, as Simone de Beauvoir emphasized a generation ago; it particularizes this otherness into a specific hatred of her inquisitiveness, of her probing subjectivity and curiosity. Even in denying woman's "being in her own right," man affirms it by damning Eve for responding to the serpent, Pandora for daring to open the box of afflictions, and Circe for her power of prevision. A gnawing sense of inferiority and incompleteness stamps every aspect of the newly emergent male morality: evil abounds everywhere, pleasure and the senses are deceptive, and the chaos that always threatens to engulf the kosmos must be constantly warded off lest nature reclaim "civilization." Ironically, there is no denial, here, of woman's subjectivity but a shrieking fear of her latent powers and the possibility that they may be stirred back into life again.

Hence, patriarchal morality must bring her into complicity with the male's ever-tremulous image of her inferiority. She must be taught to view her posture of renunciation, modesty, and obedience as the intrinsic attributes of her subjectivity, in short, her total negation as a personality. It is utterly impossible to understand why meaningless wars, male boastfulness, exaggerated political rituals, and a preposterous elaboration of civil institutions engulf so many different, even tribal, societies without recognizing how much these phenomena are affirmations of male activity and expressions of his "supremacy." From the mindless and incessant conflicts that New Guinean peoples wage between themselves to the overly meticulous institutionalization of political forms, the male is ever-active and "overburdened" by his responsibilities — often because there is so little for him to do in primordial communities and even in many historical societies. But his increasing denigration of woman and his transposition of otherness from a conciliatory to antagonistic relationship generates a hostile ambiance in society — a meanness of spirit, a craving for recognition, an aggressive appetite, and a terrifying exaggeration of cruelty — that is to render man increasingly prone to the victimization of his own kind. The slave is the male incarnation of the long-enslaved woman: a mere object to be possessed and used by the canons of patriarchal morality. The structuring of otherness antagonistically, which Hegel celebrated as the first steps toward self-identity, becomes an epistemology that devaluates humanity into an aggregate of mere objects, a psychological regression that ultimately leads to the arrogant conception of human beings as the mere embodiment of labor.

As victim and aggressor, woman and man are thus brought into blind complicity with a moral system that denies their human nature and ultimately the integrity of external nature as well. But latent forever in the repressive morality that emerges with patriarchy is a smoldering potentiality for revolt with its explosive rejection of the roles that socialization has instilled in all but the deepest recesses of human subjectivity. The moral constraints imposed by patriarchy and finally by class rule remain a constant affront to human rationality. From the ashes of morality arises the program of a new approach to right and wrong — a rational discipline called ethics — that is free of hierarchically instilled patterns of behavior. From ethics will emerge rational criteria for evaluating virtue, evil, and freedom, not merely blame, sin, and their penalties. Ethics may try to encompass morality and justify its epistemologies of rule, but it is always vulnerable to the very rational standards it has created to justify domination.

Self-denial and the increasingly heightened contradictions of rule create tensions so inherently destabilizing to "civilization" that class society must always be armored — not only psychologically by the State it cultivates within the individual, but physically by the State it institutionalizes. As Plato reminded the Athenians, the slave's nature is an unruly one, a philosophical formulation for a condition that could periodically become an explosive social reality. Where morality and psychic introjection fail to contain mounting social and personal contradictions, class society must have recourse to outright coercion — to the institutionalized system of force we call the political State.

Between society and the fully developed political State there is ultimately a historical point where the psychic constraints created by repressive socialization and morality begin to deteriorate. No longer can social and personal contradictions be resolved by means of discourse. All that remains is recourse to the threat of brute violence. Precapitalist society never shunned this possibility or cloaked it with sanctimonious homilies about the sacredness of life. It candidly admitted that coercion was its ultimate defense against social and popular unrest.

One might conjecture that the State as an instrument of organized violence evolved from the open exercise of violence. This has been the thesis of many radical theorists such as Proudhon. Yet there is much that so reductionist a view leaves unanswered historically, as both Marx and Kropotkin implied in a number of their writings.[29] The State did not simply explode on the social horizon like a volcanic eruption. Pastoral invasions may have accelerated its development dramatically, but a leap from stateless to State forms is probably a fiction.

The fact that the State is a hybridization of political with social institutions, of coercive with distributive functions, of highly punitive with regulatory procedures, and finally of class with administrative needs — this melding process has produced very real ideological and practical paradoxes that persist as major issues today. How easily, for example, can we separate State from society on the municipal, economic, national, and international levels? Is it possible to do so completely? Have State and society become so inextricably interwoven that a free society is impossible without certain State features such as the delegation of authority? In short, is freedom possible without the "depoliticized" State Marx was to proffer, or a "minimum" State, as some of his "libertarian" acolytes have contended? An attempt to answer these questions must be deferred to the closing chapters of this book. For the present, what concerns us are those attributes of the State that have meshed it with society to a point where our ability to distinguish between the two is completely blurred.

