Thursday, April 2, 2009

Too Cool For Rule

These annual economic meetings of international groups such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the G20 are now well established holidays for the world wide coalition of free lance protesters, thrashers for hire, soccer hooligans, the permanently unemployed, larking college students, Euro trash, and professional anarchists that have become a reliable part of the festivities. In prior centuries these same types would have been on pilgrimage to some holy site or on some crusade or other. True believers, in Eric Hoffer's taxonomy.

But actually, these people seem to be several intellectual and moral rungs lower than the people Hoffer analysed, or for that matter, most of the simple medieval souls hoping to cleanse themselves of guilt by trudging cross country to adore some relic or attempting to repulse the Turk. For what animates these latter day believers is actually anti-belief or nihilism. The activists among them, as opposed to those showing up mainly to show off on twitter, are self-acknowledged anarchists, who claim to deny all authority and structure of any kind. This is the very definition of "idiot", as its Greek root, idios, indicates. An idios is a person unable--to be unwilling would have been unthinkable to a Greek--to participate in the political order. Anarchy, as the alpha privitive, a, and arche, rule, indicate in the Greek, is "no rule."

For events limited in time, "anarchy" suits as a descriptor well enough. But masquerading as a political philosophy it is closer to a bad joke. Only for a pampered, self absorbed, narcissistic generation well enough off to travel the continent chasing these events could it pass for a political stance. These are people who have known very little of the suffering this world is capable of dispensing--they are naifs, despite their self image as sophisticates or cosmopolites.

Take for instance this example of a policy idea flowing from anarchism. Abolish money. I wonder how long the committee worked on that one. Oh, wait. There are no committees in anarchism--no structure or authority, remember? Must have been a lone wolf, working under his own authority. But the idea certainly caught on, as the crowd was heard chanting it as one of their main suggestions to the gathered dignitaries and functionaries of the world's top governments. (Bank of London employees were seen taunting them with 10 pound notes out the windows). It might be that the Pauline remonstrance on the love of money being the root of evil lingers on as a sort of race memory, the dying echo of a culturally Christian Europe; more likely it is what passes for thought among thoughtless people.

I will grant them this however: the notion of no money is consistent with anarchism. What these lunatics are actually demanding without knowing it is a return to the state of nature, that pre-political state of affairs where each man fends for himself because there is no organized political order. Thoughtful people, when they speculate about such a time, realize with Locke that there could have been no considerable amount time spent that way because of the danger from men unrestrained by law or force. Hobbes' famous description captures it best--the life of man in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Every man realizes that alone he is at his most vulnerable; association and cooperation is the only way to survive. Locke has the invention of money coming just prior to the invention of government in his rational reconstruction of pre-history because he knew the invention of money was a social necessity, and does not need government planning to implement. So, even if a non-political or apolitical state of affairs could be imagined, money in some form would still be necessary in order to prevent the solitary and poor scenario. Most of what is necessary to bare existence is of short duration and, unless you live on a tropical island paradise, is difficult to obtain. The idea of exchange, the division of labor, and some medium to facilitate exchange are the first ideas to raise men from the Hobbesian nightmare of the bellum omnium contra omnes--the war of all against all--and into primitive pre-political cooperatives of the sort these Euro slackers seem to have in mind. But even the Stonehenge builders, whom many of these revelers surely worship, knew anarchism of the sort contemplated here was out of the question, and most certainly had some concept of money equal to their astronomy and engineering prowess.

Maybe the lingering race memory guiding our little tantrum-throwers is not of St Paul but of St Marx, he of the withering away of the state, and of changed human nature that makes it possible
"to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming a hunter, a fisherman, shepherd, or critic." (from The German Ideology.)

Or without ever growing up either. This is the fantasy world where everyone produces according to his ability, and consumes according to his need. And all of it done without the greed and inhumanity of capitalists or money. John Maynard Keynes was right; every age is ruled by some long dead economist or philosopher.

Why couldn't ours be Adam Smith instead of Karl Marx?

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