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January 15, 2013


Adam Bell

The implication of the above, of course, is that every household having its own 3D printer will set us free.

Luis Enrique

"But this doesn't invalidate Marxism"

do you mean as theory with some insights, or as a thing to be actually implemented in the real world?

My guess is the former. Because if it's the latter then, of course, whilst you many point to how real world capitalism constrains freedom, because the state is captured by the wealthy and so forth, you may also point to how real world marxism will constrain freedom because it will also be captured by some group who will start telling people what they can and can't do. And it would them become a question of which real world system is least hostile to freedom. And we'd be stuck comparing a small historical sample to hypothetical claims about how things could be different.


So to tie it back to your previous post on 'Mooregate,' it seems that your view could be conveyed by saying that we need a politics of hope and conviction (of the good) rather than a politics of resentment (of the right). It reminds me of that Sartre thing about how rebels want to keep the world the same in order to go on rebelling against it, while revolutionaries change the world. So the non-Marxist left are the rebels: the right is an occlusion of the good. Speaking of 'hope' makes we wonder whether religious language can help make the point: rather than saying capitalist oppression is wrong (a violation of the rules), we could say it's sinful (it estranges us from the good). Makes me think of how the Victorian left, like Ruskin, were so eloquent - is this because they had religious language at their disposal?


Further association: could it be that, contra Marx, religion is not actually an opiate and that secularisation is actually in the interests of capitalism? Could Marx have existed without Christianity? It was, after all, the Enlightenment that prioritised the right over the good.


@ Luis - I meant Marxism as theory. But I wouldn't rule out the possibility of some type of socialism arising without much deliberate top-down agency - eg if hierarchical capitalist firms collapse and are supplanted by more cooperative forms.
@ David - I fear we're separated by a common language here. There's been a long debate in Marxology about whether he thought capitalism morally wrong or not. It's also doubtful how far self-actualization is right rather than good; it depends how much content you want to put into it. For example, Marx thought self-actualization consisted in doing creative, non-alienated work. This is a conception of the good, not just right. But how central is this to Marxism?
@ Adam - I'll believe in 3D printers when I can get a 2D one to work.


@ Chris - is the debate about whether he thought capitalism was morally wrong a debate about whether he was a sociologist or a moralist? That sort of question seems like a navel-gazing issue for the social sciences. Drop the fact-value divide and there's not a debate to be had (and Marx's observations on alienation can only come from sympathetic engagement; where there's sympathy there's morality).


Chris - I have responded to your kind reply in the earlier post. I hope you aren't offended by the swearing - I get the impression not.

Marxism is troubled by the central planks of the theory being incoherent bollocks. That is not to say that there aren't a few insights about power there, but really why don't you focus on these rather than trying to hang everything off an extremely dodgy overarching framework.

"They see that big illiberal government arises from capitalism." Really? And it hasn't arisen from any other isms? Is there any society which could be both industrially advanced and not tend toward big illiberal government?

I looked into Marx because I like the stuff you write here. It's core is total bollocks. Judging by the desparate waffling Marx was reduced to, he probably realised it deep down. He was shoehorning theory, driven by entirely legitimate social concerns.

Trust me on this, it's as bad as neoclassical economics.


"For these reasons, freedom requires not just that people wise up, but that the basic power relations which generate unfreedom be abolished."

Improbable? How on God's green Earth is it even possible? What does it even mean to abolish a power relation?

It means nowt. And that's your problem.


[Sorry about the grocer's' apostrophe.]


I find it quite startling that you can mention James Buchanan's public choice and then segue into discussing entire societal systems as if they were choices on the fingers of your hand!


Abolish a power relation!!!!


@ Andrew - countless power relations have been abolished: slavery, feudalism, apartheid, many dictatorships, the divine rights of kings.
I'm not saying that social systems can be chosen off the shelf. I'm just pointing out that a big reason why freedom is curtailed arises not just from malleable political preferences but from deep within our present system.
Have you read Elster, Cohen and Roemer?


who are the members of the "committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie"?


@Chris - Those are examples of changing power relations. In some instances the relation was reflected and consolidated in law or doctrine, but the underlying issue was the active or passive consent of others to support the relation.

If you are saying that freedom requires a rebalancing of power relations in favour of the currently unfree, I would say that this is a tautology.

I don't see any connection to capitalism or marxism, indeed I really don't understand how the Marx quote isn't an empty tautology. If you abolish class distinctions you won't have (interclass) political power struggles. Indeed.

I haven't read any of those authors directly. Which of them is the most intelligent and least tedious?


@geb - Indeed! It is hard to find a charitable interpretation of that idea.


“Instead, the Marxist view of the state - as a "committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie" - is much closer to James Buchanan's public choice theory than it is to the soft left's notion of the state as a tool for improving the lot of workers.”

I don’t know how well that quote represents the view of Marxists or James Buchanan; it’s pretty close to that of most US Liberals.

jon livesey

I am trying to imagine a country whose armed forces are run by a committee for managing the common affairs of defence, and how effective such armed forces would be likely to be.

When I get through with that, I will try to imagine a start-up technology company that is run by a committee for managing the common affairs of the company, and how effective that would be likely to be.

Progress is made in small steps, even in a Marxist utopia.

nick j

"Taxation is the fountain of life to the bureaucracy, the Army, the parsons and the court, in short to the whole apparatus of the Executive power. A strong government, and heavy taxes are identical."
K Marx, 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

Daniel Earwicker

Re: your Marx quote: "When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character."

What does it mean to "concentrate" something in the hands of EVERYONE?


Keep the flag flying, Chris :)


Hmm. Perhaps you could've explained this better by referring to "freedom as non-domination".

It's basically what Marx meant and is perfectly compatible with 'negative' accounts of liberty.

See eg the first five pages of this: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/republicanism/


Talking about freedom in any way but the metaphysical has always seemed to me to be nothing more than pointless bantering about how we'd like things to be nicer for us. If we define metaphysical freedom as freedom from coercion (which at least I do), and yet I still have to ensure that I can take my next breath and attain drinking water and an adequate supply of calories, then I can never really be free, i.e. of coercion.

Suffice to say, I think it's plain stupid to try and maximize something that (again, using my definition; it does seem agreeable though, doesn't it?) we can't maximize.

CNY cross country

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