Sunday, April 10, 2011
Feudalism and the Class War
You may be unaware that I consider myself neither a completely Progressivistic Social-Democratic Liberal, nor a completely Libertarian Laissez-Faire Capitalist. I do not advocate for a total absence of public involvement in marketplace affairs because I value the usefulness of public entities such as governments and public-employee unions in preventing fraud, abuse, and coercion, especially when they are actually effective in doing so.
I desire to expand the liberty of the individual and of the private sphere in general by legalizing competition in areas of service provision in which governments typically wield monopoly power. I want to reform the law so that private-sector entities become freer to fairly compete with public-sector entities in the provision of charity and social reform.
This makes me an Agorist, or a Social-Libertarian, and that is why I desire to forge coalitions between Progressives and Libertarians. Such coalitions may often be temporary on economic issues, but they would likely be permanent on many civic and social issues, such as defense and legal rights.
Agorist philosophy uses free-market solutions to address Marxist criticisms of political, economic, and social problems, and so, reconciliation between Progressives and Libertarians in a way that brings about a synthesis of their ideologies is crucial to bring about these ends.
Many mainstream, conservative Republicans today seem to want to paint Progressives as a bunch of Christmas-banning Jihadi who want to take this country back to 636 – when the prophet Muhammad had just died and the Arabs were beginning to conquer the Levant – and to paint Libertarians as a bunch of government-hating racists who want to take this country back to 1964 – when government, business, and society in general discriminated against minorities, and American infrastructure was relatively underdeveloped.
But I, as a Social-Libertarian, am willing to compromise on how far backwards this country should be taken. I want to go back not to 636, nor to 1964, but to a date half-way between them, at least in terms of the world-view to which I’d like to expose people. That date is 1300; the date when the Middle High Ages ended, and the end-date of traditional Feudalism.
Considering recent events in American politics – such as the conflict between Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and certain types of government employee unions over benefits and collective bargaining rights, the extremely narrow state judicial election which occurred in its wake, and conflict between governors and public-sector unions in states across the country (most notably in the Midwest) – polarization between the left and the right appears to be at a fever pitch.
I feel that the contempt which has arisen from differences in economic ideology largely stems from a lack of public education about the history of the development of economics over the last several hundred years.
On the left side of the political spectrum, we have Liberals, Progressives, Socialists, and Communists all lumped into one class. On the right side, we have Conservatives, Capitalists, Libertarians, and Market-Anarchists all lumped into the other class. This is a class system which is primarily based on a binary division between general economic disposition, and on little else, if anything.
In America today, we see most Liberals, Progressives, Socialists, and Communists uniting under the banner of the Democratic Party; and most Conservatives, Capitalists, Libertarians, and Market-Anarchists uniting under the banner of the Republican Party. No group is perfectly represented, and the boundaries of neither group are clearly defined.
Instead, voters are given two well-established and therefore consistently-viable choices, and thus, they feel compelled to rally behind and defend the leaders of the parties who have the most name recognition, visibility, prominence, influence, clout, and financial backing. And so, almost everyone who votes is given the uncomfortable choice between either criticizing those in charge, or else defending them half-heartedly.
It may often seem helpful to take several ideological movements and lump them in with each other for the sake of simplicity, but I believe that drawing only one line separating half of the political spectrum from the other is not only unproductive, but also that it confuses things more than it helps people understand what is really going on, and how we got where we are.
Today, most welfare recipients, public employees such as teachers and certain types of hospital staff, and industrial workers who belong to unions tend to rally behind their representatives in the Democratic Party; and self-employed individuals, small and local businessmen, private contractors, white-collar employers, and those in the banking and insurance industries tend to rally behind their representatives in the Republican Party.
In terms of the general division that is commonly made between the two dominant economic ideologies, Democrats are considered to be Socialist-leaning, while Republicans are considered to be Capitalist-leaning. But it is really only a very small percentage of the voters of each party whose ultimate goal is a perfect fulfillment of those economic visions.
