Metamodernism, More Egalitarian than Socialism

The fundamental goal of all authentic strands of socialism is to attain sha­r­ed (and fairly distributed) ownership of “the means of production”. This can and should lead to democratic control over said means of pro­duction. But this state of affairs is not quite the goal-in-and-of-itself; it is merely a means to achieving a higher socialist goal: a classless society that is fair, equitable, and in which everybody has what they need for a secure and dignified existence. The goal is to enact politics with soli­darity in order to bring forth a society that is equitable, the structures of which make possi­ble wide and deep solid­arity between all people, which in turn emanci­pates the human soul.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. 

The idea of socialism took root in the wake of capitalist industriali­zation, although the word originated as a derogatory term already in the mid-1700s as Catholic theologians criticized the legal philosophies of Grotius and Puf­endorf who had the insolence to think that law should be based upon the relationships between people rather than divine revela­tion. Such “social­ists” wanted a societal order defined by human rela­tions.[i] And modern socialism echoes some of that original meaning: Socialists want the econ­omy—and thus everyday life—not to be ruled by any blind, mechan­ical system, but by the relations between sensing and thinking human beings brought into benign relation with one another.

There are, naturally, more forms of socialist thought and practice than we could possibly deal with in this context—from Proudhon to Marx, to Bernstein’s democratic reformism, to Rosa Luxemburg, to Western hum­an­ist Marxism and Freudo-Marxism and their “New Left” and so on. But it is safe to say that anything falling outside of the above delineated bou­n­dary (in regard to the means of production and equality) is not “social­ism” in any meaningful sense of the word. By going to the root shared by all social­ists, we can compare socialism as a general category to the Nordic ideology.

The socialist goal is an equitable society, not merely in terms of opport­unity, but also of outcome. Because so much of society is always and for­ever bound up with the situated social relations between people, it is una­void­able to also seek to level out the outcomes in terms of income and wealth—other­wise the privileges tend to stack up over time: wealthy fami­ly dynas­ties, economic classes, cartels and monopolies, corporations that flee from social responsi­bility and taxation, and so on. So if you don’t care about out­come, you will end up reproducing inequality of opportunity as well. And only if people are reasonably equal can they resist exploitation, and only if they resist being exploited can they be free and fully human.

And right there is the killing point, my dear comrade. If you have the goal to create a fair and equal society, you must also support equalities of outcome to some extent.

Can you get equality of outcome without a developed Gemeinschaft Politics? No, because there will be so much social, emotional and phy­sio­logical in­equality left, and these will reproduce new forms of inequa­lity. The “classless” society in an economic sense is a very superficial utopia: Most of the inti­mate and hurtful inequality remains, and the stakes cannot be fair by any means. Inequality is economic, social, physio­logical, emo­tional, ecological and informational—and all of these are intercon­nec­ted. Only metamodern politics can address inequality at that level of com­plex­ity. Without it, you will never get a classless society.

And even if “everybody” would own the means of production together and manage them democratically, this process would always be limited by what­ever form democracy takes. If the mode of governance is not itself a process of incremental and self-critical development, you will always be stuck with the power relations inherent to that particular system. So with­out Democratization Politics, you cannot actually have soc­ialism in any real sense.

Both Gemeinschaft and Democratization Politics require the other four new forms of politics (Existential, Emancipation, Empirical and Theory) to function. Thus, you simply cannot call yourself a socialist unless you also accept political metamodernism. All said and done, the Nordic ideology is more egalitarian than socialism.

Where does this leave the Left in its existing modern and postmodern forms? If political metamodernism charges ahead and becomes the stan­dard bearer of a more embodied and deeper equality—connecting specifi­cally to the emerging postindustrial and digitized economy—what pur­pose does the residual old Left have to play?

To understand this we may look at the role of Christian­ity during the 19th century. There can be little doubt that the fundamental “game chan­ge” shifts of this period were made possible by the emergence of a distinc­tly modern society: abolition of slavery, protests against rapacious exploi­tation in the colonies, the expan­sion of suffrage, the early forms of wel­fare. But—and this is a big but—radical born-again Christian­ity played a pivotal role in the mobilization of social move­ments and moral demands during this period. Hence, you can see how the morally driven “utopian” movements of the former metameme (postfaust­ianism) finally managed to reach the “low hanging fruit” that came into reach by the maturation of the next metameme—in this case modern soc­iety. The born-again Christ­ians and Pentecostals were hardly the “most enlightened” or “most mod­ern” citizens of their time; but they emphasized relatively simple and spe­cifically moral and collective demands that had now finally become rea­listic and achiev­able. They weren’t fans of Darwin, and still they had this progressive role to play in history.

That is the future role of socialism and the Left more generally in an increasingly metamodern world-system: being a source of popular moral mobil­ization within metamodern society. A lot of the things postmod­ern intellectuals and social movements may have wanted to achieve—animal rights, levelling-out international terms-of-trade, protecting the un­emplo­yed from marginali­zation and stigma—can become much more feasible in a society that is taking steps towards metamodern institu­tions, not least because it will make the average value meme and norm sys­tems develop more rapidly. We may perhaps not be looking at a “social­ism in the 21st century” as many like to imagine (i.e. viewing the Left as the key force in organizing and governing society in the period ahead of us), because it will be outcompeted by political metamodernism. And it will be torn by the populist Right and new versions of conservatism from the other side, and it has no present-day real-world governments to point at as positive examples. But just as Christianity was dealt its fatal blows dur­ing the 19th century and still managed to be morally transform­ative, so can the Left be a stepping stone for moral transformations in the 21st cen­tury.

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 his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. You can read about this history in: Honneth, A., 2015/2017. The Idea of Social­ism: Towards a Renewal. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.