The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One’. This is the first book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the chapter about new and important agents on the political playing field such as process based parties, metamodern activists, transnationalism and the emergence of the metamodern aristocracy.
The metamodern aristocracy is a class of people who have a combination of factors in their psychological, existential and cognitive constitutions that allow them to play a certain role on the new historical world stage of the metamodern age. But they are also people of social, economic and cultural privilege, who have the time, energy and emotional fuel to expend for abstract endeavors such as developing the future of the world-system.
What we are looking for is a nicer, softer, more nuanced and flexible form of Leninism, an avant-garde, or vanguard, of people who recognize and align with some of the deep structures and long-term attractors of our age, and who cooperate transnationally to bring about profound changes in global society. These people have little else in common than a metamodern perspective. They find each other in a variety of settings, often through the internet.
The Leninist idea of a global, progressive movement with its own power playing, radical vanguard is not all bad. The vanguard just needs a much clearer understanding of the development of society, and of developmental psychology, than what Lenin and his contemporaries had. And we need a code of ethics that they lacked – starting with non-violence and a commitment to understand, empathize with and listen to others.
The members of this group have to love power. But not the power of self over others; rather, the power of selves and others, the power to self-organize in complex fashions – transpersonal power. Not your power or mine, but yes, the brutal capability to coordinate living systems, to make events come into being. What we think of as oppressive power is really an expression of imbalances of power, between rich and poor, privileged and deprived, humans and non-human animals. The world does not have too much power, but too much powerlessness. If we have pathological, sickly wants for power, it is because we are really powerless. Lovers of transpersonal power seek the empowerment of selves and others – realizing that power and freedom are sisters. Superficial readings of social philosophers such as the Frankfurt School (or their fellow traveler Erich Fromm) can make us believe that power in itself is pathological. But in reality, even the softest souls and most tender bleeding hearts must long for power.
The metamodern aristocracy doesn’t work according to a linear plan about what will come (like those damned communists). They just share some common conceptual maps, personal traits, perspectives and political sentiments. This makes them difficult to spot with the naked eye. They are a loose network of people who recognize each other and who share some common overarching perspectives. They work together in a myriad of different ways – lending resources and support for the development of ideas, arranging key events, starting businesses and other organizations or projects, and affecting policy making.
”The metamodern aristocracy is the playful vanguard of a new form of society in which people are free in a deeper sense than what everyday life in modern society normally allows.”
Who are these Metamodern Aristocrats?
Who are the members of the metamodern aristocracy, these soft-hearted lovers of transpersonal power? And how are they different from the general members of the world population? The Swedish philosophers Alexander Bard and Jan Söderqvist suggest that the information age is creating a new class of “netocrats”, people who govern and control value creation on the internet and related media, where attention, rather than money, is the primary value. They further suggest that there are three forms of netocrats that ally with one another: the new kind of social entrepreneurs, the web-savvy philosophers who understand the deeply dynamic and transient nature of things (called “eternalists”), and the networkers who actively and deliberately make themselves into central, connecting nodes within this new multidimensional web of people, perspectives and opportunities.
Because these netocrats are not after money anymore, or have enough of it, they “imploit” (rather than exploit) people and resources. Like me; I sit here in a beautiful house, without much concern about who owns the place. All I care about is peace and quiet and a powerful mountain view that makes me feel like Nietzsche. I am an aristocrat in the sense that I can be as eccentric as I like, in a morning robe on a late afternoon. The primary driver in my life is not food on the table, or even a struggle for interests, but an ethically fueled playfulness and sense of adventure, concerned to a large extent with directing people’s time, emotions and attention towards novel ideas. To imploit means to use things for their subjective, existential and non-exhaustible value – in a way, to play with them.
Not bad. That might account for what the metamodern aristocrat is like, at least to some extent. But I would be wary of applying a class analysis and equating the metamodern aristocracy with “netocrats”. The metamodern aristocracy are people who have a combination of two things: great privilege and high personal development.
The privilege I speak of is high “total capital” (a concept I elaborate in further detail in my book, Nordic Ideology), meaning that we are not necessarily rich in the conventional sense, but that we have enough opportunities and support around us to do pretty much whatever we want with our lives (so, total capital is a combination of social capital, cultural capital, economic capital, emotional capital, sexual capital and good health). High total capital means that you can live your life relatively unafraid.
The second part, about personal development, is that we have “high” effective value meme (the meaning of which we you can read more about in my book The Listening Society). In a word, it just means that these people are genuinely progressive and have the values of a global, sustainable internet age civilization. But who are they as persons?
We are playful eccentrics of various sorts. We are screwed-up and brilliant million dollar babies; people who have somehow fallen outside of the normal meaning making processes of everyday life – without breaking apart – and for whom there is no going back to a bourgeois lifestyle. You will find metamodern swashbucklers, mavericks, hackers, intellectual revolver men; subtle enemies of the bourgeois lifestyle (in which you are supposed to take life very seriously, especially your job, but never seriously aspire to truly change the world).
The metamodern aristocracy is the playful vanguard of a new form of society in which people are free in a deeper sense than what everyday life in modern society normally allows. Something picks up speed, gains momentum; the aristocracy acts with the kind of elegant conviction that can flow only from an embrace of the paradoxical and complex nature of reality.
