The State, Advanced Capitalism, Paleo-Capitalism, and Paleo-Private Property.

By Robert Hanna

“Portrait of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon,” by Gustave Courbet (1865)

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You can also download and read or share a .pdf of the complete text of this essay HERE.

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The State and other State-like social institutions are correctly characterized, as Max Weber pointed out, by their being social institutions that possess a territorial monopoly on the (putatively) legitimate means and use of coercion (Weber, 1994: p. 310) — but that’s only a somewhat superficial gloss that doesn’t really get at the essence of the State.

The essence of the State is that it’s a form of social organization, with territorial boundaries, that’s both authoritarian and also coercive with respect to its government, i.e., its ruling class.

The State is coercive insofar as it claims the right to compel the people living within its boundaries to heed and obey the commands and laws of the government, in order to realize the instrumental ends of the State, whether or not those commands and laws are rationally justified or morally right on independent ethical grounds.

In turn, the State is authoritarian insofar as it claims that the commands and laws issued by its government are right, and must be heeded and obeyed, just because the government says that they are right and must be heeded and obeyed, and the government possesses the power to coerce, not because those commands or laws are rationally justified and morally right on independent ethical grounds.

Here we can easily see the the fundamental parallel between what, on the one hand, in Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism, I called Statist Command Ethics (Hanna, 2018c: section 2.5), and on the other, what’s classically called Divine Command Ethics.

Divine Command Ethics says that the commands and laws issues by God are right just because God says that they are right and They also possess the power to create and destroy the world, punish with eternal damnation, and more generally cause people to do whatever They want them to do, not because those commands or laws are are rationally justified and morally right on independent ethical grounds.

Therefore, the basic objection to Statist Command Ethics is essentially the same as the basic objection to Divine Command Ethics, which is that the State’s (or God’s) commands and laws are inherently arbitrary, and fully open to the real possibility they are rationally unjustified, morally wrong, and even profoundly evil.

In turn, the complete or full-dress philosophical and political rejection of Statist Command Ethics is philosophical and political anarchism (Hanna, 2018c: parts 2–3).

Now, as James C. Scott shows in Against the Grain (Scott, 2017), States and State-like social institutions have been in existence for roughly 5300 years.

But Scott also convincingly argues, based on strong archaeological evidence, that humanity lived in various kinds of open-textured but stable social institutions — usually nomadic or semi-nomadic, involving hunting and various uses of animals, but also agrarian, involving various kinds of farming — for 4000 years prior to the emergence of the State; and that the emergence of the State and the consolidation of animal-use and farming within State boundaries, actually produced systematic slavery and livestock-associated disease with extremely high mortality rates (Scott, 2017).

Hence neither is it the case that the State ishistorically or naturally inevitable, nor is it the case that States and State-like social institutions are by any means an obvious improvement over the non-State condition of humanity.

Sharply on the contrary, the State is fully contingent and constructed-by-us, hence the State is also fully open to radical social-institutional change or revolution, devolution, deconstruction, reconstruction, and new construction; and arguably the non-State condition of humanity (including not only the pre-State condition of humanity, but also a post-State condition of humanity) is generally for the better.

Hence, the 17th century Hobbesian idea of a “war of all against all” in the “state of nature,” in which human life is inevitably “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” is nothing but a pernicious myth that’s an essential part of the hegemonic ideology of modern States and what I call an ultimate nocebo (Hanna, 2021c).

How, then, did the State come to be?

Of course, the answer to that question is hotly debated.

But here’s my own hypothesis.

There’s strong archaeological evidence that some scattered and unsystematic coercion, tribalism, warmaking, and slavery existed during the 4000-year pre-State period (Scott, 2017).

My proposal, then, is that the State derives from what was essentially a large-scale protection racket system developed by a few leading tribal warriors, whose coercive power was measured by the number of lesser warriors and slaves they controlled, with the following seven features:

(i) it relied essentially on people’s fears about imagined threats of warmaking and enslavement by other warrior-tribes, together with implicit or explicit coercive threats by the local leading tribal warrior, and

(ii) it included early versions of some specialization of tasks for some weapon-bearing lesser warriors in the same tribe who become “proto-enforcers,” together with some non-warriors who became “proto-managers,” and also, when, the earliest forms of mathematical bookeeping and writing emerged, “proto-accountants” and “proto-scribes,” whereby

(iii) the local leading tribal warriors and their “proto-enforcers” promised to “protect” all the people living within some bounded space, behind walls or borders, from what they were told were highly coercive external threats from other warrior-tribes, or non-tribal bandits, who were all presented as actual or potential “enemies” of the proto-State, such that

