Making money, making scenarios
The latest phase of the machine revolution sharpens our awareness of an impending break in human history of a sort that bears comparison with Childe’s two revolutions, the invention of agriculture and cities, ten and five millennia ago respectively. For some time now, writers about late 20th century society have used labels suggesting that we have passed beyond whatever stage we were in before. This “afterology” takes various forms of which the most common are: post-modernism, implying a break with whatever made us modern, presumably the institutions of state capitalism; post-industrialism, reflecting the shift from manufacturing to services; and post-colonialism, suggesting that the world has moved beyond the phase of western empire. Echoing all this, the academic fashion of the day is post-structuralism, with Michel Foucault having replaced Marx as the most frequently cited icon of the left intelligentsia. What they are saying is that it seems we have come to the end of something; and I can hardly dissent from that. But I have also argued in this book that the world is not yet even post-agricultural, in that half of humanity still works in the fields with their hands and the rest remain in the grip of institutions whose origin and logic lie in 5,000 years of agrarian civilisation.
So, while there are undoubtedly tremendous changes afoot, it would be unwise to write off the forces of modernity, industry and empire. The world is still ruled by nation-states pursuing an economic agenda of Victorian vintage. The rise of countries like China is underpinned by the industrial techniques which once fuelled western expansion. The collapse of Europe’s empires has merely paved the way for an American version which operates through puppet dictators, military strikes and multilateral institutions. And world society bears a striking resemblance to the old regime of 18th century France. Let us assume, therefore, that we are not yet past anything, much as we would sometimes like to be. There is no guarantee that a new age, better than the last, is already born; or even that we have entered a limbo phase between two contrasting stages of social development. Everything remains to be fought for; and the evidence of the last century is that the forces of counter-revolution, the drive of states and corporations to control society from the top and exclude most people from meaningful power, will only be displaced by a mighty social movement or, to employ a much-abused expression, a world revolution.
How do we go about exchanging the squalor of contemporary society for one in which economic justice is taken seriously? A prerequisite is to learn to think creatively in terms which both reflect reality and reach out for imagined possibilities. This in turn depends on capturing what is essential about the world we live in, its movement and direction, not just its stable forms. I have argued that the stage of capitalism we have reached is at the same time global and virtual, each term reflecting the phase of mechanisation I have called the communications revolution. The idea of virtual reality goes to the heart of the questions I have raised here. It contains the movement which links the book’s form to its content, extension from the actual to the possible. “Virtual” means existing in the mind, but not in fact. When combined with “reality”, it means a product of the imagination which is “as good as real”, almost but not quite real. In technical terms, “virtual reality” is a computer simulation which enables the effects of operations to be shown in real time. The word “real” connotes something genuine, authentic, serious. In philosophy it means existing objectively in the world; in economics it is actual purchasing power; in law it is fixed, landed property; in physics it is an image formed by the convergence of light rays in space; and in mathematics, real numbers are, of course, not imaginary ones. “Reality” is present, in terms of both time and space (“seeing is believing”), and its opposite is imagined connection at distance, something as old as story-telling and books, but now given a new impetus by the convergence of telephones, television and computers.
Already the experience of near synchrony at distance, the compression of time and space, is altering our conceptions of social relationships, of place and movement. When Hegel set out to show how thought could move from the known to the unknown by means of dialectical reason, constructing imagined futures on the basis of knowledge of the real past, he was hardly aware of the machine revolution’s first steam-driven stirrings. Yet he understood that analytical reason was too far from normal human thought processes to be able to grasp the movement of history. For that we need narrative in some form. There are many words for made-up stories and the one I choose for this chapter is scenario. This is in origin the plot outline for a dramatic or literary work, but for us it is usually a screenplay, the story-line of a movie. It can also be used as “a model for an expected or supposed sequence of events”; and, in this sense, scenarios are often plural, a range of possibilities in a planning exercise. Here, it is time to extend the retrospective analysis of money in history to the task of making it in future; and that depends on making scenarios with many facets and possible outcomes, all addressing a single question which defines our plot: Will we or won’t we, humanity that is, be able to make a more just society (as the market) than the one in which money (as capitalism) currently confines us? And, as a step towards that end, how may we learn to make our own money rather than just take it as it comes?
In the previous chapter, I made much of the symbolism of coins, that form of objective money which (pace Keynes) so clearly represents the economy of agrarian civilisation from which we would emancipate ourselves. It is worth recalling that states and markets of the kind with which we are most familiar developed as institutions designed to meet the needs of small urban elites living off the coerced production of the rural masses. We have seen that the dialectical interplay of heads and tails, of public hierarchy and private exchange conceived of alike as impersonal institutions, has dogged 20th century society, finding nightmarish expression in the nuclear stand-off of the Cold War. It should not have been difficult to see the interdependence of the two sides; and some nations like Germany and Japan recognised this, although their example was not inspiring from a humanist point of view. And this is the point: humanity stands in dire need of an alternative to this unholy pair, a third way which is more conducive to self-expression through the money form and hence to economic democracy.
Coins gave way to paper currency in the modern period and recently money has taken the predominant form of electronic digits (or bits) transmitted through telephone wires. If paper marked a move towards the assertion of state authority over money, the cheap information contained in bits allows exchange to admit a higher degree of personal agency than before. So that, instead of debating whether money resides objectively in precious metals or is made by political authorities, we can revive the tradition of banking which emphasised money as personal credit or acknowledgement of debt. Seen in this light, money is an expression of trust between individuals in society, an act of remembering which allows us to bring calculation to some of our interactions and relationships. This trust is two-sided also, residing in both personal responsibility and the shared memory of communities, in personality and culture, to echo an American school of anthropology. But we can no longer afford the oversimplified assumption that nation-states monopolise, in their relations with individual citizens, either the source of money or the only meaningful locus of community. Most of now live, thanks to cheap transport and telecommunications, in a plural set of associations of potentially infinite scope, the most inclusive of which is the world market. Money must evolve to reflect that plurality and this, I have argued, is precisely what has been happening already.
