Ah, the absurd ideas that we subordinate ourselves to.
One of the most interesting paradoxes of liberal postmodernism is the injunction to explore oneself. A postmodern authority figure (I say that with some sarcasm) will enjoin his charges to explore their own wishes and desires and in so doing he is enjoining them to have the goal of finding a goal for themselves rather than to accept the goals given by those in authority.
This is the nonsense of liberalism. What if someone does not wish to find their own goal, but instead finds true enjoyment in obedience to, subservience to, and sacrifice for the common good--which is articulated in a way external to the individual? Such people are absolutely essential to a properly functioning liberal society, which bases its legitimating justification on appeals to the common good which cannot be accomplished by the sheer pursuit of self-interest.
And yet a postmodern liberal would intentionally discourage precisely the thing which is required to make liberalism functional.
Free market conservatives' ideology contains a similar paradox, which we see when they appeal to the supra-individual agency of the market as the mechanism for maximizing individual satisfaction. They assert that a rational individual (which means individuals who plan) are the best judges of their own needs and preferences. And yet, they enjoin these individuals not to plan as a collective. Rather, they must subordinate any shared individual desires to rationally plan as a collective to the supra-individual agency of the invisible hand of the free market.
It is this unembodied entity which must carry their individual preferences to reconciliation on their own behalf and in their own best interest because individuals, when intentionally acting as a rational collective, are incapable of so doing. This is magical thinking.
The problem I see in free markets is that even though the market may measure exchange value in terms of the price or wage for services rendered, the real use value of the labors of a person in terms of their lasting salutary effects on the march of human progress is not always equivalent to the exchange value. But the market incentivizes supply of goods with greater exchange value in greater amounts.
The street price of an additional gram of cocaine is surely greater than the price of an additional and comparable fluid unit of penicillin, but it would be hard for right-thinking people to argue that we are better off with more cocaine than penicillin. This can be analogously applied to human labors as well.
The market wage of the labors of person A may be higher than the market wage of the labors of person B, but that does not mean that the invisible hand of the market is as good as justifying the putative value of A's work as a reasonable and wise judge might be at justifying the actual value of B's ability to use the implements of current technology to shape the factors of production bestowed upon us by nature to true and precious output which adds great use value to humanity.
The value judgments of the invisible hand of the market are not necessarily the most compelling value judgments available to astute and discerning human beings. Free market fundamentalism is as silly as what I like to call the American libertarians' mantra:
Bad outcomes are not a problem in themselves. It is only when government causes bad outcomes that make them a problem.
What difference does it make to an unemployed single mom whether the free market caused her unemployment or whether it was government policy? What hope could she have for relief from either phenomena when postmodernist liberals control government and free market fundamentalist control private markets?
Whether you vote for a member of the Democratic establishment or a member of the Republican establishment, you get the same system liberal capitalism. The characteristics will change. Dems will give a more histrionically pronounced tip of the hat to identity politics and pluralism, the cornerstone of contemporary liberalism. Republicans will more substantially reduce domestic social spending. But those are the only real differences that bear on the lives of actual flesh and blood citizens.
The truth is, as Daniel Bell observed, that advanced liberal capitalism has in its nature peculiar contradictions that may be self-defeating. Meanwhile, social democracy presses on against the current of enterprise imperialism, enabling authentic exchange in the public sphere and the generous provision for those in need by society of concerned neighbors.
Liberals cannot overcome the burden of pluralism. But does pluralistic participatory democracy with a regimen of identity politics contain at least one contradiction? What about value pluralism? Can people really reach a fair consensus when they have two different values which are irreducible and incommensurable? In that case, how can consensus be reached without someone's values giving way?
So in pluralistic participatory democracy, either everyone must have all and only the same values, or political decisions must be value-neutral. This is the problem of political relativism in a pluralistic society. And this is the reason why liberals debate conservatives couched in terms of welfare and freedom, but do not engage in talk of values, because contemporary liberalism must avoid value talk in order to remain pluralistic. But people intuit values, and conservatives have an advantage because they engage the polity's intuitive values.
The problem with pluralism is when it is applied to the domain of values. Under pluralism, there must exist at least two values such that the values are irreducible and incommensurable (this idea is from the work of American philospher Robert Talisse). Epistemic values are a special case of values. They are commitments which entail other value commitments. People with all and only the same epistemic values should at length reason through cogitation and discourse to a convergent set of other values and beliefs which enables consensus if they are rational. Rational people with different nonepistemic values can build a consensus only if either one interlocutor gives up his position or they share the same epistemic values. Under value pluralism, it is not the case that all epistemic values are either commensurable or reducible. Therefore, under value pluralism it is possible to reach consensus use only if some value positions are surrendered. Participatory democracy enables the resolution of non-convergent sets of epistemic beliefs only if such participatory democracy is not pluralistic. Under contemporary liberalism, participatory democracy is pluralistic. Contemporary liberalism is not a system which enables the consensus it seeks to attain. Thus, contemporary liberalism contains a contradiction.
Liberals are losers and always will be. They do not have a coherent framework for reasoning about social problems. They do not have an ethical program other than the foolishness of the relativism project. They have a stream of consciousness with a collection of loosely associated ideas from a motley crew of microconstituencies engaged in the nonsense of identity politics.
Liberals have abandoned the utopia vision of a society without class exploitation, and have embraced the positivistic notion of public reality as the immutable causal effects of the natural world rather than a sequence of events constituted by actions with socially constructed meaning. Applying this epistemology to capitalist markets ignores what Marx put astutely in Das Kapital:
Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their labor power. This relation has no natural basis, neither is it's social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of past historical development, the product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production.In abandoning the socialist dream of utopia liberals have embraced exploitative capitalism because of the inadequate good provided by its efficient production scheme. Liberals rever elitist technocrats like Obama who pursue a children-of-a-lesser-god vision of a more egalitarian liberal capitalism through policy dilettantism.
They are pushed to liberalism because of its deceptive rational appeal. All the while, the liberal societies of the world are becoming increasingly irrational in the face of the march of the ultra-rational resurgence of the Leninist/Maoist East.
My hope is that social democrats like me who still dream of utopia learn what we can from Lenin and Mao to combat the political right and corporate fascism without a descent into barbarism. Because there will be no respite from the evolutionary onslaught of capitalist imperialism if the liberal Bolsheviks remain as the left vanguard.
I do not know whether utopia will come with or without revolution. But I know that it will never come from liberals, bourgeois or proletarian, or their endeavors. As Slavoj Žižek said, in what could have just as well been against Popperian piecemeal social engineering,
Utopian is not only the conservative dream of regaining some idealized past before the fall, not only the image of the bright future. No less utopian is the liberal pragmatic idea that we can solve problems gradually, one by one.