«…in the midst of this picture so vast, so new and so confusing, I discover some main features that stand out, and I am going to indicate them. «
Democracy in America/ Alexis de Tocqueville
I The Cards and the Condition of Equality and Life
The Cards in the Mirror, a study of myths and realities in contemporary American political culture (Neo Club Editions, 2016), also does not try to inhibit us but to stimulate us to rethink inequality in the realm of political nature. In these essays the sequence of historical facts is not imposed by trivial causality, even if the author would like to brandish them, but in the rigor of the exposition according to the empirical referent in the framework of the outcome of logical and rational explanations.
A keen observer and scholar of American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, used the same procedure of historiography when undertaking perhaps the most ambitious and exhaustive governmental examination of the political culture of America in the first half of the 19th century. In The Democracy of America as in The Cards in the Mirror the historical facts themselves contribute to give an account, without the need for a theoretical and conceptual apparatus to be attached behind it, of how the theorem of the myth of equal status and its deception produced it. Tocqueville had appreciated with insightful wisdom in an earlier study, The Ancien Régime and the Revolution, what were the motivations that determined the overlooking, among thinkers and statesmen of his time, of the realization of subjecting the French Revolution’s sense of equality to scrutiny.
In deciphering the myth of the equality condition, customary and aspiring to immortal secularity -by which American democracy has been manipulated ever since-, Tocqueville made it clear a posteriori how the actions of the Democratic party were to be condemned to pass for republican and those of the Republican party for democrat. It would never be negligible to observe, peering into the intricacies of the social fabric, from the game of cards, the way in which the mentality and the spirit of the generations were molded under the dictates of equality of conditions. This alone would constitute a separate topic.
I would not be wrong to adduce an exemplary testimony: one of the staunch critics of American political culture, the French sociologist and neo-Marxist, Jean Baudrillard, uses the argument of equality of condition as a conceptual referent to expose in the essay America the thesis that in the United States prevailed decades before the politics of simulacra, illusion and hyperreality. Since equality of condition was equality in everything and for everything, mainly in politics, Americans should increasingly ensure the imperious need for the construction of otherness based on their own illusory images. I do not know to what extent the illusionist optics of the ‘equality of condition’ contributed and propitiated the cards in politics to be upset with that hyperreality, as Armando de Armas demonstrates in his essay. The truth is that there has been an illusionist tendency to hide the true roles of American politics. If the Republicans enacted the major civil rights laws and the Democrats symbolically claimed them for themselves for use in the rhetoric of political discourse, it goes some way to justifying how and why the Democrats played with the optics of equal status.
The high-flown slogans of Democratic party rhetoric since 1860 stem from the principle of divisible equality. It was not for nothing that Tocqueville pointed out, in order to avoid in the future a breakdown of democracy in America, to implement measures that would prevent democracy from falling into the conformist tendency it had achieved up to that time. He suggested an upward process of democracy in America. Emerson himself, stimulated by Tocqueville’s great study, wrote what are known as the Essays, a declaration of literary independence. Naturally, as far as I can see, the analysis provided by Armando de Armas, from the facts he adduces, proves conclusively that the Gordian knot of the cards in the mirror was a reflection of the desacralization of the spirit of equality of condition. From this sacralization of the spirit of equality, certain ideologies emerged and perpetuated themselves during the development of the 20th century with the unexpected purpose of striking at the founding ideal of the American Constitution.
Democracy in America would then be invaded by the use of the concept of the condition of life. The condition of equality and the condition of life became the debate and essential points of democracy before the war. Hence, the pauperism of the condition of life constituted the central theme in the analysis of political economy. Until 1860, before the Civil War and the founding of the Democratic Party, the crucial point in the thinking of democracy in America was the exegesis of the elimination of poverty. Conservatism refused to accept that the ethics of the good should be linked to the idea of the synergy of progress: to assume the best in the future. The idea of futurity, which would agree in the improvement of human life, created the ideo-political conditions for the founding of the Democratic party.
By then, the republican-democratic party, which already retrospectively looked back on the life of the first irretrievable constitutional times, saw the cards on the table in the political game. The plaintive tone of the supporters of the condition of equality by means of a conservatism in retreat, in the days close to the war, was almost proportional to the ethics of the irreparable. For the future democrats a political science had arisen in their favor. The science that reigns to this day: the political economy of the impoverished masses. In 1850 Thomas Carlyle baptized it with the pout of dismal science, apparently the science of the attributions of the imponderable improvement.