It seems likely that, for the foreseeable future, any moves towards more personalised forms of money will co-exist with those which are already dominant. A large number of transactions, involving people and institutions around the world, will have the need of a money or moneys which have wide acceptability both as money-of-account and as money-proper, to use Keynes’s terms. At present the dollar and, to a lesser extent, some other national currencies play such a role; and this has been enhanced by the financial turbulence in east Asia, Russia and elsewhere during the late 1990s. There are moves to strengthen the dollar zone of currencies tied to the USA economy. This comes at the same time that Western Europe has explicitly set out to establish a rival currency, the euro. The timing of this initiative was not ideal, since the American economy has been enjoying remarkable buoyancy when Europe is still struggling with high unemployment and low growth. In the aftermath of Japan’s economic difficulties, the Chinese have let it be known that they may seek to establish the yuan as an international currency; but that may have unacceptable political consequences. In any case, the regional power blocs are shaping up to offer currencies which aspire to general use in the world economy.
One obvious victim of this development is the independence of national currencies. Many of these have been more or less useless for international transactions for a long time, being “soft” or non-convertible rather than “hard” currencies. And those few which are still actively traded in international money markets experience wide and destabilising fluctuations in their exchange rate, as a result of the growing size of the free-floating funds which shape these markets. Keynes called these state-made currencies “managed money”, accepting, within an established range, the logic of markets and banking. It seems probable that these will persist as an expression of feelings of national sovereignty, as a medium of public expenditure and taxation supporting the reduced pretensions of government in countries whose citizens have traditions they wish to cling to. But it is my prediction that this level of the economy will be squeezed between global and local interests and the money associated with it marginalised as a result.
The majority of European Union countries, as a result of the Maastricht Treaty, opted to replace their national currencies with the euro in 2002. An independent central bank, modelled on the German Bundesbank, was set up to ensure that the euro would be “hard”, i.e. managed to be as inflation-proof as possible. But France’s tradition of state intervention and currently high unemployment rate, as well as the difficulties arising from Germany’s absorption of the former East, have led to a modification of that line in favour of a “softer” approach, one reflecting the need to accommodate domestic political pressures. This shift, as well as the region’s inferior economic performance, may account for the 12% deterioration in the euro’s exchange rate with the dollar in the first half year after it was floated as a money-of-account in January 1999. Incidentally, the 1999-2002 timetable of Maastricht makes the euro the first wholly virtual currency in history during its transition period. The relationship of Britain to all this is of more than parochial interest, because of that country’s role in the theory and history of money and its equivocating participation in Europe’s monetary evolution.
Britain’s Conservatives, who have become extremely sceptical of Europe, once proposed, instead of monetary union, the floating of what was called at the time the “hard ecu”, a bank-managed sound money which would exist in parallel with national currencies, leaving businesses and individuals free to choose between them in their various transactions. But their partners wanted monetary reform to point the way to political union and envisaged the euro as a bridge towards a United States of Europe, capable of matching America in the world economy. After being forcibly ejected from European monetary union by the financial turmoil of “Black September” in 1993, a Britain now governed by the Centre-Left (Labour) is still half-in, half-out of Europe’s leap towards greater integration. As a result, it looks as if, for a time at least, sterling and the euro will exist side-by-side in a relationship not unlike the one proposed for the hard ecu. Of course, the euro may turn out to be softer than was once envisaged; and Labour, having returned management of interest rates to the Bank of England and espoused anti-inflation policies, may succeed in maintaining confidence in sterling, even as a reserve currency of sorts. At the same time, the integrity of the United Kingdom itself has been thrown into the balance by devolution in Scotland and Wales, as well as Ireland’s protracted postcolonial struggle. The situation could develop in any of a number of directions. The main point is that money will remain a potent symbol and a practical means of political change.
Once we move down from scenarios of history on a grand scale to money management by ordinary people, the question shifts to the relative use of the money instruments available. In Britain, for example, right up to the 19th century, there were normally several currencies in circulation in addition to sterling; and this situation, having been temporarily banished by state capitalism, is likely to be restored. A growing number of people spend time occasionally or regularly outside their own country; and this requires them to hold different currencies, paying conversion costs when necessary. For them the advantage of a currency like the dollar or the euro would be its acceptance in many places. The money could be held as banknotes, travellers’ cheques or plastic cards drawing on bank deposits anywhere. In terms of everyday economic life, it seems probable that most people will want to make purchases at short notice using a money-of-account which is locally acceptable and paying on a cash or credit basis. They will continue to be paid in this kind of money for most of the jobs they perform. So what scope is there for using special electronic forms of money such as those described briefly in the last chapter?
The great advantage of setting up or joining closed circuits of exchange with their own money-of-account is that they offer some respite from the exigencies of the markets for normal money. They can give communities or networks of individuals a means of organising some of their activities independently, without fear that the value of their transactions will somehow be sucked off to an anonymous centre of accumulation. We have already seen that they suffer from high transaction costs, variable quality of service, small scale and inadequate division of labour, as well as unresolved costs of starting-up and managing such schemes. But these are early days and the participants are handicapped as often as not by antiquated ideologies. Developments affecting electronic money on the internet may bring commercial sophistication to these alternative economic practices. At the very least an area has been opened up where people can explore different methods of livelihood and co-operation. Having absorbed plastic cards faster than some pundits predicted, they can now discover ways of integrating a wide variety of money forms into their lives, as many kinds of money, in fact, as the associations in which they are regularly involved.
We have to take society as it comes a good deal of the time; and no-one could pretend that a time when we routinely make our own money is just round the corner. It is a question of degree. What matters is to escape from the sense that we are trapped in an iron cage not of our own making, Max Weber’s gloomy prediction of the fate of modern societies. Weber would have been astonished by the peaceful and rapid collapse of the Soviet empire, one of the most awesome bureaucracies known to history. This is because he under-rated the human resilience of ordinary people. No doubt the ability of people to become self-conscious economic agents, manipulating the social possibilities for personal credit, will long be unevenly distributed among humanity. But intellectuals, who prefer to live in the closed world of their own rationalisations, may be as astonished as Weber would have been, had he lived, by the speed with which people take up the chance now being offered for increasing their degree of economic self-reliance.
The old regime and the middle-class revolution
In this book I have tried to present a vision of history which might offer readers a means of engaging with the situation confronting humanity at this time. It is widely believed that we now live in a world which has made a decisive break with the past. Society today claims to rest on science and democracy, the twin foundations of modernity and the lasting legacy of the 18th century revolutions. This modern religion is similar in many ways to older claims made on behalf of God: if society is omniscient and good, how can there be so much suffering in the world? The obvious answer to this question is that world society is not run by and for the people as a whole and, whatever its principles, they are not based on effective knowledge. Perhaps we are less emancipated from the past than we imagine and are further from a desirable future than we hope.
