What Was Liberalism? #2 Capitalism & History | Philosophy Tube



Welcome back. In Episode 1 we talked about
liberalism as an ideology, and what ideology means. I strongly advise watching Episode 1 before watching this video otherwise it might not make a whole lot of sense. In this video we're gonna be talking about
liberalism's relationship to that curious phenomenon that is capitalism. 'Capitalism,' a little bit like 'liberalism,' is one of those words that it's sometimes difficult to pin down even though we might think we have a rough idea what it means. To a lot of people capitalism just means, well, "This – the economic system we have now." And yes that's a start, but really the economic system we have now is an example of capitalism – we're interested in what capitalism fundamentally is. We can say that capitalism has things like free markets; private ownership of machinery, land, and tools; a focus on profit; and people working for wages. But again, those are just features of it than
can be present in a greater or lesser degree. What's the core of capitalism? I'll walk you through an example: let's
say you've got some money and you invest it in buying some wood and employing some labourers. The labourers put their time and labour into the wood and they increase its value by carving it into a chair. Because it's now increased in value you can sell it for profit. And you keep the profit for yourself rather than give it to the people who actually put the work in. Instead you pay them in wages, and the wages are always less than the total profit that actually gets made otherwise you wouldn't get anything back on your investment. The money you originally invested is called capital: hence you are a capitalist. And that – the investment/wages/capital relation – is the core of what we call capitalism. But actually the picture is a little bit bigger than that because we missed a lot of things out. Like, where did you get your money in
the first place – did you inherit it, steal it, did you win it as a prize? Where did your workers come from – are they black, white, male, female, what led them to work for you specifically? Where did you get your wood from – was it cut down sustainably by well-paid lumberjacks, or was it chopped by slaves? And if there are forty different chair factories in town the answers to these questions might be different for every single one of them, but they're all still capitalist factories. That's why in their book "How the West Came to Rule," the authors define capitalism not just as that investment/profit/wages relationship but also everything – all the social, economic, and political factors – that sustain and reinforces that practice. Which is a whole lot. To understand why capitalism and liberalism are so linked together, we need to go back in time to before either of them were invented. In
the days before capitalism, strange as it might seem now, a lot of land wasn't owned by
anybody – it was what they called common land. The family was the main unit of society so you and your peasant family might farm the common
land in order to survive. If you were a very wealthy family, maybe even a royal family, maybe you wouldn't need to farm the common land because you've got a lot of money already that either you or an ancestor stole, probably in a war, from somebody else. Then this new thing starts happening called enclosure, where rich people start fencing off the common land and saying that they
own it. Nowadays we might call that stealing, but then I suppose nobody owned the land so maybe we
can't call it that? But regardless, you and your peasant family and your village go down to the common moor one morning and find that there's men with swords there now saying that you can't use it anymore, so you've lost the only means you have for feeding yourself. Great. So now, you can't work for yourself as much anymore. You have to work for somebody else in
order to survive, working on their land, fighting in their armies, or when the Industrial Revolution eventually happens – paid for by all that slavery and colonialism we're about to be doing – you'll be able to get a job in a factory. As a result, society becomes more atomised
and the individual labourer who must go to where the work is and work for somebody else becomes the unit of society. And hey, that's the transition from feudalism to capitalism – now we have the free market, we have the investment/profit/wages relationship and individual labourers who have to work for someone else in order to survive, and all that other good stuff we talked about. (All of this by the way is a very quick, simplified,
and Eurocentric story: if you'd like to know more about the invention of capitalism there are recommended readings in the description but you get the rough picture.) This transition between feudalism and capitalism
was hugely sped up by the English Civil War. Parliament, which was made up of rich white
dudes that very few people actually voted for, got upset because Charles I was running
the country on his own and starting to look like a bit of a tyrant, at least from where
they were sitting. Eventually the tension broke out into an incredibly bloody and fascinating
war with Parliament's forces, led by Oliver Cromwell, fighting the King. The War ends in 1649 with Charles I having his head cut off and Parliament winning. And oh my God, the king is dead! All kinds of new ideas about how to organise a society start getting thrown out there into the public space, because a lot of people suddenly get the idea that the king's dead, anything goes! We can built whatever kind of society we want! Some people even start saying hey, why don't we have religious freedom so that we don't have
so much war all the time, and bring back the common land so that nobody has to be poor, and actually why don't we give everyone a say in the government this time around! One group called the Diggers even invent a
form of anarchist socialism, hundreds of years before Marx is even born! Was the Earth made to preserve a few covetous and proud men to live at ease? To bag and barn up the treasures of the Earth from others, that these should beg and starve in a fruitful land? Divide England in three parts: scarce one part is manured. So that here is land enough to maintain all her children! Yet many starve for want or live under a heavy burden all their lives. And this misery the poor have brought upon themselves, through lifting up particular interests by their labours. The Earth, sirs, was made to be a common treasury for all. And a lot of these new hopeful radicals fight in Cromwell's army thinking that once the King is gone they'll get the chance to build a better society. But when Charles is out of the way, Cromwell says, "Hey, how bout instead of all that freedom stuff, fuck you!" He turns around and executes
most of the people who really wanted serious change and establishes his own government of "Rich White Dudes Who Want to Be Filthy Rich White Dudes. Also Let's Do Slavery a
Lot More and Commit Atrocities in Ireland." Suddenly the rich white landowners in Parliament are in charge of everything, and there's nobody standing in their way stopping them from stepping up slavery, stepping up colonialism, stepping up capitalism, and generally trying to make as much money as possible. Even when Charles' son, Charles, eventually becomes King again, Parliament keeps all their new powers.
And capitalism is well and truly let off the leash. So there's this contradiction in 17th Century
Britain between lots of people suddenly getting great ideas about freedom, and the desires of rich white landowners to absolutely prevent stop that freedom from happening because it'll mean they won't be rich anymore. And in 1690, the philosopher John Locke writes a book that embodies this contradiction. And he says "Hey, d'yknow what would be a great idea? If governments could only be established with the consent of the people! Terms & Conditions Apply: offer not available to slaves, women, Indigenous Americans, or anybody who doesn't own property. Side effects include slavery, genocide, colonialism, and imperialism. And hey, look at that, individualism plus
an emphasis on freedom but with blatant exceptions when it's profitable. Liberalism is born!
And a bunch of slave owners decide to take John Locke's ideas and pretty much build a whole new country out of them called the United States of America! Because of the period of history at which
it emerged liberalism basically takes capitalism as a given. Remember in Episode 1 I said that ideologies exist in order to justify to justify violence? Well a lot of the violence that liberalism legitimises is the violence that keeps capitalism going. So, in the USA Founding Fathers made exceptions to their rules of liberty for slaves, because slavery kept their economy turning. John Stuart Mill made exceptions to the rules of liberty for colonialism when colonialism was keeping the British Empire's economy turning. Nowadays my government makes exceptions to the rules for the human rights of immigrants, whose labour keeps our economy turning. From the very beginning, liberalism was designed to reconcile this vision of a better, freer world with the fact that the English Revolution essentially failed to bring that world about, and instead just gave power to rich people so they could use capitalism
and get even richer, with all the violence that entails. Incidentally, Cromwell's statue
is still outside Parliament. We're moving now towards the modern age,
and in Part 3 we'll be looking at liberalism and capitalism's latest incarnation: neoliberalism.
In this episode we've learned about the histories of capitalism and liberalism,
and how they go together. If you liked today's lesson, I have a tip
jar at Paypal.me/PhilosophyTube, think of it like me putting a hat round at the end
of the lecture. Or Patreon.com/PhilosophyTube is where you could make a monthly donation
to help me keep making videos like this one. And don't forget to subscribe.




