On Left and Right, Libertarianism, and The Donald
By Keir Martland
20th September 2016
Permit me a long and rambling introduction. I spent much of August reading, and in some cases re-reading, the works of the distributists, particularly Hilaire Belloc [see my short essay on The Servile State]. The way distributism is often presented is as a “third way” between socialism and the current economic order. I say “the current economic order” because we don’t have laissez-faire capitalism and we are far from it. Rather, what we have is a dirty mixture somewhere between state control and state-privileged corporate control of the means of production and much else, which some call crony capitalism or corporatism.
Distributists like the great Joseph Pearce argue that both socialism and “capitalism” are forms of proletarianism, the former by political means and the latter by economic means.
Now, to make myself clear from the outset: I am not a distributist. While very sympathetic to their general outlook and their analysis of the current economic order – and who can argue with their vision of an ideal economy and society, being one based on independence and the widespread ownership of capital? – I wince at their tendency to sound openly anti-market. Indeed, rather than making a strictly libertarian case against state-privileged big business, which is made by the likes of Kevin Carson, some distributists instead can tend to favour big government almost as an end in itself. Rather than recognising that, while “small is beautiful”, some firms can grow large naturally, they seem to endorse coercion against all firms above a certain size whereas the libertarian answer to this question is just to remove state privilege. Some big businesses will undoubtedly suffer, but some will survive. But what my reading made me think about was something along the lines of “the third way.” I will return to this idea later in the essay.
As a further set of introductory remarks, I should make it clear that I do not at all buy into the Whig interpretation of history, and especially not Fukuyama’s End of History hypothesis, whose truth has until recently been almost universally accepted.
According to Fukuyama, beloved of Irving Kristol incidentally, Western (and often imperialist) “liberal democracy” has won the struggle for humanity. Liberal democracy is the end-point and we can “progress” no further beyond it. Therefore, the lessons of history have no relevance to the 21st century, and we are more politically “advanced” today than ever before. In the same way scientific knowledge is accumulated over time, with erroneous views discarded and useful theories retained, so too has our knowledge of how to run a society progressed through the ages. Like a student at one of the new universities, we have had indiscriminate sex with all manner of persons. Some gave us a dose of the clap while some didn’t. Now we are in our thirties and we are settling down, having met “The One.” Miss Right happens to be liberal democracy and we are happy to stick with her “till death us do part.”