By John Barker
Hierarchy(ies) of gender, class, race and species existed before Capitalism while the Hierarchy of species only becomes one towards the whole planet with the violent victories of colonialism and Capitalism. Since then they have been a shitty, mostly snug and compact pair to whom the very idea of Equality is an affront which must be trashed from every conceivable angle by the army of treasonable clerks at its disposal. Societies in which Inequality(ies) and capital accumulation are not the organizing principles are categorized as inferior, ‘savage’ in the period of voracious colonialism ; ‘undeveloped’ in modern smarmy.
This Hierarchic categorizing of the conquered as ‘savages’ was automatic for those already used to categorize Higher and Lower peoples because “so conditioned to having social inferiors to look down on.” It then acted as a rationalisation for the slavery or forced labour of the conquered and so perpetuated the inequality of modern-day racism, starting with the Biblical story of Cain an Abel through the crudities of 19th century “scientific racism – when in parallel the inferiority of women was being “proved” and of the Irish re-asserted – through to the still existent crudity of IQ testing as created by the behaviourist and openly racist Robert Yerkes-“no citizen can afford to ignore the menace of race deterioration”. Still existent too, the capital accrued from slavery; still in circulation, maintaining and enlarging Capital’s power and scope to extract surplus value and natural resources as profits, dividends and managerial bonuses.
One of the pair’s class warrior clerks, Maurice Cowling substituting the word Conservative for Hierarchist is clear on what is happening now with the contrivances of “anti-woke” and “culture wars” …
“It is not freedom [they] want; what they want is the sort of freedom that will maintain existing inequalities or restore lost ones.”
The USA is not a universal model, the psychotic hysterias of such a powerful settler colonialism are special, but the recent decisions of its distinctly undemocratic Supreme Court on abortion; affirmative action in education on racial grounds ;and the reassertion of onerous student debt on class lines are very much the restoration of “lost” inequalities, that is the regaining of gender, racial and class privileges manifested as advantages while …
“People with advantages are loath to believe that they just happen to be people with advantages.”
The need for the coupling of the shitty pair and their mutual reinforcing was recognised early on.. Never mind the “Invisible Hand” of the impersonal market, Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations had no doubts on the fit. It was necessary … “to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society” to allow for the markets to work. And since “the affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor”, so the rich must be protected “by the powerful arm of the civil magistrate continually held up to chastise” the poor.
Now and then conflicting views of the world between Capital & Hierarchy show up in the sphere of Consumption. Though there is a shared desire for and re-creation of selective Scarcity, Hierarchy has a concern with Consumption getting out of hand; its potentially pleasurable purpose has the potential to undermine social discipline and for some the preparedness, the toughness of the majority of people or rather their willingness to sacrifice themselves for some greater or urgent end as defined by Hierarchy, which does not include the radical change demanded by the in-process existent climate crisis. This concern over Consumption as Pleasure has been and is specifically aimed at women, Hierarchy’s Lower gender. In the present when violences against women are both international, continuous and on the rise everywhere, it is linked to a Hierarchy&Capital hysteria in the richer parts of the world on the matter of low fertility (birth) rates. Capital fears that less new workers shifts the balance of power between it and Labour; Hierarchy, that it is symptomatic of women’s autonomy. It seeps into the dirty politicization of migration, migrants being Lower ethnic or racial peoples while Capital needs their labour.
Hierarchy&Capital resolve such differences with violence, in this case migrants drowning, dying in deserts or on fences, and the publicizing of such violence, a warm-up for what will come with an expected 1.7 billion climate refugees over the next 30 years.
As a category, Consumption is purposely kept separate from that of Production. In that sphere the shitty pair are more as one: labour discipline based on dependence on the wage – is both a component of its social form, and as what creates the surplus they control, to what use it is put and to whose benefit. The self-created assertion that there are always higher or lower classes, ethnicities and ‘races’ and gender is also essential to Production. Despite contemporary capitalism’s promise/claim that all the matters is whether you can perform, do the job, swathes of production depend on the racialized and gendered global division of labour, on patriarchal power, patriarchy as gender hierarchy – women are paid less for all forms of work – while simultaneously creating male resentment at the loss of jobs for men and consequent hysterical re-assertions of gender-Hierarchic masculinist ideology which already dominates the language. That there are Wars against Poverty and Hunger is an obscenity as are the names given to the most soil-destroying insecticides, names like Ambush, Ammo, Apocalypse, Arsenal, Assert, Authority First, Avenge, Barrage and Broadstrike. It’s not that Capital organises violence against women, that would be Conspiracy Theory, but personal male violence in the Maquiladora of Mexico or textile factories in India is functional to Hierarchies of division of labour and wages. Sometimes it is organised as when during the South Korean dictatorship “economic miracle” built on their super-exploited work, women organising in trade unions were smeared with shit by male “Official union” goon squads and only then retreated.
