We Must Reintroduce the Via Contemplativa

Existential Politics should organize investments into new support struct­ures for personal growth. I would like to suggest that we reintroduce—on a wide, socie­tal level—the medieval notion of the via contemplativa, the contempla­tive life path. The term vita contemplativa (vita, with a “t”) is more comm­only used —most famously in Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition from 1958—and means “the contemplative life”. But here I’d like to stay with discus­sing the contemplative path and how it could be made part and parcel of day-to-day society and politics. The issue is not that society needs us to become monks and nuns, but that more of us are supported through the inner journeys of life.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. 

First of all, let’s not get carried away by nostalgia. I am not claiming medieval times were “better” than modern times, or that everyone walked around being super-spiritual back then, concerning themselves with high-minded things like life’s inner journey all the time. And I am not claiming every­thing from early modernity—the Renaissance and its via activa (or vita activa) which broke off with the medieval scholastic and monastic tradition—and onwards repre­sents a mistake.[i]

As you probably know from my books and other writings, Hanzi Frei­nacht is a dev­elopmentalist. I don’t think present society has “fallen from grace”, from any primordial state of innocence, wisdom or bliss—but that modern soc­iety directly follows from the principles of traditional soc­iety: Once people have agreed to the idea that one highest principle of truth should guide society (“God” or any other highest prin­ciple in trad­itional or what I call “post­faustian” societies), sooner or later people will also ha­ve to agree that this abso­lute truth must be subject to open inquiry and to inter­subjective veri­fica­tion—which is the essence of modernity. Modern life is born from the dialectics inherent to post­faust­ian society. Develop­ment sometimes runs into dead ends, tying knots on itself, like in Nazi Germany. But it would be a mistake to think that mod­ernity itself is such a dead end.

And yet, it would be conceited to believe nothing could ever be lear­ned from earlier stages of society, from the rich varieties of historical exper­ience. Even if modernity is an “attractor point” towards which postfaust­ian society ultimately points, that there is always a price to be paid for development; there are always “beau­ties lost”.

The via contemplativa may be such a beauty lost. The medieval system was basic­ally de­signed to produce good monks (and, to a lesser extent, nuns). To be a learn­ed person was to be versed in biblical studies, theo­logy, phil­osophy, con­templative practice and prayer, and some practical skills per­taining to mon­astic life, such as being a good scribe. Theoretical subjects were highly estee­med. In the medieval scholastic system, people entered education and were taught the first three liberal arts, trivium (grammar, logic and rhet­oric), then advancing to the four “higher” liberal arts, quad­rivium (arith­metic, geometry, music and astronomy). Only after versing oneself in these seven arts could one partake in lectures on philo­sophy and theo­logy. This created an impressive pan-European network of Latin-speaking scholars who could converse about the nature of God and reality.

As the intellectual mission of the late Middle Ages was all about trying to find the highest principle of truth and align society with it, its educati­onal system aimed to produce people who could refine their hearts and minds so as to find God and to serve Him. In short: The system of learn­ing and teaching prepared people for the via con­templativa.

The Renai­ssance—the period of cultural blossoming that heralded mo­dernity—changed the me­di­eval edu­cat­ional system around considerably. Casting an eye on the proto-modern societies of high antiquity (Hellenic and Rom­an), and building on vital Islamic influences, the few thousand peo­ple who made the Renai­ssance happen re­designed edu­cation to better fit a via activa. It pre­pared people for be­com­ing politicians, merch­ants, mil­itary leaders and—to some extent—artists and engineers.[ii] Rhet­orics, politics and history be­came important, and trivium was seen as much more “trivial” (from which we have derived the word “trivial”). Since that time, as mod­ernity has pro­gressed and disclosed its radically trans­form­ative pow­ers, accelera­ting over the centuries, greater portions of the popu­lation have been edu­cat­ed for longer periods of time, and more of us have been offered a via activa as citizens, entrepreneurs, scientists and so forth.

Religion, reflection, self-knowledge and contemplation have—even if they still exist—undeni­ably taken a back seat in modern society as a who­le. Via contemplativa is thought of as something exceptional, some­thing for the few rather than the many. Sky­scrapers have dwarfed the once do­minant cathedrals in their taller sha­dows. Skiing resorts, exotic safaris and wet summer fuck­fests on Ibiza have replaced pil­gri­mages and periods of mon­astic seclusion. People such as myself, who like spending time alone walking in the Alps for no other reason than to contemplate existence, are often seen as ecce­ntric, dis­connected or even frivolous.

During the emergence of modern­ity, this “life-affirming” attitude may very well have made sense: With so much to do, so much to be achieved, and yet no major risks of systemic and civi­lizational collapse on the hori­zon, it may be a good thing that people primarily focus on creating world­ly things. Useful things. And then you may just as well savor the hedonic, Dionysian richness of what modern life has to offer while you’re at it. After all, what good is staring at a wall (to come to terms with the blissful but terrifying mean­inglessness of Emptiness) when you could be out there making sure more kids get polio vaccine, or take part in any other of the seemingly infinite growth potentials of the modern world?

We are, however, now reaching a point in history where our very sur­vival depends upon our collective inner development. In today’s late mod­ern society, in which the pot­entials of our tech­no­logies are so incompre­hensively vast, the con­sump­tion of one single human so stagger­ingly im­pactful, the con­sequen­ces of our actions so global, the possibility of ecolo­gical collapse so present, the acc­eleration of our chan­ging life con­ditions so dizzying—we may need to reintroduce the via con­tem­pla­tiva, an updat­ed and recyc­led version of monastic practices. On a very serious, collecti­ve—yet deeply personal—level we may have to stop and think.

And breathe. And reflect.

Consider. Reconsider. Doubt.

Rest. Concentrate. Heal. Suffer. Digest. Grow.

Rise.

We may have to take the issue of life as a contemplative path very seri­ously, meaning that we, as a society, should be prepared to expend con­siderable time and economic resources on inner growth.

Inner growth. Being with oneself. Introspection. These act­ivities may come off as less manifest, tangible or visible than “going to work”, “play­ing foot­ball” or “winning”. But they are verbs nonethe­less: breathe, reflect and so on—they are actions, flows, processes and events. The inner jour­ney is some­thing that really happens, something that counts for some­thing, a difference that makes a difference. Tectonic shifts of our lives may occur, shifts of our perspect­ives, of our beings, aspirations, motives and life-goals. Such inner shifts of the heart reverberate across the larger patt­erns of our life-spans, and thus they affect the world in a thousand subtle ways.

This way of thinking is not only counterintuitive to the modern mind. It is downright offensive:

“Should people spend more time in idle solitu­de? But what about the growth of the economy! What about climate chan­ge, an issue that requires action, now! What about all the social pro­blems! And you want people to meditate and contemplate in the stillness of their minds? And how could we afford such a thing!”

But it is a simple fact—despite the pervading sense that we are bu­sier than ever—that many or most of our daily activities and life goals are quite poor­­ly thought-out, rather shallow, and often quite unneces­sary. We pur­sue shall­ow life goals, because we get stuck on relati­vely sim­ple and basic inner needs that still “have us by the balls”.[iii] The goals of our actions are themselves “ineffective” (transrationally speaking), our motivations and drives hardly con­ducive to sustainable human flourish­ing, development, love and last­ing happi­ness. And in these days of expo­nentially growing human power, the failure to pursue deeply worthwhile goals in as many people’s lives as poss­ible, can and will be nothing short of catastrophic. And the only way to get many more of us to develop much more global and worth­while goals is to support our genuine inner development. Global scale calamities are likely to follow pretty soon, un­less we start looking inwards.

In other words, it may be a very sound investment—in terms of “the eco­nomy of happiness”—to put much, much more of society’s time, ef­f­ort, resources and attention to people’s inner worlds, to the existen­tial journey of each of us.

Take a moment to consider this: All that really “is” and all that we genuinely care about revolves around the conscious, inner experience of humans—and ani­mals for that matter. What is a theme park without the ability to have fun? What is ice cream without the ability to enjoy? What is music with­out the bewon­dered list­ener? What, indeed, are family and friendship without love? What is even truth and enlightenment without the pro­found recog­nition of the observing mind?

The vast inner landscapes of subjective experience are not a fringe issue, not a small detail.

They are everything.

They are all that we will ever have. Inner experience is all that society ultimately produces and all it ultimately relies upon. It’s what all of it ulti­mately is about.

What madness, then, to build a civilization that does not work actively and seriously with the development of inner experience! Whatever else we change or build or create or develop, it all has zero value without the eye, the mind, the heart and the soul of the observer, of the experiencer, of the participating co-creator. We’re always-already here, cast into being, meet­ing the universe half-way.

Nothing explains more about what humanity creates than her inner­­most relatedness to existence. Will we create prisons, conflicts and collap­se, or will we manage to respond productively to the great challen­ges ahead of us—a struggle reborn as play?

Contemporary commentators like to point out that this is an exist­ential quest­ion: “Will we fall on our own sword, or rise to the challenge?” What they generally fail to mention, however, is that this exist­ential quest­ion itself depends upon how the inner path of each human being is supp­orted and scaff­olded—or thwarted and undermined—by the struct­ures of soci­ety. They fail to see the political and transpersonal nature of the exist­ential questions, and they fail to offer bids for a renewed via contem­pla­tiva.

A metamodern politics would need to reintegrate key aspects of all the former value memes, which means that even some aspects of post­faustian society and its traditional religions should be re-examined and judiciously reinvented. We may need to co-create a more existential civi­lization, one that values inner growth and earnest spiritual exploration considerably higher than today’s late modern society.

Life Crisis and Development

How, then, could a via contemplativa be properly reintroduced in a meta­modern context, in the context of an advanced welfare system we call the “listening society”?

One way to go about this is to endow all citizens with the “right” or “posi­tive freedom” to, once or twice in a lifetime, take a longer time off from work (or whatever they’re doing)—for half a year, maybe a year—in order to go through a supported period of prac­tice, learn­ing, contempla­tion and self-scrutiny.

It is safe to assume there is much to be won, in a myriad of non-linear ways, if a large part of the pop­ulation successfully and productively mana­ges to deal with one or more of the different “crises” that pertain to a nor­mal life course: the existential crisis of early adulthood (which has been growing in recent years), the major stress breakdowns many of us suffer during our professionally active years, or the crises of death, ill­ness and ber­ea­vement that all of us must face to­wards the end of our lives.[iv]

Add to this the fact that people can have all sorts of other crises that don’t pertain directly to one of the Eriksonian life phase tran­sitions: there are family crises, fail­ures in life, crises due to unemployment and other struc­tural shifts in society. Then add the fact that we coll­ectively respond to crises at a societal level in more or less composed and productive (ver­sus reactive and destructive) manners. Each of all these mentioned instan­ces of crisis can either lead to tragic collapse, painful stagnation, or to higher stages of dev­elopment and flou­r­ish­ing.

We all have such turning points in our lives, and our ability to manage them largely determine our adult personal develop­ment, which in turn collectively determines how our lead­ers govern socie­ty and how society collectively responds to challenges.

As things currently stand, most of us respond only so-so to the crises that inevitably show up in our lives. And then we walk on, wounded, hurt, numbed and stunted in our growth as adult human beings. And that sha­pes all of our lives, the lives of those around us, our children, and society at large.

The word “crisis”—as so many like to point out these days—is both a mom­ent of great difficulty and an opportunity for “purification”, for re­solv­ing long-standing issues or tensions, or for transitioning to new stages of development. In scientific terms, crisis only ever shows up in “complex systems”, never in non-complex ones; so you have an “economic crisis” or an “identity crisis”, but never a “crisis of the car engine”. Etymologi­cally, the word goes back to the ancient Greek word for “decision”. The crisis is the moment of decision. It’s when the shit hits the fan—and the whole thing either collapses or pays the painful price to reorganize and grow.

When it comes to existential issues such as handling the deep crises of life, it is common to think in terms of moral purity and innate character. Some people, we like to tell ourselves, are the ones who really have the courage and heart to muddle through, the composure and self-con­trol to see clearly in stormy weather, the faith in our… blah, blah, blah. And then we like to assume that we are those people and people we don’t parti­cularly like or who don’t share our values are weaker and less wo­rthy at the innermost level. We must recognize this line of reason­ing for what it is—namely moralism: i.e. the judgmental and self-congratula­tory bullshit of our habitual minds.

Truly metamodern Existential Politics departs from a very diffe­rent start­ing point: Whether or not a person pulls through during a mo­ment of crisis is not a matter of God-given moral character, but simply a question of behavioral psychology and the extent to which she has the nec­essary resources available.

So the issue becomes, not to judge or congratulate, but to soberly and effectively strengthen those inner resour­ces and societal support structu­res available through­out the popula­tion.

Just as a society will have a certain GDP growth over a period of years, and just as every society repro­duces its murder and suicide rates with frightening precision from year to year—so must every society have a spe­c­ific number of shattered dreams, a number of broken hearts, a percen­tage of lifetime spent in subtle self-doubt, a number of crises suc­cess­fully passed (or not), a num­ber of psychological stage transitions that occur harmon­i­ously or in wren­ching agony. Is it unreasonable to ask how each of these num­bers can be studied and improved upon?

That’s Existential Politics: reducing the number of shattered minds and broken souls while increasing the number of inner phoenixes rising.

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, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Such nostalg­ic arguments have been made by “integral tradition­alists”, such as Frithjof Schuon and Réné Gué­non, and they are not entirely without merit. They point out that, in the med­ieval period, the Church was at the center of society, and the greatest crystall­ization of human activity was cathed­ral build­ing: a spi­ritual endeav­or. God was at the pinn­acle of everything, and reli­gion was an important and unavoid­able aspect of everyone’s life; the church and temple spires tower­ing at the highest points of all settle­ments for centu­ries.

[ii]. Of course, artists at this point in time were still not out on the “free market”, first producing their art and then finding the highest bidder, or turning to a “general audience” with their personal expression. That happened only at the end of the 1700s with Mozart’s revolt against the court-based structure of art benefactors, as discussed in Norbert Elias’ book Mozart: Sociological Portrait of a Genius. But still, the Renaissance did produce a class of people who were supported by rich people and who had considerable artistic freedom, Leonardo da Vinci perhaps being the emblematic example.

[iii]. Excuse the male-centric expression, “by the balls”, and feel free to invent a gender neutral one.

[iv]. At least until human enhancement reaches a point where the biological process of aging can be reversed, but that’s another story.

What Is Existential Politics?

“To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face, one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself. And a man who aspires after that cannot afford to keep out of any field of life. That is why my dev­otion to Truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that reli­gion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means”.[i]

—Gandhi

To base a political ideology or program on an entirely “rational” or “sec­ular” foundation is and remains a fool’s errand. Pure rationality can never answer what politics ultimately should be about, only how we’re most likely to achieve what we set out to do. The means of politics can be more or less rat­ional; yes, there are ways of orga­nizing society which are more well-reasoned than others, but it remains utterly beyond the scope of rationality to determine which goals are worth striving for in the first place.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. In this post you will be introduced to the idea of Existential Politics, one of six new forms of politics proposed in Nordic Ideology.