Seen thus the framework of the proto-scene of things, I must recognize from now on that the description revealed by Armando de Armas is crucial and determining. In much of the existence of the discourse of the rhetoric of political philosophy, the buenísimo is insurmountable and also conceals the logic of the ostrich. It hides, of course, by mythologizing itself. In fact, by default, it has no other possibility than to resist having to accept and look into the background of bio-political problems, by propagating the plausibility of the danger to humanity. Danger that does not lie, of course, in strictly political facts, but also in transcendental, legislative, severe to the very roots of the existence of the condition of equality and life.
Armando de Armas’ book now has an expanded and revised edition. The cards in the mirror whose subtitle reads: a study on the myths induced in the American political imaginary, in the face of the 2016 presidential elections are reissued at a time of political complexity in the cultural life of the United States. I will list the main facts and contributions of the text. The themes (they constitute an enviable theoretical framework) to examine would be:
The renaissance, the spirit of the age.
Personal and governmental kleptocracy
Demagogy and populism
Seen as a whole, empirically and descriptively, the topics mentioned above are nothing more than the author’s capacity of theoretical representation when practicing an exercise of methodical abstraction. Without any warning in the text, without having to mention a single word, the author has carried out, from the choice of the themes, a phenomenological reduction of the facts and descriptions. He has elaborated, without mentioning it, a theory to account for the phenomenon of political imposture. The five thematic points mentioned above reduce facts to concrete images, forming a model and a way of thinking. So let’s talk like adults!
While the Democratic party elaborated its political and ideological constructions on the basis of demagogy, the Republican party hid behind that line of progress in the constant unstoppable idea of poverty and the hope of maintaining enlightenment. The condition of equality, added to that of life, would configure a somber specter over the political and cognitive culture of American destiny concealing a mass of complementary data evocative of the need for a political renaissance, in a sort of metaphorical and conceptual claim of the spirit of the age. Only if the facts concealed in their conservative litany tend by themselves to be represented on the surface of the damned, the knowledge is enriched. In this way, thanks to Armando de Armas’ empirical research, the epistemic wealth of American political culture is increased. We already know why many things in the political scene are not always real as they are presented.
Carl Schmitt in The Concept of the Political would have shed light on the political mystification of the Democratic Party and the splitting of the functions of the State with respect to the people in a sophisticated demagogic war, exposing it as liberalism in a certain moment in which it denies democracy. In plural terms, Schmitt’s assertion helps, paradoxically, to understand the deviations in the political landscape of American democracy.
III The spirit of the times
What does Armando de Armas have in mind when he speaks of renaissance and the new spirit of the age? We are at the core of the book. It is difficult for contemporary democratic thought to understand this idea. The observation that «Politics in the West could have reached a disjunctive point in which it either returns, spiritually speaking, from the present Postmodernity to the Renaissance or it would cease to be Politics; and, consequently, the West would cease to be the West; at least the West as we have known it for the last two millennia» is as problematic as it is suggestive. With this problematization of the return or return to an ancient epoch we enter into consideration of a level of abstraction of thinking that dispatches any ordinary journalism and opens the space for acute thinkers. The word rebirth indicates this.
Why would it be life and death to return to an ancient epoch; what has happened to the West that politics has brought about a change of spirit? The fact is that contemporary democracy has failed. The political concept of res publica (citizenship), the Roman civil society of democracy, has devolved. It is necessary to go back. De Armas is clear. I quote in extenso:
«As the Renaissance meant, as far as possible, a return from the Middle Ages, understood as the last great epoch of humanity, to Classical Antiquity, understood as the first great epoch of humanity, we could now also be heading towards a hinge space-time in which, as far as possible, we would return to the Renaissance, no longer from a great epoch but from the flattest, to say the least, of all the epochs endured by mankind, which would give a sense of urgency to this return: we return or we disappear, not as men, but as Western man; that whose first motto would be freedom, the becoming of the individual. «
Although I do not agree with the idea of rebirth in the political sense of the return (things are there hidden, functioning in an esoteric, invisible dynamic), the thesis De Armas is plausible and commands as empire. For politics, reality seems to have no other formula than to rethink the return. The punctual observations, made in the very epicenter of the place where the ancient events took place, to quote two contemporary Renaissance writers, seem unobjectionable, suggestive and contain the best endowments of current political thought. Julius Evola (a hidden Nietzschean) foresees the political decadence of the West in two luxurious essays Rebellion against the Modern World (1934) and Men among the Ruins (1953) and a recent reference, the spirit of the Second Renaissance in the voice of Armando Verdiglione. In a plea of just a few months published, L’operazione guru, the author of the cifrematica exposes in great detail the reasons for the danger of the current domination based on cultural homogeneity (or condition of equality).
