[Note: As the war in Ukraine broke out, I was in the process of writing a series of weekly articles that explore visions of societal development beyond the liberal capitalist democracies. I am now continuing that thread, no disrespect meant to the realities of the war and its victims.]
Protopia and the Metamodern View of Class
Can class society and its inequalities, its mechanisms of “stratification”, truly be transcended — or is the vision of the classless society a distraction that puts us at odds with social reality, ultimately always leading to oppression?
If “Protopia”, as previously discussed, is “the conceptual device that gathers the multiplicity of utopian dreams into coherent and actionable frameworks for increasing the self-proving cycles of society” — where does the Protopian mind reasonably stand on the issue of class? Is the classless society more than a utopian dream, more than a potentially dangerous distraction to be discarded? Is Protopia “a classless society”? Or does it, with liberalism, tolerate class distinctions that arise over time?
Maybe the last few questions contain too much baggage of the Modern world and its structures of political thought. Perhaps the question is not one of “class against class”, nor “class or nationality”, nor even “are class differences justified” — but, rather:
- How can class relations be optimized for human thriving?
The question sounds heretical, even to their own writer. It sounds callous, even cruel, and yet strangely naïve at the same time.
To the Modern mind, class was either the fundamental source of ills in society (socialism), a necessary evil (liberalism), or even a strange boon as differences of wealth and power seem necessary for the flowering of arts, palaces, cathedrals, and other aesthetic wonders of civilization (conservatism: we go to the Louvre and Versailles for beauty, not to a grey social-democratic Scandinavian suburb, right?). In more recent and extreme versions, class has been viewed as the sole, fundamental identity of any group (communism), as a dangerous and illusory distraction from our “true” belonging to nations/race/caste (fascism), or, with intersectionality, as one dimension within a larger matrix of unjustifiable inequalities, thus often a category oppressing and silencing demands for social justice between genders, ethnicities, and so forth.
Still, let us linger on this seemingly heretical question for the duration of this article. I have increasingly come to view it as the properly updated question of class — the “metamodern” version of the question of class.
In brief, I should like to first pick apart the very concept of “class” as we habitually approach it, and then reexamine how it can be put back together in a way that brings a new, wider meaning to the term; one that allows for greater agency in the face of inequalities, offering aspirational venues for desirable future societies.
Going Beyond the Current Left
“Protopian societies should actively and deliberately cultivate institutions (“collective habits”) that cut through all forms of inequality and mitigate them at the level of their root causes.”
Since the days of real communist experiments, the ideal of the classless society has smacked of hypocrisy and oppressive top-down social engineering. But it is a dream that ever beckons the Left, that always highlights the absurdities and ethical failures of everyday life, that helps us to ask the simple, naïve questions of why. Why do some people clean the toilets of others for small fractions of their incomes? Why are there beggars and homeless people? Why are there billionaires with unreasonable levels of influence and status? Why are glamorous restaurants and hotels catering to the few while so many others suffer on their very doorsteps? It firmly guides our gaze towards recognizing the injustice of the imbalance between Global North and Global South, between the 10% and the 90%, the 1% and the 99%, not to mention the 99.9 vs. 0.1, and onwards to yet more ghastly revealing fractions of wealth distribution decimals.
At the same time, this dream has arguably (almost certainly) led people to try to force social dynamics upon societies that in practice have arguably hurt more people than they have helped. Communist societies achieved relative levels of socio-economic equality, but only by curtailing freedoms and trampling human rights — often with significant murder rates and death tolls.
The most common response on the Left to this history (and the “black book of communism”) is to challenge the narrative that classlessness has truly been tried but failed. Communism was an oppressive deviation, we are told, of the correct vision of a democratic socialism, where the people together can decide what to produce, how to work, and how to distribute the spoils. “Socialism has never been tried” is a lead theme here. And, it is claimed, the viable socialist experiments have all been thwarted and sabotaged by malicious capitalist powers. True socialism, the argument goes, remains a real potential, and it is yet to be disproven as credible. Beautiful little sparks of true socialist society have flickered past but quickly been extinguished by all those who were scared to death by the prospect of lost privilege and power.