So small, in fact, because, to those voters – or would-be voters – of extreme or absolutist ideologies, the parties by which they grudgingly accept representation are all too similar to one another and / or too different from their own personal agendae for them to be willing to compromise their ideals by endorsing and defending such mainstream choices.
It is certainly not every Democrat who desires to implement a utopian, decentralized federation of participatory social-democratic communities, just as it is most assuredly not every Republican who desires to implement a society of regional-, state-, and / or locality-based governance based on total individual rights and perfectly fair competition in a totally free-market paradigm.
But in the same way, it is also not every Democrat who desires a highly-centralized globalist State with numerous expensive social welfare systems, just as it is not every Republican who desires a monolithic, isolationist State with a weakness for influence-peddling lobbyists, special interests, and corporate welfare.
Although Karl Marx once advocated a centralized, federalist banking system, he later disowned this viewpoint, making it clear that his ultimate goal was the anarcho-communalist paradigm, rather than the “Socialism” ascribed to the Wall Street regulars who pervade the administration of President Barack Obama, which is really not socialism, but a big-“D” Democratic form of Corporate-Protectionist Nationalism which is rigged to generate the privatization of profit and the socialization of losses.
By the same token, Agorist philosopher Samuel E. Konkin III once wrote, “...if the 'entrepreneuriat' are tossed into the Capitalist class, then the Marxist must face the contradiction of 'Capitalists' at war with the Capitalist-controlled State.” Liberals all too often lump Free-Market Libertarians and Main-Street Entrepreneurialists in with these so-called “Capitalists”, which most Libertarians view as having perverted and soiled the name of Capitalism.
Thus, together, Marx and Konkin made it clear: the heart of both pure Socialism and pure Capitalism is not the concentration of power; but rather, the diffusion of authority.
Unfortunately, it is all too often that Liberals and Progressives who grudgingly support the Obama Democrats get compared to Stalinists as parts of the Socialist or “leftist” class; and that small-government Libertarians are made to listen to those on the left lump them in with fraudulent, robber-baron, environmentally-hazardous corporate welfare cases as parts of the Capitalist or “rightist” class.
Despite the typical sidling-up of presidential candidates against one-another’s backs during lead-ups to national elections; rampant government bailouts for big business; and exploitation of workers by unions that often parallels, equals, assists, and enables the exploitation of workers by corporate management; these common misperceptions persist.
However, it has not always been the case that government and unions were aligned with one another against banks, big business, and entrepreneurs in the public mind. This is where Feudalism comes into the mix.
In Europe, before the Industrial Revolution, before labor unions and trade unions existed in the forms in which we know them today, and even before corporations existed, there was Feudalism. Feudalism brought with it the economic system known as Mercantilism, under which existed the guild unions, also known simply as guilds.
Mercantilism is most simply described as “State Capitalism”, but this phrase really only serves to obscure the true nature of the Feudalist, Mercantilist, and Guild-Unionist systems – and of Statism and Capitalism themselves – because in many ways, guild unions were the forerunners of not only Nationalistic Corporate-Protectionist Monopolism and Entrepreneurial Free-Market Capitalism (or Classical Liberalism, now commonly known as Libertarianism), but also of Labor-and-Trade-Unionism, State Socialism, National Syndicalism, and big-“C” Communism.
Under the Feudalist / Mercantilist / Guild-Unionist system, in any given town, townspeople who worked in whatever particular field belonged to the corresponding handicraft associations. In each handicraft association, the manufacturers and / or artisans had to cooperate and pool their resources – such as skills and materials – because they had a common interest and necessity; namely, producing what they had the resources to produce in order to sustain themselves and to keep wealth concentrated near themselves, their families, and their respective towns.
Being that this was centuries ago, when commerce was not well-integrated enough for there to be abundant and diverse resources, materials, and varieties of types of skills, which narrow range of products that the townspeople should make – and which townspeople should make them – was very important for maintaining the town’s wealth, its place in global commerce, and its reputation.
