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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Corey Robin on Nietzsche and Austrian Economics

Corey Robin (of The Reactionary Mind fame) has published a wonderfully worthy read in the Nation magazine, delineating some rhetorical affinities and comparing the historical situations of Nietzsche's political writing and the Austrian economics of Menger, Hayek, et al. The essay is now being discussed over at Crooked Timber, to which discussion I offered up this comment (which may or may not pass muster), which summarizes my initial impression of the piece:
I can't say I'm impressed by Hayek's genuflections to the market as provocation to Nietzschean great men and Randroidal fountainheads -- this is just a very old, very dull tale of aristocrats congratulating themselves about what they take to be the neat identity in their time of enjoyable plutocracy and realized meritocracy, after all.

You summarize the more forceful Austrian point in the passage about how "we enter the market for the sake of... ends." You declare there that "[t]his claim, however, could just as easily be enlisted as an argument for socialism. In providing men and women with the means of life -- housing, food, healthcare -- the socialist state frees them to pursue the ends of life: beauty, knowledge, wisdom." But the symmetry of your phrasing conceals the greater disadvantage for democratic socialists (like me), one you reference later in the assertion that "[l]ong after economists had retired the labor theory of value, the welfare state remained lit by its afterglow."

The recognition that biological needs articulate the valu-able but do not determine valu-ing endorses the marketeers (and Spectacularists), as conceptions of brute life bleed always ineluctably into competing conceptions of flourishing. I don't think this disadvantage can be overcome on economistic terms at all, once we take the subjective turn and declare the valu-ed the valu-able and reframe democracy on these terms (smile for the camera Culture Industry critique).

The fly in the ointment is, rather: "For those choices to reveal our ends... our choice of ends unconstrained by external interference." We all know that libertopians insist contractual relations are non-coercive by fiat, and even frame non-violence insistently through contractarian figurations, but the plain fact remains that most and possibly all "voluntary arrangements" in plutocratic orders testify to disinformation and duress (insider knowledge deranging perfect markets, threats of penury and humiliation denigrating individual choice), which gives the lie to the whole moral(izing) edifice of capitalism in no time flat.

Democracy's ethical answer to plutocracy is more Kingian than Keynesian, finally, in that democracy provides for the non-violent adjudication of differences (including crucially for the democratic deliberation over the terms of democracy and violence themselves), in part by providing through general welfare for a scene of informed nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce and an administrative circumvention of the structural violence of misuse of common and public goods. Democracy doesn't better answer to the ontic status of labor/life/value, but produces a scene of nonviolence in the absence of which the libertarian claims of both capitalists and socialists are fruitless.

To circle more explicitly back to your valuable article, the key figure trying to take up these perplexities and promises is one you did not invoke: Hannah Arendt. Her extensive work on violence/nonviolence remains underexplored in my view (unlike her work on politics/power more generally, even though she never said more about politics on her conception than when she said the phrase "nonviolent politics" is redundant nor about power on her conception than when she said power and violence are opposites), but she is especially relevant to your project when you realize that her political phenomenology was an answer to Nietzsche's revaluation, her Amor Mundi an answer to his Amor Fati, and grapples with the very knot you are foregrounding in comparing him to the Austrians.

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