Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Dundee, Scotland
Re: The Fourth American Revolution
Uh, referencing the notion of a fight between the proponents of 'liberty' and those of statism, I think there's a major problem in the ideology of the liberty side that's sounded the deathknell of all recent struggles for 'liberty'. Several, really.
The first and most important is that people who advocate the reduction or removal of state control generally hypocritically believe in the protection of the notion of property. All property is defined legally, and the law is granted its legitimacy by the state, which holds the monopoly over the legitimate use of physical force (Weber) - i.e., the only way of defending a claim to property, ultimately. That is to say, no one owns anything without a state to assert that ownership. This is why anarcho-capitalism can never work, I think (it has been tried, subtly, over the last decade and the current anti-state panic is really a reaction to the reinstatement of the economic controls that were in place before the disastrous liberalisation of the financial sector). Anarchism is, by definition, the belief in a stateless society; yet capitalism requires property to exist that someone may claim ownership of the means of production who doesn't actually use them to produce. Capitalism without property isn't capitalism, it's something like syndicalism. Thus I think there's an inherent contradiction in the philosophy; that "anarcho-capitalism" is oxymoronic as a term (and the same applies to its relatives, or to any anarchist philosophy that attempts to be compatible with the notion of property).
Wall Street, then, would not be fighting on the side of liberty but on the side of the state. Everyone with power would fight for the state because the only legitimate power that exists would be the state. Alternatively, the most powerful would fight to establish dominance of the state for themselves. A conflict between economic radicals and the state would be identical to a conflict between two feudal lords for control of a kingdom a thousand years ago - the differences in their policies would be miniscule, with the primary difference being the allocation of privelege, which would accord to nepotism of a sort. It wouldn't be a revolution but a 'rebellion', you might say, a coup d'état.
As to the notion of a fourth revolution itself:
Well, I think for a start it's a very America-centric term. A 'fourth revolution' in America would certainly not be limited to America. If the evil empire succumbs to revolution it starts a chain reaction. I'd struggle to express the joy with which the revolutionary left around the world would receive the news that America was in revolution and had dissolved into warring factions - the inspiration originating from the fact that a force that looms as vast in the global consciousness as the USA can be toppled would be mobilising and polarising, I think, to say the least, both for the hand-wringing leaders of states that are considered less secure and for those who oppose them.
Additionally, I think the idea of an internal revolution in America by now is, while something to be hoped for (depending, naturally, on the ideology of the revolutionaries and on their ability to steer the aftermath of the revolution according to that ideology; something that I don't believe has ever been achieved) not something that's likely. The more probable form of revolution would be that of the developing world rising up against the developed world. I say this because the developed world is principally to blame, in many ways, for the problems of the developing world - despite being the origin of a great deal, if not the majority, of our wealth, we stuff our faces with wide-screen televisions and new cars even in the midst of economic ruin, relatively speaking, while they starve during boom years. Our economic and industrial practices result in wealth produced by them or using resources which we have seized from them in various ways being allocated in gross disproportion to us. Class has become a phenomenon on a global rather, as well as a national, scale.
There's also a problem of individualism in the western world. By now our belief in our personal isolation is almost total - I could go on at length about why I say this, but that would better be suited to another thread. In short, we've ceased to think of ourselves as members of groups, almost everywhere in the world, to be capable of revolution. The recent revolutions, while heralded with optimism, against oppressive regimes around the world have disintegrated into unfocused milling around and done nothing but create power vacuums. These were people brought together not by a common ambition but by a common grievance. Once the object of their ire was disposed of, they had no notion of what they wanted to achieve, save perhaps "well, democracy, I suppose", never mind how to go about achieving it. We're capable of mobilising great people power but to little avail, because each of us is an individual rather than a member. Most of us have lost the capacity to view ourselves as servants to a higher calling.
As I say I think this has been the case, to a lesser extent, in past revolutions - the French revolution resulted in France's strongest monarchical empire ever, the October Revolution created a bizarre, grotesque and paradoxical distortion of communist society as defined by Marx, going so far as to create the oxymoron of a communist state, as did subsequent Stalinist revolutions, the American Revolution resulted in modern America, an analogue to every predominant empire of the past writ larger, in its reaction against the British Empire. Perhaps there are a few examples somewhere of a revolution actually achieving its aims in the long run, but I'm not sure where you'd find them.
So much for that. That's not to say that I think the status quo is now eternal. That would be unimaginably bizarre. Just that I think the meaningful shifts in the status quo result from long term, relatively slow cultural transformations - an almost invisible, gradual and simultaneous reform of the minds of everyone living. That, it seems to me, is the true origin of social and political change, and the identification of events, or especially of people, to account for the products of the far more complex underlying principles that drive them is sophomoric.
I call myself a revolutionary rather than a reformist nonetheless, because I remain confident that a 'good revolution' is possible, learning from the failures of the past and operating in such a way as to avoid and overcome them. It would necessarily be a different sort of revolution, too - a revolutionary vanguard is unlikely to be able to muster the support of enough of the population in a world where the predominant ideology, hammered into us from all angles by the state and its dependents, is one of selfish, isolated individualism that views principled self-sacrifice, and to a point any act of altruistic selflessness, as an act of madness. There would need to be a cultural transformation driven by revolutionary ideologues that was capable of beating down the resistance of the entrenched ideologies: a war that's been fought at a stalemate for the last century. Whenever the revolution's gained ground, the status quo's found a way to steal it back. I'm trying to think of how that might be achieved. I'll get back to you on that one, write your answers on a postcard. :P
On the other hand, I also wonder if we actually have time for a revolution, by which I mean that the unhaltable progress of technology might beat us to it, eliminating our problems before we have a chance to attempt to tackle them ourselves. That said, I also worry that if such technology were to come to a world unprepared for its arrival, the result would be horrific - a thought that lends an urgency to the revolutionary cause and steers it towards a certain goal.
"Sooner or later you'll bury your teeth"
- Joanna Newsom, Monkey & Bear