For many reasons that fall outside of the scope of this article, I do not find this Left narrative to be a plausible one. I believe that the Left is indeed still enthralled by a Modernist Utopia, as I defined the term here. I count myself among the people who feel that socialism, as it was conceived by 19th and 20th-century intellectuals, has inherent analytical flaws and suffers from what I call “game denial”. But there are, of course, fruitful currents of socialist thought and practice — some of which still merit further experimentation. The most compelling reincarnation of socialist thought today arguably revolves around “the commons” and “commoning” — issues that deserve their own article to be understood in the context of metamodernism and Protopia, but which I refrain from discussing here.
The fact that I view socialist romantics as misguided does not mean that I do not share their general concern with what sociologist Richard Sennett called “the hidden injuries of class”. Human relations, when mediated through and structured by excessive socio-economic class differences, are degrading to the human spirit and harmful to our psychological development. The research here is rather unanimous. Class relations foster more narrowly self-serving motives, distracting us from truly “wise” endeavors, while distorting our understanding of one another in manners that perpetuate the unjust treatment of so many. Income inequality is the greatest predictor of violence within societies. Simply put, class inequality is one of the great tragedies of life. As such, it deserves our attention and ethical engagement. Nothing about the rejection of socialist dreams and infatuations take anything away from that realization.
What, then, can be a way to approach the issue of class differences in a more sober, multiplistic, incremental, and “Protopian” view of society? How can this tragedy be addressed, its wounds healed, and more dignified human relationships be established?
I’d like to suggest three shifts of perspective in relation to how the category of “class” is understood. The purpose of this is to increase our shared capacity for cultivating greater equality, equivalence, and (as I shall discuss) equanimity in society — targeting the very roots of class society in an ever changing environment.
Hence, I hold that Protopian societies should actively and deliberately cultivate institutions (“collective habits”) that cut through all forms of inequality and mitigate them at the level of their root causes.
Let’s go through the three shifts of perspective.
Shift 1: View Class as Multidimensional (but beyond Intersectionality)
“So, intersectionality does begin to coordinate class relation with other vectors of inequality, yes, but it does not sufficiently get at the heart of how class inequalities reproduce and play out.”
Over the last few decades, many observers and critics have veered towards an “intersectional” view of inequality: class is one out of several orders of structural inequality (or “stratification”, a term that denotes society’s tendency to become layered into higher and lower strata). Thus a fuller analysis, the intersectional analysts argue, should include race/ethnicity, gender/sexuality, functionality, discrimination against the neuro-atypical (ADHD and so on), postcolonialist distortions of social reality, even age group differences, perhaps adding other dimensions as needed. While each of these structures of inequality follow their own respective social logic (racism, sexism, and so on) and cannot be reduced to one another (you cannot “explain away” all racism with class differences, etc.) — they all interact. They “cut through” or intersect one another, creating a meshwork of inequality, hence the term, intersectionality. The biases present in language use, in popular culture, in norms of everyday life, in the labor market, in the judicial systems, all contribute to skewing the games of life in unfair and ethically unjustifiable manners — reproducing the stigma of underprivileged groups along with the privileges of the powerful. Related concepts are the Marxist movement philosophers Hardt and Negri’s “multitude” and “assemblage”: justice movements around the world are different but have significant overlaps — and their vast multitude needs to form a self-organizing assemblage, i.e. a complex meshwork where the many movements cooperate to achieve their goals, despite their differences.
While I do share this viewpoint to a significant degree, and I do concede that further work — both from activists and scholars— is always needed to push the envelope on social justice across its many dimensions, I also feel that the intersectionality framework is ultimately insufficient to fully capture the mechanisms at work in the reproduction of inequality. More specifically, even with greater racial, gender, and other forms of justice, life would still be dismally unfair: There is always another dimension along which some are empowered and others humiliated and undermined. The sources of inequality are legion.