”They are ‘hacking the world-soul’, as it were, injecting doses of metamodern DNA into key areas of society, hijacking the political, economic and cultural systems of modern life in order to bring about a more fair, transparent, sustainable and caring future.”
What does the Metamodern Aristocracy do?
The metamodern aristocracy is teaming up worldwide and conspiring to change the functioning of the global world-system. They are “hacking the world-soul”, as it were, injecting doses of metamodern DNA into key areas of society, hijacking the political, economic and cultural systems of modern life in order to bring about a more fair, transparent, sustainable and caring future.
To these aristocrats it is simply obvious that today’s world is undemocratic, unscientific and primitive. But they don’t rage and revolt against it. They surf it, ride its waves, and implant bits of metamodern cultural code deep into the structures and dynamics of society. They work together with, in tandem with, the existing political movements, businesses, NGOs and governments. In a way, you could say that they manipulate and conspire, but it is a very democratic and transparent form of manipulation, and a very non-linear and open-ended form of conspiracy, taking place within a very loose network.
To con–spire means to breathe together. The conspiracy is to educate and seduce humanity into taking the path towards a more existential and sustainable civilization. To educate and to seduce – these two words come from the same Latin root. To this playful aristocracy, the world stage is a great, multidimensional puzzle, where the aim is to find unexpected synergies that work in the direction of human development – by way of playing, educating, seducing. They don’t press their agenda on others, but they tickle the dialectic processes to see what emerges, having strong intuitions about in which directions it might go. Often, this is done through art and cultural expression, hinting at new perspectives and potentials. Just by breathing the same air, the fresh air of a potential – but not predetermined – future society.
Metamodern thinking involves an increased acceptance of the paradoxical nature of things. All this talk of aristocrats rests upon a central paradox of political metamodernism: the deep, unyielding struggle for greater egalitarianism, inclusion and democracy – together with a renewed tolerance towards and understanding of hierarchy and elitism.
On the one hand, the new global vanguard is emerging; that is just a fact of life. And it must recognize itself as such in order to be fully efficient. On the other hand, the metamodern aristocracy fails its own moral standards if it does not work for a much more democratic, transparent and open world – it loses all legitimacy without a deep commitment to egalitarian values and the dignity of all humans and non-human animals.
So the metamodern aristocracy is not anywhere “high up”, at great distance from others, hoarding privileges from within certain organizations. Rather, its constituting principle is nothing else than the spontaneous self-organization of a new layer within the world-system – a cultural development pertaining to the globalized information age. They are simply the people who live metamodern lives, with metamodern values, within the still predominantly modern world-system. But as such, they do have an important role to play.
As all other social groups, the metamodern aristocracy is both good and bad. Don’t blame me for telling you about their existence. No shooting of messengers, please. We do exist, and we do have a role to play, and that role can and should be recognized with all its risks and uncertainties. I don’t mean to glorify or exaggerate it, but there it is.
The metamodern aristocracy isn’t actually going to rule the world. We’re going to tweak it, somewhat, in a favorable direction. And it’s going to be fun. It already is.
”If you are also part of a vast, diverse transnational network and you have more ideas for changing the world than you can possibly act upon, and your everyday life revolves around making some of these things happen – you’re it.”
So What about You?
Are you part of this aristocracy? Your reading this text is a way of testing just that. If your reading goes smoothly and what I say is intuitive to you, and you recognize the things I am speaking of, you’re a candidate. If you are also part of a vast, diverse transnational network and you have more ideas for changing the world than you can possibly act upon, and your everyday life revolves around making some of these things happen – you’re it.
For most readers, you’re not it, and that’s okay. It’s still advantageous for you to know about the existence of the metamodern aristocracy, just like you can benefit from knowing about other groups in society, such as the precariat, the cultural creatives, the hackers or the ultra-rich.
I suppose this text and my books are a bit of an invitation to participating in the metamodern aristocracy, to be a co-creator of the new society. So I lay down the analytical bricks, but you get to build the castle (and of course, challenge the ideas and develop them). If I’m Marx, you get to be Lenin. If I’m Jesus, you get to be Mohammed, who really meant business with this thing about God’s kingdom. If I’m Rousseau, you get to be Robespierre.
Just promise me three things. You won’t send peasants to death camps, you won’t conquer North Africa – and please don’t behead the king.
No, I’m serious. It’s up to you to make these things happen in the world, by means of starting cool companies, visionary think-tanks, becoming prime minister or something similar. But if it ever comes to killing anyone or doing anything else nasty and harmful in the name of these ideas, just forget about it. Forget I told you about this and disown the whole thing. We’re exploring ideas. We’re being open-minded and curios about the potentials. But we are not laying down “the one path”, and if it ever leads us in the direction of killing, lying, cheating, torturing – we need to drop it and think again. It’s not worth it. And if my ideas press you towards such conclusions, we can be certain I was mistaken all along.
The more serious questions and matters you play with, the greater the moral demands. Almost all political ideas have led to atrocities. As I write this down, I can almost feel the mutilation of innocents going on in closed prisons, somehow non-linearly emanating from my fingertips.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.