Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two (Metamodern Guides), by Hanzi Freinacht; Metamoderna ApS (May 29, 2019), 495 pages
Summary and Review – Part 3
My review of the previous book The Listening Society ended up being quite lengthy, so for the sequel, which is a longer book, I’m going to split up my review and do it by part. Nordic Ideology is a three-part book, so there will be three reviews for it.
Click here to see my summary and review of The Listening Society.
Click here to see Part 1 of my summary and review of Nordic Ideology.
Click here to see Part 2 of my summary and review of Nordic Ideology.
Part Three – The Proof: Nordic Ideology
Chapter 19: Requiems for Modern Ideologies
Hanzi begins by reiterating that metamodernism beats all other ideologies on their own terms:
It is more egalitarian than socialism (and social democracy), freer than libertarianism and classical liberalism, more sustainable/resilient/regenerative than ecologism, more sensible and prudent than conservatism, and more radically rebellious than anarchism.
He says that metamodernism, however, occupies a point in the space of all political ideologies at the center, and so is therefore closer to each one of them than they are to each other. The proponents of these different ideologies will buck and complain that metamodernism is too statist, or too conservative, or not socialist enough, but Hanzi believes that the unique position of metamodernism will allow it to infect all the other ideologies with the metamodern DNA. Besides, he says, metamodernism has ethics and the attractors on its side, which makes its eventual triumph inevitable (never mind that all people with a radical political agenda – socialists, libertarians, greens – believe this about their own pet projects).
He then goes through some of these ideologies and talks about how metamodernism will actually get them what they want better than the outdated ideologies themselves.
Socialism: there won’t be equality of outcome, Hanzi says, if we don’t have Gemeinschaft Politics, because the various psychological and sociological inequalities will cause the economic inequalities that socialism concerns itself with to reemerge. Socialism also won’t work without Democratization Politics because it will remain a slave to the old version of democracy, not the constantly modified and updated version of metamodernism. And, since these two things – Gemeinschaft and Democratization Politics – won’t work without the other four, the socialists therefore need to adopt all of metamodernism to achieve their goal of equity.
Liberalism (Libertarianism): humans are not isolated individuals, but always have a social context; nobody is their own sole creator, we co-create each other. Therefore, if some people are not free, then nobody is free – we inherit some of their oppression via social interaction and co-creation. Furthermore, the market requires the state for protection and security – there is a reason libertarians aren’t flocking to Somalia. Therefore, Hanzi concludes, liberals and libertarians need the state. And if they need the state, they will want Emancipation Politics to ensure the state doesn’t become oppressive, Democratization Politics to make sure such measures are voluntary, and Empirical Politics to ensure that freedom is being maximized. Anarcho-capitalism, Hanzi argues, would also benefit from the six forms of politics, because any security firm that adopts them would win in the open marketplace.
Even though I don’t buy into libertarianism anymore, I’m still familiar with their arguments. Hanzi is presenting an oversimplified version of it here. Getting rid of (or minimizing as much as possible) the state is the point for libertarians. To say that metamodernism can get libertarians “what they want” is missing the point of what they want: the elimination or minimization of monopolies on violence. Even if Hanzi’s six forms of politics could get libertarians the kinds of freedoms they want – minimal tax rates and government spending, sound fiscal policy, gun rights, an end to “victimless crimes” like drugs and prostitution, deregulation of the market, and so on – the fact that the state is still powerful without some kind of constitution to constrain it would be viewed as a constant threat. And that’s assuming that Hanzi’s forms of politics would actually achieve those freedoms important to libertarians, which is very unlikely. Furthermore, to get all those things but leave the state without strict constraints on power (or getting rid of it altogether) would be like saying that a person is against violence because it hurts the economy – that may be a (small) part of the calculus for why someone might want to reduce violence, but it’s not the main reason.
Ecologism: people will need Gemeinschaft Politics and Existential Politics in order to get over their own social and psychological issues in order to fully face the realities of climate change and ecological collapse. We need Politics of Theory for people to truly understand and integrate within themselves what is at stake with the environment (i.e., the reason that even people who accept the climate change science do little to modify their behavior is because they have too many other issues bogging them down). We also need Empirical Politics to know what is actually occurring and what the best methods are for addressing the issue. And Democratization Politics would give us a government nimble and capable enough of actually carrying out those solutions.
