Relational Materialsim and
Chapter Three -
This is the sixth and final part of Chapter Three.
The purpose of this part is to rectify and dispel what John Searle refers to as ‘the paradox of government.’ By doing this, I hope to shed further light on some of the topics we have been discussing in Chapter Three as well as setting up the beginning of Chapter Four.
Searle’s paradox, emerging during his discussion of the ontological status of our social reality, is stated as follows:
“(G)overnmental power is a system of status functions and thus rests on collective recognition or acceptance, but the collective recognition or acceptance, though typically not itself based on violence, can continue to function only if there is a permanent threat of violence in the form of the military and police.” (Searle, ‘Building the Social World, pp. 163).
The paradox is this: The legitimization of government authority explicitly depends on (rests on) the collective recognition of the state as the state by the citizens, but the recognition of its legitimate status is not enough to maintain the vitality of state power over time. To sustain itself, there needs to be a permanent and recognized perpetual threat of violent means for the state’s functional ends.
The paradox hinges on the necessity for non-violent collective recognition of state power and necessarily violent state power maintenance. Thus, the legitimacy of state power both rests and does not rest purely on collective recognition. Recognition is necessary but not sufficient, yet recognition needs to be both necessary and sufficient to legitimize the state.
Does a paradox exist within the basic frame of our social apparatus? And do the mechanisms of state authority necessarily require a continual threat of violence from the state towards its citizens to maintain their legitimacy? This is certainly a concern.
I will argue that there is no paradox, and the tools required to show the consistency between non-violent legitimization and necessarily violent maintenance of state powers are available within Searle’s work.
My argument will conclude with a question my conclusions might raise.
To defend my argument, I will need to answer two related questions “Why isn’t collective recognition of state legitimacy enough?” and “Why is the threat of violence necessary?” The answers to these questions begin with the nature of political power and its relation to the individuals who comprise that state.
Intentionality and the paradox of government
According to Searle, the specific form of power that governs our social and institutional reality is ‘deontic power’ and the general terminology of political power is deontological in nature: rights, duties, authorizations, permissions, and obligations.
Deontic power is, in general, concerned with reasons for acting, and has the important characteristic of enabling the agent of power to get people to do what she wants them to do without having to resort to actual force.
This leads us to two vital ideas: First, that deontic power (involving reasons or intentions, for acting) logically ties the concept of power with the concept of intentionality. Second, that social power is tied to the idea of getting people to do what you want them to do in non-violent ways.
Power, as we have discussed, is a capacity held by individuals and exists regardless of if it expressed or not, implying a conceptual separation between having a capacity and the exercise of that capacity. This idea is similar to my own separation of Power and power: the experiencing of being an actor in the world and the physical capacity and exercise of that status.
Social power, like all expressions of power, is intentional, that is, directed at, or about, objects and states of affairs in the world. In general, social power describes relations between people and/or institutions where the power holder, the agent of power, is described as holding certain specified powers over the subject of that power.
The core notion of sociopolitical power, in Searle’s frame, is formalized as:
“X has power over Y IFF X is able intentionally to get Y to behave in a certain way with respect to action A whether or not Y wants to behave that way.” (Searle, “Building the Social World”, pp. 148)
In actual physical conditions, the expression of agential power over a subject can take on several forms. Besides the brute fact of brute force, there are more politically motivated ways that the state may exercise its power over its citizens.
These forms of power do not require violence, but they do involve the intentional expression of deontic social powers.
One involves the agent of power getting the subject to actually want what the agent wants him to want, and the second involves the agent getting the subject to only perceive certain courses of action as open, and to thereby manipulate the subject’s subsequent actions.
One typical, relevant method of shaping the wants or perceived options of a subject is through laws, rules, and regulations, while another involves the power relationships involved in the every day reality of social life in the contemporary nation-state.
This second type of power is what Searle terms ‘Background power’.
The way out of the paradox
The Background is the breadth of our individual capacities, dispositions, beliefs, attitudes, desires, and so forth, and to an important degree these are shaped or influenced by our relation to the social system we inhabit.
