Monday, November 28, 2016

Remember, The Left's First Promise Was to Improve the Worker's Quality of Life

I am going through a set of videos on philosophy that were shown on the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s. They were hosted by a guy called Bryan Magee, who was born worrying about philosophical problems.

The first set of videos are with Uncle Herbie, Herbert Marcuse, an unreconstructed leftie and member of the Frankfurt School. He complains, in session #4 at 1:20, about the modern era (in the 1970s).
What has gone wrong with western civilization? At the height of technical progress we see the opposite as far as human progress is concerned: dehumanization, brutalization, torture as a normal means of interrogation, the wasteful development of nuclear energy, destructiveness everywhere and so on.
And, according to Marcuse, whatever its problems, many "concepts of Marx have been decisively corroborated in the development of capitalism:"
the concentration of economic power, the fusion of economic and political power, the increasing intervention of the state into the economy, the increasing difficulties in stemming the decline in the rate of profit, the need for engaging in a neo-imperialism in order to create markets and possibilities of enlarged accumulation of capital, and so on. #3 (1:30)
Yes, and then there is alienation. Here is what Marcuse has to say.
According to Marx, alienation was a socio-economic concept, and it meant, basically -- this is a very brutal abbreviation -- that under capitalism men and women could not in their work fulfill their own individual humane faculties and needs. That this was due to the capitalist mode of production itself, and could only be remedied by radically changing this mode of production. #3 (8:12)
I quote all this because I think it is radically, comically wrong. The basic fact of the last two hundred years is that capitalism, the Great Enrichment, has enabled men and women through simple wage labor to fulfill their faculties and needs in a way far beyond the dreams of avarice. That any attempt to politically or violently change the capitalist mode of production has resulted in dehumanization and brutalization. That under capitalism economic power is not concentrated, not without the assistance of government, but in fact that capitalism promotes a constant change in the dominant economic powers. That the "rate of profit" has constantly been renewed by utterly unimaginable product and technology revolutions. Etc.

The story of the last 200 years is that whenever the political elite and the ruling class tried to mess with capitalism they got it wrong, because they almost always surrendered to the age-human yearning to stop the world at noon, and precipitated misery.

The central fact of capitalism is constant revolution, "creative destruction." This is the source of its Great Enrichment, but also the source of human opposition to it. What the political elite could have done, should have done was to submit to this truth of capitalism, and teach it far and wide, while encouraging the erection of social structures to shelter people for a season when the market turns against them, as it always will in time.

When Herbert Marcuse talks about dehumanization and brutalization and torture I suppose he is thinking about lefty bĂȘtes noires like Pinochet in Chile and the apartheid regime in South Africa. I am sure he is not talking about the evil Castro brothers in Cuba. But the fact is that dehumanization goes with big government like ham and eggs, because it allows people with political pull, be they the Communist Party nomenclatura or crony capitalists or big labor unions or environmentalist pressure groups, to use force to provide extra-market benefits and privileges; he is talking, whether he knows it or not, about the efforts of governments to mess with capitalism, to teach people that they can live without surrendering to the market, to tax the creators and spend money on the takers, and generally give people the idea that they can live by power rather than live by working every day to serve their fellow citizen in the great and prosperous market system.

The Trump election shows up the utter bankruptcy of the left. Here we have the white working class, once the darlings of the progressive ruling class, voting for a billionaire crony capitalist because... well because the progressives, that once swore that the only thing they cared about was helping the poor and the workers, had written them off as racist sexist bigots and deplorables, and because finally, after 50 years when the white working class wandered in the political wilderness, here came a candidate that said he cared about the plight of the Rust Belt that has been hollowed out by the move of manufacturing to lower-wage countries.

Of course we cannot know what would have happened without the progressive politics of the last century and more. We are where we are and we cannot undo history.

But the fact is that the fundamental promise of the left to help "men and women... in their work [to] fulfill their own individual humane faculties and needs" was a lie and a failure. Wherever the left has obtained power it has dehumanized and brutalized, and that for a simple reason, that government is force, and government is injustice, and that you can never build a perfect society by the use of force.

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