Thursday, March 31, 2016

Matt Bruenig — Liberalism Is a Philosophy of Rich White Male Domination

Devastating smackdown of Jonathan Chait.
If Chait’s right, and Marxism is the theory that only the oppressed should have political rights, then it’s certainly at least as accurate to say Liberalism is the theory that only the oppressors should have political rights.
Quotes from Kant, Hume and Rousseau to that effect. Turns out that the Enlightenment wasn't all that enlightened.

MattBruenig | Politic
Matt Bruenig


Bob said...

Should be required reading for anyone who insists on wearing that label. An ideal should never be claimed as part of one's identity.

Dan Lynch said...

"Political liberalism was a philosophical formation that only aimed to extend political rights to rich white men. Liberalism’s egalitarianism was an egalitarianism among rich white men.

Bruenig has his moments.

If you truly believe in equality, then communism makes a lot of sense, because there is no true equality without economic equality. Whether we could make communism work in our current world is another story.

Tom Hickey said...

"From each according to ability and to each according to need" is not exactly equality. There is a difference between equality and egalitarianism. The liberal ideal is political equality, that is in part, equality before the law, equal rights, one person-one vote, and equal opportunity. It is based on mutuality, reciprocity and fairness.

The basic idea is that a monetary economy is impersonal and results in alienation. This is the basis for exploitation that leads to the concentration of status, power, and wealth. The "enemy" is the classical liberal concept of the sanctity of contract and private property made institutionally prior to people and environment. Yes, Marx and Engels were concerned with the environment. Industrial England was a pit of pollution.

Wikipedia has a fairly good definition of communism:

In political and social sciences, communism (from Latin communis, "common, universal")[1][2] is a social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of the communist society, which is a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money,[3][4] and the state.[5][6]

Communism includes a variety of schools of thought, which broadly include Marxism, anarchism (anarchist communism), and the political ideologies grouped around both. All these hold in common the analysis that the current order of society stems from its economic system, capitalism, that in this system, there are two major social classes: the working class – who must work to survive, and who make up a majority of society – and the capitalist class – a minority who derive profit from employing the proletariat, through private ownership of the means of production (the physical and institutional means with which commodities are produced and distributed), and that political, social and economic conflict between these two classes will trigger a fundamental change in the economic system, and by extension a wide-ranging transformation of society. The primary element which will enable this transformation, according to this analysis, is the social ownership of the means of production.

So it is not about state ownership of the means of production (technology), but rather social ownership. There are various ways that social ownership can be constructed. State ownership of the means of production is totalitarianism.


Tom Hickey said...


Totalitarianism is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible.[1] Totalitarian regimes stay in political power through an all-encompassing propaganda campaign, which is disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, a single party that is often marked by political repression, personality cultism, control over the economy, regulation and restriction of speech, mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror.

The concept of totalitarianism was first developed in the 1920s by the Weimar German jurist, and later Nazi academic, Carl Schmitt and Italian fascists. Schmitt used the term, Totalstaat in his influential work on the legal basis of an all-powerful state, The Concept of the Political (1927).[2] The concept became prominent in Western anti-communist political discourse during the Cold War era as an effort to highlight perceived similarities between Fascist and Soviet Communist Party states in a way that would justify Cold War political divisions.[3][4][5][6][7]


Modern capitalism actually argues that capitalism develops into socially distributed ownership in an "ownership society," where the vast majority of people own their own homes and also own shares in private companies, which gives them a vote on management through election of boards unless they own those shares through pension funds. While there is a certain logic to this, the reality is that the vast majority of the working class is dispossessed, without equal opportunity and with little opportunity for social mobility.

The only thing standing in the way of making "communism" work is the level of collective consciousness and scale. So-called primitive tribes managed it just fine, a fact that Marx was familiar with, e.g., through the work of anthropologist Lewis Morgan. The fundamental issue of one of scale. That requires development of the level of collective consciousness in the direction of greater appreciation of universality. This involves the recognition that one can only be truly free if all are free and not simply in the sense of negative freedom.

Bob said...

Is totalitarian a synonym for authoritarian?

Malmo's Ghost said...

"The only thing standing in the way of making "communism" work is the level of collective consciousness and scale."

