What is the Ruling Class? Reply

An excellent general introduction to class theory from an anti-statist perspective.

By Sean Gabb

In delivering this speech, I make no pretence to originality of thought. Everything I am saying today has been said already – usually better, and always in greater detail – by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, by Roderick Long, by Kevin Carson, by Christian Michel, and by many others. If I can contribute anything to the libertarian analysis of class, it is brevity alone. 

Libertarians often define a ruling class as that group of politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, businessmen, therapists, educators and media people who derive income and position from the State. By definition, so far as such people operate as members of a ruling class, they are parasitic on the efforts of ordinary people. Their position comes from forcing others to act as they would not freely choose, or by excluding them from activities they might freely choose. Their income is based on forced transfers of wealth.

The size and activities of a ruling class will be determined by the physical resources it can extract from the people, by the amount of force it can use against them, and by the nature and acceptance of the ideology that legitimises its existence. None of these determinants by itself will be decisive, but each is a necessary factor. Change any one, and the working of the other two will be limited or wholly checked.

Of these determinants, the ideological are the most open to control and change. In the short term, resources are fixed in quantity. At any time, the amount of force available will be limited. What will always interest ruling classes, therefore, is the nature and acceptance of its legitimising ideology. This will vary according to circumstances that are not fully within the control of any ruling class. It may involve averting the Divine Wrath, or promoting acceptance of the True Faith, or protecting the nation from external or external enemies, or raising the condition of the poor, or making us healthier, or saving the planet from us. The claims of the ideology may, in other times and places, seem unfounded or insane. What they generally have in common is the need for an active state directed by the right sort of people.

Since the function of these ideologies is to justify theft or murder or both, they need to be promoted by endless repetition – which is a valid form of argument if truth is less important than winning – and by at least the discouragement of dissent. Efficient promotion will produce a discourse – this being the acceptance of a language and of habits of thought in which dissent cannot be expressed without also conceding its immorality. Efficient promotion will also produce a state of almost universal false consciousness – in which ordinary people are brought to accept ideological claims as true that are opposed to their own interests as these might be reasonably considered.

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