Offending Markets or the Gods?
Chris Allsobrook is a lecturer in philosophy at St Augustine [Catholic] College and a politics research associate with the University of Johannesburg. He is also managing editor for the social and political theory journal Theoria. He writes, 29 November, in Thought Leader (Mail & Guardian), South Africa HERE
“Margaret Thatcher shared with Thomas Hobbes, the great English political philosopher, a typically British, myth-busting receptivity to common-sense. Thatcher saw through the self-serving rhetoric of moralists whose ideals were bankrupting the economy. She pushed government to basic accounting principles and put Britain back on track. Yet “there is no such thing as society” is the heartless, bean-counting claim for which she is remembered by community-oriented lefties. She gutted societies with the logic of mergers, acquisitions and downsizing, then in vogue, erasing the entity whose existence she denied.
We should interpret Thatcher’s claim more and less charitably. Three hundred years earlier, when Hobbes argued, “there is no such thing as ‘the people’ ” he, admittedly, supported monarchy. But his enlightened point was we should never forget the faces of real human beings, with artificial, abstract concepts like “we, the People” (or, to emphasise this “they, the Africans”). It’s fine to raise appeals on behalf of “society” but who represents individuals on the ground, if not they themselves, in person or in contract? Thatcher was right, sociologically, there is no “society” in the real world; only the members which make up the set. But her anti-essentialist kudos (also in vogue, at the time, like big hair) was unmatched by naïve faith in economic entities of mythic proportions, like, the “market” and its omniscient, omnipotent author, the “invisible hand”.
“There is no invisible hand guiding the market; just the grubby hands of individuals engaged in transactions. Moreover, the “market”, like “society”, is not a category into which each member identically fits. And, just as the term “society” often assumes illicit commonality between politicians and “the people”, so, the concept “market” masks contracts and relations of power between actual people, some in large, lonely mansions, many crowded into broken, little homes. Yet, realistic economists — who may baulk at a “common good” beyond the actual goods of individuals — are committed to more laws of the behaviour of this abstract entity and are prepared to sacrifice more corpses to it, than any religious order has paid its gods.”
Interesting take on the “invisible hand” and “society”. Though I baulk at the idea there is a measureable comparison between the millions of actual corpses from religious-based notions of invisible beings (gods and devils) needing to be appeased by physical punishments inflicted on real and supposed defectors from a host of superstitious beliefs about offending a host of imagined instructions from these imaginary gods and devils through millennia from pre-history to today and tormenting the “victims” to “appease” the god’s of those afflicted with “pusillanimous superstition” (Adam Smith’s words for it) adds up to misery for many millions of humans.
Of course, taking Chris Allsobrook’s “corpses” metaphorically it is still arguable. Long before the first primitive markets even existed between farmers and the first ‘towns’ (c. 8,000 BCE), early notions of religious superstition governed the lives of hunter-gatherers, judging by their grave goods.
However, I am pleased to note the disavowal of the existence of an “invisible hand” by Chris Allsobrook, given the predilections for theology for notions of the “hand of god” in human events throughout the Christian era.