Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Chris Dillow — Inequality, the state & the left

"The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie" wrote Marx and Engels: "The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes." There has always been a strong strand of libertarianism within Marxism.

A big reason for this is that the rich often have the power to ensure that the state operates in their own interests. The revolving door between Whitehall and big business ensures that policy favours the latter. The fact that the government wants to create jobs and a tax base makes it want to protect business confidence. And globalization and/or neoliberal ideology lead to a reluctance to tax the rich heavily.
 
In the face of pressures such as these, I fear that the statist left is often guilty of wishful thinking - of what I've called Bonnie Tyler syndrome, of holding out for a hero who can wield the state for egalitarian purposes. 
But this is naive: what we saw this year in Ferguson only confirmed what we saw during the miners' strike - that, in the wrong hands, the state will be viciously regressive.
Rather than merely hope that the state can be grasped by good people, the left needs to think differently. What we also need are horizontalism or what Erik Olin Wright has called (pdf) interstitial transformations - self-help groups independent of the state which can grow to supplant capitalism or at least act as a counterweight to capitalistic pressures.
Stumbling and Mumbling
Inequality, the state & the left
Chris Dillow | Investors Chronicle

9 comments:

Dan Lynch said...

Can't argue with Chris.

The best we can ever hope for is popular referendums on critical issues, and even that may not be effective since the public is easily brainwashed and often seems to have Stockholm syndrome.

Dan Kervick said...

This is idiotic gibberish.

Do you think we could please, finally stop thinking about the world in terms of outmoded 19th century social categories? Karl Marx was a great social scientist. Not a divine prophet whose analytical categories are eterally fitting.

Working class? Bourgeoisie? Please.

More with the "horizontalism" and anarcho-libertarian self-help crap? Good lord.

There is not going to be a world without a "state" of some kind. Never. Ever.

The left keeps losing because the left is full of Peter Pan nitwits.

Dan Lynch said...

@Dan Kervick, I am not a libertarian, but on the other hand my personal experiences with government have often been "disappointing." Not to mention just reading the headlines every day. :-)

In my mind I do a cost-benefit analysis of particular government interventions. Public roads? I think public roads are awesome, and I have never had a public road hassle me. But some of the nanny state proposals seem to assume that that the regulators and the enforcers will always be benevolent and wise.

The question is, what to do about it?

Tom Hickey said...

The basic issue for left libertarians is the separation of the state from the people through hierarchical governments that can be captured, and there have been many ways of capturing governments historically. Hierarchical organization is based on a military model with an officer class separate from the enlisted class. The officer class has extraordinary privileges in comparison with the enlisted. I know. I served as a naval officer.

There is a difference between government as an institution and governance. It is similar to the difference between institutional religion and spirituality. Under popular sovereignty governance rest with the people, and government is of the people, by the people and for the people.

Nor is the state the only potential enemy as is becoming clear through the rise of transnational corporatism that have effectively usurped governance from states and their government as it the objective.

Left libertarians favor popular participatory democracy and they are not necessarily statists, although many are. Dillow points out the problem with the statist approach, which has been amply demonstrated by the capture of so-called leftist organization and institutions by elites that then conspire with the opponents of the left.

An alternative is building parallel structure that is based on the integration of freedom, egalitarianism, and community. This was done to a degree in the US during the Sixties and Seventies and it manifested as an underground parallel structure that later became partially integrated with conventional society. The result was that conventional society underwent a cultural and institutional transformation to some degree, even a great degree compared with the Fifties, for example.

The transition to the digital age makes more decentralization possible as well as the construction of alternatives. And there are a lot of libertarians of both left and right committed to making this happen.

Dan Lynch said...

In general, I like government to do things that help people -- roads, schools, hospitals, etc.. What I don't have much confidence in is the "enforcement" side of government -- cops, judges, jails, debtor's prisons, O-care mandates & penalties, etc..

I accept that there has to be rules and regulations and enforcement, but it doesn't seem like government has a good track record at enforcement. That's where the cost-benefit analysis needs to come into play -- i.e., what are the benefits of the war on drugs vs. what are the costs? Is there a way we can accomplish our goals with carrots rather than sticks?

Save the sticks for the bankers and the war criminals.

Tom Hickey said...

Governance is about order in dynamic systems, that is, systems subject to change. "Order" is a high order terms that encompasses the entirety of structure and function in an organization or organism.

There is a natural order in organisms and an equilibrium state called homeostasis. Social organization doesn't appear to be conducive to natural order in anything like the sense of homeostasis.

The result is a debate over social and political theories. There is no agreed upon methodology, criteria, or normal paradigm. This debate is conducted over a range that includes philosophy, sociology, political science, psychology and cognitive science, anthropology, economics, education, public health, etc.

