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  Road to the Middle Class
Sunday April 23, 2017 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter
























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A Critique of Social Mechanics

[Solicitude] can, as it were, take away ’care’ from the Other and put itself in his position in concern: it can leap in for him... In such solicitude the Other can become one who is dominated and dependent, even if this domination is a tacit one and remains hidden from him.1

The modern administrative may have its problems, but how bad can things be? Under the governance of the modern democratic state death from violence has declined by an order of magnitude since the Middle Ages and, under the influence of modern business, per-capita income has increased by almost two orders of magnitude in the last two centuries. Before the modern era, according to Gregory Clark in A Farewell to Alms, society was downwardly mobile: the rich had more surviving children, and these children, when they grew up, crowded into the occupations of their social inferiors. But that all changed around 1800. Since then the poor have had more children than the rich; their children survived and each generation prospered more than its parents. There has been nothing like that, ever.

The verdict on the modern era seems to be this. People like all the peace and prosperity; in fact they take it for granted. They just don’t like their subordination to the soulless systems of the modern state and the modern corporation. Some people rail particularly against the monstrosity of big government and propose, as a solution, more free enterprise. Other people rail against big business and propose, as a solution, more government. In other words, people don’t like force when they are on the receiving end.

Some people are more sanguine about our modern situation. Longshoreman Eric Hoffer experienced the modern age as a second, man-made Creation that didn’t quite work right out of the box. The problem was that man was not smart enough to automate his man-made world right away at the start of the industrial revolution, so

man had to use his fellow men as a stopgap for inventiveness. He had to yoke men, women and children with iron and steam... There was no escape for the mass of people from the ravenous maws of factories and mines.2

Coal miners did not get released from the yoke until strip-mining with drag-line excavators started in the 1950s. But Hoffer is optimistic about the future. It is true, he writes, that factories used to be “agencies of dehumanization.”

But we of the present know that communion with machines does not blunt our sensibilities or stifle our individuality. We know that machines can be as temperamental and willful as any living thing. The proficient mechanic is an alert and intuitive human being. On the waterfront one can see how the ability to make a fork lift or a winch do one’s bidding with precision and finesse generates a peculiar exhilaration, so that the skilled lift driver and winch driver are as a rule of good cheer, and work as if at play.3

For Hoffer the crisis is past, and humans are migrating from the dusty industrial plains into sunny automated uplands, having learned to turn their machines into toys. And Hoffer was writing before the computer and the internet had made the computer into a hand-held toy with which any self-taught youth could become proficient in world-wide communication.

Another way to understand the history of the last two centuries is as a gigantic outpouring of nostalgia for a Garden of Eden, with one movement after another trying to privilege human values over system imperatives. This started with the idealization of the “noble savage” in reaction to the savage treatment of native Americans by the Spanish conquistadors. There was Rousseau’s idealization of the general will, a projection of village sentiment into the urban public square. For the Romantics it was the creative spirit in every one of us, for the utilitarians it was the happiness of the greatest number, for the socialists it was the idea of community, for the communists the excitement of revolution and fundamental transformation, for the fascists the instinctive ties of blood and tribe. Each new god led a revolt against the cold hard force of Reason and insisted that the truth of the human condition could still be found within the instinctive core of humans: our original human instinct, our creativity, our community, our ecstatic impulse for liberation, our love of kindred.

The most notorious nostalgic tract of all was the Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. These sons of the bourgeoisie experienced the rise of the bourgeoisie in the early modern period as a continuation of the hierarchical society of the agricultural age, just another episode in the eternal story of the exploitation of man by man. By the time that Marx published the first volume of his Capital, he and Engels had developed their drama of exploitation into a labor theory of value that invoked the mystery at the heart of classical economics, the dichotomy between exchange value and use value, to show how exchange value was a deformation of man’s true need for work. In pre-capitalist times, they explained, people worked as social labor, producing for use value. But under capitalism social labor was reduced to abstract labor and chained to the valuations of commodities in exchange value. Thus “commodity fetishism.”

Thus the mutual relations of human beings as exchangers of goods take on the form of relations between objects, as though the latter had mysterious qualities which of themselves made them valuable, or as though value were a natural, physical property of things.4

Actually, according to another German, sociologist Georg Simmel, objectification is inevitable in human exchange; it’s just the way we do it.

Exchange is the objectification of human interaction... This objectification, this growth of the relationship into self-contained, movable things, becomes so complete that, in the fully developed economy, personal interaction recedes altogether into the background, while goods gain a life of their own.5

Objectification, commodification is not a scandal; it is just what people do when they exchange objects.