I have argued that human history may be conceived of as having four phases:
1. The state of nature, before agriculture and property.
2. Agrarian civilisation, landed property and the naturalisation of unequal society.
3. The age of money or capitalism, where power goes to the owners of capital in a market economy.
4. The foundation of a human community on principles of universal justice, in which people attempt to reconcile market economy and nature.
These phases overlap. We live in an age of money where the institutions of agrarian civilisation still predominate, but the machine revolution is propelling us towards at least the possibility of forming a democratic human community. The forces of technology are amplified by a massive social contradiction: the world is growing closer together and more unequal at the same time. The same process which has spawned the internet, virtual capitalism, is also generating a wide gap between haves and have-nots. It follows that we must seek ways of using the means of improved social connection to combat economic inequality. This is similar to Marx and Engels’s proposal that centralisation of machine industry in the factory system should be used to develop more effective resistance by workers to capitalist exploitation. To say this is not to belittle the power of world capitalism nor to suggest that a revolutionary alternative can easily be found. It is to base a radical politics on the same social forces that constitute economic oppression.
In truth, world society today is at base as rotten as the aristocratic regimes which preceded the modern age. Power has been concentrated into forms held against the people, first in the hands of owners of big money and then in a revived and strengthened state apparatus. In the course of the last century, the rule of elites has been restored: state bureaucracy is absolute; and world society is divided into national fragments. There is no popular government anywhere; and most people have forgotten when they last took an active interest in such a possibility. The confusing part lies in the widespread use of a rhetoric derived from the democratic revolutions to cloak the purposes of those who reserve effective power to themselves. Western states are no more liberal than the Soviet Union was Marxist. At least the old regime of agrarian civilisation called itself what it was. The vast majority of intellectuals are complicit in the lies needed to sustain this latterday revival of the state. Behind a smokescreen of democratic slogans, the bureaucracy relies on impersonal institutions to maintain grotesquely unfair levels of inequality.
The breakout from agrarian civilisation was led by urban middle-class elements in a few places, beginning with the Italian renaissance. This was not the first time: for a thousand years class coalitions based on property in land and money respectively slugged it out for control of ancient Mediterranean society, before the Romans made the world safe for landed aristocracy. In the modern period, it did seem as if what its detractors call the bourgeois revolution was home and dry when mechanisation was married to capital accumulation. But this was precisely the moment when, fearful of the proletarian monster they had made, the middle classes shrank back and embraced an alliance with the military land-owning class. Society was reconceived as nations whose origins were shrouded in a rural past; and the counter-revolution took off with a vengeance. Marx was right to rely on a feudal metaphor for the new wage-labour system, since everywhere old forms of property and power were harnessed to the task of holding the workers down.
Even so, as the 19th century drew to a close, the issue was in the balance. The world was drawn together by a revolution in transport and communications (steamships, railways, the telegraph). The workers were concentrated in smokestack industries. Could they seize power from the owners and their allies? The issue was settled by the first world war, when governments discovered that they now possessed unprecedented powers of social mobilisation and control. Society was centralised at the top and 20th century state capitalism was inaugurated. Since then, until recently, when another revolution in transport and communications has begun to undermine territorial states, the question was not whether the people or their rulers would win out, but to which form of state people all over the world would be made subordinate. The middle classes abandoned their previous commitment to commerce in order to sup copiously at the trough of national bureaucracy, relying on their university diplomas for a life-time of privilege as experts in social reproduction.
The result is that the middle-class revolution with which the modern age began has stalled, even regressed, first allying itself with landed power and then assuming the form of rule traditional for agrarian civilisation. No serious mid-19th century social thinker imagined that the restless energies of industrial/commercial society could be controlled from the top by a remote centralised mechanism. Yet a century later, most of us are conditioned to think that no other form of society is imaginable. The institutions of agrarian civilisation, developed over five millennia with a passive rural workforce in mind, are our institutions today. Consider what happened to all the wealth siphoned off by western industrial states since the second world war, the largest concentrations of money in the history of humanity. It went on subsidising food supplies and armaments, the priorities of the bully through the ages, certainly not those of the modern urban consumers who paid the taxes. No, we were never really modern (as Bruno Latour says). We are just primitives who stumbled recently into a machine revolution and cannot yet think of what do with it, beyond repeating the inhumanity of a society built unequally on agriculture.
Human society is caught between mechanisation and agrarian institutions; and the combination is potentially lethal. Its most striking pathology is the polarisation of rich and poor at every level of society. It should not be necessary to explain why economic inequality is a problem for world society; but, after two decades of “loadsamoney economics”, it is.
1. Inequality undermines democracy. Broadly equal access to the world’s resources is a condition for free co-operation in society.
2. Inequality makes us feel bad. Human compassion struggles with indifference, the desire for connection with that for distance.
3. Inequality is a threat to world peace. Resentment of historical wrongs fuels terrorism and ultimately war.
4. Inequality obstructs joint stewardship of the planet’s ecology. The rich cannot pursue the goal of conservation mainly through restricting the development of the poor.
5. Inequality reduces market demand. Economic growth in the modern world comes from increasing the purchasing power of the masses. Everyone benefits from redistribution.
Nothing less than a world revolution is adequate to redressing the inequality of our times; and it will not succeed without an appropriate explanation for the phenomenon in question. Mine is roughly as follows.
First, we are living with the consequences of 5,000 years of agrarian civilisation (Childe’s urban revolution) which cannot be discarded overnight. When 3 billion peasants work in the fields with their hands and archaic institutions like the territorial state rule the world, we must not attribute all wrongs to capitalism. Even so, it is not hard to see that a system of making money with money favours those who have a lot of it at the expense of those who don’t. Without some corrective, the rich will get richer and the poor stay poor. The money system has now reached a social scale and technical form which make it impossible for states to control it. This may be good news for democrats and anarchists in the long run; but in the meantime Hegel’s recipe for state moderation of capitalism has been subverted, with inevitable results: rampant inequality at all levels and appalling human distress without any apparent remedy. Moreover, capitalism has flourished when linked to machine production. Mechanisation too, in order to take root, requires cultural and social institutions (science, education, work discipline, finance, property law) which are unevenly spread between and within societies. Every stage of the machine revolution has been initially concentrated in a narrow enclave of world society; and ours is no different. Many poorer regions now appear to be stuck in phases of production which have been marginalised by this latest round of uneven development.
