The ingredients of a regime

What are the basic ingredients of a regime?  This is an important question to answer if you want to make one or change one.  Here we are not talking about government nor constitution but about another more basic level of political and social organisation.  The UK has had plenty of governments and, of course, many of them have served to keep things the way they are.  There is an idea that, since the UK goes without a written constitution, it doesn’t effectively have one. It is unwritten and therefore less open to change although you could say that the Bill of Rights of 1688 or the Act of Union (with Scotland) of 1707 or the reform movement, the key staging posts of which are the Reform Acts of 1832 and 1867, may all be constitutional changes.  Not to mention the treaty which gave us membership of the Common Market in 1973!

There’s always a danger that constitutional change can bring about regime change.  But even so, for the UK, these may have been changes to the constitution without being changes of constitution.  The regime that was established in 1688 started its gestation with the separation from Rome, the Protestant Reformation of the 1530s. French society began a process of regime change in 1789 and completed it with the establishment of the Third Republic in 1870.  In between these dates it went through a number of constitutions.  The significance of 1870 was the establishment of a republic.

So what do you need to make a regime?  You need territorial integrity.  This was less of a problem for the English/British after union with Scotland.  At this point the effective construction of a combining identity could begin.  ‘We’ only became ‘British’ in the 18th century.  Of course this is not (and was not) entirely unproblematic.  The territory-defining process can start with a colonisation or ‘land grab’. A good example of this is Israel.  Equally Islamic State have made a similar attempt. Both of these state-building projects started (and continue) with armed terrorist-type actions.

Territorial integrity is not simply determined by an armed appropriation of land.  You need another ingredient which makes the land identifiable with the people and the people identifiable with the land.  Anybody who has thought of such matters (and may be familiar with the work of Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities) knows the importance of language in this respect.  However the reach of a regime is (or can be) more visceral even than language.  For example, the National Socialist regime in Germany that took power soon after the elections of 1933 created a network of concentration camps, thousands of them so that there would be always one local to any community within the regime’s territory.  The principle was that the infliction of pain and humiliation to one person should be effectively communicated to thousands more.  The ability for the state to ‘disappear’ somebody has an impact that communicates itself quickly within the ‘identifiable territory’ of the regime.  Likewise, the initial strategy for the National Socialists was to make strategic releases of ‘survivors’ from the camps.  These would be the messengers and their reappearance in the community had high communication value.  This is similar to the proposed measure announced by David Cameron to deprive suspected terrorists of their passports.  Everybody in range of this message would be thankful to have one.  Like when you hear about a theft, you feel for your purse with quickened tension.  There’s nothing like the fear of statelessness to make one identify with the state.  In other words, the territory only becomes integral when it is identifiable and is a united sensory field.

The corollary of this is exclusion.  The territory would not be worth having if there was no resistance to its appropriation.  So the process of exclusion is linked to identification.  God comes in handy.  If you want a regime, it really helps to have your own god.  At a deep level the justification for the Israeli appropriation of land is written in holy texts.  You will immediately notice that this is the same for Islamic state.  The formation of the French national regime, the monarchy that ruled France until the Revolution, was deeply linked to the work of the Inquisition. For a specific instance of this, Ladurie wrote a series of books studying the impact of the Inquisiton, ‘Montaillou‘.  In England the specific construction of a God that served the regime’s purpose of cohesion was linked to the development of Protestantism. Ironically, the core of the puritan movement, that sharpened its project in the English Civil War of 1642-1660, strongly identified with the Israelites.  This was based on the story, particularly compatible with protestant ideology, that the English were (are) the chosen people.  We know that this particular story was capable of being exported west in the foundation of the United States. Anyway, you really need God if you are going to kill and killing is definitely a part of regime formation.