It was bad luck for the Marx-and-Engels big idea, built upon the contradictions between use value and exchange value that, within ten years of the publication of Capital, a new generation of economists solved the apparent conflict between use value and exchange value with the marginal revolution of 1870 led by William Stanley Jevons in Britain and Carl Menger in Austria. Also, modern archaeology suggests that human barter and exchange go back as much as 200,000 years: early humans produced not exclusively for use but also for exchange. But Marx’s labor theory lived on, yoked to a superseded theory of value, a kind of monstrous birth that refused to die.

We know what this is all about; it is encoded in the very foundation myth of the Judeo-Christian culture. Our problem is our knowledge. It is knowledge that ejects mankind from the mindless bliss of the Garden of Eden. Each leap in knowledge, while liberating mankind from the bondage of ignorance, also raises the stakes on the human project. A few million humans hunter-gathers scattered across the globe may live like Adam and Eve in unselfconscious bliss. But billions of humans using fossil fuels and relying on highly organized systems to deliver food, products, and energy to billions crowded in huge cities live under a shadow of sin: what if all the works of man turn out to be a terrible mistake, and everything crumbles into ruin? The more we know, the more highly organized our social systems become, the more we bewail the loss of our human-ness, our mysterious essence as social animals. We know there is no way back. But still, we long to be social animals rather than systems components; we long for deep human relationship instead of superficial social-media chattering. There must be some way to redeem our humanity out of the accumulated capital of our knowledge.

Yet in our daily arguments we merely argue about systems, and system is domination. In the United States the argument often reduces to the wonder of the marketplace system versus the wonder of the governmental system. The marketplace, conservatives affirm, sets up modern humans into a beneficial social relationship, for we can only satisfy our selfish wants by serving the needs of others. Nonsense, say liberals. Without the guiding hand of experts and the prodding of activists we would descend into a death spiral of exploitation and marginalization. Conservatives swear by the two-century-old Invisible Hand narrative, and liberals swear by the 150-year-old Marxian Exploitation narrative. Is that all there is: two soulless systems?

Let us investigate the possibility of something better, something that transcends the simplistic ideas of invisible hands and eternal exploitation. But let us begin by stipulating the poverty of the two narratives.

It is true that the Invisible Hand tells an important truth about the social nature of the market economy, and we have seen how the market economy encourages and rewards trustworthiness and “character.” But the record also shows that, when moralists determined that Muslims and Africans were beyond the pale of Christendom, businessmen concluded that it was OK to enslave them to work their highly profitable sugar plantations. The businessman cannot be the judge in his own cause.

It is true that the Exploitation narrative tells an important truth about the world. There are unequal power relations; the powerful will always take advantage of their power and, as Marx taught us, the Industrial Revolution enhanced, at least initially, the opportunity for exploitation. But let the record show that the worst exploitations in history were probably the exploitations committed by totalitarian governments in the 20th century in vast political projects that promised to end exploitation altogether. Big government, it must be conceded, is not the answer to exploitation. Every government, especially every revolutionary government, learns to “see like a state” and comes to regard its people as mere subjects to be moved like pawns around the national chessboard to serve the needs of the state. Governments must let people be people.

All the critics of the modern era agree that we must get back in touch with our essential humanness in some way: for Rousseau the idea of communal will, for the Romantics our creativity, for the socialists our community, for the fascists our race, for liberals our identity. But we cannot return to the Garden of Eden, for it was our knowledge that sent us away from our innocent bliss, and we cannot cram all the evils of the world back into Pandora’s Box. We cannot undo the knowledge that the modern era has given us, the feedback loop of reason and experience. We cannot un-invent the remarkable systems we have created, not the science, not the heat engines, not the market systems, not the written constitutions, not the communications technologies. So what shall we do?