Credit goes to the talented Berlin-based artist Sina Goge for the artwork used in the thumbnail picture.

What we cherish most in life determines the goals we set for society. Poli­tics is thus deeply subjective. I dare to say that it is inherently existen­tial, since how we relate to the world, one another and ourselves determine what we believe to be just and ethical. The political thus cannot be red­u­ced to a purely secular and objective affair.

Reason is forever destined to be the slave of passion, as David Hume once famously argued. So as rational creatures, we’re stuck with serving the will of the political animal.

We are emotional creatures, first and foremost, and what we feel deter­mines what’s rational to do. We are also ideological creatures, whose ideas about society are always dependent upon that same society and our posi­tion within it. And we are religious creat­ures, who always adhere to some overarching narrative about reality, some kind of religion in the most gen­eral sense of the word. And, we are existential creatures; beings that can only be by some­how relating to “what is”.

That the aim of politics, then, should be to find rational objectives, in-and-of-themselves, free of any beliefs and assumptions about what’s just and beautiful, must remain a fairytale.

Rationality can only be applied to factual truths claims; it can establish how well-reasoned a particular line of action is in regards to the objective it is to address. How well-reasoned the objective itself may or may not be, however, can only be established by:

  1. Weighing the subjective truth claims about its perceived value with
  2. the intersubjective truth claims about its justness.

Hence, what’s rational to do is simply senseless to ask without first hav­ing established what’s beautiful and just. And in turn, what’s beautiful and just depends on our narratives about the world, which in turn are the res­ult of how we relate to existence as such.

Politics is thus a deeply existential affair. It is and will always remain utterly impossible to detach the political from the huge diversity of differ­ent personal experiences of being-in-the-world and the ways in which we relate to existence accordingly.

As such, if the political is already undeniably existential, does it then make sense to lea­ve the existential permanently beyond the political; confi­ned to the per­sonal or “private” realm? Doesn’t that leave the whole realm of the pol­it­ical—the arena of human self-organization into a soci­ety—completely sub­jected to the inner processes and deep psycholo­gies that determine why we act as we do, why we want what we want? Should we really shut down all processes of openly discuss­ing how we can support one another to reach, in a deep sense, more productive funda­men­tal rela­tions to ourselves and our place in the universe?

Such questions drive us beyond conventional, instrumental rationality and into the realm of a deeper, second layer of shared, spiritual ration­ality; if you like, into the realm of transrationality. What we are looking for, then, is to create a society that is, yes, more rational and secular, but also—and perhaps primarily—more transrational and secular in a deeper sense. This second secularism, which I described in The Listening Society, does not take the modern rationality and its gods for granted.

Schopenhauer once wrote that “Man can do what he wills. But he can­not will what he wills.”[ii] But that is true only on an individual level of ana­lysis. There is crushing and conclusive evidence that our wills, hopes and desires are shaped by sociological circumstances—and these circumstan­ces, in turn, can be affected by deliberate human agency. Wouldn’t it make sen­se, then, to try to collect­ively develop what “man wills” in the first place?

Doesn’t the future of life and civilization depend upon what wants and hopes guide human activity? Jeremy Rifkin has made a similar case in his 2010 work The Empathic Civiliza­tion. I feel Rifkin is on to an important trail, but he doesn’t quite see the distinct features of Gemein­schaft Politics and Exist­en­tial Politics. He misses the mark: an exist­ential civilization.

Is and Is Not

Existential Politics is the practice of making the foundational existent­ial relationship that all of us have to reality itself into a political quest­ion, into an issue that can be openly discuss­ed, so that measures can be taken to develop it. To develop the subjective states of human experien­ce, to clear the depths of the human soul.

This in­visible depth is always-already there in all of us. We relate to our “self”, and the self is always defined in terms set by society. Existential Politics is about cre­ating a framework, and a language, for tackling these issues.

Before I go on to explore this topic, I’d like to point out what Existen­tial Politics is not. It isn’t reading “existentialists” as in philosophers com­monly considered representatives of the “existentialist school” (from Kier­ke­gaard to Schopenhauer to Heidegger and Sartre) and to somehow try to base one’s political ideology on these. That would be silly, and not very pro­ductive.

Nor is Existential Politics the practice of being “deep and existential” when talking about political issues. It’s not about turning politicians into quietly smiling Buddha statues. It’s not about “being profound” while en­gaging in politics. It’s not about making all of politics about spirituality or New Age stuff. Please note the negation, dear reader.

The point is that the politics of the future must grasp greater complex­ity and depth. If we are to rise as an existentially mature civilization, we must find ways of engaging the inner depths of human beings.

Existential Politics is about creating better structures to support pe­o­ple in the long, treacherous inner journey that is life. In the last instan­ce, we are all alone on this path and we have to make our own choices; we have to relate to ourselves and to “what is”, to existence itself. But some ways of relating may be less productive and beneficial to our­selves and so­ciety than others—and hence nothing is more political than your inner­most rel­ation to existence.

Supporting Inner Growth

Yes, we are all alone.

In the discussion about inner subjective states in The Listening Society, we noted that each self-organizing conscious being is always in some kind of inner state or subjective experience. I am, I feel. Existence.

These inner states constitute some kind of unity-of-experience, some kind of integrated whole that is the experience horizon of each creat­ure, and this vast inner landscape is never entirely indifferent; it flows, soars and falls, rejoices and suffers.

In this inner world, we are alone. If there is a terrible infection eating away at our nervous system in a manner that causes sheer madness and hell, no amount of happ­iness of others will console us. This subjective world, this universe of mine, is still pure anguish and pain. My experience and all I know is still an un­fathomably great darkness and terror. It’s just me, all alone, with what appears to be inescapable and never-ending suf­fering itself.

This predicament creates an irreducible fundamental relation in reality: the relationship of the self to the self. Or if we dig deeper yet: the relation between the universe experiencing itself and the quality or content of that same experience viewed as an entirety. Being relating to being itself in 1st person.

The eye of the I.

No matter how thoroughly we kill off “the individual” as a political idea, and no matter how well we recognize the co-created nature of reali­ty—the transpersonal nature of all of society’s ail­ments—reality always splices off into a multiplicity of singular experien­ces, into you and me and every­one else.

It is true, that my experience this moment may have more in comm­on—more connections and more ways of inter­acting and shar­ing experi­ences—with yours, than it does with my own four-year-old former self. But unless we find a way of physically connecting our nervous systems, we are still sep­­arate. If I truly suffer, no expanse of heavenly bliss in your world will help me.

And yet—it is also true that these inner horizons are structured by soci­ety, by circumstance, by nature itself. Society can create preconditions for strong, healthy psyches that can deal with the adversities of life, who can act with wisdom[iii] and composure in confusing and pressing life situati­ons. It can work to create bodies and minds that ring with harmony, with mat­urity and contentment of old age. Or it can churn out armies of woun­d­ed, stunted and confused souls who lack the support to make it through diffi­cult transitions.

Society can be designed so as to support what Joseph Campbell famou­sly called “the hero’s journey”, the trans­itions between life phases; the dif­ficult times we all know are com­ing for us. Structures, norms and institu­tions can help us grow and turn our painful misfortunes into mean­ingful lessons learned and an awakened awareness of the suffering of the world, and they can help us rise to a capacity to act upon such a sense of tragedy. Or society can be designed with so many trapdoors and impos­sible para­doxes that life itself seems to turn into a cruel joke at our expense.

In the last instance, we are all alone in this mysterious journey. We are the sole seers with these eyes, the sole feelers of these worlds of emotions, the sole cosmic address of this inner spaciousness within which thoughts flow and all things arise. In the last instance, life is up to “me”. I am here alone, writing a book. I will never read it with your eyes, never hear your thoughts—my work is necessarily cast across time, space and per­spec­tive, intersecting another universe.

Alone. But only in the last instance. There is hardly a word in this book I have come up with myself. Everything I do rings with something lar­ger, something beyond me. Up until that last instance, up until the hour of death, I am thus not-alone. My existential predicament is set by the gods, yes. But my ability to respond is granted by you and your treatment of me from my first day onwards, by society, by the comfort of this great wood­en chalet, its jacuzzi and the majesty of the mountains—or the relative dep­rivation of such support structures.

Will I rise to the challenge or will I fold over a thousand times and lace the steel-hard truth with velvet lies and excuses? Will you? Will we retreat into fear and hide in the crowd, turn away from our life’s greatest miss­ion?

The answers to these questions depend upon our existential strength, health and development. Will society consist of people following profo­und dreams, ideals and moral aspirations—or will it consist of excuses for lives unlived, for creators dead-born?

These are the fundamental questions of Existential Politics.

We need to support the inner growth of human beings.

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, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Gandhi, M. K., 1948. Autobiography. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House. p. 615.

[ii]. Schopenhauer, A., 1839. On the Freedom of the Will (1839/1945), as translated in The Philosophy of American History: The Historical Field Theory (1945) by Morris Zucker, p. 531.

[iii]. Yes, I just used the word “wisdom” even as I said it’s a poor variable in The Listening Society. Get over it.

The Patriachy Isn’t the Enemy, Gender Antagonism Is

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. In this post you will be introduced to the idea of gender antagonism and the painful paradoxes of love. This is a central part of Gemeinschaft politics, one of the six new forms of politics proposed in Nordic Ideology.

At the very heart of the gender-sexuality-family-formation complex (see my previous article What Is Post-Feminism?) lies something I like to call “gender antagonism”. This term was initially dis­cussed by the anthropologist (of a feminist structuralist brand) Sherry Ort­ner in her studies of gender relations of indigenous groups in Papua New Guinea back in the 1970s. I, however, use the term in a slightly different manner:

  • “Gender antagonism” denotes a measure of the prevalence and inten­sity of resentment that people within a certain population feel towards any generalized ideas of gender categories.

Or, simply put, how bitter women are with men and how hateful men are towards women. But of course, people can hate their own gender, or any other gender category: “those lifeless and bland feminist bitches”, “tho­se slimy, toxic macho men”, “those wet noodle excuses for hipster gay men”, “those filthy, power-hungry, deceptive sluts” and so forth. It’s not just bitterness and resentment, but also contempt, frustration and collec­tive or generalized blame.

We need to understand that gender antagonism corresponds more or less to racism and ethnic conflict, except that it is an antagonism between real or imagined categories of genders. Naturally, gender antagonism grows as an emergent pattern of the whole gender-sexuality-family-forma­tion com­plex.

Here’s an example. So if a girl has a bad dad (who because of his insec­urities treats her and her mother poorly), and then gets a lousy boyfriend who just uses her for sex (because he wasn’t really in love with her, just really pressured to get rid of his stig­ma­tized virginity and desperate to gain sexual experience and she was all he could catch), then she’s quite likely to not like men in general very much. And then she’ll reject approa­ching guys at bars very contempt­uo­usly, hence feeding into the bitterness of these trembling souls who had been trying to work up the courage to go and talk to someone like her for over a year…

And so on, and so forth. Gender antagonism breeds gender antago­nism. It causes shitloads of harm to people’s softest inner places, and it mutilates our inner devel­op­ments, stunting us in our growth as human beings. And it mixes with issues of everything from economic and politi­cal stability, to ethnic conflicts, class relations, and pretty much any issue you can think of. It sucks.

The level of gender antagonism can be reduced only by changing the games of everyday life, by developing people’s abilities to give them­selves and one another what they need. If our anti-heroine above met a really sweet guy, who deeply satisfied her needs, after a few years perhaps her shields might go down and she might feel less bitter about men. And then she will stop feeding into this slugfest of resentment between the sexes.

Or imagine if the first guy she dated would have been much better trai­n­ed at seducing women, so that he wouldn’t have had to “settle” for her, because he wasn’t in a scarcity mindset about sexual validation, and if he were less pressured to get sexual experience at any cost. If he had a rich smorgasbord of women to choose from, he would have gone for some­one else for whom he had more authentic positive emotions. And per­haps he would have had more healthy and secure attachment patterns in the first place, more easily falling in love. And she would have had more satisfying experiences with the other guys she dated, and she would have ended up with a guy who really loved her. And their relation would have been better. Everyone would have saved lots of time and effort, everyone would have been spared a load of misery, and the beasts of resentment would not have been fed with the fresh blood of young hearts.

Gender antagonism not only under­mines other relations, such as eth­nic or professional ones—it also, quite sneakily, poisons emancipatory move­ments. Feminism becomes a mindless carrier of gender antagonism. Wo­men who deeply hate men and feel bitter resentment towards them as a group find outlets in feminist groups and ideologies. Men who despise women become “Men’s Rights Activists” and gather around obviously viru­lent female-bashing gurus. And so forth. Gen­der antagonism and other forms of group hatred such as racism—while understandable and expli­cable—tend to dress up as your only friend in this dark world. But of course, they aren’t your friends. Gender antagonism breeds “bad” femi­nism (or mas­culism), a fight for gender equality that chronically leaves out rel­evant dynamics or perspectives, and hence only serves to wor­sen the situation.

I’m not saying that anger is never good. I’m just saying that gen­der antagonism sneaks in and ruins whatever emancipatory pot­ential femi­nism and masculism might have. Being bitter and resentful makes peo­ple stupid.[i]

Want real, effective feminism? Then find ways to reduce gender anta­gonism. Want to reduce sexual violence against women? Reduce gender anta­gonism. Want to reduce male suicide? Reduce gender antagonism. Want to create freer gender roles in professional life? Reduce gender anta­gonism. Want to improve the quality and stability of family relations? You get the pic­ture.

THE PAINFUL PARADOXES OF LOVE

A certain degree of gender antagonism is unavoidable in any society since the very territory of love and desire is inherently wrought with paradoxes, mean­ing that our hearts and minds always put ourselves and the people around us in impossible dilemmas of various nasty sorts. And these are often fru­st­rating, sometimes infuriating—at times even fatal.

For now, let’s stay with only analyzing some properties of what some of our friends like to call “the heterosexual matrix” (i.e. not gay rel­a­tions, etc.).[ii] If we look at desire and the search for love between men and wo­men, there are quite a few nasty paradoxes bound to mess people up.

First of all, consider the fact that men get nervous around women they genuinely desire and would like to invest in long-term, and that women are attracted to confident men. This means that men very seldom get the wom­en they have the strongest and most sincere attraction towards. This leads them to often being less happy in their relations, still being haunted by tho­se strange ghosts of desire, which means they are more likely to stray or try to “upgrade” (dump their wife) given the opportunity. Resent­ment mass produced. Ouch.

Here’s another one. Both men and women will generally want to catch a mate slightly above their own self-perceived status in the mating hier­archy. This will lead them to invest time and effort in folks they cannot get or cannot keep, which sets them up for repeated failures, which sets them up for bitterness and distrust, which sabotages their relationships.

Another one. Women like men who are assertive and have great social prestige, and men dramatically increase their seductiveness if they dis­play these qualities. Consequently, men need to take social risks in order to gain the attention of women. If they are not sufficiently seductive and they are rejected in public, they risk that others (men and women alike) will perceive them with contempt. And if they are too sexually assertive, they risk that their approaches spill over into boundary breaching and sexual harass­ment. Women feel angry for having been put in a situation where they have to either impolitely turn someone down, or quietly shut up and feel used and manipulated. Men feel that women are insincere about what they want: They don’t give you a chance if you’re a “nice guy” and they accuse you of being predatorial if you make advances, or being fake macho if you try to show your tough side. Resentment grows.

