Sunday, October 19, 2008

Proposed Roads to Freedom, Chapter VIII

Chapter VIII (pages 186-212), “The World As It Could Be Made”

[An e-version of Chapter VIII is available here.]

Fear tends to predominate over hope in most people’s lives, though it is better that this not be the case. A focus on creation and improvement, and a disdain for envy, generates and helps to spread happiness. This mindset undermines fear, because what it values most cannot be taken away. But the hopeful mentality does not come easily, so if fear is to be overcome, the causes of fear must be diminished. A good life must also be made a successful one, in the usual worldly sense.

Evils in people’s lives can be classed into those that are physical; those that involve character (including ignorance or violent passions); and those that are inflicted by the powerful over the less powerful. Of course, the classification is rough and fluid – many evils of character are responses to evils of power or of the body, for instance. “Nevertheless, speaking broadly, we may distinguish among our misfortunes those which have their proximate cause in the material world, those which are mainly due to defects in ourselves, and those which spring from our being subject to the control of others [p. 189].” They can be combated respectively by science, education and freedom, and political and economic reform. Anarchism and Socialism, in the first instance, are aimed at remedying existing evils of power.

The current system results in substantial evils of power, as most people are either poor or required to work extensively to get by. Much work itself is undertaken under dictatorial and painful conditions: “the very idea that work might be a joy, like the work of the artist, is usually scouted as utterly Utopian [p. 192].” These evils are correctable.

Russell then recapitulates his preferred system, which is a Kropotkin-like Anarchism joined with some Guild Socialism (as the previous chapters have made clear). Education is free up to at least the age of 21, and compulsory up to perhaps age 16. After completing education, people can choose to work, but receive a living stipend in any case. Russell notes that most folks will work, as most people who currently have enough investment income to get by nevertheless choose to work. Four hours of work per day would be enough to provide high living standards, if more rational production methods were implemented and competition was restrained. Each person will be trained in several trades. Factories and industries will be self-governing, in a democratic fashion, with respect to internal issues. A Guild Congress will coordinate between industries, a Parliament will conduct location-based (as opposed to vocation-based) affairs, and there will be a chamber of representatives from Parliament and the Guild Congress to resolve disputes between them.

Payments to workers will be salaries that will not fall when the amount of work to be accomplished falls – unemployment will not be a great dreaded evil hanging over everyone. If the Guild Congress thinks that different pay for different work is helpful, then such freely chosen wage inequality is fine. Disagreeable trades will be conducted for fewer hours or for more pay, and society will have a strong interest in making work more pleasant.

A type of money will be needed to reflect relative values. But to prevent the accumulation of large hoards of savings that might enable the saver to become a capitalist, the money paid to a worker might be valid for only a limited period of time, say, one year. Free distribution of necessities, like the Anarchists propose, should be adopted if it becomes feasible.

Women, married or not, who provide domestic services should be paid. “This will secure the complete economic independence of wives, which is difficult to achieve in any other way, since mothers of young children ought not to be expected to work outside the home [p. 196].” Children will not be an economic burden on parents, but on the public, who will provide the resources for their necessities (as with adults) and their education. Competition for scholarships will be removed from education. Student initiative will be encouraged, and the inculcating of propagandistic beliefs discouraged, in the reformed education system.

Government and law will be minimized; most property law will be unnecessary, and criminal motives reduced. Criminals will be regarded as unfortunate, not as wicked, “and kept in some kind of mental hospital until it is thought they are no longer a danger [p. 198].”

A monopoly of legitimate violence (domestically and internationally) is needed to suppress other uses of force. This currently exists within a state, but the international equivalent is far from being established. Once people believe that war is an impossibility, the dismantling of most of the present military structures will be possible. Liberty can be enhanced by the utmost devolution of power, and by reducing the possibility of war. These reforms are connected, as it is war that is used to justify centralized executive power.

Russell then goes on to ask how his preferred society would remedy defects of character. The reduction of economic power currently possessed by large capitalists will diminish despotism and enhance gentility. Fear of economic failure and hope for great wealth will disappear. Ambitions will have to be channeled into nobler enterprises than commercial success. Science and technical progress will flourish, as these will be the roads to honor. And with freedom from state direction, art, too, will flourish. Work will be more edifying when it is done without compulsion, and human relations will improve when authority and class distinctions are dissolved.

The relations between the sexes will improve enormously when the commercial angle is eliminated. Currently, marriage is often worse than prostitution, in being harder to escape from. Marital relations can be free and spontaneous in the absence of an economic component. Affection will keep families together, and when affection is gone, there is nothing worth preserving. “Reverence for whatever makes the soul in those who are loved will be less rare than it is now: nowadays, many men love their wives in the way in which they love mutton, as something to devour and destroy [p. 206].” Happiness will grow with this newfound spiritual satisfaction in marriage. A childlike joy, rare among adults in our competitive world, will become widely available.

Will our remade society also reduce physical evils? Less onerous work and healthier conditions for children should add to physical well-being. Science can flourish if the economically liberated are given mental freedom, too, and scientific advances will alleviate suffering.

“There remains the population question, which, ever since the time of Malthus, has been the last refuge of those to whom the possibility of a better world is disagreeable [p. 210].” But birth rates in advanced countries have fallen, and any nightmare population scenarios are too conjectural to stand in the way of socialist-style reform at this point.

While communal ownership of land and capital is necessary to bring on a better world, it is not sufficient. Creativity and joy, love without domination – these are some of the non-economic markers of the better world, a world that is feasible. Russell concludes on an optimistic note, that following the demise of our current social system, “from its ashes will spring a new and younger world, full of fresh hope, with the light of morning in its eyes [p. 212].”