A lengthy comment on the last post, left by Ed Berger, that I cannot bear to leave languishing out of sight below the line, as usual:
Another great post, Matt, and another in the long tradition of spurring an overly-long reply on my part that is probably better suited for a blog post…
There’s probably many places to begin, but maybe with a small digression. Ganz, as you point out, describes a process of transition on the part of the “American right”—one from a ‘Gramscian moment’ to a ‘Sorelian moment’. This is a movement from a politics of hegemony to a politics of myth and violence, which can be decomposed further into the passage from a ‘rational’ (though misguided) politics of strategy to an ‘irrational’ politics of abandon, even an anti-politics. Setting aside the question of the rational and irrational, there’s a kind of irony here embedded within the intellectual history binding Sorel and Gramsci that begins to problematize certain aspects of what is being formulated here. Simply put: Gramsci’s notion of hegemony is intimately bound to his concept of the ‘historical bloc’, which—as far as I can tell lol—is the matrix of historically-bound social, cultural, economic, and psychological conditions through which hegemonic politics are instantiated.
Fascinatingly, when Gramsci first began writing of the historical bloc, he attributed it to Sorel. This is despite the fact that the term “historical bloc” does not appear in Sorel! This interjection of Sorel occurs in the context of a discussion of Marx’s base and superstructure and the way that their relationship is productive of historical reality, which has led some intellectual historians to read the “historical bloc” as Gramsci taking up the Sorelian myth in the context of this older Marxian schema. Here, the motivating myth has a historical existence and a historical ground, overriding conditions that act as the soil bed from which these swirling, phantasmic images sprout. Since the myth is motivational, generative of social forces that push back against the great weight of the conditions that produce them, it can thus be read as the first inklings of particular modes of consciousness—and by extension, the first scaffolding towards hegemony. The Ganz scenario runs backwards: we begin in the world of myth, and climb towards hegemony…
This sort of brings us to my main point, which is that the fate suffered by Sorel and the fate being suffered by Accelerationism—the transformation into a discursive scapegoat, the sign under which all things wrong can be stacked—are the same and have operated by a similar logic. Just as there are self-proclaimed Accelerationists who carry out extreme and horrifying acts of violence, there were self-appointed Sorelians of the right who re-worked the myth into a national image through which violence and consolidation of class hierarchies could be justified (few have taken the time to consider that Sorel’s proletarian politics draws the sharpest of lines between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and scorns the class collaboration of parliamentary reformers—how can this be a proto-fascist politics of class consolidation?). In both cases, the analysis of fundamental principles is collapsed into the more specific political imperatives. In the case of Sorel, there is his assessment that political movements contained a myth(opoetic) dimension or substrate, and his alignment with the proletarian myth of the general strike. For the self-declared Sorelians and their critics, that proletarian evaporates and we’re left with the floating myth. Likewise, in the case of Accelerationism, one can make an Accelerationist analysis without being an ‘Accelerationist’ in politics, or one can be an Accelerationist in the sense of seeking particular intensifications. But these nuances, for the self-declared Accelerationists and their critics, all falls away.
There might even be parallels between the ‘critics’. Vince G. has talked before about how the narrative of Sorel as irrationalist and enthusiast for redemptive violence comes from what he has called the “Cold War liberal reading”. This reading was advanced by a Cold War intelligentsia that tended to be center-left, though militantly anti-communist, cosmopolitan, culturally sophisticated and inclined towards what we could call (with allusions to Daniel Bell) the “end of ideology thesis”. Simply put, with the end of the Second World War, with the defeat of fascism, and the rise of market democracies anchored by global trade abroad and social safety nets at home, the rational organization of society had been discovered. Ideology was rendered obsolete, and communism in the east appeared merely as a retrograde phenomena that needed to be overcome.
The Cold War liberal intelligentsia incubated within academia and within networks of interlacing think-tanks received funding from well-oiled capitalist philanthropies with curious alignments to Western security services, and hung about in international conferences free-thinking, spontaneous culture against the rigidities of life and art in the socialist world. These are the direct forerunners of today’s odd webs of think-tanks and NGOs, a subsector of which is this strange cottage industry of cultural analysts and ‘radicalization trackers’ that have, among other things, have spread the vulgar accelerationism memeplex far and wide.
Like you point out, “The usual problem with these sorts of think tanks is that their generalizations often betray a liberalist moral crusade”. I would suggest their moral outlook is analogous to their Cold War predecessors, resulting from their shared class position.
There are, of course, limits to these comparisons. The world of today certainly is not the world of the postwar era. The historical bloc has shifted its gears. But despite this, what’s interesting to me is the relationship between the intellectual critical-critics and their opposition. The people who promoted the end of ideology were themselves ideologues, partisans in the simmering conflict between the capitalist West and communist East. Just as America and Western Europe’s nuclear armaments established an apocalyptic firewall between the two zones and things like the Marshall Plan carried out an economic partioning of the world, the intellectuals sought to engender an ideological barrier. The end of ideology, in other words, presupposed the existence of multiple, alternative historical-ideological formations locked in dire competition with one another.