(iv) the “protected” people also agreed to a lesser coercive regime inside the proto-State, under the control of the local leading tribal warrior, his proto-enforcers, and his “proto-administration” (i.e., his proto-managers, proto-accountants, and proto-scribes), in return for which

(v) the “protected” people were allowed to survive, reproduce, and live strictly within those bounded spaces, provided that

(vi) they not only obeyed all the commands and laws of the government, on pain of arbitrary coercion as punishment for disobedience, but also had to

(vii) work either for the State itself or for some of the more powerful “proto-enforcers,” not as slaves per se (since an all-out slave class still existed below the “protected” people in the emerging social class-structure of the proto-State), but nevertheless still as semi-slaves of the new large-scale protection-racket system, aka the proto-State.

Interestingly, my large-scale protection-racket theory of the origin of the State was at least partially anticipated by Thomas Paine, in Common Sense, in his critique of “the evil of monarchy”:

[I]t is more than probable, that could we take off the dark covering of antiquity and trace [the present race of kings in the world] to their first rise, that we should find the first of them nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang, whose savage manners or pre-eminence in subtlety obtained him the title of chief among plunderers; and who, by increasing in power and extending his depredations, overawed the quiet and defenseless to purchase their safety by frequent contributions. (Paine, 1776: p. 7/para. 42)

To be sure, Paine is criticizing only the “absolutist” or “monarchical” State here, not all States, and certainly not democratic republics, which, sharply on the contrary he’s confidently and vigorously recommending on the grounds that he, Paine, is (self-purportedly) channeling universal human “judgments of common sense,” as per Thomas Reid and other 18th century Scottish common sense philosophers (Rosenfeld, 2008).

But what about States that are democracies, whether they’re republics or constitutional monarchies: do they actually fall outside my large-scale protection-racket theory of the origin of the State?

No; and here’s why not.

For my purposes in this essay, by “democracy”[i] I mean majoritarian-representative or classical liberal democracy, that is: democracy as the rule of the majority of all the people qualified to vote, who then hand over the control of coercive power to an elected or appointed minority, who then “solemnly swear” to protect the people from external threats (i.e., foreign enemies) and from internal threats (i.e., each other), and also to protect their “freedoms” and “rights,” so that everyone can naturally pursue their own self-interest without excessive interference, throughout their lives.

Clearly, then, just as in absolutist/monarchical States, so too in majoritarian-representative or classical liberal democracies, it’s precisely protection that’s being offered by the government as what (self-purportedly) rationally justifies their control of coercive power and its application to everyone else.

Now, assuming the existence of majoritarian-representative or classical liberal democracies, it’s nevertheless not only really possible but also sometimes actual that what’s decreed by the majority of all the people qualified to vote is in fact morally false, bad, and wrong, aka the problem of the tyranny of the majority — and indeed, that’s exactly what happened when the Nazis were elected by a majority of German voters in 1932–1933 (Wikipedia, 2021), to take only the most glaringly obvious example.

And again, assuming the existence of majoritarian-representative or classical liberal democracies, nevertheless, again, it’s not only really possible but also sometimes actual that what’s decreed by the majority of the people qualified to vote is a system in which an elected or appointed powerful minority of those people can actually override the majority, aka the problem of the tyranny of the minority — and that’s exactly what happens whenever the US Electoral College (consisting of only 538 appointed — and not elected — electors) votes to elect someone (for example, Donald Trump in 2016), who did not actually receive a majority of the popular vote, and also what happens whenever the US Supreme Court (consisting of only 9 appointed — and not elected — justices) singlehandedly determines the law for everyone.

Therefore, in view of the really possible and indeed real-world threats of the tyranny of the majority and the tyranny of the minority, then the “protection” offered by majoritarian-representative or classical liberal democracies, is essentially nothing but a newfangled, post-absolutist/monarchical species of large-scale protection-racket.

I turn now from the State to capitalism; here are some online dictionary definitions of the term capitalism:

[A]n economic, political, and social system in which property, business, and industry are privately owned, directed towards making the greatest possible profits for successful organizations and people. (Cambridge, 2021)

[A]n economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market. (Merriam-Webster, 2021)

[A]n economic system in which the factors of production are privately owned and individual owners of capital are free to make use of it as they see fit; in particular, for their own profit. In this system the market and the profit mechanism will play a major role in deciding what is to be produced, how it is to be produced, and who owns what is produced. (Oxford, 2021)

It’s not my purpose in this essay to provide a detailed critical analysis of the concept of capitalism, so, for the purposes of my argument, I’m prepared to postulate that the weak disjunction of these three definitions captures the basic features of what I’ll call advanced capitalism.