A major corollary of the above is the tendency for labour markets to take on a dualistic character: two streams of workers, one highly paid in jobs using sophisticated machinery, the other performing tasks of little skill for low wages and in poor working conditions, often no better than those prevailing in traditional agriculture. Institutions have been developed at every level of world society to justify inequality and to keep the poor in their place by controlling any movement which might undermine the separation of rich and poor. In a word, this is apartheid. The territorial state and nationalism effectively reinforce indifference to others, leaving the world stage to be ruled by the most powerful, while undermining whatever sense of our common humanity might lead us to want to alleviate the horrors of poverty. That the world economy in based on inhuman principles is a commonplace. Compassion and similar human qualities are unlikely to be influential in economic life when power is concentrated in remote, faceless centres. When confronted with the consequences of their own actions, people shrug their shoulders: it is nothing to do with us. Society will only be democratic when people can assume meaningful responsibility for themselves and for others.
Contemporary world society thus has more in common with the old regime of agrarian civilisation than it does with the modernist rhetoric inaugurated by the democratic revolutions. This is not just because of the sheer gap in life-style and prospects between rich and poor; but because the ideology justifying global inequality is still identifiably racist, explaining difference as the expression of innate superiority and inferiority. The European empires have collapsed, but the people have not yet inherited the earth. What then is to be done?
In his trilogy on the information age, Manuel Castells makes a convincing link between the core network form of contemporary society and the current phase of capitalist development. His is a functionalist conception which says that membership of a network lasts only as long as someone is useful to its central purposes. This rather brutal sense of a world devoid of trust, solidarity or reciprocity captures quite well at least one side of our experience. But Castells turns to identity politics on the margins of capitalism for a rather forlorn hope of resistance. This would be like Marx and Engels looking for a revolutionary alternative to capitalism, not from the sociology of machine industry itself, but rather from the tribal identities of the migrant workers who formed the first industrial proletariat. Our intellectual task is surely to show that what is intrinsic to modern networks points to another way forward than capitalism.
A common intellectual error is to overstate the dominance of ideal types in social relations. Thus economically rational behaviour becomes something else when we place markets in real time and space. Weber’s iron cage of bureaucracy cannot explain how Stalinism could be overthrown. Marx’s concept of a proletariat with only its labour power to sell omits the self-generated resources of the informal economy. A vision of state capitalism as resting on impersonal institutions misses how we have all been trying to make them personal. Reliance on these one-sided abstractions leads us to imagine change as a leap from one idea to its negation; whereas a more nuanced interpretation allows us to build on what has already been going on, if only in the cracks of the old system. What all these rationalisations omit is the people who live in them. Castells’s networks may be dehumanised; but the people who constitute them can do no other than to try to make them human.
We need powerful abstractions as a way of cutting through the empirical confusion. But these are always dialectical constructs whose movement in real time and space is the outcome of what people do in their everyday lives. Chapter 5 on the market from a humanist perspective perhaps best illustrates this approach. If we allow an overdetermined idea of state capitalism to sway our minds, we are likely to imagine that the historical movement of which we are part consists in a digital shift from impersonal to personal society. This would be misleading on several grounds. First, impersonal society was always constituted by people trying to make it personal in some way; second, as a plural social phenomenon it has been moving for some time; and third, the changes we envisage are less a leap in the dark, more an extension of developments already in train. From this I conclude that social improvement requires a new emphasis in impersonal and personal relations rather than an idealised switch from one to the other; and that this must be grounded in what people do and want.
Having said this, what general grounds might we have for trying to deploy the internet against economic inequality rather than for it? Many users of the internet express a commitment to building a better society drawing on principles made more feasible by the new medium. These are often self-consciously opposed to traditional attitudes to money and the market. They include an ethos of helping out without pay; interest-free loans; community barter schemes; and so on. At the same time electronic commerce is growing rapidly, both as exchanges between firms and in consumer markets like books, flowers and airline tickets. Some see these developments as being inevitably opposed; while others seek to reconcile them, for example in ecological investment consultancies or customised marketing. It is one thing, however, to demonstrate how the internet might help some of its users to achieve a higher level of personal agency in economic life, quite another to show how it might be used to address the causes of poverty. Even so, a fragment of the middle classes, stirred by the possibilities unleashed by the internet, may come to see the way towards general social reform as a more permanent solution to their private dilemmas. We might, for example, focus on a campaign to alter the world’s economic institutions along lines pioneered by Keynes.
The main reason agrarian society was economically stagnant for millennia was that it was not in the interests of the ruling class to improve the conditions of most ordinary working people. Modern economic growth has been sustained by bringing these working masses into a market mechanism driven in large part by the need to supply what their money buys. In the 1930s, when economic depression gripped Europe and America, the spectre of mass unemployment, poverty and political disaffection at home stimulated national governments to find ways of reviving consumer demand, largely by printing money and putting it in citizens’ pockets. Today escalating inequality stands in the way of world economic growth and threatens to swamp the rich with the social pathologies of the poor. It is only the constitution of world society as an old regime that prevents this obvious truth from being more widely understood. A Keynesian remedy, consisting of redistribution and a new approach to global credit, is hardly unthinkable. It is unlikely, however, that such a revolutionary approach to money at the global level will emerge before the scale of the economic and ecological disaster we face has become even more apparent than at present.
There exists a precedent for this in the international campaigns to abolish slavery, colonialism and apartheid, when representatives of oppressed groups found willing allies in the middle-classes of Europe and America. I often wonder what Thomas Clarkson might have achieved if he had had access to the internet. Clarkson could be said to have pioneered the techniques of modern single-issue politics while campaigning for the abolition of slavery. In seven years, he travelled 35,000 miles on horseback around Britain, relying for support on a network of Quakers in many cases. He undertook what we would call fieldwork trips, insisting on going to Liverpool and Bristol to see for himself. This is the hallmark of modern social anthropology, and Clarkson knew it instinctively. He wanted evidence; he wanted first-hand knowledge. But he also wanted to show it to people, so he bought thumbscrews, whips and all kinds of things; and he made a personal portable museum, a chest that he used to carry around with him to demonstrate both the evils of the slave trade and the benefits of legitimate trade with Africa, artefacts and crops like coffee. He hoped that this collection of visual things would shock his audiences into recognising the truth of what he had to say.