Another one. Species who live in groups are generally divided into “tour­nament species” where one alpha male gets all the punani after violen­tly de­throning the former leader, and “pair-bonding species”, where males and females pair up in families and males compete by being good providers and caretakers. This pattern has repeatedly been found, from birds to primates. The males are bigger than the females in all tourn­ament spe­cies. Among primates, gorillas are tourn­ament and the bonobo chimps are pair-bond­ing. If you look at the physio­logy and behavior of humans, we are some­where in between, perhaps a bit more on the pair-bonding side. Accordingly, both of these deeply ingrained behav­ioral patt­erns exist simultaneously in humans, competing with each other. So even if you happ­en to find happy, stable love, a part of you will often want rough sex with an attractive stranger. And even if you’re Elvis and can get all the ladies you want, you will still feel a bit empty inside for lack of authentic connec­tion and com­panionship. We’re coded to be slightly dissatisfied. And this breeds—are you ahead of me?—frustration, which in turn breeds gen­der antagon­ism.

Or how about this one. Women learn they’re too slutty if they have sex with many men in too fun ways. They always stand to lose their status if they fuck the wrong guy under the wrong circumstances.[iii] But—if they don’t let loose and get really slutty with their men, the men are likely to feel frus­t­rated and not wanting to stay around, which puts women back on the slutty single market where they started. And even if a woman does “every­thing he wants” and really lets loose, she might find that he loses interest and moves on. Or if the relationship breaks down, his bitterness towards women may cause him to post revenge porn online. And hell ensues for the woman.

Or here’s another one for the ladies. All your life has been about being pretty. Pretty, pretty, pretty, hot, hot, beautiful, beautiful, feminine, femi­nine. It’s everywhere: clothing, makeup, commercials, how you’re treated by strangers, if guys fall in love with you and “woo” you or not, your stan­ding in the local girls’ group, your career chances—even starting with Barbie dolls when you’re a kid. If you fail to present a beautiful appear­ance acc­ording to increasingly impossible standards, you pay an enor­mous price. But, dear ladies, if you do manage to be pretty, it suddenly takes all the att­ention from everything else that you do, and everyone around you insists on responding only to this one part of yourself: your looks. Your new boss says he can’t listen to you because you’re too hot, all your guy friends and colleagues have secret agendas, women are bitchy and competitive, quietly holding you back. If you go on TV and say some­thing important, or even win a gold medal, people talk about your hair and your cleavage. And if you lose your beauty, you stand to lose every­thing, including the man who pledged to be by your side. If that doesn’t breed resentment, I don’t know what would.

And one last favorite. Men and women have different patterns of sex­ual lust. When a man and a woman enter a serious monogamous relation­ship, at first both want to have a lot of sex, but after a short while—on aver­age, according to research—the woman’s sexual desire drops to a much lower level, and the man’s stays elevated for a much longer period.[iv] As such, many a man is in for lots of rejection and dis­app­ointment at the very point in his life when he has just committed to not going after other women, which in itself is a high price to pay. There is even a growing sex­ual deficit in males that can be observed at a global scale: guys simply don’t get as much as they’d like.[v] This of course leads to resentment and spurs infidelity. Likewise, men seem to have a much low­er “cuddle-bonding” impulse after sexual intercourse than women, which means that sex can often leave women feeling emotionally vulnerable and abandoned, which then of course undermines the sense of trust in the relationship. And then there’s always the whole thing about women wanting reliable men but still having a secret garden of more ferocious fantasies (searching for online porn such as “extreme brutal gangbang” and “rape” more fre­quently than guys, as com­pared to their overall porn searches, and about 62% having at least some sexy thoughts about forced sex, according to one study[vi]). Mix this with the fact that men really want to be seen as tough but still need someone to take care of their scared inner little boy and that this boy just isn’t part of the female sexual fantasies—all of which results in confusion and disapp­oint­­ment for all parties involved. All of it breeds gender anta­gonism.

I could name many more. But let’s get back on track.

Ah, the paradoxes of sex, love and gender! What a relentless produc­tion plant of human angst and desolation! How elusive that inner peace, that simple sense of aliveness and safety, that sensual and embodied full­ness of being alive! If you’re not very clear-sighted and well-informed on this one, you will tend towards a sim­ple expla­nation for all the suffering you’ve been through: “it’s pat­ri­archy” or “it’s those rabid bitches”.

But it’s not those rabid bitches. It’s a complex host of emergent pro­per­ties of the games of everyday life. We are mutilated not by an evil patri­ar­chal structure, but by a blind and meaningless chaos engine, which is inci­d­entally also the source of all goodness and beauty of life.

And we can hardly do ourselves a greater dis­service than denying the ex­istence of these games (crime 1: game denial) or accepting them in their current, cruel forms (crime 2: game acceptance). These paradoxes of love indeed constitute a vast killing ground of the human spirit. But it is also on these fields of battle and suff­ering that we grow the most as human beings—it is here we find the most fertile ground for inner transforma­tions. Could soc­iety be geared to­wards making us much better equip­ped for man­aging these paradoxes and relating to them more pro­duc­tively? The answer is yes.

These paradoxes and problems cannot really be “solved”. They will be around whether we like it or not, at least until we change the very behavi­oral bio­logy of humans. What we can do, however, is to change how well they are understood and productively related to, and thus how patholo­gi­cally they play out in society at large.

Erich Fromm once wrote that for society to prosper, we need not more distant intellect, but “men and women who are in love with life”. But to be in love with life, we must also succe­ssfully fall in love with one ano­ther.

How many of us will get to have genuinely happy love in our lives? I mean really? There are few greater tragedies in life than our inability to aw­aken deep positive emotions in others, our inability to have our trem­bling hearts and aching bodies met with genuine love and desire. And how cruel is not the opposite, to be loved and included but that our hearts respond only with coldness and inertia—when we are unable to genuinely love and resp­ond to others’ emo­tions?

How import­ant are not these issues to soci­ety, how central to human mis­ery and happiness? How fundamental to any qualitatively rich notion of freedom and equality? How many souls are we unnecessarily condemn­ing to lonely life­times of cold and darkness? How many broken hearts are we generating? How many failed attempts at BDSM?

Can we really afford to keep this issue outside of politics, outside the on­going discussing about the conscious self-organization of society?

We must, as a society, cultivate higher likelihoods for better relation­ships, developing people’s sexual faculties and reducing gender antagon­ism. That’s what a metamodern post-feminist Gemeinschaft Politics would aim to do.

Let us evolve the game of love. Let us shift the landscapes of desire.

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, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. In terms of MHC (the Model of Hierarchical Complexity, by Commons, as dis­cussed in Book One), people tend to go down two stages when they are very upset about something, very invested in a belief, or something is a very touchy spot. Two stages are the difference between a ten-year-old and an average adult.

[ii]. Butler, J. 1990/2006. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge.

[iii]. Armstrong, E. A., Hamilton, L. T., Armstrong, E. M., 2014. “Good Girls”: Gender, Social Class, and Slut Discourse on Campus. Social Psychology Quarterly. Vol: 77(2).

[iv]. Baumeister, R. F., Reynolds T., Winegard, B., Vohs, K. D. 2017. Competing for love: Applying sexual economics theory to mating contests. Journal of Economic Psychology, vol. 63, pp. 230-41.

[v]. Hakim, C. 2015. The male sex deficit: A social fact of the 21st century. Inter­national Sociology, vol. 30, pp. 314-35.

[vi]. Bivona, J. M., Critelli, J. W., Clark, M. J., 2012. Women’s Rape Fantasies: An Empirical Evaluation of the Major Explanations. Archive of Sexual Behavior, vol. 41(5) pp. 1107–1119.

What Is Post-Feminism?

There’s just no limit to how central gender relations are to society. It’s just that important. I mean, if you miss this perspective, and gender rela­tions get screwed up, you seriously screw over every other aspect of soci­ety.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. In this post you will be introduced to post-feminism and how we shift the landscapes of desire. This is a central part of Gemeinschaft politics, one of the six new forms of politics proposed in Nordic Ideology.

Consider the following:

  • Sexuality is ever-present in our psyches, affecting our moods, feel­ings, decisions, behaviors and relations in every moment.
  • We stay within our gender identities at all times, and these also affect a very significant part of our economic and political behaviors. A very large part of all things we do are somehow related to having, keeping or managing spouses, partners or just the possibilities of these.
  • Gender relations and roles are at the center of sexual and romantic rela­tions, which are the deepest and strongest relations in most people’s lives and the foundation for family formation.
  • As the sociologist Francesco Alberoni famously observed, falling in love is central to the transformations of our personalities, and thus to our developmental psychologies. Falling in love connects our carnal lust and animal body to our highest spiritual strivings—it’s an “all-level affair”. And falling in love, and how this plays out, has everything to do with the interactions between the genders.
  • As the classical psychologist Erik Erikson observed, erotic and romantic relations are at the center of certain universal life phases, and are thus either conducive to our mental health or our ruin.
  • Family formations, in turn, are the basis of secure attachment patterns and good upbringing, which are instrumental to all human growth and flourishing.
  • When people are sexually and romantically rejected, dissatisfied and hum­iliated, this translates into a profound bitterness that easily combines with destructive ethnic or political identities, as well as criminality and delinquency.
  • By far most psychological issues that people have are about relations to other people, and the largest category of related problems have to do with love, eroticism and sexuality.
  • If people are less satisfied and more insecure in their gender identities and love lives, this undermines trust between people. They will simply be much more prepared to betray one another to satisfy their sad, aching hearts.
  • If people have gender identities which are not acknowledged by their sur­roundings, this causes immense suffering and confusion. Trans­gender people, for instance, frequently display mental health issues and have high suicide rates.
  • In many contemplative traditions—not only tantric and yogic ones—sexuality is used as a transformative practice, as there are always strong currents of sexual and sensual impulses flowing through us.
  • Gender inequalities are interlinked with gender roles and identities and with the games of love and family relations, and they underpin many of the most destructive inequalities in the world. Discrimination of wo­men is a major hindrance to economic growth in poor countries and a major source to gendered and sexualized violence.
  • Men are also discriminated against, being seen as more expendable than women, and more pressured to “be a success”, which often makes them unable to be honest and vulnerable.
  • During good sex, some people experience their “highest” moments in life, meaning the highest subjective states, as discussed in Book One. This means it is here they breach their boundaries for what they know is possible in life and existence.
  • The first thing anthropologists study when they try to describe how a certain foreign society works is how the system of marriage, sexual reprod­uction and inheritance works—as this is the basis of a society’s social logic and its self-preservation.
  • Most sad songs and poems are about love.

Right, so if you think you can create a good and healthy society without dealing with what I will here call “the gender-sexuality-family-formation complex”, (to catch all of these interrelated issues under one banner) you are just not being realistic.

Gender and sex issues are at the very heart of society. If you mess them up, you mess up society in very profound and far-reaching ways. Any Ge­mein­schaft Politics worth its salt should actively and deliberately seek to heal and develop the gender relations of society.

At this point I will refrain from giving the whole list (from a tradition­alist gender politics, to a modern one, to a postmodern one) and just jump right to the metamodern perspective.

A smart Gemeinschaft Politics would work from a post-feminist per­spective, applying a developmental-beha­vioral understanding, evolving the very landscapes of desire, and seeking to re­duce gender antagonism in society. A very important contributor to the appar­ent ubiquity of socie­tal problems in the realm of sex, love and repro­duction are the paradoxes of love and desire which seem built into the human psyche.

POST-FEMINISM

Basically, the post-feminist position is one that accepts the “queer femi­nist” idea that gen­der roles change with historical circumstances and cul­ture, and that ideas about genders and their interactions can and should con­tinuously be crit­ic­ally reconstructed to optimize for new circumstan­ces—but doesn’t buy the feminist idea that there is one “toxic” main­stream ideal of masculinity (which is pitted against the feminine under­dog), and that if “patriarchy is crushed” then peo­ple will become free from gender roles and their oppression.

Post-feminism gets its name by transcending and including feminism: Once we have accepted the basic feminist tenets, then what? What comes after? Post-feminism is a both-and position: both feminism and masc­ul­ism. Both women’s issues (sexual harassment, lower wages, lesser pol­itical pow­er, pressures to conform to body ideals, slut-shaming, etc.) and men’s issues (expendability, having dangerous jobs, easily being conside­red losers when asking for help, home­­lessness, higher suicide rates, crime and incar­ceration, more physical violence, etc.). Both anti-dis­crimination of sexual min­orities, and the facilitation of positive heterosexual rela­tions and se­cure attachment patterns for family formation. Both teaching men how to become more succ­essful at dating and picking up sexual partners, and to respect sexual boundaries and not sexually objectify women. Both defending the right to be a hipster beta-male, and to be a tough masc­uline guy; both a butch, and a pink girlie-girl.

There is a scale from classically masculine to feminine values, demea­nors and behaviors. Post-feminism defends the whole scale: the right for people to move freely and explore across all of it. It doesn’t defend the andro­gyn­ous at the expense of sexual polarities, or vice versa. It defends all points of the scale; the entire richness of human gender and sexual expression. This means, some people will settle for traditional gender roles while others will be queer shape-shifters. All should be defended.

SHIFTING THE LANDSCAPES OF DESIRE

This defense of “the whole scale of genders and sexualities”, and all dim­ensions of it, is made possible by taking a developmental view of the gender-sexuality-family-formation complex. Post-feminists recognize that the pro­blems is not—as class­ical feminists and queer feminists believe— “that evil patriarchal oppression”, assuming that peo­ple would be free to express their sexualities openly and fairly if it went away.

It’s that people are insufficiently developed to tackle these sensitive issu­es productively. It’s that we are too poor at taking the perspecti­ves of one another across genders and sexualities; it’s that we are too insecure about our own positive gender identities; it’s that we have lacking social skills to entertain and seduce one another in playful and respectful ways; it’s that we know too little about the social dynamics between the sexes; it’s that we carry too much subtle dissatisfaction and bitterness; it’s that we simply have had too few and insufficiently instructive sexual experien­ces; it’s that we feel good romantic and sexual relations are scarce rather than abund­ant in our lives; it’s that we have too few reli­able friends with whom we can really talk about these issues; it’s that we don’t feel safe and comfort­able enough to express our needs and insecurities to one another; that we are unable to listen and take it in when others talk about intimate and sen­sitive matters; that we’re not good enough in setting and main­taining healthy social boundaries; that we don’t manage to show suf­ficient respect for one an­other’s boundaries; that we have insuffi­cient self-knowledge about our inner­most needs in the first place; that we don’t feel we can afford brutal and direct honesty—the list goes on.

Do you see it? It’s not some evil structure out there. It’s our own lack­ing development. We—as human beings, as biological, behavioral org­anisms—lack the right properties to interact in good enough ways. And we all suffer for it. Men are left with that strange hunger and those somber thoughts at the outer rims of our minds, things that rumble deep inside and seldom give us peace. Women are left with a sense of funda­mental unsafety and resentment, a subtle sense of betrayal. It goes on everywhere, all the time. It affects all aspects of society.