At certain moments the relative weight of Hierarchy and Capital change. Now, when Capital has no ability to talk of jam tomorrow in richer parts of the world considered not just as richer but Higher by Hierarchy – the better world and future once we get through getting through and getting through again and when specifically Capitalist globalisation following the contours of its colonial beginnings are seen to undermine domestic labour disciplines- the forces of Hierarchy with their audience-flattery talk of Civilization re-assert themselves; when despite the technological promises of IT and biotechnology there is only crisis of one sort or another. This absence of future promise creates a zero-sum world in which the gain of the Other, the Lower, is seen as being only possible at the expense of the relatively Higher. In such a world of violent resentment. Any threat to Hierarchic privileges is presented as an attack on Freedom.
China is perhaps an exception in its relation to the Future as present-day cheerleader for globalization as trade globalization – as Western powers were themselves until recently – combined with the promise of an achievable ‘communism’. Its success while providing much of the Surplus Value spread around the international Capitalist world’s profits is causing racial Hierarchy grief and prompting its disparagement of “cosmopolitan” globalisation, yet both there and in ‘the West’ Hierarchy as such is the only guarantor of some kind of social peace when income inequality is so gross. In China ideological prominence is given to Confucius’s hierarchic vision of social stability while its intellectuals are said to be seriously reading Edmund Burke for whom in Reflections on The French Revolution and feeling threatened by it, lays down the law:
“Good order is the foundation of all things To be able to acquire, the people, without being servile, must be tractable and obedient. The magistrate must have his reverence, the laws their authority. The body of the people must not find the principles of natural subordination by art rooted out of their minds. They must respect that property of which they cannot partake. They must labour to obtain what but labour can be obtained; and when they find, as they commonly do, the success disproportionate to the endeavour, they must be taught their consolation in the final proportions of eternal justice.”
Organised workers have been saying bollox to this for a long time and are doing so in China now, having no time for eternal justice and fought and fight for success more proportionate to their endeavour. They are habitually accused with shameless cheek of being ‘consumerist’ or of being selfish in relation to those who are not organised ordon’t have the power to withdraw their labour. This as we seeing now – early 2023 cuts little ice when profits are opportunistically gross and inequality unchecked, creating and recreating a zero-sum view of the world. It is not though surprising that in these circumstances the notion of Civilization steps into the breach and pops up here there and everywhere. Samuel Huntington’s vacuous Clash of Civilizations in the early 1990s may only have had the immediate effect of giving strength to a fascistic Serbian nationalism, but it also acted as a diversion from the material realities of inequality. The shitty pair are as one in their absolute detestation of Equality but when Capital’s dynamic is one only of ever-greater inequality without the promise of a better future Hierarchy steps into the breach talks of Civilization and, with a selective fatalism, works to re-assert itself as the natural order of things.
A cyclical view of history features accounts of the rise and fall of nations and empires when lean ascetics conquer older empires and then themselves fall for all the attractions of luxurious living and grow soft and are then conquered by a new group of tough guys on horses. Or that there is a hunger or vigour of the barbarians to destroy all that is ‘civilized’ with the promise of a Year Zero Fresh Start. These Hierarchist Decline and Fall narratives – favouring notions of and claims on Civilization -have been common to ruling elites, of the more recent past and present especially those of empires and enjoyed with a certain frisson by them or played with for authoritarian purpose.
‘Civilization’ and it being ‘at stake’ has been renewed over the last 400-odd years as a politicized claim of the forces of Hierarchy –“ so snicker and so proud “ – even if the models of what it is that is at stake are various: Judaeo-Christian, a newish label; of the Enlightenment; of the Russian Orthodox Church; Wahhabism/Salafist Islam; and more secular, the Graeco-Roman, especially Roman. Where they are all agreed is that without the authority of the hierarchies they carry with them there will be Decadence. For the pretentious USA “neo-con” Philip Bobbit war has a “heroic centrality” to Civilization. In English the notion and vocabulary of Civilization begins as a dodgy botanical-analogy whereby with the violent seizure of the land of other people civilinature is civilized, and these other people are civilized in the process to the extent this is possible of inferior people, for the conquered must, necessarily, for the invader, be inferior. Civilizations too must be placed on a hierarchic scale, Higher and Lower. The demonstration in the 20th century by the anthropologist Franz Boas that they are not, that other ‘civilizations’ worked just as well as those of the European invaders has been one key outrageous thought that kicked off the “culture wars” now pursued by Hierarchists coupled with their misgivings about China despite its surplus value creation role when the Opium Wars had somehow been proved the Chinese to be a Lower people.
