Economics/Class Relations

Capitalism: An Archaic Critique

This is the text of a presentation given to the Sydney Traditionalist Forum on 29 October 2022 by Mike Maxwell of Imperium Press, as part of the Forum’s “Quarterly Inquiry Series”.

Friedrich List, “The National System of Political Economy” (Imperium Press, 2022) [click above for more information about titles from IP]

If you’d have told me 7 or 8 years ago that I’d be delivering a speech critiquing capitalism, I wouldn’t have believed you. Back then I was a libertarian, and it’s been a long journey from there to here. Lots of other people have been on similar journeys. 2016 was a real watershed moment; you can only imagine the panic of the managerial class as the right turned away from liberalism, popular sovereignty, rule of law, constitutionalism, anti-statism—but above all, and what I want to talk to you about today, we saw the right turn away from capitalism.

But a lot has happened since 2016—most of it bad. For the man on the street, the genie is out of the bottle—he can’t unsee the blatant power politics, but increasingly the dissident right is starting to retreat back into its pre-2016 priors. It’s starting to believe that the answer to this power politics is popular sovereignty, constitutionalism, even liberalism. Above all, the right is crawling back into the warm bosom of anti-state capitalism as a knee-jerk reaction to COVID tyranny. So, the right needs, today more than ever, a serious and foundational critique of capitalism, a critique that strikes at the root. But first let’s take a short tour through the critiques that others have offered, both from the left and the right, and see what we can learn from them.

Prof. Thomas Piketty, School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences.

One critique of capitalism that used to have a lot of currency comes from social democrats — Thomas Piketty is a notable example. His book Capital in the Twenty-First Century argues that inequality is a feature of capitalism and not a bug, and that the unchecked growth of inequality threatens the democratic order. If only it did. This line of argument has more or less been abandoned since the rise of Donald Trump, because it’s quite clear that capitalism serves the aforementioned power politics by obscuring the continuum between formal power and informal power.

Another critique from the left comes from anarchists, typified by Proudhon’s polemical assertion that “property is theft.” However, this can only ever be polemic, because the concept of theft presupposes a concept of property—a rightful owner from whom something is taken. The subtext here is that ownership is governed by use—so-called usufruct property. The result is the total abolition of the concept of property, as property rights only come into question where property is not occupied—so-called absentee ownership, a redundant concept. This and the notion of usufruct were then taken up by Marx and elaborated into his own system.


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