Thiel's Error

Time! Time…there is no time to do this post right, but go read Thiel’s hugely important piece in Policy Review and thank PEG, who tipped me off. Thiel’s piece is not only crucial reading but it’s very good, except for a certain interpretation of the history of political thought that leads him unnaturally into the arms of all-or-nothing eschatology. The idea of globalization, he claims,

is not new. It is coeval with the modern West. Starting in the seventeenth century, the dawn of the modern era, the global state or market has become the sine qua non for this-worldly peace and security.

This already is implicit in the writings of Thomas Hobbes, the definitive political philosopher of modernity. For Hobbes, the natural state must be replaced by an artificial or virtual world over which humans have full mastery and control. The telos is replaced by the fear of the end, or the fear of death. And so the classical virtues, such as courage, magnanimity, or wisdom, give way to peaceableness as the greatest good. In the state of nature, the war of all against all prevails; but under the artificial human world of the social contract, humans will become citizens by giving a monopoly on violence to the figure of Leviathan, a powerful monster that lives at sea. To make explicit what is implicit, Leviathan cannot be merely the master of a given nation or kingdom, since then the state of nature would still prevail amongst nations and kingdoms. For Hobbes ’ City of Man to be built, Leviathan must rule all nations and kingdoms and truly be the prince of this world. He is the “mortal god” created by the mind of man.

I can only focus on the essential error here, which is that Hobbes’ theory of order is (or, on another telling that might also be at work here, should and must be) scalable: once the problem of natural disorder is ‘solved’ at the level of the state, the leap of contractual faith ushering in the first, tribal Leviathan must be replicated, cascading upward, until it is consummated at the higher level of all humanity. This imputes categories of thought and motives derivative from those categories at once far too purely scientific and far too purely Christian for Hobbes. Reread that phrase of Thiel’s — “to make explicit what is implicit” is to read into Hobbes what, unless you are coming at him from a perspective, inherited but in turn unmoored from Christianity, that holds the flesh cannot comprehend the spirit, is not there. Even if Hegel, as Strauss alleges, did appear to consummate Hobbes, that consummation only appears to exist from within a scientized Christian view: the flesh of Hobbes is overcome by the spirit of Hegel.

What I mean is that the Hobbesian Leviathan, though patently a Christian state, is not a New Testament construction but a most forceful attempt to reassert the validity of Old Testament wisdom against the transgressive and chaotic potentialities of post-Lutheran Christianity – in which Christ, no matter what he said, really did come to put the old covenant in the dustbin of history. Hobbes wants to insist that the Mosaic experience is foundational, of a piece with human nature. To stray into the primacy of possibility unleashed by a political theology in which the flesh of the old law is to be entirely replaced by the explosive interpretive anarchy of the spirit of the new law is to fall once again into the murderous superstition of the Jews at the foot of the golden calf. Leviathan is a tribal survival mechanism that hedges conservatively in two directions: first, against the narrowing, incestuous, fragmenting destruction of irrational pagan power worship, and, second, against the expanding, contagious, universalizing mania of apocalyptic eschatology that emerges when the spirit is unmoored from the flesh.

To come down into practical particulars, the bottom line is that Hobbes is actually a profoundly anti-globalization theorist; to put it provocatively, the state of Israel is more Hobbesian in its order than the international scientific community. Because Thiel does not recognize this, he does not recognize the way in which a more or less catastrophic end to the current globalization boom might not result either in one big anarchy or many small tyrannies. His claim that no one can win the next world war is provocative but without justification. I would bet on whichever powerful participants are most Hobbesian in the respect I present here. And that still speaks pretty well of America.