Chapter 1 – The Archaic State & The Priestly State

priestly

The Archaic State of Conquest
They were on the run. As they made their hurried escape through the fields, neither of them wanted to look back. Everyone traded tales about life in the mountains but they were the ones daring enough to seek it out. On more than one occasion during their getaway, fatigue threatened to consume them. And even though they were cloaked in the dark cover of night, they thought for sure that they would be seen. But dread provided more than enough fuel for their flight. Both of them had heard frightening stories about the catchers – cruel, bloodthirsty men said to taunt and toy with runaways just for fun. And so they amputated the burn in their legs and the ache in their bellies with the searing horrors of being caught.

Then, right as they caught of a glimpse of a campfire in the hills, their exodus came to an abrupt halt. The frightening figure of their captor stood out against the pale, moonlit clearing. The opaline glow of his toothy grin alone made them freeze, stupefied. But right above his devilish smirk were his sickening eyes, or really, where they should been – for the one that was still there smoldered like fire while the other was simply a dark crater pouring out venom. This was no usual catcher but an emissary from the sovereign himself, for his clothing was too ostentatious and his weaponry too ornate, which made his presence that much more awesome. As the terror took hold, they dropped to their knees. Whether it was thoughtful or just reflex, they timidly demonstrated subservience in a bid for mercy…

And then he awoke. (Where was the other?) Alone and feverish, he heard the slow advance of an overseer. Knowing that it meant he would soon be set to work in the throbbing heat, no matter his delirious state, he lay there for just a moment longer, contemplating his misery.

At their most peaceful, all States dreams of capture. Yet one State-form is nothing but unbridled conquest: the Archaic State. In a recent work, The Art of Not Being Governed, anarchist academic James C Scott describes the advent of such a State. Setting the scene, Scott details the alluvial plains of Southeast Asia where he says that the simplest states formed in fertile valleys. The key to Scott’s account is his political economy of their emergence, which emphasizes the mass cultivation of rice. Further dramatizing the centrality of rice for these states, Scott calls them ‘padi states.’ Among the many aspects of the padi state particular to Southeast Asia, there are two more general characteristics of padi states that are crystallized in the Archaic State: first, a heavy reliance on slave labor, which is secured through raiding and trading to produce the rice; and second, an inability to span elevation, which results in State power leaving a non-contiguous footprint. Abstracting these characteristics from what is historically specific to padi states in Southeast Asia, it becomes clear that the basic process of the Archaic State is not cultivation but conquest.

Raiding and Trading
A Burmese proverb, “Yes, a soil, but no people. A soil without people is but a wilderness,” exemplifies the first relevant characteristic of the padi state (Scott, Art of Not Being Governed, 70). Dispelling a common misunderstanding, this adage clarifies that manpower is the basic element of padi state political order, and not arable land. Of course land must be conquered and controlled, but labor-power is the source of power for two essential functions for the padi state: wealth, as the fruit of laborer’s work is taken as tribute, and security, as the workers are made to defend the resource intensive infrastructure needed for rice cultivation. And for this reason, the foremost indicator of a padi state’s power is its ability to capture and maintain slaves, which eventually leads to slave majorities or super-majorities in many padi states, as well as to slavery being such a common commodity that it serves as the medium of exchange. Yet this labor-power does not come voluntarily from workers hired or invited but is bled from slaves captured through war or trading and therefore requires a constant application of force, else the source of its power disappears back into the hills. State conquest thus avoids salt-the-earth wars of annihilation because humans are the State’s most precious resource and their lives should be preserved not wasted. But while labor-power fuels padi states, its power grows and recedes with the forces of capture and escape and not innovations in production. Because the padi state’s hunger for slaves is never satisfied, wars are not rare bloody events locked away deep in the annals of the State but myriad moments in a never-ending campaign compelled by the endless need for new labor.

The second relevant characteristic of the padi state is how it projects power, which can be illustrated by way of a light bulb[1] (Scott, Art of Not Being Governed, 59). Consider two attributes of its glow: first, how light dims and fuzzes as it travels farther from its source; and second, that there is no clear edge to the light, but rather a continuous gradient that fades to black. The State space of the padi state, which Scott describes in terms of friction, has a similar shape and decay because it thrives in mild, unbroken terrain and suffers at the hands of more severe conditions (43-50). Usually arising in valleys, padi states only control land that is easily traversed, either by oxcart or fast waterways, where the ‘light’ of influence can spread without interruption. Physical obstacles, such as sharp changes in elevation or the difficult terrain of swamps and thick vegetation, slow down or even obstruct sovereign influence and thus act as a fetter to its political control. This is why the State-space of padi states is often described by how quickly distance is spanned, ‘three rice-cookings’ or ‘two cigarette-smokings,’ rather than by its geometric measurement, ten feet or ten miles (48). Yet distance not only impedes the flow of goods but also drives an alternating cycle of military occupation and retreat, such as the seasonal friction that comes with monsoon season or the permanent friction of mountains that harbor escaped slaves. In Burma, for instance, military campaigns have been fought from November to February only for the kingdom to shrink to a quarter or an eighth of its size as roads became impassable in May through October (61). Trying to work against this alternating cycle, colonial states often fight protracted wars with distance-demolishing technologies but usually see their gains washed away during the wet season nonetheless (62). So when padi states are locked in battle against the earth, its enemies develop strategies that take advantage of frictions that keep them at a distance from State rule.

