Charlottesville as a Microcosm

Charlottesville seems to have been the coming together of two groups who pine after political power and control. Both Antifa and the Alt-Right seem determined to control the cultural and societal apparatuses that inform the major narratives and discourses of the US, pushing their understandings to the forefront of media exposure. Thus both groups are trying to stake their own political power within the state structures of the US government and its subsidiaries, attempting to exist within the centralised organs of governmental control. With this we see the fundamental problem. Two completely opposed groups vying for socio-cultural recognition and fighting for scraps from the US government itself. The fact that both are trying to do this will inevitably lead to conflict like that seen in Charlottesville. There will never be a political system that will encompass both anti-fascists (and their narratives of white privilege, structural racism and anti-dialogic engagement) and the Alt-Right (and their narratives of White identity, ethnocentrism and cultural homogeneity). The violence of Charlottesville shows the innate tendencies of modern politics when there is no dialogic or deliberative arena in which to air grievances and construct debate. The views of both groups are so anathema that such an arena is not even theoretically possible. The simple reality is that these groups cannot co-exist, and will when possible chase after the illusive power of institutionalised governance and the control of social and industrial complexes.

Chasing after the illusive is beginning to centrally define both Antifa and the Alt-Right. Leftist groups like Antifa desire to have control of cultural institutions, and certain Alt-Right factions continue to support Trump and elements of the Republican Party, with both ingratiating themselves into particular political antagonisms such as the dichotomies of left vs. right, cultural homogeneity vs. multiculturalism, or globalism vs. nationalism. These groups then symbolically represent wider political struggles that are not bridgeable. What nation-state or political structure can possibly incorporate both of these groups and the worldviews they espouse. Any concept of incorporation is not a real solution to the violence that was engendered in Charlottesville and that is becoming more commonplace across the US. Neither group will ever be able to truly direct the cultural and social narratives of the heterogeneous populations of the United States, and will simply develop coalitional power that will help create more conflict. The US will never become a bastion of social justice while someone like Donald Trump can be elected. But nor will it become an ethnocentric system so long as places like San Francisco, New York and other multicultural, liberal cities exist.

“Society’s tendency is to maintain what has been. Rebellion is only an occasional reaction to suffering in human history; we have infinitely more instances of forbearance to exploitation, and submission to authority, than we have examples of revolt. Measure the number of peasant insurrections against the centuries of serfdom in Europe—the millennia of landlordism in the East; match the number of slave revolts in America with the record of those millions who went through their lifetimes of toil without outward protest. What we should be most concerned about is not some natural tendency towards violent uprising, but rather the inclination of people, faced with an overwhelming environment, to submit to it.” This quote from Howard Zinn shows that rebellion is never fertile as a means of resistance. Battling it out on the streets of Charlottesville will never challenge the structural power of the United States which limits the aims of both groups through its centralised control of politics and media. Instead of this back-and-forth politicking, real resistance should aim at destroying these social-industrial complexes and developing alternatives from the ground-up.

In lieu of this power structure, building institutions through the means of secession that are adhoc and bricoler is the best means of securing societal situations where these various identities can actually develop within their own governmental matrices, rather than trying to capture the centralised power of nation-states and their various complexes of force and coercion. This also means rejecting a universalist common sense/universal political identity in favour of a multi-faceted counter-hegemony that develops in lieu of centralised structures. The groups at Charlottesville will never control the heights of the economy or the polity, thus always existing as secondary groups that are useful conduits for state control and scapegoating. Politics exists in the matrix of violence alongside consent, with both strategies fostering the centrality of political power that currently exists. An anti-universalist strategy should aim at disseminating structures, hoping to end consent and foster resistance through exit strategies. In relation to Charlottesville, each group would be better off developing their own institutional and infrastructural conceptions, rather than vying for a political ground which they will never truly control. Elements of the Alt-Right are already doing this when they call for secession and cross-group alliances that foster pan-secessionism. Unfortunately the ‘leadership’ of the Alt-Right (Richard Spencer, Baked Alaska, Mike Cernovich, etc.) seem more interested in holding onto what little political power they have, continuing to support Trump. Antifa are also engaged in this petty game, hoping to develop resistance to Trump and the Alt-Right while ignoring the wider structural conditions of the modern American state. Neither are developing a decentralised counter-hegemony, instead jumping on the backs of centralised political institutions. A multi-institutional infrastructure that allows for autonomous development would hopefully move politics beyond this game, instead fostering different institutional circumstances that favour what each particular group or tribe would like, while constraining the ability for any to develop hegemony by moving beyond centralised structures of authority and constantly encouraging a means of exit, whether that be through further secession or through the development of overlapping patchworks of governance.

