The conservative journalist David French has recently reported an interesting empirical fact about the social reality in the United States: according to a recent Gallup survey that measures public confidence in American public institutions, there are two institutions defended and discredited by both left and right: those on the conservative right expressed confidence in the police (about 70% or so), and those on the progressive left expressed confidence in schools and higher education (about the same percentage). This is an interesting fact only for the reason that it reveals with immense clarity – very much against French’s political idealism of overcoming the caesura – the two effective vectors of American civil society: police and schooling. In fact, aside from their divergent emphasis, progressives and conservatives agree fundamentally that policing and schooling are the indispensable elements in this moment of civil society. Let’s call it the “high modernist moment of the metropolis”.
This is why to any attentive observer of American reality, police and schooling are so intertwined and mingled with each other that it becomes impossible to separate them, and not just because there is police presence on university campuses or because the police articulates a discourse of “community” and educational instruction in their daily practice. Police and Schools are two vectors in the structure of civil society in the wake of the collapse of modern politics. In other words, what emerges after the end of politics in America is the intersection between police and school as two intersecting poles that sustain, nurture, and reproduce the axiomatic organization of civil society.
The zone of convergence of police and school is culture. Now culture should not be understood as symbolic distribution of mass consumption and public goods, but more specifically as a flexible regime of adaptation whose proper end is the optimization of the civil order. Hence, the fascination and continuous arousal of “cultural battles” in the public spheres is nothing but empty chatter of the same end: the acceleration of techniques and symbolic amalgamations in a social roundup of self-governance. When Sir Ernest Barker defined the necessity of civility as the precondition of the commonwealth, he took for granted that culture was meant to maximize singular character and conduct . On the contrary, today the maximization of culture presupposes a paideia that revokes every character in the name of a flattening conduct that must be adaptive to the ends of abstract civil organization of values. If civility for Barker was condensed in the figure of the “gentleman”, in contemporary America, the figure is the nowhereman: an all-capable human-species that must adapt to the latest marching order and its temporal justifications. In this context, the police and school are elevated from social institutions to productive vectors of civil cohabitation.
It is still striking today to read what theologian Karl Barth wrote in 1928: “In paradise there were no schools and no police. Similarly, and in view of its intensity we must say specifically there was no gentleman unseen, and all the more penetrating “they” of costumes” . And for Barth, it is only in the wake of Romanticism – in this way confirming Gianni Carchia’s important thesis about the consolidation of a subjective romantic modernity – that the police and the school was unleashed against every costume and against everything that stood in its way. Social abstraction is incapable of grasping this stealth transformation. And it cannot see it due to the fact that romantic civility offers, in return, a fundamental oblivion: eternal security within a hellish reality. All things considered, this is also why the United States remains the beacon of endless optimism – while being a deadly playground. The vectors of policing and schooling grammar of force expulses any possible ethical notion of paradisal life.
1. Ernest Barker. Traditions of Civility (Cambridge University Press, 1948), 137.
2. Karl Barth. Ethics (Wipf and Stock, 2013), 390.