In summary, Scott’s political economy of the padi state suggests that the Archaic State exists through herculean might: either the Archaic State keeps humanity in chains in a feat of strength or they break free. But even in this battle of forces, there are many who escape: there are people who establish rhythms that work against the routine ebb and flow of State governance while others adopt elusive ways of life that make them too costly for the State to pursue. Yet the permanence of their escape is established less by evasion than by distance, as the light bulb analogy demonstrates, which uses spatial separation from the Archaic State to guarantee victory over its source of power.

The Cruelties of Anti-Production
Even when acknowledging that resistance to the Archaic State utilizes the force of the outside, a theory of escape already challenges the orthodox Marxist theory of the State. As that Marxism proposes, societies are the result of the type of production undertaken in a given society, and political economy is the only proper method for determining how those societies emerge and transform. Scott’s work typifies this Marxism – though his anarchism is an attempt to explicitly depart from Marxism – because production remains central to his analysis. To put it starkly, Scott depicts hill people as ‘state-effects’ and draws a picture of peasants painted by the strokes of state production, which therefore defines both padi states and their escapees according to comparable modes of production that merely contrast. The centrality of production is clear, as Scott dedicates whole chapters to hill people’s high-altitude crop cultivation and slash-and-burn ‘swidden’ agriculture techniques. He finds that these forms of production are what allow them to maintain a lifestyle that makes capture difficult and undesirable. However, when considered beyond Scott’s limitations, escape demonstrates that production need not be the centerpiece of a way of life. In fact, the people who make evasion their form of life offer an image of existence that either fundamentally reshapes or altogether eliminates the need for analyzing modes of production. This is because the power that emerges from outside the State is not organized in terms of production; if anything, the people who exist exterior to the State, such as hunter-gatherers, anticipate every mode of production and ward off all of them (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 428-429). While possibly counter-intuitive from the perspective of a society obsessed with production, in these societies, people find that the plentitude of the earth provides more than enough productive capacity to sustain life. Circulation and not production defines their existence, and production emerges only as the kernel of State thought and is actively suppressed. When the State does arrive, it does not appear in parts through a slow advance in technology but invades in a flash of lightening (Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 192). Even the State cannot eliminate the anticipation and prevention of production. It instead channels and mobilizes this anti-production to ward off all modes of production but one: its own. Therefore, the State does not appear after an evolutionary leap that builds upon prior modes of production; rather, it arrives the moment that production is made a mode (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 429). It can then be said that all societies are organized by anti-production while only States are organized according to production.

Hill people’s farming techniques offer a glimpse into the operations of anti-production. Their slash-and-burn agriculture intentionally looks unappealing as a mode of production, as it gives the appearance of reckless and uncontrolled techniques that jeopardize the careful and stable wet-rice cultivation undertaken by the State. As a type of anti-production, slash-and-burn agriculture illustrates how hill life sustains itself and prevents State production by simultaneously warding off State formation and providing means of subsistence. Yet such a way of life comes at a cost – instead of mutilating bodies to put them to work like the State, societies of plentitude mark bodies to make the means of life circulate. Tattoos, scarification, and other forms of permanent marking on the body are not simply for display but provoke circulation; they are the physical evidence of an injunction that restrains members of a social group immediately consuming whatever fruit of the earth that they directly appropriated, which in turn requires them to forge relations with other groups to acquire subsistence. Such coding bans direct appropriation of the means of life that one helped secure – ’you, as marked by this particular family line, can eat all except what your family has caught’ – in order to perpetuate alliances with other lines of filiation consummated through trade, marriage, and other means (Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 148-149). This social technology does not reside exclusively within non-State society, however, for the State recognizes the power of this terrible alphabet and thus appropriates coding to transform circulation into a mode of production; it extends the torturous marking to slaves, who bear marks not only from whipping but sometimes branding, only to spare the rod for some workers, whose bodies are mutilated enough by drudgery, while submitting all to the commands of the despot, whose terrifying voice moves the wound inward to create a psychic pain inside the body (Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 202-217; Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 425-426).[2]  State production therefore changes the function of code from a direct code branded into the flesh of the body to the overcode of the written decree that introduces the voice of the despot in his absence. This eliminates the group ritual of inscription, where the whole community would establish the gaze of authority by festively watching a tattooing, and instead marshals a legion of bureaucrats that interpret the absent voice of the despot under the threat of death. Overcoding is not the simple process of replacing old taboos with new sovereign decrees, then, but a two step operation: first, it captures groups that operate according to differing codes and puts their lines of filiation and affiliation under a common denominator; and second, it releases most of their codes to reorient group obligations upward in infinite debt to the sovereign. Furthermore, state overcoding also differs in kind from coding, as it transects codes by means of translation. So in contrast to biological codes and chemical signals, language makes codes polyvocal and therefore interpretable, which enables expression to grow independently of both content and substance (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 62). Overcoding still stands on the ground created by non-State peoples, however, because the codes not eliminated by overcoding are deterritorialized and mostly recaptured to constitute the intermediary milieu that is the State. Described diagrammatically: the State is a grand irrigation system built by transecting separate codes that had previously been held apart.

