Municipalism, Prefigurativism, and Bioregionalism

Part 11 of a multipart series, “How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity”. This article series is for economic reformers and political activists interested in the metamodern political movement. This series will undoubtedly find appeal with those who have come to understand that the current values which drive global economy, those which we call liberal, are obstructing solutions to contemporary political challenges — in as much, those values are unable to guide a common activity beyond. Admittedly, the prescriptions herein are likely a mere articulation of what is intuitively felt across a large demographic — certainly those who have found themselves gravitating toward contemporary nationalist solutions.

The last article concluded with some level of satisfaction. We now have in our possession a useful vocabulary — one which can be used for prescriptions for nurturing truth and authenticity. We began our definitions by reviving Martin Heidegger’s quest for the clearing for truth. The nature of truth having been defined as disclosive. We came to understand the encounter as the space, the location, or venue for such disclosure. We then further defined the encounter as that manifold in which the possibility for authenticity is opened — manifest through feeling, speech, and αληθευειν. This definition allowed us to qualify αληθευειν as the principal object of our metaphysical architectonic. We defined αληθευειν as that motionless action which presences logos such that the phenomena of experience conform with one another, announcing the world, provoking a primordial actio (‘act of doing or making’) as a reckoning — one which ‘calls after’ action in the temporal and spatial manifold of the moment. We furthermore identified labor as the economic expression of the condition for such an encounter. All of this was built on the discontents which we had identified in the first half of this article series, those which initially had given cause for our want for truth and authenticity — namely, the aliments of industrialized economy. Alienation, estrangement, and apathy. Everything which proceeded has brought us up to this very moment. We are now better prepared for understanding both the emergent project and the function which truth must come to serve. We qualified society as our goal within this project — a goal which can only be reached in a primordial reunion with nature, not limited to organic life, but the entirety of the phenomenal experience. We had also defined civic engagement as a proximal engagement — a laboring which promises that reunion. Κοινωνια (koinonia, ‘communion’) was defined as the condition, and therefore proof, of our goal. In as much as this has been delineated, we now return to the historical continuum which we let lay unfinished at the close of the first half of this article series. The story of liberalism. Returning to this point will serve as a pivot for our narrative of the economy of truth going forward, futurally.
Firstly, we recall our definition. Liberalism is a spirit for liberation from governance. For the philosophers and statesmen invested with this spirit, Natural Rights are those which are to be guarded from exploitation by any earthly powers. Those rights secured through Reason’s law. Liberalism’s state is the earthly vehicle for such governance-as-law — invested with not only legislation, but also surveillance, arrest, judgment, and punishment. Reflecting here and now, we allow ourselves a deduction. Governance-as-law, once invested to the democratic institutions of the state, had undergone a subversive transfiguration by way of market economics. Governance-as-law, following liberal market policy, had transfigured into something of a social governance. However, at the close of the first half of this series we had left an important question unanswered: is a domestication toward this society advantageous to our project at hand — namely, to nurture truth an authenticity? This is a question which has been answered throughout the construction of our vocabulary. Yet, only piecemeal. We must now answer it explicitly.
In initial articles we identified the primordial wheeling and dealing with nature as that which is the condition for truth. We qualified this discourse as possible only on account of projection. Projection is the condition for an orientation toward the future. It conditions descriptions which provide for that future. The good or the just are descriptions which provide for a realization of that goodness or that justice in the future. Projection, then, is the condition for the world to be encountered as the world which it is — whether the description which we come to is of material nature (wood, timber) or utility (toothpick) or aesthetic (the truth). Liberalism satisfies projection by way of the inspiration, lust, and desire for participation in the entrepreneurship of mercantilism. Of course, the resounding claims of “greed, selfishness, and apathy” are evidence the horizons set by this projection have not wholly satisfied the spirit for self-preservation. The world which is disclosed through this project too narrow. However, by way of social governance, market economics is able to ground a longer projection for liberalism, taking over a “domestication of the human animal” from the state’s democratic institutions. This domestication, then, satisfying the hope and communion once invested into the church or nation. In the liminal here and now of our “time between worlds” we find this domestication project manifest by way of the international — Black Lives Matter, feminism, even white nationalism, the pride movement, etcetera. This suggests not only estrangement, but more importantly, alienation.
The venue of industrial laboring — the proximal workspace of wheeling and dealing discourse, that which we have qualified as the condition for truth — has proven itself unable to support truth. Punctually we say, the relationship between discourse and truth has become obscured. This statement strikes us as dire. It should strike us as dire, despite that we are well prepared to answer with prescriptions. While we understand that liberalism’s domestication alone cannot bring about our goal, society, we are prepared for the identification of a new governance jurisdiction. We understand this jurisdiction could only be found together with the promise of returning truth to discourse. For the sake of terminological clarity, let us simply refer to such a jurisdiction as governance-as-projection. Of course, it is yet to be determined if this jurisdiction can be found within our existing democratic institutions — whether within public economy, or the social governance of market economy. However, we must also suspend such concerns. We should not burden ourselves such that our search for novel infrastructure for governance-as-projection is restricted.