Let us get back to basics. We must begin by admitting that our modern governments and our modern corporations are both profoundly oppressive by nature for a simple reason: they deal in force. This is not surprising, for both modern government and modern business get their inspiration from the Newtonian revolution, and Newton’s Laws of Motion were all about force. The Newtonian revolution and the scientific revolution showed how technical knowledge based on reason, combined with age-old human practical ingenuity, could yield powers, forces, that made men into demi-gods. They showed the power of system and they showed the power of simplification, the Newtonian faith that the way to understand the workings of the world is to simplify the complex experience of the world into logical formulas, the dizzying movements of many interacting entities into a single principle, that all of creation reduces into a single system. Moreover, Newtonian dynamics, based on the assumption of absolute space and time, suggested an implacable determinism: you could predict the future based on the ways things changed in the past. Newtonian faith encouraged people to extend the determinist metaphor into the world of human interaction. Governments tried to organize and simplify the societies they governed on mechanical principles, and businessmen tried to organize their operations into systems and simplify their processes by trying to discover a unifying principle to optimize them. Thus we come to the view of James C. Scott in Seeing Like a State. Governments, by nature, seek to penetrate social structures and make the people they rule “legible;” they seek to simplify social structures and reduce them to a system, to make them amenable to their project of taxation and control. Rulers attempt to live the dream of Newtonian mechanics and try to replace the natural and unpredictable sociability of the humans they rule with predictable top-down hierarchical structures. They seek to reduce human organisms to machines, and not incidentally illuminate the world with the sun of their power and splendor and their superior knowledge and understanding of the world, as a Newtonian observer looks down upon a billiard table universe whose bodies’ motions can be predicted with a simple mathematical formula. Rulers seek to convert society into system, social cooperation into domination.

People made subordinate to and dependent upon the state are easier to control and to exploit. The same applies in business. Though businessmen develop a culture of trustworthiness in their relations with each other and with their customers they have shown, in their development of plantation slavery and the factory system, that they are capable of using humans as mere mechanical cogs rather than coequal members of human society. Corporate mass-production methods are also a way of simplifying the production process so that it is no longer controlled by artisans but management, with production no longer performed by skilled workers but by replaceable, interchangeable unskilled workers; the modern mass-production system in Taylorism dis-empowers skilled workers and empowers managers and scientifically trained technicians.6

It was their encounter with this mechanical hell that drove Marxists Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno to despair in The Dialectic of Enlightenment. A Jewish intellectual that took over the Frankfurt School in 1930, Horkheimer fled Nazism in 1933 to Switzerland and in 1935 to the United States. With Adorno during World War II he looked at the horrors of the mid-20th century and realized, far too late, that reason and Enlightenment did it. The problem was not just capitalism, its “real abstraction” of social labor into a supposed abstract labor that got inserted into the rational capitalist machine like a cog wheel. It was also government, rational bureaucratic government, that worked as an equal and jealous partner in the commodification of the people. So these two Marxists rewound the tape and re-played the western narrative, the story so far, to learn wisdom from its knowledge. They began with Bacon’s praise of human knowledge.

The concordance between the mind of man and the nature of things that [Bacon] had in mind is patriarchal: the human mind, which overcomes superstition, is to hold sway over a disenchanted nature. Knowledge, which is power, knows no obstacles: neither in the enslavement of men nor in compliance with the world’s rulers... Technology is the essence of this knowledge. It does not work by concepts and images, by the fortunate insight, but refers to method, the exploitation of others’ work, and capital... What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order wholly to dominate it and other men. That is the only aim.7

Of course, they realized, the dominion of mankind over nature was not invented by Bacon and the Enlightenment; it was already apparent in the “Jewish creation narrative and the religion of Olympia.” The notion of man’s God-given dominion over the world was merely intensified in the Enlightenment.

Myth turns into enlightenment, and nature into mere objectivity. Men pay for the increase in their power with alienation from that over which they exercise their power. Enlightenment behaves towards things as a dictator towards men. He knows them in so far as he can manipulate them.8

How then do we rescue ourselves and climb out of this dominatory gravity well?

It often happens in this world that the solution to our problems is staring us right in the face, and so it was that, even as Horkheimer and Adorno fled the apotheosis of mechanical government in Europe for sanctuary in the United States, a new scientific revolution was invalidating the metaphysics of the Newtonian universe. A new knowledge revolution declared that the billiard-ball model of Newton was wrong. In the first place, space and time are not absolute. According to Kant they are “forms of intuition;” according to Einstein they are experienced as relative. In the second place the universe is not deterministic. When Locke’s microscopical eye actually gets a look at the microscopical world, it encounters a statistical fuzz of quantum-mechanical state functions. The observer in the universe cannot tell what will happen next because the individual entities he observes do not know what they will do next. The only way to find out what will happen next is to make an observation, and an observation changes the universe forever. That is the claim at the core of the knowledge that began with Planck’s quantum and Einstein’s paper on the photoelectric effect. The new faith is illustrated in Richard Feynman’s explanation of the two-slit experiment. If you send a single photon towards a target of two slits, and you don’t know which slit the photon went through, then you will see an interference pattern on the target. But if you decide to set up the experiment so that you will know which slit the single photon went through then you will not see an interference pattern. Writer George Gilder adds modern information theory to the new experience of the world. Modern business, he argues, is based on surprise, a surprising new idea or a surprising new product that emerges from the background of noise: “entrepreneurship is the launching of surprises.”9 Once we get over our shock at the latest surprise business reduces to a question of learning how to use and how to perfect that surprising new item of human knowledge.

