Patrick Deneen on (Purposefully) Ignorant Democracy

Patrick Deneen excerpts a decent-sized section of a recently published article of his entitled Democracy Wrongly Understood. It is so brilliant I’m tempted to just cut and paste the whole thing. Read it all. Link here.

Deneen’s basic point is that the US Federalist system (as in Federal power not he states rights’ understanding of Federalism) is of course a republic not a democracy. Madison, the main architect of The Constitution, feared the agglomeration of factionalism within the country. He argued for a powerful federal government that would be filled by disinterested parties who would rightly guide the nation. In that regard, that a whole mess of Americans can’t find the US on a map (“our adults isn’t learning” apparently) shouldn’t surprise us as the US republic is predicated on divide and dissipate dissent–it is built to create a fairly uneducated populace in other words.

For all of the differences between the Progressives and the Framers – and the differences are manifold, as many scholars eagerly point out (e.g., Pestritto, 2005) – there nevertheless exists this striking continuity: both the Founding and the Progressive Eras are dominated by thinkers who praise the rule of the electorate even as they seek to promote systemic governmental features that will minimize electoral influence in the name of good policy outcomes.

As Sanford Levinson has argued for a long time the US constitution is not democratic.

Deneen again:

What requires more reflection are the deeper presuppositions of what constitutes “good policy” [of the sort consistently called upon by social scientists who study civic competence]. Good policy for the Founders and Progressives alike were policies that promoted the economic and political strength of the American republic and the attendant expansion of power in its private and public forms. For all their differences, what is strikingly similar about the thinkers of the Founding era and leading thinkers of the Progressive era were similar efforts to increase the “orbit” or scope of the national government concomitant with increases in the scale of the American economic order.

These patterns of similarity between The Progressives and The Founders (as well as Cold War Liberals and Conservatives) helps undercut arguments that the liberal (or progressive) are entirely foreign constructs. Particularly once Lincoln’s understanding of the republic/constitutional order becomes normative–over say a Calhoun’s.

I have to do some further thinking on this, but one thought that occurs to me is that a serious bug in Madison’s design was the assumption that there were ever dis-interested individuals. Charles Beard I think put that argument to bed in US history. The “corrosive political economics” of our age maybe attributable to this bug. The republican order does play off the intrinsic factionalism at the local level but among other things, with the failure of the Legislative Branch to be anything other than an attempt to get into The Executive these days and the politicization (on both sides liberal and conservative) of SCOTUS, we have a real problem. No one exists to check the factionalism at the federal level.

I think Deneen’s contribution is that (if I’m riffing correctly here) that this is not some European transplant from the left in the 20th century (a la Jonah Goldberg) but is there (at least in germinal form) from the get go.

Deneen’s analysis dovetails nicely with the book I’m currently reading Bounding Power: republican Security Theory from the Polis to the Global Village by Daniel Deudney. I’ve mentioned the book before, and I plan to do so more posts just on it, but a core argument of the text is that republican (little ‘r’) security theory goes through a series of emergent stages of development which are intertwined with material/technological contexts (i.e. it wasn’t just Marx would came up with this insight).

republics exist, for Deudney, between or perhaps bypassing the extremes of anarchy and hierarchy. [Hierarchy understood as domination not natural hierarchies, e.g. physiosphere to biosphere to noosphere].

The early republics–e.g. Sparta–were martial because they were fragile and vulnerable to attack. They either became too successful in war in which case they became imperial–see the shift of Greece from the Persian War to Alexander the Great’s Conquests or the evolution of the Roman republic to the Roman Empire–or they were unsuccessful and destroyed.

Madison feared democracy and (as Deneen points out) saw them as small scale state-level republics. See the failure of The Articles of Confederation. The creation of a federal republic which pushed up a complexified level of the “sphere of sovereignty” was a major achievement.

Deneen in the rest of his article argues for an alternate, localized, Aristotelian, more communitarian type notion of citizenship. That has its place to be sure I think, so long as we recall that (following Deudney’s insight) that frame was connected in part with technological-material constructs. We do not live in the plow and horse (or human chattel slavery) age. [Well sadly many do, but not in the contexts generally of people reading this blog]. In this technology age, any such micro-communities, need to be linked to each other through the internet, so the local and the global are not really particularly separate. In that sense, I wonder what education for republican order in a global age might look like? Deudney makes an argument for republican security theory applied to world setting (not a world government mind you) but I wonder what that would entail for those who are not part of that power holding class? De facto Deneenism? I need to think more on that one.

