Mises on the Industrial Revolution

From Human Action.  This is Mises’s analysis. pp. 614-615.

Such are the ideas permeating most of the historical studies dealing with the evolution of modern industrialism. The authors begin by sketching an idyllic image of conditions as they prevailed on the eve of the “Industrial Revolution.” At that time, they tell us, things were, by and large, satisfactory. The peasants were happy. So also were the industrial workers under the domestic system. They worked in their own cottages and enjoyed a certain economic independence since they owned a garden plot and their tools. But then “the Industrial Revolution fell like a war or a plague” on these people.14 The factory system reduced the free worker to virtual slavery; it lowered his standard of living to the level of bare subsistence; in cramming women and children into the mills it destroyed
family life and sapped the very foundations of society, morality, and public health. A small minority of ruthless exploiters had cleverly succeeded in imposing their yoke upon the immense majority.

The truth is that economic conditions were highly unsatisfactory on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. The traditional social system was not elastic enough to provide for the needs of a rapidly increasing population. Neither farming nor the guilds had any use for the additional hands. Business was imbued with the inherited spirit of privilege and exclusive monopoly; its institutional foundations were licenses and the grant of a patent of monopoly; its philosophy was restriction and the prohibition of competition both domestic and foreign. The number of people for whom there was no room left in the rigid system of paternalism and government tutelage of business grew rapidly. They werc virtually outcasts. The apathetic majority of these wretched people lived from the crumbs that fell from the tables of the established castes. In the harvest season they earned a trifle by occasional help on farms; for the rest they depended upon private
charity and communal poor relief. Thousands of the most vigorous youths of these strata were pressed into the service of the Royal Army and Navy; many of them were killed or maimed in action; many more perished ingloriously from the hardships of the barbarous discipline, from tropical diseases, or from syphilis.15 Other thousands, the boldest and most ruthless of their class, infested the country as vagabonds, beggars, tramps, robbers,
and prostitutes. The authorities did not know of any means to cope with these individuals other than the poorhouse and the workhouse. The support the government gave to the popular resentment against the introduction of new inventions and labor-saving devices made things quite hopeless.

….

That the factories couId thrive in spite of all these hindrances was due to two reasons. First there were the teachings of the new social philosophy expounded by the economists. They demolished the prestige of Mercantilism, paternalism, and restrictionism. They exploded the superstitious belief that labor-saving devices and processes cause unemployment and reduce all people to poverty and decay. The laissez-faire economists were the pioneers of the unprecedented technological achievements of the last two hundred years.

Then there was another factor that weakened the opposition to innovations. The factories freed the authorities and the ruling landed aristocracy from an embarrassing problem that had grown too large for them. They provided sustenance for the masses of paupers. They emptied the poor houses, the workhouses, and the prisons. They converted starving beggars into self-supporting breadwinners. The factory owners did not have the power to compel anybody to take a factory job. They could only hire people who were ready to work for the wages offered to them. Low as these wage rates were, they were nonetheless much more than these paupers could earn in any other field open to them. It is a distortion of facts to say that the factories carried off the housewives from the nurseries and the kitchens and the children from their play. These women had nothing to cook with and to feed their children. These children were destitute and starving. Their only refuge was the factory. It saved them, in the strict sense of the term, from death by starvation.

It is deplorable that such conditions existed. But if one wants to blame those responsible, one must not blame the factory owners who-driven by selfishness, of course, and not by “altruismn-did all they could to eradicate the evils. What had caused these evils was the economic order of the precapitalistic era, the order of the “good old days.”

Post-Brexit 2.0

I initially looked at Brexit with glee.  Anything that makes leftists cry is always a good thing.  But this glee was always tempered with suspicion–so voting is now an honest thing and isn’t manipulated? So even though Brexit appeared to be legit, you can understand my skepticism.  A friend of mine pointed out John Milbank’s twitter account.  That surprised me since Milbank has historically been reticent about blogs and social media.

After reflecting on some of Milbank posts, other thoughts on Brexit solidified. So, here goes a list:

  1. No one is seriously saying the world should go back to post-Napoleonic nationalism and nation-states, so calm down.
  2. Even if we wanted to, it is simply not possible given global capital and technology.  Dugin has a point here (Eurasian Mission).
  3. Ironically, people fear Dugin but he has the most level-headed approach to globalism.
  4. Milbank is correct that both alternatives represent neo-liberal capitalism–and both are fraught with problems (problems, I think, cannot be fixed)
  5. Milbank (more on this below) thinks that the EU is a Christian institution interested in preserving the fragments of Christian civilization.  The romanticism in Milbank has always been very attractive, but could he be more mistaken?

Now for some of Milbank’s other comments:

Christians are duty bound for theological and historical reasons to support the ever closer union of Europe (which does not imply a superstate) and to deny the value of absolute sovereignty or the lone nation-state.

