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On Legitimacy and Decisionism - Discussion with Imperium Press
This was simply an informal discussion, although I think it is worth sharing because of the importance of legality and legitimacy today. With the breakdown of law and order as well as the return of idealist questions in philosophy it is likely we will see more debates on this topic.
Imperium Press: Decisionism, far from making liberalism unopposable, this is the only conceivable opposition to it that doesn't simply recreate it immediately under "based" garb.
It doesn't matter how long ago the usurpation was justified by "natural law", "Mandate of Heaven" or whatever. The usurper's successors never become legitimate.
Without formal, legal sanction legitimacy is impossible and law can simply be created out of nothing.
Actaeon: Legitimacy is opposed to legality because of the right to resistance, man must struggle and be open to the violence which stands behind law. Scale and sword.
A legitimacy bound to legality loses all meaning and today legality is an automatic, mechanical legitimacy.
Strangely, the decisionists introduced this problem, the liberals only extended it. The conflict in absolutism is decision against legitimacy, the decision is in terms of a will to power, not dominion, the strengthening of order. The absolutist is an anarchist against anarchy.
Legality is a legitimacy crisis.
To compare this to antiquity we can look to the Tyche, the fortune of a city, or its patron god. Here legitimacy stands apart from legality, what are the laws of Athena? This can only be answered negatively, in how they return us to legitimacy
Here too Romulus and Remus. Romulus is legitimacy, the boundary. The pomerium is less distinct but of a higher form than walls. A great city will risk violence inside and outside its walls.
Socrates and Euthyphro as another question, what is pious or what is loved by a god?
The distinction of man and slave is essential in the dialogue, it ensures that legality cannot even be a question, as it would be between citizens. it has to be left behind if one is to understand legitimate conflicts of law and nomos. Legitimacy is boundless, beyond law.
Euthyphro's father does not break a law, he intervenes in the course of justice. This is where legitimacy, a blood plague, or an exception is threatened. Where the gods appear one can be sure that law is left behind, legitimacy comes like war – absolute destruction or rebirth.
Where the blood plague threatens, it is unlikely that a blood price will be enough.
For the ancients, murder was not necessarily a state concern, the strength of the nomos allowed the citizens to make most legal decisions. Generally speaking, law was decided by the blood price.
But where disputes could not be resolved privately they could be brought before the state. This is state or public decision when private legitimacy comes into conflict.
It is essential that there be private and public legitimacy, a people reduced to duty and mechanism is no longer in the realm of law. It is criminal, nonhuman, and the only response is extension of this criminality or it becoming one with the state.
This is the legitimacy of the illegitimate, an indecisiveness or simply an inability to see the blood plague, the poisoning of the soil. We are permanently on the verge of a civil war, a state of nature, in the opposite sense that Hobbes feared.
Imperium: Quis interpritabitur? The only alternative to... actually following the law, is every man his own king. This is what you're offering.
Actaeon: This would be ideal would it not? A thousand kings can go to war without worry of who succeeds them.
Imperium: Depends, do you like the present situation? This is the result of what you're saying.
Actaeon: Not at all, as I made clear your position is much closer to liberal weakness, and was in fact the cause. This is not only a matter of Schmitt and the reactionaries, but an incapacity of the Right to acknowledge its defeat, and to truly break from conservatism.
I have offered a great deal, which you have not responded to with any real effort, so I will repeat what is a good question: What is the law of Zeus, Ares, or Athena? It cannot be unchangeable, without absolute struggle life would be rigid, mechanical - as miserable as Calvinism.
Imperium: It's not closer though, because the essential feature of liberalism—auto-nomos—is enshrined by your rejection of all law. As for the law of Zeus, the imperatives in Homer need to be interpreted. How? For you, sola scriptura. For me, by authority, which by contrast remains intact.
Actaeon: It's not a rejection of law, but a recognition of fate, the exception, and struggle. For example, how can a law account for a crisis or civil war? How does it deal with opposition to the law? It simply cannot, the attempt to counter all possible exceptions creates a behemoth.
Imperium: Given the latent sola scriptura in your objection to law, the suggestion that I am closer to Calvinism is hilarious.
Actaeon: If I recognise the sovereign decision for extra-legal measures, the ability to stand apart as tyrant or demi-god, it is the opposite of sola scriptura.
I think you have confused 'super-sovereignty' with the nomos basileus, the first form of justice as counsel, divine exception.