Skypecast: Foreign Policy into 2009 (Audio Content)

Scott and I discuss economics, the global political frame, and the future into 2009.  We begin by discussing a recent fairly grim post of mine (Happy New Year!!!) and then discuss potential creative ways out of the morass.

[Click the links below, pts1 & 2 for the audio.]



Thomas Barnett post
My apocalyptic post
James Poulos’ Uncrackables
John Robbforeign-policy1

Scott’s post/embedding of the audio (if you have trouble on mine)

John Cole’s Law

Cole writes:

As always, every attempt to justify torture inevitably returns to the mythical ticking time-bomb scenario, and we are now to the point that we need a sort of Godwin’s Law for this, as it is inevitable that any discussion of torture will lead to ticking time bomb scenarios. In the most recent version, Reuel Marc Gerecht takes us back to September 7th, 2001, and says, basically- “What about then? Then would you torture?”

To hell with another Godwin’s Law, the answer is right there on the page.  Cole brought it up, Cole gets it. I hereby argue for (and christen?) Cole’s Law which could be stated as either:

A:”The longer any internet discussion on US torture grows the probability of reference to a hypothetical ticking-time bomb scenario approaches one.”


B:”Any internets discussion of US torture–including references to ‘enhanced interrogation’, ‘torture-lite’, and so forth–inevitably ends up in debate over an imaginary ticking time-bomb scenario as well a very high percentage chance of direct reference to Jack Bauer/24/Kiefer Sutherland and/or any combination of the above.”

Update I: I am aware of all internet traditions as well as the fact that Cole’s Law said quickly sounds like, well this:

I realize others may find this a bug, but I think it a boon to the prospect of Cole’s Law.

Published in: on December 17, 2008 at 4:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Tom Barnett’s New Book

Barnett’s Trilogy is now complete.  The link here provides the chapter headings for his new book (due out in Feb ’09) entitled Great Powers: America and the World After Bush. This is going to be his most ambitious work to date from the looks of it.  If one is going to have a grand strategy, this is the one it seems to me.  As I said yesterday, I’m increasingly questioning the place or I guess the viability of any grand strategy.  So it’s not that I think Barnett is wrong within the parameters of a grand strategy based on the frame of globalization, global integration, and nation-states, in fact just the opposite.  From within those parameters (social, strategic assumptions) I think he is unsurpassed.  It’s that I question those parameters themselves.

I wonder if there was a time for this strategy,  that being the Bush years.  I guess part of me (not all) questions if in the wake of the wreckage to come though whether the playing field, even the game itself will have so changed that any recommendations based on the logic of a previous game/structural rule patterning, however brilliant (and trust his is nothing if not brilliant) will be simply no longer viable.  Not wrong but simply not on the radar any longer.  Outmoded–or maybe out-timed?.

I’m not saying I’ve gone whole hog in the other direction and given up on something the vision outlined in this book.  i.e. I plan on reading the thing and if I’m wrong about the shape of things to come, then his strategy returns to de facto primary status in my book.  If not, and things do radically shift, maybe it could be re-formulated, re-formatted, elements of it metabolized and re-directed to a different overall theory/paradigm.  Who knows.

Update IThis post from Barnettt today is worth the read.  He makes the strongest case possible that the current crisis demands the kind of strategy he lays out. The crux of which relies on moving China from selling stuff to the Old Core (in his terms, i.e. US, Canada, Europe).  China can not become an overnight neo-US world consumer (nor would I want them to be even if they could which they can’t).  So there is clear agreement across the board that the way forward is not to try to revive the fake US consumer economy of the last 30 years.  Rather it’s a strategic partnership predicated on (in Barnett’s terms) a race to the bottom.  That’s alot riding on China.  Also alot riding on The so-called Beijing Consensus, mangaerial capitalism, neo-Keynesianism, Bad Samaritanism, whatever you want to call it.

