"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

May 11, 2011

An Allegation

The most dangerous state is the revolutionary state. Its factions are dispersed, or united. It owes little to limiting tradition or custom. Its leaders cannot recognize the restraints which benefit its predecessors. The revolutionary state is total, and therefore unstable.

There are no revolutionary states which last, because revolutionary states are and can only be transitional. But, while they exist (in the extreme: the Directorate, the Puritan Protectorate, the Bolshevik state before Stalin put an end to revolution, the Khmer Rouge, etc) their abrupt violation of pre-existing norms tend to consume the societies over which they claim power (since they do not govern in the traditional sense) until new factions and a new face to the ruling class emerges from the fatal conflict which prefigures and characterizes all revolutionary states.

Revolution is a failure of the ruling factions to interface with their captive populations in a manner which ensures the continuity of that captivity. The revolutionary state, on the other hand, is the failure of the ruling class to maintain a hold on the governmental resource chain because the captive population no longer recognizes or perceives of the learned purpose of government as valid. The revolutionary state, it follows, is the expression of a stasis between factions of the ruling class which weakens the traditionally stable form of power, until such point that new elements (often with the illicit support of licit factions of existing power) can re-establish a functioning competitive equilibrium between factions of the ruling class.

The revolutionary state does not represent the success of the revolt of the governed so much as it signals a transition between a state of weakened or too-equal factions of the ruling class and a period of flux.

It is during this period of flux that the revolutionary state can break with the prior validity of old norms, or perceptions of those norms, until such time as a new expression of the stable form of power emerges from the contest between factions, and a new interface with the captured population can take hold.

So that while the American state and government which has been lead by successive Presidents (from Reagan through Obama) who continue to perform functions similar to their predecessors, and with the same outcomes, does not appear revolutionary, it is precisely so.

The old norms suggested a Republic limited by its own Constitution. And while that Republic was always a useful fiction, it no longer serves the purpose of formalizing the command of a population captured to maintain an economy run for mercantilists, land owners and industrialists. Having nearly spent itself out attempting to accommodate the fall out of the industrial and information transformations of society, during repeated periods of stasis (the Civil War), bankruptcy, depression and a period of meliorating reaction (the New Deal), and having surrendered the bulk of its fiat powers to its corporate successors (Reagan through Obama), it has now arrived at its own terminal condition.

The American state has long maintained a semblance of continuity, despite retrospectively obvious periods of reconstitution and rapid alteration; one which has been preserved by successive conquests of alien others in the guise of Indians, Mexicans, Asians, Germans, Arabs and the usefully abusable domestically contained foreign nation of American blacks. But now it is on the verge of the outward expression of an actual revolution.

That it has been a revolutionary state since Reagan may seem counter intuitive. I suggest that it only seems so because it has become rote to assume that revolution and the revolutionary state share a familial consanguinity.

This is simply not so.

Revolutionary states eventually succumb to the pressure of self-preservation. A state, to be a state, needs resources and a population, and must eventually assume the tasks of government, which are always conservative. Government functions as a check on resistance to extraction of labor and resources. Government is precisely counterrevolutionary. Revolutionary states, by comparison, harness the failure of government towards the recreation of a new, more stable reconstitution of power.

The American government failed part way through Vietnam. It failed to perform its primary task, the containment of the population within confines and strictures which prevent widespread outbreaks of resistance to the form of power, the ruling ideology and faith and the extraction of labor. This is not to suggest it collapsed, as has happened elsewhere. Only that it failed, and in doing so provided the opportunity for the factions of the ruling class to begin a contest for control of the apparatus of the state in order to remake it and strengthen it in the face of an increasingly ungovernable set of captive populations, especially those until that point isolated as domestic enemies of order.

With the onset of the first Reagan Administration, the American state became a revolutionary state, actively engaged with culture and society in order to transform them, to reshape social relations and the perception of membership in that society. And while not all of its governmental functions have degraded, the priorities of that state and its contiguous and nominal governors have been directed towards the reshaping of American society. The American state has warred and  spent its way towards collapse, in order to reshape a society suited to a new period of extractive stability.

As a revolutionary state, it has been dangerously successful - in a country which once proudly boasted not only Christian radical populism, but active and widespread anarchism, socialism and communism, and which saw the emergence of Black power and feminism.

So successful, one might argue, that a black Christian man and his feminist electoral opponent now provide the two most widely recognized faces of that nearly complete reconfiguration of the language, culture and tenor of society. They are not the faces of opposition to power. They are power.