The only thing? To be sure, that's fanciful thinking, but for the sake of argument pray tell just how this "collective consciousness" in our multipolar world is going to manifest itself? Reeducation camps? Massive die off so we get back to small tribes (I mean small scale is our only historical precedent in so called collective consciousness)? Have Noam Chomsky somehow linguistically trick us into that state of being?

I do have a name for this elusive place that will never be. You've probably heard of it. Utopia!

Malmo's Ghost said...

BTW, a syndicalist friend of mine from my younger radical days had it right when he lamented "there is nothing more divisive than an insistence on unity".

Dan Lynch said...

It's hard to imagine any industrial economy that could function without violent enforcement.

As Bruenig pointed out in one of his other blogs, capitalism could not exist without state-backed "violence vouchers."

The best we can hope for is that the state act in the interests of society, and most of the time we don't get that.

Tom Hickey said...

I do have a name for this elusive place that will never be. You've probably heard of it. Utopia!

Right. Also called "the Golden Age" or "Sat Yuga."

It is a seemingly impossible state to conceive of as possible now, given the level of collective consciousness.

Tom Hickey said...

BTW, a syndicalist friend of mine from my younger radical days had it right when he lamented "there is nothing more divisive than an insistence on unity".

Live unity. Celebrate diversity.

Requirement: "Conversion of heart."

Tom Hickey said...

The best we can hope for is that the state act in the interests of society, and most of the time we don't get that.

Doesn't happen because the level of collective consciousness is too low to support it. We are doing about the best we can as a species given what we've got. But we can develop into something better.

See Stephen Pinker, The Better Angels of our Nature for a contemporary account.

See also perennial wisdom for the traditional view, summarized in Meher Baba's The New Humanity.

Bill said...

So. Liberalism has changed over the years; Marxism, not so much. Right?

Tom Hickey said...

So. Liberalism has changed over the years; Marxism, not so much. Right?

Classical liberalism was moderated owing to social and political pressure from the West, especially in response to the rise of "socialism" in communist countries.

Marxism, as a particular flavor of communism was hijacked by Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism. This is attributable to Marx and Engels advocacy for the "temporary" dictatorship of the proletariat (working class) on the way to stateless society.

Here it is important to note that there was disagreement among 19th c. socialists over evolutionary and revolutionary socialists. (( wrote an MA thesis entitled "Evolution or Revolution: Toward a Theory of Social Change). Marx was one of those who subscribed to violent revolution as necessary. This is not a necessary condition for the transition from capitalism (economic liberalism) to socialism (integration of social, political and economic liberalism).

The paradoxes of liberalism arise from failure to integrate social, political and economic liberalism. This is the reason that capitalism as economic liberalism is antithetical to democracy as political liberalism. As Bruenig points out, the way to make it work is to redefine political liberalism to restrict its application.

Tom Hickey said...

Clarification: "This is not a necessary condition for the transition from capitalism (economic liberalism) to socialism (integration of social, political and economic liberalism)."

Marx was somewhat inconsistent in that he was both a thinker and an activist.

Marx the thinker held that upon achieving global reach, capitalism would be replaced in the historical dialectic by the rising moment, socialism. There is nothing in the theory that mandates violent change, since capitalism would break down owing to its internal contradictions with a new system rising to replace it, similar to paradigm shift in science as "scientific revolution." The old simply accedes to the new, not without resistance on the part of the old order, but that does not necessarily involve widespread violent revolution.

But Marx the social and political activist was not only impatient but also righteously angry. He agitated for pressing for change that his own thinking indicated was likely to be premature. Moreover, his analysis was flawed even on a limited basis. It was not the Western capitalist countries that experienced communist-led revolution but rather agrarian Russia and China. Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism were adaptations of the theory to contexts that were quite different from what Marx had envisioned. So calling Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism "Marxism" is stretch in my view. They were inspired by Marx and Engels but interpreted M&E to fit the circumstances with which they were dealing.

(This is obviously a thumbnail sketch that simplified a much more complicated philosophy and historical development. But I think it captures the main thrust.)

jrbarch said...

The collective consciousness already exists, has always existed, in every human heart. To know that, to feel that, to experience that - a lot has to be removed. It is like a beautiful diamond, kept, forgotten for a very long time in a very ordinary cardboard box. People just state their experience - and confuse the chariot, horses, reins and Warrior. Mind reflects the battle and simplicity - whatever is placed before it.