Clearly, a distinction must first be made between social coercion and social influence. Despite their similarities, the two are not identical: Weber's charismatic leader at the beginnings of history is hardly the same as an impersonal bureaucracy near its end. The first is personal; the second, institutional. To take this distinction still further, hierarchical relationships that are based on personality are notoriously loose, ad hoc, and easily disassembled, like the "dominance-submission hierarchies" ethologists so readily impute to primates. Bureaucratic relationships, by contrast, are notoriously rigid, sclerotic, and intentionally divested of all personality. They tend to be self-perpetuating and self-expansive. As mere instruments of rule, bureaucratic structures are quintessentially hierarchical; indeed, they are the political expression of objective power, of power that "merely" happens to be executed by people who, as bureaucrats, are totally divested of personality and uniqueness. Accordingly, for many areas of the modern world, such people have been turned almost literally into a State technology, one in which each bureaucrat is interchangeable with another including, more recently, with mechanical devices.[30]

The difference between social coercion and social influence is clearly seen in seemingly hierarchical societies that are still politically undeveloped. The fairly stratified Northwest Coast Indians provide a good example that could easily be extended to include the more sophisticated cultures of Polynesia. These Indian societies had slaves, and presumably the very "last and lowliest citizen knew his precise hereditary position with an [exactly] defined distance from the chief," observes Peter Farb. But, in point of fact, they could hardly be called State-structured communities. The chief "had no political power and no way to back up his decisions." His social influence was based on prestige. He lacked any "monopoly of force." If he failed to perform his duties to the satisfaction of the community, he could be removed. Indeed, despite the highly stratified structure of these communities, they were not a "class society" in any modern sense of the term. Stratification was based on whether one was more closely related by blood ties to the chief or less related — literally, to use Farb's term, a matter of "distance from the chief." In short, lineage determined status, not economic position or institutional gradations. "To insist upon the use of the term 'class system' for Northwest Coast society," observes P. Drucker, "means that each individual was in a class by himself" — a situation that more closely resembles primate "hierarchies" than the institutionalized stratification we associate with a class society.

What initially characterizes the emergence of the State is the gradual politicization of important social functions. From Indian American to the most distant reaches of Asia, we find considerable evidence that personal status roles, very similar in principle to the chieftainships of the Northwest Coast Indians, were slowly transformed into political institutions, a transformation that involved not only coercion but the satisfaction of genuine social needs. One of the principal needs these institutions satisfied was the redistribution of goods among ecologically and culturally disparate areas. In the absence of local markets, the kingly figures who rose to prominence in the Nile valley, on the Mesopotamian plains, in the Peruvian mountains, and in the river valleys of India and China made it possible for the produce of food cultivators, hunters, animal herders, and fishermen to reach communities, including administrative cities, that might otherwise have had access to only a limited variety of goods. Although similar functions had been performed earlier by temple storehouses on a local scale, the monarchs of ancient civilizations graduated these functions to an imperial scale.

Moreover, they also served to buffer periods of "feast" and "famine." The story of Joseph is more than a Biblical parable on consanguineal responsibilities and allegiances. It exemplifies autocratic ideology that intermingles the social with the political principle in the mystified world of prophetic dreams. Joseph embodies the combined roles of the clairvoyant with the vizier, the mythopeic figures with the calculating rational functionary. If Gilgamesh reminds us of the warrior who must be socialized from deity into king, Joseph reminds us of a still earlier change: the tribal shaman who is to become an explicitly political figure before society and the State are clearly distinguishable. His story, in fact, confronts us with one of the paradoxes of the past that remains with us today: where does the political seer (from the charismatic leader to the constitutional theorist) end and the social administrator, pure and simple, begin? Indeed, where can the State be distinguished from the socially pragmatic functions it begins to absorb? These are no idle questions, as we shall see, for they haunt us continually in our attempts to reconstruct a vision of a free and human social future.

Joseph is also one of the earliest political professionals, and professionalism is a hallmark of statism — the abolition of social management as an "amateur" activity.[30] Canons of efficiency become a political morality in themselves, thereby replacing the still unarticulated notion of informal, presumably inefficient forms of freedom. Even more than Yahweh, the State is a jealous god. It must preempt, absorb, and concentrate power as a nutritive principle of self-preservation. This form of political imperialism over all other prerogatives of society produces a rank jungle of metaphysical statist ideologies: the Enlightenment's identification of the State with society, Hegel's concept of the State as the realization of society's ethical idea, Spencer's notion of the State as a "biological organism," Bluntschli's vision of the State as the institutionalization of a "collective will," Meyer's idealization of the State as an organizing principle of society. One can go on indefinitely and selectively piece together a corporative vision of the State that easily lends itself to Fascist ideology.

