FDR at Warm Springs (1929)
"FDR at Warm Springs (1929)" FDR Presidential Library & Museum

Let's begin with Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Back in the 1940s, the French philosopher presented the concept of a maximum grip. What this means is that a body must situate itself in a place where it can get the maximum clarity on an observed object. In this post, the object is the presidential election of 2021.

On one side, we have Joe Biden; on the other side, Donald Trump. To obtain a maximum grip on this object (which is also an event—events and objects are, Alfred North Whitehead pointed out in the 1920s, the same) one must see in its details not a contest between the left and the right but the state and the market. Or, put another way, politicians and merchants.

These groups have different origins (the court/the city), and they are not always in sync. Biden's chances of winning the election are real because he represents an important form of power, the state, which has lost a good deal of its independence during the Trump years.

The dependence of the state on the merchant class would have probably continued if not for one important development: the pandemic. The explosion of infections and deaths over the past seven months alarmed the state profoundly because one of its primary concerns is the health of the population. The markets were pushing for the state to ignore one of the conditions of its very existence by re-opening the economy. It is at this point that it selected Biden, a member of the court we call the political class: modern servants of the state.

One's grip on the object of this post will be greatly improved by watching what is truly the most revealing speech of the present election event. It was delivered by Joe Biden on October 27 in Warm Springs, Georgia. This place was regularly visited by the long-ill Franklin D. Roosevelt. It's also not far from where that president died at the end of the Second World War.


What is impossible to miss about this speech is how lucid Biden is. And this is no accident. His lucidity and connection with FDR are as plain as day.

FDR came into a power because the state faced a serious threat that the market wanted to leave as is: the high unemployment that followed the crash of 1929. This is what the market said to the state: “Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate.”

But this advice more and more placed the state as it understood itself in peril. The market would not budge, so, the state, in a moment of danger, replaced Herbert Hoover (a one-term president) with FDR, a leader who defused the existential threat by initiating leftist/socialist solutions in the form of the New Deal and a sweep of new government programs and agencies. The American state as we understand it today would not have survived if it had not in that emergency broken with the market and reverted to its older or deeper objective: the maintenance of an orderly population.

The connection between FDR and Biden is not that of two lefties. It's that of two devoted servants of the state. For Biden, the state that he stands for is faced with a pandemic that is doing great harm to the very stuff of the state, the population. This is a Foucaultian biopolitical crisis that the merchants want the state to ignore. It is evident that the city, in its founding sense, and in a sense preserved by the Wall Street of London, The City, is fine with home-market necro-economics. But the state sees it as an ever-growing existential threat to one of its core or deep concerns. It's fine to export necro-economics, but it's another thing for it to be internalized. And to make matters worse, Trump has gutted and enervated an institution devoted to the maintenance of the state, the State Department.

Those with a more conspiratorial grip on objects/events describe Biden as a member of "the deep state." In a sense, they are not that wrong, but it's not as sexy as they see it.

Support The Stranger

The state has been around for a long time. There is nothing new it has to show us. The West and now much of the world is built on four traditional classes: those associated with the court, those with the city, those with the church, and those with the crops. The first form the foundation of the state; the second, the market; the third, science; and the fourth, labor.

This is my ordering. In his new book, Capital and Ideology, The French economist Thomas Piketty collapses the "noble and warriors" into one founding class, and the "clerical and religious" into the second class, and "common and laboring" into the bottom class. In his 2014 book The Structure of World History, the Japanese philosopher Kojin Karatani presents the social organization of the founding classes as: the king (the court), the merchants (the city), and the peasant (the village); the state, the market, the people; war, capitalism, xenophobia.

The support Biden is receiving from the center-right is not surprising. This is his class. These men and women, center-left and center-right, are grounded by and committed to the preservation of the state. So, why should the left support him? Because the state cannot solve the present crisis without leftist tools such as increased spending on public health. It is the reliance on legitimate socialist solutions that the merchant class finds unpalatable. It loosens their grip on state power.