Taking Socialism Seriously
In a master/slave world there is no right or wrong. There are the strong and the weak (the rich and the poor). Socialism sees the world through the prism of master/slave. From this vantage point "truth" is synonymous with "power." Socialists claim to be able to use that power, by making the state the locus of authority, to bring about justice and peace. To borrow a phrase appropriate to the occasion, let's descend to this "low but solid ground" and take socialism seriously. There is a way, using the master/slave logic of the left, to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate political power.
These two positions are the pillars of leftist thinking:
(1) an "objective" or fair government, and
(2) justice through full equality.
The second pillar (justice) can be split into a complimentary pair of concepts:
2a) Equality before the law, and
2b) (approximate) economic equivalence.
If a leftist thinking person is sincere in his or her support of these aims, notice how much this person shares with conservatism. Conservatives also want (1) an objective, accountable, government and they demand (2a) equality before the law.
The difference between a sincere socialist and a genuine conservative is that the socialist's goals depends upon the existence of
(1) an objectively ruled and judicially unbiased state
(2a) to establish and enforce legal equality, and
(2b) to ensure economic equivalence -- i.e., to "spread the wealth."
The conservative position on (2b) is that economics is not a zero sum game; wealth is not shared -- it is created and then voluntarily transferred. Government intervention will almost always favor the benefactors of the persons currently in power. Conservatives desire objective or fair legislation and the transparent administration of the law (1) as do all decent people. But, like the Founding Fathers, conservatives are skeptical that this goal can be achieved and sustained.
In order to understand and use the Hegelian/Marxist logic of the left, one must first take these socialist objectives seriously. In fact, one must take socialist aspirations more seriously than many on the left take those goals. Here are current examples of (1) and (2b): First, President Obama's promise of transparency in government was a pledge -- attractive to the left, to moderates, and to conservatives -- for "objective" governing. Clearly, Obama has not kept his principal campaign promise. By no rational measure is "accountability" (1) a characteristic of the Obama administration. Second, Obama's stated (socialist) desire to "spread the wealth" (2b) has not been achieved -- at least not in a fashion that satisfies the aims of the left. If anything, Obama has continued the policy of the presidents who preceded him -- to spread the wealth to his well-heeled political supporters not to the poor and the middle-class.
The reason for the disagreement between the socialist and the conservative is the socialist's acceptance of a master/slave world. Power in this world is wealth-based or economic. According to the socialist, in the modern world the masters and slaves are, respectively, the rich and the poor. An economy based on capital is, from a socialist's view, the struggle between the haves and the have-nots. (Thus, the OWS's protests and claims to be members of the "99.")
The French philosopher Alexandre Kojève left an honest presentation of human existence as the struggle between the rich and the poor. His proposed resolution of class conflict in his Outline of a Phenomenology of Droit is a tour de force of reason.[i] Using the logic of master/slave, Kojève demonstrates that the left must abandon class warfare and rise above it's own master/slave logic -- if the left is sincere in achieving the goals (1, 2a, 2b) outlined above. Kojève was a candid communist.[ii] I will review each of the pillars of socialism, as Kojève saw them, beginning with justice (2a and 2b). For reasons that will become clear, "objective" rule (1) will be discussed last.
According to Kojève, equality before the law (2a) reflects the right of the master or the aristocrat:
The Master does not "recognize" the Slave because he [the Slave] refuses to risk his life in the struggle for recognition. [But] if the Slave resumes the Struggle by accepting the risk, he ceases to be a Slave (in order to become a Citizen -- in potentiality). ...[The] situation will be "just" from the aristocratic point of view, for the conditions (of the risk) will again be equal. ... Aristocratic law, to the extent that it is a civil right, is a right of property.... [Emphases added. Page 241 and 246.][iii]
There are two points that need emphasis: First, equality before the law (2a) is based on risk. The masters (in our day, the wealthy) need a level playing field. Second, the purpose of "aristocratic" law is not to assuage or placate the poor (although politicians will claim that is their motivation in passing these laws) -- but to protect and distinguish one master's property, businesses, etc., using the force of law from the other (rich) masters' holdings. The stimulus packages passed by the Congress in the last several years are examples of the law of the master. The government scrambled to save the property of the rich.
