History as Back Catalogue I: You Gotta Know More Than Just the Hits, Research Time, 31/08/2017

Those were some interesting (and long) riffs on different ideas I encountered reading Perry Anderson’s book Considerations on Western Marxism. I’m not sure how successful those riffs were, but I think I’ve refined a few more of my own thoughts about the last century or so of history on the radical left.*

* Complicated though that history is. Holy crap, it’s bloody complicated.

A young marx sees the modern age.
August Diehl in costume as Karl Marx filming The Young Karl Marx.
A really important part of Anderson’s thinking here is his analysis of Louis Althusser’s ideas and their significance. I wrote quite a bit about Althusser’s thinking when I was reading his collection For Marx in Summer 2016.

Anderson writes about the impact that the discovery of Karl Marx’s early works had on the marxist tradition. Before the Soviet government published editions of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts and other of Marx’s manuscripts from the 1840s and 50s, folks in the commie community only had Capital and some journalism.

Nice enough to become the intellectual foundation of a political movement which would affect the development of Earth’s entire human civilization. It would be as if for decades, no one had ever heard any of Curtis Mayfield’s work with The Impressions.

Yes, Superfly! is amazing, but you understand it so much better when you hear “Keep on Pushin,” knowing that they were part of the same ongoing process of creativity.**

** I don’t think anyone has ever made an analogy between Karl Marx and Curtis Mayfield, though I stand to be corrected. I doubt anyone ever will again. No guarantee I won’t.

So a generation of marxist theorists had their minds blown by the publication of this enormous back catalogue that was so different from all the Marx they’d known before. Naturally, they built that mainstream scholarly picture of Karl Marx as having a radical break in the middle of his life.

The analogy might have been a reach, I admit. Okay, it was kind of
ridiculous. But here's something that's never ridiculous – You should
listen to some Curtis Mayfield. It's good for you.
Althusser’s analyses put the more philosophical aspects of Marx’s thinking at the forefront. He understood the earlier, more explicitly philosophical work as the same project as Capital, but in a different context.

Here’s how Anderson puts it. In both works, he was trying to discover what kind of knowledge and self-image could awaken working people to refuse the wretchedness of their lives.

Capital was a very empirical survey – one of the historical genesis projects of the science of sociology – of the material conditions of the urban working class. Marx investigated their legal rights, working conditions, systematic advantages and disadvantages. Most philosophically, he examined the different ways that working class people could understand themselves – which self-conceptions cowed them and which empowered them.

The early stuff like the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts and The German Ideology made explicitly philosophical work on the conditions and nature of Europe’s urban working class.

The 1930s generation of marxist theorists were the first to take those works seriously. They built a new, more complex understanding of Marx and his works. They could see more clearly than ever that Marx's writing contained many more vectors and paths for thinking than the straight-up dogmatic reception of Capital.

They could see the multiplicity, the difference, the true complexity of Marx as a philosopher. Just in time to fall under the axe of a marxist political leadership who had no tolerance for multiplicity and complexity.

To be continued

Scattered Thoughts on Cultural Paranoia, Jamming, 30/08/2017

Call this the epilogue to “Hey! Cultural Marxism!” Just a few reflections on how we got into this mess as a society. No claim to completeness or even an escape from my partiality.

I do suspect that there may have been a little systematic causation between the old moral panic movies of the 1930s and the hysteric paranoia of anti-communism from McCarthy to John Birch to Goldwater to Breitbart. But since this is an idea that literally came to me over the last few days, I don’t exactly have a huge pile of pre-existing scholarship backing me up.

The paranoia of modern American culture is one of the strangest
social phenomena I've ever thought about. Such fear of all aliens is
only possible through profound and thorough solipsism.
My thanks to the source.
That said, there is a common tone – a paranoid fear bordering on ecstasy, expressed in the aesthetics of a live-action cartoon.

Anyway, this one is for fun. A set of reflections.

Thought One. The dominant mode of Cold War anti-communism was paranoia. This was the engine of Joseph McCarthy’s hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee. HUAC had existed for decades, but McCarthy’s leadership brought it into legend.

Those hearings and the cultural atmosphere they created basically burned the socialist left out of American consciousness as a society.

Thought Two. That paranoia was a reactive fear. Obviously – its name is ‘anti-communism.’ But the wildest delusions of the anti-communist paranoid was precisely that of McCarthy. They could be anywhere; It’s possible they’ve infiltrated everywhere; Won converts who keep their actions secret; A demoniacal cabal.

I never saw this in action in my own lifetime until it became about Islamist terrorists, not communists. Terrorism paranoia differed quite a bit from anti-communist paranoia. Mostly, the paranoia I experienced in 21st century Canada (watching America on TV) had an extra racializing flavour.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers was the expression of McCarthy's
paranoia in techno-horror cinema.
The Arabs and South/Central Asians who faced that stigma had distinct ethnic differences that were pretty quickly racialized into a vector to marginalize them. It’s sad, because Salafists would have a lot in common with radical American Evangelicals.

Thought Three. Lots of Americans were anti-communist in the 1930s, the same time those moral panic films first exploded. But that was actually the United States catching up with Europe’s anti-communism – it was oligarchical and right-wing opposition to the trade union movement.

This first American anti-communism strikes me as very much like the European version. Communism at the time was the farthest left wing of the trade union movement. Radical communists as fellow travellers with Eugene Debs, Woody Guthrie, and Jimmy Hoffa. Mostly, it was a vehicle for America’s money’s WASP class to remix their traditional anti-Semitism.

Thought Four. The hysterical lunacy of it all. That’s the only way I can think to describe the tone of that paranoia. I’m talking about McCarthyism, but it shared the same tone, the same deranged outlook on the world as those moral panic films.

Reefer Madness and all those others. It could be weed, cocaine, sex. Eventually, it was motorcycle gangs. Above all, those films were about fear. Fear that ordinary looking people could turn their whole lives upside-down – one act of deviancy was all it took to send your life to hell.

The Puritan bides his time through eras of liberalism until at last, the
more moderate among them reaches a breaking point of even their
disgust. Public acceptance of homosexuality is too much for them.
A group of Evangelical extremists published The Nashville Statement
standing against LGBTQ rights yesterday, and I saw one social media
exchange. "How could you condemn Christians praying for gays
when Muslims kill gays all the time?" Well, Christians kill and
persecute LGBTQ people all the time. The American money goes
to Africa
so their sensitive domestic audience doesn't see the blood.
The 1930s wasn’t just the era of the Great Depression – it was also Prohibition, the greatest triumph of the temperance movement. Temperance was the most powerful expression of Puritan Christian popular asceticism since the foundation of the United States.