Historically, the State obliterates the distinction between governance and administration. The so-called primitive peoples in organic societies were acutely conscious of this difference. The closer we come to cultures organized in bands and comparatively simple tribes, the more "rule" is an ad hoc, noninstitutionalized system of administration. Even the Crow Indian military and religious societies (actually, club-like fraternities) are examples not of government but of administration. In contrast to the permanent institutionalized structures based on obedience and command that government presupposes even on the most rudimentary levels, Crow societies were marked by a rotation of functions and by episodic sovereignty for very limited and well-defined ends. Such sovereignty as these societies enjoyed over the community as a whole was largely functional: they primarily policed the bison hunts, a project whose success involved a high degree of coordination and discipline.

To call these activities "governmental" rather than "administrative" and to see in them evidence of a fully developed State rather than political functions of the most rudimentary kind is not mere word-play. It reflects conceptual confusion at its worst. In political ideologies of all types, the abuse of terms like government and administration turn the State into the template for a free society, however much its functions are reduced to a "minimum." Ultimately, this confusion provides the State with the ideological rationale for its maximum development, notably the Soviet-type regimes of Eastern Europe. Like the market, the State knows no limits; it can easily become a self-generating and self-expanding force for its own sake, the institutional form in which domination for the sake of domination acquires palpability.

The State's capacity to absorb social functions provides it not only with an ideological rationale for its existence; it physically and psychologically rearranges social life so that it seems indispensable as an organizing principle for human consociation. In other words, the State has an epistemology of its own, a political one that is imprinted upon the psyche and mind. A centralized State gives rise to a centralized society; a bureaucratic State to a bureaucratic society; a militaristic State to a militaristic society-and all develop the outlooks and psyches with the appropriate "therapeutic" techniques for adapting the individual to each.

In restructuring society around itself, the State acquires superadded social functions that now appear as political functions. It not only manages the economy but politicizes it; it not only colonizes social life but absorbs it. Social forms thus appear as State forms and social values as political values. Society is reorganized in such a way that it becomes indistinguishable from the State. Revolution is thus confronted not only with the task of smashing the State and reconstructing administration along libertarian lines; it must also smash society, as it were, and reconstruct human consociation itself along new communal lines. The problem that now faces revolutionary movements is not merely one of reappropriating society but literally reconstituting it.[31]

But this melding of State and society, as we shall see, is a fairly recent development. Initially, what often passes for the State in the sociological literature of our time is a very loose, unstable, indeed, even a fairly democratic ensemble of institutions that have very shallow roots in society. Popular assemblies of citizens are rarely complete State forms, even when their membership is resolutely restricted. Nor are chieftainships and rudimentary kingships easily resolvable into authentic political institutions. During early stages of antiquity, when councils and centralized institutions begin to assume State-like forms, they are easily unraveled and governance returns again to society. We would do well to call the tenuous political institutions of Athens quasi-State forms, and the so-called Oriental despotisms of antiquity are often so far-removed from village life that their control of traditional communities is tenuous and unsystematic.

The medieval commune is marked by equally striking ambiguities in the relationships between State and society. What renders Kropotkin's discussion of the commune so fascinating in Mutual Aid is his very loose use of the term State to describe its system of self-governance. As he emphasizes,

Self-jurisdiction was the essential point, and self-jurisdiction meant self-administration. Bu t the commune was not simply an autonomous part of the State — such ambiguous words had yet to be invented by that time — it was a State in itself. It had the right of war and peace, of federation and alliance with its neighbors. It was sovereign in its own affairs, and mixed with no others. The supreme political power could be vested in a democratic forum, as was the case in Pskov, whose vyeche sent and received ambassadors, concluded treaties, accepted and sent away princes, or went on without them for dozens of years; or it was vested in, or usurped by, an aristocracy of merchants or even nobles as was the case in hundreds of Italian and middle European cities. The principle, nevertheless, remained the same: The city was a State and — what is perhaps more remarkable — when the power in the city was usurped by an aristocracy of merchants or even nobles, the inner life of the city and the democratism of its daily life did not disappear: they depended but little upon what could be called the political form of the State.

Given Kropotkin's highly sophisticated anarchist views, these lines are remarkable — and they actually cast considerable light on the formation of the State as a graded phenomenon. The State acquires stability, form, and identity only when personal loyalties are transmuted into depersonalized institutions, power becomes centralized and professionalized, custom gives way to law, and governance absorbs administration. But the decisive shift from society to the State occurs with the most supreme political act of all: the delegation of power. It is not insignificant that heated disputes, both theoretically and historically, have revolved about this crucially important act. Social contract theory, from Hobbes to Rousseau, recognized in the delegation of power an almost metaphysical centrality. The social contract itself was seen as an act of personal disempowerment, a conscious surrender by the self of control over the social conditions of life. To Hobbes and Locke, to be sure, the delegation of power was restricted by the security of life (Hobbes) and its extension through labor into the sanctity of property (Locke).