Bob said...

So. Liberalism has changed over the years; Marxism, not so much. Right?

As the status quo has changed, so has liberalism.

Tom Hickey said...

Liberalism is developing in the direction of socialism, even as the world apparently gets more unequal as a result of capitalism. Marx did not think that capitalism was "bad" per se. He recognized it as an improvement over feudalism. Most people were better off under liberalism than under the previous authoritarianisms of clergy and feudal lords, for example. The problem with capitalism is that the economic infrastructure based on the legal institutions involving property rights over human rights. Marx saw this as due to a deficient view of "human nature." Marx rejected theories of human nature based on immutable essence for a dynamic and evolutionary one. He didn't see real freedom arising from competition among individuals for scarce resources but rather from social cooperation in community.

Marx … thought that the good society was one which allows our human nature its full expression.

Man is a species-being, not only because he practically and theoretically makes the species – both his own and those of other things – his object, but also – and this is simply another way of saying the same thing – because he looks upon himself as the present, living species, because he looks upon himself as a universal and therefore free being. [19]

To make one's life one's object is therefore to treat one's life as something that is under one's control. To raise in imagination plans for one's future and present, and to have a stake in being able to fulfill those plans. To be able to live a life of this character is to achieve 'self-activity' (actualisation), which Marx believes will only become possible after communism has replaced capitalism. 'Only at this stage does self-activity coincide with material life, which corresponds to the development of individuals into complete individuals and the casting-off of all natural limitations. The transformation of labour into self-activity corresponds to the transformation of the earlier limited intercourse into the intercourse of individuals as such' [22].

What is involved in making one's species one's object is more complicated (see Allen Wood 2004, pp. 16–21). In one sense, it emphasises the essentially social character of humans, and their need to live in a community of the species. In others, it seems to emphasise that we attempt to make our lives expressions of our species-essence; further that we have goals concerning what becomes of the species in general.

Marx viewed political liberalism as a rationalistic substitute for religion. The liberal state replaces God in the Great Chain of Being. Marx rejected this explanation as insufficient for true freedom of individuals, which can only be found socially in a community of equals. The objective then is transforming the material conditions of life into a context that can support this rather than imposing "freedom" institutionally, which won't work, because he basis is not there in the economic infrastructure that is foundational to context.

I don't want to either claim or even imply that Marx had everything right. He would probably not even do that himself, since he was an existentialist rather than an essentialist and a functionalist rather than a structuralist. He believed that life is historical and dynamic, and everything is in flux.

Marx's chief contribution today is probably methodological. He was consciously moving away from the static view of essentialism toward a scientific naturalism based on history and observation. He regarded axiomatic approaches like that of conventional economics as absurd in light of the facts of history and experience. He was very much a contextualist rather than axiomatic. As such he was a much more forward thinker than many of the liberal economists and political scientists of today and much more in line with economic sociology and economic anthropology, of which he was a harbinger.

Tom Hickey said...

Perhaps the most significant point regarding all this now is that "socialism" as freedom in a community of equals based on sufficient economic infrastructure is a possibility for humanity at present, whereas it was not at the time that Marx was writing. Technology was not sufficiently advanced to reduce scarcity sufficiently to provide a global economic infrastructure that would support a truly "free" society.

This is why Marx held that a dictatorship of the proletariat would be needed for the time it took to upgrade the economic infrastructure. Actually, the economic infrastructure of Greater Russia and China were transformed dramatically in a short period historically, but a lot of the gains had to be committed to military use owing to the context of the time (Western liberal opposition).

As Bucky Fuller argued convincingly, that the limitation of scarcity was overcome globally post-WWII as a result of technology. The choice had become Utopia or Oblivion, which was a title of one of his books. He argued that the choice was between committing resources to destruction or construction. The resources were already available to construct utopia but they were being committed to military use. Here it is not a matter of munnie but of use of available real resources — environmental, human and technological.

Unfortunately, the world is still hung up in that bag, now largely owing to US insistence on preserving global hegemony in the face of a a rising Russia and China. This insistence has resulted in Russia and China forming a strategic alliance, with a renewed arms race underway.