The Puritan was the most extreme ascetic ideology. Beyond the traditional asceticism of an elite, powerful holy one’s path. No, Puritanism and the temperance movement was devoted to mass asceticism. The denial of all deviancy was necessary to save the soul.

Electric fear of total destruction – death, murder, the surrender of your own identity to a deterritorializing desire. “Play faster! Faster!

They were education-exploitation films. Reefer Madness was itself first financed by a church organization. Did that Puritan energy somehow mutate through McCarthy and John Birch to become hysteric anti-communism?

Thought Five. I don’t actually know. But the possibility intrigues me.

Hey! Cultural Marxism IV: Strange Loops, Research Time, 29/08/2017

Looking at the extremism of modern right-wing politics in the United States should demonstrate something that I think a lot of folks in my generation don’t quite get. Rabidly intense anti-communism never went away – its popularity was just waning for a while.

The years from the Great Depression to the end of the McCarthy era were the formative years of anti-communist extremism in the United States. I have a philosophical hypothesis that the sustained hysteria of Breitbart anti-communists was rooted in a very peculiar style of communication.

If I can be appropriately transparent for the average media literacy of
the 1930s: It's almost as if the ordinary social conservatives of
America who lost their minds in moral panics over drugs, sex, comics,
violence in movies, violence in video games, and all the rest had
the reefer madness. The rest of us who could smoke a little on Friday
nights out in our early 20s usually inoculated ourselves against this
kind of paranoia pretty well.
Remember Reefer Madness? That was just the most famous of a whole wave of moral panic movies. They had titles like Assassin of Youth, Sex Madness, and The Cocaine Fiends. They all had that same deranged, cartoonish depiction of how some critical impropriety will destroy your life.

Yet people believed them! An entire generation of Americans grew up in a culture that hadn’t developed the media literacy to understand how ridiculous these hysteria films really are. The same hysteria was adapted to the anti-communist messaging of the early Cold War.

That hysterically paranoid conservatism was the mainstream right wing of political thinking, which saw even the most congenial trade union activist as a devious Stalinist sleeper cell. The least hint of collectivist politics, especially in the name of helping poor people, was a sign that the billy clubs were needed.

Friedrich Hayek and his network of think tanks kept its ideas alive during the social revolutions of the 1950s through 1970s. The John Birch Society kept the flames of deranged hysteria burning.

Those social revolutions were liberation movements – feminism, environmentalism, Indigenous awakening, black liberation, LGBTQ openness. The moralities of those liberation movements were very communitarian – informed by the moral importance of supporting each other.

These communitarian values are incompatible with one of the fundamental freedoms of classical liberal thinking – the freedom to tell everyone around you to fuck off. Call it the freedom of solitude, the sanctity of private property. That’s what it is.

The reason Reefer Madness worked was that people's media literacy
was still pretty simple. If you were an adult in 1936, you'd think that
a movie saying it depicted the real world was honest with you. Then
Marlon Brando acted like a real person all the way through The Wild
, and his naturalistic, psychological acting technique
demonstrated in 80 minutes that all these moral panic movies are
bullshit. His realism made everyone else look like the cartoons
they always were. In 1936, Reefer Madness was a serious film.
Follow to the most intense degree the conclusion of Robert Nozick’s “Radio Show argument.” It ends with Milo and every jerk who learned to speak in Reddit and 4Chan threads. My inviolable liberty includes the freedom to be a total jerk to everyone around me, breaking all my promises, and turning away from my community.

Moral obligation as oppression. This is a popular belief I have seen more and more in everyday behaviour. People even directly said this to me. r/libertarian. Yet the idea is obscene. Imagine how hysterical, how intense your paranoia would have to be, for you to believe a philosophy to hostile to simply living as neighbours. It would literally be the end of society.

Yet in the Breitbart set, the communitarian values that strengthen promises and friendships in society are the bedrock of communism. As philosophy, this makes no sense. It mistakes the most abstract similarity – building and strengthening community is important – for the acorn whose greatest oak was Josef Stalin!

Conspiracy thinking as popular ideology. This is how having been one of literally thousands of students passing through a classroom over the years is seen as a nefarious mentorship in radical communism. Millions having been made – in their everyday thinking about politics – as deranged as McCarthy.

That was Andrew Breitbart’s original vision. We think of it as crazily white supremacist because that’s what Steve Bannon turned it into. So now, it's even more crazy. This is a popular way to think about marxism today. And even though I'm no marxist, I at least want to give the tradition's best thinkers their credit where my work is due.

Hey! Cultural Marxism! III: Like Rain At Your KKK Rally, Research Time, 28/08/2017

Yeah, it’s a pretty deep irony. Better men than me have described the utterly weird way the Frankfurt School thinkers have become the bogeymen of the radical white supremacist and libertarian set these days.

The Frankfurt School became the ideological prototypes of the cultural marxism that folks all over the far right see spreading everywhere.

Here’s something that tends to happen in the far-right of America since the Tea Party first blew up – they tend to mistake having been in the class of a professor for being the loyal soldier of their ideas.

The John Birch Society believed crazy shit like how a bunch of old
men who found most American culture totally distasteful and had no
experience or history of radical politics beyond the trade union and
international workers' associations could secretly direct a
revolution along completely different lines. Breitbart (the
network) took that conspiracist paranoid blindness to the
mainstream of American culture.
Barack Obama once took a course from Bill Ayers, who’d been in the radical anarchist Weather Underground decades before. Therefore, Obama was a disciple of Ayers, bringing the older radical’s politics to the Presidency.* Well, the same thing happened when Angela Davis was in a couple of classes by Herbert Marcuse.

* I think this is one reason why many Trump supporters throughout middle class Republican Party members aren’t concerned by the current President’s tacit support of extremist racist militias. They’re so accustomed to the notion that Obama was an extreme left-wing radical that they consider the President’s office long-radicalized.

Obama and Marcuse are – to a very special audience – a great triumph and a founder of ‘cultural marxism.’ The way it’s often used today, the term follows how from Andrew Breitbart understood it in most significant book, Righteous Indignation. Breitbart studied the works of the Frankfurt School himself – Marcuse, Theodor Adorno** – and came to a very unorthodox reading.

** Andrew Breitbart strikes me as a man who couldn’t appreciate Walter Benjamin. I don’t mean whether or not he’d agree with him – I’m talking about the value of his essays as a work of art and craftsmanship in philosophical writing.