Clarkson may not have invented petitions, but he played a very major role in developing and articulating them as an instrument of mass politics. He was involved in boycotts, of West Indian sugar in particular. He was a tremendous pamphleteer. He and others in his network perfected the art of lobbying parliament, threatening their representatives with deselection if they didn’t toe the line on abolition. Above all, Clarkson recognised that there was a need for someone to personify the movement, to take personal responsibility for its organisation. He knew that, in this kind of network-based movement, somebody has to take on his shoulders the responsibility for originating, developing and managing the process of getting things done. That was what everyone recognised as his tremendous contribution. So the method of campaigning that Clarkson developed, a method based on fact-finding, public display, petitions, lobbying, pamphleteering and the rest, is the best early example of single-issue politics we have; and there is a great deal to be gained from examining it today.
I have not concealed the two main problems which seem to stand in the way of realising any such programme as that outlined in this section. First, the internet is dominated by the big players, the governments and corporations of this world, whose power could be said to overshadow whatever the rest of us may be capable of. We will address that question in the next section. Second, the vast majority of human beings are excluded from participating in the internet, which may well be seen as reinforcing global divisions rather than removing them. This last point has always seemed to me to be a cop out. Just because only a few people have access to the internet, this need not prevent some of them from engaging with world problems by this means. Who else will stand against the social forces which would reduce this enormous advance for humanity to a way of consolidating the old regime? There is a revolution to be made and it has to start now. The people, after all, is each one of us.
People’s money: beyond economic coercion
Inequality has been used in this book as a shorthand expression for the social contradiction which a future democratic society would have to redress. “The people”, whose will is universally declared to be sovereign today, have had to content themselves with a lot of propaganda and little of the reality of power in the 20th century. Rather, a bureaucratic elite, distinguished by its uniform (“the men in suits”) and divided in principle between government and commerce, has supervised one of the most unequal systems of rule seen in history, state capitalism. For all the rhetoric of freedom which abounds in our societies, state capitalism is based on legal and economic coercion, on the ancient principle of territorial monopoly and on the newer one of having to sell oneself in order to live. State power looks as if it is on the wane; and, while the world’s money system totters from one crisis to the next, the concentration of economic power in the hands of a few large corporations seems inexorable. This then is our chance to find new forms of political association, more appropriate to popular needs, and perhaps even to subvert the dominance of a capitalism enjoying the fruits of globalisation. The one strategic asset we have is the fast-breaking medium of the internet and, at a time when society increasingly takes the form of a world market, our efforts at self-emancipation must be focused on the money instruments themselves. For, too often in modern times, the goal of political democracy has been undermined by the absence of any realistic economic counterpart. After the heads and tails of state money and commodity money, it is time to make people’s money.
The word socialism has fallen out of fashion. I prefer the expression “economic democracy” which Marx and Engels acknowledged would be an acceptable substitute. Socialism emphasises the collective above all else, whereas democracy can refer to both collective and individual agency. In a late essay, “Socialism, utopian and scientific”, Engels explained why his version of socialism was scientific and social experiments such as those of William Morris were the former. Utopian socialists looked back to a preindustrial age of communities and craftsmanship; whereas scientific socialists looked ahead, with the benefit of the best knowledge available, to the reshaping of the modern world by contemporary social and material forces. He, along with all the leading social scientists of the day, correctly saw the world moving along a path of centralisation fuelled by machine industry. He was concerned, however, that this centralisation was proceeding faster and more effectively at the top of society than the bottom; and he was right to be, as it soon turned out.
I have tried in this book to lay the groundwork for a similar exercise a century later. Now the nostalgic left is likely to dream of rebuilding the states which once seemed to carry the aspirations of the masses everywhere. This is a utopian exercise, since it fails to come to grips with the forces changing our world. What are these? Virtual capitalism, a corollary of the communications revolution; weakening state management of capitalism; and the apparent dominance of markets driven by “wild” money. Global integration is linked to a decentralising technology which favours increased mobility at the expense of national political controls. The result is that whatever safeguards had been built up to protect the poor in some countries have been undermined. It sometimes seems that only a capitalist crash on the scale of the Great Depression could restore the political will to intervene in markets as strongly as governments did in mid-century. But the political framework for such intervention is much less obvious now.
This is why I have been keen to place my work within the traditions of liberal and social democracy, since the thinkers on whose work I have drawn heavily belong to both. Locke, Simmel and Keynes have done more than most to advance our understanding of money and they did so in the belief that it was indispensable to prospects for greater human freedom. Yet I have obviously also been much influenced by the romantic/socialist critique of money developed by Rousseau and Marx. The first of these is impossible to classify in terms of subsequent polarities of right and left, straddling as he does the divide between liberal and social democracy. When social structures are highly mobile and unreliable, it pays to emphasise the education of individuals to be responsible members of whatever forms of society they attach themselves to. But, as we know, liberalism as a theory has been compromised by the inequality and coercion it masks; and there has grown up an urgent popular agenda claiming that the “bourgeois” revolution has fallen short of the need for a genuinely democratic solution to society’s ills.
I have argued, nevertheless, that it is time to go beyond the established positions of right and left. If money is the problem, it is also an indispensable part of the solution. We are living in a rapidly urbanising world of great complexity and increasing social connection whose affairs cannot be managed by means of handouts, either on a bureaucratic or on a customary basis. Apart from the obvious issue of hierarchy entailed in this method, people will expect to use any economic freedom they win for themselves to calculate the costs and benefits of many contracts they enter in the course of normal daily life. We cannot afford to oppose collective and individual solutions to our common human dilemmas. If I have turned to markets and money as a focus for social reform, it is because, by emphasising the means of extending social credit to responsible persons, we may be able to address more effectively the causes and remedies of what makes contemporary society so unequal.
The immediate and long-run causes of economic inequality, therefore, are an unfair and unstable system of money-making; the lack of legal guarantees ameliorating poverty; arbitrary power, whether political or economic; cultural barriers to entry, in the form of state rules and informal prejudice; and the uneven development of machine technology. Virtual capitalism has exacerbated this by marginalising whole sectors of the world economy where agriculture and mining are predominant, as well as by unleashing savage swings in the money system which can impoverish national economies at a single blow. The Americans, who started off in the present monetary crisis worrying that the pensions of midwesterners could be wiped out by the bursting of the Far Eastern equities bubble, seem now to be sustaining global stock markets though confidence in their own technological innovation and financial strength. A world dominated by American capital to the degree that we are now witnessing would be even more unequal than that country’s internal economy. There would then be no end to an age of money dominated by the rich.