Yet the process of overcoding is never total and thus gives way to escape. The emperor does not directly appropriate flows but captures them at a distance. Due to this spatial separation, the Archaic State frees a large quantity of flows that can be turned back against it. Deleuze and Guattari describe this process:

the overcoding of the archaic State itself makes possible and gives rise to new flows that escape from it. The State does not create large-scale works without a flow of independent labor escaping its bureaucracy (notably in the mines and in metallurgy). It does not create the monetary form of the tax without flows of money escaping, and nourishing or bringing into being other powers (notably in commerce and banking). And above all, it does not create a system of public property without a flow of private appropriation growing up beside it, then beginning to pass beyond its grasp; this private property does not itself issue from the archaic system but is constituted on the margins, all the more necessary and inevitably, slipping through the net of overcoding. (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 449, trans. modified)

So while the ‘trinity formula’ of labor, commodities, and land  – or really, profit, tax, and rent – constitutes a three-headed apparatus of capture for the State, it cannot account for all of the escaping flows. A whole array of flows leak from overcoding: some evade capture like independent labor, escaped money, and private appropriation; others are mutant flows of free activity, alternative exchange, and strange territories; while still others have nothing to do with work, money, and land at all.

The Terrifying Magician King
The Archaic State utilizes the first pole of sovereignty, the pole of conquest. Scott leaves little room for remarks on the magic of the State in his political economy and thus describes the operations of the Archaic State but does not depict the sovereign himself. The comparative mythology of Dumézil, however, outlines the mythic origins of this pole, tracing it back to the figure of the magician-king. And in an interesting contrast with Scott’s account of escape, which relies on spatial separation, Dumézil argues that the magician-king is a great conjurer who rules at a distance (Mitra-Varuna, 146).

Indo-European mythology provides a clear entry point for considering the role of magic in sovereign conquest. Romulus, for example, twice risks defeat after founding Rome. To ensure success, Romulus invokes Jupiter, and after each victory, he founds a cult and erects temple in thanks to Jupiter (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 53-54). Romulus does not invoke Mars, as would a true warrior-chief. Rather, by invoking Jupiter, the god of State, Romulus is brought victory in two particular aspects: Jupiter as divine protector of regnum by arms, and Jupiter the great magician that performs “a sovereign conjuring trick” of breaking the morale of the enemy (55). Combing these two specifications of Jupiter, we know that the Archaic State captures by arms and by magic.

War is never directly undertaken by the Archaic State. This why the magician-king’s greatest illusion is war, as it is the result of his most masterful conjuring trick. For in the world beyond the Archaic State, war is an anti-State force that dissolves the king’s great stockpiles and fragments their power through dispersion (Clastres, Archaeology of Violence, 274-277). And even when war is appropriated by the State, it is used to shatter the power of its enemy. This is why the original warrior is an outsider whose knows nothing about ruling the State, only how to destroy it. Yet war is only an effect of a way of life built around dispersion, not conflict, whose centrifugal logic maintains autonomy (274). War is therefore a necessary but supplementary dimension of non-state people’s existence, as it emerges only when they come in contact with a State or the city (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 417). The consequence is that States have no warriors of their own and the Archaic State must capture them from the outside, which it carefully does from a distance (417-8).

Another name for the magician-kings who seize their enemy from the outside is ‘The Binder.’ And it is binding that specifies the connection between their use of arms and magic. War may be chaotic, but sovereign wars of conquest are not without rules; and the specific set of obligations use by the sovereign in war is the nexum of bonds and debts (Mitra-Varuna, 98). In contrast to pacts, which are made between equal-and-willing parties, the bond is a knot tied with force. The power of bonds then comes from both arms and magic, and the substance of those bonds is a shifting economy of the repayment for hostility, the cost of a life, or any other means to bind and subjugate (98; 99). The bond is cast by dazzling sovereigns – for instance, the one-eyed gods who raise their spear, not to fight, but to paralyze the enemy with fright (129; 139-40; 143). The resulting stupor continues far past the battle as these sovereign uses their terrifying magic to convert the loser’s fright into a bond that divides the victorious from the conquered (155). It is through the sting of defeat that magician-kings marshal their forces by capturing the vanquished, appropriating their power from afar, and commanding them with terrifying magic.

