This text was presented in somewhat abridged form at the second meeting of the New York Forum on July 16, 2016. I want to thank the NY Forum team and everyone who was present.
The superhero genre in comics and movies was largely created by Jews. In some of my writings on film, I have argued that superheroes largely function as symbolic proxies for Jews. Superheroes, like Jews, are outsiders and “freaks.” They are, moreover, immensely powerful outsiders. Thus, lest they incite the fear and ire of their host populations, they must practice crypsis to blend in.
Superheroes also play an apologetic role for Jewry. Despite near total Jewish hegemony in the media and educational system, the public mind is still aware of stories of secret Jewish cabals plotting to do harm the goyim, from the Elders of Zion to the Project for a New American Century and the Office of Special Plans. Thus, to immunize the public from automatically regarding such cabals with suspicion, the superhero genre portrays these immensely powerful and secretive outsiders—individually, and in groups like the Justice League, the X-Men, and the Avengers—as committed to the morality of egalitarian humanism and benevolently serving the interests of humanity.
Of course, in reality the Bolsheviks, neocons, and their like more closely resemble supervillains than superheroes. Thus, to inoculate the public mind from drawing that sort of conclusion, supervillains are usually portrayed as Nazis, or symbolic proxies for Nazis. Basically, supervillains are illiberal, elitist, and nationalistic, with traditional or archaic rather than modern values, whereas superheroes are liberal, globalist, and devoted to serving their inferiors.
But superheroes can exemplify Right-wing political themes as well. I want to argue that superheroes are the fictional genre that best illustrates Carl Schmitt’s anti-liberal concept of sovereignty. Specifically, I wish to speak about the masked vigilante genre, epitomized by Batman, in which accomplished but still biologically human individuals use criminal methods—including masks and disguises—in the pursuit of justice. I am less interested in superhuman aliens and mutants, although they too can function as vigilantes. And I am not talking at all about superheroes who simply rescue people in peril, which is legal in any system. I am talking about superheroes who take the law into their own hands, who break the law in order to do justice.
Masked vigilantes are staples of literature and legend, including Robin Hood and the Sicilian Vendicatori and Beati Paoli, all from the middle ages. But the most well-attested historical examples of masked vigilantes are, of course, the Ku Klux Klan.
Batman breaks the law in order to save the law, when the legal system encounters an opponent that it cannot master. There is a moving scene in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises in which Commissioner Gordon explains why he turned to Batman, a vigilante, for help:
There’s a point, far out there, when all the structures fail you, and the rules aren’t weapons anymore, they’re . . . shackles, letting the bad guy get ahead. One day . . . you may face such a moment of crisis. And in that moment, I hope you have a friend like I did, to plunge their hands into the filth so that you can keep yours clean!
This is a perfect description of the function of the sovereign as described by Schmitt. Sovereignty means supreme political authority within a territory, as opposed to political subjection. Within a society, the sovereign is the ruler, as opposed to the ruled. A sovereign nation rules itself, as opposed to being ruled by others. But what is the essential characteristic of the sovereign? In Political Theology, his short book on the concept of sovereignty, Schmitt states that: “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.”
To understand what is exceptional, one needs to understand what is normal. In human affairs, the normal is what usually happens. Normal circumstances can, therefore, be anticipated by legislators, and the laws they create can be enforced by functionaries—police, bureaucrats, judges, etc.—in a simple “deductive” way: If a particular event falls under a general law, justice requires a certain prescribed course of action.
But as Aristotle pointed out, in human affairs, generalizations pertain “not always but for the most part,” meaning that there are not just normal circumstances but also exceptional ones. But exceptional circumstances—if they really are exceptional—cannot be anticipated by legislators. Thus merely applying the existing laws in exceptional circumstances cannot produce just results.
Justice, therefore, requires not just following rules in normal circumstances but also exercising discretion in exceptional ones. This act of discretion has two aspects: discerning that we are facing an exception and discerning what we must do to cope with it.