It is also the case, as liberal and conservative critics of the radical tradition (that intersectionality stems from) have never been late to point out, that these frameworks always rely upon making the differences between categories of people (women and men, white and black, and so on) the focus of attention and contention. This can inadvertently charge such boundaries with yet greater antagonism and even lead to counter-reactions and misunderstandings. After all, if a person — or group of people — are accused of being racist or of misusing their positions of power, there is always the risk of this accusation being practically unactionable, diffuse, or even downright false. The accusations can be hard to understand or respond to, and thus breed frustration and resentment. In my earlier ethnographic work with police officers, I could quite clearly see that police officers — both of majority and minority ethnicities and genders — simply had no idea what to do with the sociological revelations of the discrimination that they indisputably all partook in, structurally speaking. The police officers thus shielded themselves by the enactment of an ironic or humorous distancing from what they felt was the “political correctness” of a general public they felt could not understand their unique position in society.
I don’t find this liberal/conservative response to intersectionality to be conclusive. For one, it fails to account for the very real grievances social justice theories and movements seek to address (while also failing to account for the epistemological grounds for why universities generally gravitate towards critical theory of different brands in the first place). Most importantly, the liberal/conservative mainstream criticism fails to offer a reasonable alternative for mitigating the many injustices that so many people keep experiencing in their own lives. It’s almost as if the liberal and conservative simply ask, politely or not, all of those uppity social justice proponents to shut up and sit down. Naturally, this also breeds antagonism, as the very real experiences and grievances of vast swathes of the population are not validated. If intersectionality sometimes fails in its sociological perspective-taking (it’s dismally poor at accounting for the life-worlds of designated “powerful” groups), its critics are certainly guilty of a corresponding mistake: They don’t see how their resistance to intersectionality invalidates the starkly felt grievances of many activists of social justice and it appears to shut the door shut to a more dignified and fair treatment. The proponents of intersectionality feel they are being deprived of their one chance of reasserting their dignity.
Naturally, this response further radicalizes social justice activists and scholars, which further antagonizes their detractors, and — voilà, culture wars spiral to the point of rioters barging through the front doors of the Capitol Building.
So, intersectionality does begin to coordinate class relation with other vectors of inequality, yes, but it does not sufficiently get at the heart of how class inequalities reproduce and play out. In crude sociological terms, one could say that intersectionality, through its focus on exceedingly wide and complex variables like race and sexual identity, offers a fairly limited understanding of the actual mechanisms of inequality — class included. For certain, Black people make less money than White people—but what does that mean? What is the chain of events or mechanisms that reproduce that inequality? Here, seeing how wealth or poverty (indeed, “class” in a wider sense) has many meanings, each with their own dynamics, is crucial. It is insufficient to study categories of people — we must also study the categories of wealth and poverty.
Rather than dismissing the intersectionalist perspective, I’d like to expand upon it by offering a complementary framework (as, in parallel, I have attempted to do on multiculturalism in another article).
I have previously suggested that inequality should be viewed across the distribution of at least six forms of capital that cut across all of the dimensions of intersectionality, but which still refocus on a widely and holistically defined notion of “class” as a kind of nexus for inequalities:
- Economic inequality
- Social inequality
- Physiological inequality
- Emotional inequality
- Ecological inequality, and
- Informational inequality
All of these vectors of inequality naturally have repercussions across the categories studied through intersectionality (health follows socio-economic class, physiological scars mark even the DNA of the downtrodden over generations, inhaled pollution is unequally distributed between White and Black US citizens, exposure to low-quality digital screen time is higher among Black and Latino children, and so forth).
Yet, just as importantly: If you consider all of these six dimensions, you gain a more holistic view of the reproduction of class relations in society. Think about it: If you could redistribute wealth to address economic inequality, but social inequalities (like status, networks, trust, and number of reliable friends) persist along with physiological, emotional, ecological, and informational ones — will not very real power and status differentials resurface again and again with all the tenacity of a whack-a-mole game? Will not the healthier, better connected, emotionally more nourished people with access to better environments and exposure to higher-quality information very easily reassert their dominance? Will not class reassert itself, also economically— along with structures of gender, race, and so forth?