I have gone out of my way to insist on the archaic institutional make-up of our societies, claiming that the world today is in some ways more the offspring of agrarian civilisation than of modern machines and democratic government. The obstacles to progressive change are thus twofold: the need to democratise the age of money, to bring capitalism under control; and the need to break down “natural” structures based on territorial monopoly, to foster mobility at the expense of being tied to the land. The aim should be to improve the scope for human beings to see themselves as free economic agents; to make it more possible for people to express their personalities in social life; and to build up the stable infrastructures of money, law, education and technology capable of providing impersonal guarantees of such activity. Even then, reducing inequality may require wider social mobilisation and a reform programme with many dimensions. At the very least, the emergence of a single interactive social network at the global level makes it possible to address questions which are in fact universal.
Just as the classical political economists focused their energies on denouncing the mechanisms of distribution which they saw as hindering capitalist development, we too might benefit from examining the forms of revenue which sustain governments and companies in our day. It bears repeating that the bureaucratic power of states and corporate capital rests on coercion. Tax and rent both depend on the authorities being able to force people to pay through the threat of punishment; and territorial monopoly is indispensable to both. This, for all their conflicts of interest, underlies the continuing alliance between large firms and particular nation-states. The issue is whether borderless trade at the speed of light will permit governments still to extract revenue from markets and whether every internet user in the world will pay rent to Bill Gates or his equivalent, whenever they switch on their computers.
Recent improvements in the mobility of people, goods, money and information have systematically undermined the ability of governments to exact payment on threat of punishment. Sir James Mirlees, Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge University, recently received a Nobel prize and a knighthood for proving that you cannot tax the rich any more than they want to pay. When asked by his university’s alumni magazine to explain his theory, he told them that it was far too technical for lay people to understand. Alfred Marshall and Maynard Keynes, two of his Cambridge predecessors who both favoured income redistribution and found it possible to communicate with the public, would no doubt have been interested in his answer. Of course, the rich and the corporations have enjoyed relative freedom from taxation for some time. The poor dropped underneath the tax net long ago. And criminals of all classes have succeeded in avoiding regulation with growing impunity. This leaves mainly the middle classes to pay for the tax burden; and they have now been given the technical means of effective resistance, as well as the incentive of being more financially insecure than ever before. Instead of working out how to clobber the rich, the rest of us might benefit from learning how to emulate them.
In France, as I write, the left pins its hopes on two measures: a “Tobin tax” on financial transactions (the money flows of virtual capitalism) and a statutory 35-hour working week (to share the jobs more equally). This comes at a time when the borders between European countries are increasingly open and French capital has joined vigorously in the global movement of markets which I take to be undermining the power of states. It constitutes the kind of utopian socialism which inhibits the left from coming up with genuinely radical solutions to the inequalities of our day. Even so, I have been impressed enough by the solidarity and militancy of French people at all levels of society to recognise that I have written this book from a perspective which finds more support among the “Anglo-Saxons”. If the state is to be put to constructive purposes in the present crisis, then it is likely to be in a country which celebrates its republic as heir to the first democratic revolution of the modern age.
Future generations may well conclude that we are passing through a cumulative tax revolt of proportions not seen since the end of the Roman empire. It is salutary to reflect on Max Weber’s magisterial essay on that topic. He argued that the Roman empire was at its peak in 150 AD, when territorial expansion reached its limits. The imperial system rested on converting Italian peasants into soldiers and resettling them in conquered lands as coloni. The wars generated a ready supply of captives who could be put to work as slaves on large estates carved by the Roman aristocracy out of the former holdings of the peasantry. The slaves were kept in single-sex barracks and no attempt was made to breed with them, since their replacement price in the market was cheap. A wide social gulf existed between free and unfree labour.
The end of expansion meant that the supply of new slaves gradually dried up, prices rose and owners were obliged to allow the ones they had to reproduce, introducing a form of family life that was eventually reinforced by Christianity. The slaves began to take on some of the features of a peasantry. At the same time the state bore down more heavily on the settlers, reducing their legal freedoms in various ways and exacting a heavy tax burden. The empire’s need for money was exigent, since the army and a large bureaucracy would only work for cash and cash came from taxes on earnings from trade. Demands made on the towns became so onerous that rich individuals took to escaping into the countryside, where they established their own armed camps (or villas) and resisted the authority of the state. This reduced the latter’s revenues even more and led to further crackdowns on those sectors of the “free” population who were not able to escape. Eventually the system broke down and the different forms of labour merged into a single semi-free type which we associate with feudalism. The emperor, Weber concludes, became a rural illiterate, forcing his company onto a sequence of dependent warlords; and the air of his travelling court was permeated with the smell of dung. It took Europe a thousand years to recover.
This cautionary tale may be more or less relevant to us, depending on how society responds to the weakening of the nation-state. I do not intend here to explore how people might further evade paying taxes. It is ironic enough that the state’s paper money is the anonymous medium of exchange preferred by criminals; and, for those who choose to risk being identified through electronic transactions, the sheer volume, speed and spatial dispersion of these transactions will ultimately defeat revenue-collecting bureaucracies. At present, the system of taxation depends on citizens’ belief in its inevitabilty. We have not yet reached the stage of extra-terrestrial banking by satellite, the ultimate offshore facility; but imagine the legal arguments over political jurisdiction when we do. It is not long ago, the middle of last century, in fact, that governments seriously doubted whether they could make people pay tax on more than a nominal proportion of their income.
If governments, with all their powers of surveillance and punishment, will find it increasingly difficult to enforce their claims, how much more will this apply to corporations seeking to secure rental income from their “property”. The internet has opened up a revolution in intellectual property rights by making the reproduction and diffusion of print publications almost costless. The backlog of copyright cases waiting for legal processing mounts up daily. When computer software is one of the growth industries and a company specialising in its development is the richest in the world, the internet is bound to become a site in which the battle for control of information and the wealth to be derived from it is fought out. Already there are webpages and mailing lists devoted to disseminating free the software to which Microsoft claims copyright. This then is one of the main arenas in which the relative power of governments, corporations and ordinary people will be tested. The conflict of values and interests has, of course, already been joined.