If a smart Gemeinschaft Politics was in place, it would actively and deli­berately deal with all of these issues on a long-term demographic level. People would be supported through the educational system and through­out life in a wide variety of ways to grow in sexual, emotional, romantic and relational skill and self-knowledge. If the average personal develop­ment of a population shifts—if we all act less insecurely, greedily, imma­turely and defensively—then the whole game of life changes.

Game change. Not game denial. Not game acceptance. But game chan­ge. Sexual game change. Gender game change. Think about it: How many fewer broken hearts would there be? How many more people would grow up with secure psychological attachment patterns, thereby being better partners and lovers once they grow up? How many of us would stop taking advan­tage of professional relations? How many false prom­ises would be made to procure sex or consolation? How much more relaxed and functional would our bodies and minds be?

Socially constructed gender and biological sex do saturate each other to a large extent, so it is more or less impossible to divide them into two distinct categories. Humans are sexual and gendered beings, yes, but this is both a cultural and a biological fact. If ideas about masculinity have us pumping iron at the gym, this of course affects our biology, which affects our mind and others’ bodily responses to us. The point is that both the cultural and the biological basis of gender/sex can and should be develop­ed and optimi­zed in ways that generate conditions for human happi­ness and thrivability. An effective Gemeinschaft Politics would develop peo­ple’s “gen­der abilities” to create and uphold healthy identities, relation­ships and sexual practices both through culture, psychology and bio­logy.

All of this is a matter of shifting the landscapes of desire. Even if we seldom talk about it, some lingering aspects of sexual desire are always present in everyday life. Even as we just walk down the street, and even if we have been married for years, we still tend to casually assess the attract­ive­ness of random pedestrians. The landscapes of desire, the realms of sexuality, are vastly greater and more pervasive than actual sexual en­counters and act­ivities. Drives, innuendos, fantasies, stray thoughts, erotic ten­sions, dreams, “energies” felt throughout the body and mind, sexual inter­plays that re­quire polite distance to be balanced with taking social risks, scenarios of possible futures, of what could have been—these are all present in so many moments and sit­uations of life. Invisible worlds, ever present, nagging at the fringes of the mind, at the core of our hearts and bellies. In our lives we always travel across an inti­mate inner landscape of vulnera­bility, of secrets—one that underpins many or most of our every­day inter­actions.

Today, in liberal societies, we see that people in general can be viewed as interesting and attractive in a wider variety of ways than in the past. Scandinavian men are to a lesser degree held to macho ideals and stan­dards of profess­ional success than was earlier the case (and is still the case in most other societies) and have a wider range of positive mascul­inities available which can still be viewed as attractive. People can be gay, have metro­sexual styles, be more childlike, more androgynous and so forth. Peop­le can hook up around weirder fetishes than before. And people can form a wider variety of love relationships and family constellations. And people who were too shy to pick one another up at night clubs can write an email. People can even share racy fantasies over the web. The landsca­pes of desire have shifted, which is part good, part bad (part really, really bad).

Shifting the landscapes of desire is not only about changing people’s skills, perspectives and behaviors, but also about evolving our openness to a wider range of potential part­ners, lifestyles and erotic or emotional ex­changes. Desire is not only a vulner­abil­ity; it is also a strange and po­tent faculty. As such it can be developed. We can transform not only the inter­play of need and desire, but also the quality of the object of desire and the gaze of desire itself.

I’m not saying people should be brainwashed to be bisexual and more sexually active—as Georg Lukács infamously tried to make happen in Hun­gary when he was Minister of Culture during the brief anti-Stalinist communist regime of 1956. But just as people can become better at per­spective taking and con­flict resolution, so can they be more or less narr­owminded about whom to have sex with and which relationships to form. To sum up, we can work for game change in the realm of sex and gender by:

  • Raising the abilities of men and women to be seductive and sexually competent, thus increasing the level of abundance and satisfaction in their lives.
  • And that in itself means there will be many more satisfying men and women around for all parties, which makes underlying tensions and games of competition less fierce and desperate, just as it will put less pressure on new relationships, as there will be more good potential part­ners or liaisons available.
  • And this will create more fair games of love and sex, which means people are generally treated better, and that people act from a great­er inner space of safety, affecting all aspects of their lives.
  • And this will reduce the number of strange repressed desires, thoughts, drives and dreams, clearing people’s inner emotional lives for more productive engagements with existence.
  • And this will let people become freer in their sexual and gender experimentation, which means they will consider partnerships and liaisons across more social and cultural boundaries and identities.
  • And this will create a more profound integration of all walks of life and more stable family relations, which improves the socialization of all children in society.
  • And this will lead to higher mental and physical health, not least as the sexual undercurrents of everyday life shift and harmonize, relatively speaking.

Sex is transformative. Gender is creative. The landscapes of desire can be made safer, easier to traverse; their many peaks and valleys better con­ne­cted. If we are more skilled, secure and satisfied—and we can expect the average other person to be so too—we can trust one another more, and the entire inner secret land­scape can be dev­eloped; everyday life can be trans­formed at a deep, visceral level.

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, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

Exit Multiculturalism, Enter Trans-Culturalism

Inter-culturalism (or multiculturalism as it is commonly referred to) comes in different forms. You have multicultural state ideologies, which emphasize the importance of in­clusion and diversity, claiming that the more diverse cultures you have, the better. You have corresponding anti-discrimination and pro-diversity poli­cies in companies. You have “inter-faith dialogue” movements, which seek to find common ground and mutual respect among believers of diffe­rent faiths. You have “affirmative act­ion” programs, international child­ren’s summer camps, the peace move­ment, political correctness seeking to ban whatever words have become racist slurs—and so forth. Among theo­rists you find such think­ers as the philosopher Charles Taylor, who em­phasizes the importance of ethnic minority groups having “rights” to the preservation of their culture.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. In this post you will be introduced to the idea of Trans-culturalism which is a key component of Gemeinschaft politics, one of six new forms of politics proposed in Nordic Ideology.

The general idea here is that ethnic tensions are to be resolved through a high degree of exposure of ethnic groups to each other, and that more diversity is al­most always preferable to less.

The problem with multiculturalism is of course that it does not qualify which kinds of diversity are good, in what quantities, and under what circumstances. It’s just that diversity is good in-and-of-itself, which is then taken as a dogma, and it is often seen as unethical to even question this assumption: multiculturalism is good, period. This naturally leaves the field open to all sorts of dysfunctional social and cultural practices to be defended in the name of ethnic or cultural diversity, be it forced mar­riages, brainwash­ing and scaring children with de facto ghost stories, or female circumcision.

Inter-cultural­ism has important roots in anthropology and ethnology. What anthro­pologists­ have found time and again is that the modern pro­ject—its bur­eaucracy, market and “civilization”—has oppressed and des­troyed the life­-worlds of smaller societies, disrespecting their ways of seeing the world and ruining their societal dyna­mics. In our days, this view is perhaps most fam­ously represented by the anthropologist James C. Scott, who has argued in Seeing Like a State (1998) and Against the Grain (2017) that all develop­ment from agriculture and onwards may be a mis­take. Anthropologists hang out with animist cultures and notice that life there isn’t so bad. They notice there are many “beauties lost”, and that there is a profound richness and diversity which is tragically effaced by modern civilization. So the stance gen­erally becomes to defend the mino­rity cult­ures against discrimination and oppression from the majority. A defen­se of understanding, multiplicity, div­­er­sity—and a critical distance to one’s own culture.

On a strictly logical level, the inter-culturalist idea doesn’t really work. It emphasizes that all cultures are equal, and that each of them has a right to exist, but it is still somehow preferable with more different cult­ures rather than fewer. This leads to self-contradictions: a) If all cult­ures are equal, this means that cultures which work against multicult­ural­ism and seek to retain isolation and purity should also be seen as equal; b) if all cultures have a right to be preserved, they must also be allowed to defend themselves from subcultures splitting off, which then works aga­inst a greater diversity; and c) if all cultures should be exposed to one another, this leads to mono­culture, which often effaces cultural differences in the first place.

TRANS-CULTURALISM

Trans-culturalism is a multi-perspectival and developmental view of cul­t­ures and ethnicities; it sees all of these as being in constant flux. In a way, it is the synthesis of the three former perspectives.

Cultures and ethnic identities can always be trans­formed, and they should be transformed to be the best ver­sions of them­selves, whenever this is possible without destabilizing people’s lives too much. Even if hum­ans do need cultures, shared imaginaries, narratives, histories, cus­toms, traditions and other vital aspects of Gemeinschaft—this does not mean that all current cult­ural forms and expressions are necessarily good and conducive to sustainable human flourishing, or that all combinations of cultures are mutually en­riching under all circumstances.

It is an empirical matter of when cultures spur development and ex­change with each other, or when they create pathological dissonances that breed conflict, confusion, insec­urity and resentment. The answer, natur­ally, differs from case to case. And it is a matter of cultural discourse and ex­change to determine which values should—in the long run—trump which other values. Is freedom better than chastity? Under the circum­stan­ces of modern life, yes! Are human rights better than respecting the logic of caste systems? Yes. Is equality better than slavery? Yes. Is peace-loving better than war? Yes. Is gender equality better than patriarchy? Yes. Are animal rights (or some other version of caring for all sentient beings) better than anthropocentrism? Yes. This does not mean that these values should be defended at all costs, that they should be forced upon all people under all circum­stan­ces. It is simply not worth the rapid break­down of someone else’s world, or an ethnic cleansing, or an inquisition, or a Thought Police. But given the choice, given the chance, we can and should evolve cultures.

Cultures have a right to exist, but it is not an absolute right. And in the last instance, all cultures will change and evolve either way, so we might as well have some ideas regarding in which direction they should develop.

But that does not mean certain cultures have infinite rights to im­pose their values upon others; it just means the more universal and functional values should be allowed to win in a longer Darwinian struggle, and that such victories should be sec­ured in the least painful and detri­mental way possible. Cult­ures generally have something to learn from one another—and the aim of trans-culturalism is to make sure that this ex­change is gen­uinely enriching, sustainable and conducive to human flour­ishing.

Trans-culturalism corresponds to a more metamodern take on ethni­city. In academia you can find early beginnings of a trans-culturalist per­spective among sociologists, such as Michael O. Em­erson’s and George Yancey’s 2010 book, Transcending Racial Barriers: Toward a Mutual Obli­ga­tions App­roach.

The best example I know of trans-culturalism in action is in the Belgian town of Mechelen, under the ingenious mayor Bart Somers, who also received a “World Mayor Prize 2016” for his efforts. Belgium was the European country with the largest per capita outflow of ISIS fighters. But Mechelen, with a population of some 85,000, has had no such regi­stered cases. A couple of decades ago, the town had plenty of ethnic ten­sions, a large group of alienated immigrant inhabitants and grow­ing nation­alist and racist sentiments. All of this was turned around by a number of poli­cies and practices under the leadership of Somers. Initially, the city estab­lished a much stronger police presence on the streets so that people could feel safe. Hence, housing prices stopped falling in “unsafe areas” and segregation was curbed. Then, they had forceful information campaigns against dis­crimi­nation and racism, urging tole­rance and open­ness as civic obli­gations of all citizens, creating a common civic identity around such values. Then the mun­icipality officials talked the white middle-class fami­lies into putt­ing their kids back into the schools with many children of immi­grants, family by family—hun­dreds of them—by giving them speci­fic guarantees of how the quality of their kids’ education would be preser­ved. Then they put higher pressure on dysfunctional immigrant families to fulfill their social obligations and live up to their increased status in society, offering to supp­ort the civic actors who played important parts in this. And then—this is where it gets really radical—they sent Muslim kids on special study trips to Córdoba, Spain, where they learned about the era when Islam was a digni­fied Euro­pean power and Córdoba was a center of science and tolerance, a multi­­cultural society ahead of its time. The kids were thereby presented with a positive narr­ative of what it means to be Muslim: to be a pinnacle of enlightened civ­ilization, as the Caliphate of Córdoba was in the 10th century AD.

You see what they did there? Mayor Somers and his crew took a major­ity culture and pushed it towards tolerance, and they took a minority cul­ture and gently pushed for its transformation in a progressive direct­ion. That’s trans-culturalism in action, and it is also the beginnings of meta­modern Ge­meinschaft Politics—and the beginnings of the listening socie­ty. How cool is that? [i]

Mayor Bart Somers with his city Mechelen in the background.

All of this is an example of what smart Gemeinschaft Politics might look like. Imagine if what Mayor Somers is doing was already part and parcel of how societies diffuse ethnic tensions. And could it be further deve­loped? Maybe there could be meeting places and settings that provide facilitated exchanges between different ethnicities? Wouldn’t that drama­tically improve society, lessen ethnic tensions and create a firmer basis for a transnational global community?

Yes, it’s an increased level of the inti­macy of control. But is it oppre­s­sive and mani­pulative? Or is it just con­structive and liberating? Should socio­logical, cult­ural and ethnic issues really be beyond the scope of the political realm?

Stupid forms of Gemeinschaft Politics will be nationalist, non-nation­alist, or inter-cultur­alist. Smart Gemeinschaft Politics will be trans-cult­ur­alist.

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, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Bart Somers did write a book about it all, but it’s in Dutch.

See: Somers, B., 2016. Samen Leven. Een hoopvolle strayegie tegen IS. Belgium: Houtekiet.

Enter Creepy Politics: Why We Must Accept the Risks of an Orwellian “Ministry of Love”

Gemeinschaft Politics is closely linked to Democratization Politics. Demo­cracy implies that there is a “demos”, a people that governs society. But for there to be a people, there must be a certain something to bind citizens together; a feeling of communal togetherness, a sense of fellowship, a reas­on why we should belong to the same society to begin with. In short, if you don’t have Gemeinschaft, you’ll struggle to get a Gesellschaft—i.e. to get sound and sustainable institutions.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. In this post you will be introduced to the idea of Gemeinschaft politics, one of six new forms of politics proposed in Nordic Ideology.

Before delving into the question why we must accept the risks associated with Gemeinschaft Politics becoming creepy and turning into an Orwellian “Ministry of Love”, we first need a brief recap of the historical developments leading up to the Gemeinschaft we have today. This will, among other things, be elaborated further in my upcoming book The 6 Hidden Patterns of History: A Metamodern Guide to World History.

Here we go:

In the past, a shared religion and the myth about the ruler’s divinity suff­iced to maintain a minimum of social coherence. But with the tran­sition to modernity, it became increasingly urgent that people shared the same cult­ure and language. A sense of fellowship was needed to ensure peaceful and productive relations between different classes and people from culturally distinct provinces who now lived side-by-side in crowded indust­rial cities. The nation-building projects of the 19th century can thus be seen as an early version of Gemeinschaft Politics.