Comments
  1. I don't really think the chair paradigm captures the "core" of capitalism the way you say it does. For millennia, people have owned things (usually land), had other people produce wealth from those things, but only remitted them part of that wealth. A medieval serf worked his lord's land, but only received a very small part of the harvest. What distinguishes that from capitalism is that the serf was bound to the land – he wasn't free to go to the next estate over where he might not get such a raw deal. It seems to me you make this error a lot-imputing sins to capitalism (slavery, genocide, colonialism, imperialism) that existed a long time before capitalism.

  2. I look forward to the video you make about Socialism, where you describe it's rapid slide into Authoritarianism as inherent because Socialism has historically led to Authoritarianism at scale. Not fair, you say? Because Authoritarianism is not a necessary part of the Socialist ideology? Well, I suspect exceptions to liberty is also not part of the Liberal ideal, just something shitty that always shows up because humans are shitty. So how about a video that actually talks about the Liberal ideology first, and then talks about the failures of Liberalism in practice as distinct from the ideology?

  3. The definition of capitalism that you offer is one that exists solely in the writings of anti-capitalist thinkers and was constructed by them solely to provide an ethical justification for immediate overthrow of a system which involved what they perceived to be unjust inequality and/or suffering. It is not how Economists talk about capitalism and the "history" behind it, which you discuss here is suspect in its purpose-led construction. I am not sure why you act as though there was no land ownership or labor exploitation or slavery before European enclosure practices…

    The big mistake that a lot of leftists make is they conflate capitalism with elite capture of institutions, largely because early leftists insisted on referring to wealthy elites not as wealthy elites, but as "capitalists", again as part of an attempt to ethically justify immediate violent overthrow.