And as the revolutionary state completes its course, and as new threats to stability emerge in the form of rising populations, oil depletion, climate change and food scarcity, the American continent will once again find itself ruled by a restored and more stable form of power and government. One constituted to police revolt and resistance, instead of useful populations. One better suited to crushing resistance to the inequities of extraction.

A state suited to rule, and not simply government.

(please see the Second Reagan Revolution series at American Leftist for an in depth proof of my mere allegation)


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

How about Belize?

Jack Crow said...

What about Belize, kindly? As a stash away for foreign capital? As a tax haven? As a forward listening post for London? As a playground for wealthy corporati?

Anonymous said...

Jack, I like this argument's flow.

I wonder if you could further flesh out the 3d paragraph, maybe with concrete example(s). I got a bit lost in there, probably because I'm not familiar with whatever ready examples were in your mind when you wrote that paragraph. I got lost enough in that 3d para that I couldn't conceive of any examples of my own while reading it.

Not criticizing here, not at all. Wondering if you could help me incorporate this argument, actually. I've been convinced likewise regarding Vietnam & its aftermath, and agree with you on that portion of the argument, agree completely.

Anonymous said...

PS: Notice the post-Vietnam economic model: "service industry" growth; "real estate development" (suburbanization) growth. Both are short-term bubble mechanisms, which IMO was the start of the obsession with bubble economies. The latter one (suburbia) requires a religious conviction regarding The Car and The House being primary signals of a person's worth. Hence the cultural reorganization aspect of the framework you describe.

Jack Crow said...

Sure, Karl - I have three immediate examples to mind - the fall of the British Monarchy, the fall of the French Monarchy and the fall of the Roman Republic.

The English Example:

Rapid religious change in Britain led to a disconnect between the monarchy and parliament, and the monarchy and British yeomanry. The prerogatives of monarchy (divine right, taxation, land grant, etc) were no longer accepted as divinely inspired by an increasingly large segment of the British yeoman populace, especially those with literate access to the Bible and commentary. Even those without literacy could have their suspicions confirmed by a growing number of itinerant preachers, proto-levelers, ranters and lay prophets.

If God was no longer conceived of as ordaining a divinely established kingship and priesthood, it becomes (and became) easy to assume that any claims to such were and are fraudulent and therefore illegitimate. Which transformation of belief also played out in dozens of German electorates, the French countryside, the Low Countries and Bohemia.

And since God was, especially among baptists, Puritans, ranters and anabaptists, understood to have in fact created a divine priesthood of all believers, then any man could have direct access to revelation and justice without the intermediary intervention of kings and popes. The British monarchy, in spite of the break with Catholicism proper formalized by Henry and Elizabeth, did not adjust rapidly enough to its changing population, especially those artisans, merchants and yeoman drawn beyond the Church of England, into Puritan protestantism. It lost its interface, and succumbed in short order (40 years) to revolution.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

As a place to live...an escape from the dystopian future you are predicting here in the U.S.

Jack Crow said...

While the English people were revolutionized by Protestantism, especially in its Puritan and anabapstist forms, the revolutionary state put together by Parliament and Cromwell rapidly became a transitional attempt to restabilize English society under new norms, especially in the context of the New Model Army. With the Kingship morally and religiously disposed of, Cromwell's Protectorate began to take the shape of what we have in other discussions identified as the stable form of power, eventually resulting in Cromwell's near coronation as a lifetime Protector of the people. This revolutionary state was far less hampered by traditional and customary (read, royal and blood diplomacy) restraints, and Cromwell's punitive invasion of Ireland, the crushing of the Northern loyalist army and the attempts to restructure land ownership, citizenship and religious education illustrate the removal of existing constraints.

But, being revolutionary, the Protectorate was unstable. Its attempts to revolutionize society violated the integrity of governmental operation, and Cromwell's government faced the prospect of all revolutionary states: bankruptcy. In a historical instant, those parties interested more in stability and extraction than maximalized transformation of society saw fit to pave the way for the restoration of Chuck the Second, who was nonetheless restored over an entirely altered (and permanently so) body politic.

Jack Crow said...


I don't see how British Honduras remains a safe haven without the intervention or protection of the corporati who already run the joint. The periphery is growing, the core is being cut into manageable pieces - and most of the world's safe havens are in fact playgrounds for the wealthy already.

Sorry to be a pisser - but any haven in the coming storm is probably already wholly owned by capital.

Jack Crow said...