Hence, a holistic view of class — indeed, an effective view of class — must work across these six vectors (or some corresponding multi-vector model). A Protopian society must cultivate institutions that carry forth strategies that counteract the mechanisms that perpetuate each of these forms of inequality. That would, to a significant extent, lead to a lessened emphasis on the categories of intersectionality, the “categories of people”. Rather, we would get one composite variable that we might term “deep class” — the class relation that matters the most in terms of how your life plays out.
Simply put, rather than focusing primarily on the “categories of people” in intersectionality, my suggestion is that Protopian societies should focus on the active mitigation of “deep class”-inequalities.
Shift 2: Know that Class Configurations Evolve with the Economic System
“Class exists. Class is real. Class is hard, material social reality. But it is just more mosaic than we have been accustomed to think of it.”
Many observers, Left and Right, have lamented the collapse of socio-economic class as the focal point of party politics in liberal (capitalist) democracies over the last few decades. Instead, issues of identity (across the categories studied under intersectionality) have increasingly taken a front seat. Nothing is more common than this complaint — while still being viewed a unique and incisive “back to basics” insight.
But none of the lamenters seem very keen on explaining why this major shift has occurred.
The explanation should be rather simple: Class relations of industrial capitalist society (working class, and so on), around which parties were formed, have come to less accurately describe the real life experience of people. And so, taking Sweden as an example, you have a higher percentage of low-income voters among the conservative Christian Democrats than among the socialist Left Party voters. Starker contrasts instead become visible between male and female, immigrant and non-immigrant voters, age groups, and so forth. Parties are formed around these categories more than around income levels. Cultural categories — or simply categories other than socio-economic class — have become the strongest axes of political organization.
This new state of affairs, in turn, can only be explained by a corresponding shift in class structure itself. Yes, income distributions certainly still exist. But they have become more complexly layered and intermixed. A person such as myself — a rogue scholar — oscillates between rags and riches, status and insignificance, precarious life conditions and advising people in big international institutions. So class, in an information society, becomes redistributed within a person’s life, over time, across multiple arenas. The monolith of class becomes fractured (paralleling, to a great extent, Andy Warhol’s proverbial 15 minutes of fame — he just forgot to add the equally ubiquitous “15 minutes of shame”).
And that’s just on the individual level: You have increasing difficulties to pin down the “class” of a family network, too. One family can include one teacher, two medical doctors, one nurse, one mailman, one in the upper echelons of international finance, one on disability pension, and one unemployed but highly intellectual type. Is it a middle class family? Will they have middle class values and vote middle class? Will they be having middle class conversations with one another about comparable metrics of success? Add to the mix that the same family can have different nationalities and that they have moved to different parts of the world where they compare differently to others in their environment. While there may be socio-economically discernable patterns to this family, it’s not a far stretch to guess that they won’t be voting in unison, as a certain “class”. it will even be difficult for them to gauge how to vote in the interest of their whole family network.
To complicate things, in societies of wide middle classes, people will even start to compete for the title of “working class” to appear more underdog, unique, and self-made — more deserving. This a funny reversal of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s observation in 1960’s France, that people use taste in consumption as a mode of “distinction” in class terms: people start performing realness, authenticity, simplicity in relief to the background of an imagined, large, colorless, and privileged middle class. People start vying for attractive class identities that aren’t always “upwards”.
I can partake in such self-definitions myself: Most people would probably view me as middle class, white, male, academic—but I’ve hardly ever had a job, I was born in a rough crime-ridden neighborhood with many immigrants, my family consists of people with different ethnic identities, many of which are working typical working class jobs, while many of my friends and much of my network belongs to “the creative class” and upper classes… I could go on. The point is: I will often feel more inclined to find ways of defining myself as something other than middle class.