In 1603 -the period when colonialism has become integral to European capitalism – the English propagandist Francis Bacon on the invasion and occupation of Ireland, had no doubts on the matter …
“We shall reclaim them from their barbarous manners … populate plant and make civil all the provinces of that kingdom … as we are persuaded that it is one of, the chief causes for that which God hath brought us to the Imperial crown of these kingdoms.”
It is triumphalist, just as “barbarian” only enters classical Athenian vocabulary after the defeat of the Persians in the narrow straits of Salamis. It marks the point when the then new Hierarchy&Capital attitude to the natural world of the planet becomes entrenched though not fully rationalised till the 17th century as from the ‘natural scientist’ from one of the richest colonial families in Ireland, Robert Boyle …
“the veneration, wherewith men are imbued for what they call nature, has been discouraging impediment to the empire of man over the inferior creatures of God.”
Modern Decline and Fall narratives in the hands of Hierarchy& Capital are concerned not with their threat to our planet’s unique atmosphere which begins with the conceptual shift from “nature” to “natural resources”, but with the weaknesses of their own peoples. soft, lazy – of being “uncompetitive” , “Unfit for purpose” – and remain distinctly masculinist as in the most famous of the decline and fall hysterias of the early 20th century. For Oswald Spengler in Decline of the West too many reasons were being put forward for life and …
”At that point begins prudent limitation of the number of births. The primary woman, the peasant woman, is mother. The whole vocation towards which she has yearned from childhood included in that one word…now emerges the Ibsen woman…Instead of children …they all belong to themselves and are unfaithful…At this level Civilization enters upon a stage of appalling depopulation.”
Back in the time, and up to 1940 when the Nazis made it unpalatable, he, and this kind of filth was taken up by “cultural pessimist” elitists like TS Eliot and his “human kind cannot bear very much reality”. Now, 2022, the evidence of depopulation in the richer and ‘middling’ parts of the world is being made into a poliiticized anxiety from the capitalist need for the reproduction of labour power, and other HIerarchist viewpoints with eugenics, racism and misogyny thrown in, ‘the Ibsen women’ returns to the fore in the minds of a resentful masculinism. For the Hierarchist Spengler the whole vocation towards which she [woman] has yearned from childhood was motherhood.”
If Spengler’s version of the narrative now itself sounds old-fashioned, it is still the ‘Ibsen’ ,the self-conscious woman who remains the target of the Hierarchists for not having children as well as the poor single mother and those in the poorest parts of the world for having too many. Hierarchy& Capital share this concern from the point of view of the reproduction of labour and/or the race and/or supposedly ‘ethnic’ nation. This is not just the crude attacks of East European politicians or Erdogan. The woman as selfish consumer runs from saintly, rational Adam Smith …
“Barrenness so frequent among women of fashion, is very rare among those of inferior station. Luxury in the fair sex, while it Inflames perhaps the passion for enjoyment, seems always to weaken, and frequently to destroy altogether, the powers of generation” (1770s Wealth of Nations…(Book 1 Chapter 8)
And in the 1950s from the “Centrist” polymath and Hierarchist of the “cultural pessimist variety”, Raymond Aron for whom, talking of low level of birth-rate …
“The civilization of self-centred enjoyment condemns itself to death when it loses interest in the future.”
