Monday, August 08, 2016

Liberalism, the State, and Socialism.

Many people have misconceptions about the concept of the State, both in general and as it exists within socialist thought. The definition of the State as being the executive arm of the government is actually a relatively recent invention. Before the rise of large governmental apparatus', the State as such was many times considered to be identical to the community. Not in a way reminiscent of Fascism, which sees the State as a governmental entity as being all encompassing, but instead as being simply the entity in question. The State was an implicit entity made up of all the social relationships the existed within it, while the government was the part of the community that regulated the affairs of the State.

Underlying this was an understanding that a city or other geographical area made up a collective whole, one that transcended the individuals that made it up. This whole was made by the interrelationship of social institutions, for instance economic relations, familial relations, work relations. All of these together made up an entity that was thought to, potentially, have a sense of common interest, which the government would then be the representative of.

In this, the idea of a Constitution had a unique role. The Constitution of a State, in the older sense, was the arrangement of social and economic relations within that grouping, as well as the governmental institutions set up to regulate those interests. An example of a Constitution would be one which specified Aristocratic rule, as opposed to one that specified Democratic rule. The Constitution set up the implicit State of which the government was the explicit agent. A change in the Constitution of society, then, could be something along the lines of shifting the entity in all its forms from an Aristocratic social system to a Democratic one, or the opposite. Interestingly, Aristotle and other thinkers at the beginning of the Western tradition made no distinction between the economic and the social aspects of the Constitution and of the character of the State. An Aristocratic state, for example, would normally be dominated by large landowners, and this was thought to be part of the normal definition.

The problem with the understanding of the State, and of politics, that people have today is that classical liberalism has eroded the sense of community to the point where it's no longer recognized that political entities themselves are defined by common, communal, concerns and goals. Instead, it's thought that the individual is the sole anchor and actor in society, and that the recognition of any other kind of relevant social relationship between members of the community is the recognition of a fiction. However, the economic interdependence of people in the community, and how the policies of those that employ others effects the health of the community is not a fiction. You might not be able to conveniently put a finger on it, like you can with the individual, but it's as real as anything else.

It's proper, in my view at least, for the government to regulate the health of the community, which includes social programs to meet community need, social programs that individuals and businesses are expected to contribute to proportionally. You can call it socialism, but that's only partially true.


Socialism itself is a partially a construct, one that in point of fact only comes into being in response to classical liberalism. In truth, I believe that the tendencies that manifest as socialism were already present in the world of government that the classical liberals criticized. That world had socialistic factors as well as individualistic ones, and the classical liberals chose to emphasize the individualistic ones, while condemning the other factors by equating them with parts of politics that they disliked. This included monarchy as well as the domination of society by religion. However, neither monarchial government nor domination of society by religion is necessarily related to any basic collective form of action. The interest of a state as a collective entity still exists without monarchial government and with religious freedom.  

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