The Archaic Sovereign thus summons its own war machine by mutilating outsiders, ridding them of any memory of life beyond the State (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 424-425). The mutilations of State violence do not come from war but rather as the price people must pay to work. And before it sends these appropriated subjects off to war, the State first inflicts them with a wound that never heals but continues to afflict them until they learn to relish its hot pain as a warm reminder of the suffering, sacrifice, and loss that it took to live ‘meaningful life’:

the mutilated individual is removed from the common mass of humanity by a rite of separation (this is the idea behind cutting, piercing, etc.) which automatically incorporates him into a defined group; since the operation leaves ineradicable traces, the incorporation is permanent (van Gennep, Rites of Passage: 72).

The violence of the Archaic State therefore takes on a unique significance; it appears as ‘the magic of birth;’ a miracle, the pre-accomplished, necessary, and justified separation from everything that came before it (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 424-426). “This is why theses on the origin of the State are always tautological,” as the State’s existence is premised on the denial and non-recognition of life outside it (426).

Fleeing the Codes
The terrifying power of the magician-king is strong but blunt, which allows many codes to escape his great net. In particular, two types of flows escape the State while it is freeing codes in order to overcode them. First, there are the scraps of decoded flows that do not fit and are thus left behind. These relatively decoded leftovers are the cracks and fissures that constitute the gaps between the abstract categories of the State, such as the separation between the general rules of the Law and the singularity of the concrete particular case. Consider a spatial example found in the vague terrain between overlapping two Archaic States. These spaces of dual sovereignty encourage contestation and thus subject those who reside there to multiple tributary exactions or raids to punish disloyalty. And while this can sometimes advantage the State, these ambiguities usually work against it. Many of the peoples living at the periphery of two States use the relative autonomy to “strategically manipulate the situation” by playing the two States against each other, such as people in Cambodia, tributary to Siam and Vietnam in the nineteenth century (Scott, Art of Not Being Governed, 60-1). As this example illustrates, the area at an arms length from the State is then less a space of lawlessness than a zone of indistinction where loosened codes are only partially overcoded but also multiplied. Such ambiguity diffuses the Archaic State conquest by spreading the State’s thick overdetermined power out into a thin underdetermined application of codes. But even as strategies of confusion are multiplied within this zone of indistinction, the Archaic State makes up for the infrequency of power by amplifying its capriciousness and brutality.

The second flow to escape overcoding is a line of flight. These flows escape by virtue of their speed, as they are too swift for the State to snatch immediately after decoding. In contrast to the indistinct scraps mentioned above, these flows are not accidental or supplemental. Rather, this escape is the exodus of heretics who pervert the magic of the Archaic State for their own purposes, leading to millennial revolts that are as regular to the feudal world as strikes are to industrial capitalism (Bloch, French Rural History, 170). The seeds of these uprisings are usually planted in secret, hidden from public view. Yet the principles and prophecies behind these movements are hardly difficult to find; the only necessity is to hide them from the jealous eyes of the magician-king. So after circulating promiscuously, a prophet eventually appears, giving these furtive myths enough consistency to transform conspiracy into public revolt. The Burmese monk Sayan San, for example, underwent a transformation while serving on a colonial committee surveying peasant living conditions. Through the powerful images of the Hindu bird galon, Sayan promised a utopia that would break the bond of the British and the taxes. His followers bore the image of galons as part of their divine mission, believing their tattoos and amulets would protect them from British bullets (Aung-Thwin, The Return of the Galon King).

This is why, on the occasion that the magician-king casts his gaze beyond the court, his first reaction is disgust, for all he sees are the barbarian virtues of those who speak a different tongue and act with unpalatable violence. If threatened, the Archaic State responds with its primary function, conquest, to recapture the lost codes and make them once again subservient. Yet that disgust sometimes provokes something else altogether: a prayer, where a stranger falls in supplication before the magician-king. Such a transformation is completely alien to the archaic mode of conquest, as it would require extending tolerance and civility, which are foreign to a sovereign who knows indifference but not respect.

Ultimately, we can say that the horrifying sovereign of the Archaic State does not sit on a throne of death but resides over the flesh of the living. His tools of governance are cruelty and magic; one he steals from the system of anti-production and the other is of his own invention. Together, he deploys these forces to reverse the centripetal power of the circulatory system of pain to concentrate its cruelty in a unified mode of production built on the backs of slaves. Furthermore, the magician-king boasts about the effects of his trickery, taking immense pride in the forces he accumulates in his own name, neglecting to admit that his only talent is capturing the power of others. Though other State-forms appear more restrained, all share in its thirst for conquest. And while playing down its cruelty, the Modern State and the Social do not hide this authoritarian force but simply channel it into the power of The Police and Biopower.