Searle tells us they are often not codified in law, seldom made explicit, and are typically expressed through our everyday norms, habits, practices, and assumptions.
It is through the Background that individual intention is enabled and specific intentional states are formed. This is due to the collective recognition of an agent as herself, a social agent, while simultaneously acknowledging the connection to the multitude of similar social agents, the full idea of which is society itself.
Thus collective intentionality allows the expression of that intentionality to extend beyond the events at hand, collectively forming the intentionality of action in the state itself. This is due to the pan-temporal nature of groups, institutions, and bureaucratic systems of society that extend far prior to and beyond any single human lifespan.
This ongoing state intentionality is in large part directed back towards the citizens in the form of deontic powers and the institutions that structure the society and form the conditions under which the polis live their lives.
The power of the Background is found in its role as a ‘normalizing’ force, where social pressures act upon individuals to recognize and conform to the values and beliefs, the ‘norms’, of the society. When the Background is described in terms of its function as a power mechanism, Searle claims it is in the form of a Standing Directive.
Directives are a class of speech act described by Searle as attempting to get the world to ‘fit’ to words, or, in other words, they are attempts by the speaker to get the hearer to behave in a way consistent with the meaning of the speaker’s utterance.
Directives come in the form of ‘active or action verbs’ (commands, requests, permissions) and social power, claims Searle, is expressed through the performance of speech acts that have the illocutionary force of Directives.
Further, in the expression of Background power, with its ongoing and diffuse mechanisms of power in the form of social pressures and norms, those directives are seen as ‘standing’ or ongoing. Standing Directives require two things: standing power and standing intention.
Differently said, the norms of society do not ask one to conform at this one instant, but to conform. Not just now but always.
The Perpetual Recognition of the State
Defining characteristics of a political state are a control of territory and a monopoly of legitimate violence within that territory. It is this monopoly of legitimate violence that enables the state to fulfill its ‘ideal’ role of creating peaceful resolutions to social conflicts between its citizens.
To do this, it is imperative that the only legitimate outlet for violent behavior lies in the state’s hands, otherwise, revenge, violent retribution, and threats of harm would upset the state’s ability to peacefully administer its protection and legal remedies.
The state monopoly of legitimate violence is expressed most clearly in its two main mechanisms, the military that guards its borders, and its police that look over its civil population.
The monopoly of violence lets the state determine what is and what is not a legitimate use of violence, and to punish those who transgress its dictates. This promotes legal sanctions and standardized concepts of justice as the means to conflict resolution and de-legitimizes the threats of brute force or unequal revenge between citizens.
Collective recognition enables the creation of the nation-state, empowering its Directives and Declarations that form the structure of the state, but the continued threat of legitimate state violence is needed to insure the stability, safety, and reputational power of the nation.
This standing intention towards violence to uphold state ends is known, valued and assimilated by the populace into the Background, and the very intentionality that forms the state in the first instance feeds into the continued maintenance and vitality of the state over time.
Just as the force of Background power extends and makes more efficient the use of already existing state power, so to does this monopoly of violence extend and make more efficient the very deontic powers and the recognition of these powers into the collective recognition that forms the power initially.
Collective recognition between citizens and state implies conceptual and practical agency for both groups. Such 'Communal Agency' is not uncommon, as examples of it exist in the idea of a corporation or in normal legal proceedings (i.e Brown versus Board of Education or The Town of Skokie, Illinois versus the KKlK).
Standing power and standing intentionality form the core of the sociopolitical state qua 'state,' an acting collectivity with the status of an agent, physically acting towards certain ends in the material world. The continued existence of the state hinges on the standing directives it produces and the recognition of those limits as legitimate. This requires the perpetual threat of brute violence, the intentional form of power exercised at the base of the ontological structure of state.
This exercise of brute power, backed by and masked by argumental and deontic force, is the phenomenological existence of the state: the fundamental experience of it's embodied structure instantiated and acting in the world.
