The structure of pre-capitalist societies is often depicted as a Hierarchical pyramidal structure with the mass of people forming the widest part of the pyramid at the bottom and then progressively smaller echelons forming each tier as it moves towards the top. We can call this a Standard Hierarchy Model and make a simple diagram of it something like this:
In this model wealth and power moves upwards from the bottom of the pyramid to the top and wealth and power in the form of patronage is redistributed down from the top to the bottom. In establishment rhetoric this is portrayed as the ‘classic’ ‘oppressive’ state structure.
Establishment history argues that this oppressive state structure belongs both to our pre-capitalist past and contemporary non capitalist societies such as North Korea, (which in Establishment ideology are essentially the same thing). But Establishment history argues that in contrast to all other types of societies, present and past, the pyramid structure is modified within capitalist societies.
The crudest Establishment description of hierarchy modification is in the Inverted Hierarchy Model. This model shows the mass of people benefiting from capitalism relatively and absolutely more than any other echelon in the pyramid. The argument is that the lower down you are in the oppressive pyramid model the more you benefit from the Inverted Hierarchy Model. We can show it like this:
In this model it is argued that power ‘democratically’ flows away from elites, up to the mass of people. Then patronage is redistributed down from the mass of people to the elite through the democratic process. As proof of this redistribute process the Inverted Hierarchy Model argues that the mass of people receive invisible, intangible social goods. These include the right to be an individual, the right to express opinions in free speech, sexual freedom etc, As an added bonus these riches get progressively larger and more encompassing with every passing year!
This Inverted Hierarchy Model is obviously overtly ideological and tends to be used mostly in Anglo Saxon societies and in particular the USA. But that doesn’t mean that is has no basis in history and culture. The objective is to try to understand what basis it actually has..
A more subtle Establishment argument is to agree that we live in a base heavy pyramidal structured society but to argue that who is at the top of the pyramid and who is at the bottom regularly changes over time. In other words the structure remains constant but the composition of the pyramid is open to change. This model accepts the implied need for the state to guarantee some kind of equality to mitigate the nature of the pyramid but characterises this as the need for equality of opportunity.
In contrast, anti Establishment arguments emphasise the fact that the structure of the pyramid remains constant irrespective of the composition of any particular echelon. Any movement of elements within the pyramid is limited and inconsequential. It follows that if the pyramid is incapable of internal change, change must come from outside.
So the basic mainstream Establishment position is:
The Capitalist form of society is a pyramid but it differs from previous social pyramids in that its composition changes and will continue to change over time.
The anti Establishment position is:
The pyramid is essentially the same as previous pyramids, has not changed and will not change until political force (usually from below), makes it change.
On these two essential positions the matter rests and has rested for some time. But it is possible to conceive of social structure in a different, dynamic way. This dynamic understanding can illuminate the observation people understand the pyramid structure not in abstract or random ways, but in ways that are exactly the inevitable outcome of the relationship between elite and the rest of society and the way this relationship has developed and been subjectively experienced.
Instead of the Establishment series of ongoing pyramid ‘snapshots’ or the opposition ‘oil painting’ of a single static pyramid, we can imagine the pyramid form instead as a dynamic vector on a graph representing a flow of wealth and power from the base of the hierarchy to the top and then back down again. This model integrates movement into the basic model itself. It is the difference between the dissection of a cadaver and studying the flow of blood through a living body.
Lets go back and look at the classic ‘oppressive’ pyramid structure from the perspective of this Hierarchical flow model. It looks like this:
Wealth and power moves upwards from the ‘peasants’ at the bottom to the ‘King’ at the top and is then redistributed by the King back down through the lords and barons and so on until a residue of wealth reaches the bottom again. In this model the elite is the mechanism of redistribution and the ‘King’ is the personification of the elite. We are taught that this is how medieval European society or contemporary non capitalist society such as North Korea is structured.
The fundamental Capitalist critique of an oppressive state structure like this is that the ‘King’ collects wealth and power from the people and then redistributes it to the power structure that protects him and the echelons below him from the people he collects wealth from in the first place. In other words the process of redistribution reinforces the redistributive structure in place and makes it impervious to change. This can be called a Force System.
The people pay to the King and the King pays the bodyguards and so on downwards thought society. Redistribution and force are intertwined. Wealth is redistributed throughout society through the Force System.
This process is characterised as a ‘crony system’ by Capitalists. It is also often misrepresented as a Forced System as opposed to a Force System. Capitalists argue that because redistribution is done through the force system it is ‘forced’ – it cannot be to any extent voluntary. They argue that this is morally unfair and/or economically and politically inefficient. They argue that it must inevitably collapse, and if it doesn’t decent people should work to bring about that collapse anyway and by any means necessary.
You should note that Germanic capitalist ideology viscerally detests Force System because it does not reward the personal character traits that German culture and personality admires and promotes.
The Fate of Kings
In a fully ‘feudal’ society everybody is effectively employed by government. Your economic boss is very often literally the general who leads you to war. And this political/economic model is reproduced right up to the very top. The commercial and the political is entirely integrated and entirely consistent , (which is to say that the logic of society is reproduced throughout society to the same extent). All of society is integrated and consistent.