The Priestly State of Contract
A rowdy crowd swarmed the rustic path. From their hidden perch, the outsiders watched the scene unfold. At the front was a procession made up of an official-looking man flanked by two others, one in bright gaudy attire and the other much more plainly and walking with a slight limp. The whole trail was soon packed with the jubilant crowd, with some clambering up trees, others dangling their feed in the pond, and still others elbowing their way to the front. Concern spread among the group of outsiders on the rocks as they exchanged worried glances, but after someone shot an especially icy glance at the others, they kept watch from their hideout. The noise below grew to an unbearable clamor and then abruptly ceased.

The eerie silence was broken when the limping man winced, which caused the ostentatious man to launch a volley of screeching words in a foreign tongue. The crowd jeered loudly in approval. The assault continued, pausing only when he reached over to the official-looking man to snatch a sword and taunt the victim with it. Matching the rising crescendo of his rapt audience, the man raised the sword in a characteristically lurid gesture, drew blood from his prey with a light strike to the face, and brought the weapon around to his side as if preparing to deliver a lethal blow. But then the official slowly raised an arm, which was missing a hand, and interrupted the scene with a few curt words.

The crowd, somehow expecting the official’s intervention but still displeased that the ritual was so perfunctory, let out of a few collective bellows before swiftly leaving. Soon afterward, the three-man procession left as well.

A jurist-priest presides over the birth of the State, in addition to the magician-king. Key myths depict a one-armed man as the arbiter of law and right who establishes faith in the State through the execution of contracts. This faith begins with contracts of exchange between the domains of the human and the divine. And the consistency that the jurist-priest brings to these divine acts is subsequently transformed into the force of law (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 62). The jurist-priest thus wields a power unlike the terrifying violence of the magician-king. Rather, the priest inspires a faith that is not mystical or even magical – it is juridical. The jurist-priest is a great organizer: he constitutes a milieu, gives it form, imposes laws, disciplines its elements, and subordinates its effects to political ends (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 425). To clarify: while the conquering magician-king of the Archaic State casts magic that binds from a distance, the jurist-priest of the Priestly State establishes faith that appropriates and internalizes forces. Magic terrorizes its target into catatonia for easy capture. Faith, in contrast, captures through conversion: by convincing the convert that they had been missing something that only the State can provide.

Faith and Debt
Jurist-priests appear as frugal, forgiving men who offer up unparalleled times of peace and prosperity in good faith. This faith is not a prerequisite to social life in general, as many obligations do not require good faith. Contracts drawn up in public and before witnesses, for instance, do not require good faith because it is the honor of the contractors involved that ensures that they are not violated (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 56). Following the creed “I give to you, give to me!,” jurist-priests extend a special type of offer that is sealed with no guarantee except good faith (62). Consequently, it is on the basis of belief and piety that the jurist-priest promises unbroken peace through shared contract, even to those who raid his lands (51). Piety is only one possible approach to the law. The magician-king of conquest also employs contracts, but they are not presented in good faith; rather, he treats contracts as part of his trickery. Like many things, such as his propensity to invent and abandon gods simply to ambush opponents, the magician-king uses contracts only when they suit him. However, the jurist-priest’s authority is predicated on his benevolence, so he cultivates a good that only comes through deliberation and virtue (51-52).

The appearance of the jurist-priest as a just and measured arbiter obscures the full picture of the obligation-exchange process that he governs. The process of exchange is usually thought to follow a particular order: first, equal parties take part in an exchange; and second, if one of the parties fails to uphold its end of the bargain, they cower as a subject making a plea to the authority of the jurist-priest. As one Vedic myth goes: if a man who is unable to pay his debts and is set to be beaten falls in supplication to the feet of the jurist-king, then it is forbidden to beat the man that day (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 95). This image, while popular, is a ploy. It is a convenient subterfuge authored by the jurist-priest to make him appear as a peacemaker who either dispenses forgiveness and grace, or follows blindly infallible rules (59). Behind the apparent naturalness of exchange lies the original act of sovereign appropriation, the jurist-priest’s capture of external forces, which is later projected backward as the committing of faith. This is why Marx criticizes the false neutrality of contracts, highlighting that the sovereign is always a vanishing mediator, a force of authority that disappears because it is taken as a given: “a cosmopolitan, universal energy which overthrows every restriction and bond so as to establish itself instead as the sole politics, the sole universality, the sole limit and sole bond” (1844 Manuscripts, Third Manuscript, 3). So the jurist-priest’s formula for exchange, “I give to you, give to me!,” is in fact a contraction of the expression “I give that you may give,” which itself alludes to the divine ‘exchange’ of sacrifice that the jurist-priest first exacts from his subjects before extending faith (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 62). Even Hobbes, the great apologist for the State, notes that the obligation to follow any particular law first requires absolute obedience to the sovereign. Consider an Icelandic tale: the gods, acting on prophecies that the wolf Fenrir will soon wreak havoc on them, decide to bind him before he is fully-grown. First through flattery and then through temptation, they try to get Fenrir to play with a special thread that is really a leash Odhinn had the Black Elves forge for him. Anticipating their deception but unwilling to lose face, Fenrir demands that a god “place his hand in my mouth as a pledge that there will be no trickery!” Tyr, understanding in advance that he will lose his hand, pledges it because he knows that this sacrifice will transform the lie into law through exchange (141-142). And that is how the jurist-priest became the one-armed sovereign. War follows the same general formula set out in this myth – the jurist-priest is willing to directly intervene as a combatant, in contrast to the magician-king who casts his magic at a distance, because he is to commit priestly sacrifice to become the jurist who sets out the rules of war. The implication is clear: the jurist-priest’s pact does not neutralize the violence of conquest objectified in the bond; rather, he regularizes its force by transforming finite debts secured in conquest into limitless obligations of faith that underwrite the force of law.

