State Power to Create a Nobility, Research Time, 23/02/2015

Friedrich Hayek has a lot of curious critiques of using state/government power to plan, manage, and control economic activity. One critique stood out to me as being, essentially, a product of the radical left. 

His argument goes something like this. Say a hardcore, old-fashioned socialist government takes over from a relatively liberal one. Its plan is just as the technocrats of Hayek’s own age presumed was the inevitable wave of the future, to run all the economic affairs of its country through a centrally planned state infrastructure, nationalizing all industry and making all people state employees. 

Such a socialist government will have to equalize people’s income and living situations. Because the current arrangement of society is economically unequal, this will require giving some people more state benefits than others. Essentially, it creates a favoured class of people, the beneficiaries of more state wealth, support, and services. It would also have to take wealth away from citizens who had an outsized share under the old regime, but concentrate on the people to whom the state gives most for this argument.

This phenomenon is the state itself creating a new most-favoured class within society. All societies have such classes, and one of the purposes of community-scale democratic organization is to give these classes the pokes required to keep them from lording their wealth over everyone else. But in Hayek’s hypothetical example, the institutional machinery of the state itself secures the new ruling class of uplifted poor and bureaucratic managers of the economy.

Such a movement is entirely anti-democratic. But the right-wing or conservative movements that helped promote Hayek's new liberalism weren't really interested in creating a society free of privilege. They didn't want to nationalize the economy under a bureaucratic state's management, but such classes of very wealthy people have seldom opened competition for their fortunes to all.

Two theorists in my research for the Utopias project have already made such critiques of state power to create and secure a ruling or nobility class in their own times: Pyotr Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin. 

Kropotkin discussed the politics of humanity with a longer frame of reference than a lot of the notable political theorists and writers of recent years. He didn’t talk in terms of decades or even centuries, but in reference to millions of years of human evolution. This perspective taught him that humans most naturally and for the longest time lived in small groups whose lives depended on constant interaction and mutual dependence and aid. 

The problem with modern society, from such a perspective, would be that rigid social hierarchies of authorities and noblemen with special privileges over many individuals is a radical shift away from this best practice. It discards a social practice that is easily seen to be evolutionarily superior, and quite a lot about rigid hierarchies show just how maladaptive they are. 

Bakunin spent some of his harshest words decrying the institutions and the economic practices that constituted and enshrined a class of nobles. He went beyond the macro-economic scale of state favouritism, though, and attacked the practice of inheritance of wealth itself. Inheritance is the foundation of nobility on the scale of the individual, allowing personally unearned wealth to jumpstart another person’s fortune unfairly.

I’m not sure what he offered as an alternative to dealing with the accumulated wealth of the dead, and I haven’t managed to think of any alternatives myself. So any direction in this regard would be much appreciated.

It’s another aspect of how libertarian politics seems to converge with anarchist philosophy. Despite this, libertarianism in our public world keeps turning to the right. I’m not sure of the exact cause, and there are probably many. A major practical factor, so I hypothesize right now, is that when Hayek and Milton Friedman formed the first new liberal think tanks, they had so much corporate financial support and influence that their fundamental ideas for the freest markets enabling liberty were corrupted by the new ruling class of our societies. 

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