David Hume, the Arab Spring and Capitalism

Happy Belated 300th Birthday, David Hume! And thanks to Crooked Timber for a pointer to both this anniversary date and his neglected influence on social sciences. I’ll re-quote two parts of a re-quote from there (happy internet copy-paste days). They do a very good job at explaining what happens in the Arab world and our own homes.

The first one deals with power of the masses, and why they so often don’t use it:

NOTHING appears more surprizing to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find, that, as FORCE is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular. The soldan of EGYPT, or the emperor of ROME, might drive his harmless subjects, like brute beasts, against their sentiments and inclination: But he must, at least, have led his mamalukes, or prætorian bands, like men, by their opinion.

Wow! After elaborating this opinion into opinions of interest and right, the latter again in right to power and right to property, the quote finishes with a paragraph about the relationship between power and property that absolutely stunned me, because I feel it anticipates much of what my „NeuerPlan“ line of thinking criticizes in our modern Capitalism-Democracies:

A Government may endure for several ages, though the balance of power, and the balance of property do not coincide. This chiefly happens, where any rank or order of the state has acquired a large share in the property; but from the original constitution of the government, has no share in the power. Under what pretence would any individual of that order assume authority in public affairs? As men are commonly much attached to their ancient government, it is not to be expected, that the public would ever favour such usurpations. But where the original constitution allows any share of power, though small, to an order of men, who possess a large share of the property, it is easy for them gradually to stretch their authority, and bring the balance of power to coincide with that of property.

Apart from the obvious implications concerning, e.g., the upper 1%‚s political influence, I think this can be easily extended to make understandable how corporations extended their reach from the beginnings of this legal institution to the elimination of restrictions on their spending in political campaigns in the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

PS: Concerning the first quote, I find a small comment on the original post quite interesting, as well as a link provided there:

This leaves open, of course, how anyone, subject or mamaluke, learns the opinions of their fellows regarding rights and interests; but this is one thing public political action is for.

Datum: Mittwoch, 11. Mai 2011 22:28
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