Class exists. Class is real. Class is hard, material social reality. But it is just more mosaic than we have been accustomed to think of it. Like a piece of glass, it was shattered into a thousand shards which are then reassembled in a kaleidoscopic manner. This observation takes nothing away from the factual reality of increasing concentrations of wealth under information capitalism. Sharpened inequalities of wealth does not translate to clearer and more relevant distinctions and identities of class. These two realities easily coexist.
Rather than complaining that people have become inexplicably enthralled by “identity politics”, the productive response to this new reality would arguably be to understand it and to analyze which struggles and fault lines are now appearing in society. With the more holistic view of class outlined above, we can fairly easily resolve some of the conundrums that have haunted the public debate over recent years. For instance, are Trump voters “privileged” or not? In strictly economic terms, they are comparatively well-to-do on average, but in terms of “total capital” across the different vectors, they are falling behind other groups — which they experience as a loss of dignity in society. That’s arguably where much of their collective frustrations are coming from.
In other words, as Protopian societies will not be like the Modern mainstream, industrial, capitalist ones; they will not have the same configuration of meaningful class categories. I have formerly suggested the following table of evolving class relations:
We will refrain from discussing this table in detail, but let us note some of the features it suggests.
Societies have evolved through different forms of class logics. There’s not one logic that rules them all, because the main ways in which people trade, cooperate, and compete have evolved with technology and thus with the fabric of the economy. Hence the games of life have changed — but these games have never been eradicated.
Today we are barely finding our feet in the image- and sound saturated society of mass media — and thus, the mass-mediated image: think of Marilyn Monroe and we all see her before our inner eye; think of Charlemagne and the image is much vaguer. This is because we have all seen recorded and curated images of the construction “Marilyn Monroe”. After only a few generations of acclimatization to this new (Postmodern) world — we are now crash-landing into the internet society. Here, a new class structure begins to emerge, coexisting with earlier ones, but rapidly growing in significance. In this digital economy, one’s position within the flows of information and technologically mediated attention, of access to cultural capital, and of inequalities of emotional energy, begin to structure who is privileged and who isn’t.
As such, you begin to see what Kevin Kelly termed the rise of “netocrats” — the class of those who are made most powerful by advent of the internet. As such, you see a new axis of class relations, which in turn begins to structure other class relations. The underprivileged “consumtariat” are those who get stuck in “onlooker roles”, whose attention is guided and exploited by others, not least through what Shosana Zuboff termed “surveillance capitalism”. The new masters guide the attentions, the desires, the wills, even the inner worlds of the exploited. The exploited have their autonomy hijacked by attention-grabbing manipulation, by online addictions, by non-productive gaming, by political manipulation, and online pornography of sexualized or consumerized kinds. As such, the consumtariat are victimized by their very own participation in conspiracy theories and pseudo-scientific trends. One could hold that this constitutes a novel form of the Marxist notion of “false consciousness”: different kinds of pseudo-participation, of clicktivism, of depleted creative energy. They are stuck with low-quality information and low levels of attention control. (The political sociologist Brent Cooper’s Meta-Marxism seeks to answer to some of this viscous dynamic).
There is yet to emerge a good term for the “middle class” position in this new digital game of life. But we can see fairly clearly what the features of such an “informational middle class” might be: a level of knowledge about issues of integrity and privacy, of resistance to attention manipulation, and the resources to act to establish greater control of the technologically mediated interfaces to the world. This requires, most often, a certain level of education, better informed networks, and a capacity to create content that would entice and interest others. Much like the former systems of class, its stability largely relies on the size and strength of this middle class.
This is a different game — one that is thus far only very partially and provisionally represented in political self-organization. Under emergent metamodernity, the netocrats have had the first-mover initiative for a significant period of time, and have thus strongly established their position as masters not only of attention and information, but also of financial wealth. A structure of class struggle that stretches across the co-existing modern, postmodern, and metamodern economic realities is yet to be meaningfully established. As such, our political systems of representation falter and produce wide swathes of discontent demographics — fueling reaction, culture wars, and downright paranoia.