Granting that, then it’s clear (i) that the social institution of advanced capitalism emerged in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, within the larger and essentially more complex social institution of the early modern Hobbesian classical liberal nation-State (Anderson, 1974; Lachmann, 2002), and (ii) that the alienation, commodification, and wage-slavery, so famously described by Marx (Marx, 1961, 1964; Fromm, 1961), that naturally flow from advanced capitalism, are simply the early modern liberal equivalents of the fear, obedience, and semi-slavery that characterize the large-scale protection racket system of the earliest States, the proto-States.

In other words, what I’m claiming is that advanced capitalism is essentially a social-institutional sub-system within the modern State, and that advanced capitalism can be explained as a set of anthropological, historical, material, and structural complexifications and transformations of fundamental elements of modern States.

From this point of view, advanced capitalism is essentially a State sub-system for controlling human labor by controlling the means and products of production, and also for accumulating property and money far beyond what is required for the satisfaction of true human needs (for a definition of “true human needs,” see below).

But advanced capitalism is also partially and significantly grounded on the early modern classical liberal conception of “freedom” as the mutually unhindered, universal pursuit of individual egoism or self-interest.

This is the same as what, in The Doctrine of Right, Kant calls “external freedom,” namely, a mere freedom of action, guaranteeing the mutually unhindered, universal pursuit of individual egoism/self-interest, created by means of State coercion, within a civil-juridical-political society, that, because it is based on treating oneself and others merely as means to egoistic/self-interested ends, not only does not entail deep or real freedom of the will, practical freedom, or autonomy (which Kant contrastively calls “inner freedom”) but also in fact is inherently inconsistent with deep or real freedom of the will, practical freedom, or autonomy, aka inner freedom (Kant, 1996a, 1996b: pp. 132–133/Ak 6: 96–97).

Thus advanced capitalism, via its State-grounding, is not only inherently rationally unjustified and immoral from a Kantian moral point of view, by requiring the treatment of oneself and others as mere means to egoistic/self-interested ends, or as mere things, but also inherently oppressive in that it systematically violates sufficient respect for human dignity by means of a coercive security system of “enforcers” provided by the State (principally the police and the legal justice system, hence also the punishment-system, often including capital punishment, but always prisons), in order to protect the spoils of advanced capitalists, and also to keep wage-slaves from rebelling and turning into successful bandits and thieves, thereby creating an alternative economy that challenges State-grounded advanced capitalism.

So if what I’ve just claimed is correct, then the early modern liberal State and its State-provided coercive security system is also a necessary condition of advanced capitalism.

Correspondingly, the complete or full-dress rejection of the State and State-grounded advanced capitalism alike is anarcho-socialism (Hanna, 2018c: parts 1–2).

In contemporary neoliberal nation-States, the State and its State-provided coercive security system also enable the existence of a global power elite consisting of technocratic corporate advanced capitalists, and the upper echelons of the military, higher education, and the digital-technology-driven news media and social media (aka “the military-industrial-university-digital complex”), which actually controls all neoliberal State-governments, and I call The Hyper-State (Hanna, 2021).

Moroever, in contemporary neoliberal nation-States, advanced capitalism is also a hegemonic ideology according to which advanced capitalists, their managerial classes, and the supportive professional classes, as well as anyone else under advanced capitalism who is mentally enslaved to that hegemonic ideology, (i) have systematically substituted “external freedom” for “inner freedom,” and (ii) have not only deceived systematically themselves into thinking that this is authentic “freedom,” (iii) but also in the USA and elsewhere, according to that advanced pathology of advanced capitalist ideology, Right Libertarianism, have even managed a certain acme of self-deception and other-deception by hoodwinking themselves and others into thinking that they are somehow, mysteriously, anti-Statist, because they reject the social-welfare version of the nation-State and moralistically glorify the oppression of those who fall outside the system of wage-slavery and belong to the lowest economic class, the homeless and/or unemployed.

In other words, in the USA and other contemporary neoliberal nation-States, advanced capitalism has become the ultimate State system, that not only systematically self-deceives or convinces people that they are not being oppressed or constantly coerced because they’re so “free,” but also, even more astoundingly, on the Libertarian far Right, pretends that they are anti-State-ist, just because they reject the social-welfare nation-State and moralistically glorify the oppression of the lowest economic class: nice, very nice.

