Status and the State: and update to the Mitchell model

Brian Patrick Mitchell’s 2006 book Eight Ways To Run The Country provided us with an interesting new model to analyze the political spectrum. Whereas the Nolan Chart uses a rather controversial social/economic split to generate a two-axis political spectrum, Mitchell arranges ideologies according to each ideology’s acceptance of coercion and each ideology’s acceptance of social hierarchy generally.

I am going to discard Mitchell’s very academic-sounding Greek labels “Kratos” and “Arche” and instead use simple terms. Mitchell asks questions of Status and questions of the State. “Status” refers to social rank and hierarchy, but does not specify what kinds of rank or hierarchy any particular ideology embraces or rejects. A pro-Status ideology is one that believes hierarchy or inequality of at least some politically-relevant types is natural and positive, whereas an anti-Status ideology is one that generally champions equality in all politically-relevant variables. Of course, ideologies often have different ideals of equality; for a Marxist, economic inequality is a substantive problem, but a classical liberal would see a CEO and the common man on the street as equal in the politically relevant sense. Thus, Status is as much decided by the values underpinning the ideology as it is by the ideology’s political descriptions.

State, of course, is the issue of force. If coercive authority is seen as an undeniable threat, the ideology is predisposed against the State even if it doesn’t embrace anarchism. Of course, all anarchists are State-negative and all totalitarians are State-positive.

This article will focus not merely on classifying ideologies, nor is it an attempt to claim Mitchell’s system is perfect. Rather, the goal is to provide an update, not merely to Mitchell’s terminology but to the ideologies under discussion. In recent years, the ideologies in circulation have changed. Neoconservatism is effectively an intellectual zombie; in spite of the fact it still has influence it has been popularly discredited. Left-liberalism has also been demonstrated as something substantially rarer than many of us thought; many so-called “liberals” in the American sense are really “progressives who have no intellectual link to the liberal tradition, habitually reject individualism in favor of determinism and the resultant technocracy, and are seemingly fine with socially conservative religionists when those religionists are Islamists. Of course the largest shift in the popular political spectrum has been the emergence of the so-called “alt-right,” which in reality is an umbrella term that groups together neoreactionaries and ethnostatists.

Anti-Status Anti-Statist
This quadrant is composed of ideologies which are not only skeptical of state power, but are also skeptical of social hierarchy. These ideologies typically believe in the natural equality of human beings, in the immorality of any man’s subjection of another, and in the self-determination of the individual above not merely the dictates of the state, but the demands of custom and culture and convention. Often, Status and the State are seen as mutually-reinforcing phenomena, with the latter encouraging the former, and the former legitimizing the latter.

Obviously the classical liberal and libertarian tradition fits here, although paleolibertarian thinkers sometimes have ambivalent-Status or Pro-Status sympathies on some issues, and the liberal tradition contains within it some degree of ambivalence with respect to the institutions of civil society and whether or not these can serve as bulwarks against the State or threats to individual freedom in their own right. However, another tradition also fits here; several left-wing anarchists and in particular the individualist anarchisms of Tucker and Proudhon simultaneously oppose the State and hierarchical societal arrangements. Where they disagree with the classical liberal tradition is that they see wage labor as inherently hierarchical and thus consider capitalistic business worthy of abolition.

Anti-Statism Pro-Status
This quadrant consists of ideologies which are critical of the State but at the same time believe social hierarchies are acceptable or even positive things. These ideologies often see the State, particularly in its modern incarnation, as a tool of an unjust, unnatural and immoral egalitarianism. Certainly the stereotypical depiction of market-oriented social conservatives is of this kind, and critics of the liberal tradition often accuse libertarianism of ultimately working out to this; accusations that “freedom is just the freedom to be bigoted” or “freedom to increase their own wealth at the expense of the community” bank on these stereotypes.

However, there are in fact ideologies which do embrace an Anti-Statism, Pro-Status position. Paleoconservatism is the obvious example here; Paleoconservatives are consistently against war, however they advocate traditional social hierarchies and communities which can indeed provide supportive structures for some individuals, yet also can be extremely stifling for others. Paleocons, however, don’t generally believe in the use of the State to enforce their moral preferences; for example, Rod Dreher of The American Conservative is a theologically conservative Eastern Orthodox Christian, but one who realizes how much damage the fusion of theologically conservative Christianity with the Republican Party brand has had on Christianity as a faith, and advocates withdrawal from electoral politics and a focus by Christians on their own communities and their own discipleship. Paleocons generally mix their politics with a general suspicion towards enlightenment modernity. Unsurprisingly, Paleocons tend to be very opposed to government interventions which are perceived as destructive towards traditional norms and hierarchies.