The Violence of Equivalence and Law
As a lawmaker, the jurist-priest of the Priestly State is the great inventor of responsibility, and with it, he creates a different kind of history. The timeless tales of the Archaic State tell of might and sovereign glory but their details fade with time. The Priestly State, whose exploits are far less exciting and thus lost that much quicker, memorializes itself by attacking the faculty of forgetfulness itself. Humans are forgetful animals with a powerful ability to clear out old experiences which enables them to better live in the presence and happiness of the world (Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morality, B2§1, 35-36). The jurist-priest’s first great attack on this strength begins with the invention of equivalence. Through equivalence, the jurist-priest promises something to a creditor who is unable to collect a debt. In return for nothing, the creditor is then granted the pleasure of inflicting pain on his indigent debtor (B2§4, 39-40). And this is how history is made for those too insignificant to have ballads written about them. Through a “fearful mnemotechnics,” the historical record is made through a painful marking on the flesh that is strong enough to overcome forgetting. And it is within this economy of pain and pleasure that consciousness is born, most fundamentally as the awareness of one’s responsibilities and a memory of the painful cost of forgetting them (B2§3, 37-39). Consciousness, then, is culture’s imprint on the body, which endows humans with the consanguine capacities of responsibility and regularity (B2§2, 36-37; B2§1, 35-36). It is the jurist-priest’s second invention, guilt, which completes the system of pain. One might think that punishment is the cause of guilt but for most of history, punishment has not been used to improve criminals but to tame them (B2§15, 55-56). Punishment in fact either destroys or toughens a criminal rather than instilling guilt (B2§14, 54-55). The origin of guilt is found instead in the repressive conditions of the pact, which suppresses the instincts through the gnawing habits of responsibility. Unable to discharge its instincts, humanity retreats to the consciousness that lies deep within the self, which turns consciousness into the directed force that becomes the soul (B2§16, 56-58; B2§17, 58-59). With the process complete, the jurist-priest thus creates a brilliant new way to capture subjects. The Priestly State does not need the costly product of conquest, generalized slavery, which treats humans as cogs in a megamachine – the Priestly State can subject humans to machines as ‘free’ workers (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 457). These subjects are not treated as machines; rather, they are responsible for themselves, for as Foucault says, the soul becomes the prison of the body, as the soul acts as both the medium and object for the jurist-priest (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 457-458; Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 30).

The actions of the jurist-priest are no less violent than those of his horrible cousin, even if he is averse to conquest. Simply: there is no peaceful sovereign. In fact, faith is the simplest justification for violence. What the jurist-priest calls peace is merely organized violence – still war, but restricted by a sovereign prohibition on cruel acts on violence. Such violence is not the result of bonds, which are contracts offered the enemies of the Archaic State in compensation for utter defeat, as exploitative tricks that demand that the vanquish continue furnishing the State with the spoils of war long after the battle concludes. But those who flee the cruelty of the magician-king do not free themselves from that violence but instead trade their role as the target of State violence for participation in the ‘legitimate’ violence directed by the jurist-priest.[3] In return for unbinding, the jurist-priest replaces the bond with a pact, as seen in the myth of the flamen-dialis who sets free any man bound in chains that takes refuge with him. And these pacts sanction the ongoing violence among the followers of the Priestly State  (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 142). An example is the system of mutual-obligation of ‘the four neighbors’ instituted by the Qin State (778-207 BCE). Following the suggestion of Legalist Shang Yang (390-338 BCE), society was broken into five-person groups (wu-jen) of military officers, peasant, families, merchants, bureaucrats, etc. When a single member of the cell was found guilty of crime, all five were punished (Hulsewé, Remnants of Ch’in Law, 145-6). The key innovation of the law was its reflexive extension of sovereign responsibility to all of the faithful that included a mechanism of self-management that requires people to police each other (Dean and Massumi, First and Last Emperors, 25).