Barnett links to this article in the Asian Times for background on this idea which states:

The goals of the partnership should be to:

  • Support China’s internal development by re-orienting export flows towards China and other emerging economies from the United States and other industrial countries.
  • Transfer technologies and other expertise to the emerging economies.
  • Make the emerging economies partners in the recovery of American asset prices.
  • Hang on to your hats, it’s gonna be a wild ride. There is no predicting (seems to me) what comes out on the other side.

    Economists Who Correctly Predicted the Crash

    Nouriel Roubini discussing the market meltdown.  I’m less sanguine than he is about Neo-Keynesian stimulus spending.  US infrastructure needs re-building so badly, but I don’t think that is what is going to slow down the recession/mini-depression.  It may halt it somewhat (maybe), but it’s too long by the time Obama gets into office and before the projects will really get going.  Paulson & Crew have not surprisingly known what the f–k to do with the monies so far given in the bailouts.  Nor the  CEOs of said firms who have their heads up their back sides.

    Even someone like Roubini or Nassim Taleb, as well as Peter Schiff & George Soros, correctly predicted the housing bubble collapse, which then exposed a much deeper bubble (a super-bubble in Soros’ terms) that was the entire solvency/credit trap that has taken over and the failure of 30 years of economic policy.  Black swans in Taleb’s language can not be predicted.  Both he and Roubini correctly predicted that said market was built on sand and would eventually collapse, but neither one of them got right precisely when it would happen (they both thought in 2003). And now after the fact, as Taleb would say, we create a story—a narrative fallacy in his words–that Bear Sterns was the presenting cause of the collapse.  But say Bear Sterns had been bailed out, maybe something else would have caused it, or rather simply exposed what was shoddy construction. Eventually a house built on shifting sands is going to fall down.  Predicting exactly when or why is not really the issue.  The issue is the poor choice of construction.

    But looking back over my blog, I noticed these comments to a post of mine from my friend Daniel O’Connor.   He wrote the following on Jan 23rd of this year.  That’s January of 2008.   That’s as the sub-prime bubble is beginning to burst, but before bailouts, market crash, the “r” word, unemployment hitting big, the credit crunch really coming to the fore.  His predictions are beyond prescient.  I’ve highlighted the relevant portions on specific points of pinpoint accuracy in his predictions and added some bracketed comments for contextualization/translation:

    The market economy is now very clearly in the midst of a deflationary-recessionary system dynamic wherein money-credit and productive output are both contracting. This is what the early stages of a depression look like in this unique new era. [ed: Credit Crunch, Global 1-2 yr Recession/Mini-Depression]. It may not come to pass as a full-blown deflationary-recession, but the basic system structure is in place and the dynamics are working in predictable ways.

    The Feds already are and will continue to do everything possible to inflate money-credit and GDP over the next several years, fighting the market system’s natural drive to reduce asset prices (primarily housing, but also stocks [Stock Market Crash in Fall 2008] and soon enough commercial real estate) and write-off the associated debt [See bailouts of AIG, Citigroup, etc. via TARP, .

    They did this with surprising effectiveness beginning in 2000, but at that time they had a balanced budget and a housing sector not yet maxed out in terms of debt and asset prices. Now they are in a desperate situation, far worse than the 2000 scenario and about all they have left in their conventional policy arsenal is to maintain massive budget deficits that are monetized by the Federal Reserve (i.e., the Fed buying new treasury securites to fund the deficits as a way to automatically create new money and thereby inflate GDP via excessive government spending). If they were to spend this extra $300B a year on domestic infrastructure and clean technology [Obama’s Fiscal Infrastructure Stimulus], rather than weapons that are destroyed in their use to destroy other people’s capital structure, then the deficits might not be nearly so bad for the economy.

    Beyond this, look to the Fed to start systematically buying Treasury securities on the open market [see Roubini’s statement on this very point in the video above] as a way to lower long-term interest rates–very unconventional, though I suspect they are already doing this now. They are also likely buying stocks through their secret accounts on Wall Street in order to preclude a crash.

    This is serious game time for these guys, so from their perspective another 4 years of deficits is not only not a problem, but a key part of the short-term solution to a bigger problem than they will ever admit publicly.

    If I ever run for office (not gonna happen), then I’m asking Daniel to be my economics adviser.   If  you want to check out some more of his stuff, his website is here (Catallaxis).  He has some recent posts from the summer more fully fleshing out his views on Integral Theory of Praxis.  Some really brilliant stuff.  I hope to have some time to comment on some of it in the next few weeks.