The principle that a locality should primarily focus on producing those things which it produces best and / or better than its neighbors – as well as on putting to good use the natural resources which are most abundant in the locality – are key aspects of Mercantilism.
Since the Feudal / Mercantilist State was ruled by the king, each local town’s business affairs were regulated by groups of authority figures who represented the king. These groups of authority figures can be likened to modern chambers of commerce, except tending towards a higher concentration of decision-making power towards the king, rather than a diffusion of authority towards the people.
Through the establishment of charters by the business authorities of the towns, handicraft associations became guild unions. The business authorities would regulate the guilds by granting their members privileges – such as letters of patent, trademarks, and exclusive retail rights in certain local areas – essentially, monopoly rights.
These rights of monopoly were augmented by regulations which required traveling foreign merchants to pay fees for permission to sell their goods in local markets. Being that the integration of commerce was low and inefficient, rarity and scarcity of certain goods – especially in remote and isolated places – inflated demand for such goods, giving merchants an increased financial incentive to travel in order to sell those scarce goods. Accordingly, guilds also had systems that helped provide funding for the lifestyles of domestic traveling merchants.
These regulations can be considered early forms of what are known today as tariffs – i.e., taxes on the importation of foreign goods – constituting evidence for the practice of the greater economic paradigm now known as Protectionism, which augments and strengthens Mercantilism by employing regulation and taxation to protect favored domestic industries against foreign markets.
The townspeople and the king’s regulating authorities had vested interest in maintaining the reputations of not only the towns, but of the guilds as well. They did so by ensuring that workers whom were affiliated with guilds were experienced; they imposed long, standardized periods of apprenticeship.
Regulators required handicraft workers to become masters in order to become members of guilds, and once they became guild members, they were eligible to run businesses. However, for those without sufficient capital and / or public approval, it was difficult to gain access to more materials and knowledge, and more difficult to earn permission to sell into certain markets.
We can see that this was a system in which craftsmen had to conform to high and rigid standards in the process of working to prove their worth over a long period of time, and a system in which monopoly rights were offered as a reward for earning public trust and having enough capital to continue one’s handicraft.
It was a system that rewarded hard work, but it also rewarded the accumulation of wealth in resources with a local business monopoly granted by the State, all but ensuring an increased accumulation of resource wealth for the rewarded person. It takes little stretch of the imagination to liken this to what we would now call corporate welfare.
Leftist economists often criticize Capitalists, claiming that the types of de-regulation which Capitalists desire naturally and inevitably lead to monopolization by the most reckless and competition-minded businesses. But libertarians and Austrian-School economists argue that monopoly and competition are clearly antithetical to one another, and that it is government which permits monopolization and protects those businesses which monopolize. I believe that I have shown through the Guild-Unionist example that this has been the case at least once throughout history.
Given that, under the Feudalist / Mercantilist / Guild-Union system, there were low populations, limited resources, and inefficient commercial integration, and that it would have been highly impractical and counter-productive for the townspeople and the government to do anything but work to prevent competition between groups of people who were involved in the same trade in the same town, we can see that the State – perhaps most notably and tellingly through its practice of requiring outsiders to pay in order to have a chance to compete – deliberately sought to maintain and entrench a state of nature in which townspeople remained dependent on one another and on the king’s representatives by preventing and imposing penalties on whatever it judged to be competition – whether foreign or domestic – which threatened the political, economic, social, or religious status quo.
Therefore, we can see in the Guild-Unionist system an inclination towards domestic business welfare and Protectionistic Mercantilism through the maintenance of government-granted monopoly rights and the suppression of competition through regulation and taxation.
But guild unions were, to an even more self-evident degree, forerunners of not only labor and trade unions, but also of Socialism and Communism. Being that guild unions were established through charters granted by local business regulators, their connection with the public sphere – i.e., the government – is glaringly obvious.
