Continued from Friday . . . When you read Hayek’s ideas, especially the popularly-aimed works like Road to Serfdom that were his main vehicles of direct political influence on people’s minds, you find some interesting paradoxes.* The most interesting one, given the Greek referendum’s uprising against the impositions of austerity, is the tension of individualism and market forces.
|At some point, when you can't take it anymore, you just|
have to say no.
* I don't like to say contradictions, because I don’t want to sound too Hegelian or Marxist. Talk of contradiction in philosophical discussions of economic and political issues can trap you analyzing a problem as the collision of opposites, and real problems are usually more complex than that.
New liberalism is an individualist doctrine, to its core and essence. It’s the economic and political philosophy that's been promoted through the think tanks who grew from Friedrich Hayek’s first cadre of intellectual activists in the Mt. Pelerin Society. They were fervent anti-communists who understood themselves as fighting social movements around the world and in their own countries, which would push society in totalitarian directions.
Those movements, the push down the slippery slope toward communist totalitarianism, included any style of politics that organized people as collectives, or in which the government controlled an industry either through outright nationalization or a regulatory regime. Collective politics included any union movement.
Robert Nozick would pick this up in some of his arguments surrounding Anarchy, State, and Utopia. The bond of an employment contract is between two equal people, the employer and the employee. Unions would overpower the employer in that contract. This, however, ignores the material fact that an employer is rarely an equal to each of his workers, especially if they employer is a large, complex corporation with decentralized and bureaucratic authority structures over its human resources concerns.
That workers’ unions and government regulations are the start of a process of building totalitarian politics sounds absolutely ridiculous to write, like some piece of hyperbole that you laugh at when Michael Palin says it in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, or when Dave Foley delivers his classic “Poor Little Russia!” monologue on Kids in the Hall. But Hayek and the others who founded his think tank network lived in an era when totalitarianism was an ordinary political option.
Hayek was at the forefront of the new liberal political movement, where all forms of freedom were individual freedom from government control or similar subsumption into a collective. Subsuming all individuality into the development of a collective identity was a vision that many people understood as human progress.
Yet Hayek acknowledged that individuality was dwarfed by forces beyond its control. These weren't the cultural unity of a collectivizing politics, but the impersonal forces of economics. No matter what individual governments did, the tension of supply and demand, playing out among all goods and services, its medium the value of a country's currency itself, were forces to which an individual could only submit.
In Road to Serfdom, Hayek describes how an economic depression will likely follow the government-amped increase in manufacturing during the Second World War. Even though nearly three decades of domestic manufacturing booms followed the war, Hayek said these could not last forever, and some economic slowdown would have to happen simply because a permanent war footing is impossible to maintain. Wages would fall, industries would shutter, and many people would lose their jobs. The population would be in poverty until the cost of goods adjusted again to what people could afford to buy.
What was his solution to this looming economic disaster, the slow stagnation of the Dollarama economy? Deal with it. You can't control economic forces, not as a person and not as a government. Just shut up and starve, because life is hard and unfair.
Filippo Marinetti dreamed that the global-scale forces of an industrializing world would dwarf individuality. He embraced that transformation of humanity from conceiving of themselves as individuals to become parts of a larger machine of the nation. He saw global prosperity in the infinite expansion of military might around the world, a planet whose rule was colonialism and war.
The ideologies that shape our world originated in the global battle for and against state totalitarianism. As we struggle to escape subjugation to the powerful and the impersonal, we yearn for a perfect society where these oppressive forces don't exist. Yet we also yearn for an end to the struggle, even if that end comes in giving yourself over to the forces and institutions that would crush you. At least then, you’re part of something.
That’s what my Utopias project is basically all about. . . . To be continued.