The Centralising Axiom 2

By Chris Shaw

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The multiple debates surrounding ideology constantly devolve into simplistic concepts like capitalism and socialism, referring to each other as opposing axiomatic systems that proffer significantly different visions of the world. However, both are fundamentally centralist systems. They understand society, economy and politics as universalisable wholes that need to be integrated into a full structure of production and decision-making. For capitalism, the main axiomatic point is the profit-motive achieved through multiple avenues of capital accumulation. Markets and states are the main entry and exit points through which capital is accumulated and profit is achieved. For socialism, it is the production of value for the meeting of basic needs and necessities, providing a society of equality where political and economic cohesiveness is supposedly developed. Economic planning and social provisioning through centralised structures (usually the state but forms of global democratic planning have been theorised) are the mechanisms for this accumulation.

While supposedly in direct contradiction to each other, they share the fundamental point that they are centralist systems. They see the plurality of societal values and constructs as amenable to their main mechanisms of accumulation. As historical systems this is eminently obvious. Capitalism relies on the continuing commodification of non-capitalist structures and economies, the surplus labour provided by non-marketised populations and the ability to offload costs onto the state and the taxpayer. G.A. Cohen recognised that in a capitalist market society, the ability for exit is significantly constrained as capitalism itself is always expanding and encompassing non-capitalist relations. Socialism also relies on an ever-increasing expansion of power so as to encompass new populations into the levels of under and overproduction inherent to centralised mass-production planning.

For these ideologies, the world is mouldable to their axiomatic understandings of a politico-economic society. Thus in seeing the world today, dominated as it is by mostly capitalist and neoliberal regimes with a handful of nominally socialist countries, we see a significant opposition to the decentralisation and disaggregation of power in nearly all of them. In the most hegemonic of these regimes this is acutely true. For those who want to see genuine change away from these hegemonic ideologies, there is very little point in engaging with their false debates. Fundamentally, both accumulate and centralise power into fewer and fewer hands. Whether you be an anarchist, libertarian, traditionalist, radical, reactionary, etc. there is little point in seeing oneself as a socialist or capitalist. Rather, the axiomatic debate should instead focus on those who believe in centralised power, and those who believe it should be decentralised and confederated. To take an example, look at the transformation of the commons over the past 500 years. There was a direct centralisation of power amongst capitalist and socialist regimes when enclosing and destroying these vestiges of commonly-owned land and local knowledge because they presented a form of autonomy, a method of exit which limits the full ability to aggregate power and resources. These commons were based around traditional understandings of agricultural life and work, situated in the household and the wider community. No form of forced collectivisation or privatisation could in any way replace or monetise these values, showing precisely the oppressive nature of centralising authority.

Ground-up, human-scale communities and polities (such as the myriad of commons across the world) need to be the direction of travel amongst those opposed to centralist forces. Forms of decentralised particularism should be encouraged in favour of the centralising power of hegemonic ideologies, with politico-economic power concentrated on a human-scale. This does not mean building some grand coalition of common interests, but rather recognising the innate problems of centralised power and regimes and developing multiple forms of exit and reform that can pull power away from them. There needs to be a recognition that the world is really quite Hayekian, that information is extremely difficult to aggregate, and that in attempting to do so authority and power are further pushed into forms of oligarchy and centralism.

“Rival tribes who are simply incompatible with one another should simply have their own separatist enclaves”[1]. This Hayekian concept of the world recognises societal complexity and the diverse forms of organisation. This means these multiple “tribes” removing themselves from the pointless argumentation of centralised politics and allowing for a plurality of communities and nations that interact in an anarchic world. These enclaves need to be built interstitially in the current power structures, slowly chipping away at their authority and replacing their systems with new ones. Change in the direction of communalism, decentralisation and organic, human-scale societies won’t be met by engaging with dominant ideologies of centralised power and the regimes that represent them, but instead by building multiple avenues for exit from the current system.



  1. Yes, and this is why the inherited Christian trope of liberal groups – libertarians, socialists, anarchists – needs to be abandoned: universalism. On this most important issue, Malatesta is far better than Rothbard. MuhEthics.

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