Metamodernism, More Liberal than Liberalism

I will lump together classical liberalism, libertarianism and neo-liberal­ism under one banner, much like with the many strands of socialism above. For the sake of convenience I’ll talk about “liberalism”, even if this in an American context tends to just mean “left-leaning” which of course isn’t what I mean here.

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. 

So the fundamental goal of liberalism is to maximize the freedom of the individual. It is hard enough for each of us to figure out how we should lead our lives and what is good for us and our kids—let alone know what might be good for others. Hence, it is unwise to put too much of your life into my hands and vice versa. This means that the realm of the public and the political should not unnecessarily infringe upon the private sphere and the voluntary exchanges on the market. Rather, government should be stretched only so far that it guarantees our protection from one another and ensure that we don’t breach our freely entered agreements: As long as you don’t do anything that directly limits or harms me, you should be free to do it.

There is, to a considerable extent, a trade-off between how much should be decided upon politically and how much each of us can decide for our­selves. For instance, if you have high taxes, the political system controls a large share of human activity, and with lower taxes more of that decision power lands in the hands of individuals. Generally speaking, individuals will be more empowered in the latter case, and this fosters responsibility, innovation, hard work, independent thinking and econo­mic growth, which in turn increases individual freedom. Such freedom should also have as few legal restrictions as possible; you need very good arguments if you want to use the monopoly of violence to threaten people to comply with some rule.

What do you say, will that do as a general idea of liberalism? From John Locke and John Stuart Mill, to Hayek, to Ayn Rand, to Milton Fried­man, to Robert Nozick (before he changed his mind) and Reaganomics—the above posi­tion would be shared by all of them.

The easiest way to defeat liberalism is by attacking its core supposition: the individual. The moment we are shown that it is a surface phenome­non and that the real unit of analysis is the dividual or the transindividual, and that freedom must ultimately be defined in transpersonal terms, we can see that liberalism must be subjected to metamodernism: Ultimately, you can never be free unless the people around you develop well, because their development affects not only your choices in every moment of your life, but even the degrees of freedom by which you can think, feel, and be in the world. We co-emerge, and freedom is a social category that func­tions through different emotional regimes.

Libertarians gather around the hacker and startup comm­unities of Silicon Valley and the East Coast of the US—they don’t set up shop in Somalia or Afghanistan, where there is indeed no state power to limit “individual freedom”. It’s just you and the desert (and a few warlords). A dynamic market ultimately rests upon a strong monopoly of violence that provides enough stability for freedom to prosper. Security is a service, and the state is an efficient provider of just that. As Max Weber noted so long ago, states and markets develop together.

But that, of course, is cheating. Libertarians and classical liberals won’t give up their belief in the individual anytime soon, so in order to beat them on their own terms you must show them that the maximization of indivi­dual liberty cannot be done without political metamodernism. And that’s perfectly doable, too.

The weakest spot is, unsurprisingly perhaps, the role of the state. As much suspicion as liberalism harbors against the state, it ultimately always depends upon it. Not only must there be a state to guarantee the safety of individuals against the violence or oppression of one another, it must also warrant legally binding agreements and protect property rights. No capi­tal­ist market is possible without at least some minimum state action. And if such a state does exist it will always have to make priorities, which will always limit at least some freedoms of some individuals.

So there is a state, if only a minimal one. How to make sure it is truly liberal and non-oppress­ive? If the govern­ance of such a state does not in­clude an active and deliberate Emancipation Politics, there will be fewer ways for the oppressed and dis­favored parties to resist. This in turn would re­quire a Democrat­ization Poli­tics to make certain that the form of gover­nance is something that is entered into voluntarily in the first place. And from there on, you will require all the other four forms of politics because they all depend upon each other. Empirical Politics is necessary to ensure that the minimized governmental action actually does max­imize human freedom. That too, in part, is an empirical question.

What, then, about anarcho-capitalism, one might ask? In this extreme version of liberalism you want to get rid of the state altogether and even have a market solution for buying and selling security services such as policing and courts. Let’s take it from the anarcho-capitalist perspective then: no state, basta! Anarcho-capitalists are not un­comm­on around hac­k­er comm­unities, Sili­con Valley and the tech industries, so it is a rele­vant ques­tion. And with cryptocurrencies and blockchain techno­logies on the rise, we may be seeing increas­ingly serious attempts at anarcho-capitalist projects.

Here’s the thing. Even if you had no state and security was up for sale, the best security solutions would still be those that provide people with a “listening society” so that peo­ple feel heard, seen and represented. The best security is still preventive security. This would in turn require a dev­elop­ment of all the six forms of politics (Democrat­ization, Gemeinschaft, Existential, Emancipation, Empirical and Theory). In market terms, this service would be more competitive.

Imagine you’re a “client-citizen” of the kind envisioned by anarcho-capitalists: You have blockchain money and you shop around for the best state services. In one such state service, the metamodern one, you can affect the mode of govern­ance, people are nudged to treat you better and you get a framework that helps you find profound meaning in life, and the fellow citizens will be much more peaceful and socially intelligent, and it’s all empirically proven to work. The other providers lack such services and end up using your volun­tarily paid money much more ineffi­ciently. Which one are you going to pick? You go with the metamodern one. If there is such a thing as your “natural rights”, these will come to a fuller expression in a meta­modern soc­iety.

The only way to stop people from voluntarily choosing the meta­modern solutions would be to stop free competition by some kind of threat of viol­ence or monopoly. The only thing that can stop liberalism from being eaten alive by metamodernism is authoritarianism.

In the “market of ideas” (as proposed by the liberal thinker J. S. Mill), political metamodernism lands on top of liberalism in all of its forms. Just as the telephone and internet beat the telegraph. If you’re not a meta­moder­nist, you’re just a bad liberal, because metamodern­ism is more libe­ral than liberalism—even in the stringent forms of libertarianism and anarcho-cap­italism.

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.