Sez who? Unless you are thinking of the Eastern Roman Emperor I am not sure what kind of argument you can make?

Towards a Better EU?

Maybe not in the future, since NATO is making sure that future can’t exist.  But I think a lot of the reasons behind Milbank’s reasons are quite sound and worth considering.  In the future, after modern Atlanticism is in dust and ashes, a real European Union is worth considering around Dugin’s lines.

  1. With the collapse of the USSR, the pole of Atlanticism shifted further to the West (America) leaving Britain adrift between the US and Europe.
  2. Disentangle Europe from NATO.  There is no reason the Balts must die for false promises.
  3. Go back to the distinction between a Common Market (good) and Single Market (bad).  This was a good idea based on the best of European subsidiarity.
  4. Rethink the open labor laws.  Flooding a market with cheap labor benefits CEOs, never the common man.
  5. Whenever the EU remained antagonistic to Atlanticism (like in the Iraqi war), it did well.
  6. Dugin’s final point is the heart of the matter:  the same globalist forces that created it are dissolving it.

So, if that’s true, there is little cause for Brexiteers to rejoice.  And Milbank is right on that point:  isolated nation-states cannot resist globalist economic networks.  Only superpowers united around polar zones can do so.

Eros and Civilization (Marcuse)

Marcuse reworks Freud’s categories from the individual to society. To paraphrase Henry van Til, Marcuse is Freud externalized. There is a dialectic between the Eros principle and the Thanatos principle. In order for civilization to thrive, it has to suppress the libido, the free drive.

Freud identifies civilization with repression.

The Frankfurt end-game is a “non-repressive civilization” (Marcuse 5). “The very achievements of repression seem to create the preconditions for the gradual abolition of repression.” “The reality principle materializes in a system of institutions” (15). In other words, our continually suppressing the Eros-drive reshapes our very psychology which is further instantiated in institutions. Yet this pleasure principle remains latent in civilization.

Man experiences a dialectical conflict between the “life instinct” (Eros) and the death instinct (Thanatos). Key argument: man’s primary mental processes are sustained by the life principle, which is the pleasure principle. The problem: how can man continue in civilization if civilization is a suppressing of this life principle?

Key argument: correlation between progress and “guilty feeling” (78). Civilization will be violent in its structure because civilization is simply an expanding of the Father-figure, against whom the sons will always war. technology allows man to increase output while minimizing input, thus freeing “time” for Eros. In other words, in previous eras an emphasis on Eros meant denying civilization, but now with technology we can emphasize Eros while promoting civilization (93).

But the “Regime” (for lack of a better word) won’t allow this to continue uncontrolled, for if man is utterly free, then he is free from external control. How will the Regime do this? Possibly by technology, since technology can abolish both the individual and the “social function of the family” (96). Since technology has negated the family, who is the new father-figure? The corporo-capitalist bureaucracy. Marcuse notes, “Social control and cohesion are strong enough to protect the whole from direct aggression, but not strong enough to eliminate the accumulated aggressiveness” (101).

Key argument: Man’s history represents a splitting between the fantasy principle and the reason-principle (142). Man has a divided ego. For Marcuse aesthetics is self-defeating. If art is committed to form, then it is negated for it cannot then pursue freedom. Form = negation.

reason has been reduced to the rationality principle (159). Narcissus gazes into the river, which symbolizes the flux of time. Narcissus and Orpheus represent latent desires which are at odds with rationality-principle.

Kant: the aesthetic judgment is the realm where sense and imagination meet; it is the medium b/t freedom and nature.

Marcuse wants to use Kant and Schiller’s aesthetic to base a non-repressive civilization, one that contains a new rationality-principle. But here is the problem: Marcuse claims to unify art with reason, but most of his discussion (184-185) seems like an antagonism between the two. For Marcuse sees art-beauty as arising from the dark, latent forces.

Combine this with the Eroticization of society where one frees the libido from non-repressive civilization, and you have the nightmare which is modern art. This explains why most National Endowment for the Arts is pornographic and interested in bodily fluids. They take the correct insight that we have these dark, primal forces and they externalize them in society.

Pros

(1) Marcuse has put his finger on the tendency of modern industrial world to alienate workers, and this alienation often moves in dialectical ways.

(2) Marcuse points out the dangers of reducing economics to simply raising production while lowering costs–such leads to alienation (156).

Criticisms

(1) As Nancy Holland notes, “ Although scarcity may not have seemed to be an irreducible given when Marcuse wrote his book, the limits of the world’s supply of food, water, energy, and even clean air are now all too obvious” (Holland 76).

(2) As it stands Freud’s apparent definition of freedom is untenable: freedom from authority (be it ego or society) to pursue the id. Such chaos would necessarily reduce to anarchy, which is no freedom at all. How far does Marcuse go with this? I can sense he rejects (correctly) Freud on the personal level but applies him on the social level.