In this he imitates another Decline&Fall Civilization theorist of the time, Arnold J. Toynbee…
“Civilizations die of suicide not by murder”
Not the suicide caused by the complex climatic interactions caused by the atmospheric emissions of capitalist productionist economies and subsequent global warming and its interactive effects. Instead these narratives from the past have a distinctly masculinist tone, a mistrust of their softness and laziness; of being “uncompetitive”, which has re-appeared in Hierarchy’s spun web of what it itself calls ‘anti-woke’ whereby kindness and compassion to peoples lower on the Hierarchic scale and to the shared planet itself are damned as necessarily inauthentic and, by heavily financed PR sleight-of-hand turned into tyrannies. Yes, compassion as tyrannical. There is too a fear of softness as consumption and seduction. When Pliny the Elder deplored the …
“spending of Roman gold for effete luxuries, perfume and silk…” He touches on luxuries that are both imported , and so debilitating from a national mercantilist view of the world – now being re-adopted by USA Republicans and European fascists – and wholly sensual; silk becomes a touchstones for all the men anxious as to their world of empire. But it is silk that is a repeated stand-on for effete luxuries, as an abstraction, the kind of abstractions, now called “floating signifiers”, moved around in a game of words and attitudes by Hierarchists and their clerks. But where is the pleasure? Pleasure is too dangerous, feminine pleasure most of all …
“In early 20th century Paris minor aristocrat Gaëtan de Clérambault landed on his feet as a police doctor, enabling him to examine and pass judgement on “vagrants, prostitutes and thieves” while having a fetish of his own, taking 6000 photos of draped and veiled women in Morocco. In 1908 Four years later he published contemptuous case studies, or rather accounts of his interrogations, of four women arrested for stealing pieces of silk. Not those of the middle-class shoplifting epidemic of the time, but those who’d had tough lives as widows or abused women and who stole the silk for sexual pleasure, its touch and sound ‘delicious’. Sometimes, just imagining the feel and sound of the silk was enough. . After masturbation they lost interest in the fabric. As one woman described, she liked silk when it was still ‘stiff’.”
Real pleasure with the ‘stiffness’ escapes the emptiness of silk as symbolic of a generic, abstract softness favoured by Hierarchists so that In the world of hardline ‘anti-decadents’ wool will do as another stand-in in a world of ‘woolly liberals”. De Cerambault himself was outraged by these women and their pleasure and in a position to judge and punish them.
A few hundred years earlier in France although silk had ceased to be a financial drain on the monarchic state, it still had the power to corrupt and – a double hit – its very production was seen as a threat to national manliness. Sully opposed de Serre’s economically rational plan to develop a silk industry in the country arguing that …
“the rural population from whom the best musketeers and cavalrymen had been recruited would lose their innate vigor by being employed on work more fitting for children and women’s hands…And not only would the manufacture of silk lead to degeneration among country folk . but it would also promote the insidious corruption of the urban classes through luxurious living and all that went with it.”
Not that the masculinity of musketmen should be making any claims for itself beyond its class place in the Herarchy. Thus one of the vicious bourgeois pricks cited in Volume One of Marx’s Capital, usually vicars, this time a 1770 Essay on Trade and Commerce, Containing Observations on Taxes …
“But our populace have adopted a notion, that as Englishmen they enjoy a birthright privilege of being more free and independent than in any country in Europe. Now this idea, as far as it may affect the bravery of our troops, may be of some use; but the less the manufacturing poor have of it, certainly the better for themselves and for the State.”
Soaked through with masculinism one can be sure that Sully would have been horrified at the prospect of men wearing silk underwear whose existence prompted Vogue magazine of 1897 to declare that a professional man “must attire himself in a sensible way. He cannot afford to be elaborate or effeminate in his dress.”
In our times if David Bowie and David Beckham -whose underwear is anyway their own business – and the courageous lives of gay man and women and what they have normalised, the Vogue of 1897 would be disowned by the Vogue of now. This though is only true in some parts of the world. Hard core capitalist extractors of surplus value may at certain times be relaxed, even ‘libertarian’ as to sexuality while happy enough to have production made in overtly patriarchal other parts of the world – but this is not so for an anti-decadent politics that is obsessed with sexuality. Across the world exists a masculinised political response from a variety of monotheisms. Weaker in the USA where star Evangelicals are caught with rent boys and start new careers as redeemed sinners, stronger with Evangelicals in Africa lynching gay people; stronger in Eastern Europe where Russian Orthodox gurus and state politicians share contempt and hatred for a decadent Western Europe with Russian-hating Polish Catholic ideologues. For them decadence is signified by abortion, homosexual marriages and by a demographic crisis, developments that comprise ‘a culture of death’.