Another ingredient that will take the process of regime formation even deeper into the interstices of social life and interpersonal behaviour may be described as social synthesis. This is how Alfred Sohn Rethel described the process of abstraction of social relations presented by the agreement about the value of money, what Spinoza in the Ethics describes as the universal object of desire that “occupies the mind of the multitude more than anything else”.  A key institution for the UK regime formation, and this is a sign of its prodigious modernity, was the Bank of England.  This was founded in 1694, obviously not long after the accession of William and Mary of Orange (1688), and the basis of its foundation was this deal: the bank could print money and issue coin (with the sovereign’s head on it) and the monarch could borrow money to conduct foreign wars. These wars turned out to be to the advantage of the merchants that had backed the setting up of the bank.  This was the simple bit. Enforcing this arrangement and ensuring that the currency was accepted in the integral territory was more messy.

In 1690 Thomas and Anne Rogers were tried and found guilty of having in their possession counterfeit coin and the implements that were necessary for forging currency.  Thomas was hanged drawn and quartered.  Anne was burnt alive.  The charge was treason and the punishments were exemplary.  Displays of killing like this were as intensive as possible to send the message out to all within the regime’s sensory range. The message was: trust the currency.  Clearly fear and trust are the opposite sides of the same coin.  Once the Bank had been set up things got no less violent. Major effort had still to be deployed to prevent counterfeiting. Isaac Newton, who in the later part of his life, after his exertions in optics, physics, mechanics and alchemy, became an employee of the Bank and was made a Justice of the Peace so that he could pursue malefactors indulging in coin-clipping and forgery.  A key role for the Bank of England is to maintain confidence in the currency.

You can only undertake programmatic killing of the sort which the Rogers underwent if you believe you have God ‘on your side’ or if you have the belief that you are battling an ineffable evil. So there is a connection between the central symbolic enactments of the regime, the monarch, ritualised slaughter and the creation of ‘social synthesis’.  A key component of this last is the agreement about money’s value.  This enables social relations to be regulated and thus money is able to perform its multiple, designated social function as both a means of exchange, of circulation and a store of value.  This means value can be retained and accumulated and there is stability in prices.

As well as core processes such as the administration of justice, policing, the creation of currency, the structuring of social relations through military organisation and deployment, there were also popular ‘displays’ such as parades with accompanying songs and symbolic enactments. As mentioned above the ‘glue’ which held these processes together for the English/British was the Protestant religion.  This was the basic combinative ingredient, the ideology.

English/British Protestantism was (and is) an extraordinary hybrid structure, sealed off, on the one hand, from the democratic tendencies of radical ‘dissenting’ Protestantism and and, on the other, by distinguishing itself from Roman Catholicism.  At a doctrinal level this effort of formulation is summed up in the 39 Articles. These form a part of the Book of Common Prayer, the English/British equivalent (maybe forerunner) of Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book.  Protestantism provided ‘litmus-test’ for loyalty.  All public officials had to swear their loyalty to this religion and in the early days of the regime had to take Anglican communion.  The lynchpin of the, only partly-disguised, theocracy of the English/British system was that the Monarch was the head of the church.  This meant that loyalty to the religion was corroborative of loyalty to the monarch.  We can see that, when the regime representatives are pressed, they come up with the requisite symbolic actions as proof of loyalty, witness David Cameron’s exhortation to Jeremy Corbyn to prove his loyalty by wearing a tie and by standing up and singing “God save the Queen’.  Those who look with scorn at the jihadists’ cries of “Allahu akhbar” should check for attitudinal consistency.

The connection between Protestantism and state loyalty reflected the crucial link between Catholicism and treason.  At a core level of regime solidarity the connection of an ‘enemy within’ with the ‘enemy without’ is essential.  It is in this way that military organisation permeates the interstices of the society.  The Royal Navy was the senior service, and this had impacts on the bureaucracy of state organisation.  The initial move in the 1690s by the regime alongside the renewal of the Navy was the creation of the Coalition Army with the Dutch against the French.  This was the first mobilisation of a UK army to fight in foreign fields for some time.  It was a Northern European Protestant alliance against the Catholic powers.  All of the UK’s wars, it goes without saying, were fought outside the integrated territory, and the co-ordination between the Navy and the army set the pattern for adventures right up the Falklands/Malvinas adventure.  However the Navy remain the ‘keynote’ armed service.  It also goes some way to helping to understand why our main ‘deterrent’ is the sea-borne ‘Trident’ system.

