Discourse by Laclau

Laclau, Ernesto 2007. Discourse. In: Goodwin, R. E. and P. Pettit (eds.), A companion to contemporary political philosophy. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Blackwell, 441-447.

The basic hypothesis of a discursive approach is that the very possibility of perception, thought and action depends on the structuration of a certain meaningful field which pre-exists any factual immediacy. A transcendental enquiry as an investigation of the conditions of possibility of experience starts with Kant, for whom space, time and the categories of understanding constitute the a priori dimension in the constitution of phenomena. (Laclau 2007: 541)
This sounds fairly familiar, specifically from cultural semiotics and the notion of modeling as it is developed in cs discourse. Of course now I have some hints on Kant from Cassirer which could help me translate this insight into the concursive approach.
If formalism strictly applies, this means that the substantial differences between the linguistic and the non-linguistic have also to be dropped - in other terms, that the distinction between action and structure becomes a secondary distinction within the wider category of meaningful totalities. This point has been particularly stressed in Laclau and Mouffe (1985), and it brings discourse theory close to the conclusion reached by the work of the later Wittgenstein, i.e. the notion that 'language games' embrace both language and the actions in which it is woven (Wittgenstein, 1983, p. 5). (Laclau 2007: 543)
Sounds simple but useless until demonstrated how.
The main contributions of discourse theory to the field of politics have been linked so far to the conceptualization of power. The same broad division pointed out earlier applies here: we have, on the one hand, analysts whose theoretical roots are to be found in the post-structuralist theory of the sign and, on the other, those which are mainly linked to the reformulation of Foucault's intellectual project in his later work. (Laclau 2007: 545)
I don't yet see need to differentiate these but rather view them as part of the same effort.

Sylvan, Richard 2007. Anarchism. In: Goodwin, R. E. and P. Pettit (eds.), A companion to contemporary political philosophy. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Blackwell, 257-281.