The Law As Shared Means for Private Appropriation
The role of organized violence in the Priestly State deserves a strong clarification. The Priestly State does not pacify its subjects in the same way that the Archaic State does, by stunning its population through repression in order to set them to work in the fields while still in a stupor. The Priestly State organizes violence through its subjects by means of discipline and logistics, which forms a general system of flows. For instance, all property in the Archaic State is public; officials and feudal lords are simply stewards of the magician-king’s wealth, and peasants do not own the common lands but live on it through usufruct. The public under the Priestly State, in contrast, is not coextensive with everything under the purview of the sovereign but with the legal structure constructed by the sovereign as the shared means of private appropriation (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 451). The key distinction between the two forms of the public lies in the role of code for each of the two sovereigns. For the magician-king, overcoding produces a surplus value of code that he expends through the terror of his voice while issuing decrees. Alternatively, the jurist-priest deploys overcoding to appropriate and conjoin flows. Because of the different uses of code, the regime of signs between these two State forms also differ – The Archaic State utilizes the imperial signifier whose force is unitary and metaphysical, treating its subjects like cogs in a bio-social megamachine, while the Priestly State engages in the processes of subjectification, which deliver the paradoxical ‘voluntary servitude’ of the pact (451). In summary, the three essential process of organization under the Priestly State are subjectification, appropriation, and resonance.

The pacts of the Priestly State form an intraconsistency that enables resonance. This consistency is an internality built within already existing points of order – geographic, ethnic, linguistic, moral, economic, technological – not external terms, which would connect to form the transconsistency of the network (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 432-433). Moreover, the intraconsistency of the State is not established by simple forced coordination, as networks of towns do in building roads, but appropriated by cutting away and isolating given elements. Yet the isolating function of appropriation does not eliminate elements’ relations to other elements, rather, it reconstitutes those relations as exterior to but still mediated by the State, which allows them to be controlled, inhibited, and slowed down through indirect control (432; 433). For example, the sovereign does not ask for this particular object, that territory, or a unique type of activity in tribute – the jurist-priest demands land, labor, and commodities in general, hence the invention of money, which, contrary to the tall tales of neo-classical economists, was not invented as a solution to the problem of the mutual coincidence of needs. Rather, money is a medium for direct comparison that is imposed on subjects by sovereigns for the purpose of monopolistic appropriation (444; Graeber, Debt). And it is through this act of comparison that the jurist-priest’s function as divine medium between the sacred and the profane proves pivotal – by placing himself as both fully human but fully sacred, the just-priest overwrites the circulatory patchwork to the divine, which requires them to pass through him as holy arbiter of all value on earth (433). The sovereign attempts to seize the whole trinity with such a scared declaration: territory is treated as directly comparable land, which produces differential rent and the landowner; activity is treated as directly comparable work, which produces profit and the capitalist; and objects are treated as commodities, which produces currency and bankers (444). Yet the jurist-priest does not consume all land, work, and commodities but creates a circuit of power whereby they circulate through him; this form of circulation is called resonance, and the State thus becomes a resonance chamber. Resonance can thus be succinctly described as the process of isolating local connections, making them comparable through global equivalence, only to set them free once again in orbit around a State-established power center. To be clear: these power centers are not the intersection where many points of order mesh together but a point on the horizon that stands behind all the other points of order. The consequence is that the Priestly State grows through mutation, in contrast to the Archaic State’s pursuit of consistency. This is the power of conjunction – while the Archaic State overcodes flows to chop them into manageable segments, the Priestly State demands freedom for the purpose of conjoining flows to resonate.

Peace Outside the State
Jurist-priests may appear to be the more reasonable of the two twins of sovereignty but neither is necessary to mediate conflict. Non-state societies provide ample examples of authority-less chiefs that ceremonially imitate the jurist-priest but escape the juridical pact and the power that comes with it. Ethnographic evidence draws a clear picture of a titular chief that is charged with the tasks of arbitration, distribution, and oration (Clastres, Society Against the State, 29). These chiefs do not execute their duties by power or right. In arbitration, the titular chief is not afforded any force in settling disputes and therefore seeks to reconcile through prestige, fairness, and rhetoric alone. And because the chief lacks the coercive power of jurist-priests, their motivation to resolve disputes is the status and respect bestowed on them by their peers, which diminishes while conflicts simmer (30). The second task, distribution, is the converse of the Archaic bond – the chief is obligated to provide a near constant flow of gifts to his people. The people carry such a strong right to continuously loot their chief that they are never afraid to throw out their current leader to find one less stingy or more resourceful. This is why anthropologists joke that “you can always tell the chief because he has the fewest possession and wears the shabbiest ornaments” (30). Lastly, a chief is valued for his words. The chief must rely on his words in maintaining peace while generously distributing possession, but also in proving his fitness as a leader in general. The role of speech may vary, as some groups demand a discourse before sunset, while for others it is customary to demand a speech but to ignore his words completely – yet all understand speech to be an capacity that the chief must master before he is afforded even a modicum of political power (31-32).

