Micropolitics / Macropolitics

22 June 2010


This sketch by Hans Holbein of the family of Sir Thomas Moore (the painting has been lost) shows Moore at the center of the household, presiding like an emperor, while the women of the house are on their knees before him.

In yesterday’s Personal Dystopias I argued that the same kind of thinking that produces dystopian results from utopian intentions when practiced on a visionary scale is responsible for dystopian results from utopian intentions on a personal, local, and even private scale. Thinking more about this, another obvious example is despotism: there are large scale despotisms and small scale despotisms. The traditional patriarchal family structure found throughout much of the world is often modeled on despotic rule within the context of a single family. This is no longer acceptable in the industrialized world as it was in the recent past, but it played a significant role as recently as what I called the conformist patriarchy of mid-twentieth century America in The Agricultural Paradigm.

I realized today that these are examples of what Deleuze called “micropolitics.” I also realized, in contrasting the idea of micropolitics with the implied idea of macropolitics, that these are political instantiations of the microcosm / macrocosm theme, an ancient fractal theme in Western thought in which the large is mirrored in the small and the small is mirrored in the large. From this perspective, it would be interesting to engage in a detailed and through analysis of political paradigms seeking their parallels in private and domestic life, at the same time as seeking parallels of private and domestic life in systems of political and social organization.

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If George Washington is the Father of his Country, does that make us all one, big happy family?

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Grand Strategy Annex

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One Response to “Micropolitics / Macropolitics”

  1. T. Greer said

    A few thoughts-

    In John Lewis Gaddis’ The Landscape of History (an excellent, easy to read, and short title I would recommend to anybody) he speaks of the ‘fractals’ of history. Fractals, of course, are those shapes which can be split into parts that are a reduced-size copy of the whole. History, says Gaddis, often follows a similar pattern. A biographer of Stalin, for example, may note in succession the day Stalin crushed his pet parrot’s head out of annoyance, the manner in which his callous treatment drove his wife to suicide, the peasant he sent to the gulags because his dogs too oft disturbed his sleep at night, the absolute mercilessness in which Stalin pursued and killed political opponents, and the millions Stalin sent to their deaths without a troubled thought. The pattern repeats itself on larger (or depending how one looks at it, smaller) scales. Gaddis proposes that it is these ‘fractal’ attributes biographers call “character”.

    This is a general truth the ancients believed in. This thought occurred to me this morning as I read through the First Book of Samuel. In it, one will remember, the King Saul is risen up, favored of the Lord, and then falls corrupted and is replaced. The source of his corruption, says Samuel, is that he no longer trusts the Lord to provide and protect himself and Israel. In this Saul is very much a microcosm of Israel itself – just a few chapters earlier Samuel is warning the Israelites that they should want no king. They should not desire to be like other nations, to put their trust in the arms of flesh. They should let the Lord be their king and protector. The faults of the children of Israel are mirrored in the personal failings of their king.

    The Confucians would claim that the two were one and the same. Or if not quite the same, that the second caused the first. Thus we see time and time again the Chinese obsession with ensuring that their Emperors (or in Confucius’ day, kings) were of the highest moral character. If the rulers were wise and pious so too would be the people.

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