Most of the seminal and interesting work on anarchism has come from outside universities and standard intellectual circles. Academics have contributed histories (e.g. Ritter, 1969), surveys (e.g. Woodcock, 1962) and (usually not-so-sympathetic) criticism (e.g. Miller, 1984). With a very few exceptions, however, they have contributed little original anarchist thought. (Sylvan 2007: 257)
Ritter's work is titled Anarchism: A Theoretical Analysis. I tend to agree. In my mind the most potential anarchist theorizing is hidden away in pamphlets and zines dispersed in anarchist info shops (and sites such as theanarchistlibrary.org).
Philosophically, anarchism is the theory, principles or practice of anarchy. It refers, according to the dictionaries, to the 'lack of coercive government', the 'absence of a political state', the 'want of authoritarian political heads or leaders, institutions or organizations'. In its normal politicla form, the term is applied to societies or communities, territories or countries. Politically, there are three key structural components: authority, coercion and, normally comprehending both, the state. The notion has recently been extended beyond political arrangements to apply to other institutional forms, such as the church, science and law, to mean alternative forms lacking authoritarian structure and coercive methods. Thus appear such varieties as epistemological anarchism and philosophical anarchism. Although it is political anarchism upon which this essay focuses, those other far-reaching analogies should not be lost sight of. They matter. Anarchism is to political authority as atheism is to religious authority, and rather as scepticism is to scientific authority. (Sylvan 2007: 258)
The comparison with atheism is a good one. Also, my own works seems, in this sense, to involve an anarchist approach to bodily behavior. It relies on the notion of "expressive order" as the agent that regulates and normalizes human behavior, thus protecting the privileges of the powerful.
With anarchy as with many other valuable terms, tehre has been a concerted effort at confusion or destruction of meanings - part of an extensive terminological vandalism in human intellectual affairs. Rather than reconcile ourselves to sacrifice of the damaged term 'anarchism', let us salvage the term explicitly for the pristine notion, isolating the conventional associations under the term 'degenerate anarchism'. Most of the fictional anarchists depicted by authors supportive of the present state system are degenerate and thus unrepresentative of real anarchists. (Sylvan 2007: 259)
Ah, finally a solution to the disreputed understading of anarchism.
While organization and government are entirely compatible with anarchism, that most conspicuous modern institution - the state - is not. it is the paradigmatic archist form. Nor are ancient power formations such as the empire and the kingdom really compatible with anarchism, owing not only to their authoritarian character and their extensive use of coercion and violence but also to their central organization. (Sylvan 2007: 260)
That is, non-authoritative and non-violent forms of government and social organization are compatible with anarchist ideals.
[The state is] a distinct and sovereign body[:] ...it claims complete authority to define the rights of its subjects... Second, the state is a compulsory body, in the sense that everyone born into a given society is forced to recognise obligations t the state that govern that society. Third, the state is a monopolistic body: it claims a monopoloy of force in its territorial area, allowing no competitor to exist alongside it. (Miller 1984: 5)
From Miller's book Anarchism. "Compulsory" [kohustuslik, sund-] is exactly the word I was in search of. It means: (1) Required by law or a rule; obligatory. (2) Involving or exercising compulsion; coercive.
There are, analysis reveals, two interacting foci: (1) a top or centre; and (2) control or dominance flowing from this top, by what an adjudged inadmissible (in particular, authoritarian and coercive) means. A chief both stands at the top of a power hierarchy and exercises authoritarian control from there. Under this elliptical double-foci refinement, anarchy entails structure and organization without inadmissible top-down or centralized means. Let us look at the foci in turn, beginning with the more independent one: the top.
Topologically, 'without a top' amounts to 'without a centre', because by topological transformations ('bending') what is a top transforms to a centre, and vice versa. Thus, in excluding top-down relations, anarchism also excludes arrangements structured with a controlling centre, such as a ruling centrla government. Anarchism thus implies decentralization, but in a precise sense. Eliminating the centre does not thereby also remove all structure. It leaves available the possibility of a rich variety of structures, including network arrangements with no centres or with multiple 'centres' (federal structures, and suchlike). (Sylvan 2007: 261)
The relationship between top and center in this sense could well improve cultural semiotics which speaks of centers, but not tops.
As varieties of anarchy diverge widely so too, correspondingly, do motivations and justifications for these divergent forms. These motivations range from entirely theoretical (conceding the warranted force of politicla scepticism) to practical (schanging the local world); from personal and perhaps selfish (getting the state off one's back, or out of one's business and one's till) to other-directed (elminating a state oppressing its people) or environmental (disestablishing another vandalistic state). Common motivations trace back to the common character of anarchism: repulsion by or opposition to oppressions, perhaps generalizing still further to all gross power relations. (Sylvan 2007: 262)
My motivations personal and theoretical.
There are many types of authority relations, not all of which are objectionable. Consider, for example, the relation of a student to an authority in some field of knowledge, who can in turn back up expert judgements by appeal to a further range of assessable evidence. Such an authority might be called 'transparent' (or 'open'), because anyone with time and some skill can proceed past the authority to assess claims made. Contrasted with these are 'opaque' (or 'closed') authorities, who simply stand on their position or station; such authority is objectionable in part because of its dogmatic character. Closely allied is the category of 'substantially opaque' authorities, who appeal to a conventional rule or procedure ('that is how things are done' or 'have always been done') without being willing or able to step beyond some rule book. Rule-book authorities are commonplace in bureaucracies, which often encourage such practice in lower-level official. With 'indirectly opaque' authorities, the justificatory procedure stops a step further back: there is a set of rules, which has been enacted (for reasons not open to, or bearing, examination) by a further substantially opaque authority. (Sylvan 2007: 263)