    Published in: on December 9, 2008 at 10:22 pm  Comments (3)  
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    Mumbai Attacks as India’s 9/11? (Questionable Thesis and Partial Refutation)


    [Image courtesy Flick-er Stuti via CC]

    I have to say I find this notion that the Mumbai attacks are India’s 9/11 is somewhat very unnerving.  India has been experiencing terrorism, either by Hindutva far-right extremists as well as Kashmiri based Muslims for decades.  Decades.  They are hardly some Johnny-Come-Latelys to the terrorism game.  In fact, the situation I would argue is the complete opposite, where the US should be learning from India’s resilience in its decades long struggle to maintain democracy–the world’s largest–in the face of terrorism.  Not the India should be learning from the US in its post 9/11 guise.  See Juan Cole on that point.

    So the first link up there is from Greg Sheridan at the Australian.  It’s a rather fetid imagination piece which not only wants to link Pakistan in but also al-Qaeda to the attacks.

    Sheridan writes:

    They [Mumbai attacks] represent, too, a probably definitive merger of internal Indian conflicts with the global war on terror. They also represent a formal notice of combat to the American president-elect, Barack Obama. The implications for the US of these attacks are in fact enormous.

    First off the Global War on Terror is really at this point The Southeast/Southwestern Asian Crisis.  Pakistan, India, Afghanistan.  India’s embassy in Afghanistan was bombed most likely from groups from the NWFP of Pakistan.  So if Sheridan wants to make the link between the so-called (and badly named and theorized and fought) Global War on Terror and India, that already happened with that embassy bombing.

    It might in fact be the complete reverse, with al-Qaeda Central being subsumed into what are essentially local/regional fights:  Kashmir, the Taliban Pashtun resistance against the Indian-backed Northern Alliance in Kabul, and the rise of the Pakistani Taliban.  All of course with the inter-relation of a NATO mission in Afghanistan and US predator drones bombing targets, both civilian and terrorist in territory that is supposedly under Pakistani sovereignty but which practically is self-governed.

    The problem (as Cole notes) with all these views on whether Pakistan was behind the attacks or not is that we still think in terms of states as opposed to state-less or trans-national guerrilla networks.  Sheridan’s piece assumes al-Qaeda is a state-like entity.  Which in a certain way it is actually is which is why it has become increasingly less effective.  It’s message gets amplified and decentralized groups can pick up on those issues and run with them however they like, but that’s not the same assuming operational coordination.

    And if even there is training, these groups are fluid and individuals within the groups can bleed over into another and they can form, disform, or reform basically at the drop of a hat.  Any possible combination of connections is really possible.

    But one point I would strongly disagree with of Sheridan’s is that the attacks on Westerners is hallmark al-Qaeda.  Except that al-Qaeda’s MO has not been to take hostages.  There were no suicide bombers in this attack (al-Qaeda’s real hallmark if it has one).

    Ultimately al-Qaeda supposed political objectives have failed.  It frankly has none and is ultimately nihilistic.  It’s attempt to plant the (false) flag of al-Qaeda around the world, suck the US in, and then bleed them dry by aligning with local grievances in an attempt to globalize them has been effective through the stupidity of Bush in invading Iraq and perhaps Obama tripling down in Afghanistan.

    The problem then immediately is the state-relation to all of this.  Even if al-Qaeda was in charge of this operation or coordinated with some group in the NWFP, do we invade Pakistan?  Does India?  When the government of Pakistan clearly is not supportive of these attacks, however much some rogue elements within the government/Army and/or ISI might be in favor of them?

    How does this lead anywhere other than to what was pretty obvious from the beginning, but never done by Bush with his war metaphor/paradigm for this construct.  Namely increased nation-nation intelligence coordination and the creation of decentralized intelligence (counter-terrorism) groups by the nations affected by terrorism?

    The question from the beginning has been about creating a legal paradigm resilient and flexible yet with enough standards to protect the rule of law (civil rights, democracy, etc) in the age of terror.  Something like what apparently the PM of India is calling for today.

    This is light years more important than creating some League of Democracies or getting all the countries together into war mode who have had their own 9/11s against some worldwide united terrorist front (which doesn’t exist).

