The Skeleton of Authority

The problem of Europe is the problem of authority. Sixty years ago with the rise of fascism across Europe the problem was the same. As authority became secular, devoid of the divinity that granted it an all encompassing right to govern, trouble brewed as the fragmentations of this authority was gathered and grasped by groups claiming to be the authoritative voice. Instead of authority being passed on by God’s will, it was the will of the motherland and of its people who were the representation of this motherland, the authoritative will of the motherland. One crisis of authority led to another and with the fall of Fascism, a new all encompassing technocratic authority has replaced God and the motherland as the fulcrum point of a directive will.

Rather than going into the history of technocratic authority (which has its roots in the Enlightenment and basically places an empirical based rationality as the ultimate mode of knowledge), I want to in this blog post to explore the crisis of technocracy as an authoritarian standpoint, the reference point that legitimises and guides all manners of decision making in the European Union and indeed beyond.

 Technocracy is the control of society or industry by technical experts. The Troika or the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF is the most visible and obvious example of technocratic authority in Europe. Their decisions, their will, their directives has and will continue to subsume any political will of national parliaments. As former Minister of Finance Michael Noonan said of the Troika,

“Most of the people who were involved in the background of the troika were very smart, very competent technocratic people but they weren’t very good at politics…And what I mean by politics is the ability to take a programme forward and keep the support of the people in doing it. And unless you have a troika programme [that] has a buy-in from the people, it just doesn’t work.”

Or to take an example from a government that actually challenged the domination of technocratic authority, one just need look at the humiliating defeat of Syriza in Greece who, with the democratic will of the people wishing to counter the debilitating effects of austerity on the country were unable to negotiate with the expertise of the Troika. What was exposed last summer for all to see was the glaring technocracy of EU authority that’s expertise is based solely on maintaining a single market and creating an environment in which the single currency can survive. That is the problem in which their expertise is trying to solve whatever about the social costs that come about while they are doing their sums.

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What is most fascinating (in the most perverse sense) however, is the crisis upon crisis that is being delivered unto the EU and its utter incapability of dealing with the crisis in any progressive way. And what is marked is even if the people through a democracy vote to deal with the problems in a progressive manner, the EU authorities undermine this in a moment. Where does that leave authority especially now that Europe is not just primarily dealing with an economic problem but a human one?

To leave this question aside for a moment, its interesting to look at the economic question in Ireland, a question largely ignored and the fact that authority, or the will the creates a supposed objective knowledge beyond subjective dissonances, is and has been a largely economic authority. Failing to shake off the shackles of Empire, something James Connolly pointed out before being shot dead by the Brits on a stretcher stating, “If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.”

As has become obvious, Ireland failed to remove the shackles of Empire post independence. Even a hundred years ago which we now celebrate as the birthdate of our national sovereignty, it was a battle that was so obviously lost as the victory was permitted only under the guise of national sovereignty Ireland was permitted to wear by Imperialism. Without any type of economic sovereignty, Ireland relied on opening up its economy to outside influences in order to survive. As Conor McCabe argues in ‘Sins of Our Father’ (the nearest thing we have to a radical economic history of Ireland post Independence),

“The popular narrative of the Irish economy in the twentieth century has the State as inward-looking and protectionist until the arrival of Whitaker and Lemass to positions of leadership in the late 1950s, which propelled the country into the modern era. The details and complexity of the story may vary from teller to teller, but essentially that’s the tale… But Ireland was always part of the modern era. Its role was to provide agricultural produce for the industrial centres of Britain, and this was done mainly in the form of live cattle exports. The domestic economic power blocs which developed on the back of that export trade resisted almost all attempts at either reform of that trade, or the development of other forms of trade which might jeopardise their income.The lack of a sufficiently strong industrial base to combat the self-interests of the ranchers and cattle exporters had a profound effect on the development of Ireland in the twentieth century.”

He continued, “Instead of creating export-led industries which would have lessened the State’s reliance on Britain and countered the economic power of the live cattle exporters, Whitaker/ Lemass decided on the importation of fully developed, and foreign-owned, companies which would give Ireland an industrial presence without any of the pain of self-development. However, the main boost to the Irish economy was not so much the new factories, but the construction of these new factories – the majority of which, especially the pharmaceuticals, did not source their raw materials from Ireland. Furthermore, the development of secondary industries surrounding the transplanted factories was neglected to almost a criminal degree. Builders and contractors, land speculators, banks and financial institutions, import and export service providers – these were the main beneficiaries of the Whitaker/ Lemass revolution.”

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McCabe’s book is brilliant as it looks at the failure of Ireland’s republic, of the myth of nationalist self determination and how it was always destined to fail as economic sovereignty was non existent. What is common to both post bailout Greece and Ireland (and implicitly before) is that, as the narrative goes, both nations lack the EXPERTISE to manage an economy and thus it needs the expertise of the technocrats to guide it in its management. But the reality is, in Ireland’s case, its economy has never been domestically managed or if it has to a shade of a degree. With Ireland’s resources continually plundered, Ireland never had an opportunity to develop its own economic base on its own terms. It’s economy was always what it was worth for others. This has yet to change and perhaps it never will but without the development of a native economic base, the idea of national sovereignty is futile. The problem with nationalism is that the myths of the motherland often hide the foreign sources of its flag bearers paypackets.  