Roughly a decade ago southern Europe gave rise to several grassroots urban-based projects defined by a returning socialist ideology from the nineteenth century. Municipalism. In 2016 Luigi De Magistris, Mayor of Naples, remarked that these new municipalist movements had offered, “an absolute novelty in the institutional and political panorama: that between civil society, social movements and local institutions there exists a relation under construction”. No doubt, De Magistris’ tripartite “civil society”, “social movement”, and “local institutions” directs our attention toward a geographical κοινωνια, contra the global. By way of infrastructural projects these municipalist movements manifested something of a prefigurative approach to politics — an approach not pre- in the developmental sense, but which is a constant pre-configuration — as the figuration is secondary. As prefigurative, these movements touted a political activity beyond liberalism’s battle of selfishness. No doubt, municipalism offers a novel canvas for authenticity from out of the ruins of liberalism’s epistemological warfare — beyond the weaponizing of identity outright. As both prefigurative and infrastructural project-based, we take municipalist activity as a prototypical political activity for nurturing truth and authenticity.
Now, before we continue further with municipalism, we should also heed the concern of the ‘equal opportunist’. After all, nurturing truth and authenticity by way of a prefigurative political activity may simply feel apolitical to those possessed by a spirit for equality and minority rights. At its worse, it may feel institutionally conservative. After all, within the state’s political economy, identity has always been an effective tool for swaying the infrastructural investment — especially for movements with agendas extraneous to what is on offer through the infrastructure inherited by way of colonialization and patriarchy. Furthermore, identity has been a part of human civilization since before the formation of liberalism’s legislative state. The flags of nations signaled “friend” from “enemy” in the economy of battlefield warfare. Identity as a political tool can be trace back to long before the black flags were raised in the Abbasid Caliphate. However, what should not be overlooked is that exactly because these municipalists movements operated outside of the existing structure they could appeal to those with agendas extraneous to what is on offer through colonialization and patriarchy. We repeat testimony from a representative of Argentina’s Ciudad Futura. “[Municipalism offers] the possibility of constructing a new kind of power in society which is precisely in the hands of ordinary people”. A “local governance, which allows for proximity” and “allows us to project our experience on another scale”. Municipalist activity is not only post-liberal, but beyond patriotism, whatsoever. In prefigurativism no one raises a black flag or a rainbow colored one.
Of course, this does not mean we can’t be critical of such a program for political activity on other accounts. And, after all, there is one hesitation which strikes us immediately. While municipalism offers a novel venue beyond state/federal infrastructure, we should also be critical to a continued celebration of the city as a flagship venue of human economy. Such a celebration harbors residue from internationalism, namely, a spirit of commerce and cosmopolitanism — from New York, to London, Paris, and Tokyo. A spirit which has exacerbated the contention between urban and provincial communities. Therefore, we must say already now, if we are to prescribe municipalist political activity, then we must also champion something of a regionalization which might overcome that contention. No doubt, continuing with an economy which produces red states and blue states can offer little to a project concerned with establishing the conditions for authenticity. However, we are also not the first in our tradition to recognize this. If we return to E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful we recall the announcement of a “becoming existence” — one which is characterized by a work which “gives a man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties” and “enables man to overcome his egocentredness by joining with other people in a common task”. Of course here, we cannot think of “common task” as merely performing the same exercise. Picking apples from the same tree. Turning the same screws on the assembly line. A common task is that which is commonly projected. Schumacher acknowledged that for such a becoming existence, founded upon a common projection, “there is need for a ‘cultural structure’ just as there is need for an ‘economic structure’.” “Each region, ideally speaking, requires some sort of inner cohesion” with a capital city serving as a center. His program for a regionalization is equally a bioregionalization — one in which the metropolitan center does not service the international identity, but is instead a canvas for the cultural-economic region. And of course, bio- here does not mean genetics or whatever narrow signification which might carry over from the scientific industries. The existence which springs forth through such “becoming” is life itself — it is life-logical. Biological.
We have now accrued a collection of nice sounding words. A life-logical bioregionalism. This gets us thinking even towards ecology. These associations are not accidental. Our guiding philosophy — that is, our vantage from which we have the world, phenomenology — had already prepared us for such ecological thinking. Not only has man collapsed onto animal and machine, but onto the entirety of phenomena in experience. We have flattened the ontological hierarchy. That is, each object has equal ontological priority. In as much, we value them equally. No doubt, we have reason to be proud. To flatter ourselves. However, at the same time, we should not proceed all-too happily. After all, it could be argued that the human-centric epistemological comportment toward the phenomenal experience is, after all, that which might save Mother Earth. However, there is a depth worth elucidating in our approach. A depth which tells us that following our hearts in the direction which phenomenology directs can lead to robust solutions.