Rousseau's views were sterner and more candid than those of his British predecessors. In a widely quoted passage in The Social Contract, he declared:

Sovereignty, for the same reason as it makes it inalienable, cannot be represented. It lies essentially in the general will, and will does not admit of representation: it is either the same, or other; there is no intermediate possibility. The deputies of the people, therefore, are not and cannot be its representative: they are merely its stewards, and can carry through no definitive acts. Every law the people has not ratified in person is null and void — is, in fact, not a law. The people of England regards itself as free: but it is grossly mistaken: it is free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected, slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing.

Removed from the general context of The Social Contract, this passage can be easily misunderstood. But what is important is Rousseau's clear distinction between deputation and delegation, direct democracy and representation. To delegate power is to divest personality of its most integral traits; it denies the very notion that the individual is competent to deal not only with the management of his or her personal life out with its most important context: the social context. Certainly early societies did not deal with the issue of delegated power in terms of selfhood and its integrity, but the historical record suggests that they functioned as though these issues profoundly influenced their behavior.

The problem of delegated power emerged most clearly in the affairs of the "city-state." Indeed, beyond localized social areas, the problem itself becomes elusive and obscure if only because it loses its human scale and comprehensibility. In Sumerian history according to Henri Frankfort, the earliest "city-states" were managed by "equalitarian assemblies," which possessed "freedom to an uncommon degree." Even subjection to the will of the majority, as expressed in a vote, was unknown. The delegation of power to a numerical majority, in effect, was apparently viewed as a transgression of primal integrity, at least in its tribal form. "The assembly continued deliberation under the guidance of the elders until practical unanimity was reached." As the city-states began to expand and quarrel over land and water-rights, the power to wage war was conferred on an ensi or "great man." But this delegation of power would revert to the assembly once a conflict between the "city-states" came to an end. As Frankfort notes, however,

The threat of an emergency was never absent once the cities flourished and increased in number. Contiguous fields, questions of drainage and irrigation, the safe-guarding of supplies by procuring safety in transit — all these might become matters of dispute between neighboring cities. We can follow through five or six generations a futile and destructive war between Umma and Lagash with a few fields of arable land as the stakes. Under such conditions the kingship [bala] seems to have become permanent.

Even so, there is evidence of popular revolts, possibly to restore the old social dispensation or to diminish the authority of the bala. The records are too dim to give us a clear idea of all the issues that may have produced internal conflicts within Sumerian cities, but a leap from tribalism to despotism is obvious myth.

The issue of delegating power while affirming the competency of the body politic achieves an extraordinary degree of consciousness and clarity in classical Athens. Perikles' Funeral Oration is one of the most remarkable vestiges we have of polis democracy, as reconstructed by one of its opponents, Thukydides. The oration celebrates not only civic duty and freedom; it strongly affirms the claims of personality and private freedom. Athens' laws "afford equal justice to all in their private differences," Perikles is reported to have declared, and "class considerations" do not "interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way. If a man is able to serve the polis, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his position." Political freedom extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbor for doing what he likes, or even indulge in those injurious looks which cannot fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens.

From these personally exhilarating observations, for which there is no available precedent in the classical literature, the oration builds up to a keen worldly sense of Athens as a polis that transcends the confines of a tradition-bound community:

We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality, trusting less in system and policy than to the native spirit of our citizens; while in education, where our rivals from their very cradles by a painful discipline seek after manliness, at Athens we live exactly as we please and yet are just as ready to encounter every legitimate danger.

Perikles' confidence in the integrity of the polis is built upon his expansive confidence in the integrity of its citizens. Here, the Athenian ideal of citizenship as the physical reality of the body politic — indeed, as society incarnated into an assembled community of free individuals who directly formulate and administer policy — finds a conscious expression that it does not achieve again until very recent times. To Perikles, all Athenians are to be viewed as competent individuals, as selves that are capable of self-management, hence their right to claim unmediated sovereignty over public affairs. The genius of Athens lies not only in the completeness of the polis but in the completeness of its citizens, for while Athens may be "the school of Hellas," Perikles doubts "if the world can produce a man, who where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies and graced by so happy a versatility, as the Athenian." The Greek concept of autarkeia, of individual self-sufficiency graced by an all-roundedness of selfhood, forms the authentic basis of Athenian democracy. Not surprisingly, this famous passage, which begins with a pean to the community, Athens, ends with its warmest tribute to the individual — the Athenian.

