The Technologies of Liberalism (Mp3 lecture)

Attached as an MP3 is a recording of a talk I gave on what I call "the technologies of liberalism." In brief, I tried to unpack the transition between two kinds of liberal political strategy in the United States, and the peculiar relation each had to communicative techniques. The first, "techniques of liberalism," dominated the early American Republic and assigned antagonistic private interactions & interest (political agitation, commerce, a free press) with the task of articulating the public. Private interest was the pivot and engine for this strategy. I argued that this strategy was gradually superseded in the 19th century by "technologies of liberalism," premised on subordinating private interest to transcendent technical systems. For this strategy, railroads, telegraphs, and other media are not simply material apparatuses, but technical systems seen as having a "logos" that incarnates divine spirit and transcends earthly forms of difference, distance, and balkanization within the population and the territory. I suggested that the history of these two modes--and the eventual triumph of the latter--provides the prehistory for cybernetics and technical media becoming an ideal of scientific and social order in the 20th century.

Besides the very practical task of writing a prehistory for some of my research on cybernetics, this talk also approaches, obliquely, some other things I've been thinking about: German research on Kulturtechnik, Schmitt's critique of liberalism as conceiving of the state as technology (Technik), the diffulties generalizing Foucault's Eurocentric account of biopolitics to an American context dominated by Federalism....And deep down, there's also an attempt in this talk to develop a critical prehistory of recent network-type theories of culture. Not simply the "culture as network" pop theory that appears in Wired, but also some of the sources for that kind of theory in Federalism, William James, John Dewey, Walter Lippmann. I think there's a political history to aspects of that type of theorization that, in media studies at least, we haven't worked through in an adequately critical way. I doubt you'll hear all these themes in this talk, however, which was excerpted from a much longer chapter I've written. If the recording strikes your fancy, I welcome comments and I am happy to send the full paper for your consideration.

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