If you ascribe to the Free Market, you are truly “Left Wing” now

This post is an addendum to my previous post, The Ruling Class. In that post, I alluded to David Brook’s “progressive corporatism” characterization. “Progressive corporatism” means oligarchy + technocratic class. Brooks championed this two years ago in a column piece, The Establishment Lives!. In the piece, he reveled in the supplantation of politics with a new establishment, technocratic center. Brooks forecasted the end of ideology and the dawn of a new progressive era. This new progressive era would “save” capitalism and restore institutional trust and confidence.

At the time, I criticized that column with my blog post, The Paulson Plan as a Libertarian Class Theory Morality Play, at Freedom Democrats. Earlier this year, I once again took issue with a Brooks’ column. I criticized Brooks’ characterization of the Tea Party as a Walmart version of the New Left. Not quite. But Brooks was starting to get worried. The original New Left took a generation to blossom after the institutional consolidation of corporate liberalism. Now, however, the shit is starting to hit the fan even before one election cycle. But the “Tea Party,” although originally having some libertarian roots, is now just a partisan movement. Just like the anti-war movement during the Bush years was. Once the Dems began to regain power, the anti-war movement began to fade. I have been saying that if you had a merger of the Tea Party with the anti-war movement, then you would have something. But now, a legitimate popular resistance/protest movement rooted in a coherent class critique continues to be marred by a partisan, communitarian divide.

Now I note Brooks’ latest column, The Technocracy Boom. Brooks’ line now is that this era of progressive corporatism has been enacted without majority popular support. The explosion of the technocratic class and institutional oligarchy is not engendering a restoration of trust and confidence in political institutions, but rather it is precipitating a marked historical decline in such trust and confidence. Brooks is now characterizing his precious establishment rule as a high-stake sociological gamble:

This progressive era amounts to a high-stakes test. If the country remains safe and the health care and financial reforms work, then we will have witnessed a life-altering event. We’ll have received powerful evidence that central regulations can successfully organize fast-moving information-age societies.

If the reforms fail — if they kick off devastating unintended consequences or saddle the country with a maze of sclerotic regulations — then the popular backlash will be ferocious. Large sectors of the population will feel as if they were subjected to a doomed experiment they did not consent to. They will feel as if their country has been hijacked by a self-serving professional class mostly interested in providing for themselves.

If that backlash gains strength, well, what’s the 21st-century version of the guillotine?

Doses anyone in their right mind think that a central planner “can successfully organize fast-moving information-age societies?” No. And, frankly, that’s where the vast internal domestic security apparatus organized under the Department of Fatherland Security comes in. A vast internal, domestic bureaucratic security apparatus is a property of privileged, exploitative political system. We would laugh at the thought that the Soviet or Nazi Internal Security apparati were erected on the pretext of protecting the “freedoms” of the citizens from external threats(although, of course, that was, indeed, propaganda). We should likewise laugh at our own government propaganda. A Police State protects privilege and a privileged order, period. And, frankly, quite a but of this privilege ends being the privilege of the security apparatus itself.

Brooks’ reference to the “21st-century version of the guillotine” invokes America going “French” on the Ruling Class. Well, I think America is going to go French on the ruling class but not in terms of a return of the guillotine but rather in terms of a return of radical politics rooted in class consciousness. Class theory originates out of a liberal critique of the Permanent Napoleon War Economy that built itself over a long-standing corrupt regulatory/administrative tradition inherited from the Ancien Régime. This is where it comes from, and it is what ultimately underlies the Marxist and Socialist class critique of liberalism as well.

For me, the prospect of a thoroughly corrupt liberal institutionalism engaged in permanent war implies a blowback at some point. It could be argued that America, since it’s founding, has been engaged in permanent war one way or another. And radical politics is a flower that periodically blooms to wreak havoc on the mainstream political dynamic.

This new progressive era has resulted in the greatest concentration of financial wealth in American history and the greatest expansion of a technocratic class since FDR. It has also saddled the political economy with a paralytic regime uncertainty not seen since the “Great Depression.” This new progressive era is a systematic assault on the Tucker four monopolies. If you didn’t think so before, there is certainly no denying now that the Central Bank has been elevated to a fourth branch of government. It is now an even more powerful monopoly that is neither accountable to the market or politics. This is not the stuff of a robust political economy. Indeed, we now have what can be called a compliance economy where every nontrivial market transaction has to be duly documented with the State. This lends itself to famous Proudhon rant: “To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished.”

