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.