This hostility towards government-backed egalitarianism is also found amongst paleolibertarians, who often echo paleoconservative arguments about the beneficence of conservative social values but do not believe they should be enforced by the State. Paleolibertarian theory, in particular through the works of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, has however influenced the so-called neoreactionary movement which is also known as the “Dark Enlightenment.” Neoreactionaries believe in natural hierarchies, based upon evolutionary theory, and argue for socially conservative values as a result. Neoreactionaries see the modern nation-state as dysgenic, pro-degeneracy, and also anti-liberty; neoreactionaries are inspired by libertarian critiques of democracy, yet are not allies of the nation-state since they believe in small polities which compete for citizens. Each polity would be treated as the private property of its ruling caste and ran for profit.

Pro-Statism Pro-Status
These ideologies, to be blunt, are usually not ones with good reputations, and for good reason. These ideologies believe in social hierarchies and a strong State, and generally see the two phenomena as bound together. State should enforce and confer Status. These ideologies are elitist, although this elitism is often cast as meritocratic. Fascism is of course the obvious case, but 20s, 30s and 40s American progressivism is also an example here (in spite of its technocratic style being a contrast to fascism’s dramatic, romantic, emotionalist bombast). Totalitarian socialisms such as Juche and Stalinism unquestionably fit here, since these systems do not even contain a plausible pretense of equality or of fighting against hierarchy.

Whilst the alt-right would be truly aghast to hear this, ethnostatism (the ideology of the Richard Spencer types) shares with progressivism the Pro-State Pro-Status orientation. Ethnostatism as endorsed by the alt-right is ultimately a form of fascism (Richard Spencer is, after all, an economic fascist), without the foreign policy belligerence, and as such it isn’t surprising that ethnostatism fits here.

Feudalism, of course, is Pro-Statism and Pro-Status.

Pro-State Anti-Status
This final quadrant refers to ideologies that are hostile to social hierarchy, and see the State as an important instrument in destroying these hierarchies. The State, in their view, is not an instrument of inequality, but rather a tool to eliminate inequality.

The non-anarchist left including social democracy fits here, and arguably forms of left-wing anarchism which believe in a temporary embrace of Statism for the purposes of destroying hierarchies (such as classical Marxism) fit here too. Of course, some would question the sincerity of whether or not any of these ideologies truly believe in abolishing hierarchy considering that almost all real-world implementations of these ideologies have created factually hierarchical societies; this however is more a question of the psychology of political actors and what “counts” as “real” Status rather than where the ideology fits in the model under its own terms.

Intersectional social justice fits here at least explicitly, although it could be fairly argued that in practice it has the opposite impact, and that many of its adherents are posturing as egalitarian when they are in fact creating an hierarchy. But ironically so does its arch-enemy Trumpian populism.

Indeed, populism in general  also fits into this category. Why? Because all kinds of populism are based on the narrative of an elite which has subjugated and exploited the populace. And to politically weaponise populism, someone who is seen as a representative of the interests and values of the “common man” must be elevated towards high office, thus turning the State into an instrument of the people to be used against the powerful elite. This leads to a general willingness to concentrate power in the hands of this representative and to identify with the representative’s actions. This naturally leads to being supportive of State actions so long as “our guy” is behind them.

Some may consider the fact that two resolutely-opposed ideologies can be thought of as the same type of ideology under this model constitutes a criticism of the model. Personally I think that the model merely reflects the fact that politics can often become a matter of the “narcissism of small differences”. I also think that it reflects an unfortunate attitude which many have observed in American politics; distrust of the State seems to more often be a matter of whether the “right people” are in charge of it than the in principle nature and characteristics of the institution itself.

The Mitchell model describes ideologies in terms of how they respond to two fundamental questions; these questions are Status (social hierarchy) and the State (coercive control). Some ideologies are hostile to both, others are generally in favour of both, some see the State as undermining legitimate Status and others see Status as something to be abolished through the use of the State. The liberal tradition, as well as certain parts of the left, are hostile to State and Status. Paleoconservatives and neoreactionaries are hostile to the State but advocates of Status. Ethnonationalism (the primary force of the alt-right) is in favour of State and Status, just like the fascism from which it is descended. Whilst populism is accused of being alt-rightist, the reality is that populism is hostile to Status and generally campaigns for elected saviours to rage against elites; the State becomes a tool of popular revenge. Intersectional social justice also embraces the use of the State to bring down “privileged” classes.

When we add in the hot button ideologies of today, we see that sometimes people with deep similarities in their political visions can be at each other’s throats. Many people are in favour of using the State to destroy those with unjust Status and restore an equality; these people are divided on the matter of who possesses said unjust Status. The 1%? The “coastal elites”, mainstream media and their academic progenitors? Cisgender white males? Take your pick. However, from a libertarian perspective, it is depressing to observe that so many people are comfortable with the State so long as it is an instrument of their revenge.

Andrew Russell