Conservatism: broadly defined, conservatism is the position that the world is too complex for flawed, finite humans to fully comprehend, and therefore utopian ideas are likely to lead to disaster. As such, the conservative is supposed to be sober, prudent, and have an understanding that traditions exist because they are things that have been proven to work in the real world – all that idealistic mumbo-jumbo will only work in a fantasy world. They therefore believe in personal responsibility and duty while eschewing ideology. Hanzi argues that Empirical Politics would be a helpful way for the conservative to root out the pie-in-the-sky dreams of radicals. Politics of Theory would give people an even closer relation to their roots and traditions. Gemeinschaft Politics would ease the sort of “clash of cultures” that conservatives are often concerned about. Existential Politics would be a way for religious conservatives to better connect with their religions. Emancipation Politics would protect their religious and traditional values.
Anarchism: Hanzi says that if the ultimate goal of anarchy (of the communist or syndicalist variety) is that absolute liberation of the individual from all power structures, then metamodernism will achieve that better than anarchism ever could, because it will help with the development of the free person – they will become free of things like sklavenmoral and shame.
These weren’t meant to show how metamodernism ought to be done, only that metamodernism would get those who subscribe to these ideologies what they want better than the above ideologies would.
I agree that the above ideologies are unlikely to achieve what their proponents think they will. Leftist Anarchism, as Hanzi says in the book, is so ruthlessly absurd that its naive adherents are bordering on contemptible (and cross that border when they turn to violence for their ludicrous cause). The socialist goal of equity (equality of outcome) is not even a laudable goal, and is certainly not achievable. Ecologism is going to be a non-starter until it’s too late (people often have to be personally affected before they’ll see something as a problem worth addressing). As for libertarianism, I have a whole post about that. Conservatism fancies itself the pragmatic and practical view of “the real world” but has little to say about the future except just trying to continue applying more of the same.
But, as I indicated with libertarianism above, metamodernism will likely only achieve some surface level of what the above ideologies desire, if anything at all. These new ministries will need to be staffed with all sorts of administrators, which means a lot more cooks in the kitchen, all of whom will have a vested interest in keeping their own sector of the bureaucracy funded (e.g., the Niskanen budget-maximizing model and use-it-or-lose-it incentives). This increase in staffing, as well as new programs, will greatly increase government outlays, which will have to be compensated for either by increased taxes, racking up more debt, or printing more money. Such things are anethema to libertarianism and anarchism, and is often not appreciated by conservatives (whether they are fiscal conservatives or simply see all these government programs as reducing personal responsibility and getting overly involved in people’s personal lives).
This vastly expanded government will no doubt also require more resources, which will add to the government’s carbon footprint. And, government is wasteful, so more resources will go towards less efficiency. Thus, the ecologism goals are unlikely to be realized by the metamodern approach.
When it comes to socialist notions of equity, unless we end up in a Harrison Bergeron style dystopia, equality of outcome just isn’t going to happen, no matter how hard we try to force it (and forcing it will certainly make things worse for everyone). This, in Weberian terms, is because the substantive rationality of the socialist goals is at odds with the formal rationality – the enormous and hierarchical bureaucratic state required to achieve “equity” will generate its own inequity. In the way that matter can never reach the speed of light since its mass will inflate to infinity, equity can never be reached because the size of the bureaucratic state would have to expand to infinity.
Chapter 20: Dangerous Dreams
Fundamentally, that’s the choice we are left with: either A) certain disintegration as rising complexity increases the multiplicity of processes and events to the point of complete deterioration (by means of climate change, ecological collapse, culture wars, haywire technologies, developmental imbalances, etc.) – or B) taking decisive steps to make a holistic move for deep reintegration, knowing full well that we risk awaking the specter of totalitarianism.
