Right and left, Hierarchy and Equality

We must tame market power precisely because hierarchies are inevitable in human affairs. The post Right and Left, Hierarchy and Equality appeared first on The American Conservative.

My new book, Tyranny, Inc., sent libertarians doctrinaires into a predictable apoplexy, leading them to accuse that I wrote a Marxist pamphlet. This is what you would expect from a right-winger with a limited mental horizon. In a refreshing contrast, left-leaning academics such as Jodi Dean and Chris Cutrone have offered the sharpest takes. Colin Bradley has offered some of the most sharply argued views. They correctly note that the book is a deeply conservative political and economic project.

The book is about the coercion we face in the private sector. I report on the crises by presenting reported stories. Some of these include: workers who are unable to have a stable family life due to wage and schedule precarity, others who accept total surveillance under shockingly one-sided agreements of employment; others whose grievances are corralled in private arbitration “courts” where corporations determine the rules and expenses create an insurmountable barrier for justice; the destruction by Wall Street asset strippers of once successful firms; the coercive Privatization of common services like firefight


Because our dominant economic ideology views these areas of life as “private”, we are often unable to challenge what happens there, either at the polling station or in court. In this way, our system immobilizes economic power by separating it from democratic give and take, legal due procedure, public accountability, or any other ideals that we associate with decent political order. I would argue that all of this has led to a system of private tyranny.

In the second part of the book I propose a solution for the problem of private tyranny based on the American tradition. In the early 20th century, market-based coercion plagued American society. It still does today. Political leaders from both parties, including Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson as well as Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, responded by promoting reforms to bring the market system more under political control.

The reformers gave workers and consumers the power to respond to coercion from more powerful players on the opposite side of the market with what John Kenneth Galbraith, a Canadian-American economist, called Countervailing Power. So, for example, government-backed electric co-ops empowered customers in comparison to utilities and government-promoted bargaining collectively empowered employees in comparison to employers. So on.

This led to the “thirty golden years” following World War II. A period of immense prosperity for all and relative equality in terms of material wealth. This period is responsible for many of the features of working-class living, such as discretionary income, regular holidays, defined-benefit pension plans, and other benefits which are increasingly difficult to obtain.

Neoliberals and economists attacked these achievements from the start. They called themselves individualists, but later became known as “neoliberals”. These thinkers — F.A. Hayek Milton Friedman Ludwig von Mises – for these thinkers, there was no difference between the economic reformers of the West, who attempted to amelioratethe crises, inequalities, and injustices bred by the market society on the one hand, and the revolutionaries, who wanted to abolishthe system as a whole and replace it with an utopian classless society on the other. These figures were considered fringe for much of postwar history. If you were an responsible business leader or politician, then socially managed capitalism, where government, corporations and labor coordinate economic activity to the benefit of all, was the only game in town.

Modern conservatism as we know is a result of neoliberalism’s revolt against New Deal, a trend that became increasingly mainstream during the 1970s and 1980s. There were other conservative traditions that did not see things in the same way as the neoliberals. The Eisenhower-Nixon Tradition, as I call it, is the most prominent expression of the meliorist and class-compromise tendencies on the U.S. Right. Both presidents accepted the New Deal but extended its logic in other directions while in office.

Many non-Marxists, including Orestes B. Brownson, Benjamin Disraeli, and Orestes C. Disraeli, in the 19th century in America, saw that class-based economics was necessary for conservative reasons. Galbraith, John Maynard Keynes and even the Marxists can be viewed in a similar light. These men embraced the political economy of compromise between classes to protect the things they valued from the volatile market and to avoid the revolutionary turmoil that would be bred by extreme inequality.

They are based on the recognition that hierarchies will always exist in human affairs. They also recognize that class-compromise policies tend to be conservative. The class-compromise politics are based on a recognition that hierarchy is inevitable in human affairs. Attempts to abolish inequality will either result in chaos, or more likely new and monstrous hierarchies.

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