The modern nation state gave rise to what we commonly refer to as “civil society”; the non-governmental and non-commercial arenas where people can organize and act together in pursuit of shared interests, pur­poses and values. A strong civil society is in turn required for liberal de­mocracy to function because the arenas of civil society are where citi­zens can organize themselves in ways to ensure rulers rule in accor­dance with the will of the “people”, the “demos”. But people won’t necess­arily see, or even accept, one another as members of a demos just because the state grants them citi­zenship and equality before the law. The demos can only exist if its alleged members experience mutual feelings of fellow­ship with one an­other, and a democracy can only function if the demos feels their shared destiny is tied to the state. The state can create the legal conditions that define the formal relations between citizens, and between citizens and the state, but the fellowship needed for people to accept one ano­ther as equal mem­bers of society can only be cultivated within civil socie­ty. Democracy thus also needs a civil society because this is where its demos is developed.

The development of a demos can occur within the borders of a state and justify its existence by a shared citizenship as in the case of France or the US, or it can develop from shared cultural ties stretching beyond state borders as in the case with the formation of Germany or Italy. It is, how­ever, within the many arenas of civil society (clubs, newspapers, organiza­tions of all sorts etc.) that discourses develop about who is to be inclu­ded in the dem­os and thus be considered entitled to citizenship and equal status, and who is to be excluded from the Gemeinschaft.

This, however, does not mean states did not play a vital role in the for­m­ation of national identities and the cultivation of civic and demo­cratic manners. It merely means that states could not develop the demos through the legal instruments of governance alone since the informal rel­ations deter­mining the demos per definition cannot be legislated about. Yet, this did not prevent the state from using other means to further the nation-build­ing project. Since civil society was where the action was, the state put great care into ensuring that civil society enjoyed favorable con­ditions to bloss­om and that the clubs and organizations that favored the national agenda received additional funding.

From Public to Domestic to Private

Modern society required informal relations of a more delicate nature than in the past in order to make the wheels of industry and bureaucracy run smoo­thly. People had to engage in productive relations with strangers from more varied backgrounds and classes than what they had been used to, and they had to follow new intricate codes of conduct in their relations at work and towards authorities. Former peasants had to learn how to avoid bicker­ing and misunderstandings when interacting with the many strang­ers in the densely populated urban environments, and they had to accustom them­selves to the role as factory workers and the instrumental nature of the rela­tionship between workers and factory owners. The state thus took mea­sures to teach its citizens to read and write and speak the same language so that they could better understand one another. Literacy also made it poss­ible to read the national papers. This gave them access to the discourses of civil society that could teach them about their new living conditions in a modern soc­iety, and this made them part of a larger public so as to mold them into the national Gemeinschaft.

The elite was also compelled to adapt to the new societal relations by revising their manners when interacting with the lower classes in public. Verbal and physical abuse could not be tolerated in a modern society. First of all because the poor had the same legal status as the rich, at least on paper; formally, workers and employers were equals who freely ex­changed labor for wages. The ethos of liberalism thus demanded everyone was to be treated with the same amount of politeness and respect. In practice, however, the demand for higher levels of politeness and respect was a societal necessity to prevent daily conflicts from interfering in pro­duction and to avoid stirring up tensions that could easily erupt into upri­sings among an already embittered working class.

The new ideal of the ruling classes, the “gentleman”, thus became widely promoted in newspapers and magazines and within the salons and clubs where the bourgeoisie gathered. In fact, everyone had to behave nicer and with greater consideration towards others as stress and tensions among thousands of strangers cramped into small spaces made people more susceptible to go off. Consequently, a culture of politeness and strict eti­quettes of public behavior emerged within civil society, and people began to address strangers as “mister” and “madam”, poor as rich, and say “plea­se” when asking for something as a way of showing that they ack­now­ledged one another as equals and free citizens who could not be arbi­trarily ex­pected to follow an order.

The many new ways the informal relations within the public sphere got adjusted to life and work in an industrial economy would largely develop without direct governmental interference. The state mere­ly made sure that people understood they were equal citizens of the nation state and that public discourse within civil society was suffi­ciently equipped to develop the demos. This can as mentioned be seen as an early variant of Gemeinschaft Politics. All of these changes remained, how­ever, within the public domain. How you treated your wife wasn’t part of the state’s pol­itical project. Domestic and personal issues were left out.

This would change—dramatically—with the late modern consumer society of the 20th century. As Western societies democratized, the demands for civil society to cultivate evermore refined informal relations went up accordingly. The democratic developments of the Gesellschaft prompted corresponding dev­elopments within the Ge­meinschaft to avoid alienation, and to ensure the informal relations bet­ween people would match the increasingly com­plex formal relations. There are just so many subtle and minor things that cannot be put into a code of laws. We need to regulate ourselves in all the day-to-day affairs that constitute the minute parts in an increasingly com­plex society.

So in order to ensure people would relate to one another as equal citi­zens and pursue their political interests in democratic ways as they enter­ed the political battlefields of the Gesellschaft, Western governments made great efforts to support their civil societies to cultivate democratic notions of Gemeinschaft. The welfare state’s growing expenditures on everything from public radio and television, over culture and sports, to afterschool activities for children and local community projects can all be seen as measures to generate positive emotions of fellowship between citi­zens and make them feel as equal participants in a democratic society.

However, as the notions of the Gemeinschaft became more democratic and cosmopolitan, the Gesellschaft also had to develop to match the new level of Gemeinschaft. The two go hand in hand in a dialectical process where one cannot successfully develop without the other. Social inequal­ities and injustices get harder to tolerate when people start seeing them­selves and others as peers. Social measures within the domestic sphere (unemployment aid, health insurance, pensions etc.) had been implemen­t­ed in some countries since the 19th century, but mostly as a way to curb soc­ialism, not as a measure of Gemeinschaft Politics. This changed during the 20th century. To maintain public faith in the institutions of govern­ment and to ensure social stability in a democratically inclined late-modern society, new measures were needed to increase social mobility and limit the extent of social problems. Affecting behavior in the public domain wasn’t enough. Gemeinschaft Politics had to go domestic.

The material welfare of underprivileged families became a societal con­cern so as to prevent poverty, poor health and lack of education, all of which hinder children from becoming productive members of society. Even such seem­ingly private matters as what people ought to eat and how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases became a concern for the ex­panding welfare state. But the state also began to interfere in more intim­ate affairs such as child neglect, substance abuse, domestic violence, divor­ce rights, abortion and so on, so as to avoid the marginalizing effects of dysfunctio­nal social relations at home. New legal measures were put in place to pro­tect the well­being of citizens in the domestic domain. Yet, alterations of the formal relations between citizens, and between citizens and the state, were not suff­icient to improve the informal relations in domestic life. Only through changed attitudes about gender relations and what is to be considered acceptable behaviors among family members, could domes­tic relations be improved. And this in turn required another change of atti­tude: that domestic affairs should become political issues.

The attitude that it’s no one’s business if a man gets drunk and beats his wife and children every Tuesday, or the idea that women should shut up and obey their husbands, won’t change much just because the state says it’s wrong. It is mainly within civil society that any substantial chan­ges to such discourses can come about. So just like in the 19th century, the Gemeinschaft politics of the 20th were conducted with the help of civil soc­iety. The welfare state began to fund a multitude of non-governmental initiatives seeking to cultivate more democratic and benign relations in the domestic domain. Everything from private drug and alcohol rehabili­tation programs, over child protection agencies, domestic violence aware­ness groups and wo­men’s rights organizations, to local community efforts among youths to counter loneliness, bullying and idleness, can thus be seen as the expansion of Gemeinschaft Politics into the domestic domain. New civil societal initiatives pertaining to the further develop­ment of Gemeinschaft Politics within the public domain were also added, such as anti-racism campaigns, LGBT+ and ethnic minority rights organi­zations and so on. But the defining feature of the Gemeinschaft Politics of the wel­fare state was the expansion into ever more intimate aspects of the social relations within the domestic domain.

The mission of the welfare state was not only to curb poverty and dis­ease, but to create a just social order people could identify with and view as their home. The fact that the Swedish welfare state was referred to as folkhemmet, “the people’s home”, is thus no coin­cidence. The massive welfare programs of the post-war era, that literally entered people’s homes, can thereby be seen as the next stage of Gemeinschaft Pol­itics that was needed to match the developments of increasing demo­cra­tization in late-modern consumer society.

So, what would be the next step?

A developmental sequence towards increasingly intimate aspects of the scope of Gemeinschaft Politics has already become visible: from the pub­lic, to the domestic, to the… my suggestion is: the personal.

Then, what could Gemeinschaft Politics look like in the global, hyper­complex, multicultural, information society of the 21st century? As the world grows ever more complex, citizens will find it harder to avoid con­fusion and alienation and society will find it increasingly challenging to maintain high levels of belonging and togetherness—to maintain pro­social behavior and trust in others. At the same time, the demand for even better relations between citizens goes up. That all the king’s subjects didn’t share the same cultural understanding was hardly a problem in medieval times, but in the industrial age it would break the kingdom apart. In the times of Charles Dickens, govern­ments could safely ignore that common people were too poor to give their children a safe and happy upbringing, but in the massive social housing projects of today’s metro­polises, a group of disgruntled and alienated Oliver Twists can turn a city into a war zone.

Providing a sense of Gemeinschaft to a factory worker in an industrial city is more demanding than it is to do the same for a peasant in a med­ieval village—and providing Gemeinschaft to a modern consumer in a ser­vice economy is more demanding than for a 19th century factory worker. It thus hardly needs to be said that Gemeinschaft Politics gets even trickier when we are dealing with a new generation of digitally connec­ted millen­nials who have to come to grips with one another in a globalized infor­mation economy. And if our children are to survive, they will need to experi­ence higher levels of Gemeinschaft than any generation before. Their rela­tions with one another will need to be of a much higher quality than what is typical today. Our future civilization depends on fellowship, higher levels of love and friendship. If Oliver Twist could rav­age a city center today, he could blow up the world tomorrow.

Gemeinschaft Politics needs to get personal.

Enter Creepy Politics

Again—Democratization Politics, the poli­ticization of the development of our formal relations in the public sph­ere, must naturally be matched by a corresponding dev­elop­ment of the informal and personal relations bet­ween all citizens across all spheres of life.

After all, does not each and every vote cast depend prec­isely upon the rel­ations people experience in their everyday life? Does not every debate, dialogue or deliberation depend upon the level of trust and the social skills of the parties involved? Does not the very will to want the best for not only ourselves, but for the public and for all citizens, depend upon our exper­ience of these same people we meet? Deeper democratiza­tion is only poss­ible if there is a solid foundation of Gemeinschaft. Ulti­mately, the political always rests upon a personal foundation, and this foundation is always rela­tional.

We need Gemeinschaft Politics. As I have argued, for a society to acti­vely and deliber­ately cultivate and promote the quality of all human relati­ons, the personal must become a political issue. This drives us towards the frightening con­clusion that even the love affairs of teenagers are of politi­cal concern, that how many friends an average old drunk has is a political issue. It is a matter of public interest, because it affects all of us. In order for society to self-organ­ize at a new and higher level, the realm of the poli­tical must expand; the political must dive into the human soul, crawl in under our very skins.

This can and will of course get creepy as hell—unless a corresponding deepening of democracy has occurred, so that it is not an expert commit­tee who subtly nudges and shapes the rest of us, but rather a free, trans­parent and fair debate is had about how citizens want to shape the gene­rative preconditions for rich and functional relations to thrive. And there are oth­er restraints that keep creepy at bay, as you will see in the coming chapt­ers. Just as deeper democracy requires deeper Gemeinschaft, so does Gemein­schaft Politics require a successful expansion of Democrat­ization Politics if it is to be in the service of higher order, freedom and equality.

For now, bear with me. This is going to get creepy. But remember that this perceived creepiness is a symptom of not working with all the six dimensions of new politics together, of failing to get the new “Monte­squieu balance” up and running.

If society is going to work at all in the future, we have to go deeper in our coordination of human agency and cognition, and we thus need deeper politics. All else is toothless crap. To believe that you can rearrange things without going deeper is what I call­ the position of “the liberal inno­cent”, a figure we sol­emnly sentenced to death in The Listening Society. The liberal innocent is a false defender of freedom.

Let us then go beyond the liberal innocent. Let us dive into deeper pol­itics, one that seeps into so many more relations, one that dares to go where the truth leads us: towards the intimate. Because it’s the only way ahead; if we don’t reshape human psychology, we don’t stand a chance. And in order to do so we must travel down a sensitive and risky path.

We’re taking these risks. That’s why political metamodernism is a rev­olutionary and dangerous movement. We must live and breathe dange­rous dreams.

An Orwellian “Ministry of Love”?

Just how dangerous can these dreams get? Ask your nightmares.

As you may know from George Orwell’s nightmarish political sci-fi dyst­opia 1984, the Ministry of Love was the ministry of interior affairs, enforc­ing loyalty to Big Brother—the personification of the ruling party—thr­ough trem­en­dously extensive surveillance, manipulation, networks of in­formants, brainwashing and good old torture. The notorious Thought Pol­ice are part of the Ministry of Love.

The protagonist Winston Smith is brought to “Room 101” to encoun­ter his deepest fear, his phobia of rats, in order to make him give up his love of a woman who has inspired rebellious and independent thoughts in him. His tormentors are successful; his emotions are extinguished as he betrays her to be spared from his greatest horror. Here is a government and a political realm that respects no personal boun­daries, no privacy and no integrity—and which subdues the domain of private emotions and rela­tionships to its own logic of political self-preservation.

In the last instance every trace of human meaning and spontaneity are effaced under the blind logic of power. The bad-guy in the book, O’Brien, who works at the Ministry of Love, says in earnest that there is nothing left of life, but at least he and others can have the consolation of torment­ing the weak. When Winston desperately inquires for a last shred of resis­tance and hope, O’Brien says to his prisoner:

“But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxi­ca­tion of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Al­ways, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”

Dang. So this, there is good reason to believe, is basically what is at stake if we go ahead to create an expansion of the political realm into the private and personal. An eternity of a boot up our faces. The very opposite of Emmanuel Levinas’ idea of a surrender to the helpless visage of the other, or Buber’s relatedness to the sacred Thou.

I fully agree that this is a real risk. And yet—as I have labored to show in this book and the last—it is only by dealing with these inner and rela­tional issues of all citizens that we can have any hope of resolving the prob­lems of modernity and reach a new island of “relative utopia” before it is too late. We must evolve, before civilization itself crashes under the weight of dev­elop­mental imbalances as the world-system is shocked by the emer­gence of new super-tech­nologies for which we are socially, psy­cholo­gically and poli­tically unprep­ared. I know I am repeating myself here, but I believe it is with good reason.

And on a more mundane level, again, most of today’s problems in soci­ety are not of an economic nature, but of a social, emotional and relatio­nal one. Most of us—in the rich parts of the world, at least—are limi­ted, thwar­ted and har­med so much more by relationships gone awry, in so many ways, than by actual poverty. Even those who do suffer actual pov­erty very often do so, in practice, because too many social and emo­tional prob­lems have amassed in their lives. And even when economic inequality does hurt us, it is often by negatively distorting our social rela­tion­ships, making us feel unwelcome and inferior. In short, society is a rela­tional affair through-and-through. To think that you can meaning­fully manage and sustain soc­iety (let alone transform it in a positive direction) without man­aging the rich multi­plicity of intimate human relation­ships is non­sensical.