I do not mean to imply it experiences in a manner analogous to individual humans or other animals, but that the state qua state, the internalized mechanisms and the structural limits dispersed throughout specified borders and embodied by the living beings that embed its theory as fact, does 'experience:' the collective 'it' understands that it is part of, separate from, and may act in, the external material world.
This is a relationship of recognition, as recognition sways on the mutuality of known power and the separate yet shared status of the external world. The relationship that exists between the state and the citizens is a relationship between what may be thought of as 'systemic agents,' a formal term used to describe such collective entities.
A systemic agent is, simply, a system that acts in the world as an agent with standing intention and power extending beyond the scope of any individual life that embodies its experience. A corporation is an example. The Black Panthers are another. The Westboro Baptist Church, the FBI, the Harding High School football team, the Green Party, the Smith family, the city of Istanbul, and the United States are more.
For my purposes, I am concerned with the capitol-based liberal state, a systemic agent constructed of an ontological structure of standing power, a specified intentional epistemological stance towards the world, and the experience of acting in and towards the world. This sociopolitical agent is what I give the shorthand term, the State.
The State is in relation with the similar and active systemic agent of the citizens, standing in a recognized and embodied submission to the intentional exercise of power by the State. To speak of this collective agency, I will designate the term Citizen X. As this term is also legitimately used when discussing the individual human agent, the phenomenological experience of an individual in relation to the system it is a part of, we can see what the term truly intends.
Citizen X is, as described, the name given to the individual subject who has a phenomenological experience of the external sociopoliticized Lifeworld. To discuss the analytics of the relationship, the scale is always the same: it is all one to one and the conditions of experience. It is a matter of large letter 'Intention' at this scale, not intention. It is a discussion of the metaphysical conditions of the capacities to act as opposed to the conditions of the act itself: phenomenological Intentionality as opposed to phenomenological intentionality.
It must be my responsibility to denote clearly when Citizen X is being used to abstract from an individual agent or from a systemic agent, as the purpose of both is distinct and separate. I do not wish to commit the fallacy of equivocation. When I speak of Citizen X, the experience of any agent is the same: it is a structural description. However, the material realities of all physical agents are different and this is a fact that must always be remembered and addressed.
To return from this necessary digression:
Phenomenologically speaking, the experience of the individual agent in relation to the State he or she is part of, is the recognition of the State as legitimate authority, and this recognition not just depends upon, but is constructed of, the scope of the State's power over Citizen X and the power to set the limits in which Citizen X acts.
To act out its standing existence, the State exercises its power and Citizen X recognizes it as total, legitimate, and normal. Born into the world that exists, the Citizen knows nothing else.
Collective recognition, the recognition between Citizen X and the State, is a recognition of the State's dominant status. The experience of the Lifeworld in which this materially occurs is that the individual experiences the violence as the core of the relationship: the physical relationship is built from the structure of violence.
A threat of violence is not an addition to non-violent means, it is part of the same expression of individual agency. Brute power is a precursor to and an augmentation of argumentative and deontic power, and all three are merely aspects of Power and power. The recognition is not separate from its experience when considered materially, only when bracketed in phenomenological, philosophical, inquiry.
The actuality of experience is that collective recognition is both necessary and sufficient in itself. The perpetual threat of violence by the contemporary sociopolitical state is not an illogical stigma of political theory. It is a material aspect of the the politicized phenomenological experience and can only be discussed as a separate accident within the philosophical brackets of phenomenological study.
My conclusion, that there is no paradox between non-violent collective recognition of state power and necessarily violent state power maintenance is valid yet troubling. A question is raised by these implications and I would like to just briefly raise it here, as future research into this area is important and philosophically relevant.
Though I will defend the claim that, historically, this continual threat of violence has been necessary, I have to ask if it is, formally and ideally, necessary? Is violent maintenance of the state particular to the paradigm we have built for ourselves over time, or is it a general necessity of political power as a phenomenon?
Can we, in fact, create a social system that is able to do away with violent means to functional ends?
These are questions we are going to be exploring as this blog moves forward.