In truth, Armas’ essay provokes an existential distinction, a way of life analogous to the condition of equality. It is not the renaissance described in art history, but the renaissance in its concept of allokrony: classical antiquity requires no reproduction represented by the action of later epochs, since it perennially returns by its own will and instinct. Even as he points out the problem of the present age, De Armas considers himself a renaissance man insofar as he lives within an age that he knows is not his age. The renaissance is not a flight backwards, but, as Evola evokes it in a personal book, Riding the Tiger, a way of life that, within a homogeneous cultural model, whose ideological precept affects everyone, exposing them to the fragility of existing, must necessarily be circumvented. Renaissance politics does not imitate ancient models, classical forms of empires and monarchies, but recovers ancient forms of life where the culture of individuals and democracies were stimulated by the asceticism of art and fitness.
De Armas’ criticism of modernity today, when he states that «the Spirit of the Age is, as those who have suffered or opposed it know, socialist and paternal, sentimental and mechanistic, inductive and imposing, seductive and implacable, solidary and suicidal, it rejects chance and opts for planning; he prefers the distribution of wealth to its creation, to speak of human rights to speak of the rights of the individual, submission to war, moderation to freedom, lazy men and strong women», he values with urgency the arrest of the cultural epoch of the condition of equality, no matter if it is personified as frightening promptness or as a resigned journey through a happy world, or from the point of view of the politics of totalitarianism, as a judicious association of those worlds.
When de Armas takes a leap backwards and evokes the Protestant Reformation, he does not take it in a humanistic sense as it was represented in the progressive programs of enlightened philosophers and pedagogues, but as a mode of rebirth, of self-care against the cultural dogmatics of Christianity. As I see it, what De Armas is concerned with in this essay is directly related to the proposal to provoke an essential cleavage against the system of half-measures. The expression spirit of the epoch would mean nothing other than a closed and hermetic code that points to a certain metaphysical mold delimited in a ciphermatic term. In one of his most famous narrative works, Knights in Time, he unburdens himself against all the outburst of an author who tries to dismantle the biased columns of a tradition of the spirit of equality from his experiences.
IV The rest to be added
Beginning with the last theme, freedom, the unfolding of the facts are considered subjective. In this sense, political philosophy seeks at all costs to establish the kind of truth, as that definition which reestablishes the function of time as constancy, but ignores the fundamental danger: that man destroys, or endangers, his own natural political existence, manifest in the lack of a sense of what freedom consists of. Political philosophy thinks in terms of shores, on the assumption that the concept of the individual is not profaned and contaminated – pure ethics or English-style puritanism – in the pathos of freedom.
Strictly speaking, political philosophy speaks of individual freedom, but as philosophy in the end, abstracting itself from the intellectual part, it does not consider it as political ontology. Perhaps this mismatch of the philosophical experience between the individual and the collective, between the positive and the ontological, may explain what we are dealing with at this moment, as assessed in Armando de Armas’ essay on American politics based on the metaphor of The Cards in the Mirror. It happens that it is difficult to establish real unity between the word freedom and the existential meaning conferred by political ontology, whose arbitrariness is, paradoxically, happening today in democratic countries such as the United States. To speak about freedom, individualism, with respect to constitutionalism at the moment of the current American political republicanism, offers the opportunity to situate the fall, the cracking of the constitutional values of independence in a place apart, more and more affected and intertwined.
When Rudolf Steiner was called upon to organize the archival papers of Friedrich Nietzsche, already a great occultist and anthroposophist, he was engaged in speculating on the concept of freedom. He had written a book, The Philosophy of Freedom, which, even if it delved into this expression, remained a treatise on philosophy and ethics. The curious thing about The Philosophy of Freedom was that it died of fright when Steiner appeared before Nietzsche’s archives. A «stationery» translated into an expression of will, not only with the desire to gain access to the intellectual concept, but also to an existential experiment. Hence, politics begins to move towards equality of condition as a mythical, rhetorical and programmatic medium.