I have worked hard to make this point before: We are now reaching a point in world history in which sustaining society means transforming it. Rebirth or bust. Metamodern Renaissance.

And this, again, compels us to delve into the all-too-human great web of relations. It’s the right thing to do, no matter how revolting the idea may seem to the conventional modern mind. Again, you need all six new forms of politics for this to make any sense.

The modern mind—and its conventional compass—is wrong. It was built for another time, for another social and political landscape.

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, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

A Call to Fellowship: An Introduction to Gemeinschaft Politics

The quality of ordinary citizens’ relations with one another can make or break a country. Societies characterized by a strong sense of commu­nity, high levels of trust and mutual respect and understanding tend to be richer, less corrupt and more peaceful. Countries with weak communal bonds, widespread distrust and little sense of belonging often fall apart, sometimes violently. That’s why Gemeinschaft matters.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. In this post you will be introduced to the idea of Gemeinschaft politics, one of six new forms of politics proposed in Nordic Ideology.

Credit goes to the talented Berlin-based artist Sina Goge for the artwork used in the thumbnail picture.

If a country fails badly enough at Gemeinschaft you get Yugo­slavia or Iraq, if it succeeds, you get Denmark or Japan.

So what is meant by Gemeinschaft? The German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies made the important distinction between Gesellschaft and Ge­mein­schaft. The former refers to the formal system of rules and regu­lations of a society, the latter to the more personal and informal bonds between people. Whereas Gesell­schaft can be roughly translated into “soc­iety”, Gemein­schaft does not have a satisfying equivalent in the English lang­uage. It is often translated into “community”, but that sounds more like we’re talk­ing about a local neigh­borhood or a soccer club. And since we further­more don’t want to imply it is the same as the political philo­sophy of “communitari­anism”, we will use the original German word which more­over has be­come accepted in social sci­ence among English speakers.

We could also use the Swedish word, gemenskap, which has the same origin and meaning as the German term, better fitting “the Nordic Ideo­logy”. Or the Danish word fællesskab or the Norwegian felles­skap, both of which have the same meaning as Gemeinschaft, but instead share origins with the English word “fellowship”. Over the cen­turies, however, “fellow­ship” has come to mean some­thing slightly diffe­rent than Gemeinschaft—but at least it gets us closer than “com­munity”.

So we’re getting at a “politics of fellowship”, if you will, a strand of pol­itics which actively and deliberately seeks to impro­ve the sense of fellow­ship among citizens and other aspects of our general relatedness to one an­other. A politics, perhaps even, of friendship. To cultivate a society ba­sed more upon friendship, camaraderie, collaboration. A call to an expan­sion of personal relationships as well as uni­versal, impersonal love.

A Call to Fellowship

Whereas Dem­o­­cratization Politics is the politics of developing our formal rela­tions, our govern­ance (corresponding to Tönnies’ Gesellschaft), Gem­ein­schaft Politics is the politics of developing our in­formal rela­tions; the many personal and civic relationships so vital to every aspect of a good and sustain­able soc­iety.

Gemeinschaft Politics is about human relationships, including: those between residents in local comm­unities, cultural and sports act­ivities and other forms of volunteering in civil society, how well community builders and local leaders are treated and supported, how class dist­inc­tions play out, relations between different ethnic groups, the inte­gration of immi­grants, relations at work, gen­der relations and sexual and rom­antic inter­plays, fam­ily relations, domestic conflict and violence, rela­tions in school, how much loneliness there is, how much bullying there is, how much peer press­ure there is, cross-generational relations, social safety nets for old age and disability, the qual­ity and prevalence of frie­nd­ships, acquain­tance net­work rela­tions, distributions of social capital and status, levels of inter­pers­onal trust, levels of average inter­personal care and solid­arity, the de­gree to which people are willing to help stran­gers, norms for treating one an­other in public spaces and in general, the level of kindness and under­stand­ing people show one another, how judg­mental or forgiving we are towards each other, how peo­ple reject one ano­ther and handle norm-break­ers and del­inquents, how many grudges and per­ceived “enemies” we have, what resources there are for conflict resol­ution, which taboos we can’t talk about, how good we are at social pers­pective taking.

Et cetera.

Relations. Relationships. Amen.

In a word: Gemeinschaft.

We need to apply scientific knowledge to im­prove the quality of hu­man rela­tions, long-term, at all levels of society. The value of social bonds and relation­ships is of course imm­eas­urable. Yet, besides this value-in-itself, the qua­lity of hu­m­an rela­tionships is a source of unimaginable wealth or poverty.

I have already under­scored that there in today’s affluent societies are almost no real material or economic problems left—pretty much none of the fundamental problems of late modern soc­iety are due to a de facto lack of economic resources. Once a postindustrial level of affluence has been achieved, with an annual per capita GDP above 25,000 US doll­ars, the rea­s­on people suffer is no longer because of an actual lack of material resour­ces. The main source of society’s ailments is that people’s behaviors, psycho­lo­gies and social relations don’t function properly. In late mod­ern soc­iety, suffer­ing is soc­ial rather than economic.

If you look at an issue like unemployment, the challenge isn’t really to feed and shelter the unemployed, but rather to provide them with social status, meaning, dignity, activities and a daily rhythm—to prevent social decay. When it comes to rising housing prices that can burst into market bubbles, the issue is greatly exacerbated by the growth of single house­holds, the need for people to protect their private spaces from intrusions by insen­sitive others who would disturb their peace. A society in which everyone is nicer to be around—where folks are more socially function­al—and where there is greater mutual trust, would be one where people need less distance from one another and thus one of greater living space efficiency, hence with lesser living space competition, and hence with lower housing prices and rents.

If you look at issues like overconsumption and ecological footprints, it is not difficult to see that a society in which people have less reason to feel insecure about their social status would also be one in which a more post-materialist culture could flourish and people could more easily make sust­ainable choices.

In a society where people communicate better and are less violent, there is less reason for inter-ethnic fear and resentment to grow, and hen­ce lesser reason for discrimination, and hence lesser reason for racism and ethnic populism. It also means security costs become lower across the board, meaning more resources can be pooled into pre­ventive social mea­sures, meaning society becomes less repress­ive.

When it comes to issues of mental health, psychological development, how personalities develop, the degree of prosocial behavior to be expected from a population, what per­sonal issues people have that steer their moti­vations, the prevalence of delinquency and crime—it must be obvious that each of them is shaped and defined by people’s relationships.

These are just a few examples of how the nature of people’s everyday relationships shapes society. Point being: it’s social, stupid.

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, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

What Is a Metameme?

A metameme is a collection of interconnected, mutual dependent, non-arbitrary memes. “Metameme” is thus an overarching term for groups of other memes that helps us understanding the relation of one meme to another. (With “meme”, I’m not referring to the illustrated jokes kids pass around on social media these days, but rather the original idea proposed by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene from 1976.) One of my major theses in The 6 Hidden Patterns of History: A Metamodern Guide to World History is that memes come bundled in non-randomly ordered collections of developmentally determined “umbrella” memes constituting overarching stages. It’s these umbrella memes that I have chosen to dub “metamemes”.

The following is work-in-progress and is based on a few loose notes from Hanzi Freinacht’s work on his upcoming book ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’. This is the third book in Hanzi’s metamodern guides series. It takes on a developmental approach to world history and does so through the lens of six overarching developmentally derived patterns that Hanzi refers to as “metamemes”. Thanks to our monthly donators we can buy time to work on the book, so if you have a couple of bucks to spare each month, we would be very grateful if you could donate to Hanzi: https://donorbox.org/metamoderna.

Many memes often come bundled together so as to make up larger and more complex memes such as industrialism or Christianity. Both contain minor constituents, for instance the “corporation-meme” or the “God-meme” (which again can be torn apart into even smaller constituent memes if one wishes). But neither capitalism nor Christianity, vast and complex as they are, make up the most comprehensive collections of memes imaginable. On a higher level of abstraction, industrialism together with other memes such as capitalism (in its state- or free-market variant) and human rights are part of what has been known as “modernity”, or in my language, “the modern metameme”; and Christianity, or any other similar traditional religion, together with memes such as divine law (in one form or another) and the notion of a holy text are mere constituents of the “pre-modern”, or postfaustian, metameme. A “metameme”, such as modernity, is thus one of the largest collections of memes conceptually possible—it is the final step before ordering all memes into some vague undifferentiated notion of the “human mega-meme”.

For example, democracy and the scientific method are two memes that show up under the umbrella of the modern metameme; they walk hand in hand, just as other memes such as queer-feminism and environmentalism do within the postmodern metameme. The workings of this will be explained in detail in The 6 Hidden Patterns of History. The subject of this book is ultimately the emergence and development of these metamemes: large collections of complex hierarchical ordered memes that manifest themselves in human consciousness as cultural, scientific and political expressions throughout history.

Modernity and postmodernity are well-known examples of meta­memes that have been described in academic literature. But if we go further back in history, we’ll see that there has been several other metamemes, that it does not suffice to put everything before the modern era under the concept of “pre-modernity”—and, that in today’s supposedly modern world, the older metamemes are still alive and kicking.

It’s crucial to understand that a metameme is not a temporal entity, but a qualitative one. Modernity is, as pointed out by Adorno, not just a historical period. We may in the historical sciences say that the world entered the modern era about 250 years ago, but that doesn’t mean that the world back then became modern in the qualitative meaning of the word. Many parts of the world are yet to become modern, and many issues in the world today revolve around the troubles of putting the pre-modern way of living and thinking behind us and embracing modernity. At the same time, some of the so-called modern societies are struggling with a painful transition from a modern to a postmodern way of thinking and behaving. Consequently, when we dispose of our temporal notions of pre-modernity, modernity and postmodernity, a much clearer and nuanced picture appears that takes the ambiguity and messy reality of the present world into account. It makes us capable of differentiating between the many aspects of society, the various memes, which tend to be aligned with different and opposing metamemes.

It is important to stress that memes do not arbitrarily appear throughout history. The sequence of which memes emerge is developmentally determined. For technical reasons, it’s obvious that the meme of a functional automobile doesn’t emerge in a culture that hasn’t invented the wheel yet. Likewise, for societal reasons, the meme “queer-feminism” doesn’t appear in a traditional agrarian culture. Even though women and gay people may have thought one thing or the other about the apparent oppression they experienced in 13th century Romania, no one ever started to question the heteronormative and male chauvinistic discourses of society. Contrary the technical difficulties of assembling an automobile in a pre-industrial society, nothing physically stopped anyone from developing a message about how women and gay people should be given equal status and how the dominant norms of society are skewed in favor of male, heterosexual privilege.[i] Yet no one uttered anything with a mere resemblance to these words until the modern era. How come? It didn’t appear because a meme like this requires other memes in order to be conceptually and culturally possible. To explain feminism to an oppressed farmer’s wife in ancient Egypt would have been a daunting task—to expect that meme to spontaneously emerge anywhere in a strictly religious agrarian and authoritarian society: impossible, not in a thousand years, literally. Not even Cleopatra, with all the privilege and time endowed to a woman of her status, came remotely close to developing a few lines of feminist scholarship.[ii]

Similarly, you don’t see the functional meme of an “airplane” emerge in a context that lacks the memes “combustion engine” and “aero-dynamics”, and the latter two memes won’t show up in a culture that hasn’t got the meme “scientific method”, which won’t emerge without the meme “nature is governed by universal laws or principles”, something that requires the notion of an almighty “god” or “universal force”, which again depends on the idea of a “spirit world” etc. ad infinitum. Likewise, feminism won’t emerge without memes such as “equal rights”, which won’t appear before the “rule of law” meme and so on.

Not only does this line of thinking assist us in explaining the logic of the chronological order in which different memes have appeared over time, why some memes emerge before others; it also helps us understand why some memes tend to be “allied” with other memes (i.e. democracy with human rights), while others tend to contradict, be opposed to or even right out hostile towards each other (i.e. divine right vs. science). This is because memes are also non-randomly ordered. They do not only emerge in developmentally dependent ordered sequences, but in equally developmentally dependent ordered sequences of sets; in short consistent and logical coherent groups of—you guessed it—metamemes!

What defines a metameme is that the memes within it together make up a coherent functional whole, one in which the various memes don’t contradict each other—too much that is. Any line of thought is incom­plete, and there are always minor inconsistencies that don’t add up to the whole picture. Usually, such disturbances are swept under the carpet in order to keep everything tidy. This is often appropriate when work is to be focused on completing the larger framework and a single incongruity here and there is of little concern. But, as Kuhn pointed out in his theory on paradigms, the many inconsistencies eventually come together and wreck the whole endeavor.

Initially, the contradiction between the idea of a free will, divine law and the prevailing political situation in feudal Europe was of little concern to medieval thinkers. In an agrarian economy, the political freedom of illiterate serfs was not an issue, and a social order in which kings determined the fate of their subjects didn’t appear to be in conflict with neither free will nor divine law. But as the economic conditions of non-nobles improved and thinkers started to explore the ultimate consequences of these ideas further, people began to question why free will didn’t entail political freedom and whether the kings ruled in accordance with any divine law at all. And if humans were given a free will, why didn’t that also entail the freedom to use one’s own reason to deduct the universal laws bestowed onto humankind?

Suddenly, the many contradictions of the old regime began to add up, and many of the new memes that emerged from this situation increasingly departed from the coherent structure of the existing metameme. A new metameme thus emerged from the logical contradictions of the former, but in accordance to its own logics. If no one stood above the divine law, why did only certain individuals have the right to interpret it? And if a divine law was supposed to be universal, why didn’t it apply everywhere, and how come it didn’t correspond to even more universal principles than the prevailing ones? The pre-modern metameme suddenly started to slip and fall on its own arguments when exposed to modernity’s more logical consistent principles. Yet, only because the pre-modern metameme consisted of memes such as “universality” and “equality before God” could even more universal principles such as “scientific truth” and “equality before the law” be deducted. That means that the political consequences deducted from the notion that “all men are created equal” (inherent in i.e. Christianity and Islam), such as democracy and human rights, could never have emerged in, say ancient Egypt, which explicitly had at its core that all men are not created equal, but that the rulers of society are gods, and that everyone else are their subjects. Only in a culture subscribing to the religious idea that all humans, including the rulers, are subject to God’s will, or any other divine principle, could an idea of political equality emerge. Similarly, only in a culture declaring that all men (and later women) are legally equal does the idea emerge that everyone should have the right to define their own gender and sexual orientation, and that hidden discourses discriminating against minorities, despite their legally equal status, were inherently unfair and had to be changed.

Hence, in a way, social justice is just a further-development of the established ideas in liberal democracies that anyone should have the freedom to live their lives the way they want (as long as they don’t hurt others) and everyone should be given equal legal status. However, the contes­tants of queer-feminism are in their critique of society simultaneously questioning the very core of modernity such as the belief that equal legal status automatically fosters equal social status, and the idea that gender is a cultural and social constant. As such: From the logic of one metameme, taken to its full conclusion, a new metameme emerges to expose the inconsistencies and inadequacies of its predecessor.

