You Can't Stop the World
but we all want to be safe
I’m reading some Michael McConkey blogs about German “hometowns” here here here and here. These were smallish German towns that were pretty free from nation-state control because the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 had weakened central control in the German lands of the Holy Roman Empire.
These towns were “organic” in that everybody knew everybody else and everyone was part of the community. McConkey exhibits the “hometowns” as an example of one side in
the centuries-long struggle between those promoting durable community, traditional social order, and customary law and governance, on the one hand; and on the other, those promoting social and geographic mobility, free markets, political bureaucratic centralism, and state expansion.
The Bürger of the hometowns didn’t like peasants, they didn’t like big merchants. They wanted to live in their tightly regulated communities of craft-based guilds in which men went through the path of apprentice, craftsman, journeyman, master, generation after generation.
This seems to be a universal human longing to live in a stable community where fluctuations and disturbances to life are minimized — even removed.
But I think this is a fantasy. For sure, life goes on the way it always has. Until it doesn’t. But it’s the “until it doesn’t” that really matters, whether the disturbance is drought, flood, famine, recession, civil war, invasion, epidemic — or climate change.
When you think about it, almost all social and cultural and governmental arrangements are about protecting humans from disaster. But the promise always seems to get corrupted so that instead of promising that our protectors will smooth the edges of change we end up with a false guarantee that nobody need change, ever.
That, it seems to me, is the philosophy of labor unions, of the welfare state, of going to work for big business or for big government. The idea is that the big institution guarantees to protect you from the vicissitudes of life. Only it doesn’t.
That was the false promise of socialism, that with wise rulers and equality we could have heaven on Earth.
And it’s behind the attack on the market, on “neoliberalism.” The idea is that without institutional protection humans are utterly helpless from cunning manipulations of power brokers, from the chaotic ups and downs in prices, from greedy corporations and bankers, and the competition from low-wage workers across the world.
Is there a way to combine protection from invaders, a comfortable and just community of the neighbors, and a prosperous and flexible market economy?
So let’s analyze all this through my Three Worlds lens.
Life World provides a stable and intimate social and economic world. But it can’t really deal with economic and political forces beyond its borders. It assumes that we can keep on going in the traditional way without change.
Market World is a flexible and responsive culture that responds to change, material and technological, and puts everyone to work serving their fellow humans on the most urgent tasks identified by the price system. But humans really prefer something less abstract and more forgiving.
War World is to protect humans from disaster, natural and man-made. Problem is that War World leaders are always gussie-ing up potential disasters, because unless there’s a crisis we don’t need no stinkin’ war leaders. And in return for their promise of protection war leaders demand an excessive payment in lives to be expended on the front line and treasure to be shared out among their supporters.
How do we mix these Three Worlds together without excessive rigidity, excess hegemony and domination, and excess economic turmoil?
It’s a good question.