We have very few statements, including the declarations of human rights produced by the great revolutions, that bear comparison with Perikles'. The great oration exhibits a sensitive balance between community and individual, and an association of social administration with competence that rarely achieves comparable centrality in later statements on freedom. It is not in "god" that the Athenian polis placed its "trust," but in itself. The practice of a direct democracy was an affirmation of citizenship as a process of direct action. Athens was institutionally organized to convert its potentially monadic citizenry from free-floating atoms into a cohesive body politic. Its regular citizen assemblies (Ecclesia), its rotating Council of Five Hundred (Boule), and its court juries that replicated in the hundreds the polis in miniature, were the conscious creations of a public realm that had largely been fostered intuitively in tribal societies arid were rarely to rise to the level of rational practice in the centuries to follow. The entire Athenian system was organized to obstruct political professionalism, to prevent the emergence of bureaucracy, and to perpetuate an active citizenry as a matter of design. We may rightly fault this democracy for denying power to slaves, women, and resident aliens, who formed the great majority of the population. But these traits were not unique to Athens; they existed throughout the Mediterranean world in the fifth century B.C. What was uniquely Athenian were the institutional forms it developed for a minority of its population — forms that more traditional "civilizations" rendered into the privilege of only a very small ruling class.

Conflicts over delegation and deputation of power, bureaucracy, and the citizen's claims to competence appear throughout history. "They recur in the medieval commune, in the English, American, and French revolutions, in the Paris Commune of 1871, and even recently in the form of popular demands for municipal and neighborhood autonomy. Like a strange talisman, these conflicts serve almost electrically to dissociate the social claims of the State from the political claims of society. The issue of public competence penetrates the ideological armor that conceals State functions from social to separate governance from administration, professionalism from amateurism, institutionalized relations from functional ones, and the monopoly of violence from the citizens in arms. Athenian institutions were unique not merely because of their practices, but because they were the products of conscious intent rather than the accidents of political intuition or custom. The very practice of the Athenians in creating their democratic institutions was itself an end; it was equivalent to the polis conceived as a social process.

A very thin line separates the practice of direct democracy from direct action.[32] The former is institutionalized and self-disciplined; the latter is episodic and often highly spontaneous. Yet a relationship between an assembled populace that formulates policies in a face-to-face manner and such actions as strikes, civil disobedience, and even insurrection can be established around the right of a people to assume unmediated control over public life. Representation has been validated by an elitist belief that the only select individuals (at best, selected by virtue of experience and ability, at worst, by birth) are qualified to understand public affairs. Today, representation is validated by instrumental reasons, such as the complexity of modern society and its maze of logistical intricacies.

Hellenic democracy acquired a particularly onerous — actually, fearsome — reputation as a "mobocracy," which is a modern translation of its opponents' views in the fifth century B.C., perhaps because it revealed that direct action could be institutionalized without being bureaucratized. Hence, direct action could be turned into a permanent process — a permanent revolution — not merely a series of episodic acts. If it could be shown that direct action as a form of self-administration serves to stabilize society, not reduce it to chaotic shambles, the State would be placed in the dock of history as a force for violence and domination.

A few important questions remain. Under what social conditions can direct action be institutionalized as a direct democracy? And what are the institutional forms that could be expected to produce this change? The answers to these questions, like others we have raised, must be deferred to the closing portions of the work. What we can reasonably ask at this point is what kind of citizen or public self — what principle of citizenship and selfhood — forms the true basis for a direct democracy? The common principle that legitimates direct action and direct democracy is a body politic's commitment to the belief that an assembled public, united as free and autonomous individuals, can deal in a competent, face-to-face manner with the direction of public affairs.

No concept of politics has been the target of greater derision and ideological denunciation by the State, for it impugns every rationale for statehood. It substitutes the ideal of personal competency for elitism, amateurism for professionalism, a body politic in the protoplasmic sense of a face-to-face democracy for the delegation and bureaucratization of decision-making and its execution, the re-empowerment of the individual and the attempt to achieve agreement by dialogue and reason for the monopoly of power and violence. From the State's viewpoint, the public "usurpation" of social affairs represents the triumph of chaos over kosmos. And if the legacy of domination has had any broader purpose than the support of hierarchical and class interests, it has been the attempt to exorcize the belief in public competence from social discourse itself. Although direct democracy has received more gentle treatment as an archaism that is incompatible with the needs of a "complex" and "sophisticated" society, direct action as the training ground for the selfhood, self-assertiveness, and sensibility for direct democracy has been consistently denounced as anarchy, or equivalently, the degradation of social life to chaos.[33]

One society — capitalism, in both its democratic and totalitarian forms — has succeeded to a remarkable degree in achieving this exorcism — and only in very recent times. The extraordinary extent to which bourgeois society has discredited popular demands for public control of the social process is the result of sweeping structural changes in society itself. Appeals for local autonomy suggest politically naive and atavistic social demands only because domination has become far more than a mere legacy. It has sedimented over every aspect of social life. Indeed, the increasingly vociferous demands for local control may reflect the extent to which community itself, be it a municipality or a neighborhood, is faced with extinction.