Economics and politics generally assume that much of this debate is settled while also presuming many hidden assumptions that are not only not acknowledged but also most likely not even recognized.

Dan Kervick said...

Left libertarians conveniently re-define "state" however they like from one moment to the next to mean something "governments I don't like." Most of the time they can give no clear account of what they are trying to say or what they want.

Most of that portion of the left simply doesn't like to think hard about what it takes to organize an economically complex and prosperous modern society - so they just don't think about it. They wallow instead in sophomoric pseudo-intellectual "theory" (i.e. infantile gibberish).

Since they have no grown-up plan to offer about how to re-organize governmental and economic systems along more egalitarian lines, they leave the job of grown-up organization to the plutocrats and corporate elites.

When the left was dominated by the "old left" in the early-to-mid 20th century, there was fairly steady progress toward a more equitable and broadly prosperous society. Since it has been taken over by the anarcho-lib faction, we have had decades of steady right wing progress while the silly bohemian bums mutter incoherently about their stateless fantasy worlds.

Tom Hickey said...

Left libertarians conveniently re-define "state" however they like from one moment to the next to mean something "governments I don't like." Most of the time they can give no clear account of what they are trying to say or what they want.

"State," "government," "governance," etc. are all well defined terms about which there is little ambiguity when they are used as legal terms that figure in institutional arrangments. Like most terms, they have different meanings in different contexts and confusing or conflating meaning can result in ambiguity or category error. But this is pretty easily sorted out by analysis. In the case of question, the meaning of legal terms is determined judicially. Political theorists are expect to define their key terms technically and to stick with the definition unless a different use is qualified specifically.

For example, modern nation states are sovereign institutionally, while provinces called "states" as in the US have institutionally limited sovereignty. Sovereignty may also be limited voluntarily by treaty, for example, or lost in conflict. Where there is ambiguity or question, the appropriate authority, generally a court decides the issue. Those uses further define a term in those types of context.

The crucial question about sovereignty is its source. For example, the conventional concept of modern democracy presumes popular sovereignty in the sense that all citizens have an equal vote in elections rather than "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," which is not true of a democratic republic. As far as I am aware, there are no popular democracies int the world today, although the source of sovereignty in democratic republics is said to be popular sovereignty. Pupil sovereignty is not equivalent to popular democracy in which governance is directly controlled by the citizenry enjoying universal suffrage as a basic right that is institutionally defined and guaranteed.

Government is the institution through which a state governs. Governance is the act of governing.

There have been stateless societies historically and also governance without institutional government but rather custom.

It is possible to use terms like this in discourse and debate and to further clarify them as need arises.

I certainly don't deny that a lot of thinking about political theory has not be a model of clarity and there has been considerable confusion over terminology, but addressing that is the job of critique — one might say analytical philosophy. The terms "state" and "government" are often conflated but it is not too difficult to sort this out. The state remains the same as the geographical locus of sovereignty whereas government change. However, even when governments change, governance remains stable owing to institutional arrangements such as a national constitution that establishes the state, the mode of government, and the rules of governance.

Tom Hickey said...

Continuing, I think that a major difference between some or most libertarians of the left and right is that libertarians of the left hold that sovereignty is held by the people collectively while libertarians of the right hold that only individuals are sovereign and this sovereignty extends only over a single individual.

Libertarians of the left hold that rights are collective and belong to "the people." Thus the people acting together as sovereign can impose order collectively. Some libertarians of the left hold that rights are natural while other hold that rights are constructed.

The left libertarian view of rights as collective differs sharply from statism, however. Left libertarians hold that individual rights are held collectively as equal rights. The statism of the ancient Greeks, followed by Hegel, was that the state is the locus of rights and an individual gains genuine human freedom only as a member of a state under law. Individuals acting in concert to determine the law are free in the sense that they possess self-determination.

The difference is that under the statist view, the state is the causative factor whereas in the left libertarian view individuals acting in concert are the causative factor. In the statist view it is the state that is the persistent factor. In the left libertarian view it is the collective consciousness of the people that is the persistent factor.

Libertarians of the right hold that rights are individual and natural. Therefore, any ordering is based on voluntarism, and it is well known that most libertarians of the right hold that the non-aggression principle is fundamental and necessary for freedom but it is voluntarily accepted. States are considered to be involuntary and unnatural impositions. See Murray Rothbard, The Anatomy of the State, for instance.

These are relatively recent positions. Political theory was previously dominated by divine law theories, might is right theories, and natural law theories assuming first principles about "human nature."

Generally speaking social and political theory grow out of a theory of human nature. See Twelve Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson, David L. Haberman, and Peter Matthews Wright. And this is not an exhaustive list of historical theories of human nature.