Capitalism

Anarcho-Monarchism asks: Is the word ‘capitalism’ worth defending? It concludes in the affirmative.

From the perspective of Outside in, however, this post misses the most crucial level of the question. Capitalism — like any ideologically contested term — is cross-cut by multiple meanings. Of these, its generic sense, which “simply means that private individuals own the means of production” is far from the most objectionable.

Yet, far more significant is the singular sense of capitalism, as a proper name, for a ‘thing’ or real individual. To grasp this, it probably helps to consider the word as a contraction of ‘terrestrial capitalism’ — not describing a generic type of social organization, but designating an event.

A biological analogy captures the distinction quite precisely. Consider ‘life’ — understandable, certainly, as a generic cosmic possibility, defined perhaps by local entropy dissipation, or other highly-abstract features. Contrast this sense with ‘terrestrial life’ — or, even better, the biosphere (we might say ‘Gaia’ if the hopelessly sentimentalized associations of this term were avoidable). Terrestrial life began at a definite moment, followed a path-dependent trajectory, and built upon a dense inheritance, as exemplified most prominently by the RNA-DNA chemistry of information replication, the genetic code, genetic legacies, and elaboration of body-plans within a comparatively limited number of basic lineages. Terrestrial life is not a generic concept, but a thing, or event, meriting a proper name.

Before it is an ideological option, capitalism is a being, with an individual history (and fate). It is not necessary to like it — but it is an it.

June 23, 2014admin 30 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Discriminations

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30 Responses to this entry

  • Nick B. Steves Says:

    The Thing you seem to be describing Positive Sum Game. To call it “Capitalism” might unnecessarily prejudice potential allies of the extreme right (and left).

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    I can live with that. More sociable types can tend the gardens of nuance.

    [Reply]

    Bryce Laliberte Reply:

    What you call ‘capitalism’ I like to call ‘civilization.’ Seems to make the medicine go down easier. People are more willing to die/kill for one than the other.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    It’s hard to square the dates for that equation though, isn’t it? Both Europe and China were highly civilized during the periods when they were successfully preventing capitalism from happening (up to the 15th century and 19th century respectively).

    Bryce Laliberte Reply:

    A future which would potentially actually implement capitalism wouldn’t call what we ever had in the West ‘capitalism’ in that sense. Furthermore, from another perspective feudalism was effectively capitalism, just with more Mathusian pressure to implement stricter social norms.

    I think really your teleological capitalism =/= capitalism in the economic sense. You are describing the whole of civilization, the latter describes a means of distributing material resources.

    fotrkd Reply:

    admin – are you pinning “up to the 15th century and 19th century respectively” to any specific developments?

    admin Reply:

    “… any specific developments?” — A remarkably reliable indicator in both cases was the arrival of the new (Hindu) numeracy, which became the capitalist semiotic from the moment of its ignition in Renaissance Europe. (Why these signs had not triggered capitalism before, in their passage across the world of Islam, is an important question for another time.)

    Posted on June 23rd, 2014 at 5:29 pm Reply | Quote
  • Capitalism | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on June 23rd, 2014 at 8:51 pm Reply | Quote
  • fotrkd Says:

    [E]vent = being = thing – you’re not exactly operating on any consistent conception of ‘it’, are you? Capitalism is… hypostasis of the concept..? Not that I disagree…

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    The equivalence of beings and events is assumed here (it’s true) — there’s no possibility of apprehending complex systems (emergent real individuals) otherwise.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 23rd, 2014 at 11:35 pm Reply | Quote
  • Alrenous Says:

    @admin

    Can I get some examples of how pre-1400 Europe wasn’t capitalist? What did they prevent and how? What did they do instead?

    [Reply]

    Erik Reply:

    My answer would be: Profit mechanisms were unknown, and merchants were low status.

    Consider the various complaints and laws against e.g. predatory lending (lending at very high interest rates to people in dire straits), ticket scalping (buying tickets to events one doesn’t plan to attend, then reselling the tickets for a profit), price gouging (setting a few very high prices, usually as a result of monopoly power in a very limited region, such as being the first with emergency supplies to a disaster region, or selling to friendless cripples who can’t shop around or have anyone else do it for them), and so forth. Turn them up to hanging level, and you have some idea of the pre-1400s.

    Today, we have quite a bit of economic theory which defends and explains (for example) ticket scalping as selling not just the ticket, but also something abstract such as one’s place-in-line in the ticket queue, which has greatly increased in scarcity now that the queue doesn’t exist any more because no firsthand ticket sales exist any more.

    Back then, there was less such economic theory, and most of merchants’ ways of making a profit were seen as cheating or exploiting someone somehow because there was no way the merchant could be earning that much on what should be a “fair” ticket price, and if you couldn’t explain what the merchant was doing that was unfair, well, that just proved the merchant was being extra sneaky and deserved a fine for conspiracy on top of the fine for fraud.

    Old Europe had a strong skepticism of any sort of funny-looking business practices. Profit should be from participating in some visibly productive activity. Investing in a new forge with the village blacksmith if he’ll return you some of what he makes on his better wares the next year is acceptable, but being a moneylender by profession who earns money on money itself somehow is not. In Dante’s Inferno, you can read about usurers being placed in hell for turning aside from the “natural” way of earning money.