A Protopian society would have democratic institutions in place that do not conclusively remove these class differentials, but offers frameworks within which fruitful political organization becomes actionable while the awareness of the relevant class relations becomes established. Because these class relations are of another and more complex nature than those of industrial society, they will require more deliberative forms of democracy and networked governance.
The issue, then, is not to efface these class structures, but to create the frameworks of governance that would give the emergent classes sufficient self-awareness and capacity to self-organize for them to have a fighting chance of defending their interests. In the current state of the world, sadly, the netocrats have more or less free rain as their class-categorical counterparts are unable to defend themselves.
Shift 3: Evolve the Inner Dimensions of Class (along with Material Inequalities)
“A Protopian society should thus include mechanisms that soften the blows of inequality-as-it-is-felt-and-experienced, or even inequality-as-it-is-socially-constructed.”
To date, the only truly classless societies appear to be the ones that lack a significant accumulation of wealth and resources over time. Many (but not all!) hunter-gatherer societies tend to be fiercely egalitarian, with norms of resource sharing deeply engrained. Interestingly, experiments have shown, members of such societies tend to actually share less of their resources if they are finally granted the chance to eat a whole cake by themselves: it’s just that there is such a strong social pressure to share that they rarely get the chance to. As such, they keep the tendency to accumulate wealth in check — and thus benefit from having very low levels of inequality.
David Wengrow and David Graeber have shown in their recent book, The Dawn of Everything, that societies across history and the world have had many exceptions to the class structures and inequalities we today have come to take for granted. This echoes Frederic Jameson’s saying that “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” (or, Ursula Le Guin’s famous quote to similar effect). The two Davids hold that much of the class inequalities of our day and age ultimately come down to a lack of sociological imagination: that we become too enthralled by our own narratives, ways of life, and excuses for society’s injustices to fruitfully challenge the status quo.
While I share in the Davids’ sentiment at a general level, I believe there is more to the dynamics behind class structures than a lack of sociological imagination. The question is, much as the Marxists held in their time, to understand the dynamics of stratification and class, and then to empower people to counteract the ills of these dynamics as effectively as possible.
The crucial aspect of this is to understand that class relations do not only play out economically and materially, but also psychologically, socially, and culturally. For instance: What does it mean to be “unemployed”? How will people conceive of this status; how will they rate themselves and one another according to the category of un/employment?
By widening the viable identities through which people can project a desirable “presentation of self in everyday life” (a term from sociologist Erving Goffman), the “social damage” of being defined as “unemployed” can be reduced. Simply put, if we have less disdain of the unemployed, we may end up enriching society immensely — empowering wide swathes of the population in the process. A citizenship and identity that include not only our role as an economic contributor could be established with a shift of norms in society: You are not just your job, “a banker”, but equally a responsible consumer, a participant in public discourse, a resource to your local civil society, and a reliable family member or romantic partner. Professional identity can be put in its proper place, dethroned from its identity-hegemony.
Here, we are moving towards deeper forms of “equity”. We are looking at equality not only “from the outside” (as a “social fact”) but also “from the inside out” (as an experience, as a psychological reality, phenomenologically). Whereas this “inner perspective” cannot replace the external, material one, it can and should certainly complement it.
A Protopian society should thus include mechanisms that soften the blows of inequality-as-it-is-felt-and-experienced, or even inequality-as-it-is-socially-constructed. The metamodern view of class holds that our previous notions of class have suffered from an “inner dimensions blindness”, which has limited our shared capacity to mitigate its harms as well as its mechanisms of reproduction.
This view holds that there is a progression of how deeply we analyze and respond to inequalities, previously discussed here:
- from equality, which is the struggle to reduce material inequalities across multiple vectors,
- to equivalence, which fosters a sense of felt and embodied sense of being a dignified member of society and viewing others with the same respect,
- to equanimity, which mirrors the quality of inner acceptance of ourselves, one another, and our inevitable differences of capacities, in effect reducing our very propensity to identify with arbitrary dominator hierarchies.
