I also believe that everyday intercourse should be consensual and that commercial contracts can be exemplary of the consensual -- so long as their terms are not compromised by fraud, misinformation, or incomplete information or by the threat of violence or deprivation. In order to ensure that contracts are truly voluntary they must be supported by material and ritual artifice -- as of course every moral and legal regime, however fair or unfair, always has been -- in this case, by a legible scene of consent, maintained by means of normative and infrastructural affordances. In a democratic society, defined as one in which people have a say in the public decisions that affect them (including a say in the determination of just what such a say is and just who are the people affected) shaped by the democratic values of equity-in-diversity and nonviolence, these affordances of the legible scene of consent should include the provision of universal lifelong free -- and hence freeing -- public healthcare, education, and welfare, providing equitable access to wholesome food and shelter, relevant and reliable information for making decisions, recourse to law to provide nonviolent alternatives for the adjudication of disputes (including disputes over what constitutes violence), civil rights to protect minorities from powerful majorities and majorities from powerful minorities, to office-holding and the franchise to ensure that authoritative institutions are accountable to those over whom they exercise their authority, and to peaceable assembly, creative and critical expression in support of public ends and as the substance of the end in itself of public happiness, and toward progress defined in a democratic spirit as the collective, collaborative, and contested determination and solution of shared problems in which the costs, risks, and benefits of change are equitably distributed to the diversity of its stakeholders by their own lights.
The legible scene of consent and the social affordances through which it is maintained is a public good. The provision of legal alternatives for the adjudication of disputes is a public good. The security of our persons, our communities, and our enterprises from violence, abuse, and neglect is a public good. The suite of civil rights that protect minorities and majorities from arbitrary and unaccountable authority is a public good. The sustainable maintenance of environmental commons like the atmosphere, the oceans, freshwater, soil, and a range of temperature and species diversity to support both life on earth in general and the flourishing of human populations in particular is a public good. The ongoing investment in and administration of public good must be in the long-term public interest, must be equitable to its diversity and fully accountable to its membership. Parochial, short-term, inequitable, unaccountable ownership, administration, or disposition of public goods does not just inevitably threaten violence and abuse but already constitutes violence and abuse and should be antithetical to democratic societies that value both nonviolence (and hence consent) and equity-in-diversity.
To snide remarks about "who pays?" for the costs of all these public goods one can only reply by remembering "who saves?" the opportunity costs and catastrophic clean-up expenses of ignorance, insecurity, disorder, mistrust, mismanagement, and systemic failure of neglecting to pay: "Who pays?" and "who saves?" are precisely the same -- that is to say, all of us. This is just to say that these are public investments with public pay-offs not private gifts to private Takers of private thefts from private Makers, as the self-appointed, self-satisfied, self-interested incumbent elites would always have it. Within the constraints determined by the demands of a sustainable, equitable, and accountable investment in and administration of public goods I do also believe, by the way, that ownership of private goods is desirable enough to a sufficient majority (among whose number I count myself) to be treated as necessary as other civil rights are to individual dignity, security, and happiness that its personal possession or renunciation should be protected as a public good. And there you have it.
I usually describe myself politically as some variation of a democratic eco-socialist feminist queer aesthete, depending on my sense of who I am talking to and how they understand such fraught terms. I do want to point out, however, that my political ideals include or at any rate explicitly accommodate the defense of individual rights, voluntary contracts, competitive profit-seeking, private property, and the rule of law. It seems to me that very few self-described capitalist ideologues fully understand or consistently defend the material and ritual affordances of these forms of public welfare as fragile artificial accomplishments to be maintained through ongoing collective effort, even as they loudly insist that their devotion to this very regime of individual rights, voluntary contracts, competition, private property, and rule of law defines their viewpoint. On the day and to the extent that capitalists truly do manage such an understanding and then defend its actual terms with consistent effort I will be quite happy to accept their designation of me as a fellow capitalist rather than my own hitherto preferred socialist designation if they like, in the interest of democratic reconciliation, shared progress, and the common good.
If you are interested in this political perspective or in the rhetoric through which I am defending it, you may also appreciate related posts:
Left and Right, Back to Basics
Ten Propositions on Taxes and Democracy
The "Mixed Economy" Isn't Mixed, It Is "Ideal" Capitalism and Socialism That Are Mixed Up