The French and Roman examples follow similar trajectories, but with different proximate causes. In the Roman case, the destruction of the yeomanry and the creation of huge slave run latifundia led to the Gracchian corn laws and land reforms and reaction, the Marian Reforms and reaction and the Social Wars, which after three generations of some occasionally bloody infighting, had so weakened the unwritten mos maiorum of the Senatus Populesque Romanus, that Cicero as Pontifex Maximus could not come to a conclusion about the state of the state religion, and the boni and the populares to a peace over how to integrate the Marian levies into Roman property and society.

Jack Crow said...

By the time of Caesar, those same levies (often the personal possessions of their proconsular commanders) would become the deciding force in the destruction of the Roman republic and the creation, after a period of intense stasis and continent spanning civil war, of Imperial Rome. Caesar wasn't the first to recognize the power of the Marian legions composed of non property owning members of the capite censi (the head count, the masses). In fact, Sulla, the greatest enemy and one time protege of his uncle (Marius) would use them to put a generational end to the social wars and reform, and in doing so prove their worth to his boni and populares successors.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, Jack. Thanks very much. Those examples help someone who isn't well-versed in history -- me! I work only in the context of my own lifetime and awareness, with a few examples from decades before me, but out of habitual laziness or lack of curiosity, I don't delve into things several hundred years prior.

Jack Crow said...

So, in the case of the Roman republic, the historically rapid transformation of the Head Count into the backbone of expansionist legions would break the hold of the Senate over the people, as the expression of the will of the voting Tribes. Combined with the shifting fortunes of the Tribunes of the People (who could obstruct Senate law with a single vocal veto), the entirety of Roman society was revolutionized by the replacement of farmer-seasonal soldier with the levied professional permanent legionary. The Senate did not adjust to that rapid alteration of social relations, and the period of revolution which followed saw the creation of three successive revolutionary states (the First Triumvirate, the Second Triumvirate and the Augustan protectorate) before finally re-stabilizing as the long lasting Principate of the Caesars.

Jack Crow said...

De nada, Karl.

Jack Crow said...


I think you're spot on about the religious aspects of home and car ownership. They have the force of received dogma and revelation. My own immediate maternal family went through a similar revolution, if you will - from a multigenerational familia living in a hand built home in urban northern Massachusetts, to a clan of increasingly distance separated nuclear family units who have to spend money and time to consciously gather as a family.

Anonymous said...

I'd need a powerful calculator to add up the number of times people (friends, family, acquaintances) have uttered the phrase "you are what you drive" (or similar) in total seriousness.

The obsession with "dream homes" began with the McMansions of the Reagan era and today is seen in a multiple of TV programs that are dedicated to "upgrading" one's house with highly expensive, radical overhauls -- for appearance's sake, mainly. More expense = superior person, that's the theme.

We can't stop until every person living in an apartment, tenement, or trailer is in a 5k sq ft McMansion with 3 or more expensive vehicles in the driveway or garage. That's the Dream... that's progress!

Jim H. said...

Jack & KFO,

Thanks for a brilliant discussion. I am in awe of such erudition here in bloogosfear.

My only question to Jack is this: would it be more accurate to call the Reagan revolution (the one continuing down to the present on your scheme) a 'counter-revolution'?

I guess I assume that 'revolutionary' means a devolution of power from a central authority (king, pope, caesar, tsar, aristos, etc.), to a demos, plebeia, helos, peasantry, yeomanry, etc. I, of course, could be wrong about that.

But, it seems to me, and I've made this observation on this here series of tubes on several occasions, the reason they hate us—and this applies chiefly w/r/t to Darwin—is that we've questioned their authority. The nobility has no claim to divine right anymore; we all come from apes and spores.

Their counter-revolution is re-centralizing in a sort-of Calvinist aristos: the wealthy deserve to rule by virtue of their wealth—their de facto election.

This new aristos is congregated around corporate centers of gravity. Thus their alliance.

Within Corporate, the factions divide (when they do) b/w mgmt and owners: the centralization of the last generation has been from owners to mgmt. Bush years being the pinnacle.

The Boards are mostly in mgmt's pocket. The owners and other stakeholders are the new plebes, unless they have majorities they can exercise against entrenched bosses. This is the lack of accountability that has plagued us.

A mgmt society is an authoritarian society. That's counter-revolutionary, and, in my observation, becoming more so—though unevenly. My observation is that Obama is more a stakeholder rep than a Bushian mgmt rep.

But, like I said at BDR's joint yesterday, call me a rube.

btw: Thunder: been to Belize. It feels vulnerable to the unrest of Guatemala and regular Honduras. But it's pretty sweet. GREAT diving. I mean GREAT!

Anonymous said...


I think it's possible to see little distinction between management rep or stakeholder rep. In what does Obama hold a stake? And how is that different from being a manager? Isn't he the epitome of meritocracy? Or better said, isn't that how he was sold, as a legendary biracial merit achievement story?