What makes capitalism so unique is the sweeping power it gives to economics: the supremacy it imparts to homo economicus. As Marx, who celebrated this triumph as an economic historian with the same vigor he was to condemn it as a social critic, observed:

The great civilizing influence of capital [lies in] its production of a stage of society in comparison to which all earlier ones appear as mere local developments of humanity and as nature-idolatry. For the first time, nature becomes purely an object of humankind, purely a matter of utility; ceases to be recognized as a power for itself; and the theoretical discovery of its autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to subjugate it under human needs, whether as an object of consumption or as a means of production.

Much of this quotation was written in bad faith, for no one was more mindful in his day that the fear of capital and attempts to contain it on ethical grounds reach back to Aristotle's time and even earlier. But the effects of capitalism and its historical uniqueness are accurately represented. In every precapitalist society, countervailing forces (all "nature-idolatry" aside) existed to restrict the market economy. No less significantly, many precapitalist societies raised what they thought were insuperable obstacles to the penetration of the State into social life. Ironically, Marx, more so than the major social theorists of his day, recognized the power of village communities to resist the invasion of trade and despotic political forms into society's abiding communal substrate.

In Capital, Marx meticulously explored the remarkable capacity of India's traditional village society to retain its archetypal identity against the corrosive effects of the State. As he observed:

Those small and extremely ancient Indian communities, for example, some of which continue to exist to this day, are based on the possession of the land in common, on the blending of agriculture and handicrafts and on an unalterable division of labor, which serves as a fixed plan and basis for action whenever a new community is started . . . . The law which regulates the division of labor in the community acts with the irresistible authority of a law of nature, while each individual craftsman, the smith, the carpenter and so on, conducts in his workshop all the operations of his handicraft in the traditional way, but independently; without recognizing any authority. The simplicity of the productive organism in these self-sufficing communities which constantly reproduce themselves in the same form and, when accidentally destroyed, spring up again on the same spot and with the same name — this simplicity supplies the key to the riddle of the unchangeability of Asiatic societies, which is in such striking contrast with the constant dissolution and refounding of Asiatic states, and their never-ceasing changes of dynasty. The structure of the fundamental economic elements of society remains untouched by the storms which blow up in the cloudy regions of politics.

Again, one could wish for a less economistic and perhaps less technical interpretation of the Asian village whose elaborate culture seems to completely elude Marx's attention in these passages. So overwhelming was this cultural "inertia" that nothing short of genocidal annihilation could overcome its capacity to resist invasive economic and political forces.[34]

A similar role was played by the guilds of medieval Europe, the yeomanry of Reformation England, and the peasantry of western Europe. Well into the twentieth century, farmers in townships (or comparatively isolated farmsteads) and urban dwellers were locked into clearly definable neighborhoods, extended families, strong cultural traditions and small, family-owned retail trade. These systems coexisted with the burgeoning industrial and commercial apparatus of capitalist America and Europe. Although a market economy and an industrial technology had clearly established their sovereignty over these areas, the self retained its own nonbourgeois refuge from the demands of a purely capitalistic society. In home and family (admittedly patricentric and parochial), in town or neighborhood, in a personalized retail trade and a relatively human scale, and in a socialization process that instilled traditional verities of decency, hospitality, and service, society still preserved a communal refuge of its own from the atomizing forces of the market economy.

By the middle of the present century, however, large-scale market operations had colonized every aspect of social and personal life. The buyer-seller relationship — a relationship that lies at the very core of the market — became the all-pervasive substitute for human relationships at the most molecular level of social, indeed, personal life. To "buy cheaply" and "sell dearly" places the parties involved in the exchange process in an inherently antagonistic posture; they are potential rivals for each other's goods. The commodity — as distinguished from the gift, which is meant to create alliances, foster association, and consolidate sociality — leads to rivalry, dissociation, and asociality.

Aside from the fears that philosophers from Aristotle to Hegel have articulated in their concern for the dissociative role of a commerce and industry organized for exchange, society itself had long buffered exchange with a social etiquette of its own — one that still lingers on in the vestigial face-to-face archaic marketplace of the bazaar. Here, one does not voice a demand for goods, compare prices, and engage in the market's universal duel called "bargaining." Rather, etiquette requires that the exchange process begin gracefully and retain its communal dimension. It opens with the serving of beverages, an exchange of news and gossip, some personal chit-chat, and, in time, expressions of admiration for the wares at hand. One leads to the exchange process tangentially. The bargain, if struck, is a bond, a compact sealed by time-honored ethical imperatives.