What bothers many critics of capitalism is that a group like the 1 percent is too full of surprises...

The process of wealth creation is offensive to levelers and planners because it yields mountains of new wealth in ways that could not possibly be planned.10

Many people do not like capitalism; they fear its “creative destruction.”

Even before the new post-Newton physics and the new information theory had fully penetrated the minds of philosophers, people were already trying to rescue the human project from the despair of Horkheimer and Adorno. The modern mass-production system epitomized by Frederick Taylor had lost its prestige. Everyone came to agree that the two great sins of corporations, their resort to plantation slavery and their exploitation of workers in the factory system, were wrong. The plantation slavery system was abolished by the anti-slavery movement. The factory system was neutralized by a movement of workers. The labor unions, spontaneous organizations that arose to fight against the industrial bosses, succeeded only too well; they had the curious effect of strangling to death any organization that practiced Taylorism. Workers in big hierarchical systems hated their jobs. They turned against their employers and attempted to oppose their masters and their dominatory power over them with their own kind of power. The eventual result, in the basic steel industry and the automobile industry, was failure and bankruptcy as the power of labor was turned against capital and ended up destroying both, for the only thing that force or countervailing force is good for is to kill. Every corporation today is sadder and wiser, and knows that the one thing to avoid is an antagonistic workforce that votes for a union, for it will end up destroying the corporation. Today’s corporations attempt to create within the corporate walls a simulacrum of community, bosses that affect to care about their employees and encourage their personal development.

Then came Jürgen Habermas’ Theory of Communicative Action, an attempt to rescue Marxism from the obsolescence of its labor theory of value and the despair of Horkheimer and Adorno. Habermas still carries forward Marx’s two-world system of abstract labor and social labor; only now he finally detaches it from the exploded labor theory of value. Habermas converts the world of abstract labor and social labor into system and lifeworld. System is not just the alienating force of big bad capitalism, but of the terrible twins, rational government and rational business, the system of force and the system of money. Lifeworld is not just social labor producing social value, but, following Husserl and Heidegger, a full face-to-face culture of shared experience in the world, for being is not just consciousness of the ego, but being-there in the world, and being-with the Other.

Thus, for Habermas, humans are not merely rational actors pursuing their strategic ends through the use of instrumental reason, as the Enlightenment and his teacher Theodor Adorno supposed. They also live in community in the world with other humans with whom they communicate and develop moral agreement. If the rational system of the Enlightenment and its instrumental reason is indeed strategic, a mechanical system that deals only in power and domination, it is only part of the truth. Humans also dwell in a lifeworld of shared cultural tradition. The mistake of the Enlightenment was to think of human action only as instrumental reason, limited to the calculating ego and the execution of its rational plan.

Kant and the utilitarians operated with concepts from the philosophy of consciousness. Thus they reduced the motives and aims of action as well as the interests and value orientations on which they depended to inner states or private episodes... In fact, however, motives and ends have something intersubjective about them, they are always interpreted in the light of a cultural tradition. Interests are directed to what is worthwhile, and “all the things worthwhile are shared experiences... Even when a person seems to retire into himself to live among his own ideas, he is living really with the others who have thought what he is thinking... The content is always of a social character.”11

People are not just instrumental reasoners, strategically motivated merely by the logic of power and the drive to get what they want in the world. They are not just utility maximizers, trying to get the most out of natural and human resources. They also live in a community immersed in a cultural tradition, a lifeworld that “appears as a reservoir of taken-for-granteds, of unshaken convictions that participants in communication draw upon in cooperative processes of interpretations”12 that is “always already” familiar. People are not just egos pursuing a selfish goal; they are social beings immersed in a shared lifeworld, a culture that begins with “ego” and “alter,” the self and the other, in which the discourse of language is central in defining what it is possible to think about in the shared culture. That is why Habermas contrasts the Enlightenment “philosophy of consciousness” with the 20th century “philosophy of language.” In the philosophy of consciousness we begin with the ego, the subject, the Cartesian indubitable knowledge that “I think, therefore I am.” In the philosophy of language we begin with the knowledge that we talk, therefore we can try to understand each other. There is no private language, wrote Wittgenstein; language already includes the idea and the fact of person-to-person communication, the sharing of meaning.

