The Archedelia Project
Archedelia: “rule-revealing” (by analogy with psychedelia, “soul-revealing”).
I offer this neologism because we are living through a time when our notions of political reality have been scrambled, and the parallel with psychedelia seems apt. The last half-dozen years have been punctuated by moments that have a hallucinatory feel to them. Or are they revelatory? Through a series of crises, cracks in the foundations of our common life have opened up to the point that one can gaze directly into something beneath. You may ask yourself, am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? If you feel like you’ve been on acid since about 2016 (or since the pandemic), or perhaps that everyone else is, you may enjoy this newsletter.
The Greek word arche has a double meaning: ruling principle and beginning. This makes sense if you suppose that one should look to the origins of things to grasp their animating spirit. Accordingly, our efforts here will have an archaeological character, drawing on intellectual and political history to understand the present, in all of its weirdness.
This has been my procedure as a writer for 20-odd years. So let me say something about myself, and why I am launching a Substack.
Who is Matthew B. Crawford?
There is more than one Matthew Crawford with a public presence, so let me head off confusion right away. I am neither the porn star nor the statistician (but I will grant that there are worse mis-identifications to suffer than these). I am the one who had an unusual upbringing that featured more work than schooling, majored in physics as an undergraduate, then did a doctorate in the history of political thought at the University of Chicago.
I am probably best known for my book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work (2009), which made a case for the skilled trades, and more broadly considered the satisfactions of the concrete over the abstract. I argue for the embodied nature of our intelligence, and the cognitive richness of manual work. It was a New York Times Bestseller.
In The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (2015), I traced our crisis of attention beyond its proximate, technological causes to its roots in a certain picture of the human subject that got installed in Western thought during the Enlightenment, but is somewhat at odds with how we actually apprehend the world. Drawing on the phenomenological tradition, I recover what I take to be a more adequate picture, what I call the situated self. It is a way of understanding the human condition that helps to clarify the problem of distraction, and points the way to a more satisfying way of being in the world.
In Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road (2020), I consider driving as a rich, embodied practice that is also inherently social. Sharing the road calls on our capacities for cooperation and improvisation, which turn out to be important to the democratic character (as Tocqueville recognized). The push for driverless cars, and more broadly our heedless rush to automation, is an instance of a wider pattern in which the demands of skill and competence give way to a promise of safety and convenience, rendering us passive beneficiaries of an opaque, tutelary system. The implications for self-government are significant.
These books have been translated into nine or ten languages and published around the world.
Why a Substack?
I have been fortunate to work with some extraordinary editors in the world of letters, first at The Penguin Press, then at FSG and finally William Morrow. But my sense is that in the last few years things have changed; that the guardrails on what is regarded as saleable, or even permissible, have been drawn closer in the big, New York publishing houses. I could be wrong about that. I know firsthand that there remain open-minded, intellectually rigorous people in that world. In any case, this Substack is an experiment in removing my writing to a venue less subject to the supervisory gaze of a culture industry that increasingly feels like part of the consent-manufacturing machinery.
Also, there are things I want to get said before my time runs out, and this is a moment when the ground is shifting under our feet very quickly. So I’m going to try a less laborious method, and skip the 5 year delay that usually obtains between my conception of a book and its publication. I am thinking of the Archedelia Project as a messier book that unfolds in real time, addressed to a self-selecting audience that doesn’t first have to pass through the filter of a publisher’s guesses as to what people want to read.
The themes of this Substack.
In 2022, I co-taught (with the incomparable Dr. Adrian Walker) a seminar on the topic of sovereignty at St. Patrick’s Seminary and University in Menlo Park, California. Some dissident-minded members of the nearby Stanford and Silicon Valley communities attended, joining a few faculty and seminarians of St. Pat’s. It was an excellent experience, and in this Substack I hope to bring something like it to a wider community of people who are asking, Is anyone in charge? Who (or what) decides important matters? It sometimes feels as though a very different type of regime has emerged, unannounced, and installed itself in place of the one we were taught about in civics class. What is “the government” in 2022? What stories are told to secure the legitimacy of coercive power? How do such stories stand in relation to common experience––do they accord with it, or seem out of joint with what one knows first-hand? Is sovereignty located where it is said to be located, according to our official, de jure legacies (for example, in a popularly elected legislature, a founding Constitution)? If not, can any coherent governing principles of the de facto (or emerging) political regime be identified? Do they coalesce into something like a civilizational project? If so, how does this project stand in relation to the one we are familiar with––roughly, modern, liberal democracy? On what basis does the new order justify its rule? Or is the whole thing an incoherent mess?
There is much to sort through. To live in such a time of upheaval and dissolution can be distressing, but with fundamental questions back on the table as they haven’t been for perhaps a century, it is also an exciting time for thinking.
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Hello, Mr. Crawford––I found this Substack through your article on Unherd and am 100% engaged. Your questions are very much on my mind, and I spend quite a bit of time trying to piece things together from my own readings. How you are writing and thinking seems well worth the time I plan to give to it. Thank you so much! Excited to embark on this real-time, work-in-progress with you, and everyone else reading & commenting here.
Also, really relished these brilliant comments from your covid-endgame piece:
"The idea that emotion should have any positive epistemic role to play in grasping reality is foreign to modern thought."
And this––wow––right on target:
What happens when the regime is one in which this spirited, evaluative activity is short-circuited altogether, subordinating the (various) distinctions that make for (competing visions of) the good life to mere biological life, bare existence? That is, “health” as conceived by “public health”? This is aggression against our nature as evaluative beings. It would seem to be the consummation of a project that puts the flight from death, rather than attraction to the good, at the center of our political metaphysics.