This discussion has obvious relevance to the forms of political association which are likely to develop. The centralised state depended on convincing its citizens that they had no alternative means of joining world society than through its auspices. This is no longer so. Let me give a hypothetical example. In 1945, Britain’s new Labour government was committed to nationalising the means of finance as well as education, among many similar projects. It backed off from both of these in the face of entrenched establishment interests. To take only the latter, if the government had announced then that the public schools (that is, the fee-paying elite schools) were to be abolished, it was technically feasible for them to do so. Today, if any British government made a similar proposal, Eton would simply relocate to Jersey or Switzerland and the children of the rich would jump on a plane three times a year. If this is true for a privileged elite, it is becoming increasingly true for the rest of us; and that means that people are now freer than ever to decide which forms of government to submit to. In consequence, decentralisation or devolution of powers to regional or local government bodies will grow in significance, since people are more likely to fund public projects nearer to home. At the same time, they will become aware of national governments’ inability to address global problems and will seek out more inclusive institutions (federations, international networks and single-issue pressure groups) better suited to addressing them.
It seems likely, therefore, that the territorial dimension of society will devolve to more local units. These will retain a modified ability to coerce taxes and rents from their members, at a level limited by the sanction of personal mobility. If I want to live in Paris, I will have to agree to pay the dues which support that city’s excellent public services. If I find them unaffordable, I can join in the fight to get them reduced or go and live somewhere cheaper. What I would not wish to support is France’s nuclear arsenal or the expenses incurred in maintaining farflung outposts of empire. As a European, I would naturally be interested in joining schemes to promote fast and reliable public transport throughout the region. To some extent, supporting bodies and projects beyond the local level will be voluntary because of the scope for evading unwanted taxes. There will no doubt be a large class of nomads who put down their roots in no one place for long enough to be made to pay any taxes, beyond those assessed on commercial services and at controllable points in the transport system. The US government is, at this moment and for similar reasons, seeking to persuade others to keep their hands off the internet.
Under these circumstances we have to ask what would have been an unthinkable question for most of the 20th century, how might public economies be financed without effective means of coercing payment? The Swiss government has recently admitted that, in the face of delocalisation, it can no longer make good its threat to punish financial offenders using the national stock exchange. It has therefore encouraged the latter to draw up its own self-policed rules with the principal sanction of excluding transgressors. Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, set up explicitly to control financial crime, has largely failed to bring successful prosecutions. It may be that we need to face up to the notion that in future people will free to participate in the system of money and markets only on their own terms. It may seem farfetched now to suggest that public economies will have to be largely financed on a voluntary basis. But there are many precedents for this in history, as well as relevant examples in contemporary world society; and, if the above argument has a grain of truth in it, we have good reason to suppose that the underlying social and technological trends of our day point in that direction too.
If people cannot be forced to pay, they must be motivated to support public ends. At its peak, state capitalism enjoyed considerable legitimacy and it is more than the threat of punishment that keeps the law-abiding majority paying taxes today. But, as Weber insisted, when society makes its demands in the name of an impersonal norm of rational government, the moral basis for individual conformity is weakened. As the saying goes, morality tells you what you ought to do, the law what you can get away with. Modern bureaucracy, as embodied in law, markets and science, has undermined the meaningful attachment of persons to the social order of which they are a part. It follows that, when bureaucracy fails, the means of personal connection will have to be reinvented. There are many antecedents for building communities on the basis of individual members’ moral and religious commitment. The history of the protestant international which launched the modern democratic revolution is just the most obvious source of comparison. Modern Islam, in its many variants, is another. The growth of NGOs financed by charitable donations could likewise be enrolled in expanding this point. Marcel Mauss was far-sighted when he sought to trace the foundations of the modern economy to its origin in the gift, rather than in barter as the conventional myth holds.
The idea of money as personal credit, linked less to the history of state coinage than to the acknowledgement of private debts, is consistent both with Mauss’s emphasis and with the scenario outlined here. I have suggested that we should look for the meaning of money in the myriad acts of remembering which link individuals to their communities. In this interpretation, the need to keep track of proliferating connections with others is mediated by money in its many forms as the principal instrument of collective memory. To an increasing extent, it will be possible for people to enter circuits of exchange based on voluntary association and defined by special currencies of the sort pioneered in LETS schemes. At the other extreme, we will be able to participate as individuals in global markets of infinite scope, using international moneys-of-account, such as the dollar, electronic payment systems of various sorts or even direct barter via the internet. In many ways, it will be a world whose plurality of association, even fragmentation, will resemble feudalism more than the Roman empire. This is quite a frightening prospect; for who would want to be prey to personal rule by gangsters unrestrained by impersonal law? And that is why we urgently need to harness the potential of current trends to the development of more effective institutions at the level of world society.
Building economic infrastructure for the next century
If the emphasis in this book has been on making money, on how the market economy may be remade as a means of self-expression for each of us, this is because 20th century society has been based on impersonal economic institutions which made most people feel largely powerless. I have argued that a shift towards repersonalisation of the economy has been made possible in part by cheap information. But society and the individual, the impersonal and the personal, are equally necessary to human existence; and working out specific ways of combining them is durably problematic. We have to take society as it comes, but we can also try to make it. The communications revolution has been so sudden and far-reaching that it is the most each of us can do to work out a way of adjusting to it. Every little advance in mastery of technique is celebrated as a personal victory, each setback is experienced as a crushing defeat. It is wonderful to learn how to send an e-mail message. We have little time or inclination to ask how these messages reach their destination, who supervises the standards we all rely on, what happens if the system fails? How did it get there in the first place and who takes responsibility for the next stage in the process?
The internet represents a colossal human achievement, yet its origins and future are shrouded in anonymity; rather like money, as a matter of fact. Like the successors to the Roman empire, we are living on the infrastructures built up by earlier phases of the middle-class revolution, but we have largely lost the taste or the ability for renewing them. I have in mind the political and intellectual inheritance of the 18th century, the engineering achievements of the 19th century, even the attempt to build a new world order after the linked disasters of the period 1914-1945. In Britain, which pioneered so much of what makes the modern world distinctive, the water now drains away because no-one can find the money to repair the leaks, the railways are falling apart and local authorities compete for Asian and American investment. Need I go on? The world is so conditioned by the mean outlook of our century that we can only imagine ethnic identity as xenophobia and individuality as something hostile to the public good. World society, after a century of wars, is unthinkable at present. Yet somehow humanity is propelling itself to a new stage of global integration through the development of new communications systems, through markets and money as much as the exchange of words and images.
