How do you solve a problem like the proletariat?   2 comments

How do you solve a problem like the proletariat?
Keir Martland
19th August 2016

I was particularly struck on reading The Servile State by what appears to be a banal or asinine point:

A man politically free, that is, one who enjoys the right before the law to exercise his energies when he pleases (or not at all if he does not so please), but not possessed by legal right of control over any useful amount of the means of production, we call proletarian, and any considerable class composed of such men we call a proletariat.

Indeed, when lefties come out with such a statement, we are right to ignore them; they usually follow this by advocating state socialism, i.e. centralised control of the means of production by bureaucrats. When someone like Hilaire Belloc writes something like the above, however, I sit up and take note. Belloc, Chesterton, &co advocated not state socialism, nor state capitalism, but distributism, which they saw as the mediaeval economy adapted to modern times. The distributists often have a point, although I’m not necessarily a convert. 

Instead, let’s explore where they have a point: the plight of the poor, or the economically dependent. One of Chesterton’s greatest epigraphs is that the opposite of employment is not unemployment, but independence. At the time Chesterton was writing, the drive towards simply “increasing employment” had begun. Its effects can now be felt, and you need not go much further than the etymology of the word itself; everyone below a certain level of intelligence in this country is “used” or “employed” by a firm, and usually quite a large and faceless firm which might spring up anywhere and not look out of place and almost certainly a firm for whom they have little love. The same goes for almost all of us today as consumers. Gone are the days when you knew the man behind the till at the local newsagents or groceries so well that, if you had left your purse at home, you might be permitted to pay him the next time you saw him. Likewise, gone are the days of other little niceties at most people’s places of work, and indeed it seems the only thing that keeps some firms from wearing their employees down is EU law, but such niceties are inefficient. 

There are always going to be have and have-nots, and there are always more intelligent and less intelligent people. There will always be a problem of social order and a problem of what to do with ultimately useless people.

One solution is the manorial system, with rents paid by villani replacing taxes, and agricultural work replacing wage slavery. This maintains order and a certain amount of freedom, but voluntarily abolishes a market system in which too many people at the bottom will fail and be of no use to anyone.

Another solution is the distributist model of total economic independence and self-sufficiency of every family unit, with every man having three acres and a cow. This is perhaps ambitious, and would take at least a generation to establish. It would require the removal of consent not just from big government but also from big business, and would require intensive vocational training and apprenticeships for the working classes so that everyone had a trade or a profession. Again, there would be a sacrifice of “efficiency” here, but it would be voluntary, for the sake of human dignity and socio-economic stability.

Or there is radical laissez-faire, which might, within a few years, produce so much technology and wealth that nobody would need to do a great deal of physical or mental exertion, scarcity might effectively be abolished, and we would all be in a state of near-permanent bliss, with every area of life, even our most intimate areas such as love – a kind of barter market at the moment – could be provided for by a perfectly competitive market. This would happen if we abolished all state controls on competition and so forth, radically cut or abolished taxes and subsidies, and waited. The only trouble is that we’ve been saying this for a long time now and the reality is that we never get there, but instead as big government retreats, big business steps in and sucks the benefits of the new technology and wealth upwards. Yes, let us have a genuinely freed market, but not before certain structural changes, which may happen without any need for compulsion, but which require the removal of privileges for big business before we can proceed any further.

There are a number of solutions to the problem of an increasingly pointless, undignified, and miserable existence of the poor. Yes, they are getting fatter. Yes, they have flat screen TVs. Yes, they usually have roofs over their heads. But none of these comforts are a substitute for the sense of purpose and the security of work that hardworking members of the working classes had in the 1950s and prior to that.

The solutions to the problem, however, are most certainly not more bureaucracy or more plutocracy or corporatocracy. Freedom, and therefore either genuine independence of means or some measure of dignity, has been threatened since the 19th century in particular by two increasingly powerful and illiberal forces. One of these is the mob and its democratic socialism. The other threat comes from plutocratic elites hostile to the nation and all singing from the same state capitalist and globalist hymn sheet. In their diagnosis and analysis of the basic problem, the distributists are certainly spot on: both state socialism and state capitalism have centralising tendencies, the former by overtly political means and the latter by more subtle economic means, which rob the family unit of dignity, security, and purpose.

Genuine solutions to the problem of the proletariat becoming what Noam Chomsky calls a “precariat” involve, to my mind, voluntarily giving up on the market system but nevertheless within a free market framework, in favour of a politics and an economy based not on money but on land, not on efficiency but on dignity, not on employment but on independence. These solutions do exist, and I think we are, in light of the capital we have accumulated throughout the centuries, and in light of recent technological advances, better able to make something like allodial feudalism or the society of artisans work properly today than ever before.

