Saturday, 2 May 2020

Civil Society and the State - Part 4 of "THE STATE AND ECONOMIC THEORY"


Neither for Aristotle nor for Marsilius or Bodin – the first theoreticians after Aristotle to inquire on the nature of the State (Machiavelli clearly did not) until Hobbes - can the State change either the “natural” or the divinely-decreed way in which a community reproduces itself. But whereas for Antiquity the centrality of the household conditions the ethical role of the State and thus allows the active participation of its citizens in government, already with the political thought of the Middle Ages the focus shifts to the preservation of social peace in a historical context in which the household has been replaced by the feud. Marsilius and Bodin reflect on a society in which the partition of land by large aristocratic landowners is likely to degenerate into civil war without the State’s correction of corruptible human nature, not as in Antiquity as the forum or ecclesia for the per-fection of the ethical life of its citizens but rather as the bridge or com-pletion of the gap in social reproduction left by the antagonistic interests of households that preserves or conserves social peace by means of absolutist government – and the only question becomes one of governance.

 

Though Bodin can conceive of a societas naturalis existing independently of the State, the possibility of civil war and its descent into a state of nature makes the existence of the State part of the divine natural order (as in the family governed by the paterfamilias – cf. Filmer’s Patriarcha) so that obedience to the sovereign must be absolute. Here it is the Ratio, the animal rationale, that dictates absolute rule, and the Ratio is first derived from and ascribed to the Divinity and then manifested in Nature. The absolutist State is justified by Reason and, in turn, its actions become “reasonable” and incontestable – a legibus solutae (“ab-solute”, exempt from human law). For Bodin as for Marsilius and Filmer, the State is a defensor pacis founded on the natural or divine reproductive order of the monogamous family and on the Biblical mutual distrust among human beings, the human propensity to perpetrate evil following the Biblical account of the Fall.

 

The difference between Aristotle’s per-fection and Bodin’s correction (cf. Constant’s “freedom” and “liberties”) will later become Hegel’s correct formulation of the question of the State – that it must answer to the ful-filment of human beings and not simply ensure their protection as defensor pacis (where societas naturalis is possible) or creator pacis (a restauratio ab imis fundamentis, where the state of nature, either original [Hobbes] or degenerate [Rousseau], is corrected by the status civilis to found the societas civilis ). In modern political theory the sphere of social life to which belong all social relations independent of the State is known as “civil society” (cf. A. Ferguson, An Essay on Civil Society on which Adam Smith relied for his “civilised society”), and the State is theorised as the institution that complements civil society by “com-pleting” or by “preserving” or “conserving” it – by supplying the “order” or “law” or “administration” without which civil society would not be able to govern itself not in an “economic” sense but rather in a “political” sense given that the Political, in marked contrast to the Economy, is the sphere of public opinion and therefore of unquantifiable and often irrational beliefs. For those political theories that see civil society as a self-sustaining sphere for which the State provides merely a “guarantee” of social peace (Locke, Constant), the State is seen as a “defensor pacis” in that it merely “defends” a social peace that is inherited either from divine sources (Marsilius, Bodin), or from “natural rights” (Pufendorf, Grotius and Locke). For those theories instead for which the State provides the very legal and political foundation indispensable for the establishment of civil society (Hobbes, Spinoza, Rousseau), the State is seen as a “creator pacis” – a veritable “deus mortalis”, (cf. C. Schmitt, The Leviathan); it is the mechanical resultant of the natural physical conflict between atomistic individuals in the state of nature (status naturae) that precedes the civil state (status civilis, cf. Hobbes and the negatives Denken from Schopenhauer to Nietzsche and the Austrian School).

 

The basic building blocks of the State for classical political theory from Aristotle onwards are almost exclusively ontogenetic, in the sense that the State is seen as the political pro-duct or construct of more basic elements such as the individual, the family household, the group or tribe or village (oikos, vicus), the city (polis, civitas), and finally “the people” or nation – hence, the nation-State. Even in those political theories that identify the State immediately with society or civilisation as societas civilis as against a pre-statal societas naturalis, the “statality” of human being is never considered. There is never a suggestion that the State may actually be a necessary precondition of human being, of being human in a phylogenetic sense, in the Marxian sense of “species-conscious being” (Gattungs-wesen) or that the State is an essential element in the metabolic productive capacity of a society. The State is thought to be fundamental to the establishment of the societas civilis not because of the phylogenetic attributes of human being but rather merely to prevent the degeneration and descent of natural society into civil war (Locke) or else to exit a hypothetical or primordial state of civil war (Hobbes).