It’s a slack line to walk, admittedly, two gaping hells below us: fragmentation and decay on one side, totalitarian oppression on the other – both of truly unprecedented magnitudes. If we crash global civilization and its surrounding ecosystems, it will likely be a calamity greater than the black plague of the wars of Genghis Khan. And if global totalitarianism takes root in a time of unlimited surveillance, genetic manipulation, and advanced forms of brainwashing – the sheer terror of that oppression can and will be worse than nazism. In this chapter, I invite you to walk with me out on the wire.
I agree. But I also think that this tightrope will not support our weight. Humans will do what humans do: either let the world burn so as not to see their enemies win, or try to crush their enemies themselves through authoritarian means.
Hanzi then goes on to try pulling whatever redeeming qualities he can from communism, fascism, and New Age.
For communism, he says:
But some core aspects of communism were not in themselves false, only premature and out-of-context. There I am not saying that bad consequences should be excused on account of good intentions. I am saying that partial truths should not be discarded on account of guilt-by-association. [bold and italics in original]
The truths he is talking about are:
What, then, are the communist truths shared by political metamodernism? One such aspect is the uncompromising moral determination to change the nature of everyday life. ANother is that there is indeed something that comes after capitalist relations, and that one can align oneself with such an emergence because it rhymes with discernible stages of technological and societal development. A third aspect is that there should be a collectively intelligent form of governance based upon a more radical and deeper form of democracy than representative party politics. A fourth one is that there should be a world-centric party (or meta-party) that takes on a transnational and even transcendental role of transforming society from a global perspective, and that there should be some kind of vanguard who develops and spreads a shared theoretical and organizational basis for such work. And a fifth, and last one, is that such a process-oriented party should rely upon the dialectics inherent to society in order to guide its development and to gain power.
He assures us, however, that metamodernism is strictly non-violent. I would find it miraculous if a widespread, international contingent of morally-driven and politically-motivated people, upon running into the massive amounts of resistance they will face, will maintain their sunny disposition. That an overwhelming majority of them will stick to their Gandhi-like commitment to a non-violent, incrementalist strategy would be a sight to behold. We already know from the postmodern version of this sort of political movement that some subset of the vanguard will turn to violence. Not all of them are marching through the institutions intent on brainwashing and changing policy; some are antifa thugs who take to the streets.
For fascism, Hanzi says that metamodernism accepts the notion of heroism and the “great man” view that was popular in fascist thought. It accepts the Nietzschean Übermensch and will to power. But, he says, it does it in a pure and self-aware way:
Unapologetically in love with power – and uncompromisingly idealistic. Both and. Right there is an equilibrium from which we can build a very profound sense of interpersonal, or transpersonal, trust. And that’s the space from which metamodern politics can emerge – from the trust that you will use your power kindly and I will use mine kindly, for mutual benefit and mutual goals; in a network of shared will to transpersonal power.
And here is the really cool part. Listen now.
Once you admit you want shitloads of delicious power, that you crave pure co-creation, and you see and accept that same will in all other creatures – a profound sense of equality descends upon your soul; I guess you could say “equanimity” as we mentioned earlier.
At the heart of the will to power rests the most radical egalitarianism and universalism. This is what allows us, among other things, to study stages of adult development in truly non-judgemental, accepting and non-competitive manner. The competitive element of life becomes purified and falls in its proper place – eternally balanced by love and exchange, solidarity and trade; God doesn’t love one more than another. [bold and italics in original]
This, he says, is the rejection of sklavenmoral, the acceptance of everyone wanting to be the best version of themselves they can be.
Hanzi takes a quick “excursion” to talk about how the new fascists of today are no longer of the ultra-serious variety seen in Hitler and Mussolini. Now days, he says, the fascists are those who tell jokes (often in the form of dank memes) and those who laugh at them.
In the times to come, then, dictatorship and oppression, sadistic power and masochistic submission, will come disguised in the form of comedy and laughter.
Resistance and emancipation, kindness and freedom, will come from that which brings a tear to your eye – from a subtle sense of tragedy, expressed in different media, by poets of different shapes and sizes.
