Saturday, May 27, 2006

The ruling class and its lackeys

Class rhetoric is traditionally a Marxist tool, but libertarians have to a certain extent reclaimed it as a valid tool of social analysis. I think it is a valid way of seeing society, to a great extent (although not completely), and so use the term often. But what exactly is the "ruling class" ? Who is in it ? What does it do ? These questions deserve reflexion.

Well, one obvious way to define "ruling class" is : the set of people who rule. But how do we know they are the rulers ? One obvious answer is to look at who is using force, such as a soldier. But this category also includes, for example, a serial killer, who is obviously not a ruler. The difference is that the serial killer has no legitimacy, while a soldier does. The category also does not include people like political parties, interest groups and union leaders, who exploit that force in order to achieve their own ends at the expense of the general population.

So it seems that the concept of ruling class is very much tied in with the concept of exploitation. The ruling class is the set of exploiters in a given society.

Our concept of exploitation dictates our relationship to the ruling class. Libertarians see the ruling class as necessary evil at best, parasitic evil at worst. Now, the intuitive model of exploitation tells us that any concentration of power is exploitative. Thus people who subscribe to this model will tend to see government as a justifiable tool to hammer out social inequalities.

Of course they are blind to the fact that government is the greatest concentration of power in any society, because of the illusion of legitimacy provided by the democratic process ("It's not a concentration of power, because we are the government !"). Communism and nazism are merely extensions of this.

The initial impetus for the expansion of the ruling class was the democratic process. While monarchic systems provided incentive to restrict access to the ruling class and the resources of society, democracy opened the floodgates by making access to those resources a public good. As for any other Tragedy of the Commons scenario, the natural consequence of such an act is to endanger these resources. As a consequence, the level of taxation and control over individual freedoms is now higher than it has ever been under monarchies - and it didn't take very long, either.

One consequence of democracy is the dramatic expansion of the ruling class. A monarch is only interested in personal profit and does not need to get elected, and thus has only a modest interest in controlling the laws and means of production. In a democracy, political parties survive and flourish by manipulating the laws and increasingly controlling the means of production in ways that garner them more votes, resources or public opinion.

And one form of control opens the door to three others. For example, banning certain drugs for racial reasons led to the War on Drugs, which itself opened the door to the police state, which can then be used to control other areas of society.

This gives rise to the two other categories of exploiters I discuss in my entry on exploitation, second-hand parasites and free riders. These are the "lackays", in that their existence depends solely on the exercise of fascistic control by the democratic ruling class. If the government did not assert control over corporations and markets, coercive unions, corporate trusts and sybsidies would not exist (or be substantially reduced). If the government did not assert control over certain markets such as narcotics and sexuality, mafias would not exist. And so on and so forth.

What of the notion of class warfare ? Well, our notion of class is political in nature, and not economic. We therefore cannot agree with the Marxists that class warfare takes place between arbitrary levels of income. It is true that people who possess more means of production can become exploiters through the power of the state, and that this is a grave problem. But in general it is not concentration of money which is the problem, since in an anarchic society that money will have been acquired by fulfilling the needs of others in the free market. Rather, it is exploitation that is the problem. Some corporation owners are part of the ruling class because they are exploiters, not because they control more means of production.

The parasitic nature of the ruling class does give us hope for its extinction, in that a majority of people refusing to feed it could starvge it to death. A social parasite cannot survive without production to exploit. This is, therefore, the anarchist dream.

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