Scales of Sovereignty (part 3)

Sovereignty operates at different ‘scales’ and possesses different qualities at each step. But more than one type of ‘scale system’ exists.

My parents’ nucleotide assemblages, replicated in my mother’s womb in the form of Scharlach, exert their sovereignty over me at every second of every day. My behaviors are both constrained and dictated due to my genetics. This genetic sovereignty, which yokes all human individuals, operates at a ‘low scale’ but if we work our way up this particular scale, step by step, do we necessarily arrive at ‘high scale’ socio-political organizations? Not necessarily. We must be careful not to conflate different orders of ‘high’ and ‘low.’

Nick Land helpfully suggests “two tightly inter-connected but conceptually distinct ‘scaled’ orders”:

There’s a series of emergences, or their reciprocal reductions, which correspond to the structure of the complex sciences, with biology at the base, rising through levels of social organization (anthropology, micro-economics, political economy, international relations). The higher levels of this series, which rapidly lose scientific exactitude, are a kind of ascendant mirroring of the rigorous reductive series, down through biochemistry to sub-atomic physics. Then there are scales of a more strictly quantitative kind, which correspond to the size of complex systems, from specific intra-cellular chemical reactions, through physiology, population biology, and into ecologies of ever larger scope, eventually melting into terrestrial geophysics, and out into extremely under-developed forms of concrete cosmology.

The relevance of this is that it leads to some fuzziness about what is meant by the ‘lower’ or ‘higher’ scale. Is the difference one of systemic scope, or of relative institutional abstraction (and perhaps ‘dominion’ or ‘sovereignty’)?

The two ‘scale systems’ (if I understand Land’s point correctly) might be contrasted by the directness or linearity by which a higher scale emerges from the one below it, or conversely, by which a higher scale can be immediately reduced to the scale below it. Linguistics provides an obvious example of the first type of scale system proposed by Land: phonology emerges (more or less) directly from phonetics; syntax emerges (more or less) directly from morphology; stylistics emerges from syntax. All of this in the same way that biology emerges from chemistry. However, linguistics, broadly construed, also provides an example of the second type of scale system proposed by Land: language is embedded within a culture, a population, but in no direct way does culture emerge from syntax or stylistics. From language to culture, and vice versa, we are looking at just one level (perhaps the ‘rhetorical’ level) within the scope of a total human system, any level of which cannot be simply reduced to the levels below it.

Scale as (more or less) linear emergence versus scale as size/scope of a complex system. The latter is less tractable than the former. So, for the time being, we should construe the Sovereignty Scale as being of the first type. This makes things more clear (to be complicated later), but this is also the scale-type most amenable to the kinds of hierarchies that interest neoreactionary political philosophy. We are, in essence, bracketing out a discussion of sovereignty as it operates within the scale of complex systems, keeping in mind, however, that further down the road this other scale might clarify or productively disrupt the scale of linear emergence that we have adopted here.

We can still start with the individual for the sake of simplicity. But the scale we develop should ideally move ‘upward and downward’ rather than disperse downward, upward, and sideways simultaneously (which is, I think, what happens when we introduce a concept like genetic sovereignty over the individual).


Sovereignty operates at different scales. The scale system we are talking about is one of (more or less) direct upward emergence and downward reduction. Given this scale system, it makes sense to formulate a question of obvious reactionary interest: How does sovereignty flow down the scales?

[Reiteration: When talking about the size and scope of a complex system, it does not make much sense to ask “How does sovereignty flow down the scales?” because the answer will obviously be “It flows everywhere.” Everything in a complex system circulates in diffused, perhaps unpredictable ways. Not a very helpful heuristic. Yet.] 

In a socio-political context, the individual is never only an individual. The individual is always already inserted into some hierarchy and thus always already inserted into the sovereignty scale. (Of course, some individuals try very hard to extricate themselves from these hierarchies and exist qua individual: in America, we call these people bums, and they usually sleep under freeway overpasses, entering sporadically into hierarchical relationships on the side of freeway on-ramps.)

The most basic hierarchy into which the individual enters upon conception is mother/fetus. This hierarchy exists at a certain position on the sovereignty scale: I would say that it exists within the Familial Scale. The basic hierarchical relationship at this scale is parent/child. Mother/fetus is simply one variation on that theme. The others are father/son, father daughter, father/mother, mother/daughter, father+mother/son, et cetera . . . If we are talking about the extra-nuclear family, we can complicate things, but we would remain firmly within the Familial Scale.

What emerges from the Familial Scale? We can quibble about this, and cultural parameters certainly come into play here (more on that in a moment), but my hunch is that the Neighborhood Scale (or perhaps the Town Scale) emerges from the Family scale. We can talk about family dynamics (nuclear or extended), but if we want to talk about something just beyond the family, we typically talk in terms of neighborhoods, ZIP codes, towns. What kind of hierarchical relationships do families enter into at this scale? For the sake of a simple and elegant theoretical framework, let’s continue our attempt to formulate them as dyads:  For example, homeowner’s association/family, if we want to posit a Neighborhood Scale. If we want to skip to the Town Scale, then mayor/family, local city council/family, local police department/family . . . Perhaps these hierarchical relationships have variations on a theme, like we saw at the Familial Scale, or perhaps not.