Following the precedent established with Schumacher we are encouraged to fantasize such robustness. We animate that “robustness” over any mere enumerable “solutions”. No doubt fantasy allures. It calls for submersion — an exploration of the universe. In anticipating a future economy which addresses episteme’s alienation, estrangement, and apathy, we are doing futurism. Belonging to this future economy are civil works programs. We imagine these programs not merely tasked with the construction of material infrastructure (bridges, streets, or power plants) but also the aesthetic expression of that infrastructure — that which today we find reserved for the fine arts of yesterday. Poetry, literature, and philosophy. Our imagination calls back to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, including especially the Federal Arts Program — the aesthetics of which equally celebrate labor, regionalism, and ecology. Themes which announce themselves in its art deco murals found on US Post Office walls, still today. It is here, in this moment of our fantasy, that we turn toward a perhaps unlikely source as a venue for bioregional governance-as-projection infrastructure — an infrastructure where state economy and civil projects have remained in union and, as such, preserve of that primordial harmony with nature — a communion which is found in a marriage of belief and action. We now look towards the United States Army — specifically, the third division of the engineering formation devoted to civil engineering projects.
But before we begin, perhaps we require a few conditioning remarks. In announcing the United States military we may already feel a primordial disgust. Perhaps a betrayal on behalf of our efforts so far. Therefore, let it be said clearly that we are not interested any self-subjection to the democratically weak outlet for authenticity — authoritarianism. Our fantasy of a bioregionalism does not include uniformed federal officers terraforming local regions according to the orders of a remote commander-in-chief. Let us remind ourselves that civic engagement, grounded in αληθευειν, is motivated by the primordial inspiration, lust, and desire for participation that we find in authenticity. We understand that the ideal of democracy requires a civic engagement which can no longer be satisfied by mere voting alone, but only by a cultivation of authenticity in the hands of artists, designers, engineers, statemen, economists, and philosophers. Let us also therefore take this opportunity to acknowledge that any prescriptions for nurturing truth and authenticity which come out of a consideration of the United States military could never be for the sake of a nation’s greater good. Even John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” has no place in our fantasy. Likewise, any civic engagement, grounded in αληθευειν, could never carry over residue from the period of liberal market policy, during which, was characterized by a discomforting elitism and privileged volunteer work. Producing for one’s livelihood can have nothing to do with selfishness such that sacrifice becomes a virtue. One could never sacrifice their economy for their people — they are themselves, through that economy, “We, the people”. Contrary to such virtues of sacrifice, we are interested in an infrastructure for enabling creative authenticity — beyond the mere ballot.
With these qualifying remarks, we now proceed to explore the United States military, firstly, in that it offers a governance jurisdiction beyond the state/federal governance-as-law canvas. However, what should also be acknowledged is that the executive branch of governance is the only branch which preserves an investment toward the ideal of nation. It includes the “domestication” of governance-as-law, but also goes beyond it. As such, it preserves that primordial communion between belief and action. We should not be too quick to dismiss this branch without firstly exploring what it might offer. Though, before jumping straight away into the potential of this engineering formation, let us present a few statistics which might further alleviate some of our initial concerns.
Today, the United States Army Corp of Engineers is the largest owner-operator of hydroelectric plants in the US. It owns and operates 75 plants — 24% of U.S. hydropower capacity. The Corp of Engineers also preservers, restores, creates, or enhances approximately 38,700 acres (157,000,000 m2) of wetlands annually. In addition, the Corp of Engineers is the nation’s principal provider of outdoor recreation with more than 368 million visits annually to 4,485 sites. What is more, the Corps is committed to small business. Each year, approximately one-third of all contract dollars are obligated to small businesses, small disadvantaged businesses, disabled veteran owned small businesses, women owned small businesses, historically underutilized business zones, and historically black colleges and universities. And yet, it is not merely these facts which hold promise — it is the Corps of Engineers’ divisions defined by North American watershed regions. The Corp of Engineers is organized geographically into eight permanent divisions, one provisional division, one provisional district, and one research command reporting directly to the HQ. Within each division of the Corp there are several districts.
No doubt, a map is a guide. Through such a guide we encounter a temporal-spatial manifold. The manifold presents a landscape. And within this landscape we discover a realm of possible activity. The mechanical and social hierarchy of the world announces itself. We are pulled through the possibilities within. A map is not merely for those traversing geological terrain. A map captures — captivates us. A map moves the soul. What is lacking is a map for future governance beyond the state/federal and global market canvases. And while it may be unlikely that watershed regions are those which will bring together a bioregion as a jurisdiction for governance-as-projection, the Corp of Engineers offers an exercise for the soul. We should not be afraid of allowing ourselves the time and space which opens in the division maps. EXPLORE THAT SPACE HERE.
Justin Carmien, March 16th, 2021