Although a bit of an oversimplification, but nonetheless a fairly accurate summary, the historical libertarian solution to the class problem of liberal political economy was to get rid of politics whereas the historical socialist solution to the same problem was to get rid of the market. Each of these viewpoints saw liberalism in an evolutionary framework that would be eclipsed by a social system deemed to be more rational. Progessivism, in a sense, can be thought of as the “third way,” a system which retained both politics and the market, holding out that both market and political institutions could be reformed under the direction of elite technocratic institutional classes(note conservatism is mostly outside the scope of this discussion because it does not inherit from the liberal tradition).

Socialism fails for a myriad of reasons, but most notably because humans have a universally evolved trait to trade and exchange. You can’t get rid of this. Any social/political structure that suppresses this trait is not something that any way could be said to be a liberal order. Here, the Hayek critique applies.

Progressivism can’t overcome the libertarian class critique. It relies on myths and state-funded institutional propaganda to mythologize the triumph of the political and technocratic classes. Frankly, it was the Administrative State to begin with that spawned the liberal class critique against liberalism itself. And wasn’t even the libertarians who debunked the original progressive era in America; it was the New Left, the intellectual outgrowth of the Wisconsin revisionist school, led by the likes of Gabriel Kolko, whose deconstructions in such works as “Railroads and Regulation: 1877-1916,” and “The Triumph of Conservatism” documents that the hailed progressive regulatory reforms were merely instances of political and regulatory capture by Big Business. And now, in our second great progressive era, the obvious failures have reduced progressives to blaming politics and de-legitimizing dissenting points of view. In this, I think Kevin Carson is on target with his most recent paper declaring progressives to be the new reactionaries.

This leaves us with libertarianism. Libertarianism, in a real sense, relies on a de-politicized social order. Yet, it is just as utopian to wish away humans as political creatures as it is to wish them away as market creatures. Humans are political creatures. It’s a universally evolved trait as well. And, frankly, it should be acknowledged that no extended order can exist purely as a function of the market. There is some necessary degree of collective action that must underlie any sophisticated social order. But the question is whether politics, as a method of collective action, can resolve coordination problems without privilege or strategic advantage to any given party. Yes it can, but it’s not a given. Politics exists ubiquitously in informal cultural and social institutions as well. The Monkey Cage is a blog that, playing off Tyler Cowen’s “Markets in Everything”, has the tagline, “Politics in Everything.” Well, maybe, so, but I would add, “Right of Exit in Everything.” Libertarianism has an empirical problem with politics, but not a conceptual problem. Politics can be overcome without having to deny the political nature of humans.

When referring to the term, “Free market,” that term should be understood to mean “markets free of political privilege.” When we libertarians are accused of being market fundamentalists, let us plead guilty to holding to the fundamental principle of markets without privilege. These are in short supply supply these days. We are being criticized by the apologists of oligarchy and the cult of personality. They are the reactionaries, the defenders of the Status quo. Markets without privilege is a left-wing institutional paradigm and really the only plausible left-wing remaining as an inheritor of liberalism. The others, they are busy with their communitarian wars with conservatives.

It is not coincidental, as Kevin Carson points out, that capitalism as a dirty word is leading to a rebranding of “Free Enterprise,” which of course implies the entrepreneur operating without political privilege. The capitalist-anti-capitalist divide that has been brewing in radical libertarianism for a number of years now is spilling into the mainstream. Yes, there is class consciousness afoot, and yes there are those who are ready to expropriate it.


2 thoughts on “If you ascribe to the Free Market, you are truly “Left Wing” now

  1. Excellent stuff here. Brooks shows his true colors: like others on the statist right and the statist left, he really wants rule by experts. Technocratic fascism is the shadow side of progressivism. The embrace of “progressive” as a label by many mainstream liberals continues to amuse me—either these folks really are much more sinister than I think, or they lack historical memory. Eliminate political privilege and kiss rule by the technocrats good-bye!

