[OPE-L] Robert Owen

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Oct 18 2006 - 15:59:46 EDT

Thanks for your comment. I will try to give some replies.

Well, a historical approach - historical thinking which traces the origins
and development of things - is important and useful, I have no disagreement
there. It is important to know that "things were not always this way, and
will not always be this way" and that we can contextualise our lives in this

It is just that I think market relations should be understood dialectically
in the sense that they imply both autonomy and coercion. Precisely because
there is this contradiction, you get plenty of ideologies about markets and
their functioning.

And "realistic" utopias should, I think, base themselves more on what is
maximally achievable within the society that exists. But you are correct, in
some stormy periods of the past people had much bigger and bolder ideas
about what human beings could achieve.

I wouldn't say so generally that "Markets are progressive compared to feudal
institutions" - in some ways, e.g. a serf who was tied to the land could be
better off than a propertyless proletarian. Moreover there were plenty
markets in feudal societies as well. If we view markets historically, we can
also see that markets themselves have changed a lot over time, in terms of
what was traded, how it was traded, and under what conditions.

Your wrote:

"Here you talk about many things at the same time." True, it is a more
complex argument but haven't written that up in great detail. I think Marx
maybe thought the is-ought dichotomy was resolved in practice, through
practical experience, and that ist was useless to discuss it outside of
practical experience. However one can have a perfectly objective view of a
situation without this necessarily implying one course of action over
another. If it does imply this, that is just because we cannot "squat
outside of society" etc. We have a position or interest to defend, even if
just to survive etc.

You argue: "All anti-capitalist-discussions can be traced back morally to
the concept of mutual recognition or respect. This concept makes up the core
of social ethics of anti-capitalism." I am not sure if that is true.
Anti-capitalism in my experience can be motivated by many diffferent
factors, some more honorable than others.

You think utopian thought has had always something to do with emancipation
rather than suppression. But how about the Zionist utopia? It seems to me
that it contains both those elements. It has been argued e.g. that Zionism
is a reactionary utopia insofar as it tries to build a Jewish home over the
corpses of Palestinians.
Or take Stalin's utopia of "socialism in one country" etc. or Hitler's Third
Reich. Indeed there are authors who have argued that utopianism contains the
seeds of totalitarianism. This is obviously going to far. But I think I am
correct in believing utopias need not be progressive or emancipatory for

You argue that "Utilitarian concept of ethics provides the ethical
foundation of commercial exchange relations." But what is your proof? I
travelled in quite a few countries, but in each country you find different
postulated ethical foundations for the market. To engage in trade requires,
to be sure, some basic behavioural norms such as consistency and reliability
in making transactions, promise-keeping and so on. Otherwise there is no
trust, and the trading system breaks down. But no specific ethical
principles are implied by trade itself, other that what is required to
settle transactions. Hence markets are compatible with all sorts of
religions and ethical systems, and indeed all manner of property relations.
If for example you compare the trading behaviour of the Dutch and the
Moroccans, there are enormous differences, a world of difference, even
although essentially the exchanges are of the same type.

As long as people pay their bills and do not cheat too much, it does not
matter what their precise ethics are for the purpose of trade. That is the
basis of liberal philosophy, you can choose how you will live. Moreover an
historical approach will show that perceptions of market ethics are subject
to change with the evolution of markets themselves. Two hundred years ago it
was perfectly acceptable to trade in slaves, now it is not. Happiness of the
greatest number?

"The establishment of market society requires the commodification of every
thing." I am not sure about this either. In truth, market society is
dependent on a lot of non-market activity to exist at all. If this
non-market activity disappears, the society breaks down. A market society
that reproduces itself on the basis of the economic laws of the market
requires only that certain critical resources are commercially supplied. In
Europe, this was the result of a long process of evolution and revolutions,
through which obstacles to market trade in critical areas were gradually
broken down. If strictly everything in life becomes commodified, however, it
is likely society breaks down simply because we ordinary mortals cannot
afford to buy it all. I am talking about a situation where e.g. everything I
do, experience and consume depends on a commercial transaction.



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