The apparently noncommercial ambiance of this exchange process should not be viewed as mere canniness or hypocrisy. It reflects the limits that precapitalist society imposed on exchange to avoid the latent impersonality of trade, as well as its potential meanness of spirit, its insatiable appetite for gain, its capacity to subvert all social limits to private material interest, to dissolve all traditional standards of community and consociation, to subordinate the needs of the body politic to egoistic concerns.

But it was not only for these reasons that trade was viewed warily. Precapitalist society may well have seen in the exchange of commodities a return of the inorganic, of the substitution of things for living human relationships. These objects could certainly be viewed symbolically as tokens of consociation, alliance and mutuality — which is precisely what the gift was meant to represent. But divested of this symbolic meaning, these mere things or commodities could acquire socially corrosive traits. Left unchecked and unbuffered, they might well vitiate all forms of human consociation and ultimately dissolve society itself. The transition from gift to commodity, in effect, could yield the disintegration of the community into a market place, the consanguinal or ethical union between people into rivalry and aggressive egotism.

That the triumph of the commodity over the gift was possible only after vast changes in human social relationships has been superbly explored in the closing portion of Capital. I need not summarize Marx's devastating narration and analysis of capitalist accumulation, its "general law," and particularly the sweeping dislocation of the English peasantry from the fifteenth century onward. The gift itself virtually disappeared as the objectification of association. It lingered on merely as a byproduct of ceremonial functions. The traditional etiquette that buffered the exchange process was replaced by a completely impersonal, predatory — and today, an increasingly electronic — process. Price came first, quality came later; and the very things that were once symbols rather than mere objects for use and exchange were to become fetishized, together with the "needs" they were meant to satisfy. Suprahuman forces now seemed to take command over the ego itself. Even self-interest, which Greek social theory viewed as the most serious threat to the unity of the polis, seemed to be governed by a market system that divested the subject of its very capacity to move freely through the exchange process as an autonomous buyer and seller.

Ironically, modern industry, having derived from archaic systems of commerce and retailing, has returned to its commercial origins with a vengeful self-hatred marked by a demeaning rationalization of trade itself. The shopping mall with its extravagant areas delivered over to parked motor vehicles, its sparcity of sales personnel, its cooing "muzak," its dazzling array of shelved goods, its elaborate surveillance system, its lack of all warmth and human intercourse, its cruelly deceptive packaging, and its long check-out counters which indifferently and impersonally record the exchange process — all speak to a denaturing of consociation at levels of life that deeply affront every human sensibility and the sacredness of the very goods that are meant to support life itself.

What is crucially important here is that this world penetrates personal as well as economic life. The shopping mall is the agora of modern society, the civic center of a totally economic and inorganic world. It works its way into every personal haven from capitalist relations and imposes its centricity on every aspect of domestic life. The highways that lead to its parking lots and its production centers devour communities and neighborhoods; its massive command of retail trade devours the family-owned store; the subdivisions that cluster around it devour farmland; the motor vehicles that carry worshipers to its temples are self-enclosed capsules that preclude all human contact. The inorganic returns not only to industry and the marketplace; it calcifies and dehumanizes the most intimate relationships between people in the presumably invulnerable world of the bedroom and nursery. The massive dissolution of personal and social ties that comes with the return of the inorganic transforms the extended family into the nuclear family and finally delivers the individual over to the purveyors of the singles' bars.

With the hollowing out of community by the market system, with its loss of structure, articulation, and form, we witness the concomitant hollowing out of personality itself. Just as the spiritual and institutional ties that linked human beings together into vibrant social relations are eroded by the mass market, so the sinews that make for subjectivity, character, and self-definition are divested of form and meaning. The isolated, seemingly autonomous ego that bourgeois society celebrated as the highest achievement of "modernity" turns out to be the mere husk of a once fairly rounded individual whose very completeness as an ego was possible because he or she was rooted in a fairly rounded and complete community.

With the hollowing out of community by the market system, with its loss of structure, articulation, and form, we witness the concomitant hollowing out of personality itself. Just as the spiritual and institutional ties that linked human beings together into vibrant social relations are eroded by the mass market, so the sinews that make for subjectivity, character, and self-definition are divested of form and meaning. The isolated, seemingly autonomous ego that bourgeois society celebrated as the highest achievement of "modernity" turns out to be the mere husk of a once fairly rounded individual whose very completeness as an ego was possible because he or she was rooted in a fairly rounded and complete community.

