Conserving the Commonwealth

Neo-liberalism isn’t the hegemonic ideology of our “end of history” that it so often appears to be. There are countermanding and countervailing movements of great significance that don’t get as much attention. Besides the Occupy Movement  — Creative Commons, Open Source, or (in Canada) OpenMedia represent a countervailing dynamics to neo-liberalism with their emphasis on a gifting or “sharing economy”. In Europe, I suppose, that’s associated with The Pirate Party.

And I would make bold to say that if it weren’t for these efforts to conserve the Commonwealth, contemporary culture and civilisation would probably stagnate and disintegrate completely. And, in most cases, they are quite self-conscious about being also a political opposition to neo-liberalism.

It is, therefore, somewhat ironic when men and women of the “Left” bemoan the seeming failure and weakness of the Left in the face of neo-liberal ideological hegemony (see, for example, The Guardian’s John Harris on “Does the Left Have a Future?” from 6. September). I think that such hand-wringing by those who self-identify with the Left is also a consequence of having become too ideological, and who have forgotten the simplest reason why the “Left” so-called exists at all — to preserve, expand and enhance the value of the Commonwealth; or, as William Blake put it in his formula for politics: “The Arts, and all things in common”.

The Left seems to have forgotten some very simple truths under a boatload of completely useless social critique and often dry-as-dust analysis, ie, “too cerebral”. What matter if many of those who are enthusiastic supporters of the Creative Commons and Open Source don’t self-identify with “the Left”, or know the history of the Social Gospel, or of Charles Fourier, of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, or the contest between Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx? It’s always been about some very simple truths having to do with fellowship, a convivial society, and the value of a genuine Commonwealth.

It really was inevitable that the universal ideals of the liberal revolution — liberty, equality, fraternity — had to leave the realm of airy intellectual abstraction and become embodied or supplemented in real social life as fellowship, conviviality, and commonwealth. And is that not what is preserved in things like the Creative Commons as gifting or sharing economy?

It’s because neo-liberalism is such an extreme form of rapacious, and acquisitive individualism that we find a countervailing dynamic as the creative commons that has, I think, largely kept the wheels from falling off completely. It’s a pretty good example, in fact, of the German poet Hölderlin’s remark that “where the peril is greatest, there grows the saving power also” (“Wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst Das Rettende auch“). That’s also “coincidentia oppositorum” and Hermetic principle in action.

The self, says Nietzsche, is not that which merely says “I am”, but which does “I am”. That observation is quite applicable here. It’s not merely what people are thinking that matters, but what they are doing that matters. Ideally, of course, you want the thinking and doing to be synchronous. But it is precisely in these movements like Creative Commons or Open Source that the future form of political and economic society is being rehearsed, experimented with, and generally worked out.

So, it’s not as though we stand helpless, lonely, naked, and abused before the juggernaut powers of finance and corporate capitalism. We might describe the Creative Commons as post-Thatcherism and “the return of society”. That’s the best way to think of it, given that it was Margaret Thatcher who best summarised the essence of neo-liberalism as “there is no such thing as society”. That should be heartening, no?

The Creative Commons and Open Source community would seem to be the gradual realisation of what Paul Ray earlier (in 2000) identified as “the Cultural Creatives“. What matter if they don’t self-identify with the rather stale forms and stagnant formulas of Right and Left? This is worth paying attention to.



6 responses to “Conserving the Commonwealth”

  1. InfiniteWarrior says :

    We see it as previously competing social movements join forces to articulate and actualize a common vision of a new economy. We see it in varied and widely dispersed local citizen initiatives quietly rebuilding the relationships of caring communities. We see it in millions of defectors from consumerism, who by choice or necessity are living more simply….

    We are living beings born of and nurtured by a living Earth. Life exists—can exist—only in living communities that self-organize to create the conditions essential to life’s existence. –>

  2. abdulmonem says :

    A culture that kills the god in the heart of its citizens, the source of inspiration and tranquility, the code of the basic values namely veracity ,humility and charity , the foundation of any healthy community and replaces it by so many fictional gods is certainly liable to face all these problems. Truth is the realm of human will and not of his intellect or reason, the emissaries of the will to be, whose basic aim is to move from natural qualities to spiritual qualities which are not given like natural qualities but gained by hard work and discipline, that is why we see most of those endowed with intellect are spiritually barren. What is promising though are these growing and changing movements that are waking up to the above values , realizing that intelligent is useless without truth and virtues that is why some movement used values as the best predictor for true life.Thank you Scott for an insightful and hopeful narration in the way of regaining our true integral consciousness.

    • Dwig says :

      Abdulmonem, spot on, deep and concise — thanks much. A couple of thoughts prompted by your comment:

      As you describe truth, it’s clearly a dynamic aspect of each human’s living (I’m deliberately choosing a “process expression” here), not an eternal verity of a fixed Creation. One of the most damaging forces of the human spirit is the tendency to confuse one’s own truth with an assumed Eternal Truth; one of the saving graces of the human spirit is a well-founded modesty (and a good sense of humor don’t hurt none, either).

      As you point out, intellectual learning is often taken to be opposed to spiritual growth. When intellectual and spiritual growth are well joined in an integrated process, the result is two-thirds of a whole becoming (lacking only the sense of harmony and beauty).

  3. Dwig says :

    The concept of the common good is fortunately gainig awareness, even in some unlikely places. A couple of useful resources:
    – David Bollier’s website On The Commons
    – The work of Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues on “common pool resources”, which have been used to good advantage by literally thousands of communities around the world and across historical time. Ostrom et el have identified a set of principles that characterize successfully managed resources.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    Thank you Dwig, it is a dynamic process with no end until we die, that is no one can claim the understanding of the eternal truth with its moving horizon. Truth is one that incorporates the many love, beauty ,harmony ,balance empathy etc etc and thank you for the links.

  5. Charles Leiden says :

    I agree. …We see it as previously competing social movements….

    A good writer is Wendell Berry about community. The book – What Matters?: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth is a group of essays written over the years. The E.F.Shumacher Society offers alternative visions of a movement for a sustainable future. I always felt Kirkpatrick Sale is a good writer.

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