The despair of Horkheimer and Adorno also informs James C. Scott’s vision in Seeing Like a State. For Scott the modern state acts only with instrumental reason. It is a strategic actor that applies the world-view of Newton and Descartes to its strategic plan of power. Wanting to simplify its governing problem as much as possible into a bureaucratic system, it decides to simplify the territory it controls and the people living in it because fewer and simpler things are easier to understand and control. This is exactly the same strategy that science takes. It uses the notion of Occam’s Razor, expressed by Einstein as “Everything should be kept as simple as possible, but no simpler.” It wants to believe that the whole of the universe can be reduced to a single Grand Unified Theory. Just as Horkheimer and Adorno wrote: “What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order wholly to dominate it and other men.” System is domination. Heidegger sees the problem as he analyzes the notion of solicitude.

[S]olicitude has two extreme possibilities. It can, as it were, take ’care’ away from the Other and put itself in his position in concern: it can leap in for him... In such solicitude the Other can become one who is dominated and dependent, even if this domination is a tacit one and remains hidden from him.13

The other extreme of solicitude “leaps ahead” rather than “leaps in... not in order to take away his ’care’ but rather to give it back to him authentically as such for the first time.”

What then is going on in the idea of Habermas’ “communicative action” and the bigger project of the philosophy of language? It is the notion that humans do not act like utility-maximizing power-seekers all the time in a mechanical conflict of force against force. Humans are social animals; they achieve most of what they need through acts of communication, coordination, and exchange that start with a shared culture in which all things and all situations are “always already” familiar. This is better understood in the original German title of Habermas’ “Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns” than the English translation to “theory of communicative action.” “Handeln” encodes the idea of negotiation and bargaining as well as action. Here is Habermas filling in the details of his concept.

Like cultural traditions, the competences of socialized individuals and the solidarities of groups integrated through values and norms present resources for the background of lifeworld certainties... The background, against which interaction scenes are played out and out of which, as it were, the situation of action oriented to mutual understanding issues, consists not only of cultural certainties, but equally, as we have seen, of individual skills—the intuitive knowledge of how to deal with a situation—and of customary social practices—the intuitive knowledge of what one can count on in a situation... The “beyond all question” character of the lifeworld out of which one acts communicatively derives not only from the kind of security based on what one trivially knows, but also from the kinds of certainty based on the consciousness of knowing how to do something or of being able to count on someone.14

In this concept of a taken-for-granted culture out of which everyone in a group operates, the need for communication occurs when a problem arises that is not already included in the shared intuitive knowledge and customary practices of the group. This need for communication occurs even in the bureaucratic systems of instrumental reason of the modern government and the modern corporation. Thus a business meeting in contemporary western corporation is called to determine what to do about a situation that cannot be intuitively resolved by direct application of the bureaucratic rules. At the end of the meeting, the leader will often ask the rhetorical question: “are we all on the same page on this?” He is communicating the idea that the meeting participants have agreed to change the system, really the taken-for-granted culture of their lifeworld, and wants everyone to agree that this is so.

Of course, you could reduce Habermas’ sophisticated German philosophy of system vs. lifeworld, and philosophy of consciousness vs. philosophy of language, to the basic difference between the sexes.

The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.15

But that would be a bridge too far.

We can at least dare to investigate a more prosaic application of communicative action in the question: How does a business team actually work? We know that it has a leader, who might be a manager or an owner, with the authority and power invested in his title. We know that it is a team, with some degree of team spirit, the notion that “we are all in this together.” Then there are the quid-pro-quo aspects of team membership, the idea that people pull their weight, that there is a rough balance kept of each person’s contribution to the team. And there is the pecuniary remuneration of each team member, that his employer must usually keep fairly close to the market price for any person with similar skills. These factors, all rolled together and combined, determine how well the team performs, within its own business and in comparison to other similar teams at other businesses.

