The reading I’ve discussed on the blog lately has included a few different topics, and a few divergences as I’ve looked into different corners of political philosophy to research the Utopias project. Lately, I’ve gotten some pleasant feedback about my critical reading of Friedrich Hayek. I also got some intense feedback about my discussions of Marxist ideas.
All this feedback has been interesting to me, because I’ve essentially promised, in response to these questions, that it will all become clear when the entire Utopias project is finished. As I look at how my research schedule works out alongside having to work for a living, whether I have to deal with the time commitments of a communications job or (in some other possible world) a professorship, I realize that I probably won’t be able to have a Utopias manuscript ready to go before 2021 at the earliest.
So I thought I’d briefly discuss just what the Utopias project actually is today. Also, because the latest instalment of my dialogue with Steve Fuller about his book Knowledge: The Philosophical Quest in History won’t be up until tomorrow. He’s doing a few public lectures in New York and Philadelphia this week, and is on a bit of a time crunch. Most likely, part five will run tomorrow.
Utopias is a three part book. The material on libertarian political philosophy and the modern epoch of neoliberal global and state politics that it inspired are a key element of the third part. This last third is where the conventionally political concepts of the project come directly to the foreground.
I say conventionally political because I’ll discuss how the concepts of what humanity is and can become that are the subjects of the earlier two parts impact how we think about the state, economics, industry, colonialism and empire, and social movements of revolution and peace.
I’m still figuring out the precise arc of the arguments in detail, of course. But the third part of Utopias will basically look like this. It begins with a reconsideration of the dominant narrative of the 20th century in Western popular culture, a narrative that was set by the priorities of liberal (and also neoliberal [and also right wing libertarian]) philosophy in the light of the argument in the previous two halves.
The first two of three halves of Utopias are, in a couple of sentences that ridiculously oversimplify all the ideas involved, about the vision of humanity as a mechanism that arose from the First World War. This is the mass man, the man whose individuality, personality, and desires are superfluous to the unified movement of the people. Unpacking this totalitarian vision is the task of Utopias Part One.
Part Three would begin with the first diagnosis of this vision to be published and reach the popular consciousness: Friedrich Hayek, particularly Road to Serfdom because it was such a sensation across the Western world. A polemical philosophy book read by millions which pretty much single-handedly defined the liberal opposition to totalitarianism in the mid 20th century, and the neoliberal opposition to social democracy in the late 20th century. Hayek saw the root of totalitarian evil in the ambition for bureaucratic state management and control of the economy, which is why social democracy and the trade union movement get lumped in with Stalin and Hitler.
Hayek was right, I think. But only about 1/4 right. Bureaucratic state management of national (and perhaps also global) economies is an oppressive regime. We know this from George Orwell and Terry Gilliam.
What the libertarian philosophy at the heart of the new liberalism misses is the essential character of totalitarianism that’s rooted in the vision of the human person as an interchangeable (and therefore largely expendable) cog in a vast industrial war machine.
But because libertarian / neoliberal political philosophy has triumphed to the degree that it has, it’s stopped the revolution against the vision of man as mechanism before it could be completed. It was right to attack the infinite growth of bureaucratic state, but because it saw this as the fundamental aspect of the attempt to destroy political singularity, it ignored totalitarianism’s other aspects.
These would be colonialism / imperialism / empire, oligarchy, and racism. I’ll conclude Utopias with a description of the political principles that can overcome these frameworks, an anarchism that ignores communitarian frameworks of authority to organize itself on principles of the network.
This is all quite provisional, naturally. But I think the basic outline has come together.
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