 

Nor does classical political theory even envisage the contrasting possibility that the State may “contain” - in the sense of limiting, hampering or even stifling - the productive forces of civil society except as an aberration and degeneration of the “true” political role and goal of the State. Even in the negatives Denken (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Weber and the Austrian School), where the role of the State is the “negative” one of creating or maintaining the salus publica (social peace), and even in its liberal counterpart (Locke, Constant, Maine, Bastiat), the State is not seen as the source of social conflict but merely as the necessary guarantor of social peace. Only when the State deviates from its scientifically required neutrality from civil society does it interfere with its productive, and specifically its economic, potential. An even more negative view of the State is adopted by Marx and Schumpeter for whom the State actively stifles the creative productive potential of civil society.

 

To the extent that the reproduction of social units is identical with the broadly “political” aspects of social life, as societas civilis or civitas or polis, then it is indistinguishable from the status civilis that follows the exit of humanity from the state of nature into the State itself. But to the extent that this status civilis begins to be differentiated from the reproduction of independent social units that may or may not coalesce into a State, then the State is distinct from this preceding civil society. This tendency to draw a clear distinction between social interaction or social relations, on one side, and social reproduction or social relations of production, on the other side, only becomes prominent once the notion of “labour” intended as “individual labour” as a separate source of social wealth is isolated from other forms of social interaction, from Hobbes and Locke until the definitive culmination of this social theory in Hegel and Marx. With Hobbes and Locke, for the first time in human history the notion of a societas naturalis is separated from that of a societas civilis or the State in that the possibility is canvassed of a status naturae in which relations between individuals are possible although unstable either in a state of civil war or in one that can degenerate into one. By contrast, in all political theory prior to Hobbes and Locke only the possibility of stasis or civil war, the bellum omnium contra omnes, could be countenanced, but never that of a state of nature historically prior to or analytically distinct from the status civilis or the societas civilis.

 

Hobbes allows only of a status civilis that is founded by the State by institution and not by acquisition because his status naturae allows of no possible societas naturalis independent of the State. This exposes Hobbes to the objection that his State, a deus mortalis that creates social peace, is incapable of explaining how this status civilis came about – for if human beings are capable of a contractum unionis it is not clear why this should become mechanically a contractum subjectionis. Hobbes’s State is homologous to the Walrasian state of equilibrium in that it is entirely mechanical and static and allows for no historical metabole or development.

 

It is thus that “civil society” as the repository of all economic as against merely socio-political or ethico-legal relations is neatly isolated from the State as the political pro-duct and mere legal guarantor, not the creator or founder of civil society either in its ethical (family, tribe, social values and goals) or strictly economical aspects (market exchange, production). Because for the negatives Denken, as the true theoretical matrix of liberal bourgeois politico-economic theory, the proper function of the State is to ensure the untrammeled operation of the “self-regulating market” and the “laws” of competition (“the level playing field”), any interference by the State with these “laws” through the imposition of extraneous “political” or “ethical” goals is denounced as improper in that it transgresses against individual rights, or even as unscientific in the sense that it distorts the quasi-mechanical “economic” choices on the part of individuals.

 

Even for socialist economic theory, in which it plays obviously a central role, the State intervenes only to plan and to co-ordinate individual economic choices in the interests of society as a whole so as to spare it from the deleterious effects of capitalist “anarchy” in which short-term self-interests are placed before long-run economic and social welfare. In other words, for socialism, and even for Marx, “the economy” and “social reproduction” are still realities separate from the State on which the State can intervene only in an ethico-political or “super-structural” capacity (liberalism) or in a scientific capacity (socialism and Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat) correcting the anarchy of individual actions so as to maximise the public good or social welfare (cf. Pigou, Lerner, Dobb), but not in a fundamental manner as an essential part of those “social relations of production”.


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