Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bourgeois Liberalism Has Done Socialism's Job, Only Without the Purges

I started to comment on JL Wilson’s intriguing post (aren’t they all lately?), but the comment got so long that I figured it might be better as a blog post with a link. (It's longish for a post as well, but nobody is forced to read it).

JL Wilson reckons that the Left and the Right have common enemies: fiat money, public schools and the politicization of society. These are problems that have adverse impacts on the values of both the Left and the Right. Wilson begins by citing a work which declared that a socialist dictatorship required the elimination of private property, dissolution of the family, and a farewell to religion. He then goes on to explain how the three problems that he cites impact the values of both the Left and Right with respect to each of the three aforementioned aims of socialism.

I don’t know so much whether the terms Left and Right mean what they used to mean, especially in American politics. To me, the two major parties at their extremes represent two different forms of authoritarianism, differing only with respect to what areas of our lives that they would prefer to regulate first and with respect to which classes of constituents they choose to favor. Neither seems to recognize any limitation on the power of government to do whatever it pleases, and neither seems unwilling to insert the coercive apparatus of government into every aspect of our lives.

In the middle, with a majority of representation in both parties (I hope), and reflecting the dominant, hegemonic ideology, is bourgeois liberalism. On the extreme Left, there is a small minority who would impose a form of socialism and who are not bourgeois liberals. On the extreme Right, there is a large and influential minority of Christianist authoritarians who yearn to return to those halcyon days when families, churches, and propertied classes could tell the masses what to do and back it up with force. The Christianist Right is, like its counterparts in the Islamist and Judaist Right abroad, a reaction to bourgeois liberalism and the entire modernist enterprise.

It is perhaps ironic that property, family and church have been undermined not by socialism but by bourgeois liberalism, by capitalism, and by the ideology of individualism that underlies liberalism and capitalism.

In America, religious ideas and denominations abound and thrive in a marketplace of faith. We can choose any denomination or none at all as we see fit. Religion is as strong as ever, but the churches lack the ability to make any of us do anything. It’s all voluntary, and that’s anathema to authoritarian Christianists who reckon that (a) their particular theology is right while all others are heresy, and (b) that they should have the power to impose their religious views on everyone else, marketplace of ideas be damned (literally). In contrast, there are very few on the Left who would use the state to abolish religious beliefs or practices, and they are hardly in a position to get their way. It is possible that religion, or a particular brand of religion, may be out-competed by secular principles in the ideological marketplace, so it may be desirable for some on the Right to get rid of the marketplace rather than risk this.

With respect to families, bourgeois liberalism has, as it has with religion, subjected the concept of family to rational social choice. Families abound in America, albeit not always in the forms favored by authoritarians, and certainly without traditional intra-familial power dynamics. The family does not cohere so much in America because of prosperity. We don’t need our relatives as much, and our family relationships are more negotiable than ever. They are voluntary, and authoritarians cannot abide that people might seek out their own happiness in ways that do not conform to norms established by authorities.

With respect to property, bourgeois liberalism has generated so much prosperity and distributed it among so many that the wealthiest classes really have to work and spend money and be vigilant in order to maintain control of the government and to exercise coercive power in their own interests. The wide distribution of wealth and property leads to more diffuse political power, and the ruling classes are required to recognize the interests of the ruled more than they would have in the halcyon days when wealth was more concentrated and conferred privileges and power with much less effort and at a much lower cost. Moreover, having a population free for the most part from the immediate fear of starvation means that the masses are looking to self actualize and may actually pay some slight attention to politics.

It is the Christianist Right which would, if it attained power, create a government akin to a socialist dictatorship. Authoritarianism means central planning of ideas, household composition, anything without limit. Of course, there is a Left authoritarian element as well who would create the ultimate nanny state based on the same notion that the authorities (them) know best. At the moment, however, I view them as far less of a threat to my freedom and happiness than their counterparts on the Right. When the Christianist Right refers to the Left as socialist it is the Black Hole calling the kettle black. Indeed, bourgeois liberalism has led to the achievement of more prosperity and choices and chances for the masses and less direct oppression by a small minority. Having achieved some progress in alleviating the suffering and injustice which gives the radical Left its appeal, bourgeois liberalism has stolen its thunder and rendered it largely politically impotent.

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