Friday, February 8, 2013

On the Two-Fold Base of Power in the Democratic State

One of the interesting parallels between various strands of Marxism and libertarianism is a focus on reading into formal and political history through a form of class analysis. Marx' own dialectic deviated sharply from the dominant Hegelian/Kantian dialectic of the time. He believed the latter was not sufficiently grounded in the material reality of the life and history of human beings. His historically materialist views posited that our common historical and political struggle as a species could be seen through the lens of a two-fold struggle between the owners of production and the mass of laborers who worked to produce.

While there is no libertarian dialectic that I'm aware of, or at least not one with any particularly impressive predictive power, there is certainly a class-based bifurcation (or series thereof) which plays heavily into historical insights of various libertarian theorists. For such libertarians, the base of power is not so easily confined to the conflicting classes of the Marxian struggle. Instead, if we were to draw a narrow line between the struggle of the powerful and the powerless, we would get a group who turns the wheels of the state and then a group who is largely passive in this regard. Here is where we perceive the truly powerful and the truly powerless.

For libertarians, this is both good and bad news. The good news is that (we believe) this is a much more robust framework to analyze things in a political/historical context. The bad news is that, given the now-traditional Marxian conception of class-struggle, we are left with a framework that seems perhaps inadvertently complicated, and even ambiguous in some cases. Of course, neither of these are necessarily true - but such perceptions are engendered nevertheless.

In the modern democratic republic, the political power of the state is underlied and sanctioned by both the (largely laboring) masses whom at least nominally extend the reigns to politicians and the (largely capitalizing) economic power-brokers who extend and direct the influence of seated politicians. There is no unilateral pull in the realm of state power. Each of these two larger groups is rife with subgroups that have their own politically motivated ends; often ends that work to the detriment of others within the same larger sphere. And then we have people of all stripes who are either largely apathetic, disempowered (politically), or antagonistic towards the state who don't turn the gears of its authority in any particular direction at all.

Some of the rich seek to disenfranchise the poor. Some of the poor seek to disenfranchise the rich. Some of the rich seek to subvert other groups of rich people for personal gain. Some of the poor seek to subvert other groups of poor people for personal gain. Some fight for the rights of themselves. Some fight for the rights of others. Some fight for favors for themselves. Some fight for favors for others.

The lines of division, in the Marxian conception, is not as clear as it's made out to be. An analysis of the division between labor and capital would be more interesting in the absence of monopolistic political institutions. But, as we are undoubtedly seated with the latter, the materialist interpretation of history by Marxists of many stripes turns out to be more troubling. These divisions may provide meaningful detail on the direction and flavor of political power. The thought that it conceptually binds it, however, is much more contentious.

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