Such discretion can exist on all levels of the legal system. Cops on the beat, judges in courthouses, and bureaucrats in offices all have to discern the just path in exceptional circumstances. Of course the discretion of ordinary policemen, judges, and bureaucrats can be reviewed and overruled by higher-ups in the hierarchy.
But you can’t appeal and second-guess forever. Eventually, you will come to a final arbiter, the final decider. The same is true of legislative or judicial deliberation. At some point deliberation has to end. Matters must be decided. Questions must be closed to that we can act.
The supreme law in any system is the constitution. And when the constitution encounters an exceptional situation, there must be a supreme decider: he who decides that society is facing an exception, and he who decides what to do about the exception. This is the sovereign as Schmitt defines him. He is the supreme power, uniting judicial, legislative, and executive functions.
Now a vigilante or superhero does not literally become a sovereign—unless, of course, he pulls off a coup d’état. But he performs the function of the sovereign by deciding that he faces an exceptional situation and what he must do to fix it. Beyond that, he takes full responsibility for his acts, since all he can appeal to is his own judgment of right and wrong. But unlike a true sovereign, who is honored for serving the common good, the vigilante knows he will be punished. But he is willing to bear the sacrifice.
Many societies make provisions to give individuals plenary powers in emergency circumstances. For instance, in normal circumstances, the Romans like the Spartans divided the executive power. The Spartans had two kings and the Romans had two consuls, each consul being accompanied by 12 lictors carrying the fasces, the emblems of political authority.
However, in emergency situations, the Romans would appoint a dictator, who was accompanied by 24 lictors, symbolizing the unification of executive power. Emergency situations included fighting wars and quelling insurrections, as well as presiding over religious rituals and civic elections. When necessary, Roman dictators could ignore or break the normal law with impunity. But dictators were appointed only for the duration of the special situation or for a fixed period, after which they surrendered their powers.
Another example of a provision for emergency plenary powers is Article 48 of the Weimar German constitution, which allowed the chancellor to assume dictatorial powers in an emergency. Adolf Hitler appealed to Article 48 to assume dictatorial powers after the Reichstag arson. Those who defend the thesis that “Hitler did nothing wrong” will be pleased to learn that he became dictator in a completely legal manner.
In Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, prosecutor Harvey Dent defends Batman’s vigilantism by likening it to the role of the Roman dictator: “When their enemies were at the gates, the Romans would suspend democracy and appoint one man to protect the city. It wasn’t considered an honor; it was considered a public service.” Of course there is an important difference: The Roman dictator was a legal office, whereas Batman is an outlaw. Nevertheless, Bruce Wayne sees Dent as someone who might make Batman unnecessary by performing his functions within the legal system.
But that is not really possible, for Gotham is a liberal democracy. One of the basic principles of liberal democracy is “government by laws, not men.” Liberals see human decision (“arbitrariness”) as a source of injustice, which must be eliminated from the political system. From Schmitt’s point of view, however, one cannot eliminate decision from politics. One’s only choice is to own up to it, to take responsibility for decision, and to make sure that the best possible people are empowered to decide—or try to evade that responsibility.
The liberal idea of government is a machine that runs by impersonal rules to make sure that everyone is treated justly and fairly, but which is indifferent to the quality of the individuals who compose society and the cultivation of virtue. If decision is inevitable, then we have to find and shape the best possible deciders. But if society can simply operate like a machine, human vice and mediocrity are no impediments to good government.
Liberals also believe that if they just put the right procedural rules in place, they do not need to worry about the consequences of acting according to those rules. Thus they are dismissive of political philosophies that depend upon any vision of the future, any notion of a common good or ideal society that we should strive for. You can argue all you like that liberal principles lead to catastrophic consequences—for instance, free trade undermines national sovereignty and First World living standards; the free movement of peoples leads to social alienation, miscegenation, and conflict; or expressive individualism leads to cultural degeneracy, collapsing families, and personal unhappiness—but liberals simply deny that consequences have any moral weight. Instead, they will cling to their procedural notions of the good—their sacred “principles”—even though the world might perish.
