Leviathan Rots | Vincent Garton

Vincent Garton PhD studies history and political theory at Cambridge, and advocates what he and some of the fun people on the internets are calling “Unconditional Accelerationism“.
In a recent essay with Urbanomic Garton calls for an “unconditional retheorisation that moves beyond both the restoration of the state and its neocameralist multiplication.”
Below are excerpts from that essay.

‘Leviathan Rots’  (Excerpts)

by Vincent Garton

On Catastrophe:

“The term ‘catastrophe’ in the general sense in which we use it today originates in the prophetic upheaval of the Hobbesian era, the English Civil War. Perhaps the earliest surviving usage is to be found in a short Fifth-Monarchist pamphlet of 1654 entitled, appropriately, The Grand Catastrophe: here, the ‘grand catastrophe’ is identified with God’s ‘resolve […] to change the forme of Government from what it was now […] unto what it was better’. The historical significance of this obscure text far exceeds the content of its arguments. It stands, chronologically, at the head of an entire ‘catastrophic’ literature of the later seventeenth century that purported to divine the significance of the ongoing motions of politics according to the movements of the heavens. In the 1680s we find the Catastrophe Mundi, or, Europe’s many mutations of the mathematician and astrologer John Holwell beside the similarly titled Catastrophe Mundi, or Merlin Reviv’d of the magician, associate of John Dee, and former Civil War propagandist William Lilly, each offering its occult prognoses of the impending arrival of a new order of the European states.”
“If the occult stands at the historical root of the concept of catastrophe, however, there is also something peculiarly catastrophic about the occult. The term disaster, after all, is equally astrological: dis-aster, the falling constellation—‘the stars down to earth’. The association between turmoil in heaven and earth is in itself hardly specific to the Western occult tradition, of course: this is the heart of astrology as such, reaching back to the ancient magi of Babylon, repeated equally on the other side of the world in the Chinese notion of the ‘mandate of heaven’ or ‘heaven’s command’, tianming, 天命, which locates the underlying order of the labyrinth of the political in the will of heaven made manifest as fate. But where tianming posits a transcendent order, it is ostensibly in the modern West—beginning in the Hobbesian moment and extended in the relentless naturalisation of ‘catastrophe’ in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, firstly after the great Lisbon earthquake, and then in the geological theory of catastrophism—that the occult reality of ‘catastrophe’ assumes the aspect of something truly monstrous, a figure of absolute exteriority, of heterotopic nightmare.”

Garton gives away his organizing eidos here:

“The character of the state—not just in the architecture of Hobbes’s theory, but as such—is precisely that of a demonic machine.”

Here is meat of it for me:

Ripping up Leviathan is harder than it seems. Perhaps we will be better served by another vehicle that Land has mobilised to restrain the power of Leviathan—at least on the level of its extensive territoriality. This is the neo-Westphalian theory of the patchwork. Derived from the neoreactionary thinker Curtis Yarvin [aka. Mencius Moldbug], the patchwork presents an image of endless fission, ‘a global spiderweb of tens, even hundreds, of thousands of sovereign and independent mini-countries’, each with its own internal, ‘neocameralist’ sovereign.25 This image should not be dismissed as ‘fascist’. It reprises a tradition of Western political thought that reaches back across the doctrine of cuius regio to the very origins of nationalism in the medieval French reaction against the universalist pretences of the Emperor; in its substance, it is clearly antagonistic to the universality of the fascist state with its insatiable thirst for conquest and death. Yet patchwork remains, despite itself, peculiarly ambivalent.
It is obsessed with the state: creating new states, cutting up states, states on top of states… To truly move beyond Leviathan in all its universalising terror requires not the multiplication of Leviathans, at which point we are already within the Hobbesian trap, encouraging the monster in its sectarianism, provoking the pathologies that have led to imperium. It requires a radical ambivalence to the state as such—an uncompromising identification with those processes today of mass production and mass flows of politics that overwhelm and obsolesce the state itself. States, of course, decay. It is something altogether more radical to posit that the state form itself will decay. We must turn from a patchwork of states to the infectious patchwork within the state, a recursive dissolution that leaves not a network of states, but an endless flux in which the state itself disintegrates into the very war that sustains it. For this conception, we must turn to Nietzsche…….


3 responses to “Leviathan Rots | Vincent Garton

  1. I want to say how much I love the fact that someone is doing work on catastrophe itself as a concept. This is catastrophe in the political register. Couple this to other works, like Morton on the catastrophe in the ecological register, RS Bakker on catastrophe in the scientific register, and we start getting somewhere. If I were an academic I would be following that kind of program. Alas I’m not and thank fuck I’m not.

    In Garton’s article we get something like what Felix complained about regarding Nick Land’s lack of engagement with the state. After all, “the state is nothing so important: it is itself an insurrectionary feature of war, disposable and contingent.” I think we can suggest this is where Agamben struck on something all those years ago. I forget where now- if someone could tell me where I’d be grateful- Agamben posited that the anarchist and the fascist are reversible insofar as each makes a fetish of the state. It is the event horizon of their theorising and their culture. This extends to your Leninists and left-accelerationists too, insofar as it has, in Nick Land’s terms, reterritorialised into 20th century socialism. Contrary to all this, the state is just not that important. It is no accident that Garton has identified the antipolitical movement out of states with one of my old friends, Max Stirner.

    It was Stirner who (theoretically) most despised and ignored the state. For Stirner was the one who made the distinction between the revolutionary and the insurrectionist. The revolutionary was the one who tried to seize the state. The revolutionary was the revolution-ary, trapped inside the eternal return of power. The insurrectionist was the one who rose up once he realised that the power of the state, of Leviathan, lies in our submissiveness. In Frederico Campagna’s language power is nothing but ‘crystallised obedience.’ For Stirner the state is little else than our repeated capitulation, to our enmeshment into Leviathan as part of Leviathan. The Demonic machine of the state is built of our own bodies. The insurrectionist could be seen in the post-left anarchist way as being all riot and armed struggle. Alternatively, insurrection could be seen as the invisible practice of withdrawal and non-participation. The ideal could be nothing less than to betray whatever resembles the state. In this respect I will not be the first to suggest that Stirner is the original thinker of molecular revolution.

    What happens to Leviathan when you walk outside it? When you take back the body that is your own? Stirner’s subsumption into the anarchist tradition has been too fast. The ill fit that he has there is testament to the fact that his political thought entertains something else. It presages the thinking of exit from Leviathan.

    There are all kinds of problems with Stirner’s thought as a whole. That isn’t what is at stake. Without wishing to sound evasive, I will probably disagree with myself over this comment shortly. But I will come back into agreement with it. Stirner remains a kind of touchstone. It may be a function of biography, an exposure at a given time. Even again it strikes me that there is nothing to apologise for even in this kind of oscillating. Stirner: “because I was a fool yesterday I must remain such.” The movement of individuals away from state relations or relating-as-state is the engine of the entropic dissolution of the state form.

    The same connection is made in How Not To Be Governed where exodus is thought in terms of secession (multiplication of states), emigration or displacement (economic/metropolitan nomadism), defection (civil disobedience) and ‘lethal’ exodus (weaponised suicide). There are quieter forms of exodus. There are the simple acts of non-participation. There are modes of molecular withdrawal. There are strategies of hyperconformity and hypersimulation. There is the possibility of taking the materialities of stimulation in hand. There are secret societies, cults, monasteries.

    None of these will deliver what the revolutionary wants to see. They are not capable of it and they do not have any faith in the promises made about the future, utopian or dystopic. Worst of all, rejecting projects of hegemony, they don’t seek to win any converts either.

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