In any case, the 16th and 17th century Hobbesian classical liberal nation-State was the early modern social-institutional ground of early advanced capitalism, just as the post-World War II neoliberal nation-State is the late 20th century and 21st century social-institutional ground of global technocratic corporate advanced capitalism.

Thus advanced capitalism, and especially global technocratic corporate advanced capitalism, is every bit as fully contingent and constructed-by-us, and also every bit as fully open to radical social-institutional change or revolution, devolution, deconstruction, reconstruction, and new construction, by means of anarcho-socialist politics, as the State is.

Now, let’s consider what I call true human needs (Maiese and Hanna, 2019: ch. 3).

True human needs are opposed to merely self-perceived and false human needs.

It might be that someone perceives within themselves an intense need to own a certain luxury automobile, even though they already own a car that is perfectly adequate to their true human needs.

Therefore, it’s neither rationally unjustified nor immoral for us not to cater to this self-perceived and false human need.

By a diametric contrast, some true human needs are such that their active satisfaction is a necessary condition of all human dignity.

I’ll call those the first-level true human needs.

For example, among the lower-level true human needs are everyone’s needs for (i) adequate nourishment, adequate clothing, and adequate accommodation (provision), (ii) adequate physical and mental health, as sustained by adequate healthcare, (iii) adequate access to a healthy natural environment, both local and global, (iv) adequate scope for human movement and travel across the earth, (v) adequate protection from coercion by others (safety), (vi) adequate access to human communication and human interaction, and (vii) adequate primary and secondary education for the development and exercise of the innate capacities that collectively constitute human real personhood (Hanna, 2018a: chs. 6–7).

By “adequate” in each case, I mean sufficient, in view of all relevant empirically well-supported tests that also fully conform to basic moral principles of human dignity (Hanna, 2018b, 2021b).

Since satisfying these first-level true human needs is a necessary condition for human dignity, then sufficient respect for human dignity morally demands that everyone, everywhere should always have enough of whatever it takes to satisfy their first-level true human needs.

Over and above the first-level true human needs, all other true human needs are those whose satisfaction most fully conform to the absolute, nondenumerably infinite, intrinsic, objective value of human dignity (Hanna, 2021b).

Indeed, they’re humanity-realizing needs.

More precisely, the satisfaction of such needs allows people to activate and to exercise their various capacities and realize their potentiality for being autonomous, for individually flourishing, and for collectively flourishing, in ways that also are fully compatible with and fully supportive of the agential autonomy, relational autonomy, individual flourishing (i.e., personal happiness), and collective flourishing (i.e., interpersonal or social happiness) of everyone else.

I’ll call these the second-level true human needs, since (i) they presuppose the satisfaction of first-level basic human needs, (ii) their satisfaction most fully realizes the innate capacities of our human real personhood (Hanna, 2018a: chs. 6–7), and (iii) their satisfaction brings about individual and collective human flourishing.

For example, among the second-level basic needs are everyone’s needs for (i) aesthetic enjoyment of all kinds, (ii) personal relationships of all kinds, for example, families, life-partners, lovers, close friends, a wider circle of friends, comrades, etc., (iii) social and political solidarity of all kinds, (iv) free thought and free speech of all kinds, (v) creative self-expression of all kinds, (vi) meaningful work of all kinds, (vii) higher education of all kinds, and (vii) spirituality of all kinds.

Since it’s arguable that the ultimate goal, purpose, or meaning of human life is no more and no less than to pursue the satisfaction of second-level true human needs, then sufficient respect for human dignity also demands that everyone, everywhere, should always have enough of whatever it takes for them to be able to pursue their second-level true human needs (Maiese and Hanna, 2019: ch. 3).

Against the backdrop of the concept and fact of true human needs, I’ll now raise this hard question: Is every form of capitalism rationally unjustified and immoral?

By way of answering that question, I think that it’s extremely important to compare and contrast advanced capitalism, and especially neoliberal global technocratic corporate advanced capitalism — with what I’ll call paleo-capitalism, in which there’s:

(i) modest individual ownership of private property, sufficient for satisfying and sustaining people’s true human needs and individual tastes,

(ii) non-commodifying, non-exploitative, non-wage-enslaving (for example, under a larger system of truly generous universal basic income and universal basic jobs [Hanna, 2018c: sections 3.3–3.4]), eco-sensitive/sustainable, small-scale business enterprises for the production of goods and the provision of services, sufficient for satisfying and sustaining people’s true human needs and individual tastes,

(iii) modest individual profit-making accumulation of wealth, sufficient for satisfying and sustaining people’s true human needs and individual tastes, and

(iv) modest, non-commodifying, non-exploitative, non-wage-enslaving, collective profit-making and collective profit-sharing enterprises (aka cooperatives), sufficient for satisfying and sustaining workers’ true human needs and individual tastes.