The inexcusable Russian invasion of Ukraine and the destruction of the infrastructure of its civil society, its pure spite, came not just from Russian Imperialist logic and the placing of Ukraine as a lower entity, but from what Vladimir Putin articulated at the Valdai Club conference in September 2013: Russia was the last bulwark of conservative Christian values as against the decadence of the rest of Europe enfeebled by too much multiculturalism as a consequence of empire and political correctness. With horrible irony it has reignited the rhetorics and power of the “stern white men” of the West who also have attacked ‘political correctness’ as rhetorical stock-in-trade in similar terms to Putin. Since the invasion “We told you so”, they say, the ones called neo-cons who previouslypushed for a second attack on and then invasion of Iraq and for whom Western decadence has been characterised by being asleep, not watchful, self-discipline at risk . A vicious irony that there is a congruence of attitudes between the Russian bulwark and the most reactionary voices in the USA and Europe. It is the voice of early hardline Protestantism. As with Cotton Mather in witch-obsessed, women hating Salem.
“From a Man that is Asleep anything may be taken away … If a man sleeps he makes himself a prey….If asleep he makes himself prey to all his internal and external adversaries he lays himself open to all manner of blows upon his Interest. … Men are asleep when they omit their guard over themselves.”
Much earlier from Edmund Spenser in his propagandist poem The Faerie Queene, it is yet more insidious …
"And when drownd in deadly sleepe he’s found,/Satan to this study goes, and there amiddes His Magick bookes and artes° of sundry kindes,/He seekes out mighty charmes. And forth he cald out of deepe darknesse dred /Legions of Sprights,° the which like little flyes Fluttring about his ever damned hed,/Awaite whereto their service he applyes, with charmes and hidden artes,/to deceive the good man with desire and into trust."
In the Spenser what is pleasurable and where desire is prompted by ‘charmes and hidden artes’, it is a feminine softness and is therefore necessarily deceptive. It is the voice of one of the earliest colonial Hierarchists, a poet and English enforcer of the invasion of Ireland. It allowed Bacon to be smug about civilizing the conquered land after the scorched earth policy advocated and carried out by the poet for the English state. The colonialist must be constantly awake and vigilant against the conquered and no doubt devious, ‘savage’.
Sleep as dangerous for the Hierarchic is also a menace in the Capitalist world, conflated with idleness …
“People will not only do what they like to do — they overdo it 100 per cent. Most people overeat 100 per cent, and oversleep 100 per cent, because they like it. That extra 100 per cent makes them unhealthy and inefficient. The person who sleeps eight or ten hours a night is never fully asleep and never fully awake — they have only different degrees of doze through the twenty-four hours. … For myself I never found need of more than four or five hours’ sleep in the twenty-four. I never dream. It’s real sleep. When by chance I have taken more I wake dull and indolent. We are always hearing people talk about ‘loss of sleep’ as a calamity. They better call it loss of time, vitality and opportunities.”
Thomas Edison, may sound fanatical to modern ears but ‘opportunities’ is still basic to Capitalist PR even when its claims for social mobility run into the realities of Hierarchy and the reproduction of privilege; and Vitality, like the Vigor Sully feared to be lost is still prominent in Decadence narratives. In our own times the machismo of this inventor/capitalist is claimed by bankers and their enablers with their “16 hour working days”. At one level these are self-justifications for their stratospheric incomes but point to the real thrust of decline discourse, that it is characteristic of workers and those low on the self-defined Hierarchic scale just as with the ‘savages’; it is their decadence that endangers ‘the economy’ of ‘Civilization’. Edison himself made colonial assertion of Hierarchy profitable. His kinetoscope invention became so with a “Sioux Ghost Dance” in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show, a ‘carnival’ drama of white pioneers conquering the land and its people. The film was shot just four years after the Wounded Knee massacre of Indigenous Americans which was when, during the surrender of Big Foot, a medicine man began practicing the Ghost Dance.
A disappointed missionary of the 18th century declared “The Amerindians are like the filthy peasants of Europe who grow fat in their own filth,” It has become a common rhetorical flourish moralizing about obesity and the poor: A British Prime Minister-himself a self-interested enabler of a massive Ponzi scheme at public expense – threatening to cut off any welfare money to those classified as obese who wouldn’t be treated in 2015; the authoritarian President of Brazil Bolsanaro talking of the inhabitants of quilombos – free slave created settlements in the country attractive to his government of land-grabbers – being too fat to do anything, even to conceive children.. Hierarchy & Capital’s self-praise and self-mythologizing focuses on their self discipline, which entitles them to discipline others. In a notorious eugenicist speech by the British politician Sir Keith Joseph on the wrong class of women having children in the 1970s he also articulated the shitty pair’s counter-revolution of the time, its ‘cultural’ element
“The worship of instinct, of spontaneity, the rejection of self-discipline, is not progress … it is degeneration.”