This also goes some way to explaining how UK polity was, and is, organised.  Up until the 1780’s the key government departmental organisation was the separation between the Northern Department, which engaged with relationships with the Northern European Protestant states, and the Southern Department, which dealt with relations with Catholic and Muslim (I nearly said Islamic) states.  It was after the defeat in the American War of Independence, a salutary and complex shock to the UK system, that the Home Office and the Foreign Office were formed to replace this ideologically and geographically-based bureaucratic organisation. The cohesion/exclusion processes of regime-making are structured, at the level of policy formation and execution, by the articulation of ‘home’ policy and ‘foreign’ policy. The relationship between these two departments of government remains, while the regime is intact, unquestioned like a basic assumption .

At the same time in the 1780 and 90s, with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic campaign there was the first real threat of invasion since 1066, a significant change to the loyalty test took place.  Anti-Catholicism had served extremely well in providing the key cohesion/exclusion necessary for the sustaining of the ‘chosenist’ imperial expansion.  It could be ritualised at a popular level with Church and King festivities like Guy Fawkes bonfires. Fawkes was often replaced by Napoleon or even Tom Paine during the 1790s in such ceremonial effigy-burning.  Thus the new enemy became ‘Republicanism’ and it is significant that the oath of loyalty for the armed forces, at this point, dropped the Protestant component.  From that time you only had to swear allegiance to the monarch to serve in his (or her) majesty’s armed forces. To this day all members of Parliament, the armed forces and certain sections of public servants do likewise  The distinction between being public servants and servants of the crown is ill-defined.  It was some time later that Engels encapsulated the UK system as being like an inverted pyramid where the peak was at the same time the base:

The English Constitution is an inverted pyramid; the apex is at the same time the base. And the less important the monarchic element became in reality, the more important did it become for the Englishman.  The Condition of England F. Engels Vorwarts 1844

Popular sovereignty was magically transposed into monarchic sovereignty and we, poor ‘Ukanians’, remain subjects of the Crown, despite our more recent reaching out (apparently unsuccessfully) to European Republicanism and citizenship via the EU.

Another important ingredient is how the regime embodies itself, how it personifies itself. The emblematic character for the English/British regime is the English Gentleman.  All forms of national identification centre on this figure.  The central place of patriarchy, or the renewal of patriarchy in the constant ‘replaying’ of this particular character, connects with military, behavioural and temperamental codes.

So, an integrated territory with a sensory unity, ritual killing authorised by god, connected social synthetic processes  (money and language), military organisation and action sanctioned by god through the sovereign, all brought together in a symbolic figure, an emblematic personification, a functioning ideology that creates social cohesion through exclusion (in the UK’s case, this was first anti-catholicism, then anti-republicanism, then anti-communism and then ‘war on terror’), public displays and rituals that enact the basic ideological values, are the basic ingredients.

As one looks in more detail at these regime-making processes we can see that, underlying government, there are certain sustaining structures.  It’s as if the basic space, structure and furniture of a house were established and the processes of change and renewal were limited to curtains and fittings, decorative features and who it is that actually occupies the space.

How far are the ingredients of a regime the same as those of any human group?  Is the regime a species of human group?  Sigmund Freud in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego extrapolated from smaller human groups and arrived at the idea that the basic organisational forms of larger groups were typically manifested in the Army and the Church.  In this regard, it is significant, in the UK case, that the monarch is both Commander in Chief and Head of the Church.  When Wilfred Bion (see Experiences in Groups) analysed the underlying structure of the human group he identified certain, what he described as, ‘basic assumptions’, occasionally applying these to whole societies.  Writing in the period immediately after the Second World War, he surmised that the structure of German society as the war was coming to an end, resembled a group dominated by the ‘fight/flight’ basic assumption.  This is one of three group structures that he identified: ‘fight/flight’, ‘dependent’ and ‘pairing’.  These interrelate and are in dynamic contention with a fourth: the ‘work’ group. In Elias Canetti’s work Crowds and Power he describes a morphology of human groups, for example, ‘increase pack’ group behaviour where a human group is structured by consumption that escalates mimetically: the more that is consumed, the more the group members feel that they must consume.  The question is: are these basic human group structures operational at the level of regime organisation?  How far is the structure of the regime a natural human phenomenon?  Does regime change involve a change in human nature?