Guilds were also early avenues for the development of social welfare. Guild unions set up systems which allocated funding to health care for the sick and the elderly, as well as to support for widows and orphans, in addition to funding merchant travel, which I mentioned earlier.
Thus, the relationship between the social progress sought by guild unions – as it stood in the face of routine government granting of monopoly rights to domestic business – to the development of government-associated social welfare and publicly-funded redistribution of wealth for the purposes of general societal improvement cannot be ignored or downplayed as one of the most important developments in the history of Socialism and Communism.
Given these facts, we can see that there were aspects of the Guild-Union system which can be reasonably perceived as precursors of both Domestic Business Protectionism and Labor Socialism. However, that was just the way things were before the end of the 13th century. The 14th century saw an even deeper entrenchment of Domestic Business Protectionism.
In towns and cities, the merchant class began to acquire greater control over the means of production and venture capital, and they formed their own guilds which they could regulate themselves. This was a key turn in the development of what is today called Corporatism – or Corporativism, Corporatocracy, and even, sometimes, Fascism – in which business managers come to wield regulation power which is independent of the government, so much so, in fact, that they often begin to resemble governments unto themselves.
However, the situation in the countryside remained quite different and separate from the conditions in the towns and cities. In the country, where the guilds did not operate and their rules did not apply, the handicraft associations remained diffused and dispersed systems which were difficult to control.
Craftsmen had access to local markets, and were able to provide raw materials to networks of cottagers who based their work in their homes. They were free to turn profit in an absence of regulating authorities, and thus, they could easily become entrepreneurial capitalists. Therefore, we can see the framework of Laissez-Faire Entrepreneurial Venture-Capitalism beginning to take shape in the European countryside of the early 14th century.
This politicoeconomic system rounds out the three strains of rightist economic philosophy which grew out of the guild unions; Domestic Protectionistic Mercantilism gave rise to Corporatocracy – and, eventually, 20th-century Fascism – in the towns and cities, and to Classically-Liberal Free-Market Libertarian Entrepreneurial Venture-Capitalism in the country.
In his early 16th-century work Utopia, Thomas More noted that when lords invested in sheep in order to make profit off of their scarce and valuable wool, they would often require that common lands be enclosed in order to keep the sheep in.
More further explained that this eventually caused the impoverishment of the serfs who tended the land, driving them into the centers of towns and cities to seek employment, and that this caused an increase in the crime rate because, at times, these people were driven to steal out of simple necessity of survival.
Much of socioeconomic material philosophy traces the roots of – and attribute the causes of – European Socialism and Communism to what leftists occasionally refer to as the “privatization” of common “public” lands which were inhabited and tended-to by agrarian serfs. But what leftists often neglect to consider is that this “private-vs.-public” land dichotomy which they describe may not be so black-and-white.
In a Monarchical Feudalist State, not only was the king often a religious authority, but he was also the major proprietor of land, as well as the ultimate authority on economic and business affairs, and on regulation and the affairs of the State. The king was at once the embodiment of authority in the social and religious sphere, the private sphere, and the public sphere.
Therefore, the enclosing of common lands by kings and aristocrats could be characterized as a “privatization” of land just as easily as it could be characterized as public-sphere government land reclamation, thus making it arguably akin to eminent-domain takings.
I feel that to characterize common lands as “public” is to claim that the serfs were really free people, rather than slaves; commoners whom were mere subjects and property of the members of the chains of fealty above them which culminated at the top in the personage of the king.
Regardless of how one wishes to characterize this enclosing of land, its effects were clear. Agrarian serfs relocated from common land in the countryside to the centers of towns and cities, becoming compelled to sell their labor in order to survive.
After some generations, rapid development of industry and the integration of commerce made it both practical and necessary for industrial workers to band together in order to pressure management to give in to worker demands for better wages, benefits, and conditions. Thus, the liberal bourgeoisie was born, and along with it came the Anarcho-Syndicalist politicoeconomic philosophy.