    Rather 1. Create the New Legal Paradigm and 2. Crush the Cell(s)

    A Little More Soros

    Again, listen when he talks about credit, he means faith.  The system is collapsing as the existentialists would say because of bad faith.  Literally.

    Published in: on November 26, 2008 at 1:48 pm  Comments (1)  
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    George Soros on Financial Crisis (Beaucoup de Links)


    Click the link above for the audio of George Soros describing the current financial meltdown.

    The full transcript of the interview with Bill Moyers and George Soros here.  The wiki on Soros’ theory of financial markets is here.  I’m reading Soros’ new book on the subject (as well as a few of his previous ones) for a paper for class.  This guy is brilliant on this stuff.  One of the few minds that really gets it (Nouriel Roubini, Peter Schiff, Michael Lewis & Crew, among others).

    The key part is here:

    GEORGE SOROS:Which they didn’t properly understand. And there was always a separation between the people who generated the mortgages and packaged them and sold them to you and the people who owned them. So nobody was paying attention to the quality of the mortgages because they didn’t have an interest. They — all day collecting fees. And then there were other people holding the mortgages.

    I’m working on the issue of credit as growing from the notion of “belief” or “trust” (in Latin credere).  Credere is the same root as Creeds.  There was no ability to trust in this system because no one knew anyone else.  Speculators, brokers, and the such are not the ones to be have been making these loans–from subprime on up, nor then those even further removed from the reality of relationship–e.g. those who did the securitization and SIVs and then later the CDOs on the SIVs.

    That and the notion that human actions affect the market (what Soros calls ‘reflexitivity’) lie at the heart of the necessary re-think….Soros’ new paradigm.  It follows in his decades long critique of economics as mimicking physics (via math).  In other words, to make economics into a natural science–to describe economic behavior as conforming to natural laws.  Even the more recent attempts to re-read economics along evolutionary, biological or chaotic theories has some benefit but is still trapped in what Ken Wilber calls “subtle reductionism” (as opposed to the earlier gross reductionism).  For more on that distinction, this mind-blowingly brilliant manifesto by Christian Arnsperger.

    So the economic theory (according to Soros) is based on the wrong psychology, the wrong anthropology really–that is the wrong view of the human being.  Natural science-based economics thinking is suffering from what Whitehead termed “misplaced concreteness”.  That means to confuse what is originally an insight or explanatory framework predicated on a certain context (usually a fairly easy to understand rather basic one) and universalizing that insight/frame to all contexts as if there were the “natural” state of affairs.

    It is built on C.S. Peirce’s notion that what we call natural laws are actually habits in the universe.  Everything starts as a moment of novelty or choice.  But over time repeated actions habitutate and instantiate themselves into the woop and warp of the universe.  What humans term natural laws are usually just the most basic, earliest, ways of being in the universe.  They are so ground in through habitual patterning that they are essentially almost 100% determined.

    In market terms, following Soros, the idea of homo economicus, the rational all-knowing actor in the market that guides so much thinking in these realms is a misplaced concreteness drawn originally from the realm of markets in durable goods, where the basic law of supply and demand and the equilibrium that grows out of those interactions basically holds.  [They are in this analogy like the movements of gas molecules in a container–you can’t predict how any one molecule will go but basically you can more or less predict how the entire set of molecules over time will interact].

    But credit markets are not goods markets.  And here we are back to choice and trust and the unknowability of the future and that the real and our actions interact and are responsive to one another.  That the future is free and open.  (Soros’ political vision is built out of this philosophical point).  Hence the modernist worldview and formal operational cognition upon which it rides, assumes everything heads to equilibrium (in economics this is called Walrasian thought).  Hence no regulation is necessary as everything left in its natural state will work out to the equilibrium–since all actors in the system are rational.  Sound familiar?

    Ultimately by disentangling economics from relationships (and hence from consciousness/feeling) we move into an etherealized reality, where economic value can be inflated to the point where value is accruing without any actual work/product being done.  And then eventually that self-reinforcing (self-reflexive) mania will be exposed and then the house of cards comes falling down.

    Religiously to have the wrong notion of the human being is to have the wrong notion of God–in other words to committ idolatry.  Because humans are made in the image of God (so claims theology).  To consider the market as a god (“the all-knowing” market).  Idolatry socially comes out in the form of wrongly structured relationships.  In the globalized frame, we exist to serve the markets, not they us.  The fruit of that fundamental misinterpretation and mistaken practice is now coming to harvest.

