Class Act

[cross-posted at BHL]

Karl Marx once wrote:

I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was

1. to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production;

2. that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat;

3. that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.

Marx is certainly right that class analysis was a central feature of classical liberalism long before he picked it up. He’s fibbing a bit, though, about (1) and (3); many of his bourgeois predecessors (for example, the Censeur triumvirate of Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, and Augustin Thierry) most emphatically thought that class society as they understood it was a temporary phenomenon destined to be displaced. Thierry, for example, announces:

Federations will replace states; the loose but indissoluble chains of interest will replace the despotism of men and of laws; the tendency towards government, the first passion of the human race, will cede to the free community. The era of empire is over, the era of association begins.

The main difference between Marx and the liberals was that Marx took the differentiation between ruling and ruled classes to be grounded in differential access to the means of production, whereas the liberals took the differentiation between ruling and ruled classes to be grounded in differential access to predatory power, and in particular to the power of the state. (To be sure, Marx acknowledged and indeed insisted on the important role of the state in maintaining class division when examining the details of history or current events; but the state quickly receded in importance when he turned to abstract theory.)

All this is by way of noting that I just received in the mail my author’s copy of Social Class and State Power: Exploring an Alternative Radical Tradition, an anthology of libertarian and classical liberal writings on class analysis that I co-edited with David Hart, Gary Chartier, and Ross Kenyon.

The volume includes material by a rather heterogeneous collection of authors:

  • from the 17th century, Richard Overton;
  • from the 18th century, Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, Vicesimus Knox, and William Godwin;
  • from the 19th century, Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, Thomas Hodgskin, John Wade, William Leggett, Richard Cobden, John C. Calhoun, Adolphe Blanqui, Frédéric Bastiat, Charles Renouard, Augustin Thierry, Gustave de Molinari, Herbert Spencer, William Graham Sumner, Lysander Spooner, and Benjamin Tucker;
  • and from the 20th century, Franz Oppenheimer, Albert J. Nock, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Roy Childs, Walter Grinder, John Hagel, Hans Hoppe, and your humble correspondent.

I would urge you to go out and buy a copy; but in light of the book’s $100 pricetag, I’ll just urge you to go out and suggest to your local research library that they buy a copy.

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17 Responses to Class Act

  1. dL January 11, 2018 at 12:26 am #

    many of his bourgeois predecessors (for example, the Censeur triumvirate of Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, and Augustin Thierry) most emphatically thought that class society as they understood it was a temporary phenomenon destined to be displaced.

    Tucker’s postscript to his essay, “State Socialism and Anarchism,” more or less amounts to a forcible, but transient, redistributive dictatorship as means to anarchist transition. Not unlike Marx’s (3).

    The persistence of the predatory state is an oft overlooked conundrum of libertarian analysis. de Jasay tried to tackle the question with his unitary firm explanation. I would include him in your list of 20th century contributors. I would certainly kick out that fraud, Hans Hoppe, to make room for him.

    • Roderick January 11, 2018 at 12:28 am #

      But then we’d lose the wonderful spectacle of Hoppe writing: “I want to do the following in this paper: First to present the theses that constitute the hard core of the Marxist theory of history. I claim that all of them are essentially correct.”

      • dL January 11, 2018 at 12:49 am #

        But then we’d lose the wonderful spectacle of Hoppe writing: “I want to do the following in this paper: First to present the theses that constitute the hard core of the Marxist theory of history. I claim that all of them are essentially correct.”

        A better spectacle would have been Jurgen Habermas cross-examining that statement. But I’m guessing “the essential correctness of the classical marxist conception of history” wasn’t Hoppe’s Ph.D thesis

  2. Lori January 11, 2018 at 7:34 am #

    The belief that freedom has no enemies apart from the state can only serve the bourgeoisie. That’s why there are so many well-funded think tanks for classical liberal thought. There will always be paying gigs for those who speak power to truth. Propertarianism is every bit as predatory as statecraft. Quite the mix of caps and macks in your list of intellectual luminaries. My loyalty remains with the socks.

    • Roderick January 13, 2018 at 8:25 pm #

      “The belief that freedom has no enemies apart from the state can only serve the bourgeoisie”

      Since my contribution to this volume argues at length that freedom has enemies apart from the state, I’m not sure what we’re disagreeing about.

      Well, maybe this: Many think that the best way to combat freedom’s other enemies is to marshal the power of the state against them, whereas I think theory and history alike pretty clearly show that freedom’s other enemies tend on the whole to be strengthened rather than weakened by state intervention.

  3. Carnes January 11, 2018 at 7:58 am #

    Marx’s thinking about “production” is very different from what you seem to have in mind:

    https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/perlman-fredy/1969/misc/reproduction-daily-life.htm

    The autonomist Marxist also have a very peculiar class analysis:

    http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/what-is-the-working-class.html#.WldeCbjLfcQ

    And on his relationship to the state, I recommend taking a look or two at this stuff:

    https://libcom.org/library/karl-marx-state

    And Cyril Smith’s stuff:

    https://libcom.org/files/MarxFoH4.pdf

  4. Larry January 11, 2018 at 2:35 pm #

    Being fairly familiar with the work of Augustin Thierry, I really do not think one could call him a “free-marketer”. Other liberals like Thomas Paine also really don’t fit within any free-market ideology whether left or right.

    18th and 19th century liberalism also ought to be distinguished from the very distinct views of the Neoliberalism born the Mont Perelin Society.

    As Philip Mirowski point out the neoliberal/Hayekian metaphor about markets being “information processors smarter than any and all of us put together” has nothing to do with classical liberalism.

    http://www.the-utopian.org/post/53360513384/the-thirteen-commandments-of-neoliberalism

    • Roderick January 13, 2018 at 8:32 pm #

      “Being fairly familiar with the work of Augustin Thierry, I really do not think one could call him a ‘free-marketer’. Other liberals like Thomas Paine also really don’t fit within any free-market ideology whether left or right. ”

      I’m not sure what you mean by “free-market ideology,” but I’m fairly familiar with both Thierry and Paine as well, and they certainly ft in with what I mean by free-market ideology (which of course is a very broad category, as broad as socialism).

      “the neoliberal/Hayekian metaphor about markets being ‘information processors smarter than any and all of us put together’ has nothing to do with classical liberalism”

      Really? So which neoliberal/Hayekian thinker was it who claimed that his “whole doctrine was founded on the complete impossibility of directing, by invariant rules and by continuous inspection a multitude of transactions which by their immensity alone could not be fully known, and which, moreover, are continually dependent on a multitude of ever changing circumstances which cannot be managed or even foreseen”?

  5. dL January 11, 2018 at 2:55 pm #

    Being fairly familiar with the work of Augustin Thierry, I really do not think one could call him a “free-marketer”. Other liberals like Thomas Paine also really don’t fit within any free-market ideology whether left or right.

    18th and 19th century liberalism also ought to be distinguished from the very distinct views of the Neoliberalism born the Mont Perelin Society.

    As Philip Mirowski point out the neoliberal/Hayekian metaphor about markets being “information processors smarter than any and all of us put together” has nothing to do with classical liberalism.

    I don’t think anyone here would dispute any of that. Hayek’s Knowledge problem was formulated as a 20th century answer to a 20th century question of socialist calculation. It wasn’t a 19th century argument. I’m not sure it is a 21st century argument, either.

    • Larry January 11, 2018 at 4:14 pm #

      My point there was there is little in common between classical liberalism and the neoliberalism of Hayek.

      Their differences are fundamental. It’s not a question of adding or subtracting one argument.

      Philip Mirowski, William Davies, Raymond Plant and Pierre Dardot/Christian Laval show this pretty well in their work.

      My first point was that Augustin Thierry and Thomas Paine weren’t free-market people, even by 18th and 19th century standards. Paine, in particular, has more in common, in his talk about commons and common inheritance with the anarchist Peter Kropotkin. Both Paine and Peter Kropotkin, argued that value is produced by society as a whole, that all members of society should be regarded as shareholders in a collective enterprise, and that everyone thus has a right to a share of the total social product.

      Kropotkin insisted (following Paine) on a kind of common inheritance goes to the heart of things by grounding rights to distribution not in productive labor at all but in an unconditional claim of ownership. In his account, I don’t deserve to receive goods because I produce them; I deserve a share of production because I own (as an inheritance) a share of the entire production apparatus and its output.

      • VangelV January 12, 2018 at 1:52 pm #

        I think that Mises identified the problem in Human Action. Having won the intellectal battle in the real world where economic performance mattered, the Classical Liberals assumed that what was reasonable would continue. That meant that Liberals did not have to emphasize and defend Reason and could compromise on principles. We still have the same problem today as ‘economists’ choose popularity over logic.

      • Roderick January 13, 2018 at 8:35 pm #

        Well, remember I come from a free-market tradition that is rather friendly to Kropotkin, albeit regarding him as one-sided.

    • Roderick January 13, 2018 at 8:34 pm #

      “I don’t think anyone here would dispute any of that.”

      I would. I think Hayek’s argument has clear and direct 18th-century roots.

      • dL January 13, 2018 at 10:30 pm #

        I would. I think Hayek’s argument has clear and direct 18th-century roots.

        Oh, I don’t disagree on that point. Hayek vs Oskar Lange was an extension of, say, Tucker vs George Bernard Shaw. Nonetheless, the 20th socialist calculation debate wasn’t exactly a 19th century argument.

        Tucker defined modern socialism according to the economic principle

        labor is the true measure of price

        Of course, it was very much a debate the type of social governance that principle implied.

        However, the 20th century version was a debate whether the walrasian auctioneer could set supply and demand(neoclassical general equilibrium). To the extent that debate was over rational economic organization, Hayek ultimately addressed it(2 decades later) with his “the use of knowledge in society” argument that would win him the Nobel prize 3 decades later. And while I think Hayek’s basic point(tying the price system to dispersed information):

        that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess.

        was insightful at the time, I no longer think it is unassailable observation, not in the age of (graphical)data management surveillance platforms. Indeed, if one were retroactively rejudge who really won the SC debate, one now might have to throw in with Lange. Lange’s was a critic of Mises tight compartmentalization between capitalism and socialism. Lange’s academic position that communism could be integrated with market tools(and the price system) was just a case of man being well before his time. Today, with the Chinese Communist party being the greatest advocate for global capitalist trade, it appears Lange was spectacularly prescient.

        Tucker’s defintion of State Socialism:

        the doctrine that all the affairs of men should be managed by the government, regardless of individual choice

        in practice turns out to be:

        the doctrine that the zone of allowable affairs of men should be managed by the government, regardless of individual choice

        And the entire world is state socialist. Or, if you prefer, state capitalist. What’s the difference?

        I don’t think anyone here would dispute any of that.

        What I personally meant by that is there is indeed a profound methodological difference 19th century classical liberalism and the 20th century classical liberalism of the two leading academic free market schools, namely Chicago and Virginia. One only need read the forward of the classic public choice textbook, The Calculus of Consent, to see Buchanan and Tullock were motivated, in part, to rid modern political economy of the 19th century “class theory” fables.

        • Roderick January 13, 2018 at 11:04 pm #

          Certainly all those guys were using “socialism” in different senses. But I don’t think recent technology affects Hayek’s argument. Part of Hayek’s point is that a lot of the knowledge in question is inarticulate; it’s not as though there are lots of little cards lying around with the info typed on them and one just has t go collect them.

          As for methodological differences — sure, but those differences aren’t just between different time periods. There’ve been vast methodological differences among libertarian and classical liberal thinkers even in the same periods. The movement has always been highly diverse, methodologically as well as in other respects. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to be an objection to, though.

  6. VangelV January 12, 2018 at 1:42 pm #

    The publisher does not seem to be a good capitalist. Drop the Kindle Price to $15 and the royalties will be much higher for the authors and the publishers.

    • dL January 14, 2018 at 9:06 am #

      But I don’t think recent technology affects Hayek’s argument. Part of Hayek’s point is that a lot of the knowledge in question is inarticulate; it’s not as though there are lots of little cards lying around with the info typed on them and one just has t go collect them.

      The point is that there is only 6 degrees of separation(actually, more like 4, according to Facebook) between any two arbitrary little cards(nodes). And there are entire industries(google, facebook, amazon, adobe et al) whose business is to collect what these nodes are thinking by their interrelated habits. Machine algorithms are beginning to dominate, and will dominate, people’s decision-making. Yes, I think Hayek’s insight needs to be updated. It’s not the state will know or control what everyone is thinking. They won’t need to. But they will have a pretty good bead on who is not thinking “correctly.”

      The movement has always been highly diverse

      You think today’s classical liberalism is highly diverse among people who explicitly identify with that term?

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