These forms should be carefully compared to the social psychological "bases of power". From the top of my mind I can say that the case of student is related with the so-called "expert power".
Beyond the theoretical arguments for principled anarchism, the main argument for anarchism can be concentrated in a detailed critique of the state, and therewith of state-like institutions. Anarchist critiques of the state assert that: states and state-like institutions are without satisfactory justification; such institutions are not required for organizational purposes; such institutions have most inharmonious consequences, bringing a whole series of social and environmental bungles or evils in their train. In brief, they [states] are unnecessary, unjustified evils. (Sylvan 2007: 264)
Pretty much the same formulation I have heard from the mouth of a local anarchist philosopher [that states are illegitimate].
States are enormously expensive, and constitute a heavy drain upon regional resources and accordingly on local environments. In poorer regions they are not merely a heavy burden but a main cause of impoverishment. One reason for their voracious appetite is an excess of over-remunerated and often under-productive state employees. Another connected reason is that many state operations are far from lean and efficient; instead, they incorporate many duplications, drag factors and dead weight. Under anarchisms of all varieties, these heavy cost burdens, weighing down subservient populaces, would be shed. Costs of organization would be very significantly reduced. (Sylvan 2007: 265)
Sounds exactly like the situation in Estonia.
States are major impositions on everyday life. They are intrusive and demanding. Never has this been more forcefully expressed than in Proudhon's famous denouncement of state government:
To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonoured. That is government; htat is its justice; that is its morality. (1923, p. 294)
(Sylvan 2007: 265)
From Proudhon's General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century.
The state is not a self-justifying object. But none of the justificatory arguments to the state are cogent. A familiar theme concedes that the state is problematic but claims that it is a necessary evil. But the contrary seems more nearly correct: states, though generally evil, are hardly necessary. It needs stressing, furthermore, how weak the necessity claimed has to be. For it is becoming increasingly easy, with the advances in logical modellings and computer simulations of other worlds (involving 'virtual states', and the like) to envisage accessible worlds organized without modern states. (Sylvan 2007: 267)
This argument is pretty solid: before the advent of information technology it would have been very difficult to coordinate society without the state. Nowadays we have sophisticated models which can coordinate the work of all the necessary social benefits almost automatically.
According to a condescending pragmatic argument, simple primitive societies may have been able to struggle along without state structure or organization, but it is entirely out of the question for the practical operation for modern industrial societies. No recent anarchist societies have worked. A short response is again that but few have had an opportunity to succeed. There is extraordinarily little room for social experiment in modern state-dominated societies. Moreover, where anarchist societies have had some chance to flourish (as, briefly, in Spain before they were suppressed), some of them appear to have funtioned moderately well. (Sylvan 2007: 272)
First shoot rifles at anarchists who have made their organizations work and then shoot down future anarchist with arguments like "but no anarchist society has succeeded."
Gone or seriously reduced with the demise of the centre are several stock political worries, directed against anarchism, such as those of coup, takeover, insurrection or invasion. These usually involve capturing the centre and its command structure, no longer there to capture; there is no command or control structure that could be taken by an invader or through internal insurrection. Community defence is thereby rendered much easier. The stock problem of who controls the controllers is also largely removed, partly because control is so diffused and partly because a main controller is the federated communities (which is one of the advantages of more direct democracy). (Sylvan 2007: 275)
I've never thought about it but it makes perfect sense. Takeovers operate by "taking over" existing central structures. If the structures are not centralized then what is there to take over?
Unfortunately it is hard to find, anywhere, even in the worst of states, much anarchist planning, and - worse - there is little visible evidence of constructive anarchist movements anymore; what gets exhibited in ongoing crises of states is degenerate anarchism. There is undoubtedly more scope for anarchism proper to become involved in those crisis situations, for instance by influencing and organizing active dissatisfied groups, and for it to flourish. (Sylvan 2007: 280)

Sparrow, Robert 2007. Anarchism since 1992. In: Goodwin, R. E. and P. Pettit (eds.), A companion to contemporary political philosophy. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Blackwell, 282-284.

The decline in the popularity of Marxism subsequent to the collapse of the Societ Union has left a vacuum on the left which has partially been filled by anarchism, which has to some extent become the default politics od radical dissent in English-speaking nations and much of Western Europe. (Sparrow 2007: 282)
This may be the reason why much of modern anarchist discourse smacks of pseudo-marxism.
The development of the World Wide Web has also had a significant impact both on the popularity of anarchist ideas and their theoretical elaboration. The decentralized nature of the internet and the fact that it is beyond the power of any state to regulate have led many critics to note important parallels with anarchist political ideas (Ludlow, 1999; 2001; Moglen, 1999). There has also been a resurgence of contemporary anarchist writings for the purpose of distribution via the Web. (Sparrow 2007: 282)
Sounds familiar.


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