This is pretty standard fare for the seriousness now seen on the left. One is not supposed to laugh at anything or anyone that might be construed as offensive. But Hanzi also says that comedians and internet provocateurs often protest by saying that jokes are an exception to the norms of polite society. He invokes Carl Schmitt, the Nazi political theorist, who famously said that the sovereign is he who decides on the exception – in other words, those who get to say who is exempt from the rules and laws. Comedians, according to Hanzi, are doing just this when they respond to criticism with “it’s just a joke!” Hanzi also says that those who laugh at the jokes are essentially giving their consent, like the crowds who lined the streets as Hitler paraded through them.
I think there is something to this, in a way. The right does seem to have taken the persona of being mean-spirited in their comedy with jokes that “punch down” in an attempt to be edgelords. Yet this is in contrast to the left, whose comedy has turned into smug, self-righteous, clapter-inducing “jokes” at the expense of the “deplorables” who are defined as anyone to the right of Chairman Mao.
Hanzi then goes after New Age Spirituality as the third member of his axis of evil. An axis of evil that he is attempting to find the shiny little nuggets of redeemable wisdom hidden in the towering piles of slag and human corpses. He’s aware that New Age appears as somewhat of an odd-one-out in the tripartite axis of Fascism, Communism, and New Age, but he assures us:
Because of its developmental qualities, reaching higher and deeper than communism and fascism, New Age holds the potential for a more hellish, oppressive and suffocating totalitarianism than anything hitherto seen in communist and fascist societies. [bold and italics in original]
He says that no New Age society ever got as big as the fascist or communist ones, but points to Scientology as the most successful instance of New Age Spirituality (and possibly North Korea, where the leader is often given supernatural mythology and people are forced to have a religious-like belief in him). He also points to similarities between fascism and New Age beliefs, where there was a great deal of spiritualism inherent in Nazi ideology, as can be found in Martin Heidegger and Carl Jung. And it is similar to communism in being egalitarian and utopian.
New Age is worse than fascism or communism, he says, because of its metaphysical/religious element. It’s sort of the same arguments that people like Sam Harris make about Islam, that because they believe, for instance, that killing people in the name of Allah is good, and that doing terrible things (e.g., murdering homosexuals, oppressing women) that they believe to be sanctioned by the Almighty Himself, that this adds a new dimension of danger to the religion.
Hanzi makes the same argument about New Age, where they believe themselves to have special insight into, and sanction from, the cosmos itself to do what they will. Thus, being the enemy of such an ideology is a cosmic sin, rather than merely being a kulak or member of an untermensch race. Thus, a person who buys into such a belief system could be convinced to commit even greater atrocities – and possibly not out of mere duty, but out of fervent passion.
New Age is a “magical residual” (as discussed in the first book) that occurs when people have a developmental imbalance wherein States/Depth is much higher than MHC Stage and Symbol-Stage – people have a high spirituality but are stuck in low-complexity thinking. Yet this “transrational” point of view is what metamodernism can learn from New Age:
You cannot gaze into the abyss without being moved. You cannot taste the heavens without becoming, at least in some abstract sense, a believer. And that’s what political metamodernism shares with the New Age: an acceptance of the highest subjective states, their ultimate significance and transrational truth; that of universal love and acceptance, the dissolution of our separate identifications, and the non-attachment to ideas and beliefs.
But they aren’t exactly the same:
Unlike the New Ager, the metamodern mind is not a millenarian one; we don’t believe that a wave of light will “come soon” and “wash over” all of us make this will make people “wake up” and that we are the carriers of that evangel (or some circumspection of the latter). We just recognize that there is such a thing as spirituality, yes, and we allow for faint glimmers of it to hint us about a potential future that is both incomprehensively [sic] magnificent and terrifying beyond imagination.
They also share, he says, that they both think that an important part of changing society is by changing oneself. But, he says, metamodernism sees this as an endless process of discovery instead of taking a given path toward some ultimate end.
This chapter is attempting to do the same as the previous one, but with these more extreme ideologies. Hanzi wants to illustrate how metamodernism sits in the middle of all ideologies, thereby making it closer to any of them than they are to each other, with this including fascism, communism, and New Age. The reason to do this is to show adherents of these ideologies that they ought to abandon them and join the metamodern movement.