So businesses have softened themselves from mechanical system into social culture, or at least the pretense of a social culture; corporate executives now talk about “corporate culture.” Government has done the same, at least in the system that matters most to it: the military. Back during the high noon of the absolute monarch and the taxation bureaucracy the armed forces were regimented into rigid drill and subordinated into articulated formations, just like a machine. But the advent of rifled guns and field artillery made rigid drill useless, because they created the “lethal battlefield” upon which soldiers could no longer be marched and drilled. In the old battlefield under fire from smooth-bore firearms, a formation that was more than 100 yards from its enemy was relatively safe from harm and in 1781 the over-enthusiastic young Colonel Hamilton, at last promoted to a field command, could put his light-infantry battalion “through parade-ground drills in front of the flabbergasted British” at Yorktown without cost.16 In the new battlefield dominated by rifled firearms, soldiers in sight of the enemy had to be hidden in trenches and dugouts.

It took a century for the armies to solve the problem of the lethal battlefield. The Germans solved it in World War I with their “storm troops” and infiltration tactics. Small squads under the command of NCOs and supported by heavy firepower advanced by infiltrating around enemy strong points instead of advancing by walking exposed across the battlefield in waves. But this tactic meant that the army commanders could no longer easily control their formations. Not just officers but NCOs now had to be resourceful, creative leaders with the skills and the experience and will to adapt to rapidly changing tactical conditions. It now was judged worse to remain inactive waiting for orders than to do something, anything, even if it was wrong. By 1921 the commander of the German army, General Hans von Seeckt, established the goal to make

of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier.17

The Germans were trying to solve a seemingly intractable problem that they had begun to solve in the Great War. How do you get junior officers and soldiers to execute the will of senior officers when the senior officers have no way of reviewing the actions of their juniors until it is too late? The answer is that you have to train the subordinates, teach them to act and deal with uncertainties and setbacks, and then trust them to do the right thing. Thus, just at the height of Taylorism in business and socialism in politics and the doctrine that maximum efficiency in mass production factories or schools or social benefits requires that tasks for workers and welfare state clients be reduced to simple repetitions requiring no discretion, the German Army, whose “Prussian drill” once trained the soldier as an automaton, abandoned the doctrine of the soldier as food for powder and trained him up to knowledge and responsibility. The army became something more than a system if less than a society. It could only win wars by treating its soldiers as human beings, by reducing the domination of system and restoring lifeworld, the warrior culture of esprit de corps and group loyalty, and the bourgeois culture of responsibility and trust.

It’s easy to declare the Enlightenment project and the rule of the subject a failure and call for something new. That’s what everyone has been doing since the dawn of Romanticism. Here, following Jürgen Habermas, we are calling for a new age in which reason and system are balanced by intersubjective communication, responsibility and trust. But what would it look like, and how would it work? What does the world look like when we demote system to become an equal partner of culture and communication? It might look like the world of moral psychologist Alan Page Fiske. In Fiske’s world we discover a way to differentiate the ingredients that go into the lifeworld of taken-for-granted culture, the soup of intersubjective communicative action and collaboration. In his “relational models theory” he suggests that humans socialize in four different ways. The concept is simple.

People relate to each other in just four ways. Interaction can be structured with respect to (1) what people have in common, (2) ordered differences, (3) additive imbalances, or (4) ratios. When people focus on what they have in common, they are using a model we call Communal Sharing. When people construct some aspect of an interaction in terms of ordered differences, the model is Authority Ranking. When people attend to additive imbalances, they are framing the interaction in terms of the Equality Matching model. When they coordinate their actions according to proportions or rates, the model is Market Pricing.18

We can see that the instrumental reason of modern science and modern governance is a highly developed form of Authority Ranking. We can see that Communal Sharing is the mode of hunter-gatherer culture or the village communism that supposedly obtained in the Russian “mir.” Equality Matching is the friendly relation of housewives or businessmen that keep a running tally of favors given and received. And Market Pricing is the formalization of Equality Matching in complex transactions, typically involving money, that cannot be reduced to a simple give and take.

