Property and Economics: The Foundation of Politics

Both John Locke and Thomas Hobbes (and almost every other political philosopher) start their discussion from a state of nature. Locke’s state is one of liberty and love. Hobbes’ is a state of fear and war.

However, both opine that government is instituted in order to securitize property and peace. For Hobbes, the state of war that exists in the state of nature requires a Leviathan, an omnipotent entity, whom everyone else fears and to whom total sovereignty is granted in order that peace and security can exist.

For Locke, only if property is secure can human beings have the increased liberty that exists in a society to pursue further happiness and enjoy that liberty and life. And without a government established by consent of the majority that is able to secure life and property, one’s efforts are all spent trying to maintain what one has.

In my previous post and another prior post, I ask the questions as to whether corporatism (and eventually economic fascism) is the natural end of capitalistic free markets and whether statism is the natural end of socialism, seeing each not as two ends of a spectrum, but as two faces of the State, the face being determined by the society’s view regarding property.

During the 1920’s and 30’s in the United States, there was a lot of polarized sympathy for either fascism and communism, again depending on one’s view of property. Those who held a more “common property” view saw communism and the Soviet Union as a reasonable alternative to capitalism, while those who leaned more toward private property saw fascism and Hitler’s Germany as a reasonable economic structure.

Because we look at history through the retrospect-oscope, if we don’t read primary sources from those times, we can’t comprehend how anyone could support the policies of the Stalinist regime or Nazism. However, the economics of the two regimes held appeal to American intellectuals and business elite respectively during the 30’s while the U.S. was facing the Great Depression (the first death of Capitalism).

Today we seem to face a similar choice. The economic philosophies at the heart of government take-overs and corporate bailouts are the same as those at the foundation of state communism and state corporatism: the role of the State and the form of Property.

If the State plans and controls the economy, the end of the state is socialism. If Property plans and controls the state, the end results is corporate fascism.

The solution of conservatives is to keep the government out of the market and allow free enterprise, exchange, production, labor and prosperity to flow out from the market. This is fine and well, until Bastiat’s predatory men or Smith’s merchant class gain control of the legislative process, at which point the State becomes an arm of the Market: Corporate Fascism.

The solution of liberals is to inject the market with sufficient regulation to mitigate the effects of selfish humans seeking unrestrained self-interest. Again this seems reasonable until the government “seizes” the means and materials of production at which point the Market becomes and arm of the State: State Socialism.

Can our current concept of Property and natural tendencies of the State exist in the same society?

5 Replies to “Property and Economics: The Foundation of Politics”

  1. I think you’ve framed things in an interesting way — in effect, you’ve created a two-prong authoritarian future that has (a) the appearance of inevitability (things must turn out one way or the other, both authoritarian), and (b) the appearance of undesirability (whichever way things go, it’s bad, because authoritarian).

    I don’t agree that the two options are Nazism or Stalinism.

    Again, I think this comes down to a preoccupation with “the state.” The assumption seems to be that “the state” will inevitably and undesirably move toward authoritarianism — either fascist or Communist. But that hasn’t been the case in most of the Western world. Most of Western Europe, as well as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, etc., has moved to democratic socialism (or “social democracy”) — on the left — and is not authoritarian in any meaningful sense of the word. And the U.S. (and a few others maybe) has moved to democratic capitalism — on the right — and is likewise not authoritarian in any meaningful sense of the word. Theoretically, these systems could continue in this way, with fluctuations here and there, in one direction or another (right or left, more or less authoritarian), indefinitely — without ever becoming authoritarian fascism or Communism.

    But maybe, as a libertarian, you’re arguing that these systems ARE in fact far too authoritarian as-is. Perhaps you’re arguing that they are already far too close to fascism or Communism, as-is — and this is the inevitable, undesirable thing you’re arguing against. Is that what you’re saying?

  2. Jason,

    Your last paragraph hits it relatively closely. The potential for grabbing economic power that exists because the way property exists in the Western world is what makes me concerned for the authoritarian constructs winning out. That said, I think that the U.S. is actually closer to corporatistic authoritarianism than totalitarian socialism (although to listen to anything Right of NPR would have us believing otherwise).

    However, I see this as a slowly creeping process that needs to be checked soon or we will be too far along the road to reverse any of the power grab from the sovereign people. I just see us giving up more and more of our natural rights of freedom for more and more civil rights for security. Europe is doing it in a more socialistic fashion and the U.S. is doing it in a more corporistic fashion, but it is happening in both places.

    I think that you and I see things very similarly but with different emphasis: I want to protect freedom first and foremost, and you seem to want to protect equality and social justice first and foremost. All of those things we want are critical components of Christianity. Is there a way to have the optimum of all without having the increase the power of the governance to a degree that it negates one? That’s what I’m trying to ask.

  3. I agree with your last paragraph — we’re close on things. But I question your prioritization of “freedom” over equality, because I question what that “freedom” is FOR that you’re intent on prioritizing. I don’t see how the freedom to do harmful things should take priority over pursuit of equality. Freedom is hugely important, obviously — and I would put the freedom to do good above equality, in priorities. But I can’t justify putting the freedom to harm above equality. Libertarians (at least right-libertarians, or individualist-libertarians) want to do that, and that’s where they lose me.

  4. My libertarian leanings are more left also. I think Orwell is closest and really expresses best my concerns about the state better than anything on the right.

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