Granted, it’s now a popular reading, thanks to him. It starts with his picture of the intellectual storehouse of communism.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau develops a concept of humanity that requires deep harmony with your community to complete yourself as a person. Georg Hegel transforms community into State, Karl Marx elaborates the theory into economic theories and real political movements.

The last of these was the Frankfurt School, the marxist theorists that fled Nazi Europe for the United States – all Jews, of course. They develop the idea that successfully changing society along a socialist line requires more than economic control, but changing the culture and moral values of the society.

The liberation movements of the 1960s were doing exactly that. Breitbart understood these movements as an explosion of marxism, but along cultural lines with activists instead of economic vectors with state planners.

He saw – as these philosophers had just developed their central theories of culture and social change – these threatening liberation movements emerge. He saw America walking the path to communism while singing songs of freedom.

The irony is that these movements had little to do with the cabal of refugee philosophers. Adorno and Horkheimer both found black culture distasteful, and Adorno developed a complex aesthetic theory which happened to justify his extreme hatred of jazz.

They were no directors of the revolutionary network. Women, black people, gay people, Indigenous people – they had nothing to do with a proper marxist revolution. That was for workers.

A very sarcastic ending. I want to talk more about this tomorrow.

Hey! Cultural Marxism! II: Missed Connections, Research Time, 25/08/2017

The philosophers went to the universities. The group of thinkers at the centre of Perry Anderson’s short book Considerations on Western Marxism are, more commonly, called the Frankfurt School.

They're at the centre of the great right-wing conspiracy theory of our time – cultural marxism. Part of what I want to do with the next few posts is clarify my ideas about this conspiracy image – the product of Andrew Breitbart’s weird interpretation of this existentialist marxism.

The cultural impact of this angry, angry man fascinates me.
I’ll be getting back to Breitbart’s interpretation later on, riffing from his book Righteous Indignation. I want to stick with Anderson for now, because Anderson describes accurately the history of the Frankfurt School and the other theorists of Western marxism.

So when I left off yesterday, Stalin had just purged the entire Soviet Union of any communist philosopher with any originality of thought beyond dutifully transcribing and explaining ideological directives from the Central Committee. Those people were all dead by the end of the 1930s.

It’s not as though the study or continuation of marxist theory was doing much better in Europe. The central clique of these thinkers in the university sector were at Max Horkheimer’s Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. Hence the name.

They ran into some trouble when Hitler came to power. So Horkheimer and the rest of his crew picked up whatever they could and moved to New York.

Here was the break in the Cold War’s West* between philosophical creation and community organizing among working class people. The main institution the theorists used to become community activists was the Communist Party of each country where they lived.

* And the Cold War wouldn’t even start for another 15 years.

Anderson wrote his book in the 1970s, so there was no sign on the
horizon of the ironic movement in universities happening today:
Squeezed by large-scale underemployment, many humanities
researchers are pursuing careers outside the university campus,
and many on the left are becoming journalists and activists.
Already, the link between philosophers and activists was getting strained. The philosophers no longer worked for the political parties or the radical newspapers. They taught in universities. But there was still the party itself, where the theorists could work with the folks who pounded the streets and the factory floors.

Uprooting the entire intellectual rank and file of the western European workers’ movement** across the Atlantic Ocean had two effects.

** Or killing them. Many of them were also killed. Taken out of their homes and shot. Bundled into a car in the middle of the night, tortured, and never seen again.

Here was the first effect. I don’t even know why I included that note about so many socialist philosophers and theorists being killed. Because I can just say it here. The rise of Stalin in Russia and Hitler in Europe resulted in many original thinkers getting bullets in their brains. That’s one obvious loss to the community of writers and activists.

The other loss was a bit more subtle. While Horkheimer and the other political refugees from Hitler’s Europe were working in New York, they had no Communist Party to draw on.

Now, there were plenty of communist parties and groups in the United States. But none of them had the unity of the European communist parties. It was a literal unity, another function of the social organizing work Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels did in the 19th century. They built an international conference for all the communist parties of Europe. It strengthened the unity of the European workers’ movement’s social network.

The flaw of the marxist tradition – and all traditions named after a
person – is excessive fealty to Marx himself. It hobbles a thinker
or an activist from adapting to changing times.
None of that existed in the United States. Its movements for workers’ rights developed in very different directions in an extremely different set of cultures from those in Europe. Left-wing politics in the United States was much more fragmentary, with different parties across the states all holding different principles and doing their own things.

That lack of centralization had one big advantage – it made the workers’ movement more flexible. The core ideas could survive many different attempts to repress them, their devotees could adapt to the most hostile and unstable political contexts. Plus, the movement on a national scale was more immune to pressure and co-optation by Stalin.

Not to say that plenty of communist parties throughout the United States didn’t become puppets of Stalinism. Many did. Which is why the ideas and goals of a social democratic liberation movement mutated away from communist parties themselves. But that’s for later.

The problem was that there was no unified political party on a continental scale for Frankfurt School leaders and other left-wing intellectuals to latch onto. So by the end of the Second World War, the university-based philosophers of the workers’ movement lost all their material connections to politics.

This is where the irony sets in . . . . To be continued

Hey! Cultural Marxism! I: Thought Becoming Action, Research Time, 24/08/2017

That much-too-long meditation on political agency was only one intriguing idea that I picked up reading Perry Anderson’s books a while ago. Here are some thoughts on an idea I found in his book Considerations on Western Marxism.

It's a history of ideas, tracing how the marxist tradition of political philosophy developed in the American-aligned bloc during the Cold War. One of the narratives of this book is how theory was cleaved away from real-world activism in the movement.

All this research in the marxist tradition is part of a strain in Utopias
that will examine the role communism plays in rhetoric against
utopian thinking, from the most florid think tank essays to the
dankest memes. I hope I won't have to get too dank.
Okay, you might be thinking, how is that weird? Well, it’s a truism in our society that theoretical thinking doesn’t have anything to do with practical action. I remember when Eric Foreman told his dad that he was thinking of studying philosophy in university, and Red asked if he had plans to work in a philosophy factory.

Say what you will about how well most communist countries worked out.* One really interesting part of that tradition was a deep link of its most profound theorists and researchers with its activism and community organizing.

* Actually, don’t. Because it’s all been said, I’ve heard it, I’ve said it myself, and it doesn’t matter that I fundamentally disagree with a lot of the political and economic principles of a tradition. There is still value here, as in a lot of places. You can read works without devoting yourself to their ideas. It’s called being critical.

Karl Marx himself was a union organizer, first locally in Cologne and Paris, then internationally through the International Workers of the World. Same with Friedrich Engels. It was the same with Vladimir Lenin and Lev Trotsky as well. They all wrote historically significant, philosophically rich books of theory while leading political outreach and activism.

