Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Drs. Noam Chomsky, Eric Nelson, and ...

Me Trying Better to Understand the "Economic Egalitarianism" of the European Hebraic republicans and tensions within the synthesis of American originalism. 

We live in a world where we must define terms to understand reality. All terms are socially constructed. But where I differ from the followers of Michel Foucault (et al.) is, I believe in ultimate underlying objective reality. They would argue there is no such thing, that everything is a social construct imposed by power. I, conversely, believe such socially constructed terms are useful and better when they more accurately “get at” the objective reality that lies underneath.

Dr. Noam Chomsky, brilliant, who has done groundbreaking work in the field of (appropriately enough for the introduction to this post) linguistics, is, as far as I can tell, a "democratic-socialist." He believes in democracy and civil rights, but not capitalism and markets. But, interestingly enough, he doesn’t call himself a “democratic-socialist.” I call him that because that’s what he appears to me to be. Rather, he calls himself an “anarcho-syndicalist.” Alas, such term has not stuck.

I don't agree with Chomsky's ideal vision of "geopolitics." When he engages the issue, though not a lawyer, he notoriously uses his brilliant mind to selectively focus on certain details supporting his narrative while ignoring everything else. That is, he's great at making law office arguments.

But I do read his work, because I learn much from him. For instance, while exploring Dr. Eric Nelson's groundbreaking work on the European Hebraic republicans and pondering how they "fit" in Dr. Bernard Bailyn's paradigm of originalism (that certain key influential ideological forces were in tension with one another, but ultimately presented as harmonized by American Whigs) I concluded that Chomsky had already anticipated my understanding of Dr. Nelson's thesis.

I remember reading something from Chomsky where he applauded the economic ideals of among others, Thomas Jefferson, while harshly criticizing those of James Madison.

Like notable scholars of the Anglo-European tradition of "republicanism" have concluded, such tradition argued for what might be termed "economic egalitarianism." They were economic wealth limiters and redistributors. This relates chiefly to the republicans' support for agrarian laws. Jefferson among many others supported such. So too did the Ancient Greeks. But not the Ancient Romans.

This is what Dr. Nelson argues. As he wrote:
It is a measure of [James] Harrington’s remarkable influence that, from 1660 onwards, agrarian laws would remain permanently at the center of republican political thought. Writers from Montesquieu to Rousseau, and from Jefferson to Tocqueville, would regard it as axiomatic that republics ought to legislate limits on private ownership in order to realize a particular vision of civic life.
Harrington, author of Oceana, a key figure of the British Whig opposition "republicans," argued the Ancient Hebrews 1. had a "republic," 2. with wealth leveling economic principles that constituted the earliest agrarian laws. Therefore, all republics ought to adopt agrarian laws where "the state should coercively maintain an egalitarian distribution of property[.]"  Harrington relied on the scholarship of earlier European contemporaries from among other places the Netherlands and Italy who initiated this understanding. This is why I refer to these figures as "European Hebraic republicans" as opposed to strictly identifying Great Britain.

Read the results of this search engine to see Chomsky's various writings on the matter. 

Why was Madison, according to Chomsky, the chief villain? He rejected agrarian laws as policy for America and his vision prevailed over the many others, part of America's Founding ideological stew, who hoped for such. This was a victory of (classical) "liberalism" over "republicanism."

But, as alluded to, both liberalism and republicanism were part of the ideological stew. In addition to Jefferson, Chomsky enlists Adam Smith and Aristotle -- both certainly important to America's Founding vision -- as economic egalitarians (contra Madison).

I don't know enough detail on Smith's writings to see why Chomsky would place him with the republican levelers. Likewise, Nelson notes that whereas Cicero argued for "property rights" along the lines of what present day supporters of laissez faire might endorse, the Ancient Greeks supported agrarian laws, and consequently, economic egalitarianism. Though, Nelson turns to among others Plutarch and Plato, not Aristotle to support his thesis.