On the other hand I see the Elephant Party as having just as much stakeholding in the outcome of corporate rule, so I don't really get the point of manager vs stakeholder. I think they all have traits of both categories, honestly.

About the only differences I note between Obama and Bush43 are these:

* racial, with all the differences in appearance that carries

* presentation, meaning Obama prefers Clintonian slick "competence" and Bush43 prefers cowboyish Kingfish-ish faux-populist

* ostensible party difference

These superficial differences explain how we cycle between R and D during elections, but they don't explain the continuity between Bush43's tenure and Obama's tenure. Obama's had so many chances to reverse those policies, laws, acts, regulations, signing statements, etc that Bush43 used or implemented, and I can't recall a single instance where he's put the brakes on or thrown the vehicle into reverse. Not a one. But maybe I'm missing something?

The extensive logo/corp-sponsor placement in many sectors of American social settings (you know, like naming stadiums Killcorp Park etc) is expected to get Americans to feel awe and/or unity with the corporate outlook. This is the privatization urge that we've geen seeing for several decades, and Obama shows no sign of slowing or stopping it. Why would he, though? He's as big a corporate lackey as those evil Koch Brothers.

Richard said...

The state is not just going to suited to crush resistance to the inequalities of extraction, but will also regulate scarcity amongst the populace . . . according to a hierarchical system of privilege, naturally.

It is already been centered around the notion that reduced access to hydrocarbons necessarily results in reduced economic activity and a decline in the necessities of life, such as food, and, hence, restive populations angry at their share must be vigorously controlled.

Disagrements at climate change conferences gives us a glimpse of what is to come.

Of course, the assumption is flawed, and the peoples of regions that move away from hydrocarbons to construct a more sustainable social system will prevail, unless they are brutally attacked by the hydrocarbon aristocracy.

drip said...

Nice post. Nice commentary, too. But maybe this started with Truman and Yalta and Bretton Woods. Why Reagan?

Jack Crow said...


Bretton Woods, the monetary conference? I read that as shoring up the disciplinary welfare state. Truman was a prick, but not exactly an enemy of the New Deal. And while Morgenthau got a lot of what he wanted, the structures created by BW didn't begin to degrade the domestic order until the Reagan years (since they were being tested and perfected in the Southern Cone and Chile) and the more complete seizure of the IMF and the World Bank by Friedmanites. At least, that's how I see it. I'm fully open to my own error, on the matter.

Nixon perhaps merits as note, as well. Nixon might have been one regressive son of a bitch, but he worked to expand and strengthen the welfare state, while using the foreign policy apparatus built under Roosevelt/Truman to counter the hawks who would later become the neocons and neoliberals.


I tend to see the restriction of access as part of the same process of crushing/offshoring resistance. I may likely be proved wrong.



My use of the word revolutionary, when applied to States, comes from some immersion in the study of the Spanish Civil War and Italian fascism. The falangists and their fascist allies were not precisely reactionary, since they too wanted to totalize society within a movement to fundamentally remake it, to propel it forward. While they did have reactionary associates, especially within the Church, the fascists themselves were willing to jettison traditionalism and the customs of the past if obstructed the maximalist project.

The fascists created revolutionary states (as unstable as any others). Their "right wing" bias made them more amenable to a more seamless transition to a post revolutionary stability government, but their state was was not precisely a reaction.

senecal said...

Brilliant as it is, I'm not sure what this discussion contributes to our understanding of the present. Instead of calling the present a 200 year old capitalist state in its late stages, we call it a revolutionary state, groping toward new stabilities. Whatever the description, figures like Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin are important agents and embodiments of it, and such types, and the class interests they represented, existed before Reagan -- George Schultz, Averill Harriman and Dean Acheson, for example.

We all know that a new political rhetoric and alignment began under Reagan and Thatcher, and has since spread to almost every western capitalist state. We all see these trends moving toward more repression, surveillance, violence. We see resistance on the fringes of empire, and some within. I don't think it matters what you call these conflicting forces, except that in this case you are tarnishing the word revolutionary in advance, and taking it away as a motive force from those trying for change.

Jack Crow said...

I'm pretty sure my usage of the term revolutionary as applied to certain transformative states (distinct as they are from governments) hardly tarnishes the word "revolution, Senecal.

The fascist and falangist states were revolutionary states, and the early predecessors of transformative and totalizing state projects in Chile, Argentina and later Russia, the US and Britain.

Revolutionary does not equal "leftist." And a revolutionary state is not the same thing as a revolution.

David K Wayne said...