Chaos: The energy, evolution, and end of capitalism

The economist Joseph Schumpeter termed the key to technological development under capitalism ‘the gales of creative destruction.’ For Schumpeter, the state plays a role in this market dynamism. This is because states compete with each other very much like corporations and classes do. All competition has the potential for conflict; and all conflict, for war and violence. In this way, death is the fundamental condition for life. Fear of death drives almost all decision-making; but this fear is self-undermining, for it leads to precisely those decisions that go against every principle of rational self-preservation. It is all well falling prey to madness; but rationality is a poor servant. Only the light of reason can illuminate the objective conditions of our subjective turmoil — the condition of capitalist development: the cycle of war and trade.

The waters of time.

War develops technology by incentivising states to adapt to the condition of external military competition. In this way external chaos forces states to impose internal order on their classes in order to mobilise for the war effort. Think about science fiction of humanity uniting against an alien threat. The same ‘dark forest’ principle applies to relations among political communities of human beings — communities termed ‘states’ in contemporary political science, dating back at least to Machiavelli and Aristotle.

Trade, meanwhile, compels classes to adapt to the condition of stifling economic competition. The chaos of war is mirrored by the chaos of trade — and the anarchy of the interstate system is equalled by the anarchy of the market. The absence of a higher power to discipline states leads to war among then. Similarly, when the state lets the market off the leash, a condition of class warfare leads to a widening gulf between rich and poor, with the middle torn betwixt these extremes. Only war can contain trade within the boundaries of the state; trade, meanwhile, leads to war by undermining the prior post-war balance of power among states and classes. War leads to peace; and peace, to war.

Under capitalism, technology is supplemented not by nominally slave labour but rather by wage labour (sometimes termed ‘wage slavery’). Instead of receiving subsistence directly from their masters, like chattel slaves, wage labourers instead receive money to purchase the means of subsistence for themselves. Freedom from chains is replaced by the ‘invisible string’ of slavery to the market system of employers and employees. Thus capitalism substitutes old feudal and slave class systems with a class system divided between capital, labour, and a middle stratum of professionals and managers of industry. The old middle stratum was capital itself, which overthrew the landed aristocracy in Europe and America between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Perhaps the new middle class seeks to replicate the bourgeois revolution in a cultural revolution to replace capitalists with woke moralists. But this seems unlikely.

More likely is a return to interstate conflict, and a pivot from global to territorial capitalism. As proxy conflict between America and China escalates, starting with Russia and Ukraine and escalating to a potentially catastrophic level in disputes in the South China Sea, capital will face a choice: leave the American anchor and submit to the authority of the Chinese government and banking system, or remain within the American alliance and back the ailing global superpower against the wannabe regional hegemon (and growing global power) of China. A cold war may erupt with discrete economic systems — both of which will be start off capitalist.

Ironically, the class systems may switch. To compete with America, China is becoming more capitalist — for instance, by lifting capital account controls in order to further internationalise the renminbi. Meanwhile, America has for some time been faced with the rhetoric of democratic socialism — where the working class is reinvigorated by the capture of one of the major parties by a ‘socialist’ candidate who successfully leads a political movement to push through policies that reduce economic inequality and increase European-style social support for workers and professionals. Of course this assumes a great deal — a viable candidate, a solid movement, and an alliance between workers, professionals, and soldiers alike to overthrow their capitalistic overlords. China, meanwhile, faces domestic turmoil and the more distant potential of a liberal-democratic or Taiping Rebellion-style Christian revolution against the atheistic ruling class.

If China and America both are transformed in the image of some form of progressive patriotic proletarianism, there is the chance of Earth-wide unity that might propel our species through the stars. But rather than Musk’s vision of plutocratic technological emancipation, a worldwide political and economic democracy united by responsive and responsible leadership may have the chance of realising Silicon Valley’s utopian visions in a way that can benefit everyone, not just the rich and powerful.

That, in the end, is the remedy to the ordered chaos of capitalism: a balance between the fallen extremes of warring states and trading classes, towards a conservative civic socialism that recognises the civil rights of all — no matter what colour or creed. Peace and freedom are compatible, but only if we accept how war and slavery have existed in a contradictory unity for so long in so many societies not unlike our own. Technology may free us from this social anarchy; but society must also be defended. The political cannot be escaped, or transcended. It can only be subject to justice in moderation, a Platonic balance between the roles we must all play to restore harmony to a chaotic world. We cannot force such a harmony. It must emerge from the world as a watery flow springs from an underground reservoir, returning to a silver sea, in the blue beyond …

Shall we begin?

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