Simply stated, from the metamodernist perspective, it is insufficient to focus solely on material inequalities, as these result from deep dynamics that are to a certain extent beyond our collective control — and because people will still be hurt by negative comparison and judgment across more vectors than we can possibly account for or anticipate. Rather, to reduce the true harms of inequality and class relations, we can and must always work to create better psychological and social conditions for a lived and felt equality.
Institutions that function in this manner can include the spread of meditative practices that foster compassion, training in perspective-taking and empathy, and support structures for the cultivation of genuine self-esteem (which needs to rely much less on negative comparisons). The ultimate enemy, at this deepest layer of “equanimity”, are not the inequalities in and of themselves, but our psychological tendencies to compare with one another, to clamor for glamor, to disdain the grief-stricken and downtrodden. If we seek to counteract the injuries of “deep class” as discussed above, it stands to reason that the struggle for equality should also delve into the depth of the human soul.
Ultimately, one of the main reproducers of inequality is our tendency to view ourselves and one another through the goggles of arbitrary dominator hierarchies — or even to compare our strengths and weaknesses in the first place. One of the major feedback cycles of structures of inequality is arguably the stigmas that come with being underprivileged. To view ourselves and one another with a universalized sense of respect is thus a key tool to weakening the power of such downward spirals.
Protopian societies should thus include active and deliberate institutionalized strategies to increase not only material equality (e.g. across the six vectors outlined above), but also, and just as crucially, to increase the capacities of equivalence and equanimity within the population. In so doing, Protopia will arguably be better equipped to create also material equality, as people will view inequalities as less justifiable (or even desirable) in the first place.
Summary (and Considerations of Ukraine)
“While class cannot conclusively be done away with, transcended once and for all, people can always be empowered in a thousand ways to establish their dignity and defend their equal worth.”
I have thus suggested that Protopian society is not a “classless society” in the image of communist and socialist utopias. Rather, Protopia would be a society in which structures of class, and class relations, are managed and mitigated in a much richer and more multi-dimensional manner than what has been the case in any society to date. To approach this goal, I have suggested three perspective shifts:
- that class is viewed across six dimensions rather than one,
- that class is viewed as an evolving entity that requires new forms of governance to mitigate as its dynamics shift with techno-economic realities, and
- that the inner dimensions of inequality are directly targeted as a key reinforcer of class stratification.
Protopia is a class-smart society: a society capable of reducing and mitigating the injuries of class with a wide and intricate battery of inter-connected institutional practices that are also sensitive to the categories studied by intersectionality.
As such, I still believe that Protopia has greater de facto capacities to reduce the suffering caused by inequality than was the case in communist countries. While class cannot conclusively be done away with, transcended once and for all, people can always be empowered in a thousand ways to establish their dignity and defend their equal worth. And that’s what we should aim for. The very category of “class” remains a moving target, and to respond to it productively means to cultivate frameworks that are themselves flexible and complexly adaptable to changing realities. Echoing how I put it crudely in the beginning: Protopia is a society that optimizes class relations.
To say something about how this interfaces with the current war in Ukraine, we could note that Russia’s invasion appears to be a conflict between nations and geopolitical interests (and that’s also true), but that the frustrations within Russia and Ukraine that have led up to the war certainly have a multi-dimensional “deep class” dimension. The informational poverty of vast swathes of the Russian population play a part, as does the lack of opportunities and self-respect that has driven many young men on both sides into the far-right groups that have been fueling the violence in the Donbass region. This is just to point out that, while international wars tend to make questions of class invisible, class relations are always present and part even of the grandest geopolitical happenings. Lest we forget.
The suggested view of class is, I believe, more in line with Protopia as being not a static vision of “the good society” (like Utopia), but rather a society with a dramatically increased capacity for self-assessment and self-improvement. It is a “relative utopia”, a vision not of a perfect society, but of a much better one; one that is Triple-E (Ecological, Equitable, and Effectively governed) — one that merits our hopes, dreams, and playful struggles even more than the static modern Utopia of a classless society.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian, and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.