Monday, May 4, 2020

4/12/20 Piketty “Capital & Ideology” c. p. 250

This blog has been disused for a while. Hardly anybody ever read it, so I decided to hardly ever write for it. But now I’ve decided to use it, for a while at least,  to start posting comments on things I am reading, copied from my notebooks. These are not edited, and particularly not made to function as stand-alone essays. I.e., I have not tried to paraphrase the arguments from the books that I may be discussing. The first book I’m doing this with is Thomas Piketty’s “Capital and Ideology”. Page references are to the 2020, hardcover, English language edition, published by Belknap Press.

4/12/20 Piketty “Capital & Ideology” c. p. 250

I think his “ternary” or “trifunctional” classification of societies is wrong, but not totally off, and the distinction with later “proprietarian” societies is valid. [See 4/4/20 for earlier thoughts.]

I think the target he’s aiming at is societies based on orders, that is traditionally defined, maybe divinely ordered classes of people, usually though not exclusively heritable, where the paradigmatic type of the class includes wealth (or lack thereof), status, functions (duties), and privileges. This may be more-or-less amenable to lumping into the three “estates” of the Ancien régime, certainly those divisions would have been seen as primary in Medieval Europe – but a society of the orders doesn’t end there. It also defines you as a yeoman farmer, a Roman provincial colon, a miller, a blacksmith or other artisan, a mariner, fisherman, or merchant. These roles may be 100% determined for you by inheritance, as per the edict of Diocletian, or they may be determined for you early in life, as in an urban Medieval guild apprenticeship, but once chosen, they are (at least theoretically) all-embracing, and determine all the important circumstances of your life.

Unlike the strict ternary model, the society of the orders model can maybe be pushed way, way back, even to hunter-gatherer societies, where fixed roles might be defined only by sex/gender (possibly with some “two-spirit” alternative), along with transitory roles defined by age cohort. (Of course, aristocracy is not impossible in early societies, and slaves may exist.)

In terms of “inequality regimes”, it seems to me this gives us three relevant ideologies:

  1. Society of the orders: Inequality is justified by traditional roles (maybe divinely inspired), each with its duties and privileges.
  2. Proprietarian society: Property is in principle available to all, and may increased by hard work. Property is sacrosanct: otherwise, there is no guaranteed reward for work, and society will fall apart. Property may be unequally distributed, but this is because some people work harder, or worked harder, than others, and, in any case, redistribution of property (other than by free contract) is a cure worse than the disease. Anybody who cannot get ahead by their work is lazy or incompetent, and therefore undeserving.
  3. Social democratic: The aggregate wealth of society is the product of the labor of us all, and should be shared more-or-less equally between us. People who cannot work, for some reason, should be well-cared-for by reason of our common humanity. Material things (capital) is obviously necessary for production, but the legal fiction of private ownership of that capital contributes to production not in the slightest,  and should not be allowed to exist (let alone richly rewarded). No one should be paid handsomely just for already being rich; in fact, all the capital of society should be collectively owned (socialized), and decisions as to its use made socially and democratically by all.

[Note the “social democratic” model above doesn’t specifically tie to anything Piketty has said, up to this point in the book.]

This may be controversial, but it seems to me that the main difference between what I’ve called the “social democratic” model and early Leninist communism is the addition by Lenin of vanguardism: until the people are ready to assume their full, democratic role, they must be led by a vanguard or party that has already attained the correct consciousness.

I am not distinguishing between social democracy and democratic socialism.  I do not accept that the regulated capitalism in fact accepted by many social democrats as a compromise should be allowed to redefine the term. [Although Piketty, when he gets around to talking about it, uses the redefined term.]

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