But I Thought Being Left Meant You Were a Liberal? Research Time, 19/04/2016

One problem with living in North America is that a lot of the continent’s popular ideas about political and ethical concepts is influenced by the cultures of the United States. And the United States is one of the most politically and socially conservative countries in the West.

Anyone who is less than conservative is called a liberal in the USA, and that’s usually said as an insult. The Bernie Sanders campaign is helping to bring socialism back into mainstream political (and polite, relatively speaking) conversation in American culture. 

Thanks to Bernie Sanders, socialism isn't a dirty word (at
least not that dirty) anymore.
At least as a word, even if his own policies are more a light form of social democracy than they are traditionally socialist. American political culture is so right-wing and conservative – their popular embrace of fundamentalist Christianities, aversion to taxation of any kind, extreme individualism, and blindness to the legacy of omnipresent racism. That cultural context twists the scales of what people consider politically possible or appropriate.

So when the term ‘liberal’ becomes the general term for any progressive form of politics, you can easily ignore the conservative elements of liberalism. I’m thinking mainly of liberalism’s core value of individualism – the radical libertarianism of the most virulent anti-government right-wing groups simply takes the premises of liberal philosophy to their extreme intensity.

But there are deeper reasons why I don’t really consider myself liberal. The universal rights that are so fundamental for liberal approaches to politics aren’t really universal. Anyone can claim them, of course, but those claims are claims to property. 

Protecting personal property becomes the main goal of politics. Our property is the sphere in which we can legitimately claim power over things outside ourselves, and the liberal regime of rights is based on protecting that boundary.

The property focus of liberal thinking depends on its individualism, but has more profound results than what’s just intuitive from having that centrepiece. Antonio Negri, in the early sections of Commonwealth, describes how liberal presumptions mutate the Second Amendment to the United States constitution.

The point of the right of the people to form armed militias is enshrining the ability to organize resistance to tyrannical power in the country’s own constitution. Yet the liberal lens that understands everything in the world as a matter of individual property rights interpreted this right to community organizing resistance as the right to own a personal arsenal.

All it took was two centuries and a devastating earthquake
for the French President and state to give its former
colony the dignity of recognition after it showed the old
masters what revolution was really all about.
That core of liberalism in property rights is rooted in the corruption of liberal philosophy’s birth as a real political program in the West. Liberal revolutionaries suppressed the Haitian Revolution of Toussaint L’Ouverture and largely wrote it out of history. The most pivotal revolutionary state of Europe, France, didn’t even have a Presidential visit to Haiti until Nicholas Sarkozy’s in 2010. 

Because the Haitian Revolution was the overthrow of property rights – the property of black slaves. 

Despite the corruption of liberalism, it’s not like socialism has done much better. That approach to government and politics has seen its own greatest intensity in the totalitarian collectivist states of Europe and Russia. 

Now that we know the horrifying power of socialism – the control of resources in common through bureaucratic state management – at its most intense, progressives can’t turn in that direction for the solution to the world’s ills any longer.

That's why I use the category "network politics" to discuss the kinds of post-socialist left-wing progressive politics that I think our era needs to combat the injustices of globalization. It’s a positive conception of the constructive and revolutionary power of ordinary people organizing themselves to build better lives for themselves.

It moves on from liberal thinking’s individualism and obsession with property, and socialism’s danger of collectivization, authoritarianism, and bureaucratic corruption. Frankly, I just didn’t know what else to call it.

No comments:

Post a Comment