The intellectual military bureaucrat and war criminal Donald Rumsfeld took a similar line with the poor of Latin America to the masses; they were infantile for not accepting inequality, for seeking slightly better living conditions…
“We’ve seen populism in many countries,” he declared, “but over time they’re going to reject what seems to be an attractive whim of the moment, in favour of behaving in a more mature way, which is willing to defer an immediate appetite or pleasure in favour of a longer-term benefit, which is what people do when they reach the age of maturity.”
“Deferred gratification” is standard Capitalist PR for the creation of capital, and as self-discipline is self-heroizing Hierarchy talk with a masculinist edge. It is there in there in the masculinist boast of self-discipline from Rumsfeld a man who could not tolerate being touched by anyone passing by in the corridors of the Pentagon. Commenting on claims that Venetian aristocrats of the early modern period kept down the birth rate with coitus interruptus, John Riddle undercuts such pretensions.
“Were this so the aristocrats and elites were remarkable in their self-restraint, enough to deserve their position. To withdraw before climax is a tortuous act for a male and his cooperation needed. Not suffering the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth or the difficulties of raising small children, males as a rule are less concerned about family size. “
Other such pretensions of tough male self-discipline have been skewered in our own time as when in 2002 a CIA man could talk of the possibility of infiltrating al Qaida as being zilch: CIA agents had families and lived in the leafy suburbs of Virginia, he said.
This might be the outcome of a slide predicted in the knockabout style of the novelist Louis-Ferdinand Celine early on the 20th century “If some of the regulars were to be believed the very foundations of colonization were threatened by ice. Indeed it cannot be denied that the introduction of ice into the colonies has sparked a whole process of devirization. . Riveted by force of habit to his iced aperitif, the colonial could no longer hope to dominate the climate by stoicism alone. The Stanleys, the Faidherbes, the Marchands, be it noted in passing, had nothing but good to say of the tepid, muddy beer , wine and water they had been drinking for years without complaint. There you have it. That’s how colonies are lost”.
These days intrepid Sir Richard Burton, British colonial ‘explorer’ and Hierarchist , would be looking for air-con. The psychic need for the ‘stern white man’ to be always there waiting in the wings remains. This particular white man has been formed by and reproduced the colonialism of occupation, refined and exported to the bureaucracies of repression of the metropole. In the wings he’s there in the Special Forces of the world, Russian, American, whoever can afford them; to defence experts or outsourced as exemplary to Israel. But such resistance to decadence is undermined by the decadence of multi-storey grand houses for a single family, by residential spatial obesity, super-yachts and the like. As for the boast of tough decision-making and the maturity of thinking long-term, it has been revealed to be purely rhetorical as its response to climate change and disease tied by its own interests to the life-threatening demands of a capitalism no longer “fit for purpose”. to be nothing more than self-interested wishful thinking.
Capitalism’s own idealized self-image, of capital being produced by self-sacrifice; no talk of violence or inherited wealth involved, was skewered by Karl Marx … “Long ago there were two sets of people; one diligent, intelligent and above all frugal elite; the other lazy rascals spending their subsistence and more.”
Despite the flimsiness of their self-regard, for both partners of the shitty couple, all those lower on the hierarchic scale must be so because of their intrinsic faults, it is a constant in what they say. So when in the 17th century John Locke, while opposing slavery talks of poverty as caused by “the relaxation of discipline and the corruption of manners” 21st century Tony Blair and the creation of the ASBO nation comes to mind and which has since graduated to tailored individual treatments for British welfare claimants.
None of that modern smarmy , from Patrick Colquhoun at the end of the 18th century.
“Poverty is that state and condition in society where the individual has no surplus labour in store, or, in other words, no property or means of subsistence but what is derived from the constant exercise of industry in the various occupations of life. Poverty is therefore a most necessary and indispensable ingredient in society, without which nations and communities could not exist in a state of civilization. It is the lot of man. It is the source of wealth, since without poverty, there could be no labour; there could be no riches, no refinement, no comfort and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth.”
Patrick Colquhoun, merchant, statistician and magistrate – everything justifiable in the name of Civilization – declared in the years before the abolition of slavery when Locke was so self-deceiving as described by Susan Buck-Morss in Hegel and Haiti …
“While English society increasingly condemned the institution of slavery, it approved experiments in labour discipline which appeared to gravitate towards the plantation model. Slaveholders and industrialists shared a growing interest not only in surveillance and control but in modifying the character and habits of their workers.”