I think you have to clarify what you mean by interpreting Zeus. Does an authority interpret a sign of Zeus literally, follow it positively, dutifully? Is Zeus more than a sign? Or can we question him, take into account war conditions, the possibility that Zeus is testing us?
Imperium: By interpreting Homer I mean reconstruction—the imperatives are latent in the text. Sometimes they're more obvious as in ritual, sometimes inferred, working backward from the duty.
Anyway, if authority is held subject to every man's conscience, how can we have anything like law?
Actaeon: No, in a political order dedicated to Zeus. How is the law interpreted in accordance with Zeus? For example, the appearance of an eagle can be taken as a sign, does one interpret this positively, as duty? Or as judgement, in which something may remain hidden in the sign?
That the sovereign and nation can depart from the law does not mean that authority is subject to conscience. It recognises man's struggle, fate. The nomos is where legitimacy informs legality, it is often more intuitive.
Did Achilles act legally or legitimately?
Imperium: On what basis do we depart from law if not conscience? Is every man thus sovereign? And how do we even decide these questions if not by some super-sovereignty? Who decides which one? Who interprets it? Once you depart one iota from law, law is impossible. The ancients knew this.
Actaeon: Authority is not subject to every man's conscience, and in divine law not subject to conscience at all. Ideally a nation has a 'will to sovereignty' and a great man gives dominion to sovereign struggle.
For Hobbes the sovereign is an artificial soul, for Rousseau the head.
In Hobbes the body politic has magistrates and officers as the joints, equity and laws its reason and will. For Rousseau, laws and customs are the brain.
Here we see that the physicalist conception is closer to the liberal state, bringing the laws forward, raising them up.
For the Greeks there is the nomos, and the basileus stands apart from what we know as divine right or super-sovereignty. The laws can be undestood as nomoi, the ordering and distribution that serves the nomos.
Here we cannot only consider place, but also movement.
Great laws, in terms of the nomos, are like a dancer or a warrior - where they move effortlessly, with beauty or strength we know they serve the nomos and fate of the people. Good authority serves this, and a king or tyrant is the highest authority, heroic or even divine.
But he cannot be the only authority, nor the last. Where the fate of a nation is upheld by one man is where we see tragedy enter, and this is primarily our relation to the Greeks, we think one man, or all, can stand against divine exception with law as the weapon.
It is this great movement and subtle distinction in ordering the body politic that constitutes legitimacy.
Looking at our current situation, there is nothing that law can do, nothing less than a total reordering of the nomos and understanding our fate will work.
We have total lawlessness, legitimacy and divinity are the true questions.
In a strong state there are strong laws, but they are still secondary to the nomos. A strong sense of divinity even increases this, and the nomos must be defended as if in danger of war with a god.
Or to use a common example, what if wealth begins to threaten the nomos? Whether a rich man undermines customs, or men turn to decadence. No laws restrict this behaviour and so cannot be acted on, it becomes a question of legitimacy and the perception and strength of the ruler.
You should now answer my questions. What does it mean for a king to follow the law of Zeus if there is no question of legitimacy? Does he interpret signs of Zeus always positively, as a duty?
Imperium: I get your point. You're missing mine. There's a tension between decision/judgement and law—anciently it was solved by either a) ruler speaking as emissary/voice of the god, or b) ruler literally being a god (or god to be). Only the second is a real solution—the solution of cult.
You said every man a king was fine. That's what this means: the sovereign binds the subject so long as the subject's conscience is satisfied. Hence the rise of consensual governance, liberalism, etc. You can use all the Greek you want—you've backed yourself into a corner.
Actaeon: I don't mean it so literally. Ideally there would be a king who could perfectly interpret the law, legitimacy, and the changing course of events. A great number of men able to back him up would mean the monarchy could only fall to gods.
The sovereign weighs subject and object.
This is basically what I am saying, the nomos and the exception of objective events, the law and the decision subjective (to simplify terms). At times an exception, divine violence, will impose itself on a nation, so it may have to abandon its subjective conscience for a time.
Which is why a king may retreat for a time before a decision. He has to see the whole image, like all the positions and possible moves on a chessboard. He abandons his subjective power for a moment so that he and the nation can be judged, and then he decides for the nation.
He reconstitutes the power of the nation. Legitimacy is what stands between the subjective and objective positions.
This is essentially the danger Schmitt sees in the absolutists, they want permanent, absolutely objective decision. The paradox is this becomes entirely subjective.
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