Two related observations: 1) When we enter into a particular level on the Sovereignty Scale, power does not cease to flow; it does not reach stasis. Within each scale, hierarchical relationships–sovereignty relationships–still exist. These relationships are our first attempt to describe the qualities of sovereignty as it exists and operates at different scales. 2) Judging by the Town Scale, it appears that the higher we move on the Sovereignty Scale, the greater the proliferation of possible intra-scale hierarchy relationships, that is, the more possible ways power can flow at that scale. At the Family Scale, we have parent/child; if we bring extended family into this scale, we perhaps add one other dyad: elder/younger, with a few gendered and consanguinous variations. At the Town Scale, however, I can think of half a dozen dyads to describe how families are controlled by power-structures existing at this scale of local municipalities.


Hierarchical relationships, in the form of dyads, nested within a scale system. Sovereignty–power and control–operates between the dyads and between the scales. As proposed by Land, when working with this kind of linear scalar model, the higher we go on the scale, the more ‘abstract’ the levels become–but no less powerful because of it (more powerful, in fact).

So here’s a rough sketch, a first attempt, at modeling the Western socio-political Sovereignty Scale:



Some important observations:

1. It is important, I think, to model each scale as containing dyads: this allows us to reduce any particular scale downward, as far as makes sense, to real interactions between real individuals or groups without giving up the separation of higher-scaled orders from lower-scaled orders.

2. Power flows down the dyads and down the scales. This hopefully captures the fact that a man can in some sense be ‘sovereign’ within his own home (or that a mayor can in some sense be ‘sovereign’ within his jurisdiction) while simultaneously not being sovereign in the larger socio-political context. One thing that the model does not capture, however, is how the higher scales affect the lower nested dyads. For example, even within his own home, a man cannot be sovereign over all things at the Family Scale because State and Federal Scales do dictate certain behaviors within the Family Scale: a father cannot, without consequences, exert his sovereignty over his daughter by raping here; nor, in Germany, can a father exert his sovereignty over his daughter by educating her within the home.

3. This simple model is a first attempt to model the circulation of power (sovereignty) in a Western socio-political context, so obviously I have ordered the scales according to the orders of Western Society. The labels might change in other contexts, but I imagine that the general outline could remain the same: dyads nested with scalar levels.

4. As a first attempt, the model is clearly incomplete. Specifically, I don’t know where to put businesses and corporate entities into this model. (One way to side-step the issue is to argue that corporations are not exactly part of the socio-political Sovereignty Scale but rather exist on some other plane. This is an unsatisfying option.)

Corporations can be divided into scalar levels and dyads, but things get fuzzy when we take government regulations into consideration. Different levels of management emerge naturally upward or downward within an organization, but once you plug the organization into the socio-political Sovereignty Scale, the direct emergence breaks down. Corporate boards do not emerge in any linear sense into state regulating bodies. At this point, we would be talking about the other kind of scale, which models the size and scope of complex systems. And this would be expected: sovereignty between private corporate boards and state regulating bodies does not flow neatly in one direction: the two scales are implicated in a much more complex system of distributed power plays.

5. I am also unsure where the judicial system fits into the system, but the judicial system is clearly part of the socio-political Sovereignty Scale.

6. The model is hierarchical, but the dyads allow for interior branching. It is important to allow branching because the only way to solve the problems in (4) and (5), without abandoning the model completely, will be to start dividing the scale, in a tree-like form, into connected hierarchical scales. Branching. Inevitably, the branches will reticulate as we attempt to capture the more complex flows of power up and down the dyads, up and down the scales, and in between various scale branches. And thus, perhaps, will emerge the larger complex system of sovereignty from this initial attempt at a simpler, linear hierarchy.

4 responses

  1. “Corporate boards do not emerge in any linear sense into state regulating bodies”

    My intuition is that this is a false statement. Consider either the “Company Town” or a Military Command. Both regulate to whatever extent thought necessary the behavior of not merely employees but all those that live in their areas of operations.

    As soon as these organizations start to control land and human relationship – they exhibit subsets of sovereign characteristics. Imposing certain elements of sovereign control does not always meet a cost-benefit analysis in a competitive market, and so these organizations release control and permit ‘liberty’ to the extent such ‘depersonalization’ provides a net benefit to the organization.

    A typical corporate board controls little territory, especially not residential quarters, and has little incentive to pry deeply into the lives of its employees or provide them with goods and services in kind (through, for example, the company store) instead of in cash with which these individuals can arrange for their own provision.

    But for operating in remote areas, such as isolated oil fields, or during military deployments, these organizations begin to resemble governments more fully as they take on additional responsibilities.

    An obvious analogy is the university campus with dormitory residents and a traditional role of acting in loco parentis and often exercising more domination over behavior and speech than most citizens would suffer from a government or their parents. Although I bristle in horror at the thought of a college board scaling up towards sovereignty, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assert that it could so scale.

    September 11, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    • Thanks, that’s all very beneficial. Actually, I think looking at the contemporary emergence of ‘company towns’ on Dakota oil fields would provide a number of great case studies beneficial to this discussion. It places the elements of socio-political hierarchy into (literal) isolation, which makes it easier to study the micro-effects among the individual elements. I imagine there have already been studies on these kinds of towns . . . Anyway, as I said in the post, this is a rough ‘visualization’ of the subject, so critiques and suggestions are more than welcome.

      September 11, 2013 at 11:11 pm

  2. Pingback: Outside in - Involvements with reality » Blog Archive » Reaction Points (#7)

  3. digging this out for reason concerning internet linkage and the interests of the Zeitgeist (whetever).

    but this outlining you’ve done sounds *a lot* like Aristotle’s “Politics”. Insofar as linear scales are concerned (rather than the complex system’s scope approach Land suggested in opposition), that’s a very developed account that may be of interest

    September 26, 2016 at 6:57 pm

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