After the First World War, the break happens. Antonio Gramsci is the first philosopher of the marxist tradition to equal the insight, intensity, and influence of Marx himself. But he was a weird spin on the philosopher-activist. Marx, Engels, and Lenin were theorists at the same time as they were activists.

Marx was writing dense and complex theoretical essays and manuscripts while organizing radicals and activists. But Gramsci did all his philosophical work at the end of his active career.** There was a clear break in his own life – the slam of a gavel – of his activism as a political party organizer from his most important and best writing.

Just look at this fucking hipster. Shame what happened to him, though.
** Prison will do that to a guy.

Yet from Lenin’s death onward, theory decisively broke with practice. The main reason was some dirty hipster named Josef Stalin, who took over the Soviet Union with the help of his secret police apparatus. So from about 1924 to 1953, any writer who wrote anything dissenting or even departing slightly from the letter of official government doctrine fairly quickly expired.

In Russia, the intellectual tradition of the radically creative philosopher-activist was stamped into the dirt and buried. Thanks to the international political organizing of communist intellectuals across borders, all countries’ communist parties were networked together.

Over the 1920s, the Russian faction became more powerful and began dictating terms to the other parties – occasionally even making some party members around Europe disappear if they were deemed too Trotskyist. The creativity of the movement disappeared too.

Activists now just parroted standardized doctrine, approved by the Central Committee of the COMINTERN. First because they knew what was good for them. Later because they knew nothing else. Later still, because they knew nothing.

The irony is that Marx himself set up that structure and the incentive for communist philosophers to rely on it. He did it to make sure that community organizing against monarchist rule and for the rights of workers to see more profit from their own labour would always include a philosophically creative side.

The point of including philosophers in your activism organizations is to prevent your activists from letting their thoughts fall into empty dogma. A social movement is only powerful when people understand and embrace those ideas.

But the networks through which those ideas can spread can just as easily expose and silent the creators of new ideas.

Next post: Where did the philosophers go?

Kill Your Idols XI: Seeing Only the Conspiracy, Research Time, 23/08/2017

What have I figured out from the last two weeks of speculations, drafts, dry-runs, reflections, and meta-reflections?

I’ve been looking at a fateful decision point in the development of revolutionary philosophical thinking – Europe’s anti-communist crackdowns of the 1920s – to see what lessons this very different moment may have for us. It’s a lesson about the sources of power, violence, and stability in human society.

Thinking of freedom all too often involves philosophies that began
in prison cells.
Gramsci’s moment – holed up in a prison cell, wondering with powerful philosophical rigour where it all went so wrong – illuminates a common mistake in a lot of political activism, no matter its ideology. All too often, you misunderstand the nature of political agency.

Gramsci’s fellow revolutionaries of industrial Europe after the First World War made a curious version of that mistake. They absorbed a strange necessitarianism from their twisty intellectual heritage.

They were dedicated communists whose goal was a political revolution to build a more fair and equal society. That was their heritage from Karl Marx himself, both in his most popular works like Capital and in his work as a political organizer.

But they also believed that transformation of the entire industrialized West was inevitable once one revolution succeeded. That was their heritage from the metaphysics of conservative Hegelianism that no one admitted had influenced them.

When Antonio Gramsci was writing his Prison Notebooks, he was figuring out what about the world was different from their expectations. Not just the contingency of real political developments, but why those contingencies led to such a decisive defeat.

Chomsky's propaganda model of communication has functioned until
recently as the Western left's primary way to interpret the world. I'd
venture it was an important cause of how ineffectual the left was
until the millennial wave of feminism and the post-Ferguson civil
rights movement.
The concept he used to understand those key differences between Russia and Western Europe was hegemony. He adapted it from the vocab of studies of international political jockeying, where it described a regional power’s military and diplomatic influence.

Applied to a domestic sphere, hegemony was a matter of popular morality. A hegemonic ideology is the predominant public morality of social and political relations, where that morality is predominantly that of a dominant class in a country. A hegemonic ideology’s rules, principles, and ideals are those of that most powerful class – whether aristocrats, bourgeois, oligarchs, or maybe even workers.

The key thing about hegemony in this sense is that it’s domination without a will to dominate. There’s no central organizing power directing the expressions of hegemonic morality. Instead, there are networks of relationships throughout a society, and the moralities of particular people or groups have a higher prestige and influence on the thinking and behaviour of others.

I think I’ll pick up Henri Bergson’s Two Sources later this year. It would make a good source of ideas for a framework of how more rigorous concepts of non-intentional causality work in social and political investigations.

The problem with thinking in terms of hegemony is that it can really easily drift into conspiratorial thinking. That’s about what I think Noam Chomsky has inspired in the activist left. He analyzed a complex network of relationships between multiple private institutions, governments, multiple classes of business leaders.

He called it the propaganda model of communication. The one term that evokes a shadowy cabal of masterminds controlling the world – Goebbels for neoliberalism.

Hegemony is about systematic, non-intentional causality. Even the elites are dupes of the system, self-deluded donkeys laughing as they fall into their own graves. We have to understand this if we want to understand reality.

Kill Your Idols X: Manufactured Obsolescence, Jamming, 22/08/2017

When I first thought of this post before the weekend, I figured I’d spend more time talking about Noam Chomsky. But I think now that too many have already spent too much.

Manufacturing Consent did a great job of analyzing the methods that modern power centres – um – manufacture our consent. Chomsky walks you through the material structure of the institutions and social networks that keep this self-destructive morality popular.

A thinker should always be careful that they don't
end up on a t-shirt, because then they start writing
for the t-shirt alone. You should always be able to
write for the t-shirt, but never let it become your
primary focus. The world is at least as complicated
as a good book.
We’re in an age where more than just states control and inform these powerful institutions. Our society is more complex. There are more channels and platforms to spread ideas, more social networks to build alliances than ever before. This is true for revolutionaries as well as those deeply invested in the status quo.

That’s the lesson of the Russian Revolution, as Gramsci saw. Lenin and the Bolshevik Party succeeded because Russia’s social order was held together by so few threads. The capitalist democracies were more complex. Now much more so than then.

Chomsky’s analysis is simple but insightful. The for-profit motives of private media companies encourage them to build mutually beneficial relationships with their wealthy investors and shareholders. Same goes for the regular advertisers that bring a platform most of its daily revenue. All groups with interests in the current way of things to protect.

Large media companies respond by letting the ideas and beliefs of these groups pervade their productions. Chomsky focussed almost entirely on news media at the time, but it’s true for more metaphorical cultural producers too. Threats like catastrophic lawsuits can keep rebel organizations in line.

