Friday, April 03, 2020

John Gray at The New Statesman "liberal capitalism is bust"; and "At its core, the British state has always been Hobbesian."

Presented, for the time being (and possibly the future), without much by way of comment.
In the view of the future to which progressive thinkers cling, the future is an embellished version of the recent past. No doubt this helps them preserve some semblance of sanity. It also undermines what is now our most vital attribute: the ability to adapt and fashion different ways of life. The task ahead is to build economies and societies that are more durable, and more humanly habitable, than those that were exposed to the anarchy of the global market.

does not mean a shift to small-scale localism. Human numbers are too large for local self-sufficiency to be viable, and most of humankind is not willing to return to the small, closed communities of a more distant past. But the hyperglobalisation of the last few decades is not coming back either. The virus has exposed fatal weaknesses in the economic system that was patched up after the 2008 financial crisis. Liberal capitalism is bust. 

With all its talk of freedom and choice, liberalism was in practice the experiment of dissolving traditional sources of social cohesion and political legitimacy and replacing them with the promise of rising material living standards. This experiment has now run its course. Suppressing the virus necessitates an economic shutdown that can only be temporary, but when the economy restarts, it will be in a world where governments act to curb the global market.


What the virus is telling us is not only that progress is reversible – a fact even progressives seem to have grasped­ – but that it can be self-undermining. To take the most obvious example, globalisation produced some major benefits – millions have been lifted out of poverty. This achievement is now under threat. Globalisation begat the de-globalisation that is now under way. 

As the prospect of ever-rising living standards fades, other sources of authority and legitimacy are re-emerging. Liberal or socialist, the progressive mind detests national identity with passionate intensity. There is plenty in history to show how it can be misused. But the nation state is increasingly the most powerful force driving large-scale action. Dealing with the virus requires a collective effort that will not be mobilised for the sake of universal humanity. 

Altruism has limits just as much as growth. There will be examples of extraordinary selflessness before the worst of the crisis is over. In Britain an over half-million strong volunteer army has signed up to assist the NHS. But it would be unwise to rely on human sympathy alone to get us through. Kindness to strangers is so precious that it must be rationed. 

This is where the protective state comes in. At its core, the British state has always been Hobbesian. Peace and strong government have been the overriding priorities. At the same time this Hobbesian state has mostly rested on consent, particularly in times of national emergency. Being shielded from danger has trumped freedom from interference by government. 



cal said...

It's too soon to tell whether this crisis is a turning-point (and I think Gray should know better). But the idea that just because a state prioritizes stability, safety, and peace makes it Hobbesian is retarded. That's the basic definition of the state, even libertarian "nightwatchman state" adheres to this logic (otherwise, why have the govt in the business of running military operations? why not privatize that?). Hobbes was concerned about political turmoil and thus his state abolishes debate, conflict, or the existence of any organization that derives its legitimacy from outside the sovereign (which is not identical with the state). He just comes off as a know-nothing doofus.

Will liberal capitalism be at an end? Not likely. The Chinese party-oligarchy, state-capitalism, model (with a touch of autoritarianism with the rise of Xi) is not doing much better. However, enough people might wake up and realize that capitalism produces tons of garbage and that the "There Is No Alternative" hyper-ideology of neo-liberalism is severely vulnerable and subject to poltitical questioning. Maybe many will wake up in the US and Europe and realize that man does not serve the economy, but the economy (and all kinds of social organizing) was made for man.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

every new crisis
lets philosophers, newly,
consider our fates