Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Shield of Achilles

One of the things that prompted the thoughts expressed below was "The Shield of Achilles" by Philip Bobbitt, which I read a few years ago. One of the themes of that book is the notion that governments transform from city states through "princely states", "kingly states", nation states to "market states". I have to say that that I was reminded very much of Marx (e.g. the English civil war marking the transition of English society from feudalism to capitalism with the rise of the gentry). Even more redolent of Marx - or more particularly Hobson or even Lenin - was the description of the "market state":
"What are the characteristics of the market-state? Such a state depends on the
international capital markets and, to a lesser degree, on the modern multinational business network to create stability in the world economy, in preference to management by national or international bodies. Its political institutions are less representative (though in some ways more democratic) than those of the nation state. The Open Markets Committee of the Federal Reserve and the electronic referendum (to take two extremes) are more characteristic of the market state than the elegant electoral representative institutions envisioned by Hamilton and Madison or the mass election campaigns of Roosevelt and Johnson."

That sounds to me a lot like imperialism as the highest form of capitalism. What do others think?

Posted by J


Blogger areopagitica said...

from k.

I am, for the moment, evading both a response to your question or any comment on Auden's poem "The Shield of Achilles" (though I may return to both). Instead I simply want to suggest that it is still worth returning to Hannah Arendt's analysis of politics and the state in The Human Condition. This isn't because she is always right - no individual is always right - but because in 1957 she was already predicting, with alarming accuracy, some elements of the direction which politics has since taken. In particular, she is acute about the nature of bureaucracy and the dangerous way in which marketing (as we now term it) would lead to a diminution of real involvement in or understanding of politics. On a personal level, I owe Arendt a debt of gratutude; her writings convinced me that I couldn't vote for Blair and New Labour in 1997, despite my longing for an end to the tory nightmare. (But the nightmare continues.)

1:10 pm  

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