Colquhoun took surveillance to heart and when he set up the first private police force at the docks to stop worker re-appropriation of goods arriving from those same plantations. He learned from militarised colonial bureaucracies, those who had been the meta-managers and enslavers of the plantations who have been and are are crucial for the hierarchic view of the world enacted and re-enacted in the metropoles of the colonisers where its personnel were over-represented in the civil services, police, army and corporate management of the imperialist powers themselves. One of its beneficiaries Sir Richard Burton, lionised Victorian explorer of the colonised world, did though speak for both of the shitty pair when writing of the barbarism of Somalis being due to their political system “the rude Equality of Hottentots ” and that this is a failing that is even “worse than Asiatic Idleness”. Crimes for both Hierarchy&Capital and necessarily symptoms of Decadence.
“Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world … too many people in Britain prefer a lie-in to hard work … we must get on the side of the responsible, the hardworking and the brave.”
This from the Free Enterprise Group of British Conservative Party MPs (many of them in the governing party Cabinets of the last years of UK government.
A couple of years later the UK Conservative Treasury minister (Chancellor of the Exchequer) asserted something similar on a trip to China but expanded the point “There has been at times in Britain a sense of defeatism. You saw that in the late 1970s when everyone was resigned to the decline of empire and Britain being the sick man of Europe. Margaret Thatcher turned that around. You saw that three years ago when everyone thought we couldn’t tackle our debt problems and the financial crisis had relegated us to a second-rate power.”
‘Decline’ ‘second rate’ , ‘sick man’, these are words and phrases characteristic of Hierarchy’ s Decadence talk and confirms how compact the shitty pair can be. As does the shared comforting thought that the poor are poor not because of the structures of power but because of their own defects.
So we have Larry Summers articulator and manager of capitalist interests for the non-Trump Democratic party of the USA and advisor to ex-President Obama in a letter to Ron Siskins of 2009
“One of the reasons that inequality has probably gone up in our society is that people are being treated closer to the way they’re supposed to be treated.”
For him hierarchy is real and authentic and capital is removing any of the falsities created by trade unions, worker and welfare struggles and the array of privileges – his own for one – both earned and natural.
David Harvey describes the shitty pair with a different vocabulary, USA-centred( which is limiting in that the USA is not the world) which does point to the Consumption conflict within the shitty pair but also makes them complementary when it comes to elite rule. His neo-cons very much in the mould of Maurice Cowling’s ‘Conservatives’ maintaining the whole gamut of inequalities.
“The Neo-cons have reshaped neoliberal policies in two ways. First in its concern for order as an answer to the chaos of individual interests, and second, in its concern for an overweening morality as the necessary social glue to keep the body politic secure in the face of internal and external dangers.”
Such a moment was perceived in the USA in 1956 during the Cold War when the USSR launched the first manned spaceship Sputnik. A Time magazine editorial “Arguing the Case for Being Panicky”: asked
“What then should we do? Just this, : we should each decide what we really want most in the world…What do we want most want? A Cadillac? A color TV set? Lower income taxes? –Or to live in freedom?”
But the same issue carried a 3-page advert for the 1958 Cadillac in four colours on gold background, together with 19 pages advertising other cars and a further range of, in the owner-editor’ Luce’s sense, anti-freedom necessities. This is indicative of the profound contradiction which Hiearchy&Capital can only overcome with extreme “legal” violence(s).
You can only laugh joylessly when a former British Prime Minister Blair very rich from advising some of the dirtiest authoritarians on the planet recently declared that “materialism” is a threat to the planet and human identity. It is from this kind of moralizing that new cries of Western decadence are coming from a variety of conservative – neo or otherwise. It’s that overweening moralism coexistent with amoral capitalism.
At one level this ‘materialism’ is aimed at where Production and Consumption have different trajectories as is described by Daniel Bell who,despite his treacherous clerk role in naturalising Capitalism&Hierarchy can still see the contradictions …
“The discipline required to work, save and accumulate capital, which Calvinism first produced is contradicted by capitalism’s hedonistic ethos.”
Hedonistic? Bell is one of those scarred in his own way by the mass counterculture of his time, the late 1960s, and who points to another feature acceptable to capital -to the apparent ideology of neo-liberalism – but potentially undermining of that social glue…
“… it is in the interest of all rich nations, that the greatest part of the poor should almost never be idle, and yet continually spend what they get…. The only things that can render the labouring man Industrious, is a moderate quantity of Money; for too little will, according as his Temper is, either dispirit or make him desperate, so too much will make him Insolent and Lazy.”