So, Nelson asserts Harrington argued a thesis that was both biblical and Platoic in order to support agrarian economic egalitarianism. (Later economic egalitarians like Rousseau may have focused more on the philosophical, i.e., Platonic elements, than the biblical ones, though Rousseau still claimed to be a "Christian.") 

Next, let's explore what "economic egalitarianism" means. In previous posts, I used the terms "proto-Marxist" and "proto-Rawlsian" attempting to describe such. Presently, hyperbole dominates contemporary political discourse. For free market purists, there is a tendency to categorize someone to one's economic left as a "socialist." For instance, Ludwig von Mises purportedly termed among others Milton Friedman (the eyewitness to this account) and Frederic Hayek "socialists" because they were willing to put up with slightly more statism than he was.

Likewise, if "Marxism" is understood necessarily to include the abolition of private property, the European Hebraic republicans cannot properly be termed "proto-Marxist." Others, however, have a "looser" understanding for "Marxism." But I named Rawls in my attempt to understand this era's "economic egalitarianism" as an alternative. 

Nelson briefly mentions Rawls but doesn't explore deeper because, though an "economic egalitarian," Rawls' ideal of justice accepts, in principle, the possible existence of a degree of economic inequality the European Hebraic republicans would not. As Nelson notes:
Even John Rawls, however strongly he might reject the perspective of his more libertarian critics, nonetheless insists that inequality per se is not inconsistent with the principles of justice. On his view, as long as the position of the least well-off social group is improved under a particular economic arrangement, it does not matter that the arrangement in question might improve the situation of the most fortunate to a greater degree. The only relevant question is whether some rival scheme might be envisioned that would make the least advantaged even better off; if so, the latter would be preferred even if it would result in greater inequality.
Below I focus on what I see as Nelson's clearest attempt to describe the economic vision of his Hebraic republicans:
European political theory had been dominated by the unequal contest between two views of property: one which saw the protection of private property as the central obligation of the state, and another which saw the abolition of private property as the ultimate salvation of mankind. Cunaeus’s innocuous semantic move in 1617 had opened up a “third way”—one which remains central to modern political thought and practice. Republican political theory would now embrace neither the protection nor the abolition of private property, but rather its redistribution. The coercive power of the state would be used to impose limits on private wealth, and to generate a roughly egalitarian diffusion of property throughout the commonwealth.
The bold is mine. So this isn't "pure" Marxism which would seek to abolish private property. Neither is it laissez faire capitalism which sees state protection of private property as central. The "third way" is a term and policy Tony Blair and Bill Clinton established and supported, the kind of capitalism that dominates geopolitics post 11/09/89. The kind of capitalism that "Ended History" according to Francis Fukuyama.

Indeed, as the Amazon page to Nelson's book describes:
Nelson demonstrates that central features of modern political thought emerged from an attempt to emulate a constitution designed by God.
Again the bold is mine.

What I conclude from this study is that whereas the "liberal" view of economics, something closer to laissez faire capitalism, prevailed during the American Founding (i.e., Madison's vision) today's modified form of capitalism that engages in more economic redistribution arguably can be traced to the vision of these European Hebraic republicans like James Harrington and figures from or related to the American Founding who supported agrarian laws. 


Tom Van Dyke said...

Why was Madison, according to Chomsky, the chief villain? He rejected agrarian laws as policy for America and his vision prevailed over the many others

Right on.

Providing for the poor is Christian charity. "Economic egalitarianism" is the secular perversion of it.

Mrs. Webfoot said...

Rather, he [Chomsky] calls himself an “anarcho-syndicalist.” >>>>

Sounds IWW.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Great guess. Chomsky is a current member.



As for "agrarian theory," it is important to remember that as an actual political and economic theorist, like Noam Chomsky, Thomas Jefferson was full of shit.


Tom Van Dyke said...

p 46