Fearmongering with boogeymen like terrorists (Asians, Muslims) or communists (Jews) or criminal gangs (blacks, Latin Americans) keeps people from concentrating on more fundamental questions.

Those are the five specific techniques and sets of broad messaging ideas Chomsky identifies in the contemporary media ecology end up – um – fabricating our agreement with the current way of the world.

It was a worthwhile insight that set up the basic guidebook that critical activists have used ever since to analyze ideological pressures in our media and culture. I’m glad Chomsky did this. But he hasn’t followed up this work with any political or media analysis of similar worth, originality, and power.

I do consider Chomsky's analysis of how the American oligarchy has
fairly direct control of news media channels through financial
pressure and direct ownership incomplete. There are plenty of less-
intentional, less-directional vectors for ideological influence. But I
should also be honest that I understand perfectly well why the
Washington Post didn't run a giant exposé on Amazon. Not that
it was anything so crude as direct pressure. It would have been a
presumption shared by pretty much everyone around the staff that
you take a pass on looking too much into the boss' other company.
Most of his career since Manufacturing Consent is a continued media blitz of interviews and books repeating that same message in different contexts. But he’s always drifted toward the direction of criticism for the US government’s role in that media ecology.

Now, that’s important. Chomsky is an American, and so has a responsibility to make his primary target as a critic his own country. It’s a patriotic duty.

The problem I have with Chomsky is that his anti-Americanism has consumed his entire perspective. I discussed in a photo caption yesterday how Chomsky so easily blinded himself to Russia’s petty military imperialism. Putin seeks a strutting prestige for himself and his country, as if Crimea, Trans-Dniester, Donetsk, or Abkhazia were jewels on a charm bracelet.

Yet Chomsky gives Putin a pass. Interfering in other country’s elections, peddling a radical Russian Orthodox nationalist ideology across Europe and Asia? The DNC hack was America getting a taste of its own medicine, he said.

Fair enough, since America has overthrown the governments of countries all over Asia, Africa, and Latin America. That doesn’t give ecclesiastic-ethnic nationalism a pass. Nobody is supposed to get a pass. The essential concept of being a critical activist is that nobody gets a pass.

So there’s the hypocrisy. But there’s also his obsolescence. Chomsky hasn’t ever really updated this model of corporate media as ideological propaganda for the scale-free media networks of the internet era.

Frankly, I’m not sure that he can, because Chomsky’s model depends on editorial control of media organizations directed from a single, small set of oligarchical social networks. It lends itself a little too much to conspiracy theory, frankly. The internet is about platforms for diverse interactions, not broadcasters of uniform and universal channels.

Ultimately, Chomsky today is little more than a professional talking head taking up space that could otherwise go to more innovative and energetic critical theorists.

This feels like very directionless reflection now. I’m going to wrap this up tomorrow.

Kill Your Idols IX: Starting an Argument With an Image, Composing, 21/08/2017

Perry Anderson’s essay “The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci” evokes a sad and beautiful image to me. If you meditate on this image a little – like a photograph, a painting, or a line from a poem – it can lead you to the basic idea of a complex and important concept for how philosophy develops across years.

An image like that can start an illuminating philosophical exploration. But Anderson’s essay already did that, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it.

Antonio Gramsci sits in Mussolini’s prison. In his desperation to hang on to any hope for his dream of a just society, he examines the minds of his defeated comrades to find out what they may have done wrong.

Can I objectify a man murdered by fascism? Is that okay for a minute?
Because when I look into steely eyes like that, I get the distinct feeling
that, hunch and height aside, Antonio Gramsci was a foxy man.
How do you examine the minds of dead people? You work through how they thought – their ideologies – their theories. Why they did what they did. Why you did it too, Antonio.

That’s another draw to the Prison Notebooks – how deadly personal it all was to Gramsci. Boethius had his meditation on fate, and Gramsci had his on revolution.

Gramsci examined the philosophical and psychological perspective of his own revolutionaries, but he did the same for anti-revolutionaries. Not the reactionaries and oligarchs who put him in prison, but the ordinary folks who couldn’t be bothered either way. Why did they desire their slavery as if it were their freedom?

The answer was in a cultural hegemony. People grew accustomed to thinking of particular ideas and moral principles being right, never asking a critical question. Of course, a business owner should pay workers whatever the market value for the job is – that’s more important than whether they have enough for food and shelter.

One example, of course. Weirdly perennial, just in different contexts.

So Gramsci identified how most people’s education, as well as continual messages from the state along different media – newspapers, pamphlets, radio – affected their beliefs. What philosophical ideas they found intuitively sensitive – how our intuitions were trained.

It's almost as though I desperately want to avoid talking about Noam
Chomsky. As if even recognizing his limited legitimacy will bite
into my own growing contempt of the man. I want to nurture that
contempt, caress it, learn to love it, as Chomsky ages into a
growing irrelevance, continuing to rail (deservedly) against the
hypocritical United States government and ruling class, while giving
a total pass to a nationalist dictator increasingly dedicated to
achieving the dream of a white supremacist Eurasian empire.
You could extrapolate the principles into their core concepts. Philosophy, in this application, is about retro-engineering the lesson plan of ideologies. If someone had actually sat down and made a plan for how a state would guide its people,* the philosopher’s analysis would write it.

* We’re talking about human politics and social endeavours. No one can ever plan any of this shit.

Gramsci only got so far with this work for many reasons, one of them being his death. But his work was remarkable. Gramsci had a wonderful analysis of the fundamental concepts of what ideologies are, how they work, and how state and society interacted to develop and express them.

Gramsci also explored how state organs can take control of this mechanism – how they can pressure the natural processes of conformity. How they can not only encourage consent, but manufacture it.

Now I’ve ended with the same joke I did on Friday. Talk about multiple takes.

Losing One of the Family, Advocate, 18/08/2017

I was originally going to write more about the psychology of political consent. But I’ll pick that up on Monday. Instead, I just want to write a short post about a tragedy I read about yesterday.

Gwynevere's Facebook profile is now a memorial.
One of the reasons news of their death stood out to me in the noise
of tragedy in our world lately, is their name. They chose the name
River Song. They was part of my community, of people who
love Doctor Who.
The news showed up on my Twitter feed. It was a link to an article by The Advocate. “Texan is the 17th Transgender American Murdered in 2017.” Transgender people suffer violence at a disproportionately high rate. They face discrimination, severe psychological torture in everyday life from the casual hostility of ordinary prejudice.