So as to return to the previous example of why feminism never took root in ancient Egypt: The main reason is not that people didn’t suffer from gender inequality and oppression, or that a fully feminist society would have been very difficult to achieve in an agrarian economy (we thus far have been unable to achieve one in an industrial economy), but that all the things feminism teaches, from equality to gender discourses, contradict everything the farmer wife—and her husband—knew and was capable of understanding.[iii] In fact, you could might as well have asked her to develop a jet-engine.

This is because memes are developmentally determined, and that goes for all memes from the pure technical to the more ideological. That means that not any kind of meme can emerge, or take root, at a given time and place, but that the possible memes that can emerge and prosper are limited by which other memes currently exist. More specifically, the kinds of memes that may emerge in a given context depend on the overall developmental level of that cultural context’s other memes. In short, modern memes only emerge in modern societies, or, societies approaching modernity. Or to turn it around, the memes that do emerge only do so because they are in alignment with the overall structure and logic of all the other memes currently available, or, as a response to the current limitations and contradictions of that overall logic and structure. This is how we identify a specific meme as belonging to one metameme or another. And the memes that can emerge and function within a given metameme are only a limited type of memes that correspond with the overall developmental level of the metameme as a whole.

A metameme is thus a non-randomly ordered collection of memes in which the memes that don’t fit in with the other memes simple cannot emerge or co-exist without breaking the very logic of what holds the metameme together. Each metameme builds on its predecessor, but it is by definition not merely a further development of it. Not only is a metameme the overall context in which all other memes are ordered, non-randomly, but also the basis of which they are rejected if they don’t fit the overall logic and structure. So what differentiates one metameme from another is that they are always in direct opposition to one another. Just like modernity was in direct opposition to the ancien régime that came before, the postmodern metameme is in direct opposition to modernity. And with that opposition follows the threat of replacing its predecessor. Scary stuff. This dynamic explains much more of history than what it’s usually given credit to.

Why It’s Useful to Know about Metamemes

Different metamemes sure don’t like each other. The idea of a universal god initially didn’t fare well as it directly challenged and opposed the notion that the ruler was God; the idea that “nature is governed by universal laws or principles” which can be deducted via the scientific method wasn’t very welcome among conservative Christian thinkers as it challenged the very authority of God (and their own); and in our day, good-ol’ fashioned material-reductionist scientists are rarely too enthusiastic about fuzzy postmodern notions about the illusions of objectivity.

Have you ever wondered why intelligent and capable people, just like yourself, tend to be stuck in old thought patterns and don’t seem to accept the facts when presented to them? Why some people, despite being kind and outstanding citizens, have a hard time understanding basic science, or accept that it’s ok for gay people to live together? Why whole societies at one time or the other, despite the many advantages of implementing democracy and equality before the law, reject such ideas completely, or, when they accept them hardly seem to comprehend what the terms imply.

Power relations and the interests of those in charge tend to play an important role, but too often it’s the people of such nations who actually prefer authoritarian and religious ideas. It’s obvious that the population of Russia, for instance, has chosen a more traditional path. Pre-modern memes like tsar-like leadership and the Orthodox Church seem closer to the average Russian’s heart than modern ones like liberal democracy and pluralism. But even among the populaces of democratic Western nations, pre-modern notions remain widespread today. Although the meme “democracy” is well-rooted in this part of the world, many don’t seem to fully comprehend what it actually entails. Basic modern democratic memes such as the Montesquieuan principle of power division, respect of the individual and religious freedom seems rather absent in many people’s line of thinking, or if valued, often contradicted by other illiberal ideas.

It always seems to be a question of either or. You rarely have people who think abortion should be legal—because it’s every woman’s free choice—but who simultaneously believe homosexuality is a mortal sin. Never met a person like that. Likewise, you rarely find a person who’s concerned about global-warming, who also think evolution is a scam and that creationism should be taught in school. People tend to subscribe to the “whole package”. Feminists are usually also environmentalists and anti-capitalists; libertarians usually tend to put their faith in objective hard science and material progress; and conservative religious people are usually more romantically nationalistic inclined and staunch supporters of “traditional family values”.

So why is that? The former are all different kinds of memes, but not any kind of memes. Memes tend to be neatly packaged into larger overarching structures in which an entire coherent worldview rest. These are metamemes. Individuals usually tend to subscribe to one metameme or another, but also entire societies tend to subscribe to a single one, or more accurately, has one metameme as its memetic center of gravity; that is, has the ideas, norms and structures inherent to a metameme as its societal foundation. Most societies though have multiple centers of memetic gravity at the same time, pulling society in different directions, and when more than one center has a strong enough pull it appears as society is torn apart. Today we are living in a particular multi-centered time where the gravitational shredding of society is particular noticeable. Somehow the old conflict between left and right (in economic terms) has diminished in importance compared to the rifts felt by the conflict between the pre-modern, modern and postmodern metamemes—something that has been amplified by today’s globalized and multicultural society.

The modern metameme, which has reigned superior since at least the end of the second world war, has started to crumble because of its inherent developmental limits. The many problems that have arisen from this has resulted in a situation where some of its legitimacy has been brought into question and a choice has emerged whether society should return to more “traditional” values and ideas, or embrace a more progressive postmodern path.

It may hurt a lot of feelings when confronted with the idea that this choice is not one between “equals”; that any choice isn’t as good as the other and simply a matter of preference. But the different metamemes have a highly developmental dimension. One metameme is simply, develop­mentally speaking, more in tune with contemporary society than another. One path is more correct than the other. One causes more suffering than another. One is more “developed” than the other. Ouch.

The conservatively inclined may not like that they are considered less “developed” than others. Neither of course is the modern main­stream person, who’d prefer everything to stay the same more or less. But the world doesn’t revolve around what you “feel”. What’s important is not what you like, but what is “right”. In The 6 Hidden Patterns of History I will argue that development is an obvious fact of history—and that it matters if we want to make the world a better place to live in, for all of us.

The developmental importance of metamemes is not to be neglected; in fact, it’s at the very core of this book. With a developmental understanding of metamemes, we not only get to understand why no tribal culture ever produced empirical science, we’ll also with clarity see why democratic organization doesn’t work very well in traditional societies or why notions of gender equality never occurred to people before the industrial era. Metamemes will help us understand why some societies don’t succeed in adopting obvious superior ways of organizing themselves, despite having all the necessary information available to them, and why some people rigorously, and sometimes even violently, oppose novel ideas that if put into effect would benefit their lives. Metamemes will help us understand why “progress” is never a straight path forward, but always a bumpy mess of a ride littered with casualties.

We need to note, however, that a metameme is not a spirit with a will or purpose of its own. Memes are rightfully agents of change, but there is no overarching intelligence that governs their actions, only blind logic—Darwinian logic to be more precise.

You might think that all this sounds rather uncontroversial, common sense that doesn’t need to be elaborated further. That history evolves through different stages as society changes and new opportunities and problems emerge. The educated reader might also point out that the whole story on modernity, postmodernity and what came before has already been discussed ad nauseam (and that it’s an altogether way too simple way of putting history together). But behold dear reader, there is much you have missed.

Firstly, the matter has not been thoroughly elaborated despite the hotly debated discourse in academia. Secondly, the various metamemes have not been adequately differentiated, and most of them haven’t even been identified. This is likely the result of metamemes being rather difficult to spot and keep apart. Because they are much more abstract and generalized phenomena than epochs, archeological remains, geographical regions, state formations, events, ideologies and religious traditions, to which they are usually mixed up, they tend to overlap and make the proper identification harder to conduct. Usually, discussions on modernity and postmodernity are clouded by the sheer fact that modern and postmodern features, or memes to be more precise, are present simultaneously along with all the remains and residuals of pre-modernity. Again, even if Adorno was wise enough to inform us that modernity is not a temporal entity, people have had a hard time taking the full consequences of this insight into consideration. When talking about these large overarching entities, you need to know exactly what you are dealing with in order to understand them properly. You need to see the logic of each metameme and filter out all the noise surrounding them in our everchanging, fuzzy reality.

In The 6 Hidden Patterns of History we will tease out the different aspects of these metamemes so that you will know how to recognize them. As history “progresses” through these metamemes, human life becomes increasingly memetic. It becomes ruled by, and saturated by memes. In our day and age, we are approaching the memetic reorganization of biology, the eco-systems and genetics itself. Memes have governed genes for some time, now the memes will become creators of genes.

Dawkins had it all wrong: It’s not the “selfish gene” that rules our actions, it’s the memes stupid! The memes are in charge now—have been for a while—ultimately deciding the fate of genes by changing, tweaking and selecting the most desirable traits whether it’s immunity to disease, fat sprouts in grains, docileness in animals, and soon, probably also human intelligence.

It’s gonna be one hell of a ride.

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, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i] A message like this may have encountered a very physical response in the form of violence, as it sometimes is today, but it’s highly unlikely that the mere fear of violence alone made people reluctant throughout all of pre-modernity in articulating a queer-feministic program, evident by the fact that history is full of other dangerous ideas and political demands that could be expected to be forcefully dealt with.

[ii] And no, being a powerful woman doesn’t make you a feminist, as it is sometimes mistaken by powerful bourgeois business women in the West.

[iii] The farmer wife, as many farmer wives in pre-modern cultures today, would probably agree that her husband should stop beating her and that she should be allowed more freedom, but feminism (as a scientific discipline and political agenda) is much more than the teaching that men should stop being dicks. For further information on feminism, please look it up, google (or any other comparable search engine) is your friend.

Is Democracy a Done Deal? – Why We Need Democratization Politics

Is democracy a done deal? Is the form of governance prevailing in the West today the most democratic there is ever going to be? We norm­ally think of democracy and dictator­ship as a binary question: either a country is a democracy or it is not. Yet this black-and-white conception of demo­cracy has been challenged, for instance by Freedom House’s graded scale or the 2014 Princeton study which argued the US is more accurately des­cribed as a civil oligarchy than a democracy per se.[i] To be, or not to be democratic—that isn’t really the question. No, the intelligent question is the extent to which a society manages to include its citizens into the political processes; not whether a society is a democracy, but how democratic it has become.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. In this post you will be introduced to the idea of Democratization Politics, one of six new forms of politics proposed in Nordic Ideology.

So how do we determine just that? How do we define democracy and how do we measure a society’s degree of democracy?

The mainstream account of democratic governance still goes along the lines of what the political scientist Robert Dahl described in the 1950s and onwards. According to Dahl, democracy shows up as a power balance between diff­er­ent interest groups. Such balance forces the parties into a situation in which the following five criteria must be true (this particular definition is from a 1989 book):[ii]

  1. Effective participation: Citizens must have adequate and equal opport­unities to form their preference and place questions on the public agenda and express rea­sons for one outcome over the other.
  2. Voting equality at the decisive stage: Each citizen must be assured their judgments will be counted as equal in weights to the judgments of others.
  3. Enlightened understanding: Citizens must enjoy ample and equal opp­ortunities for discov­ering and affirming which choices best serve their interests.
  4. Control of the agenda: “The people” must have the opportunity to dec­ide what should be actual political matters and which should be brought up for deliberation.
  5. Inclusiveness: Equality must extend to all citizens within the state. Everyone has a leg­itimate stake within the political process.

It should be noted that all the states commonly held as democratic fail to truly fulfill these ideals, and that it would be more or less impossible to actually do so. Dahl’s definition of democratic gover­n­ance, despite being rather conventional, serves to illustrate how much democracy is more of an ideal than an actual state of affairs; that democracy remains an imposs­ible goal worth striving towards.

Just like the socialist Eastern Bloc didn’t actually consider their socie­ties communist, but rather saw communism as the end-goal that the “actually existing socialism” was in the process of creating, true democra­cy remains the unrealized promise of liberal society; the equally distant utopia that the “actually existing liberalism” should be in the process of creating.

Sadly, the idea of democracy as an ongoing process—a fight for equa­lity and liberty that never ends—has waned in favor of the belief we have already reached the end-goal of a fully democratic society. As a result, faith in democracy has eroded in recent years. Without the prospect of further democratization, those who feel disenfranchised in modern socie­ty have become more inclined to abandon democracy altogether.

As a remedy, I propose we update democracy; that we abandon the not­i­on of democracy as a done deal and renegotiate its terms—that demo­cracy, as it is currently realized, can only ever be a proto-synthesis; that it, by necessity, remains provisional and always subject to future revision.

Updating Democracy Itself

I thus believe we have ample reason to challenge the relative self-content­ment of the world’s “most democratic” soc­ieties by asking how they could be­come more demo­cratic? Could the gov­ernance of societies like Swe­den or the US be transformed and im­proved upon, even beyond what Dahl envisioned? Could there be future, deep­er forms of “democracy” which are not only improvements upon the pre­sent systems, but gen­ui­nely and qualitatively different in clearly pre­ferable ways?

From such an ima­gined future vantage point, could today’s taken-for-granted state of affairs in contemporary “democratic” societies even be viewed as terribly undemo­cratic, prim­itive and oppressive? Are we medie­val?

It is often claimed that today’s democracy is under threat; that it is de­cay­ing, that it might be losing its grip or otherwise is becoming increa­s­ingly dysfunctional.[iii] But such diagnoses can also be understood as a mal­ady of modern­ity aging, of the modern institutions, founded a cen­tury ago or more, having become un­able to effect­ively tackle the complexities of meta­modern (post­industrial, trans­national, digitized, etc.) society—a soci­ety in which the key self-organizational flows occur on a much higher order of complexity.

Thus, we are not only talking about restoring, revita­lizing or “sav­ing” democracy, but about fundam­entally updating democracy and re­imagining its institutions. Hence, we are asking a more radical and dan­ger­ous question: How do we reinvent democracy? What kind of demo­cracy comes after democracy?

T­his is an idea echoed not only in the work of Habermas, but also in the experi­mental political philosophy of the legal theorist Roberto Ung­er. Habermas points us towards a deeper form of post-liberal demo­cracy and Unger opens the door to taking an experimental stance towards the dem­ocratic institutions—that they can and should be experimented upon under controlled and reasonable forms.

If our present political systems are in a state of relative decay, can they really be mended and saved with the currently adopted tools of demo­cratic governance? Isn’t it more realistic to ima­gine a path forward to­wards a democratic syst­em more up to speed with today’s globalized and digitized world? If our democratic institutions are working poorly due to being designed to govern a modern, industrial nation state of yester­year—doesn’t it make sense to take the issue of updating and reinven­ting these institu­tions more seriously?

The fundamental starting point of Democratization Politics is thus a negative: There is simply no conceivable reason to believe our current forms of govern­ance in modern democratic societies would be the only possi­ble and best forms of governance for all posterity. If all other forms of gover­nance have emerged in historical time, have had beginnings and end­ings, is it really a feasible supposition that liberal parliamentary demo­cracy is an exception?

No, democracy is not a done deal. Why would it be? It is a develop­men­tal process like everything else, just one that stabilizes around rela­tively fixed equilibria (or “local maxima”) because institutional chan­ges require such great investments and create path dependencies. With “path depen­dency” I mean that, basically, once a society has opted for a certain form of govern­ance, it is very “expensive” and difficult to change the stru­cture.