    The FBI Is Tapping My Phone (???)

    On days like this it’s good to know I don’t live in the US (???):

    A federal appeals court in Manhattan upheld the convictions on Monday of three Al Qaeda operatives in a ruling that bolsters the government’s power to investigate terrorism by holding that a key Constitutional protection afforded to Americans does not apply overseas.

    The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit holds for the first time that government agents may obtain admissible evidence against United States citizens through warrantless searches abroad.

    Now that the government may tap my calls without a warrant whilst I live up north I feel much better.

    Take it away Public Enemy:

    Published in: on November 24, 2008 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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    Bailout Meets Marx

    I just watched most of this whole discussion (which you can find on Fora, here) as background for a paper I’m doing on process theology and economics.

    If you can get beyond the sincere though smug circle-jerking lefty-ism of the thing, they do raise some interesting points. That might be a little harsh, so let me balance that by saying I have read at least one if not more of the works of all of the panelists. And learned a good deal from all of them.

    But there’s a really weird moment in the whole conversation particularly when the insufferably cranky leftist Marxist boomer (yikes, yikes, yikes, yikes to all that) David Harvey [whose book on The History of Neoliberalism I actually liked in some ways] asks Naomi “Why aren’t people more angry?” Angry about the bailout, the cronyism, and all the rest.

    And it should have occurred to him or her because it occurred to me (and this isn’t some fantastically brilliant insight on my part just basic common sense), Klein and Harvey just spent minutes bemoaning the fact that everything is about economics and the elites, the powerful (they are classical Marxists both of them after all) and then wonder why people are apathetic? Perhaps it is because if they actually bought into your storyline about the world, the clear implication is that they are powerless to do anything and therefore are actually acting responsibly.

    You hear it in Klein saying (rather ludicrously) that Alan Greenspan built the entire (derivative? housing?) market. No acting human subjects (minus the uber-powerful), no humans flawed in economic thinking–the powerful are always so rational in these systems…if not rational then at least completely logical in their self-interest. My (albeit limited) interactions with rich and powerful usually leave me convinced that they are not the brightest bulbs in the universe. [The sample size of my life’s interactions with the aristocracy are probably not a legitimate sample size though to be fair].

    But in traditional leftist economic thought it’s still really all about managing people from a top-down engineering model. I can’t help but feel the Harveys and Kleins of the world secretly (or maybe not so secretly) are in some perverse way really drawn to people like Greenspan because that is what they wish they could be doing–controlling the great events from the top-down.

    Of the many flaws of Marxism, one that’s always puzzled me is if the world is only essentially the power relationship through economics (class conflict iow), then why support the proletariat? Beyond some vague discussion of human rights, justice, fairness whatever–because how are not those simply another ideological veil to support class power? Stiglitz says the bailout is redistributionism up the scale (true that) but why is that exactly worse than redistribution down a la New Deal and Great Society Left? Again from within the Marxist thought world?

    For what it’s worth I tend to favor distribution of property not income (either up or down) which is why I tend to lean towards Hernando de Soto’s work--although in this (as in everything else I’ve seen the man on) he is a one-track pony which becomes very boring, very quickly.

    Update I: It’s worth linking again to Jon Chait’s definitive takedown of the excessively Marxist Klein.

    Update II: The answer to the why the proletriat is that Marx’s vision is ultimately a secularized form of Jewish eschatology and the prophetic ethics (the cry of the poor) against the abuses of the rich. The classless state is a secularized form of the apocalyptic Biblical vision of the eschaton or the Age to Come in the Rabbinic sources. I actually think that is where the great power of the system lies, but it’s not proved by economic laws or management/power discourse. One could argue that misunderstood as the imposition of by a deux ex machina, the Messianic Age in the religious (as well as certainly in Marx’s formulation) is a basic definition of unfreedom. Of a predetermined destiny and set metaphysic that will be imposed upon beings. There is an alternative reading of the Messianic Age which states that The Messiah will come when the Messiah is no longer necessary. The constant themes from farther left of the romanticization of the rising up of the masses hearkens to this call but is usually bound up in all kinds of problems and typically does not end well.