In the early 20th century, labor unions, trade unions, and syndicates began to realize that they were too weak, and so they decided it could benefit them to reach out to governmental entities to help them secure legal guarantees of the economic and social rights which their movements had already begun to achieve de-facto. This was the birth of the State Socialism and National Syndicalism politicoeconomic systems, which coincided with the rise of Progressivism and the advocacy of social welfare within both the Democratic and Republican American political parties.
Given these facts, we can see that not only did the guild unions give birth to several rightist economic strains of thought, but also that the guilds were predecessors to several leftist economic ideologies. Localistic, Guild-Unionist Welfare-Statism gave rise not only to Anarcho-Syndicalism, but also to National Syndicalism and State Socialism, in which governments take on the agendae of unions.
Given that the by-and-large reclamation of common land in the countryside all but eradicated leftist economic philosophies from anywhere other than the towns and cities to which their proponents fled, I feel that Anarcho-Syndicalism, National Syndicalism, and State Socialism are all primarily bourgeois politicoeconomic philosophies.
Earlier, I mentioned that Agorist philosopher Samuel E. Konkin III viewed Agorism as the use of free-market principles to solve Marxist problems. I also mentioned that Marx eventually retreated from his advocacy of federalism and centralization. A synthesis of Marx and Konkin reveals that pure Socialism and pure Capitalism can co-exist, as their essences are an emphasis on localistic authority.
Furthermore, a synthesis of small-“d” democracy and small-“r” republicanism reveals that the essences of both of these systems also lie in an emphasis on localistic authority. While democracy places that authority in the majority of votes in a given community, republicanism places that authority in the majority of votes in a given community, municipality, country, state, or region, but within the constraints of written law.
Localistic authority is also emphasized by Austrian Marxist Otto Bauer and French Classical Liberal Frederic Bastiat. Bauer and Bastiat respectively articulated Socialist and Capitalist conceptualizations of an idea known as jurisdictional aterritoriality.
While Bauer’s concept of pure Socialism – which he called National Personal Autonomy – relied on the principle of organizing individuals and communities on the basis of simple associations irrespective of where they are located, Bastiat’s concept of pure Capitalism – which, through the course of its development by his intellectual heirs, came to be known as Panarchism (or Pantarchism) – relied on the principle of allowing individuals ultimate liberty in choosing who represents, protects, and defends them from among a field of competing governmental entities and private or public defense organizations.
It may seem evident upon first examination that localistic authority necessarily implies the employment of geographic boundaries, but I believe that the conceptions of jurisdictional aterritoriality which were formulated by Bauer and Bastiat stay faithful to the localistic principle on the basis that they intend to keep decision-making authority as close to the individual person – and / or the voluntary association of persons – as possible.
Given that the primary division between societal classes which has largely been a binary cleaving of leftist ideologies from rightist ones in recent years has only served to conflate the many different politicoeconomic systems with one another, it seems appropriate that a new primary division between societal classes should be made, and that that division should serve to make rural, localistic, and aterritorial paradigms distinct from bourgeois, centralizationist, and geographical paradigms.
Rightist economic systems which rely on the localistic principles include Free-Market (or Laissez-Faire) Capitalism, Entrepreneurial Venture-Capitalism, Classical Liberalism, Libertarianism, Market-Anarchism, Agorism, Panarchistic (or Pantarchistic) Jurisdictional Aterritorialism, and Catallaxy – commonly referred to as “spontaneous order” or “the invisible hand of the market”.
Rightist economic systems which rely on the centralizationist principles include Fascism, Corporatocracy (or Corporatism or Corporativism), Corporate Nationalism, and Corporate-and-Business-Protectionistic Mercantilism.
Leftist economic systems which rely on the localistic principles include Participatory Social-Democratic Communalism, Guild-Unionist Social-Welfarism, National Personal Autonomistic Jurisdictional Aterritorialism, and, to some degree, Anarcho-Syndicalism and the various bourgeois anarchistic labor movements.