Liberalism seeks to evade decision in all aspects of politics. But the fundamental pathology of liberalism is the evasion of specifically sovereign decision, which forces the sovereign function outside the law. Those who would save liberalism from itself, when it fails to meet the challenge of the exception, must sacrifice themselves by becoming outlaws. In Commissioner Gordon’s terms, they must “plunge their hands into the filth” of illegality so that public officials like him can keep their hands “clean.” Clean according to the laws that are “shackles” rather than “tools” of justice. Clean of “arbitrariness,” clean of the responsibility of deciding, clean of sovereignty.
Schmitt teaches us that sovereignty ultimately reposes in men, not laws. This is true even in liberal systems, which refuse to admit it openly. Which just means that liberal democracies are ruled by secret sovereigns, men who exercise decision as they hide behind the laws and pretend that their hands are tied, that they are just following orders, that their hands and their consciences are clean.
In liberal society, there are two kinds of secret sovereigns. First, there are the founders, the framers of the constitutional order who decided what the fundamental laws will be. As it put it elsewhere:
Laws are ultimately created by decisions. Thus those who believe that decisions must always be governed by laws are simply abandoning their own freedom and responsibility and choosing to be ruled by the free decisions of those who came before them. Just as the deist model of the universe depends upon divine wisdom to frame its laws and set the machine in motion, liberals depend on the human wisdom of the Founders who created the constitution.
This is why Americans revere the Founders and recoil with horror at the thought of another Constitutional Convention. The founders made fundamental decisions so we don’t have to, fundamental decisions that we fear to make. The Founders were great men, and we are lesser ones. The Founders, of course, were not the products of the system they created. But we are.
Second, because the founders of a liberal system cannot anticipate every exceptional circumstance, sovereignty must be exercised in the present day as well. And if no legal provisions are made to give plenary powers to a sovereign in a time of crisis, that means that sovereignty must be exercised outside the law.
This leads us to the concept of the “deep state,” which, as far as I know, is the only Turkish contribution to political thought. The idea of the deep state (derin devlet) is a coinage of Turkish Islamists. It refers to a shadowy network concentrated in the Turkish military and security services which spreads throughout the bureaucracy and judiciary and intersects with organized crime. The deep state works to maintain Turkey as a secular, nationalist society, primarily working against Islamists, Left-wing radicals, and Kurdish separatists, all of whom threaten the Kemalist order. The Deep State is behind at least four Turkish military coups. The failure of the July 2016 coup has given Recip Erdogan the pretext for purging the deep state from Turkish institutions. Time will tell if he has succeeded.
The concept of the deep state needs to be distinguished from other extralegal forces that influence political policy. It is easy to confuse the deep state with such notions as an “establishment,” a permanent bureaucracy, secret agencies, smoke-filled rooms, lobbies and pressure groups, political “inner parties,” NGOs, and even secret initiatic societies, all of which shape political policy and negotiate between interest groups.
These groups are simply part of politics as usual. Thus in Schmittian terms, they have nothing to do with sovereignty, which comes to light only when politics as usual breaks down. The deep state is where sovereignty resides if a system fails to legally institutionalize it. The deep state consists of people who have real power within a given system and who work together, killing or dying if necessary, to preserve the system when it enters a crisis. In James Cameron’s 1994 movie True Lies, Arnold Schwarzenegger works for a secret US government organization called The Omega Sector. It is named “omega” because it is the system’s “last line of defense.” That is the function of the deep state.
I believe that the American fascination with superheroes, conspiracy theories, and secret societies feeds upon an awareness that liberal democracy punts on the question of sovereignty. We know that our government is riddled with shadowy networks working to advance special interests at the expense of the body politic. And we desperately hope that at least one of these groups might actually be looking out for the system in a time of crisis.
Since White Nationalists wish to create a new political system in North America, and since we are hoping to be helped by crises in the present system, it behooves us to ask who would kill or die to preserve the American system in such a crisis. Is there an American deep state? If so, where does it lie? If not, where might it emerge?
The military is the most likely place where a deep state would emerge, since soldiers take oaths of loyalty more seriously than politicians and are prepared to kill and die for the present system. But a fatal crisis might include catastrophic military failure. It might involve a standoff between the military and other institutions that can only be resolved by outside parties. In such cases, Bonapartism would no longer be an option.