Arguing this Bernard de Mandeville in 1714 An Enquiry Into the Origins of Moral Virtue was denounced as the wickedest man in England but it is distinctly capitalist cynicism and reflected a partial shift away from an export capitalism and the mercantilist ideology that went with it. It allowed instead desire as a motivation to work. This move away from the pricks of hunger as motivation changed again later in the century as what’s called the Industrial Revolution and the colonial plantation model took hold. It’s then that hordes of vicious clergymen and Well-wishers of Mankind let rip filling many pages of Volume I of Capital as in …
“Legal constraint” (to Labour) “is attended with too much trouble, violence, and noise,…whereas hunger is not only peaceable, silent, unremitted pressure, but as the most natural motive to industry and labour, it calls forth the most powerful exertions.”
If it had its own way capital would switch between desire and necessity as motivations but over a long period of heroic, painful and smart effort worker organization in unions won access to some of what it produced. A seamstress in a Mexican maquiladora is in no position to buy the $100 jeans she sews but in the West huge gains were made in the 19th century and then in the now fabled 30-odd years after 1945 when what was invested in and mass-produced was not just the motor car but the domestic appliances that did m make a difference to the lives of women. The slogan of a Conservative British Prime Minister, “You’ve never had it so good” in 1959 was at long last a reward for those who’d fought a war and then lived on meagre rations armed with a ration book. While still patronising in paternalist style it is talk no longer available to present-day politicians. When another Conservative politician, Lord Young said the same words in 2010, a sick joke following a capitalist financial crisis, he had to resign; not because if what he had said but because of media reaction to an amateurish un-slimy presentation In. 2023, President Macron of France declared with grim but real pleasure that the age of abundance was over, an abundance that had passed most people by but decadent enough for one following Aron-type elitism.
In between times a ’counter-revolution’ that gathered pace from 1975-6 onwards was a Capitalist counter-revolution opportunistically using an oil “crisis”, floating exchange rates, petrodollars and the assault on the rest of the world by the US Fed’s Paul Volcker’s abrupt big increase in the US interest rate. This has been well documented. Out of the woodwork where they had built well financed cells, think tanks and the rest came the neo-liberal economic ultras like von Hayek with a taste for fascistic dictators and provided an old ‘objective’ ideology for the counter-revolution.
The Hierarchiststs came into the attack in tandem, a counter not just to the inroads into the surplus (profits) taken off capital by workers but to working class self- confidence and the collective hedonism implicit in Keynes’s “In the Long Run, we/you’re all dead. The counter-revolution was equally that of Hierarchy which has still not finished with regaining perceived lost inequalities. It finds any gains made from that time onwards by the Women and Black movements intolerable. Back then, when the USA was much more the centre of the world , the ‘counter-culture’ was not made up exclusively of middle class hippies, but was collective and in many instances uncommodified, and so was intolerable to the Hierarchists and Capital alike. The violence against it in the Nixon years was strategically brutal, against Black people most of all, women, prisoners, working class youth taking liberatory drugs, because these people were intolerable. Intolerable also because as Daniel Bell, himself antipathetic to the audacity of the heterogenous masses, sourly acknowledged…
“a bohemian lifestyle once limited to a tiny elite now acted it in the giant screen of the mass media.”
More explicitly Clare Boothe Luce, wife of Henry the owner of the mass circulation Time magazine who was so put out by the success of Sputnik, and a grand dame of the American power elite herselfwith a role in the Reagan government, on LSD a non-addictive and subversive drug.
“We all took it, it was a creative group my husband and I and Huxley and Christopher Isherwood”. It was fine by her as long as I stayed with the elite and its doctors, but she did not like the idea of others experiencing it. She was clear about it, “We wouldn’t want everyone doing too much of a good thing.”
Right from early , Consumption even as a work motivation, was never to be too much of a good thing certainly when collective, public pleasure was involved.
“An hour’s labour lost in a day is a prodigious injury to a commercial State…There is a very great consumption of luxuries among the labouring poor of this kingdom: particularly among the manufacturing populace, by which they also consume their time, the most fatal of consumptions.”
Or more succinctly in the last century from the novelist Céline…
“Almost every desire a poor man has is a punishable offence.”
Of a poor woman, doubly so.