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Posted August 19, 2016 by keirmartland in Economics

2 responses to “How do you solve a problem like the proletariat?

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  1. Interesting article. I was recently introduced to Belloc’s writings, myself. I’d jotted down many of the titles I found in the footnotes when reading von Kuehnelt-Leddihn to read later and most recently that list has taken me to Belloc’s ‘Great Heresies’.

    What you describe here is something I’ve been thinking a lot about, as of late. Especially after two years spent living in Russia. Economic efficiency isn’t enough, in my opinion. As you point out here, a man needs dignity and a sense of purpose.

    The current environment makes it difficult to maintain any cultural and historical sense of identity, and this has serious political implications. Without that sense of identity one doesn’t hold any stake in a particular place or in a particular society. There need to be strong, functioning families for community to exist. And there must be community to make any historical identity real and tangible. Without that sense, how can anyone develop a sense of continuity with the past, a sense of mission and purpose looking toward the future, and from these things a feeling of rootedness and loyalty? Lacking that, duty has no place. Convenience (which duty certainly is not) become paramount.

    Why defend your society from encroachments upon your liberty if it’s more expedient to leave and make a life elsewhere? Why defend against assaults on one’s culture or community if one doesn’t feel rooted in it? On that note, how can one even perceive, let alone resist such assaults, if one is not, in fact, rooted in the culture?

    Increasingly, it requires serious academic grounding in history and sociology to recognize the undermining of cultural institutions, which in more rooted societies are felt and resisted reflexively (usually long before the implications of such encroachments can be intellectually ascertained).

    This is a topic that I believe libertarians need to address. I think it is the reason that libertarianism is losing a bit of steam to the “alt-right” or “dark enlightenment” crowd. This is not to say that free markets are not important, merely to point out that culture, identity, tradition, family, and community are more fundamental parts of the integrated whole. I think the PFS acknowledges this and that you and other right-libertarians or paleo-libertarians are doing a great job bringing these issues into focus.

    Anyway, keep up the great work and I’m looking forward to your future posts!

    • Thank you for this.

      EVKL and Belloc both had – and still have – something to say, and some of us need to make an effort to integrate the ideas of the likes of the Chesterbelloc movement into modern libertarianism. Whatever their faults, I think they were ahead of their time, and while much of the libertarian movement was still making the – entirely true – argument against socialism, the Distributists were one step ahead. The libertarian movement really hasn’t progressed. They are stuck arguing against a socialism which no longer exists, which is why the work of Hoppe is so important.

      Hoppe has begun – in his writings and through his conferences – a serious dialogue between traditionalist or Old Right conservatives and individualist anarchists and something very interesting is emerging as a result. The result may be a libertarianism which actually diagnoses the real problems of the day and which acknowledges that there must be localised and tailored solutions to them, rather than a one-size-fits-all world where MacDonalds runs the local police force. I see some very positive developments from people like Johan Gevers and David Durr, both of whom are making great strides in technology and law respectively. But what is still lacking are libertarians who acknowledge that not everyone is a natural entrepreneur, not everyone is bright enough to run their own lives, and thus a hyper-individualised capitalism is not good enough. It still seems to me that among well-known libertarians only Hoppe understands that families and communities are important and indeed that we can learn from the social orders of the past when constructing new ones, i.e. for most of human history, egalitarianism, democracy, individualism, and hedonism have not been “givens” – quite the reverse. Rather, some kind of ordered society has always been necessary. The question is not whether order is necessary, but simply who is responsible for the creation and maintenance of that order. Leftists believe that the modern State is the answer; Hoppe believes that a natural aristocracy is the answer (as was the case for much longer than the modern State has even existed). Too many libertarians refuse to accept the need to answer such a question, because they believe the market is the answer to everything.

      Instead of a corporatocracy, Hoppean anti-statism advocates a Private Law Society of restrictive covenant communities all governing themselves (note that I don’t see the word “government” as pejorative at all) and trading with one another. What I suspect you would see is local landowners – with hundreds or thousands of tenants – deciding whether cannabis, homosexuality, polygamy, bestiality etc. is permissible on their land. I also suspect that something akin to the Distributist economic model might naturally emerge after a time, as ordinary people work hard, discipline themselves, and accumulate capital. However, this would have to be earned, and in the mean time there would probably be feudalism, yet the natural tendency without a parasitic ruling class will be towards further and further decentralisation rather than centralisation.

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