Political philosophy has to be political -ethics- insofar as it is opposed to the historicist sense -common reason- of humanity. But even so, this philosophy does not contain a coherent and transparent substrate on the meaning of individual liberation, but a conceptual representation by means of political forces in action. Political philosophy is concerned, of course, with the search, the analysis, the testing of analogy and comparison about freedom, but not with liberation itself. Even when it speaks of the rights of the individual and not of human rights, it is making the comparison and noting the error, because ultimately, as Leo Strauss points out, both challenges are potentially manipulated in favor of tyrannies and totalitarian regimes. That is why political philosophy prefers an ethic, a representation, not political suicide. The democrats are very familiar with this pamphleteering strategy.
The cards in the mirror establish from the beginning an ethical judgment, of representational value, based on the two political forces that historically struggle in the foundation and evolution of the American nation. Under an empirical verification, from his own political postulates and resorting to a comparison of principles, Armando de Armas reveals on which side is the error: the Democratic Party. It is not a deliberate impugnation in comparison of one party to the other -in this case to the Democrat Party and its current administration-; under any particular or personal concept, but on the concrete verification of the political tendencies that prove how the danger of hiding the republican essentiality of the United States is being run.
Armando de Armas’ essay manages a simple writing, I would say almost didactic, but with the usual constituent attitude to judge and avoid the political danger that is run. He manages to camouflage -one can read between the lines perhaps- the foundation of the philosophical postulate, very much in tune -although not identical with the political philosophy described above, with which he once tried to prevent, through an esoteric writing, the disproportionate and overwhelming advance of «good neighbor» policies, always allied in appearances to the attempt to «satisfy» collective needs and hopes. Armando de Armas’ essay runs parallel to that politics that said goodbye to logical historicism, to the enchantment of utopias, and that directed its execution in function of an ethics within the constitutional power of the State and civil institutions against the configuration of tyrannies, tyrannical narrative, with which postmodernity has been forced to coexist since its very birth.
The Cards in the Mirror glimpses the tyrannical danger that threatens the United States within the formal axes of republican constitutionalism. It is not a question, as the author rightly points out, of blaming the political parties, but rather of evaluating and elevating the majesty with which a certain dominant «zeitgeist» is being built, in the form of a socialized collective mentality. I confess that I am not entirely convinced that the «zeitgeist,» whose tyranny and totalitarianism survive without major obstacles in other parts of the world, can be verified through a study of historical sociology. From this point of view and starting point, the reflections of Straussian political philosophy exhaust in themselves all possibilities for directing another plausible course which, more than a verification of palpable and demonstrable facts, delves into the very subjectivity of the observer and analyst, inserted in the «spirit of the epoch». That is, to verify whether the tyranny manifested as a spirit has been investigated under the philosophical assumptions of politics. It remains to demonstrate and verify whether the dichotomy is true.
Logically, George Santayana, in Reason in Common Sense, recommends that for a period also of tyrannical uncertainty -such as the Victorian era-, the function of philosophy and essayistic cannot be subtracted from the mere fact of establishing poetic hypotheses or through the construction of professorial and academician philosophy. Santayana admitted, as adopted in The Cards in the Mirror, to empower action in the present to find the ethics appropriate to political engagement, a question that served to rationalize every spirit and every force of the age. To sustain a critical essay writing that devalued the spirit of the era of permanent collectivism.
What is also important about Armando’s essay is the aspiration to establish a theoretical, political eugenics-type demand, as Leo Strauss saw it when he suggested that «never look in the mirror». Straight to the facts, the policy reflects the spirit of the age. St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reveals in more than one sense that reality is presented to us through the mediation of a shadowy concept (the mirror); then, the concept unveiled, freedom is. Whenever such a revelation happens, the mirror reflects the concept we handle beforehand. Thus was born the concept Republic in Aristotle; a notion that dilutes the individual essence conforming thinking beings separated from the experiences that it reflects. That through American constitutionalism, an essayistic literature was highlighted, in a pragmatic and programmatic way, to bear witness to the danger, is also echoed in The Cards in the Mirror.
The imprint of essayistic literature and the art of writing the Constitution established the beginning of American political literature. In a way, by questioning it, the political philosophy of ostrich logic passes by. Authors like de Armas did not deal with the issue but named it. Los naipes… decontextualizes that authoritarian and populist (abstract) philosophy. «Politics to prevail – the author points out -, as in the Renaissance, would have to bet more on the strength of the individual and less on the strength of the tribe».
Ángel Velázquez Callejas