    Thus, merchants were considered a sneaky thieving cheaty bunch of scoundrels (in retrospect, the medievals perhaps had a point), perhaps less violent than muggers but no less thieving in principle, ranked near the bottom of the social ladder, well below the working class. The large overlap with Jews didn’t help either. The working class tended to back the kings and nobles in conflicts with merchants, too, because the king could at least be seen as “our king”, appointed by God, defending the country, and mostly sitting on his throne on some far away palace, while the merchant was up close and personal, charging obscenely high prices for critical supplies and demanding painful amounts of interest.

    And perhaps not exactly “capitalist”, but as an example of what they did instead back then: Back then it was much harder to buy legitimacy. In the general case, large amounts of money couldn’t buy you as many things, for example, it couldn’t buy you a TV channel watched by half the peasantry. You could attract a court of sycophants, but it was much harder to pretend the court was a legitimate research body that the populace should listen to.

    (This is amateur commentary, disregard it if a legitimate professional turns up to contradict me.)

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    This is great stuff. Without commercialization of authority, capitalism remains locked in a box.

    [Reply]

    Alrenous Reply:

    Seconding admin that the status point is great.

    But overall they seem capitalist to me, just bad at it. Apparently it’s really hard to work out that if you don’t like the interest rate, you don’t borrow?

    The silk road is 4000 years old. The blacksmith does in fact sell things rather than merely give them away. The British had contracts, which could be used for business, at least as far back as 1188. You could buy land and thus be landed, even if you couldn’t buy official aristocracy. If the difference between capitalist and non-capitalist is that the latter is bad at allocating capital to productive enterprises, I’m afraid I’m going to have to reject the idea entire.

    They do have a point. The merchant caste is the one with the purely social status hierarchy, which involves a lot of lying and propaganda. Indeed by merchant ethics, it is the scammee that is at fault for buying something they didn’t know the value of. Trade is positive sum but the prerequisite negotiation is zero sum, which means being a good literal merchant involves a lot of tricking the negotiation partner, and moreover not tricking them so bad they won’t re-enter the arena to be tricked again even if you can.

    Moreover, the merchant caste is the natural predator of the warrior caste, and Kings were usually warrior caste. (Physical dominance hierarchy.) E.g. warrior aristocrats will buy debt they can’t afford, and thus subordinate themselves to the lender. Their fortresses defend against swords, not words.

    Problem is most people’s natural caste is merchant.

    [Reply]

    an inanimate aluminum tube Reply:

    “Problem is most people’s natural caste is merchant.”

    Nah, most people’s natural caste is some kind of worker, like a peasant or a craftsman. Only a small percentage of those actually make good merchants. Most are pretty terrible at it.

    Which is why a few [s]happy[/s] crafty merchants can (and did) easily end up owning a whole town through the combination of usury and alcohol sales.

    An obvious remedy for this situation tends to present itself to the peasants, but certain ideological constructs consider that sort of thing to be poor sport.

    Erik Reply:

    I’m trying to explain what was different in Old Europe – admin is the one saying that the difference makes them not capitalist. They seem at least commercialist to me, a word which could usefully be pressed into service here. Part of being bad at capitalism may also have been the thing commented on by HBD Chick, Farewell to Alms, and others, that it took a lot of breeding for commercialism, genetic pacification, prevalence of contract, et cetera, to create a sort of critical mass of industrial revolution. The spare wealth and wealth-generating systems were not yet fully formed.

    I dispute that the merchant caste is a natural predator of the warrior caste. Conflict ran both ways, mercantilism was popular, and when the merchant pushed too far with “I demand you uphold your end this contract that I fast-talked you into signing while maliciously mis-explaining it”, the warrior lords were quite happy to respond with “I’m expelling you, and keeping all the benefits from your end, because you have forfeited your rights to recompense.” And in some cases, when the warriors bought debt they couldn’t afford, the warriors just took the merchants’ stuff. Repeatedly.

    In 1306, Philip the Fair expelled the Jews from France and, in 1307, he annihilated the order of the Knights Templar. Philip was in debt to both groups and saw them as a “state within the state”.

    His financial victims also included rich abbots and the Lombard merchants who had earlier made him extensive loans on the pledge of repayment from future taxation. Like the Jews, the Lombard bankers were expelled from France and their property expropriated.

    Your remark about merchants not scamming their partners too badly only holds for merchants who are tied down or part of large, well-established merchant houses, I figure, making them something like stationary bandits. Roving-bandit-merchants probably existed too, professional scammers who sucked up much of the wealth in a community, moved on a few miles with their superior traveling skills, and repeated until they settled down and retired in another country.

    Alrenous Reply:

    But e.g. envy of a scalper’s economic acumen is a good example of the thing which makes it so easy to convince a voter to hate ‘capitalism.’