I am unable to do justice to the three great observers of human group behaviour that I have cited above.  However, none of them were in a position to see what we can now see: that the human species is endangered by human activity itself.  The regimes that I have been describing, using the UK regime as the main example, are all historically specific and are, in complex ways versions of nation-state regimes.  I’m saying it is complex because the development of the different nation-state regimes were not autochthonous.  They developed mimetically.  The development of one borrowed forms from another.  They placed themselves against one another and mimicked each other.

So there are two perspectives from which we can look at regime change.  One, is to do with the fact that now, it is even more unlikely that regimes can change in isolation from other regimes.  The problematic history of the Communist Revolution in Russia after 1917 demonstrates this issue.  The other perspective is given by asking how far new kinds of people have to come into being first in order to create regime change.  Of course, people are always changing and developing and they do so at the same time as formulating what they recognise as being human. They inscribe these formulations in the societies they build. As regimes solidify and create international structures of conformity, hierarchic relations operate through groups of nations (G7, G20,) taking on the lead role in international social organisation. In these circumstances, where there is a universalisation of regime maintenance, there appears to be a growing multitudinous powerlessness proportional to the centralisation of power. Humanity as whole seems to be more powerful, more productive and therefore more destructive, but the overwhelming majority of human beings experience a lack of control over their immediate circumstances.  It seems as if we are living at a time of social disintegration where fewer and fewer people are able to engage in making our lives together. So often when thinking about the disfunctionality caused by inequality, privatisation, financialisation and dispossession one meets contradictions which appear to be deadlocks.  How can people change their political and social circumstances when as individuals they have so little power?

There are deep connections between inequality, powerlessness, global-warming anthropogenic climate change, racist divisions and patriarchal values and, because of this, it is difficult to know where to start.  Yet the overwhelming nature of the problems that we are encountering mean that action is necessary.  Two things occur to me.

One, is that reason and rationality, as we receive them, seem of limited help.  This is not to undervalue thinking but it means being critical of thinking of a certain type. We have to question common sense and received definitions of reality. Of course the risks are of isolation and illusion.  Is there some basic sense of humanity that we can test our intuitions against?  Can we continue to experience our humanity as a variable and dialectical process of realisation?  What is this work and what tools are necessary?  Reflection is important, but is it sufficient? One knowledge that I have found valuable arises out of the work that I have done in theatre and drama.  The starting point for me in this work, the creation of the aesthetic space in which the work can take place, has been the reduction of human interaction to a kind of neutral readiness and the gaining of a relaxed concentration.  Alongside various appropriate exercises, I am constantly inviting the people with whom I am working to do nothing, to ‘just breathe’.  This place of stillness is where we start from.  I connect this to the primordial, pre-verbal condition of humanity and when I have thought about this recently the work of the Tao Te Ching has been brought to mind, especially the idea of the ‘uncarved block’.  This is a complex idea developed in the work.  What it most reminds me of is the first period of our lives before we have language.  I believe that making contact with this ‘being’ is a prerequisite of action in the world. This action of society building (what Castoriades in his work ‘Philosophy, Politics and Autonomy’ calls ‘instituting’) is, for me, identical to changing the regime.

Two, this work should start with work in groups and work on making groups that can act as organisational examples of social generation as well as being effective communities of action.  This seems to me to be in accord with the recognition that we are essentially mimetic creatures, that we make each other through imaginatively transferring our selves to the other.  So, if regime change engages, as the psychoanalytic thinker, Otto Gross expressed it, with our ability to ‘replace the will to power to the will to relate’ (See Gottfried Heuer’s book about Gross), then it is in group work that I feel that this capacity to relate can be best practiced.

It would be difficult to overestimate the need for good clear thinking but it strikes me that regime change or revolution now, in our circumstances, needs deep passion more than anything else.  Going deeper into ourselves and our humanity is prescriptive of being truly active.