Part 1 – Culture

kultur

More State history is lived in the single day of a culture than what is entombed in a whole decade of its laws. By extension, studying the State should begin with an examination of its rituals and not its ledgers. Perhaps the best place to start is with George Dumézil’s work Mitra-Varuna. Part philology and part folklore, Dumézil compares Indo-European myths of authority in order to synthesize them into a single general theory of sovereignty. Mythical sovereignty, he claims, is constituted by two heads: one a mighty conqueror and  the other a righteous priest. And while these two “saviors of the State” are embodied in literal heads of State, they are realized more regularly in many cultural practices disseminated throughout a nation of people (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 143). Yet those cultural expressions of sovereignty are often omitted in studies of the State, which causes them to miss the essentially cultural character of power. This is why legal or economic descriptions of the State are not only deficient, as they lack the essential element of culture, but also why they assume the State to be the ultimate agent of politics. Cultural descriptions of the State, in contrast, not only identify what escapes cultural codes but how to escape the State itself.

Escape
In addition to the two poles of sovereignty, a cultural analysis of the State considers a third term: escape. This term traces back to some of the oldest texts on sovereignty, as found in Dumézil’s comparative mythology, which describe a force exterior to the sovereign. But this outside raises suspicion in the State, as any power not under its control is considered a threat, so the sovereign curses anyone who appears to be a force of the outside – stranger, foreigner, barbarian, wildman, monster, savage! Yet the State’s jealousy is well founded – indeed, those who escape the State embody the obviousness of a politics without sovereignty, as their life is exterior to and distinct from the two heads of the State (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 424-425). And that is why they are denounced so harshly: in evading the poles of the State, these people do not lose anything politically but in fact prove that politics emerges on its own terms and without the commanding authority of sovereignty. The consequence of their existence is a cultural reversal of perspective – the politics of the State is not the originator of politics but a mere enclosure or appropriation of an already existing politics that has captured these outsiders and put them to work for the State.

A Typology of State-forms
Cultural analysis is crucial for objecting to the virgin birth of politics in the State, which always appears as a sleight of hand, a conjuring trick, followed by grandiose declarations that before this particular State, there was nothing. For the State is not a divine miracle but a cold monster that draws its power from forms of life captured between its two poles. A cultural analysis of those poles thus reveals what “animates the State with a curious rhythm,” but also analytically separates the power of the State from the underlying sources of power it commands but does not create (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 424). Furthermore, there are a few general types that can be identified through an analysis of its poles. And with this analysis, a typology of State forms can be derived that categorizes them according to the function of each of the two poles as they operate in isolation, together in various complimentary combinations, and as a system that alternates at different rhythms (Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna, 161-2; 175-6). The State-forms of this typology are: the authoritarian Archaic State that rules through conquest, the liberal Priestly State that rules through contract, the mixed Modern State that rules through The Police and Publicity, and the differently mixed Social State that uses Biopower and the Spectacle to rule over the Social.

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