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.
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.