Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday 14 May 2016

Savage Capitalism and the Fall of Liberalism

Liberalism is the ideal form of the capitalist State. And liberalism is in dire trouble at the moment across the globe. To find out the causes for the decline of liberal governance the world over, we need to understand what liberalism is. Liberalism is not democracy. The essence of liberalism is to minimise the role of the State in society so as to preserve the rights of individuals and ensure that these individuals meet their minimal obligations to society - obligations that, in turn, are aimed at preserving individual rights. Therefore, liberalism can be defined as the minimal political association required for a society to maximise the freedom of individuals in society.

The core of liberalism, then, is individualism. Liberalism is the political form of possessive individualism. The liberal State represents the contractual union (contractum unionis) of individuals amongst themselves to erect a neutral enforcer - the liberal State - of their individuals rights. Thus, in exchange for the alienation of their absolute (lawless) individual freedoms, individuals obtain the preservation of their partial individual freedoms whereby no individual is allowed to interfere with the freedom of other individuals. Hence, the contractual union of separate individuals becomes the contractual subjection of protected individuals to the State whose task it is to enforce their individual "rights" - that is, their individuals "freedom" as limited by the "freedoms" of all other individuals. The contractual union now becomes a contractual subjection (contractum subjectionis) to the liberal State.

The liberal State is therefore a "negative State": it is mere Police. Its essential role is confined, limited to the preservation and enforcement of individuals "rights" - what in the pre-statual period were individual "freedoms" now curtailed to the extent necessary to preserve the "freedom" of all individuals. What, then, is this "freedom" that is protected by the liberal State - and therefore what are the "rights" instituted by the liberal State? It is here that liberalism quite evidently becomes the ideal State-form of a capitalist society. First of all, the pre-statal "freedom" of individuals is no longer protected because it is lost in the contractual transition from individualism to liberalism. What "freedom" individuals lose or alienate in this transition they now acquire in terms of "liberties" or "rights". Liberalism divides society into two spheres - the public sphere and the private sphere. The public sphere is everything that does not interfere with the private sphere. And the private sphere is the sphere of individual possession of wealth, what is known as private property or estate. The liberal State is therefore the State of private estates.

The public sphere is everything that the private sphere is not: public freedom is exclusively "freedom of expression". In other words, in the liberal State the public sphere is the freedom to say and do everything that does not interfere with private property or the estates of individuals. In the liberal State, "freedom" is the liberty to say and do everything that does not interfere with the institution of private property. The duty of individuals in a liberal State is to maintain the liberal State by not interfering with private property.

Three insurmountable problems immediately arise: first, how is the entitlement to private property determined at the time of the setting up of the contractual union that leads to the liberal State? Second, how is the use of this property to be regulated once the liberal State is erected? Third, how can forms of "expression" that threaten to interfere with private property be regulated, and vice versa? It is here, at this fateful juncture, that the "science" of economics comes into being by pretending and presuming to be able to define "scientifically" how private property rights ("endowments") can best be utilised to maximise individual welfare. Yet, as we have shown repeatedly and amply on other occasions, no "science" of economics can achieve this "scientific" separation of private property and individual welfare from the remainder of social life - quite simply because "welfare" itself cannot be defined independently of political life. Put simply, whereas economics pretends to be the scientific form of Political Economy whereby the Economic can be separated neatly from the Political so as to legitimise the neutrality of the liberal State, no such "scientific" separation of private and public spheres is possible! And this ought to be utterly evident to anyone who revises our summation of the liberal State. The liberal State is dead and buried ab ovo, in utero - from birth.

The death throes of the liberal State that we are now witnessing have their origin in and are the emanation of this flawed foundation or constitution of the liberal State.

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