Centrism and the Business Ontology of Patchwork

Whilst I was writing yesterday’s quick post on the demise of the nation state, as envisaged by The Guardian, the major story of the day hit which was that £50mil has apparently been funnelled into the creation of a new centrist party in the UK

The suggestion was largely ridiculed along the same lines it usually is. It’s a suggestion that has come up very frequently over the last few years, particularly since Jeremy Corbyn took over the Labour leadership.

With a political landscape defined by polarisation, a cavern has opened up before us where a party of true centrists can sweep into power and save us from ourselves.

Tony Blair said it first, I think, longing for a return to the heyday of New Labour and later the Liberal Democrats believed that their time had finally come (again — and this time they wouldn’t fuck it up, they promise!)

Both failed to recognise that they were largely to blame for centrism’s disrepute, alongside the general principles in the first place being incredibly dumb. Centrism now seems to be synonymous with the denial of just about every political development of the last five years. But maybe not all of them…

This morning, I came across a brilliant satirical post by Richard Seymour that offers us a horrifying vision of what might happen if these centrist and fragmentational tendencies continue to proliferate despite each other.

For a fractal centre! For the diversity of the shopping centre! Let a thousand nearly identical flowers bloom! One, two, three, many new centrist parties!

This is a dystopian sci-fi novel I would read and this is part of the reason why any recognition of our present moment demands far more political imagination than is currently being offered to us by establishment politics, economics and the media.

Ed’s latest post, “(Anti)Markets“, expands on this brilliantly, describing the internal engine of a paradox like Seymour’s.

Perhaps the best way to look at the global system that is now in crisis is by returning to Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of shifting modes of social organization around the mechanisms of warding off the forces that would undo them. […] The capitalist state finds itself in a paradoxical situation: it is founded atop capital’s flows, but it still must ward off their ultimate – and inevitable – trajectory, that is, the acceleration into absolute deterritorialization.

Seymour’s horrifically banal vision is a wonderful case in point. Patchwork is no less at risk of capture than any other idea, product, people, etc.

To continue to tease and break apart my promised “Patchwork 101” post, this is a large part of my problem with Moldbug’s insistence on framing patchwork in terms of corporate business models. Sovcorps are an interesting idea and worthy of consideration if only because they’re frighteningly easy to imagine but we do not have to remain wedded to this business analogy forever — even Moldbug himself adapts it to fit his own preferences, referring to it as “a modified version of monarchy.”

A royal family is to an ordinary family business as a Patchwork realm is to an ordinary, non sovereign, public corporation. Joint-stock realms thus solve the primary historical problem of monarchical government: the vagaries of the biological process.

But if this business model is so adaptable to Moldbug’s preferences, why speak in terms of business at all? Moldbug makes clear that there has been no precedent for anything quite like a sovereign joint-stock company in world history. His various analogies all seem like near-fits.

It is only in this way, in terms of aiding our imaginations, that the business analogy is helpful. It allows us to describe processes of state dissolution in ways that are both familiar and entirely other to the current status quo. I have said previously that I believe patchwork to be an “eerie politic” in this way, invoking Fisher’s “eerie”, but in Moldbug’s specific imagining it is also perhaps like another concept of Mark’s taken to an extreme.

Mark says that “Business Ontology” is

the idea that everything is folded inside a business reality system, that the only goals and purposes which count are those that are translatable into business terms.  The problem is that Business Ontology has no place for anything like ‘the public’. It’s time to reinvent the concept of the public and also for workers in public services to start to drive out business interests and business methods. Up until the credit crisis, we bought the idea that business people somehow have a better handle on reality than the rest of us can muster.  But, after the credit crisis, that’s no longer tenable. And as I say in [Capitalist Realism], if businesses can’t be run as businesses, why should public services?

In a twisted sort of way, these are the potentials that are already inherent to Moldbug’s theory itself. Patchwork in this way completely transforms our conception of “the public” — albeit negatively by most leftist standards but it nevertheless provides an exit / egress from that which is.

However, we should note that the business model framework is similarly useful only because businesses are constantly changing entities. We live in an era where our industries — particularly our cultural industries — are in a constant state of flux. Even our relationships to businesses through labour are said to be on the cusp of potentially radical change.

I would hope that a “post-work” society, for instance, is not just the homogenisation of politics, finance and labour into a seamless whole, in which labour becomes indistinguishable from being. (Tolerable Funeral‘s inaugural post speaks to this, I think.)

Business competition, like political progressivism, also follows a tendency towards homogenisation — of buying out both failing and succeeding businesses in order to expand. Patchwork, at least how I see it, should reject this also.

The diversity of the shopping centre is a potential outcome and also perhaps the worst one imaginable.


  1. the central point of framing a patch like a business is competition: locating the patch inside a multipolar selective system. it doesn’t make any necessary reference to what businesses (especially large businesses) look like today, if only because the regime diversity is lacking – and that’s essential for business diversity.

    1. Yeah, I see this now. Although it is a difficulty of explaining patchwork and having it denounced as “too corporate”. There is a tension in even speaking about competition and all that initially comes to people’s minds. There’s a lot to untangle from it for the sake of clarity but that’s a bigger problem than patchwork’s.

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