That is why I take inspiration from John Locke’s example. He addressed squarely the infrastructure needs of a new and better society. He was concerned with placing knowledge and the words we use on a foundation of truth, government on a stable basis of property and money on a metallic standard. He understood that a new civil religion and morality would have to take root if liberal democracy was to work. This is to say that people have to be able to rely on stable objective conditions which anchor their volatile subjectivities. Such universals must be, to a degree, made up; but their operation depends on people being able eventually to assume them as given. The most important of these is the rule of law (especially the law of contract); but money is not far behind in significance. Other standards include time, or perhaps “universal timespace” would be better, an enabling feature of world society now which deserves more recognition than it gets; and we are fast approaching the stage when universal language (computing codes, numbers, the use of English) enters the frame. If you have a child and want to prepare them for the world they will live in next century, what aptitudes would you want them to cultivate and what infrastructures would you hope they could benefit from? What do you imagine society as a whole will need so that we can live together and prosper?
Mention of Locke recalls the issue of money and language. Communities share meanings by means of markets and conversation, through objective and subjective exchange. Locke was concerned that state regulation of money could be imposed by threat of punishment, but people were relatively free to say what they liked, without much fear of public sanction. Isaac Newton could string up counterfeiters from Tyburn hill in an attempt to purify money; but who would restore confidence in public discourse by controlling the semantic criminals, the politicians who never said what they meant? In the following century, the dictionary movement and other educational initiatives set about the task of stabilising language, a process which was ultimately centralised by modern nation-states. But if money in our time is escaping from its bounds of state-made law, so too is language, as an increasingly mobile world population develops cosmopolitan cultural skills which often include English as a lingua franca with many regional variations. It may be that money is about to follow the example of language, just as language followed the example of money in the era of state capitalism.
What this means is that, once the threat of state sanction is weakened, people have to turn to their own forms of association and to more informal means of regulation. The example given earlier of the Swiss stock exchange, released from state supervision and left to its own internal devices as a self-regulating body, is likely to become much more widespread with the erosion of territorial power. The direction of economic change will be that of linguistic development. Each of us will participate in several, even many forms of money and the corresponding circuits of exchange they allow us to enter, just as we enter many conversational circles in the course of a lifetime. Under these circumstances, money like language becomes a subjective capacity of the individual, personal credit the counterpart of the private idiolect that each of us speaks.
For me there is something exciting about these possibilities. But I understand why many people would view them with dread as the collapse of a familiar order into potential chaos. Repersonalisation, if it means the decline of state powers with which we are familiar, opens the way perhaps to feudalism, to a Tower of Babel in which nobody understands anyone else. That is why it is not so fruitful to imagine the present transition as a shift from the impersonal to the personal, but rather as a change in emphasis affecting the relationship between the two. If economy has in the 20th century become more impersonal, responding in part to the increased scale and complexity of exchange, this does not mean that the personal basis of economic relations has been entirely displaced; nor indeed that the dialectic of individual and collective agency was ever absent from societies in which money and the market as we know them were traditionally marginal. The recent phase of modern history has been dominated by bureaucratic management of the economy. The process is dialectical, however. Most people are quite anxious about being economically dependent on impersonal and anonymous institutions. This is an immense force for reversing the historical pattern of alienation on which the modern economy has been built. Consequently, any renewed emphasis on human personality and concrete social relations in economic life must go hand in hand with the search for forms of impersonal society appropriate to such a goal.
I have sketched a scenario which leads from state-made money to greater reliance on personal credit. This does entail a repersonalisation of economic life, as exchange absorbs more and more information about persons. Plastic credit cards are just the first step in this process. But humanism, as outlined here, also recognises our increased dependence on impersonal abstraction of the sort associated with the operations of digital computers, as well as the need for impersonal standards and guarantees for contractual exchange. If persons are to make a comeback in the postmodern economy, it will not be on a face-to-face basis, but as bits on a screen who sometimes materialise as living people in the present. In the process we may become less weighed down by the concept of money as an objective force, more open to the idea that it is simply a way of keeping track of complex social networks which we each generate as active individual subjects. There is every reason why money should take a wide variety of forms compatible with both personal agency and human interdependence at every level from the local to the global.
How such a future might be achieved is something I have merely indicated. This is not a practical manual, but a contribution to the ongoing human conversation about making a better world. Our overwhelming need at this time is to rebuild meaningful connection between self and world society. I have pushed beyond the limits of normal scholarship to draw as fully as I can on my own reserves of knowledge and experience to this end. I do so, less in the belief that what I have written is certain, but more in the hope that readers will be stimulated to enter into a similar exercise for themselves. As a researcher I have usually practised whatever I wanted to study. As Vico pointed out, you can only truly know what you have made yourself. In my pursuit of the principles underlying modern economy, I have been a gambler, a gangster, a consultant, a desktop publisher and many other things. Above all, I have conceived of anthropology, my professional discipline, as a way of learning to live in the world, to feel more at home in it, if you like. We need to learn how to make economic relations which work for us, for each one and for all of us. One path towards that is to learn how to make money and not just in the senses we have come to give to that phrase.
Guide to further reading
The work of V. Gordon Childe in identifying the neolithic and urban revolutions, particularly Man Makes Himself (note 1), is indispensable to the longrun view of history presented in this book. Ernest Gellner’s Plough, Sword and Book and Jack Goody’s The East in the West are more recent attempts at anthropological generalisation relevant to this grand evolutionary theme.
The issue of democracy takes us to Alexis de Tocqueville whose Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the French Revolution still have much to teach us . I have learned a lot from Martin Thom’s remarkable study of the shift from republicanism to nationalism (9). Engels’s inspiring essay on socialism is about democracy by another name (16). Otherwise, I would have preferred to spend more time exploring the Ancient Mediterranean for parallels to our own times; and I recommend that course to readers. Start with two Victorian classics: Fustel de Coulanges’s The Ancient City and Engels’s Origins of the Family etc (8). Then take in Weber’s Agrarian Sociology of Ancient Civilisations (with Perry Anderson’s derivative Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism) (19) and Moses Finley’s The Ancient Economy (20).
As for our times, the following trio capture something of what I have aimed for in this book: Castells’s The Rise of the Network Society (13), Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern (10) and Gregory’s Savage Money (17). If some readers have discovered a latent taste for dialectic from this book, James’s Notes on Dialectics (4) is worth chasing up, with Avineri’s Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State (12) to provide the background to the method. No-one exemplifies the creative mixture of factual and fictional approaches explored in the chapter more effectively than Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I recommend his Emile, Confessions and Reveries of a Solitary Walker, in addition to the main political texts, the Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract. In fact, read anything by Rousseau and ask what it takes to make this stinking world a better place for humanity.