    1. Thanks, Gary.

      I think Brooks certainly lacks historical memory, given that he apparently forgot about his previous article written 2 years earlier where he praised this new establishment elite. I saw this most recent Brooks’ article being referenced in quite a few quarters, but no one was tying it in to his earlier punditry. At best he is incoherent; at worst, he is duplicitous.

      Regarding progressivism and liberalism: I don’t view these as identical terms, just as I don’t view liberalism and libertarianism as identical terms(contrary to the likes of Cato which propagandizes that libertarianism is another word for “classical” liberalism). Instead, I view them as complimentary terms; but one does not necessarily imply the other. There are those who are progressive and liberal and there are those who are progressive and not liberal. The latter ascribe to a type of corporate fascism backed up culturally by either a left-wing or a right communitarianism, or a mixture of the two(The “Pink Police State” is a type of mixture of the two).

      I actually think the change of language identity by many from “liberal” to “progressive” is an accurate development. This identity change is many ways was a means to distance a certain set of politicos from being identified with 60s counter-culture. An essential element of liberalism, whether “classical” or “modern,” is that there is no institutional role of the State to protect the individual from himself. Clearly, many who self-identify as progressive view an institutional role for the State in this regard. Thus, they clearly aren’t liberal in any sense of the word. Progressive is the more accurate term.

      I note, with irony, that many progressives who seemed sympathetic to “liberaltarianism” during the Bush years, but then turned on libertarianism when the Dems gained control of the government–proclaiming “the Death of Libertarianism” and that they couldn’t make common cause with libertarians because libertarians valued economics above everything–are guilty of the very crime they accused libertarians of: valuing economic preferences above everything else. No matter that Obama in many ways is the second term of Dick Cheney(which is actually much worse than being the third term of Bush), just as long as we got a big Keynesian Stimulus. Actually, I think they are much worse than the libertarians in valuing economic preferences above anything else. It wasn’t like the libertarians were hanging around and acting as a gatekeeper for Bush and the republicans because of the Bush Tax cuts.

      It is true that most progressives lack historical memory. But, then again, so do many libertarians. I don’t think it’s sinister. I think it’s entirely understandable. The Government Schools teach that 19th century America was laissez-faire. The major progressive and libertarian think tank gatekeepers teach that 19th century America was laissez-faire. The overwhelming propaganda is that progressivism is a reform of laissez-faire. I was, at one, time, duped by the propaganda. You have to spend considerable time and effort to overcome it.

      One of the great libertarian myths is that libertarianism is a product of “british liberty” and that the constitution is a libertarian document, the “founders” were non-interventionist libertarians and that America operated as a laissez-faire political economy.

      Not true. Libertarianism largely originates out of the more radical French liberal tradition. Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson are held up as early American libertarian heroes, but we are really talking about Jefferson and Paine in Paris(Paine was a hero in America for “Common Sense,” but he was a hero in France with his later work, “The Rights of Man.” The Rights of Man, along with all of Paine’s later more radical writings, were flops in America). It didn’t help that this radical liberal tradition had long since died out in France an only lived on in the archives of obscure american scholarship. It wasn’t until the the publishing revolution with the modern internet that this formerly buried intellectual history became accessible to the layman.

      When I go back and read the history, the works, and the commentary, it’s evident to me while the French terms, “entrepreneur” and “bureaucrat” have translated well in terms of the modern meaning, “laissez faire” has not. Laissez Faire, in the original French meaning, clearly meant “Leave Us Alone” in terms of being granted political privilege. It was clearly a critique against a corrupt political economy. It is evident that the radical french classical liberal economists viewed a rational progression of liberalism as supplanting the political economy with “the Industry,” which today we would call this “the Catallaxy.” Even so, the term “libertarian” doesn’t really originate from the radical french liberal economists, but rather from another subset of french radical anarchism. The term “libertarian” referred not only to a critique of “political economy,” but also to a critique of cultural institutions.

      In the United States, it would be Benjamin Tucker who would articulate the libertarian critique in it’s fullest sense, both as a critique of political economy and culture. His particular genius and his many particular talents drove his periodical, Liberty, to be a particularly robust scholarly critique of the early “progressive era” in America. Unfortunately, circumstances and events would bury it for a number of generations. And the global wars of the first part and half og 20th century would bury left-wing radicalism period in America until a generation into the second half of the century.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s