Trans people are the targets of discriminatory practices from the sidewalk to the halls of state legislatures. When I read about one who was murdered on Saturday night, it hit a little closer to my heart than a lot of the other sad news I hear about murder and violence.

Their name was Gwynevere River Song.

I’m something of a Doctor Who fan. I haven’t swum the murky depths of dankness that you find on the Gallifrey One forums in a really long time. I visit often enough to get depressed and leave again.

I’ve been involved with the fandom often enough to know the awful dreck of a lot of Doctor Who controversy about gender and sexism issues over the last few years. The Moffat Hate brigade is a prime example that I think is very important for the show (or any show), but is so intense that they drive people away from considering their points.

Yes, there are plenty of mistakes when it comes to gender and sexuality that Steven Moffat has made, in the show and in interviews. He puts his foot in his mouth all too frequently, sometimes so deep that it’s like his skull is dimensionally transcendental. But he’s not evil.

Most inspirational part of the Smith era if you ask me. I'm not the
only one either.
Doctor Who has made more progress in its feminist and liberatory perspective under Steven Moffat than ever before. Short form, his arcs for the female characters built a more complex life and a more powerful agency than a companion character had in the whole history of the show.

Despite all the justified and reaching criticism Moffat’s characters received, they all connected deeply with a female and feminist fandom.

You can see how deeply Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who connected with some of its fans when you hear about a trans person from the heart of Texas and see that they’d chosen to begin their new life by adopting the name of Moffat’s greatest character and Alex Kingston’s most epochal performance.

I wish we could have learned about Gwynevere for some other, non-horrible reason. That Song could have lasted longer.

Kill Your Idols VIII: The Best Raw Deal, Research Time, 17/08/2017

Here is the sort of political activism you need when you understand how complex the relationship between society, culture, and state is.

Your activism has to aim for hegemony. This is more than just control of the state. In fact, hegemony means a lot of different things. The term ‘hegemony’ whose meaning is continuous with present use, began in international relations theory in the 19th century.

Boys at war.
Essentially, the theory that sees all relations between nations and peoples as states at war. Whether by military or some other means. Conquest, dominance, hostility, suspicion, mistrust, fear, and hatred.

The language of what’s called realist IR theory is dispassionate, almost meditative. They talk in terms of interests, calculations of different risks and their mutual impacts, game theory. But I’ve long heard a whisper, an implication in a little too much of this talk, which sounds like little boys in a park playing at war.

Hegemony here is the dominant power – the state at the centre of military and economic power for an entire region or the world. The state to whom every other government pays loyalty if they know what’s good for them.

Antonio Gramsci’s innovation was to adapt the term to a domestic political context. He was thinking of states, cliques of oligarchs or aristocrats, and classes. Hegemony here means the power of a ruling class through the state to force obedience through violence, or else seduce them into it.

This is where those institutions come into play. Most of them – especially in Gramsci’s own time and place, early 20th century Europe – were organs of the state. The different military and police bureaus could force you to obey. One important reason (among many) why Gramsci’s revolution in Italy failed was because the Italian Communist Party thought those violent institutions were all that mattered.

Nothing phallic about this at all.
Consent of the governed is a much more powerful force. Many people who were desperately and inescapably poor under the current way of doing things in 1920s Italy – factory workers, farmers, labourers – simply weren’t up for revolution. They were okay with the way things were.

There are a lot of people who, in situations of terrible injustice, are still okay with things. They can see the real circumstances of wretchedness that the status quo results in, and they’ll just make excuses, or simply act as though it doesn’t matter.

You want an example? Introduce yourself to a middle-class white Canadian from a reasonably affluent suburban community. Ask him about the number of Indigenous rural communities don’t have access to a clean water source.

He’ll be filled with excuses, half of them blaming Indigenous people themselves for not having a basic government service we take for granted everywhere else in the country.

Now why would he believe that? These are ideas that proliferate culturally – in conversations and mass media, whether some media platform or channel is state-run or private. They’re the conversations that condition public morality.

Yeah, I'm going there. At least for a little while.
Powerful institutions, organizations, and sometimes even individuals can control channels and platforms. Effective political activism has to work on all these forces at once. Agitating against unjust government actions isn't enough.

Maybe it’s through direct ownership – the state runs the CBC, Facebook is a company that shapes our online life, several oligarchs become think tank funders or outright buy media companies. Maybe it’s through influence, building a profile in these media or influencing people in states and private organizations.

Together – say it with me now – all these forces manufacture our consent.

So is Noam Chomsky just warmed-over Antonio Gramsci? Pretty much, and not even as interesting. But I think I’ll go into more detail why tomorrow.

Kill Your Idols VII: States Can Be Idols Too, Research Time, 16/08/2017

When I wrote Monday’s post, I was still planning to follow it up with what I’m writing tonight. But I was going to start a new little series. Then I realized that I was still circling around the same problem. I’m jumping into it from different angles. Some work better than others for getting to the point.

That point is pretty simple. It's what I had in mind when I started. Political thinking tends to make an idol of the state, which is dangerous, destructive, and incomplete. What are some ways this idol-casting happens? How can we play Moses to this process and smash that idol before people get too attached to it?

Parliament Hill, one of the institutions that one brand of too-patriotic
Canadians worship. I'm glad we live in a democracy, but we shouldn't
make idols of our institutions and gods of our governments. That
worshipful attitude erodes democracy with scowling, preening
desires to supplicate and submit.
I mean, people are already attached to this idea. It’s the obsessive centre of almost every problem and concept in two separate millennia-old traditions of political philosophy – Western and Chinese. Imagine what would have happened to Jewish culture if God had kept Moses on Sinai for 3000 years.

It would have been a lot harder to break that idol worship than just knocking over a cow statue and yelling.

Antonio Gramsci’s work expresses a powerful tension of this attempt to break up those idols. He was part of a revolutionary political movement that tried to overthrow the Italian state in the turmoil after the First World War.

In prison, he examined how aspects of society that weren’t agents or products of direct state action played a role in their defeat. His major concern was to understand these forces so his successors could take some kind of action on them. Social and cultural aspects of society were the blind spots in marxist thinking until Gramsci realized that his revolution failed because of them.

But it was difficult to grow political philosophy beyond its myopic focus on the state. Here’s an example in Perry Anderson’s essay. One of Gramsci’s focusses in the Prison Notebooks was to examine the ideas of Italy’s leading philosopher, Benedetto Croce.

Benedetto Croce looks like the most
stereotypical early 20th century European
intellectual you've ever seen. Until you look
up photos of Henri Bergson. Oh, fuck.
Croce carried into Italy the mainstream tradition of Germany’s philosophy. His central influences were Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel, and Friedrich Schelling. His politics followed Kant’s, his thinking on society, culture, and psychology followed Hegel, and his ontology followed (at least one of the several) Schelling.