Leftist economic systems which rely on the centralizationist principles include Soviet Communism, State Socialism, National Syndicalism, and bourgeois anarchistic labor movements which have tendencies to defend and / or justify centralized, bureaucratic, and federalist governmental entities.
In today’s contentious political atmosphere, it is easy to get swept up in arguments about spending, and to focus on a class war based on economic ideology, especially when the narrative is primarily dominated by the most wealthy and influential members of each general economic division, whom are often using false and oversimplified class-war issues to distract the citizens from real wars – i.e., the kind with the fighting and the killing and the bombs and the missiles – which members of both ideologies almost always have roles in waging.
That is why I desire to help forge an alliance between progressives and libertarians; I believe that it is only through the cooperation of all those who desire true voluntarism, individual liberty, fidelity to the law, equal opportunity, responsible and fiscally-solvent welfare programs, localistic governance, and the diffusion of authority that those oligarchs, bureaucrats, and lobbyists who wish to further concentrate power in the hands of the few and subvert the law and the will of the people may be held at bay.
Tea Party members need to understand that most liberals and progressives do not hate freedom; they very often truly desire individual liberty. Rather than to demonize them and call them Communists or Socialists, the Tea Party should instead encourage liberals to revert to their first principles; to bring about the social justice they want to see through means of direct action such as person-to-person charity that side-steps needless and wasteful government bureaucracy.
Liberals and progressives need to understand that most Tea Party members do not hate social justice; they very often truly desire social progress and responsible, fiscally-solvent social welfare systems. Rather than to demonize them and call them Fascists or Nazis, the liberals and progressives should instead encourage the Tea Party to revert to its first principles; to be tolerant of alternative lifestyles and individual free choice, and to give charitably as much as they are able to do so.
As evidenced by both the local bourgeois social welfare programs and the rural entrepreneurial venture capitalism which existed under the Feudalist / Mercantilist / Guild-Unionist system, the primary sociopolitical, politicoeconomic, and socioeconomic principle is charity, i.e., voluntary sharing.
Rabbi Eleazar taught that the only form of charity which is holier than anonymous donation to anonymous recipients is to take a man off the street, care for his most urgent and immediate needs, and assist him to earn a living so that he may learn to help himself. If there is room for charitable actions that suggest a tendency towards both socialism and capitalism in religion, then certainly they can co-exist in society in general.
As Congressman Ron Paul noted after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the government promise to assist relief efforts in that country did little besides deepen our debt, increase the burden on the taxpayers, and cause significant amounts of public money to get lost in the bureaucracies of international charity organizations. Maybe if we actually do something to address our national debt, we could relax the tax burdens on those who bear their brunt, and they could afford to provide more direct assistance than government charity, and they would perhaps not feel that their accomplishment is unappreciated and that they have been taken for granted.
The oligarchical, centralizationist State and the State-maintained monopolistic corporation act as leeches on any and all available appendages of human society which dare to stick up off of its main body. As leeches help regulate the flow of a patient’s blood, so too do governments regulate our living. As leeches tax and make demands on our bodies, so too do governments tax our production.
Governments and monopolies can create nothing original, neither lives nor material goods; they can only consume as parasites do. They thrive off human blood, sweat, and tears. Regulation and taxing can help the patient up to a point, but eventually the patient will find himself sucked dry.
To repeat the Samuel E. Konkin III quote which I read earlier, “…if the entrepreneuriat are tossed into the Capitalist class, then the Marxist must face the contradiction of ‘Capitalists’ at war with the Capitalist-controlled State.”
Civic and commercial human society needs two basic things to function: human resources and human creativity. The biologically fertile proletariat is that which brings about the renewal of human life and human resources, and the industrially fertile entrepreneuriat is that which brings about the renewal of human originality and human creativity.
The only way out of endless war and propagandist manipulation is for the proletariat and the entrepreneuriat to set aside their petty economic differences and begin to see themselves as one, for they, when united, are the only true source of creative power in this earthly material realm.
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