Malcolm Kyeyune* sees a Prerevolutionary 1789/1917 moment in the disorderly American retreat from Afghanistan.
Their spectacular failure on every conceivable level now brings us to the true heart of the matter. Western society today is openly ruled by a managerial class. Where kings once claimed a divine right to rule, and the bolsheviks of old claimed a right to rule as messiahs of a future kingdom on this earth (bearing a conspicuously strong resemblance to a very old tradition of messianic christianity with the serial numbers filed off, by the way) the technocrats of today base their claims to lordship not necessarily on the idea of the democratic will of the people, but on the historical inevitability of technocracy as such. Just as there once was a properly ”socialist” way to understand great literature, there is today a properly technical, scientific, or ”critical” (in the academic sense of the term) way of understanding war, nation building, cinema, primitive marriage rituals, or whatever else. Our managerial leaders deserve to rule us, because managerialism as a world ethos is the only means of effecting functional rule in the context of a modern, international, post-national, information driven, knowledge economy, rules-based… well, you probably already know all the familiar buzzwords beloved by this class of people. Kings ruled in the epoch of monarchies, because only kings could rule, or at least so they all claimed. Technocrats rule our post-Soviet era for very much the same reason; they are, according to the legitimating narrative of our age, the only ones that can rule. Much like you can’t put a monkey in charge of a battleship, you can’t possibly hope to rule a modern country without being part of the educated managerial class. And just like the kings of old, our technocrats at one point claimed (and even enjoyed) a form of quasi-magical power in the eyes of their peasantry; a view once commonly shared that they could use the very thing that made them rightful rulers – science, logic, rationality, data – to lay on hands, cure ills, and improve society.
Put plainly: managers, through the power of managerialism, were once believed to be able to mobilize science and reason and progress to accomplish what everyone else could not, and so only they could secure a just and functional society for their subjects, just as only the rightful kings of yore could count on Providence and God to do the same thing. At their core, both of these claims are truly metaphysical, because all claims to legitimate rulership are metaphysical. It is when that metaphysical power of persuasion is lost that kings or socialists become ”bourgeois”, in Schmitt’s terms. They have to desperately turn toward providing proof, because the genuine belief is gone. But once a spouse starts demanding that the other spouse constantly prove that he or she hasn’t been cheating, the marriage is already over, and the divorce is merely a matter of time, if you’ll pardon the metaphor.
I suspect we are currently witnessing the catastrophic end of this metaphysical power of legitimacy that has shielded the managerial ruling class for decades. Anyone even briefly familiar with the historical record knows just how much of a Pandora’s box such a loss of legitimacy represents. The signs have obviously been multiplying over many years, but it is only now that the picture is becoming clear to everyone. When Michael Gove said ”I think the people in this country have had enough of experts” in a debate about the merits of Brexit, he probably traced the contours of something much bigger than anyone really knew at the time. Back then, the acute phase of the delegitimization of the managerial class was only just beginning. Now, with Afghanistan, it is impossible to miss.
It is not just that the elite class is incompetent – even kings could be incompetent without undermining belief in monarchy as a system – it is that they are so grossly, spectacularly incompetent that they walk around among us as living rebuttals of meritocracy itself. It is that their application of managerial logic to whatever field they get their grubby mitts on – from homelessness in California to industrial policy to running a war – makes that thing ten times more expensive and a hundred times more dysfunctional. To make the situation worse, the current elites seem almost serene in their willful destruction of the very fields they rely on for legitimacy. When the ”experts” go out of their way to write public letters about how covid supposedly only infects people who hold demonstrations in support of ”structural white supremacy”, while saying that Black Lives Matter demonstrations pose no risk of spreading the virus further, this amounts to the farmer gleefully salting his own fields to make sure nothing can grow there in the future. How can anyone expect the putative peasants of our social order to ”trust the science”, when the elites themselves are going out of their way, against all reason and the tenets of basic self-preservation, to make such a belief completely impossible even for those who really, genuinely, still want to believe?
The managerial class increasingly appears as a sort of funhouse mirror inversion of the doomed russian nobility of the late tsarist era; they no longer know how to run a country and only seem to parasitize on the body politic while giving almost nothing of value in return. In tsarist Russia, the nobility proved increasingly incapable of winning Russia’s wars or running its ministries, making their legitimating narratives proclaiming them to possess some natural-born right and capacity for rulership increasingly impossible to believe in. In modern America, it is the meritocrats who now openly lack any merit or ability to rule, quickly undermining the ability of the average person to believe in the very foundational claims behind the managerial order. And by what right does the collective of non-divine kings rule? To borrow from Schmitt: by the same right as the collective of stupid and ignorant technocrats. In other words, by virtue of simply not having been replaced yet. Nothing more.
I find it very likely that most future historians will put the date of the real beginning of the collapse of the current political and geopolitical order right here, right now, at the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Just as with any other big historical process, however, many others will point out that the seeds of the collapse were sown much farther back, and that a case can be made for several other dates, or perhaps no specific date at all. This is how we modern people look at the fall of the french ancien regime, after all. Still, it is quite obvious that the epoch of the liberal technocrat is now over. The bell has well and truly tolled for mankind’s belief in their ability to do anything else than enrich themselves and ruin things for everyone else.
*I had not heard of him before. Malcolm Kyeyune is evidently a mixed race Afro-Swedish self-avowed Marxist, who nonetheless serves on the steering committee of the Swedish conservative think tank Oikos. He seems to be an interesting and very smart guy, and strikes me on first acquaintance as a decidedly superior version of the Slovenian Marxist contrarian and clown Slavoj Žižek.