Authority thus at the contemporary moment rests not with the people, not with a God but with institutional knowledge. An institutional knowledge that has its foundations in a primary economic realm. A dangerous resting place. Why so? As the objectivity of knowledge is just a random point on the spectrum of relativity where it is a point taken that has little regard to another spot on the plane. In other words, why the authority of technical knowledge over the authority of the motherland. Although both were, like the church’s authority, held up by institutions, the fact that there is no longer any consistency in authority points to the crisis of authority itself as there is no longer one stable authority that dictates with a certainty that draws us all under its allure. 

In Arendt’s essay, What is Authority?, she speaks of authority being derived from a certain point in the past that dictates how we live in the present in order to compose out future. In it she refers to God as a political device, as an authoritarian device that ensures a political mandate and will. 

This new theological God is neither a living god nor the god of the philosophers nor a pagan divinity; he is a political device, the measurement of measurements,” that is, the standard according to which cities may be founded and rules of behaviour laid down for the multitude.”

She goes on, “Whatever other historical influences may have been at work to elaborate the doctrine of hell, it continued, during antiquity, to be used for political purposes in the interest of the few to retain a moral and political control over the multitude. The point at stake was always the same: truth by its very nature is self-evident and therefore cannot be satisfactorily argued out and demonstrated. Hence, belief is necessary for those who lack the eyes for what is at the same time self-evident, invisible, and beyond argument. Platonically speaking, the few cannot persuade the multitude of truth because truth cannot be the object of persuasion, and persuasion is the only way to deal with the multitude.”

For Hannah Arendt, authority has vanished from the modern world and she struggles to conceive of it returning. Arendt locates authority as being in crisis as for Arendt, authority rests on the past “as its unshaken cornerstone” that gave mortal men a world of permanence and durability they needed precisely because they are mortals. As the modern world has undermined authority in all its various visages, with science banishing the notion of god, history undermining itself through the onslaught of ideologies, no one authoritarian point remains fixed. Authority, which fundamentally had the monopoly on truth no longer has this at its disposal. And with this, no longer do mortal men remain dazzled by the permanence of an authoritarian figure that outlives us all and outlives us all into the future. Authority has no longer this permanence that grants it longevity, it may find various temporary resting places such as in various institutions, various national myths that evoke motherlands, etc. but none of these can long survive the crisis of faith in the modern world where an onslaught of varying subjectivities ensure that someone someplace or other is undermining authority at some point along its spectrum.

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As can be seen with the various challenges to the authority to the expertise of the technocratic institutions of the EU, their knowledge is no longer accepted as the absolute knowledge in the same way that the church’s was for so long. Knowledge has become pluralised. There is no longer any one absolute truth. But for the authority that rests in the institutions of Europe that can only deal in absolutes, there can only be one absolute knowledge, one absolute truth, as the spectrum of subjectivities escape them. And this is the fundamental problem dealing with the EU at the moment. The crisis of authority, the technocratic expertise it uses to govern which they believe grants them a monopoly on knowledge but as is been shown in ballot box after ballot box, is not the case. 

The power of finance to self justify itself by the absolute of one knowledge, of enforcing and benefitting from the enforcement of one ideological truth to the point that they become invested with being the authority of such, due to their expertise in manipulating and forming and contributing to this truth in the first place. What is becoming manifest now in the EU, is that even in the nation states that so often accepted the expertise of authority verbatim is now being challenged. Whether that be by Syriza, the Tory’s with their Brexit referendum or by the Balkan countries challenging the Schengen agreement through closing their borders. What is being highlighted now is that the previous authorities cannot outlive contemporary challenges, that the authority no longer has the mandate to outlive life, i.e. to control people’s afterlives as well as mortal life. Thus the present is open to change and the European Union is dazzled by the appropriate means to deal with its current crisis as its current crisis are in existence due to its authoritarian standpoint. 

To quote Yeats as so many have done and so many will do, “the centre cannot hold”. The central authority of the EU, the expertise it hands out through financial institutions to ensure that its idealism reigns is no longer secure. It is in complete crisis. And that crisis will mean that Europe in general is completely ill equipped to deal with the economic crisis that is currently hitting it and the refugee crisis that day by day is getting worse and worse. In ‘The Second Coming’, Yeats is dealing with the breakdown of traditional authority, the fact that we are going into a realm of anarchy, of a new birth in human consciousness where man’s afterlife is now free from Satan’s pitchfork and thus his actions in this life have the autonomy that they were once before denied. The break from the ancien regime which afforded some type of stability has still not been rectified and the authority of the revolutionary moment has still not been allowed due to the fixity of institutions ensures that Europe is again hearing but not listening to the knelling of the bell.

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