However this does not mean supporting some kind of depoliticised, de-institutionalised Third Way as posited by Beck or Giddens, but rather establishing a multi-institutionalism that is acentred, akin to the politics of European cities during the pre-industrial feudal era, characterised as they were by multiple institutions and dialogic spaces (salons, coffee house, etc.) that interacted in different ways, both within their boundaries and between the boundaries of neighbouring polities. These were eventually destroyed and co-opted by the forces of empire, whose common sense of central power and a strictly delineated nation-state meant power evolved from the top-down. In the modern world, with power and politics becoming more multi-scalar and de-containerised away from central states, there is significant potential for the creation of a multi-institutional setting that exists both geographically and technologically, as with the municipal movements in austerity-ravaged Europe and the nascent cyber-communities respectively.

While I believe this would reduce violence, as one can begin to deconstruct politics away from the centre and limit the extent to which extant groups aim at cultivating centralised political power, it does not mean that violence would go away and a peaceful utopia would succeed. When groups like Antifa, the Alt-Right or any other set of decentralised tribes meet and conflict, it would be akin to the border skirmishes and wars of honour that effected Celtic tribes and clans, which were much less violent than any of the systematised conflicts that afflicted Europe for much of the second millennium. And while the lack of technology certainly played a part, technology is itself a double-edged sword, allowing for evasion as much as it does for confrontation. This can be seen in the weird segues that online communities take in constructing their own identities and developing inter-group alliances and dialogues. Furthermore, the claim that this development of patchworks and decentralised politics would lead to more violence is laughably tautological, assuming as it does that we live in a world of minimal violence. For one to believe this, they’d have to believe that every US police department was mistaken when they shoot someone in a traffic stop. They’d have to believe that everyone happily consents to their prevailing national governments, rather than grinding away in their resentment and disillusionment. They’d have to believe that violence is only physical/material and cannot be structural, thus presuming that because governments don’t instantly kill you for not paying taxes or not following a set paradigm of rules and regulations, that you are somehow free of violence. They’d have to believe that gangs and low-level violence don’t exist, producing a psychology of fear that is compounded by governments tacitly supporting ghettoisation and disarming populaces. Of course, actually believing something like this is more indicative of a lobotomy than deep intellectual thought. The real problem arises when we see that political power is still centralised, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. When such a situation prevails, it will inevitably lead to groups attempting to cultivate and attain this power, as with the Yugoslav civil wars and the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Both represent the destruction of formal politics without the deconstruction of centralised power, thus leading to competing groups vying for control. This is where actual patchworks of decentralism and secession need to work, dismantling these central structures and providing institutional variants that exist de-centred from central political competition. But this does not mean violence goes away. Violence exists because it is convenient and useful. States use it because consent will never always work. Political groups use it because they will never gain universal support. In the patchwork of heterogeneous politics and organisation that I’m talking about, violence will mediate between varying groups, potentially leading to conflict where settlements aren’t properly reached. But that is politics, no matter whether you like it or not. No matter how many institutions are built and how many words are spoken, people will not stop beating each other up if it solves a problem quicker. The only thing that can be done, in moving away from centralised power, is creating a multi-institutional setting, developing the bricoler of structures and borders, and minimising the extent to which power is cultivated that forces people into one political setting, instead aiming at the cypherpolitical of chromatic grey, akin to the Union of Egoists proscribed by Stirner, rather than the simplistic notions of black and white.

One such example of a multi-institutional setting providing the means to a cautious, fractured peace is the Treuga Dei that developed in early Feudal Europe[1]. The Treuga Dei peace settlements founded and cultivated in Europe from the 10th to 14th centuries limited the bloodiest extents of war and conflict, and were mediated through the variable institutions of the Catholic Church and the patchworks of political power found in Feudal Europe. It was eventually destroyed with the accession of centralised states in continental Europe, particularly the Holy Roman Empire that took responsibility of Treuga Dei away from the heterogeneous institutions that enforced it before. While extremely imperfect and existing in a significantly different spatio-temporal setting, it does show that peace can be mediated through decentralised patches of power, developing borders and limiting conflict to skirmishes and small battles.

Charlottesville is a microcosm of actual politics strewn of its institutional fancies. When dialogue is incapable of political solutions, and centralised forms of power still abound, violence and conflict become the main means of expressing discontent and forcing one’s way onto any political scene. Thus the need for a multi-institutional framework and a postmodern set of public spheres where different political and social aptitudes can develop and grow, or stultify depending on their level of support and engagement. No solution will come from trying to make the United States into some kind of ethnocentric haven on the one hand, or some SJW complex on the other hand.

[1] Kirkpatrick Sale, Human Scale, 2007, 97-98

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