Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Readings about tribes and tribalism — #21: Jack Donovan on “The Clan vs. Modern, State-Dependent "Individualism"”

Here’s the most aggressive reading I’ve yet seen about the virtues of resorting to tribalism. Jack Donovan is evidently well-know in alt-right circles for “blogging, writing and speaking about masculinity and tribalism” and for leading in the Pacific Northwest “a chapter of the infamous Wolves of Vinland — an esoteric tribe of Germanic pagans.” Previously known as a leader of a men’s rights movement, he is now also identified with the alt-right movement.

This reading — Jack Donovan, “The Clan vs. Modern, State-Dependent "Individualism"” (2017) — is a reissue of his 2014 review of Mark Weiner’s book The Rule of the Clan (2013) and a spin-off article "The Paradox of Modern Individualism" (2014). But it’s a timely reissue for my series, for both its exemplary aggressiveness and its alt-rightist critique of Weiner’s incisive article (series reading #17, July 25).

Donovan appreciates, albeit with a rather snarky tone at times, Weiner’s recognition that the clan “is a natural, universal form of human organization which exerts a “gravitational pull,” and that it is the object of modern liberal government to resist that pull.” Donovan also shows his own appreciation of traditional tribal/clan values, such as honor, dignity, pride, solidarity, and identity. And he displays a modern sensibility when he remarks on “the existence of gangs and criminal brotherhoods which inevitably form in the smooth, derelict spaces of failed or impotent State influence.” Indeed, says Donovan,
“What Weiner calls “rule of the clan” is similar to the male group mentality I identified in The Way of Men as “the way of the gang.””
“…This is why the primal form of human organization is not the pioneer nuclear family of libertarian individualist fantasy, but the patriarchal clan or tribe or gang of men who unite to provide coordinated protection against danger, and a communal mechanism for righting wrongs or resolving disputes. How “fair” or “just” these tribal systems of resolution and retribution actually are is varied, culturally relative, and subject to taste.”
What Donovan objects to is Weiner’s analysis that the rise of the state and its displacement of clan rule has enabled modern individualism, and protected it. Donovan holds that nowadays governments, along with corporations, mostly operate to limit individualism, and that “liberal, globalist modernity” has deeply damaged people’s lives — criticisms that Donovan associates with the Right but often appear on the Left as well. Accordingly, he says in selected scattered paragraphs,
“ … it’s important to look at how the State makes this swaggering self-conception of the romantic one-against-all rugged individualist possible, and how this modern anti-clannishness actually makes the individual more dependent on the modern State.”
“Weiner’s admission of the benefits of clannishness is significant, because he sums up many far-right and reactionary criticisms of modern liberalism and globalism. The prices of liberal, globalist modernity include rootlessness, detachment, an emptiness and desperation for identity that is easily exploited by commercial interests, a lack of community, and a lack of intra-national loyalty that encourages financial greed and insulates elites from the social responsibilities of nobility and the social penalties for betraying their kin, neighbors and countrymen.”
“And the more the State intervenes to regulate and sanction the activities of individuals who associate voluntarily, the more laughable this whole idea of individual autonomy within the context of the State becomes.”
“Because corporations can exert so much more influence on politics than any voter, the modern liberal state has become a tool of corporate interests, not as Weiner idealizes, a guarantor of individual liberty.”
Donovan provides a fair rendition of the kinds of policies that Weiner claims enable states to do better than clans at improving the lives of individuals — but Donovan doesn’t accept any of it:
“Weiner has concluded that, for the liberal state to thrive and continue to deliver on its promise of individual freedom and autonomy, it must do a better job of doing the things the clan has always done better. He suggests that the state “pursue policies that moderate economic inequality,” “provide space for the flourishing of voluntary civil society organizations that provide opportunities for solidarity,” and “ensure that individuals have fair opportunities to exercise their autonomy within the marketplace,” whatever that means.
“At first glance, his suggestions sound OK, if you’re into that whole “saving the modern liberal state” thing.
“However, after a closer look, they quickly become unworkable. He is also overindulgent of the fictions of the modern State, and he barely mentions the biggest elephants in the room.”
Donovan would like to see economic policies enacted that are far more libertarian, nationalist, protectionist, and even isolationist — in a sense, more clannish. But the prospects are severely limited by the powerful hold that government and corporate actors have on today’s politicians, and by the resistance that voluntary bottom-up civil-society actors may face in trying to form independent organizations. At least that’s what I gather from bits and pieces in his write-up.

In light of all the above, Donovan closes with a rousing endorsement of increased clannishness and tribalism as the “only viable option” for people seeking to better their lives as individuals and as members of communities:
“If the State is over-reaching and becoming the biggest threat to the liberties it supposedly protects, as many men with libertarian tendencies now believe, the solution is not a return to the atomized, go-it-alone individualism that ultimately relies on the liberal State. The only viable option is to increase clannishness or tribalism, which Weiner correctly identified as the natural counter to the modern liberal State.”

To read in full for yourself, go here:

NOTE: Donovan’s promotion of this aggressive Rightist tribalism contrasts to the emergence of the more quietist Left-leaning “NeoTribal” movement discussed with reading #11 in this series. Both represent a deliberate turn to the tribal form, based on quite similar critiques of what’s gone wrong in American society. But, wow, how different are the resulting tribalisms.

NOTE: H/t Mark Weiner for calling Donovan’s post to my attention. See readings #15-17 in this series about Weiner’s writings. Also, h/t to David Betz for alerting me to Donovan’s tribalism months ago.

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