    [Reply]

    scientism Reply:

    The transition to capitalism was a transition from a qualitative, legalistic framework to a quantitative one. It’s easy to look back and see “weird” attitudes stopping people from “uncovering” capitalism, but people didn’t have decent methods to keep track of what they were doing quantitatively. In the absence of that, standards of fairness were enforced legalistically, with everybody being subject to the same restrictions. Prices were set from above, etc. The rise of capitalism was really a technological development, with the spread of standards of weight and measure, methods of bookkeeping, etc. Being able to keep track of your own business dealings means greater autonomy, because you can agree on fair prices, less need for legal and religious standards, the expansion of markets and the rise of finance.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 24th, 2014 at 6:10 am Reply | Quote
  • Chris B Says:

    @maybe a pre modern economics booklist compilation is in order. I recommend Braudel’s ‘the Mediterranean in the age of Phillip ii’ (if you can take dry data surrounding valencia’s sheep trade) as well as his ‘a history of civilisations’. Planing on getting my hands on ‘civilisation and capitlism in near future. http://eh.net/book_reviews/civilization-and-capitalism-15th-18th-century/

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 24th, 2014 at 11:22 am Reply | Quote
  • Chris B Says:

    I think the concentration on trade and consumerism masks our ability to see the “thing” clearly. I would definitely place armies in this process. What was the Gaul campaign or Crassus’s invasion of parthia if not business? Pool funds (for armour and weapons) which then allows for people to engage in complex human activity for a return. So we have resources centralising, which promote social organisation, which promotes inovation – all stimulated as a result of seeking returns (money,land, honour, power etc)
    These returns do not have to be monetary, but for the activity to be lasting it needs to be either materially profitable or at the very least net nil cost.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    “… the concentration on trade and consumerism masks our ability to see the ‘thing’ clearly.” — This is totally right. It’s actually the right-wing version of a Marxist insight of considerable value. ‘Commodity fetishism’ is camouflage. Once it ceases to be a topic of moral indignation, and becomes a topic for dispassionate investigation, it opens labyrinths of endless fascination.

    [Reply]

    Artxell Knaphni Reply:

    “‘Commodity fetishism’ is camouflage. Once it ceases to be a topic of moral indignation, and becomes a topic for dispassionate investigation, it opens labyrinths of endless fascination.”

    I agree. ‘Commodity fetishism’ is a tremendously productive line of inquiry, tying together philosophy, psychology, anthropology, religion & magic, in insightful ways.
    It links very effectively to the ‘free will / agency’ concerns, which I haven’t finished with yet.

    [Reply]

    Chris B Reply:

    What has gotten me curius this lately is the intertwining of desire in this. I get a vague feeling that keynesians understand this aspect as all they do is bang on about “animal spirits” and abuse it like a bunch of monkeys who have found the banana delivery lever. It also makes me worder as to the necesity of consumerism and it’s nitrous oxide style boost as a driver to activity.
    On a completly different topic: when is anti humanism going to be raised as a area of exploration within neoreaction? Can’t wait for that one.

    [Reply]

    Ghostlike Reply:

    I did some exploration in the story Simulacrum on anti-humanism. It was not nearly enough, but I’ve come to the conclusion that self improvement is analogous to (high transcendental) necromancy and requires jettisoning the sanctity of life and common sense morality as it has been mostly unchanged ever since man evolved into homo sapiens.

    Most of our difficulty in seeing past the Singularity is because our thinking is so welded to those (wrong) common sense patterns that we literally cannot perceive anything except through the lens of humanism. Another lesser reason is that we think we live in an universe that is resource constrained (despite the fact that with our understanding it should not exist in the first place) so we try to come to grips to it by increasing scale of our vision linearly (for example, interstellar colonization via robots instead of Universal Manipulation.) This second reason is not a problem by itself, but it does not bring clarity to the table, instead it diverts thinking into useless areas.

    Posted on June 24th, 2014 at 11:55 am Reply | Quote
  • Chris B Says:

    @ghostlike I have been thinking among similar lines and been trying to read heidegger. I’m especialy interested in antihumanism’s compatability with trad catholics and trad reactionaries. Is the premise of not centerng all thought and philosophy on clever chimps not within the same ball park as belief in God thedisticaly? The quintessential belief in greater forces at play? But i fear thst I have hijacked this thread now. Best to get back to capitalism!

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 25th, 2014 at 12:46 am Reply | Quote
  • kantbot Says:

    This is exactly the sort of sociological hypostasis Neoreaction should be rejecting, this sort of rationalistic projection of second order constructs into reality is characteristic of modernity if anything. The debate shouldn’t be about capitalism, it should be about how we think about capitalism, and this is just Neo-Neo-Marxism but many Neoreactionaries aren’t philosophically inclined enough to understand the underlying logical error of understanding capitalism in this way.

    Modernity is not an era in the history of society, but a phase in the development of subjective rationality.

    [Reply]

    Posted on June 25th, 2014 at 8:30 pm Reply | Quote
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    Posted on June 28th, 2014 at 1:39 am Reply | Quote
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  • Contemplationist Says:

    @admin

    Err, are we forgetting Gregory Clarke’s thesis here on selection of bourgeois traits due to Malthusian pressures allowing (finally) the skyrocketing of productivity (i.e. the Industrial Revolution)?

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 3rd, 2014 at 1:20 am Reply | Quote
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