As the inorganic replaces the organic in nature, so the inorganic replaces the organic in society and personality. The simplification of the natural world has its uncanny parallel in the simplification of society and subjectivity. The homogenization of ecosystems goes hand in hand with the homogenization of the social environment and the so-called individuals who people it. The intimate association of the domination of human by human with the notion of the domination of nature terminates not only in the notion of domination as such; its most striking feature is the kind of prevailing nature — an inorganic nature — that replaces the organic nature that humans once viewed so reverently.

We can never disembed ourselves from nature-any more than we can disembed ourselves from our own viscera. The technocratic "utopia" of personalized automata remains a hollow myth. The therapies that seek to adjust organic beings to inorganic conditions merely produce lifeless, inorganic, and depersonalized automata. Hence, nature always affirms its existence as the matrix for social and personal life, a matrix in which life is always embedded by definition. By rationalizing and simplifying society and personality, we do not divest it of its natural attributes; rather, we brutally destroy its organic attributes. Thus nature never simply coexists with us; it is part of every aspect of our structure and being. To turn back natural evolution from more complex forms of organic beings to simpler ones, from the organic to the inorganic, entails the turning back of society and social development from more complex to simpler forms.

The myth that our society is more complex than earlier cultures requires short shrift; our complexity is strictly technical, not cultural; our effluvium of "individuality" is more neurotic and psychopathic, not more unique or more intricate. "Modernity" reached its apogee between the decades preceding the French Revolution and the 1840s, after which industrial capitalism fastened its grip on social life. Its career, with a modest number of exceptions, has yielded a grim denaturing of humanity and society. Since the middle of the present century, even the vestiges of its greatness — apart from dramatic explosions like the 1960s — have all but disappeared from virtually every realm of experience.

What has largely replaced the sinews that held community and personality together is an all-encompassing, coldly depersonalizing bureaucracy. The agency and the bureaucrat have become the substitutes for the family, the town and neighborhood, the personal support structures of peoples in crisis, and the supernatural and mythic figures that afforded power and tutelary surveillance over the destiny of the individual. With no other structure to speak of but the bureaucratic agency, society has not merely been riddled by bureaucracy; it has all but become a bureaucracy in which everyone, as Camus was wont to say, has been reduced to a functionary. Personality as such has become congruent with the various documents, licenses, and records that define one's place in the world. More sacred than such documents as passports, which are the archaic tokens of citizenship, a motor vehicle license literally validates one's identity, and a credit card becomes the worldwide coinage of exchange.

The legacy of domination thus culminates in the growing together of the State and society — and with it, a dissolution of the family, community, mutual aid, and social commitment. Even a sense of one's personal destiny disappears into the bureaucrat's office and filing cabinet. History itself will be read in the microfilm records and computer tapes of the agencies that now form the authentic institutions of society. Psychological categories have indeed "become political categories," as Marcuse observed in the opening lines of his Eros and Civilization, but in a pedestrian form that exceeds his most doleful visions. The Superego is no longer formed by the father or even by domineering social institutions; it is formed by the faceless people who preside over the records of birth and death, of religious affiliation and educational pedigree, of "mental health" and psychological proclivities, of vocational training and job acquisition, of marriage and divorce certificates, of credit ratings and bank accounts; in short, of the endless array of licenses, tests, contracts, grades, and personality traits that define the status of the individual in society. Political categories have replaced psychological categories in much the same sense that an electrocardiograph has replaced the heart. Under state capitalism, even economic categories become political categories. Domination fulfills its destiny in the ubiquitous, all-pervasive State; its legacy reaches its denouement in the dissolution, indeed, the complete disintegration, of a richly organic society into an inorganic one — a terrifying destiny that the natural world shares with the social.

Reason, which was expected to dispel the dark historic forces to which a presumably unknowing humanity had been captive, now threatens to become one of these very forces in the form of rationalization. It now enhances the efficiency of domination. The great project of western speculative thought — to render humanity self-conscious — stands before a huge abyss: a yawning chasm into which the self and consciousness threaten to disappear. How can we define the historical subject — a role Marx imputed to the proletariat — that will create a society guided by selfhood and consciousness? What is the context in which that subject is formed? Is it the workplace, specifically, the factory? Or a new emancipated polis? Or the domestic arena? Or the university? Or the countercultural community?

With these questions, we begin to depart from the legacy of domination and turn to countervailing traditions and ideals that may provide some point of departure for a solution. We must turn to the legacy of freedom that has always cut across the legacy of domination. Perhaps it holds some clue to a resolution of these problems — problems which, more than ever, leave our era suspended in uncertainty and riddled by the ambiguities of rationalization and technocratic power.

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November 30, 1981 :
Chapter 5 - The Legacy of Domination -- Publication.

July 10, 2019 16:23:25 :
Chapter 5 - The Legacy of Domination -- Added to

February 27, 2020 11:00:21 :
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