It is worth pausing a moment to review the European world in the crucial years of transition between 1800 and 1850 in the light of Page’s ideas. We have already seen that the era was characterized by extraordinary social, political and economic change. The rising bourgeoisie was contending for entry into the ruling class, and wanted to change the rules to reduce the weight of feudal patrimony and encourage the prestige of commercial exchange. Meanwhile the life of the lower orders was being utterly transformed. On the one hand the simplification projects of the new nation states were changing land ownership from a feudal/communal model to a freehold model. In Britain this was implemented in the centuries-long Enclosure movement that eliminated traditional common lands that were hard to tax and simplified the complex rights inherent in common land into freehold: private property. In this process, most observers agree, the common people got shafted and the powerful landowners got a windfall, as they would since enclosures were effected through bills in Parliament. But the Industrial Revolution just happened along at the very height of the enclosures. Impoverished villagers dispossessed of their rights to common land found themselves walking to the new cities where textile mills employed them as factory hands, out of the frying pan into the fire. In this transformation the lower classes found themselves in a double bind. They suffered as the victims of the political system and its agricultural simplification project and they also suffered as the factory hands in the businessmen’s project of simplifying the textile industry. The businessmen mechanized spinning and later weaving, and demolished the opaque tradition of hand-loom weaving and its “putting-out” of work to thousands of cottagers. Now they proposed to concentrate and simplify the industry into a predictable mechanical project of machine weaving in easily monitored and controlled machine factories where regimented machine operators replaced skilled weavers. The father of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie was one such hand-loom weaver whose way of life was ended by the new efficient machines. In response, the Carnegies left their native Dunfermline in Scotland for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Teenager Andrew supported the family in their new home as a telegraph messenger. By a stroke of luck, he got a job sending telegrams for Thomas A. Scott, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Harsh as their new life in the city became, there was one advantage for the new urban poor over their old life in the countryside. In the new cities the once rural and now urban poor found themselves in strategic concentration, and by 1850 their plight had become elevated into an international “social problem.” For millennia poor people had starved and died on the land, known only to themselves and God. But in the city they suddenly became visible, not just as individuals that could be enlisted and taxed, but as a problem that demanded to be solved.

Viewed in the light of Fiske’s relational model theory, the negative reaction to the rise of the nation state and the rise of the bourgeoisie makes sense. In hunter-gatherer society, it is easy to see how society could have been balanced between Communal Sharing, Authority Ranking and Equality Matching, and that such a balance would satisfy the social instincts of humankind. Later, in the agricultural age, the dominant Authority Ranking headed up by the landed warrior class was mitigated by Communal Sharing at the village level so that the rapacity of the warrior aristocracy was relieved by a spirit of community among the serfs and peasants. But the nation state suddenly ratcheted up the power of Authority Ranking. States started to break up local Communal Sharing socialization and impose vast new supervisory bureaucracies to advance their “legibility” project. Their national armies become highly articulated and ruthlessly disciplined. The rising middle class ruthlessly formalized and differentiated economic relationships. Communal Sharing was transferred from villages into corporations, but the power to eject freeloaders was much more direct. In the rise of bourgeois capitalism Authority Ranking was also enhanced, as corporations grew into veritable economic armies, battling across the economic plain for market share, and the give-and-take of Equality Matching was formalized into the black and white of Market Pricing and double-entry bookkeeping. No wonder millions longed for a return to the imagined bliss and relative ease of the rural village.

But we can now begin to perceive the answer to the question posed in this book: what went wrong with the administrative state? It went wrong when it intensified Authority Ranking relationships, while pretending all along it was just enabling Communal Sharing. The national state is Authority Ranking on steroids, and seeks always to equip its rulers with Superman’s X-ray vision to let them “see like a state.” The ruling class of the modern, rationalized administrative state tried to fool its subjects and get them to believe that they could return to the comforts of Communal Sharing that people had enjoyed in their agricultural villages; it asserted that it could do a better job of Equality Matching and Market Pricing than individuals and market actors. But it was all a confidence trick, and the people most fooled were probably the rulers themselves. A hierarchical bureaucracy is a horrible way to do Communal Sharing and Equality Matching, and utterly inappropriate for Market Pricing. And so the administrative state is failing.

The model explaining human society described by Alan Page Fiske is not a mechanical world; it is not driven only by force. If Communal Sharing is to work, people must share notions of appropriate sharing, and according to Elinor Ostrom, must share a common agreement about the right way to share. If Equality Matching is to work, people must share notions of the right way to exchange favors. If Market Pricing is to work, people must agree to cooperate truthfully and faithfully. People want to live in the intersubjective lifeworld of Habermas, not in the mechanical wasteland of a Newtonian system. What is needed is a moral framework that guides people in their social actions and interactions, but stops short of systemic mechanical domination.

Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind set about trying to understand just that: how people form the moral judgments that bind the participants in human social interaction. He found that people do not use reason to form moral ideas. They have moral instincts and they use their reasoning minds to rationalize their instincts. Moreover they do not use their reason to analyze their instincts; they use reason to criticize the moral judgments and behaviors of other people, and so he confirms the analysis of Horkheimer and Adorno that reason seeks to dominate.