There is a possible "bonus" of justice inherent in equality before the law (2a). This form of equality potentially lowers the legal (not economic) barrier between the rich and poor. If both the rich and the poor are forced to play by the same rules, the poor have a chance.
However, there is an assumption lurking in Kojève's argument.[iv] (This assumption will eventually lead to a startling conclusion so it needs to be raised, somewhat prematurely, here.) Say rich party A and poor party B are involved in a legal dispute.[v] For justice to prevail, an objective third party C is needed to decide the issue. [Pp. 137-8.][vi] As Kojève notes, without an objective third party with the power to enforce a settlement, disputes between two parties will always revert to some form of a master/slave confrontation and the possibility of perpetual revolution. The weaker party will be coerced, by violence, subterfuge, etc., to acquiesce to the stronger. For example, the stimulus packages demonstrate the absence of justice when an objective third party is lacking. The money from these stimuli has not gone to the poor or middle class. The reverse is true. The political rhetoric in favor of these programs notwithstanding, money was taken from the middle class and given to the rich.
Later we will examine the crucial point of how to determine the objectivity of this third party. For now it is sufficient to understand that there are no rights without an intervening third:
[Rights] cannot be revealed to man without him noticing or postulating a disinterested intervention of a third [party]. In other words, this intervention is a necessary or "essential" constitutive element of the phenomenon of "rights." [P. 39.]
This is a stunning conclusion -- given that Kojève was a devout Marxist. Once the possibility of an objective third party is recognized, revolution no longer leads to justice (since the basic definition of the right of citizenship -- legal equality -- has been established). This was true from the moment equality before the law (2a) appeared and attempts were made to enforce this "aristocratic" law by an objective third party. For Kojève, aristocratic law (the law of the master) opened the door for the evolution of "slave law" or, what he also calls "bourgeois rights."
From the perspective of the slave (the poor), equality before the law does not amount to much. What the slave desires is equivalence. [Section 42, starting at p. 251.] This is an amorphous concept so let's begin with an (imperfect) example: In most societies, it was a crime to murder a slave. So, in some circumstances, slaves were "equal" to their masters before the law. But a slave's rights were severely limited because a slave was property.
Slave rights are radically different from master rights. The slave cannot achieve equivalence by becoming a master -- this path is circular and leads to perpetual revolution. (Slaves revolt to become masters of slaves who revolt to become masters, etc.) The goal of the slave is not to become a master. The goal of the slave is to negate the right of private property -- thus freeing the slave who is property. "Bourgeois [slave] law is in principle hostile to property (in the strong and proper sense of [property])...." Since property "is effectively an integral element of Mastery," under slave law property is replaced by a "social contract." [Pp. 247 and 261.][vii]
Property disappears under slave law, and we all lived happily ever after in a socialist paradise. Except reality establishes that this socialist social contract is inherently unstable. Kojève puts it this way:
[There] is an exchange between A and B -- that is ... relations which can be drawn up in a juridical contract. But if the statuses of A and B are justified by this contract, they are juridically valid only as long as the latter [statuses = the agreed equivalence of property between A and B] are valid. [Emphasis added. P. 261.]
In short, even given economic equivalence, circumstances can change. Example: We live in an OWS world where everything (except iPads) is held in common. Comrade A discovers a cache of gold nuggets in a shared stream that runs through the community. Comrade B finds out about the nuggets. The (property) status between A and B has significantly changed. B is not happy about A's new wealth. More important, the social contract of economic equivalence (2b) between A and B has been radically transformed by A's discovery and possession of the community's gold.
