Government or the People III: True Democratic Change Is an Awakening, Composing, 06/02/2015

Continued from last post . . . I was never able to make my libertarian friends even take seriously the notion that participants in a free market could cause genuine distortions in its dynamic balances without actually being a state. At least at my current early stage of dealing with Hayek’s ideas, I can make this very preliminary hypothesis:

Because Hayek was primarily concerned with nationalized economic planning in democratic states causing totalitarian slippage, he focussed his most influential texts on the state as the only danger to the economic dimensions of people’s freedom. I haven’t yet approached his later writings or speeches, but I’d venture a guess that once the Mt. Pelerin Society seriously picked up political influence in the 1970s, he had begun to believe his own hype.

I think I can speak for my generation
when I say how hard it is to imagine
the world's most dangerous terrorists
being communists.
Hayek’s work, historically, awakened more people to the dangers of state power than any other single author. I think a main reason for this is because many of his contemporary authors who analyzed the dangers of state power did so from a leftist perspective. In the social and political contexts of the mid-20th century, the genuinely progressive left was largely under fire because of all the oppressive lefts that dominated the public image of that approach to politics.

All people in the West who self-identified with the left in Hayek's time spent much of their energy defending themselves from accusations that they supported terrorist groups (Baader-Meinhof, the FLQ, the Red Brigades) or totalitarian states (the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China). Or else they were under investigation because of suspicion that they did (as in the FBI’s surveillance of civil rights demonstrators). Or worse, they were actively subverted or ruined because of the paranoid conviction that they did (as in Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch-hunts or the CIA’s murder and crack-enabled breakup of the Black Panthers).

But in the mid-2010s, the richest 85 people on Earth control half of the wealth in all of human civilization through their investments, estates, and holdings. The traditional left’s most terrifying spectre, totalitarianism, is no longer the world's biggest problem. We now face the right’s most terrifying spectre, oligarchy.

Businessmen (and they are always men) have personal fortunes huge enough not only to impact government policy, but practically buy governmental influence. Their power goes beyond crass bribery and has achieved the literal ability to ruin or rebuild whole cities. Hayek was worried about the state’s power to intervene in the market, but now the most powerful individuals in the market can intervene in the operation of the state.

In the comments of my first post in this series, Steve Fuller called attention to an article he wrote, with colleagues Veronika Lipinska and Emilie Whitaker, in Aeon Magazine just over a year ago called “Ninety-Degree Revolution,” about how global politics was reorienting itself among its vanguards away from a left/red-right/blue axis to an up/black-down/green dimension. Fuller, Lipinska, and Whitaker's point was that the progressive edge of politics was no longer focussing on the role of the state to bring about social justice, but whether the future of humanity lay in the colonization of space and other worlds, or in the ecological revitalization of Earth.

Still the richest man in the world.
They give the most space* in the article to black politics. That's most sensible, because they all openly identify as up-wingers, concentrating their political power on biotechnological enhancement and extra-planetary expansion. On their scale, I'm something of a down-winger. But we aren't necessarily opposed, only divergent. As I put it to Steve on Twitter, someone has to look after the house while you're away.

* You better not think this is a pun. Do not think such things of me.

The real place where I take issue their their perspective is the idea that politics really is shifting this way universally. Black and green may be a new direction in which to think politics, but it will be an addition to the ongoing discussions, not a replacement. Because both directions in politics give the state a central role in politics.

The black movement relies on the state for the large-scale funding and experimental approach to research that will be required to perfect viable space flight. The green movement relies on the coercive power of the state to enforce laws that preserve and repair our ecological relationships. Some of the environmentalist issues that have most closely approached genuine victory, like the fight against acid rain, have done so through states enforcing laws to manage pollutants.

The libertarian right wing will always survive, and probably thrive, in the fact of these new up and down currents in politics because they will, in the shadow of Hayek, continue to fight the state in all its forms. Frankly, so will I from the left wing that embraces community self-organization and the politics of the network.

Because I do agree with the libertarians on one central principle, which is central to what I think is the most socially important purpose of philosophy, and why I’ve been naming most of this series of posts Composing. It's a fundamental element of the conclusion of Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity, and the central starting premise of the Utopias project. The state only truly works when it’s a tool at the direction of the people. When the state acts to determine the movement of its people, it’s an agent of oppression.

Someday, we will colonize other worlds. Well, someone
will. Not me.
Interplanetary and environmentalist politics will have to use the state for different purposes, but they will only succeed insofar as they can build a movement of people who want to live according to the templates they offer, and will personally act to change their world to make that life possible. 

Genuinely revolutionary movements aren't the product of states imposing them on their populations. They’re the combined products of individuals all choosing to change their ways of thinking and living. We can’t suspend democracy, as James Lovelock said, to force a new way of life on people because the people will push back against that force. It may take a lot longer, but transforming humanity mind by mind, through the inspiration of new ideas and social potential, is the only possible ground of true social change.

Yes, it may be too late to start this change to prevent radical and dangerous climate change. But it’s the only politically moral path to take.

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