An empty throne much like that of the titular king has been worshipped time and again. Consider the English Dissenters that sprouted in the interregnum following the First English Civil War. A strange cast of pacifists, egalitarians, rural communists, pantheists, unitarians, and mystics, they created a world where the only crown was that of God Himself – wrested from human hands, left open for the second coming. While these groups broke their earthly bonds through an appeal to various versions of the transcendent, their radical impulse flows from the same river as all utopian projects. In fact, direct democracy, a popular alternative to the pact, practices consensus-based decision-making as developed by the Quakers, who emerged during this time of Protestant upheaval. Present but largely unacknowledged during the civil rights movement, consensus-based decision-making was transformed into an explicitly political tool during the anti-nuclear protests of the 1970s. From then on, consensus-based decision-making grew in notoriety: it was embraced by anarchists in the 1980s, formed the centerpiece of anti-globalization actions in the 1990s, and entered the popular consciousness through Occupy’s famous ‘General Assembly.’ In its progression from a Protestant tool of protest to decision-making process, consensus has enlarged from a device for striking down the false idols of the State to a weapon against all forms of transcendent authority – consensus dissolves the bond secured through conquest, an unbinding power it borrows from the arsenal of the jurist-priest, as its in-built anti-authoritarianism grants free association that prevents governance from progressing until the body receives consent from all of its members. And possibly more important for the current era, consensus provides an avenue for people in a society trained to endlessly opine without consequence to have their opinions actually take effect (Graeber, Direct Action, 318-320).

But as scholars attentive to the religious roots of consensus have identified, consensus is not an anti-sovereign force, as consent derives its power from a silent solidarity with the jurist-priest – it is a mere radicalization of the pact. And at the heart of consensus, as in the pact, is faith. Quakers see the ritual of consensus as an expression of divine will and only hesitantly agree with outsiders who suggest that it is a political tool. Furthermore, without the weight of divine will, which creates a pact of infinite debt between those participating in consensus, political groups find consensus-making difficult. Large groups usually lack the shared investments required to forge consensus while smaller groups consensus-making is regularly foiled by veto-holders who act irrationally or without altruism (Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism, 22-27). Some anarchists insist that consensus brings out the best dimensions of human nature and therefore view the struggle to overcome the problems of consensus as a political aim unto itself, as if every consensus brought humanity itself to rationality and altruism. But the existential liberalism of consensus is an ineffective means to engineer desire, as it does not eliminate the organized violence of the State but simply imitates it. Perhaps it is only Nietzsche’s forgetful man that can subvert the jurist-priest. But disagreement, cynicism, or malice is not needed to undermine the pact, though they often do. And without jurist-priest’s offer of faith or the rod, the consensual pact barely holds more sway than a bad habit or a passing interest.

In short, the liberal preference for the contract over conquest only replaces faith for the rod without modifying the outcome. Due to the ease with which the State enrolls subjects through faith, other State-forms offer further elaborations on the contract. The Modern State universalizes faith, secularizing the divine authority of the jurist-priest to nationalize faith, making it a capacity available to everyone and thus compulsory for all subjects of the State. The Social State emphasizes the other side of faith, spreading a universal indebtedness that the State uses to take ownership for and manipulate the conditions of everyday life. Illustrated by the jurist-priest and subsequent State-forms’ radicalization of faith is the hidden power of the contract, which extends through two complementary forces: the violence of equivalence and the shared means of private appropriation. These forces invalidate theories of consent based on the illusions of non-coercion and by consequence, the fiction of the consenting individual. The actions of the faithful are not driven by private motivations codified in contract but through violence and exploitation, which is sponsored by the State. Even in its crudest form, the Priestly State is able to portray its actions as kind and benevolent, but the intensification of these actions in Publicity and the Spectacle further venerate the State by making contracts appear not just beneficial but inevitable and necessary.


[1] Scott borrows the analogy of the light bulb from Benedict Anderson who uses it describe the concept of power in Javanese culture, which he says has four essential characteristics: first, power exists independently of its possible users and thus does not require belief; second, power is homogeneous and of uniform type, emerging from the same source, and is identical regardless of user; third, power exists as a fixed and limited quantity, so a rise in power in one place reduces it in another; and fourth, power is not a question of legitimacy but instead establishes what is good or evil. For more, see Anderson, “The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture.”

[2] As Dumézil notes, the predicates for sovereigns and their actions are not normative judgments about their likability but expressions of a particular mode of sovereignty. Authoritarian sovereigns are thus ‘terrible,’ ‘horrible,’ ‘merciless’ destroyers while liberal sovereigns are ‘kind,’ ‘benevolent,’ ‘loving’ creators. An editorial tone is therefore unavoidable when describing aspects of the Archaic State as ‘terrible’ and ‘cruel’ or the Priestly State as ‘just’ and ‘forgiving’ but the underlying intention is to single out particular modes of violence.

[3] See the previous footnote, which outlines how sovereign predicates are not normative but descriptive.

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