There is a need for an objective party C to resolve this change in status. In fact, as we saw above, there are no rights without the participation of a third party.[viii] Now, according to Kojève, and to every other sincere socialist, C is the state. And, in order for C's resolution of the new situation between A and B to be just, the state must be neutral. [Section 58, starting at p. 327.]
Kojève was a communist. In order for the state to be objectively neutral and truly just in every judgment, a one-world government is required. [P. 398.] All human beings must be subject to the decision of C. (Say that the stream marked the border between two countries. B is a citizen of one country and A is a citizen of another. B has no recourse to challenge the "injustice" of A's new status [greater wealth] unless B can appeal to the universal and homogenous state.)
There is no separation of powers in this one-world government. We need one objective party C -- not a slew of competing judges, legislators, and executives. But this means, more than ever, we need a standard for objectivity. There is no appeal from the final authority of the universal state.
Let us assume that there is one person acting as governor for this one-world state. How do we determine if the governor is acting as an impartial third party or if he is acting from personal interest? According to Kojève there is one, and only one, way to determine if the governor has acted as a disinterested third party:
Now it is clear that one cannot rule [decide]...by scrutinizing the intention of the Governor, if only because he may be acting "in good faith" -- that is, he can be mistaken in his intentions and believe that he is acting as a citizen in the name of the state. One must have an objective criterion. And this criterion is given by the Constitution.... If the Governor acted at odds with the Constitution, this means he acted as an imposter, according to personal interests.... [P. 339]
If a communist can figure out that only adherence to the Constitution can reveal the basis for an objective third party -- and thus pave the way for justice -- why is it so hard for our politicians to reach the same conclusion?
Larrey Anderson is a writer, philosopher, and Senior Editor for American Thinker. He is the author of the award-winning novel, The Order of the Beloved.
[i] I have used the very good English translation by Frost and Howse, published by Rowman & Littlefield, in 2000. All page numbers are from this translation. "Droit" means both "law" and "right" in French. The translators, wisely, did not translate "droit" -- allowing the reader to determine if Kojève meant a "right" or a "law" depending upon the context. When the word "droit" appears in a citation, I will choose either "right" or "law" since the quotes are not long enough to establish a context for the reader.
[ii] On the surface, Kojève appears to have been a recipe for a living contradiction -- until his devotion to the ideals of socialism is added to the mix. A brilliant writer, Kojève published little of his work. (His most famous book, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, consists of notes kept by Raymond Queneau from a series of Kojève's lectures on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Kojève's magnum opus on the law, Outline of a Phenomenology of Droit, was published posthumously. Kojève's remarkable, and idiosyncratic, work on Immanuel Kant, titled Kant, has not been translated into English. It was also published after his death.) Although he was a world-class genius, Kojève's professional life was spent as a bureaucrat in the French government. He worked, behind the scenes, to bring about what he called "the universal and homogenous state" -- a one-world government. He died in 1968 shortly after delivering a lecture in Brussels to the European Economic Community. In his public role, Kojève helped establish the European Union -- a practical first step towards his goal of a universal state.
[iii] It follows, and Kojève points out, that "aristocratic" rights arise initially as criminal law. "Law of Masters" protects the right to hold property. Taking property illegally is a criminal act.
[iv] Kojève integrates this assumption into his argument. I do not have the space to explain Kojève's "dialectical" procedure. Suffice it to say that the initial argument merges with the one that follows. This leads to a new third argument that merges with a fourth, etc.
[v] Relative wealth does not matter. Legal equality is an equal stand before the law -- regardless of wealth.
[vi] Here Kojève breaks with the Hegelian/Marxist tradition (and with the populist, lightweight, neo-Marxism of Alinsky and Cloward/Pivens).
[vii] As an aside, it follows that "by replacing the principle of status [property ownership] with that of contract, bourgeois [slave] law declares itself hostile to the principle of the right of inheritance." [P. 261.]
[viii] Although Kojève does not give him credit, Adam Smith was the first philosopher to attempt to fully explain the need for an objective third party in moral decisions and in jurisprudence. See Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.