Haidt found that people use their moral instincts to judge human action in six ways. He defined each moral instinct by identifying its moral axis: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, and liberty/oppression.

Five adaptive challenges stood out most clearly: caring for vulnerable children, forming partnerships with non-kin to reap the benefits of reciprocity, forming coalitions to compete with other coalitions, and keeping oneself and one’s kin free from parasites and pathogens[.]19

There is also a liberty/oppression axis that operates in tension with the authority/subversion axis and is an active resistance to authority. It is clear that Haidt’s taxonomy of moral axes intersects with Page’s matrix of sociality.

But Haidt, a liberal, found himself non-plussed when he cross-plotted his moral foundations against political allegiance. It turns out that American liberals only value the moral axes of care/harm and liberty/oppression, while American conservatives more or less value all six moral axes equally. This explains for Haidt the question that has recently troubled liberals, their worry about “whatever happened to Kansas,” the fact that working-class Americans vote “against” their economic interest by voting for Republicans. Liberals fail to connect with ordinary Americans, according to Haidt, because they fail to appreciate the moral axes of loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. It could also be that Haidt’s moral blinders prevented him from identifying the full range of liberal moral axes, e.g., liberal social justice movements, liberal poles of authority in cultural and educational institutions, and liberal ideals of sanctity institutionalized in the environmental movement. But then the ruling class is usually the last to know.

Let us now examine other ways in which modern thinkers have encountered the modern dilemma, that human society reduced to social mechanics is a problem, because mechanics deals in force, and is blind to the truth that social animals, including humans, have developed evolved their social relations to benefit themselves from a reduction in the weight and the incidence and above all the cost of force.

1Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, HarperOne, 1962, p. 158.

2Eric Hoffer, “Automation, Leisure, and the Masses,” The Temper of Our Times, Harper and Row, 1967, pp. 34-35.

3Ibid., “A Time of Juveniles,” p. 13.

4Leszek Kołakowski, Main Currents of Marxism, Norton 2005, p. 226.

5Kurt H. Wolff, ed., The Sociology of Georg Simmel, Free Press, 1950, p. 388.

6Keven A. Carson, “Legibility & Control: Themes in the Work of James C. Scott,” Accessed 7/22/2012 http://c4ss.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/James-Scott.pdf

7Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment, Continuum 1990, p. 4.

8Ibid., p. 9.

9George Gilder, Knowledge and Power: The information theory of capitalism and how it is revolutionizing out world, Regnery, 2013, p. 187.


11Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol.2, Beacon Press, 1987, pp. 95-66.

12Ibid., p. 124.

13Heidegger, Ibid., p. 138.

14Ibid., p.221-222.

15Simon Baron-Cohen, The Essential Difference, Basic Books 2004, p. 1.

16Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, Penguin Books, 2005, p. 162.

17MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., “May 1940: Contingency and Fragility of the German RMA,” The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050, p. 160-161.

18Alan Page Fiske, “Relational Models Theory 2.0,” Relational Models Theory: A Contemporary Overview, Erlbaum, 2004, p. 3.

19Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, Pantheon, 2012, p. 125.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.americanmanifesto.org.

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The Crisis of the Administrative State
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Government and the Technology of Power
If you scratch a social reformer, you will likely discover a plan for more government.

Business, Slavery, and Trust
Business is all about trust and relationship.

Humanity's Big Problem: Freebooters and Freeloaders
The modern welfare state encourages freeloaders.

The Bonds of Faith
No society known to anthropology or history lacked religion.

A Critique of Social Mechanics
The problem with human society reduced to system.

The Paradox of Individualism
Is individualism the gospel of selfishness or something else?

From Multitude to Civil Society
The larger the government, the smaller the society.

The Answer is Civil Society
In between the separated powers.

The Greater Separation of Powers
If you want to limit power then you must limit power.

Conservatism Three by Three
Conservatism, political, economics, and cultural.

The Culture of Involvement
Imagining lives without the welfare state

The Poor Without the Welfare State
Can the poor thrive without the welfare state?

The Middle Class Without The Welfare State
How would the middle class live without all those middle-class entitlements?

Liberals and the Welfare State
Liberals, the ruling class of the administrative welfare state.

From Freeloaders to Free Givers
The path to the future lies through moral movements.

The Real Meaning of Society
Broadening the horizon of cooperation in the “last best hope of man on earth.”

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The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust

Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”


Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity

Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh

Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Drang nach Osten

There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion


“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


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