The fact that liberal democracy has been stably operational for a good while, that is has outcompeted its modern alternatives, such as commu­nism and fascism, and that it remains very difficult to change—even to imagine a credible alternative—can create the illusion that democracy in its current form is “the natural order of things”. But of course, it isn’t.

Luckily there are hacks; there are ways to get around this bottleneck and to open developmental paths that lie beyond liberal democracy.

First of all, a society can expend resources, time and effort in smaller settings to experiment with potentially better forms of governance, e.g. in “exp­eri­men­tal zones”, as proposed by Roberto Ung­er. Secondly, a society can orchestrate a large number of dem­o­cratic technologies and innova­tions in governance which seek to enhan­ce demo­cracy incre­me­ntally. If enough incremental change has occurred, eventu­ally the syst­em itself will have shifted from one stage to another.

And here’s another way of seeing it: Given the sacred status of demo­cracy, isn’t it strange that no late modern economies are mak­ing serious, concerted and patient efforts to develop it and im­prove upon its quality? By treating democracy as a given, are we not fail­ing to take our own democratic values seriously?

The True North: Collective Intelligence

Let’s begin by plunging into this question by identifying a few general his­t­orical trends. What does it mean for democracy to develop? How did it emerge, and why? And what were the attractors that brought democracy into being?

I’d like to sugg­est that there are some deep and sturdy historical patt­erns which—again—don’t determine where things are going, but certainly hint us to­wards some long-term attractor points, i.e. the direction towards which things poten­tially can go.

If democracy is not a binary variable, not a question of either-or, but a developmental matter, a direction—can we then know and recognize its “true north”? Can we know when democracy becomes deeper, retains higher qual­ity, becomes truer to its own principles and ideals?

And if we go far enough in this direction, will democracy inevitably look like “more of the same”, or will there be qualitative shifts from one stage to another that will make democracy look like something completely differ­ent, perhaps event warranting a new word? What if liberal parlia­mentary democracy isn’t “demo­cratic enough” for governing meta­mod­ern society?

To traverse the dangerous territory such quest­ions lead us towards, we’d better have a good sense of a “true north” lest we can get lost and end up inventing new forms of oppression, tyranny, or political dis­integration and collapse. Let’s look for such a true north.

One un­deniable trend is the increasing dispersion of leadership and decision-making. If we go back in history it becomes perfectly clear that pre-modern and early modern monarchical leadership was more con­cen­trated, more arbitrarily wielded and relying more upon the good nature and talent of specific rulers than what is the case in present-day par­lia­mentary democracies. Today, more people partake in decision-making at all levels of society, and wider groups of citizens can be elected.

But even nowadays, the world-system, as a whole, places incredible res­pon­sibility and power in e.g. the US President, which must be viewed as a very high-risk strategy for governance. If this one person has significant flaws—as we all do—this leads to great costs for people all around the world. As such, there still remain pockets of irrationally and inefficiently con­cen­trated power in contemporary democracies.

Another undeniable trend has to do with the increased total volume of active decision-making, i.e. the sheer volume of inform­ation pro­cessed by organs of governance, and the complexity of the processes deliberately shaped by governance.

When viewed as a very long historical trend, it becomes obvious that govern­ance has become “more powerful” over the cen­turies. Govern­ments simply have much greater capacities to inter­fere in the lives of citi­zens than in the past. I have already pointed out that the taxation capaci­ties of modern societies, even while limited in practice due to corruption and the flight of trans­national corporate capital, are stagg­ering compared to any­thing that came before. Strong states levy high taxes, and they penetrate society more thoroughly in a variety of ways. As we have discus­s­ed, Fou­cault pointed out that modern “free” society requi­res many addi­tional lay­ers of control.

Naturally, it is not that a system with greater total power is more demo­cratic in itself, as it is easy to name totalitarian states with high degrees of organization. But there certainly is a correlation between the quantity of self-organization and the growth of democratic forms of governance around the world. And even if libertarianism is a strong current in many present-day demo­cracies (seeking to minimize state pow­er), even the most libertarian ones in the world today are highly org­anized by historical standards.

Thus, as democracy has progressed, it has begun to organize greater am­ounts of money in the public sphere and otherwise regulating ex­changes on the market. Money, of course, isn’t a concrete “thing” “the state” can “take” and then “spend”. That would just be a childish way of seeing things. No, money is a measure of people’s coordinated efforts to extract resources from the environment as well as their degree of coord­ination of agency with one another.

The point, then, is that democratic governance has come to dom­inate both greater material or natural resources, and it has begun to coordinate more human actions: longer stretches of time of people’s lives (in terms of time, effort and attention), in more minute details, playing parts in more abstract patterns of information, for more abstract shared goals. This means many more decisions must be made, much greater amounts of infor­mation organized. Hence, there is a move towards bureaucratization and digitiz­ation—anything that can cost-eff­ect­­­ively monitor and control larger quant­ities of more varied (and specialized) human agen­cy.

A third long-term trend is that democracy has evolved more checks and balances against arbitrary uses of power; hence there has been an increased account­ability of decision-making.

This one is difficult to spot in recent decades, as democratic develop­ment has stagnated and come to a halt. But if we look over the centuries of modern history, the pattern is obvious. There are more laws restricting the use of power, the power of office is decoupled from the office-holder—legally, if not socially—and there are greater demands for transparency and motivation of decisions made. Moreover, there are more institutions —state-run as well as in the media and civil sphere—which actively seek to uncover failures of governments, elected officials, the bureaucracy, the courts and the legal system at large. There is even an increasing number of critical soc­ial scientists who spend years laying bare problems in just one sub-section of governance, be it concentration of power in informal net­works of elites, shady conflicts of interest, or structural malfunctions that elude cas­ual obser­vers.

These many forms of checks and balances increase the inter-subjective verification of legitimacy, or indeed, the inter-subjective falsification of claims to power. This does not mean that democracy functions by the same premises as does modern science, which also ideally works by inter-sub­jective verification/falsification—far from—but it suggests a vague, ten­tative approximation of the scientific ideals.

This, in turn, entails that the self-organization of society gradually beg­ins to rest upon a deeper and more intricate web of verifications and fals­ifications. And even these verifications and falsifications are themselves subjected to increased scrutiny as more voices join the fray.

We may sometimes nostalgically look back at the times of Athenian democracy, of English coffee houses (17th and 18th centuries), of French salons (18th and 19th centuries), of worker socialist collectives (19th and early 20th centuries), or even the youthful energy of 1968. “Ah, those were the days”, we say, “when people cared, when everyone engaged in the pol­itical, in the public, in the civil sphere. Back then, folks were citizens, not merely idle con­sumers”. But we often forget that these expressions of poli­t­ical en­fran­ch­ise­ment only reached small cliques of the overall population: Athen­ian demo­cracy exclu­d­ed all women, slaves and non-Athenians; English coffee hous­es cate­red to urban well-to-do citizens; French salons were meeting places for the upper bourgeoisie and the radical­ized parts of the nobility; more compre­hensive worker colle­c­tives showed up during key moments and events rather than being a permanent state of affairs; and even in 1968 (with the hopeful, radical students) we must remem­ber that university and coll­ege admissions were consider­ably small­er than to­day. It is true that there have been beautiful and inspiring nex­uses in his­torical space-time, and it is true that such beauties have waxed and waned —but this should not blind us to the obvious macro-historical pro­cess: that checks and balan­ces have increased over time as democracy has grown into its current var­iety of forms.

This leads us to a fourth long-term directionality; namely that demo­cra­tic participation has thickened and deepened. Even if the younger gene­ration of today appears to have a lower level of interest in public life (at least conventional politics), and even if many democratic institutions and practices have become sub­jected to diff­er­ent degrees of market logic (where voters are viewed as “customers” or “cli­ents”), largely due to the impact of the so scorned cul­tural and political currents of “neoliberalism” and “new public manage­ment” in recent dec­ades—it still remains true that today’s citizens have more venues of participation than in the past.

Not only do larger groups of people have greater access to media and more time and resources to inform themselves. People also have more concrete channels of participation: in advisory boards and citizens’ coun­cils, feed­back channels for public institutions such as schools and hos­pitals, direct links by email to elected officials and a higher number of represent­atives. And then there’s a dramatic increase in the number of interest groups and civil society agents who defend the interests of many groups—from the ethnic minorities to the sports’ clubs to the animal rights activ­ists to the people suffering from sclerosis and, increasingly, metamodern groups (yay!) who seek to enhance the quality of public dialogue, and so on.

Seen as a totality—and if we put the partly negative trend of neoliberal watering-down of public enfran­chisement of recent decades into a greater historical context—there can be little doubt that public enfranchisement has increased dramatically. This does not have to mean that more citizens spend their time doing things public and political; it simply means that there are many venues and that many and diverse interests crop up and organize.

Lastly, a fifth long-term trend has to do with the growth of democratic culture and values. Yes, Sweden was indeed a democracy even in the 1920s and the 1950s if we consider its institutions. But in the 1920s, a hus­band could still legally rape his wife, it was considered inappropriate to speak too openly against religion, people talked to one another different­ly depending on social status and title, and so forth. Up until the early 1960s, you could beat children, not only at home but also in schools. In short, culture was considerably more authoritarian, less toler­ant, less multi-per­spectival, less egalitarian and overall less dem­o­cratic than today. If you go back to the late 1800s the issue becomes even clearer, with a ma­jority of the constituency being against not only women’s suffrage, but also against racial equality, equality of different social classes (or “estates”) and free speech.

Earlier in this book we discussed that values evolve in recognizable patterns as societies develop, and in Book One I mentioned the re­search of the huge World Values Survey (WVS) which indicates that the Nordic countries have the “most progressive” values in the world. As Chris­tian Welzel, the boss of WVS, notes, it is clear these values play well together with the development and maintenance of democratic inst­itu­tions. When “pro­gressive” values decrease—for reasons of eco­n­omic tur­moil or other­wise—it often leads to direct attacks on demo­cratic institu­tions, as has recently been the case in Turkey, Russia and the Philippines.

What I am getting at here is that democracy in itself is not only a mat­ter of institutional frameworks, but also of cultural develop­ment where the values, sentiments and behaviors of people can be more or less in line with democratic ideals and their collective democratic func­tion­ality.

The recent rise of co-development ideals in the most progressive coun­tries bears witness to this tendency. Co-develop­ment is the process of improving the quality of de­bate, dialogue and delib­eration throughout all of society and across the political spectrum. It works from the supposition that we can’t possibly be right about “everything” and hen­ce always need to learn from one another, friend or foe; if nothing else just to see where they’re coming from. This, of course, is a deeper demo­cratic ideal and an early sign of a further deep­ening of democracy.

All changes of institutional and constitutional frameworks must ultim­ately rest upon the values and cultural realities of real people. It is within this cultural realm that challenges to the existing equilibrium stage of gov­ern­ance (“liberal democracy”) can grow.

Thus, I have suggested five dimensions of what a deeper democracy may entail:

  1. increased dispersion of leadership;
  2. increased volume, complexity and efficiency of information processing;
  3. increased accountability and balancing of powers, putting greater demands upon the verifiability of decision-making;
  4. a deepening and thickening of de jure and de facto participation and popular support in pro­cesses of decision-making and opinion formation; and
  5. the growth of democratic, egalitarian and multi-perspectival culture and values.

If you like, you can call these five dimensions a way of increasing the collective intelligence of a given society; a means to “deepen” democratic participation.

In this regard, a deeper democracy is one that lets solutions of higher orders of complexity emerge and gain legi­timacy, thereby allowing for more com­plex forms of society to exist and thrive.

If more real problems are solved, if public support of and consent to decisions are better, if the decision processes run more smoothly, if there are fewer unwanted and unexpected consequences of decisions made—and so on—then we can say that democracy has been developed, that it has been deepened.

These five dimensions give us a kind of “true north” of democratic development, a map that can guide us towards a more democratic demo­cracy. Today’s democratic institut­ions are better than their historical pre­decessors not because they in-and-of-themselves are a God-given “corr­ect” form of governance, but simply because they fulfill these five criteria more adequately as compared to earlier forms of gover­nance.

False Defenders of Democracy

When we “defend democracy”, this can mean two very different things: We can either defend the progression and development of these democra­tic ideals and their manifestation in society (which is good)—or we may be defending the current, increasingly outdated institutional form of mod­ern “liberal demo­cracy” from the metamodern currents of renewal and refine­ment. In the latter case, we may think of ourselves as heroic defend­ers of democracy, but we are in fact waging a war against the core values of democratic develop­ment bec­ause we mistake the current forms of govern­ance for a sacred entity—for instance, by being overly defensive about “the constitution”. The latter is as enlightened as holding sharia laws to be the only true and God-given way of organizing society. It makes us medieval.

Because democracy in its current form is seldom regarded with a sober and secular gaze, and often as a kind of sacred value-in-itself, the majority of the population may in effect be on the anti-democratic side of the develop­mental tide—much like when most folks in the past were against women’s suffrage and gay rights. Habits, outdated norms and investments in the status quo all work to uphold social inertia, an immunity to change. In this case, we end up fighting off necessary developments of govern­ance and thus of our collect­ive intelligence. The majority posi­tion, then, is that of the false defen­ders of democracy.

The majority is wrong. Always were. Then again, what else should we expect? The point with democracy isn’t that the majority is always right. The point is that there is a process of free and sufficiently systematized truth-seek­ing and dialogue going on for small groups to be able to pro­ve the rest of us wrong, again and again, so that values, opinions and laws can evolve and adapt. That’s how demo­cracy works—you can’t “vote” about the truth; the idea is that the truth offers a powerful attractor point so that, in the long run, more truth than falsehood will win out, and that this, on average, will have better con­seq­uen­ces.

The true north of democratic development can and will lead us bey­ond the institutional forms of modern society. We are, of course, still struggling with the taboo of asking such questions, about what might lie beyond liberal democracy (with a capitalist market), because the two major alter­natives of the 20th cen­tu­ry—communism and fascism—turned out to be such terrible mis­takes.

However, this compass could actually help us steer clear of new treats of total­itar­ianism that may show up in new, seductive, postindustrial, digital-age guises. With a good compass, and with a critical sensitivity towards the directionality of historical development (seeing the stages of development and how these constitute historical attractor points), we may be nearing a point in history in which we are compelled not to take any form of gover­n­ance for grant­ed—and in which we must begin to dream dangerous dreams of future forms of governance.

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, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” (2014, Princeton).

[ii]. Dahl, R.A., 1983. Democracy and Its Critics. Yale University Press, p. 221.

[iii]. Francis Fukuyama has claimed that the US system of governance has been in a steady decline for decades due to its outdated system of checks and balances, which he claims has reduced the quality of governance and led the country to become a de facto “vetocracy”, where interest groups and courts (and courts influenced by the former) hinder decisive government action by an effective “veto”, which in turn undermines the legitimacy of the public institutions, which in turn makes governance and taxation more difficult. This vicious cycle may hold great explanatory power in terms of the ailments of today’s US.

Many other contemporary political scientists share the general picture of a US democracy in institutional decay.

Fukuyama, F., 2014. Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.