The Coordination Solution, Property, and the Exception (Comment)

Libertarians and “liberals” before them haven’t somehow entirely missed “the coordination problem.” If theorists return to “two traders in a forest” or an idealized “homestead,” it will usually be in an attempt to make some general point more clear. Economic theories often (always?) begin with simple, idealized models of economic processes, and then extrapolate. The distance between the imaginary shoemaker able to produce more shoes than he and his family have use for, and transnational corporations manufacturing and distributing shoes and other items, is vast, but the illustration of the difference between use value and exchange value may still remain instructive for both.

I wouldn’t say, however, that the coordination problem isn’t a serious problem for libertarianism at some point. It was understood as a philosophical problem well before the industrial era or our era of globally distributed manufacture and consumption, with direct bearing on this question of property rights (Burke and Hume have much to say on this connection vs. different revolutionary or crypto-revolutionary social concepts). The thinking has been re-stated in many ways since and, as always in these very fundamental matters, can be re-extracted from the most ancient sources available to us – just as we ourselves and our language are also “extracted from the ancient sources” – wherever the creation of worlds or of societies (social-political orders, including all of their laws) marks, is marked by, and is constituted as a transition from a pre-history to a history, or from what was before us to what we are now.

The discussion of the claim that property is thieft fits neatly within this framework. My comment in the post [cross-posted here] about property as the “pre-adjudication” of the natural collision of individual rights is another way of describing a central, trans-generational mode of “coordination solution.”

Quite relatedly, the very idea of theft implies the existence of a moral and legal order. Definining property itself as “theft” would imply the existence of real communities prior to the existence of property (or property rights), because, if there is no place that is “our own” – even in the form of a temporary or virtual location that we nomads securely occupy today, that is our own today, where we can go about our lives unafraid of the wolves or zombies, where our customs are understood and enforced (allowing us to coordinate efficiently) – then there is no “theft” properly speaking, any more than it is “murder” for a bird to eat a worm or a T-cell to destroy an infected cell, or for a “walker” to devour this week’s victims (or this week’s survivors to decapitate this week’s to be de-animated walkers).

When we nomads occupy our little encampment by the riverside, we may declare it “theft” if one of us takes a tool from someone’s tent without permission, but we might equally consider all of the possessions of our group commonly held, and have no law or concept or custom relating to “theft.”

So “property is theft” is a tautological statement, since without property there are no property crimes. It is only retrospectively that we can look back on the first King Henry and say, if he were a subject of King Henry’s realm or the realm of a legitimate (Henry-realm-lawfully recognized) successor, what he did to found his realm would be theft. After King Henry, to try to found a new realm in King Henry’s realm is insurrection or treason – unless the project succeeds, in which case King Henry’s realm is reduced or destroyed, and a new realm and new definitions of treason and potentially of theft might be set by the new rulers.

These words – ruler, realm, rule, regime, right, etc. – define each other. To “found” a realm is always to divide up the real property, or perform the first, foundational, “original primary division” of property (of the really ruling rulers’ real rights to the real, etc.) to which all further divisions and re-divisions can eventually (lawfully, by rule) be traced.

The original primary division is an exceptional moment, a type of the sovereign moment in governance, that comes before or outside of law, and makes the law (law at all) possible or real, moves it from mere idea to reality. The laws by which the process of the foundation of laws occur can be thought of as natural or physical or bio-physical laws, not statutes (of the state), but remain as such of a very particular type, since they are the laws by which the other than merely natural order arises. (They are before the fact as mysterious as the origins of life and especially sentient life; they can be viewed as processes of the same type, for an emergent social organism as integral being.)

The “exception,” which is determined at the extreme, but inescapably, by the giving and taking of natural lives (which our friend b-psycho would like to wish out of existence) is the fundamental challenge to an individualist liberalism (and libertarianism), since a pure individualism cannot ever justify the sacrifice of the individual’s life, for the individual whose life is to be surrendered. It can never be in my interest as an individual to give up my life, but the existence of the state – and all of its laws – is always premised on the willingness of some to risk their lives and take others – as it were “altruistically” (which means, etymologically, “in reference to others rather than to oneself”: alter-istically). To construct a self-interest out of the circumstances of one’s own extinction requires a de-construction of simple individualism, and re-construction of the individual, not merely in relation to society as it presently exists, but specifically in relation to a social being that exists beyond the lifespan of any particular member.

The coordination problem is thus a corollary of the exception problem. The necessary transtemporal and social re-construction of the identity of the individual is a process we conventionally define as a matter of “religion,” and a common materialist explanation of religion refers precisely to its utility as coordination solution, and so we’re back to where we began, with the littlest possible story, of one person and his or her desires and needs somehow to be related to the self-organization of a global mass of 7 billion souls, via political theology.

Home Page  Public Email  Twitter  Facebook  YouTube  Github   

Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

Posts in this series

Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

Comment →

Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

Comment →

[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

Comment →
CK's WP Plugins


Extraordinary Comments

CK's WP Plugins