Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Almost there...

Bruce Webb lays out some clear, but little known, facts about Reactionary politics:
When we talk about a Reactionary today we generally mean nothing more than 'very Conservative'. But the term has a specific historical reference, it describes those who lined up behind the forces of Reaction in the years on either side of the nineteenth century. This Reaction was to specific events, notably the American and French Revolutions which were perceived, and rightly, as being systemic risks to the political, economic, and religious structure of society as it existed, not just to crowned monarchs (though Louis XVI showed that had to be taken into consideration), but to the aristocracy, the merchant and industrial class, and to the landowners. The key point to understand is that for the original Reactionaries 'Democracy' was quite literally a dirty word, it was considered and called 'Mob Rule'. Then further consider that the forces of Reaction did not at all believe that 'All Men are Created Equal' and rejected all three parts of the French slogan 'Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite', at least as they pertained to the working class in relation to them....

Which leads to the second point. In nineteenth century it was nearly impossible to draw any kind of clear lines between the drives for universal franchise, for the right to organize and bargain collectively, and for socialism. Indeed when the British Labour Party came into being at the end of the century it was organized specifically on all three lines.
All excellent points. I would add that today, even very conservative Conservatives are not Reactionary. I don't hear any calls to disenfranchise women, or to re-institute slavery. Infact, today's conservative Conservatives are the Progressives of the 1930s, and mere Conservatives are the Progressives of the 1950s. "Mainstream" is the Progressives of the 1960s. The trend is quite clear, as is the fact that Reaction, as a political position, has been utterly eradicated. So at this point, Bruce loses the plot a little:
Which leads to two questions. One was the classical economics stemming from Adam Smith shaped by the fact that its practitioners by and large lived in a society where exclusive privilege was a societal norm and where democracy was seen as an existential threat to that society? Two can the continued hostility to Social Security be explained as a simple continuation of a politics and an economics formed within a framework of Reaction?
His first point is a historical question, and although he thinks the answer is "yes" it is, in fact "no". Economics is called the dismal science because arch-Reactionary Thomas Carlyle, rightly, noted that it supported things like freedom of slaves, giving men the right to vote, and then ultimately, giving women the right to vote. He felt that all of these developments would be disasters. So "classical economics stemming from Adam Smith" was shaped by the fact that its practitioners by and large lived in a society where exclusive privilege was a society norm and where democracy was seen as an existential threat to that society and was working, along with other Progressive ideas, to bring about that very extinction. A task that was completed entirely successfully.

This fact answer's Bruce's second question, economists opposition to SS is not a continuation of Reaction politics as economists, really, are not at all Reactionary (although they may be conservative, or even Conservative). Also given the success of Reaction, conservatism, and Converatism over the past 200 years, SS in it's current, highly Progressive form, is not going anywhere.

Although economics today is scene as a force working on the side of conservatism, it began its life firmly on the side of Progressivism. The fact that Bruce sees classical economics as being Conservative tells us nothing about the origin of classical economics, and everything about how today's Progressives are much much more Progressive than yesterday's Progressive.


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