The king is the guarantor of the system and the network. Consider the fate of Gaddafi in Libya and Ceausescu in Romania. Consider also what is in store for al Assad if his enemies get their way. This fate of kings is not random or happenstance. The fate of the King is absolutely entwined with the fate of the redistributive system.
Rather than a feudal society It would be more accurate to call this an integrated society because economics and politics are fused and every echelon is fused to the one above and below it by means of the redistributive system.
The popular capitalist ideological critique is that systems like this are static. Everybody is in a place within the system. Nobody can be outside the system and nobody can move within the system. Of course if they see any evidence to the contrary of their assertions they simply ignore it.
This criticism fits within the capitalist list of accusations which run from popular to true in descending order:
It is static
It rewards ‘bad character’
It is dangerous for ‘the people’ (which really means it is dangerous for people like us!)
If the capitalist system was the opposite of an integrated society it would be a disintegrated society wouldn’t it ? Could there be such a thing as a disintegrated society? A society like this would be a society that is defined by the belief that: ‘There is no such thing as society’. Could such a society exist? If so how could it exist?
With the advent of Capitalism instead of one income and dispersal system there are now two systems within society. Where there was only the integrated feudal political system there is now also a separate capitalist ‘economic’ system that mirrors the feudal political system. This can be called a Split Stream Model because there are two separate streams of income and redistribution. It can be shown like this.
Wealth and power rises and falls on a ‘commercial’ stream (blue) and a parallel political stream (red). Both streams are integrationist which is to say they concentrate wealth upwards towards the elite and then redistribute it.
Notice that this model does not differentiate between a ‘feudal’ and ‘capitalist’ elite. There is no need to try to manufacture a fundamental political or cultural conflict between the feudal and the capitalist elite in this model. They have separate income streams and dispersal networks but they are not fundamentally different.
This is in stark contrast to capitalist establishment history, (and Establishment anti-Capitalist theory!), for which it is very important to claim that capitalist elite are different from the feudal elite, because they have been transformed by an intangible, magical process called ‘Enlightenment’
I’m Ready For My Close Up
This Split Stream Model can be regarded as the basis for the idea of a ‘Golden Age of Capitalism’. In as far as Capitalism can be said to be progressive, the justification for it lies in this model.
The capitalist commercial blue vector shows Capitalism concentrating power upwards through the capitalist production process and then redistributing wealth and power back down through the very same capitalist production process. It should be very clear that unlike a feudal system wealth and power are NOT redistributed back to the people they had been extracted from. And wealth and power are NOT redistributed to everyone throughout society. But they are redistributed comprehensively nevertheless.
Imagine yourself standing on any point on the blue vector in other words, imagine yourself as part of the commercial vector. As part of the process, from your point of view Capitalism really does redistribute wealth and power; you can see it happening, it is happening to you. You are part of an alternative to the feudal redistribution system.
This is the form of society that traditional (sometimes ‘libertarian’ and even Neo Conservative) Anglo Saxon history focuses on. This is the basis and justification for Neo Conservative ‘trickle down’ rhetoric and at the same time the reason for its ‘Libertarian’ opposition returning again and again to the period of the American Constitution, and even sometimes the French Revolution.
We can look again at the Inverted Pyramid Model from this perspective. For someone at the apex of the blue vector the pyramid is indeed inverted.. power and wealth comes to you and you redistribute it. And that is why this model forms the basis for all pro-market, particularly Saxon rhetoric. Think of it as a snapshot of Germanic capitalism in early adulthood; fresh-faced and looking at her very best. It’s the same snapshot that Capitalism still uses on her Facebook page, although it’s a long time since she looked anything like that….
There are two systems co existing, but one of them has a clear future where the other does not. A new Divergent Split Stream Model begins to assert itself where economic wealth and power is no longer distributed back down through the lower echelons. The feudal vector system comprehensively redistributes wealth. The capitalist vector no longer does.
What this means is that in effect the capitalist vector is getting its government for free….It can abandon its obligations outside of the state. That model looks like this:
As a consequence of capitalists abandoning any social obligations they may have felt they had, the feudal system progressively impoverishes itself in comparison with the capitalists. This is effectively the moment of overt capitalist revolutions, the moment when ‘feudalists’ and ‘capitalists’ understand the true meaning of what is happening and what its inevitable consequences will be. Then comes a decisive political battle. Ironically it is when capitalism stops actually being progressive and revolutionary that an actual capitalist revolution becomes necessary!
And now things get really interesting.
The post revolutionary redistribution system bypasses the elite entirely. This is the Split Stream Welfare Model and it looks like this:
The top echelon elite have taken themselves out of the redistribution process altogether but they are still protected by it. The elite are effectively disintegrated from the system. The difference between an old fashioned ‘oppressive’ pyramid and a modern system is that the people used to pay wealth and power to the King to distribute to his bodyguards. Now they pay to the bodyguards directly. This is called democracy. The system is streamlined.
And if the red vector looks familiar from the models above. It should because it is the same one.
Now the Split Stream Welfare Model reproduces the feudal distribution system, but outside of the elite. That is what ‘welfare’ redistribution actually is; a reproduction of the classic feudal non capitalist redistribution system but at a lower level of society. If redistribution is really feudalism, is the left really ‘feudal’?
So what is a ‘progressive’ then?
‘Back To The Future’ Next time….