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.