Therefore, paleo-capitalism is perfectly consistent with a social-institutional system in which human labor is not only not alienating, not commodifying, not exploitative, not wage-enslaving, and non-oppressive, but in fact creative, meaningful, and sufficiently human-dignity-respecting.

Correspondingly, I do think that Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (Proudhon, 1840) — the first philosopher to call himself an “anarchist” — and Marx (Marx, 1961) correctly identified one conception of private property — namely, the classical liberal, advanced capitalist, Statist conception — and also that they were correct to see that kind of private property as antithetical to social institutions that make it really possible for everyone to satisfy their true human needs, and that sufficiently respect human dignity.

But there are other possible conceptions of private property: for example, one according to which private property is an extension of the essential embodiment of the human mind (Hanna and Maiese, 2009) and constitutes necessary personal equipment for satisfying true human needs.

I’ll call this paleo-private property.

According to my broadly Kantian nonideal dignitarian moral theory and anarcho-socialist politics (Hanna, 2018d, 2020b), everyone ought to have access to a minimally sufficient amount of paleo-private property for satisfying their true human needs; even owning a bit more paleo-private property than is minimally sufficient for satisfying your true human needs would be rationally justifiable and morally permissible; and only the ownership of so much more paleo-private property than is minimally sufficient for satisfying your true human needs that it thereby prevents some other people from having the amount of paleo-private property that’s minimally sufficient for satisfying their true human needs, would be theft (Proudhon, 1840: p. 2), rationally unjustified, and morally impermissible.

Paleo-private property, therefore, would be smoothly consistent with paleo-capitalism and also with a broadly Kantian nonideal dignitarian moral theory and anarcho-socialist politics.

I’ll conclude by noting that in the context of this essay, I intend the sub-term “paleo-“ (meaning: ancient, or pre-modern) in “paleo-capitalism” and in “paleo-private property” to be taken in an essentially social-institutional and structural sense, not a strictly historical sense.

I do think it’s really possible that during the 4000 years prior to the earliest States, some social arrangements relevantly similar to paleo-capitalism and paleo-private property existed as open-textured but stable social institutions in nomadic pre-State life (Scott, 2017).

But that’s not necessary for my argument.

All that’s necessary for my argument is that it be really possible for paleo-capitalism and paleo-private property to exist in a non-State or post-State condition of humankind.

Since the modern State is the social-institutional ground of advanced capitalism, then pure or unmixed paleo-capitalism and paleo-private property cannot exist in it.

But since impure or hybrid versions of a non-State or post-State condition can and actually do fly under the radar of the State apparatus in certain special circumstances, for example, disasters (Solnit, 2009), even in contemporary neoliberal nation-States, then it’s also really possible that impure or hybrid versions of paleo-capitalism and paleo-private property could fly under the radar of the State apparatus in certain special circumstances, even in contemporary neoliberal nation-States.[ii], [iii]

NOTES

[i] In my view, “democracy” is in fact an ambiguous term with at least three importantly distinct and indeed logically independent senses: (i)majoritarian-representative or classical liberal democracy, as per the definition in the main text, (ii) open-procedural or libertarian democracy: the open-admission, competitive process of critical discussion and critical examination of opinions and social institutions (aka “the marketplace of ideas”), and, simultaneously, the unfettered expression of radically different and mutually opposed beliefs, lifestyles and sub-cultures (aka J.S. Mill’s “experiments of living”), and (iii) ethical or emancipatory democracy: the unwavering commitments to (iiia) universal sufficient respect for the dignity of human persons, (iiib) the individual autonomy of human persons, (iiic) the relational autonomy of human persons, and (iiid) universal resistance against human oppression. To keep things relatively simple, however, I won’t discuss “democracy” in senses (ii) and (iii) in this essay.

[ii] For an extension and more concrete application of this idea, see (Hanna, 2021d).

[iii] I’m very grateful to Mark Pittenger for extremely helpful conversation and correspondence on and around the topics of this essay, and especially for drawing my attention to relevant texts in Paine’s Common Sense.

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.