    For economists (people who deal with economics, the only field in which capitalism is a meaningful concept), capitalism is merely a system in which the owners of capital, whoever that may be, are allowed to freely manage the employment of that capital in their own self-interest. Whether it is Bill Gates, a neighborhood coop, or the government, the owner gets to decide how to use what they own and keep the gains that accrue when what they own is used more efficiently. The hope is that this will create incentives to increase over a productivity. The motivation for this has always been the simple observed truth that centrally planning an economy is F-ing hard, and capitalist systems tend to do a better job of it. To quote Ha-Joon Chang, easily one of the more leftist serious economists out there today, "Capitalism is the worst economic system in the world…except for all the others."

    A smart capitalist society, however, intentionally designs limits on freedom of choice, since people are not wholly rational and lack information and a true free market is a literal impossibility, anyway. The problems we have today come from the capture of institutions by elites, who then shape those restrictions and institutions in such a way as to maximize their own gains, which occurs at the expense of others.
    The frustration that I have with this is that when leftists talk about capitalism in this hyper-specified way it causes people to want to dismiss the actual fundamental aspects of capitalism. But capitalism is not necessarily inconsistent with strong socialism. However, strong socialism that exists without capitalism generates major problems in terms of organization and resource optimization. This is precisely the confusion that caused economic disasters in major communist experiments in the 20th century.
    So, while I completely share the frustration that leftists have with the dominant system in the world today, I just feel it is important to distinguish it from "capitalism" and the definition you provide here is misleading.

  4. So you're doing an assessment of liberalism, and then decide to use labour-derived value theory, which is associated with Marxist worldview. Oh wait I know why you're doing that, because you're a leftist trying to straw-man your opponents' positions.

  5. Capitalism doesn’t keep the poor poor, it creates opportunities for wealth. In October 2018 the world passed a milestone, there are now more middle and upper class people than those in poverty for the first time in human history. This is almost exclusively due to free markets.

    The West and Japan have a problem with ageing populations, which is increasing wealth disparity, but this is actually exacerbated by social programs, and not strictly related to capitalism

  6. Couldst you make a video on consumer sovereignty [the situation in an economy where the desires and needs of consumers control the output of producers]?🙏🏻🥺

  7. So, the thing about common land in medieval England is that it wasn’t free for everyone for everything. A lot of common land was divvied out into parcels for people of a given area, and even if you had theoretical access, you could be squeezed out by other commoners.

  8. This is extremely biased and has nothing to do with facts or history. If you want to realy learn about that topic check out The Academic Agent's Series: The Decline of Feudalism and Rise of Capitalism

  9. Watched this and the last video, and I have to say I'm laughing like hell at the complete leftist view of liberalism you sell. It is so twisted and disingenuous, whats even funnier is that you sold yourself that idea on liberalism to try and justify socialism to yourself, and I don't even think you realize it.
    Most of you entire last video was an Ad hominem attack in disguise. Its the equivalent of attacking the laws of motion for newtons believe in alchemy.
    I'm not going to bother watching the rest, because its becoming increasingly unfunny and more cringe worthy every video.

  10. there isnt one comment about how you look like the live action scooby doo Shaggy. noone in a year and a half said shaggy. guys

  11. I have a question, and not one meant to be at odds with or argue against any point here, but just something I'd like explained: if Liberalism exists to legitimize capitalist violence, why has it historically oppressed women? what is the economic value of keeping women undereducated and politically repressed? Is it childbearing?

  12. lmao "the common land farmed by free families", what did you smoke ? Like they were not raided and raped all the time. Why would you farm and raise families when you could just take everything from those free families in common land ?

  13. You've got a facts wrong about capitalism : the wage aren't necessarily less than the total profit being made, not all companies are profitable but it is still mandatory to pay wages (dunno about all countries but all the ones I know). It all comes back to this idea : not all investments are profitable, there is necessarily a risk involved. Capital can be lost. That concept of risk is an important difference between employees and investors. Employees are generally risk-averse people (except when it comes to gambling).

  14. Cultural appropriation:
    Thatcher was the first black male prime minister by all her policies,
    in my honest black English opinion

  15. Ideology clearly isn’t just a mechanism to justify violence. That’s a pragmatic feature of many ideologies but it’s certainly not the essential definition. The goal should be to construct an ideology that doesn’t cause violence.

  16. It sounds like exceptions are not an essential trait of liberalism and that a perfect society can be formed by removing these exceptions.

  17. The funny thing is liberal capitalism doesn't apply to space. What do I mean by that? Well if a corporation wants to mine a space rock, and bring it closer to the Earth, they can do so. But they still don't own that rock. Any other individual or corporation can mine that rock as well. It's a form of "space commons".

  18. Could Liberalism without exceptions work? Imo the core ideas of freedom for everybody sounds good. What problems were we to face, if we tried to achieve this?

  19. Why did he mention the colour of the skin of 17th century parliamentarians? Is it a scandal that they were white?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *