Friday, December 7, 2012

"Internal Colonization"

Marxists may be terminally annoying, but they continue to produce compelling critiques of modern society.

Whereas liberals are totally useless.  Being the ruling class, liberals produce nothing but shoddy apology.

So let us look at J├╝rgen Habermas, a neo-Marxist who has brought the old Marxist idea of alienation to fruition.  The old Marxist idea was that modern labor under capitalism was alienating because labor was no longer social labor, working to create use value, but abstract labor, working to produce exchange value.

On top of that, Marx claimed, the actors in the capitalist market "reified" their activities.  They did not think of their relations as person-to-person, but thought of their activities in terms of thing-to-thing, an exchange of commodity for money.  That is what he meant by "commodity fetishism."

Habermas restates all this in terms that make sense to the average bear like me, by dividing the world up into "system" and "lifeworld."  Instead of abstract labor we have System.  Instead of social labor we have Lifeworld.  System is the market, and Lifeworld is the person-to-person relation.  More than that, System is the world of rational and strategic action.  You do almost everything in the market for gain, and it is very rational: sell, buy; make, create; up, down.  But the Lifeworld is not like that.  It is social, cooperative; it is language based, not reason based.  It is not up or down, but tries to create a consensus, a sharing.

Following Horkheimer and Adorno in A Dialectic of Enlightenment Habermas makes another important step.  He understands that the state, just as much as capitalism, is a rational system.  Both systems are based on "instrumental reason," trying to make things happen in the world by rational means.  And that means that government and business are both trying to "dominate nature and other men."  This means that government's project is the "internal colonization" of society.  Just as the European nations of the 18th and 19th century went around the world colonizing less powerful societies, so the modern state attempts to colonize its people with its experts and its bureaucrats, its regulation and its spending.

This is a punishing critique of the modern state, and a warning about its power.  We should be just as careful about government power as about business power.  Conservatives tend to worry about government power; liberals worry about corporate power.  But Habermas warns about all system power.

There is a difference between the two systems, beyond the analysis of Habermas.  It is that government is all about war.  When we say that government's primary job is to defend against enemies foreign and domestic we really mean that it is government's job to wage war on enemies foreign and domestic.  In other words, government is at loose ends unless it has an enemy to fight.  William James famously articulated this truth just before World War I when he advised that, since war was now unlikely, we would have to gussie up the "moral equivalent of war" to mobilize people to do important things.  We can see the truth of this in the periodic campaigns that government comes up with: War on Want, War on Poverty, War on Drugs, Whip Inflation Now.

But this gives conservatives and limited government advocates an opening.  When deciding whether to start a new government program we should ask ourselves: is war the best way to do this?  Because every government program is about force.  It does not say, wow, saving for retirement is really a good thing, why don't we all save from our wages!  It says you must pay 15 percent of your wages to the government in return for a pension, or else.

So then you ask: if saving against a rainy day is a natural human thing to do, why do we force everyone to save?  If insuring against sickness is a natural thing to do, why do we force everyone into Obamacare?  If everyone can see the importance of getting an education, why force everyone into a compulsory government plan?

The answer comes easily from Habermas' idea of "internal colonization."  Because we, the ruling class, want to rule.  We don't want you running off and saving your own money; we want to force you to bank the money with us.  We don't want you running off educating your kid according to your crazy ideas; we want your kid indoctrinated with ruling class ideas.

But why do people put up with this?  Simple: there is an obvious attraction to colonialism.  If you go with the colonial masters you get to enjoy the free stuff, and maybe sup at the master's table--below the salt, of course.

But for some reason the colonized peoples of the 19th century didn't like the overall package.  They preferred to rule themselves according to their own way rather than truckle to their European colonizers.

The question for us is whether we continue to truckle to our native-born internal colonizers in return for all the free stuff.  Or whether we rise up and declare that we would rather live in our own way, backward and flawed, rather than ape the ways of our colonial masters.

Of course, today the question is moot, as President Obama takes us into the miasma of internal colonization on steroids.

But when the Obama years, "the years the locusts have eaten" are over, we will visit the internal colonization question again.

Nobody knows what answer the American people will give.

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