He was the leading liberal intellectual of the newly-united Italy until his death in the mid-1950s. He'd been a resister of fascism since its early days arresting (like Gramsci) and assassinating left-wing opponents. The murder of socialist MP Giacomo Matteotti in 1924 was Croce’s turning point against Mussolini.

This historical info is all just one level of sourcing away from Wikipedia. I started with Britannica, actually. I’m not all that familiar with Croce’s philosophy – I found Nietzsche much more productive for the directions that I wanted to pursue in my own research. And when I was a student, the courses I took on that tradition concentrated on Kant and Hegel themselves.

Gramsci’s essays in prison engaged with Croce’s philosophy as a political theorist. Croce articulated a tradition of thought that saw the state at the centre of politics, of society, of human existence itself as an ontological principle. In this, he was following a conservative perspective on the ideas in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.

In Croce’s philosophy, the state – metaphysically speaking – pre-exists humanity itself. The state is an ontological principle universally necessary to harmonious and unified human life. A given society and culture is the expression of the state.

This is a bit much for Gramsci, as it is for us. But I am not surprised that totalitarian politics and philosophy grew in the Western tradition where those right-wing Hegelian ideas were so influential.

Gramsci was concerned to critique this idea that culture was an expression of the state. That presumption that a change in the nature of the state would change the culture was part of what led his own movement, philosophically speaking, to its failure.

So what would this more complex relationship of society, culture, and state be?

The Will to Destroy, Composing, 15/08/2017

I’ve been looking back through the old posts for my book of essays on Capaldi era Doctor Who, and I wanted to talk about “Into the Dalek.” I remember the general reaction to this story as being fairly muted.

A lot of my original review of "Into the Dalek" consisted of my own
quick takes on the successes and failures of Dalek stories throughout
the history of Doctor Who. Short form – Dalek stories work when
there's something more interesting than Daleks in them, when the
Daleks act as a catalyst for a more multidimensional narrative that
is the part of the story we can actually give a crap about.
The Daleks are creatures of hype, at least in popular culture. Every time they appear on contemporary Doctor Who, they seem also to get a Radio Times cover. If not that, they end up on the cover of Doctor Who Magazine. So the reception of a Doctor Who Dalek story always runs the risk of underwhelming.


Then it turns out that the storyline is kind of bollocks – a riff on Fantastic Voyage? Seriously? – Returning to The Invisible Enemy as a well worth drawing? Holy fuck. Plus, the characterization is utterly non-existent.

The letdowns can keep you from seeing what was good about the episode, because Dalek stories are connected with such hype.

It didn’t help that Daleks were portrayed at an operatic pitch for so many high-profile episodes of the Russell T Davies era. I feel like one of the reasons Steven Moffat began shifting Daleks away from the centre of Doctor Who adventures throughout his tenure was to make the ‘ordinary Dalek story’ a conceivable story choice again.

Mainly, however, this is a post about how I’ll update those original Doctor Who reviews from 2014 for the current version. There are two directions I could do with “Into the Dalek.” One is to follow along with the ideas of my first review, discussing different ways to make the Daleks actually interesting in a story.

Because it’s really easy to write boring Daleks. “Exterminate!” is all the characterization you need to do. Your entire episode’s plot consists of running away from Daleks and blowing them up. These stories haven’t been exciting to most people since the 1950s.

Another aspect of the Capaldi era that I want to explore in Essays
Critical and Temporal
 is the possible meanings of Peter Capaldi's
hair throughout his era. His rather conservative haircut of the first
series slowly grows into a wilder mess. It seems to parallel the
development of his character in a similarly relaxed direction. As I
remember from an insightful Gareth Roberts tweet, it was only by
his last year in 2017 that they finally wrote Capaldi's Doctor as the
Doctor instead of some angry old man.
But most of my initial review stuck to looking through examples from the show’s history, mining them for good and bad ways to approach Dalek stories. Useful, interesting, but I don’t think as interesting as it could be.

No, what I want for the book version of the “Into the Dalek” essay is to meditate a little longer on the core philosophical conflict of the story itself. Dalek nature is the totalizing will to destroy – so I’ll explore what it means to will destruction, whether Daleks are a death drive in the Freudian sense or something far more horrible.*

* Hint. It’s totally going to be more horrible.

I also want to explore what a profound transformation Rusty makes of his own nature in “Into the Dalek.” He understands the radical principle that there can be an exception to that totalizing will. The central confrontation of the story is the Doctor pushing him one step further in the argument – that an exception to the totality proves its falsity.

If there’s at least one thing not worth destroying, then nothing is worth destroying. At least not as a Dalek does, as an existential mission.

Some potentially deep philosophy going on here.
• • •
If you want to support some of that potentially deep philosophy in this book project, you can start giving to my Patreon. I’ll post a rough budget for the Capaldi Era book project – probably by September. It’ll lay out some basic costs: buying quality copies of the episodes with creator commentaries, printing and production costs. I’ll probably claim the cost of my InDesign subscription for the time I’ll be assembling the book.

Claim? What do I mean by that? You’re my (potential) Patreon supporters. Not my tax accountant.

Anyway, if you like the sound of my project – Essays Critical and Temporal: Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who** – you can subsidize it with regular donations to my Patreon. Perks, thanks, and gratitude galore.

** Working title. You like it? Let me know.

Kill Your Idols VI: Needing to Get It Right, Research Time, 14/08/2017

I find it sadly fitting that I’ve spent the last week talking about the complex connections between state violence and fascist militias, then we get hit with an actual fucking Nazi riot. The fascist revolution of America appears to be here.

See, all these thoughts in my all-over-the-place analysis of patriotism’s psychology all had a central point. I’m drifting around a really curious concept of hegemony that Antonio Gramsci develops.

This weekend makes me wonder if the United States of America has
reached a turning point, whether it's no longer possible for extremist
white nationalists and multicultural pluralist democrats to live in the
same country and live loyally to the same institutions. It could be
either the beginning of the end of the American experiment, or the
threshold of a new era of freedom and justice. Or it could end up
being just one more flare-up in a long and terrifying history of
American racist violence.
There’s been a ton written on Gramsci’s concept of hegemony in the last several decades of academic political philosophy. So I don’t want to get into a discussion over whether it was really Gramsci’s, or whether Anderson’s books got it right. Because I’ve been thinking this while reading some of Perry Anderson’s books on Gramsci and the Western left-wing tradition.