I don’t think that the organized Jewish community would function as a deep state in a crisis. As I argue in another essay:
Organized Jewry is the most powerful force in America today. In terms of politics as usual, Jews get their way in all matters that concern them. But although organized Jewry surely would intersect with an American sovereign deep state, if America faced a severe constitutional crisis, I do not think that Jews would step in to exercise the sovereign decision-making functions necessary to preserve the system. They would surely try to stave off a crisis for as long as possible, to preserve their wealth and power. Then they would try to milk a crisis for all it is worth. But ultimately, I do not think they would risk their own blood and treasure to preserve the American system, for the simple reason that the Jews today show no sign of caring about America’s long-term viability. It’s not their country, and they act like it. They are just using it, and using it up. They are not stewarding it for future generations. Therefore, they will not take responsibility for its preservation. In a real crisis, I think their deepest instinct would be simply to decamp to friendlier climes.
The sovereign combines ultimate power with ultimate responsibility. Like the captain who goes down with his ship, he knows that the price of failure is death. Jews want wealth and power without responsibility. They’ll shrug off dishonor rather than suffer death. They’re survivors. Thus, in the end, Jews are just toying with and merchandising the idea of superheroes who constitute deep states and play the sovereign role. But that does not stop White Nationalists from taking the idea seriously and planning accordingly.
First, no matter where an American deep state might emerge, the difference between a true White Nationalist and a mere racially-conscious conservative is that we regard the system’s ultimate guardians as our worst enemies. Our goal is not to save this system but to create a new one, which makes us revolutionaries, not conservatives.
And that makes us a different kind of outlaw than Batman, who like so many patriotic and public-spirited white people today, accepts the egalitarian-humanist ethos and thus sacrifices himself to preserve a system rigged to destroy him. We want to create a new system, rigged to encourage our survival and flourishing, not our degradation and destruction.
Second, if White Nationalists are serious about creating sovereign white homelands, we need to think of ourselves as a government in exile, as the guiding intelligence and deep state of a stateless people. Just as the British opposition parties maintain shadow cabinets, we must form a shadow government. A League of Shadows, if you like. Every regime is founded by an elite. Every regime is governed by an elite. Every regime turns to an elite in a time of crisis. So let us become that elite. In a world without sovereign white homelands, we must create them. In a world without superheroes, we must become them.
1. See Ted Sallis’ review of From Krakow to Krypton: Jews & Comic Books, https://www.counter-currents.com/2011/10/from-krakow-to-krypton-jews-and-comic-books/
2. See my reviews of Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army in Trevor Lynch’s White Nationalist Guide to the Movies, ed. Greg Johnson, Foreword by Kevin MacDonald (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012) and Man of Steel in Son of Trevor Lynch’s White Nationalist Guide to the Movies, ed. Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2015).
3. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. George Schwab (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988), p. 5.
4. I argue that this discretion presupposes a prior, intuitive knowledge of justice, of the right thing to do. We cannot conclude that following a given law produces an unjust outcome in exceptional circumstances unless we have another access to justice besides the law itself. Since this knowledge is not articulated in rules, I call it an intuitive awareness of justice. This intuitive knowledge has to exist prior to our attempts to articulate what justice is. Only because we already intuitively know what justice is can we judge general laws to be inadequate to exceptional circumstances. This same intuitive sense of justice also allows us to discern the just course in unique circumstances. Intuition furnishes a non-universal “law” to guide us. Plato’s arguments about justice in the Republic all depend on this prior, intuitive knowledge of what justice is. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle called this intuitive grasp of justice “equity” (epieikeia).
7. There are many examples of such shadow governments, but the one that fits best with the theme of superhero as sovereign vigilante is Operation Nemesis, the secret organization of Armenian exiles formed in Boston in 1920 to assassinate the Turkish architects of the Armenian Genocide, which they proceeded to do, almost to a man. See my review of Eric Bogosian’s Operation Nemesis, https://www.counter-currents.com/2015/07/operation-nemesis/