Even more than the previous chapter, I don’t see this as being too successful. Fascists and communists (and perhaps the New Age Spiritualists) are fanatics, who can’t change their mind and won’t change the subject. It’s probably also not a good recruiting strategy with the less-radical people to say that your project is more communist than communism and more fascist than fascism, which could easily be taken out of context.
Hanzi uses this epilogue to take stock of how metamodernism could go wrong. It could become insular, or cult-like, or totalitarian. He gives some ideas of how to avoid this:
- Stay focused on politics outside the group metamodernists, rather than getting bogged down with in-group politics
- Test and discover your own developmental stage and be honest about it so as to avoid everyone coming to believe they’re high stage and therefore smarter than everyone else
- Don’t try to use psychology to impugn the motives of other people
- Don’t try to guess other people’s developmental stages and don’t use a person’s developmental stage against them
- Don’t do purity testing (e.g., “what you just said isn’t metamodern!” or “your views don’t align with metamodernism enough!” or “that’s not what a true metamodernist would say!”)
- Don’t be vindictive; try to be forgiving
- Don’t associate with people who are dogmatic
- Keep in mind that metamodernism isn’t a quick revolution, but will require long, difficult work
- You are not promised or owed increased wellbeing and happiness from becoming part of the metamodern movement – do not do it just to make yourself “happy, highly functional and fulfilled.”
- Don’t let metamodernism become a “greedy institution” – one that obligates you to devote more and more of your life to it
This is all practical advice for just about any sort of club, organization, or movement. Yet, I think even though most people know this on some level, there are many who don’t heed these exhortations. It is practically inevitable that purity testing, internal politics, the establishment of orthodoxies and dogmas, and instances of the “greedy institution” will crop up. Trust me, as someone who used to be a libertarian, I know all too well that purity testing and orthodoxies/dogmas can become a big problem. This kind of behavior is easily observed among the Woke crowd as well.
Again, it seems to be human nature. Establishing an orthodoxy as heuristic, a way to simplify who is “one of us” and who isn’t. That means that testing a person’s commitment to the orthodoxy is a simple way of finding out if someone is “one of us” or not. I think this kind of behavior becomes even more pronounced when the group has a concept of itself as being both (1) uniquely right or correct in their beliefs and (2) victimized by the outsiders who are too stupid and/or evil to grasp the special insight of the group.
This is what happens in libertarian circles, where they act condescending to the “statist” outsiders for being too stupid to see things in the “right” way, yet the libertarians see themselves as constantly under attack by those same “morons” who just don’t get it and are therefore always taking away their freedoms. The Woke are much the same, where they shame and “cancel” the evil “fascist” and “white-supremicist” and “transphobic” (and whatever other Woke shibboleth you can think of) outsiders, but see themselves as the underdog fighting against the colossus of “systemic” bigotry, even though they’ve taken over practically every important institution in western civilization (the “systemic” call is coming from inside the house!). Christians have taken to the same sort of victimization narrative for themselves as well.
My point being, with the metamodernists coming to believe that they have special insight into Hanzi’s Holy Sexternity of forms of politics, and seeing themselves as under attack by all those low-stage simpletons who “just don’t get it”, it is writing the recipe for the advice of this Epilogue to go unheeded.
These two books, The Listening Society and Nordic Ideology, are more of a call-to-arms than they are political theorizing. There isn’t anything groundbreaking or new being put forward in the way Das Kapital or The Wealth of Nations, but only a synthesis of existing ideas (in psychology, sociology, postmodernism, critical theories, and political theory). It’s an interesting synthesis to be sure, and certainly one to be considered, debated, criticized, and perhaps modified.
Although I have many misgivings with this program, one thing that agree with Hanzi about is that the status quo, business-as-usual way of doing things is going to be woefully inadequate for the future to come. Technology in the fields of medicine, genetics, nanotechnology, big data, artificial intelligence, and automation are going to make our world appear very different than it is right now, and very soon. This, on top of climate change, ecological collapse, wealth inequality, globalization, and other such hyperobjects are coming to a head even as the developed world faces a crisis of mental health, alienation, and loneliness.
And so my final verdict on Hanzi’s project is that it is a noble effort to address these looming problems, and I may not agree with all of it, but with what is at stake we shouldn’t dismiss any honest attempt at a solution outright.