The left and its project of equality can seem to have two enemies: the centrist project of liberty and the right-wing project of community. All these moral positions also seem to miss the realist emphasis on survival. But I think there is a way of having our cake and eating it — building a left-wing politics for all; a conservative civic socialism. Let me explain.
By conservative I do not mean reactionary, or anti-progress. I think one ironic route to conservatism is accelerationism, which moves to develop all the technology that can be developed in our own society. The market rules this world, but the market cannot survive without external support, and nor can it die without external opposition. The market is not a self-sufficient system, but it is a dynamic one, and one that will not give up its godlike ghost without developing all the potentialities within it.
Ultimately, the market pulls against social and political constraint and definition. Pairing economic socialism with political republicanism and social conservatism can allow a civic realism to replace the private liberalism of today. The market society we live in can give way to a true society, where the market no longer determines all our fate. Alas, such a world seems preciously distant in the age of ultracapitalism.
So let me be concrete. Capitalism, or society ruled by market forces and corresponding class relations, threatens survival by way of the triple crisis of climate change, the rise of China, and never-ending economic crises. By destabilising the distributive background against which geopolitical power rests, capitalism calls the very survival of whole states and classes into question. More importantly, our very survival as human beings is threatened by the ecological, economic, and geopolitical crises towards which capitalism tends. We must abandon this failed economic model — though it may take some time, and may require temporarily accelerating marketisation in order to let the future snap into place. Meanwhile, we must build the sociopolitical mass movement that can build a new society from the old one. The ancien régime of capitalism cannot last forever. A new world is yet possible, although only once the old one ends. But we cannot wait for the end to come. We must be ready.
Community, then, must be build on a worldwide level, as well as fractal local levels. We cannot divide systems by level of analysis. But we can build a new world from the bottom-up, top-down, and middle-out. Replacing atomisation with integration is one step. The next is to infuse community with the spirit of freedom, not slavery.
What is freedom? It is more than freedom from chains, though this is the starting point. It is less than absolute freedom to do anything at any time. There are subjective and objective constraints on freedom, crystallised in institutions we build to at once emancipate and constrain us. The total freedom of which Nietzsche dreams is not possible on a limited planet. Marx’s dream is more modest, as communism is akin to hunting and fishing without constraint of workday schedules or alienating identification with one’s work, a vision Marx outlined in the German Ideology. Nietzsche yearns for a return of warfare among city-states. Neither vision is possible. We need a worldwide architecture to project freedom on a cosmic scale. We cannot be contained as a species. We must have the real option to explore the stars, if we so wish; together, and freely.
The future I imagine is not easy to see. I do not have a definite image in mind. There are merely guidelines of what to support, and what to oppose. We should support what moves us forwards to the future, but we must also support the memory of the past and the dynamic reality (or, alternatively, fantasy) of the present. We can dialectically combine seemingly opposite values — the best of capitalism and socialism, without staying put in our present hell-world of market anarchy. We can do all this, and we can build a better world, for future generations to enjoy. They do not have to live in the world we live in. They can live in a better world. Let’s build it for them. Let’s do it for the future, the present, and the past. Let’s start now.
Disclaimer: Any similarity between names mentioned and actual individuals is purely accidental and largely theoretical. These are fun ideas to entertain but, as always, I may be mistaken. After all, what do I know?