He’s a brilliant historian of ideas. The only thing that frustrates me about his work is that he’s such an accurate historian that I have no clue what his own philosophical ideas are. At least not in that abstract sphere of pure concepts.

I read his book on the politics and philosophies of the Indian nationalist movement against British rule, and he had plenty of his own ideas. But those were about political stances – the Hindu-centric nationalism of the Congress Party caused disasters, ethnic cleansing, and immense suffering among Indian Muslims and Dalits.

Anderson is, as you’d expect, not cool with that. His ideas are in the insight of his moral stances in his writing. But when it comes to philosophical concepts, he’s a very meticulous mapper of others’ territory. He doesn’t build his own worlds.

So his map of Gramsci’s concept of hegemony is very insightful. In his long essay The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci, Anderson was very faithful to Gramsci’s ideas as they are in the text. He even describes them as paradoxical and contradictory because Gramsci developed a very slippery conception of hegemony.

Sometimes, he spoke of hegemony as if it were about state control and influence of other states through the military. Domestically, sometimes he thought of it as state violence. Sometimes, it was the soft power of the state through cultural institutions. Sometimes, hegemony was ideological. Sometimes, it was just a matter of sanctioned gun violence.

It was rather difficult for me to find a good picture of Perry
Anderson where he didn't look kind of depressed. These days, I can
understand where he's coming from.
If the meaning of a term seems to contradict itself, then it can’t be valid. Fine for a historian, but it’s a rule that makes for terrible philosophy. Oddly enough, Anderson's big history book on the Western Marxist tradition more generally tends to give Gramsci more slack on this hegemony concept. Maybe because his focus is on how the concept changed over time and place.

Look again at all those definitions of hegemony that occur across the Prison Notebooks. What do they have in common? The projection of power as the ability to control and influence. There’s always a hub to that projection, a centre of power.

That power centre is sometimes very blunt, and its projection simple and direct. Think about the Russian Revolution of 1917. It could succeed relatively easily (once it got super-lucky) because there was only one vector of power – from the Czar to the masses through the aristocracy and military elite.

Power centres can also be dispersed. Think about a country and society like the contemporary United States. Institutions and networks of influence all over the country spread a morality of patriotism, love of country and the institutions of the state.

Americans don’t believe in this simply as a matter of following orders – schools, television networks, cultural industries of all sorts spread the moralities of American patriotism, America as an ideology. That ideology itself can come in contradictory forms – racists and pluralists can exist in the same country. They have for centuries.

They’re loyal to the same institutions – American democracy, just as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison described in the Federalist Papers. Even though they believe in radically different moral visions of what those institutions should do.

But it’s always a network of control and influence with a hub, the state institutions themselves. That’s the most philosophically tantalizing take I can find, figure out, or think of for Gramsci’s concept of hegemony. It’s the one that I’ll use in my own work.

Hegemony as the dominant projection of loyalty to a state.

Kill Your Idols V: The People's Violence, Research Time, 11/08/2017

So what do you do with a few million people who unconditionally and uncritically love their country?

It’s a legitimate question to ask. A lot of people seem to have forgotten that straight-up patriotism and paranoid jingoism was once the most frightening political current surrounding the White House. Those were the days.

The September 11 attacks and George W Bush’s reaction to them was the cataclysmic engine of this whole messed up century. Millions are dead and the world has been radically transformed through the events that the attack and W’s war set into motion.

I thought we'd remember George W Bush as an epochal man, the 20th
century's first bumbling monster. Yet how quickly he's been forgotten,
Back then, I saw this orgy of patriotism as an act of love for the American state, its military, and George W Bush. When I would see how patriotic, viciously pro-war American people acted on questions of politics, I did see some weirdly sublimated acts of love for those bombs.

I was disturbed and depressed at the knowledge of millions of dead Iraqis in a terrifying insurgency. I knew that, as far as the Middle East was concerned, this was the beginning of – minimum – two decades of conflict.* But I was sure that the effects on American culture at least were limited to aggressive country music criticism.

* Right now, I’m betting on four decades. So we’ve got about 25 years to go. Time to start getting ready for some serious refugee movements. I doubt we’ve seen the end yet.

Now, we’re dealing with a genuine authoritarian takeover of the American government to render it a one-party state, and a radical white nationalist political element (with unnerving shades of anti-Semitism) dominating the White House.

Donald Trump’s politics aren’t only about state-based authoritarianism through immigration crackdowns, unrestrained police violence, and a revived War on Drugs.

Independent militia groups on the far right are growing fast. Now, when I read Anderson’s book on Antonio Gramsci, there’s a discussion of the pro-fascist militias of 1920s Italy. Even though Anderson was writing this book long before Donald Trump was even on TV, his words engaged with the same problem of whether patriotism would inspire popular violence.

Because it's a penis, Donald. It's a giant penis.
Gramsci himself gave an account of the social power of patriotism to inspire violence. In Italy, these gangs of young and middle-aged men would attack socialists and other left-wingers.

Now these gangs got a few kickbacks from the fascist government and many graduated into the police and the military. So Anderson concludes that the gangs were effects of the state. It’s a kink that I see in his thinking – very twentieth century. As soon as the state’s action appears in any social situation, it dominates that situation.

But the militias weren’t like that. In a way, they co-opted the state. Those militia groups in Italy had existed since the end of the First World War. Mussolini’s coup was an independent radical nationalist militia group that overthrew the Italian government through an armed insurrection in the heart of Rome.

Radical white nationalist militia groups have existed in America pretty much since the Reconstruction and advent of Jim Crow laws. The Trump campaign for President was when the core media personalities and executives of American white nationalist media took over the executive branch through their faction of the Republican Party.

Nationalism is patriotism twisted into a screech of racializing bloodlust. Patriotism is a function of popular morality. The state inculcates it through education, but once it’s a popular morality, its development is beyond state control.

In Italy, the radical nationalists wear their best suits to overthrow the
government. Steve Bannon can't even put his shirts on straight.
Governance through legislation and policy means that intentionality is always an aspect of state systems. Its action can never be chaotic – its capacities are primarily in direct action. That’s a great vulnerability.

The possibility of revolution, in fact. People organizing themselves politically into a dynamic movement – a morality spreads, consciousness of that shared morality spreads, and people coordinate direct action for change in their society and institutions.

In 1920s Italy, all the communists knew, from their theories, that their revolution was coming. Then Mussolini marched on Rome.

I remember how happy I was when Barack Obama was elected. The deranged patriotism of the Bush years looked like it might be coming to an end. Then Donald Trump brought the Birther Movement to national television.