But today it’s different, isn’t it? Political and ideological differentiation has despatialized underneath a regime of economic homogenization, and the stakes are no longer locked in the realm of “great politics”. They are diffused into everyday life with a new kind of immediacy.
One of the things that has interested me a great deal since the start of the pandemic is paranoia, and I ended up writing a couple of posts on the topic on the blog (this was the first of them.). Without digressing too much, it seems to me that paranoia is a natural response to the present society, and is not something that we should necessarily disregard outright (this isn’t to say that paranoia is a ‘good’, it’s something more generalized…). But the spread of paranoia is one of the great bugaboos of this NGO cottage industry, perceiving (in some cases accurately) the internal linkage between paranoia and violent extremism. It’s clear why: when articulated, paranoia becomes a suspicion of dominant social narratives and codes. It is the shoring up of these very narratives and codes that is the imperative of these new anti-radicalization NGOs.
So by stripping beyond the particulars (the now-free float of Sorel, Accelerationism, post-left, new right, radical ecologies, so on and so forth), it seems to me that we reach a particularly virulent image of the current historical moment: the heady, chaotic and confused disintegration of the socius, giving rise to both incredible lines of flight and the most nihilistic of reactions, and the new class of experts, managers, social scientists and intellectuals to diagnose and cure society’s ills.
As a caveat, I do want to add that a few members and affiliates of the Accelerationist Research Consortium have reached out to myself and others in recent days (as well as a few people affiliated with other groups who research extremism in our current landscape). They are very aware of the differences between a “vulgar accelerationism” and the accelerationism of the 2000s blogosphere, and seem to have as disparaging a view of Beauchamp’s original Vox article from 2019 as many of us do.
There are still a few things to clear up, probably. I did see one comment, shared by someone apparently affiliated with the ARC, that suggested the entanglement is just a matter of circumstance; it is out of anyone’s control that a bunch of white supremacists have seized Benjamin Noys’ term for Nick Land’s philosophy. The point is rather that Noys didn’t use it for that — at least not exclusively and not at first. In his first book, The Persistence of the Negative — which is much better than the one for Zer0 Books, Malign Velocities, that everyone always gravitates towards — he discusses accelerationism with regards to Derrida, Deleuze, Latour, Negri and Badiou — in that order! — along with a few mentions of other familiar faces, like Baudrillard.
It’s still a vulgar conception of “the negative” in philosophy, I think, which interprets their thought as being underlined by “an exotic variant of la politique du pire“, arguing that “if capitalist generates its own forces of dissolution then the necessity is to radicalise capitalism itself: the worse the better.” But it is important to note that Noys identifies this as a tendency within contemporary Continental philosophy in general. (One that he still disagrees with, of course.)
I’d also like to add that Brian Hughes, the co-author of the Lawfare article referred to in my post, reached out on Twiiter:
By way of clarifying my position, I should say we don’t consider every tendency we discussed to be accelerationist. By the same token, I kind of think we’re ALL accelerationists these days, whether we like it or not. (And that take is just too esoteric for a Lawfare article).
I want to avoid the “vulgar accelerationism” mistake, if that shoe indeed does fit. It’s a critique I take seriously. Fwiw I think philosophical accelerationists are, in general, diagnostically correct, but prescriptively mistaken.
For a more nuanced example of my views on these issues, my piece on Pine Tree Twitter gets a bit more into my argument for a political-economy understanding of acceleration and its various -isms.
Originally tweeted by Brian Hughes (@MrBrianHughes) on December 24, 2021.
So I’m hoping more of a dialogue will open up here, with regards to the influence (or lack thereof) of one on the other — and, indeed, that a more critical approach to “extremism studies” itself is emerging, that is more aware of the history Ed provides above. But as much as I clearly share Ed’s suspicions regarding the context and background of this sort of think-tank, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that many people seem to have heard our protests and want to do things differently.
But I think it is worth noting that the point of our various protests — or at least mine — has never been to throw repetitive knee-jerk dismissals at any link between “our” accelerationism and the one that has blackened our door in recent years. If there are questions to answer, I know I’m not shy about addressing them in good faith and as accurately as possible. But to do that, we nonetheless require a proper history of this term’s emergence. Ed has done a lot of work on this himself, tracing these currents through the 20th century, and I’ve spent a long time excavating the development of accelerationism from this side of the 21st century, reconstructing the debate as it occurred in the blogosphere in the late 2000s and navigating all of the broken links and dead ends that have made such a history so obscure for so long. (Some of that material might come out somewhere in the New Year — we’ll see).
If we can bring together the research that many have been doing into these violent groups and the research many of us have been doing, I think we’ll be able to provide a much clearer picture of things, as Ed suggests. Maybe 2022 is the year that finally happens.