Liberalism, communism, and the middle class
Updated: Apr 23
A middle-class liberal society leads to communism. This sounds silly, since the middle class typically values property rights and profits. Yet it is true. To understand how it comes about think of the typical classical liberal who tells you that the great advantage of liberal societies is that people engage in the non-coerced exchange of goods. “Unlike under communism or feudalism—both the same thing, really—in our society there are voluntary non-coerced exchanges and everyone benefits,” he says—and then, perhaps, pauses to rebuff accusations that he is a fascist.
The middle-class liberal society pushes aside the power of the landed aristocracy and the rooted peasantry—the people who bash each over the head to get things; and it also pushes aside the priest—the central authority of the Catholic Church—who says there are limits on what a man may buy and seek, limits on usury, and limits on biblical innovation. “When all the world is a free market, there will be global peace,” says the progressive liberal, “for no two countries that have a McDonald’s have ever warred against each other.” In these statements, we already see shades of communism’s utopian claims; once the aristocrats and religious folk have gone—and the scientific middle class rules—we will war no more and plenty will abound everywhere, but we merely have to swap the working class for the middle class in this equation and we have communism.
The children of the middle class—men like Marx, H.G. Wells, Lenin, and Graham Greene—agree only too well with their fathers that non-coerced exchange is a capital idea. They are intelligent and agreeable men—correlated traits—and so they think: “Our free monetary exchange is a step up from feudalism’s guilds and sumptuary laws; but people are still left behind—why?” The answer must be, for the middle-class intellectual, that non-coerced exchange has not gone far enough; we abolished feudal and religious privileges, and life became materially better; perhaps if we abolish private property—another privilege, justified by superstitious religious notions—then free exchange and science will become even more potent and materially productive.
Note that socialists and communists always point to the coercive elements of private property; they are merely extending liberal arguments that were made against aspects of feudalism, aristocracy, and monarchy to their logical conclusion. The rational basis for the socialist and communist paradise is a logical extension of the free market ideal. As Marx observed, the free market sets the scene for communism: the market destroys the family, feudal arrangements, and the Church; the final step is to abolish property itself—hence Marx was quite excited by the free market and its potential to transform society, and he sung its praises as an engine of creative destruction.
All this seems realistic to the children of the middle classes because they are intelligent cooperators, and they think—in line with Enlightenment and liberal egalitarianism—that everyone is a rational cooperator, just like them. The model man for a liberal is an abstract rational calculator, of the type used for various statistical model; it cannot be admitted that men differ by blood, a reactionary notion connected to the overturned aristocracy—and yet, of course, as genetics shows us, it is true.
Today, the children of the middle classes engage in polyamory or make their own little communes; and these experiments work—at a cost, for a while—because intelligent people have a high ability to delay gratification and suppress instincts like jealousy and envy, especially through rationalisation. Middle-class people are very good at repression, it is part of how they demonstrate their value: “I’m a trustworthy cooperator; you can trust me because I conform, because I restrain myself and closely follow social norms. I know how to wear a tie in the right way, I send the right signals—I went to the right university.” This is all more important to a middle-class person than money or property; the middle class worries about what it looks like. This is because what it looks like—what will the neighbours say?—is connected to responsibility, to signals of trustworthiness; an attribute that leads to wealth—especially through mutual exchanges of goods and services.
The middle-class commune, formed by people of IQs in the 105-125 range, utilises this cooperative spirit. “Lend me your wrench, Simon,” says commune-dwelling Paul (IQ 115) and the wrench is given without question by Simon (IQ 120). Intelligence begets trust. There is no good reason for Paul to steal the wrench, it is in his interests to return it—to establish mutual reciprocal bonds. This reciprocity is often encoded into classical liberal morality tales: “And so he shared his wrench without coercion and the wrench begat a loan and a loan begat a house and the house begat a community and now, through the miracle of non-coerced cooperation, there is a beautiful suburb and soon the whole world will grow rich, all thanks to non-coerced cooperation.”
But even among the highly intelligent communards defection occurs; and, out in the real world, there are many people who would simply walk off with the wrench and never return it—of course, this is not the rational reciprocal action, but they either cannot anticipate the benefits of reciprocal action or are so disagreeable that it does not occur to them to reciprocate in this way; and this is before we consider those disagreeable intelligent people who would drop the wrench on Simon’s head in an apparent “accident” and claim the rest of his toolbox.
Due to their talent for non-coerced cooperation it seems plausible to idealistic middle-class men that a society could run in such a way that people exchanged goods without the intermediary of money or property, both old-fashioned ideas and unscientific concepts—as out of date as the feudal system, absolute monarchy, and the Church. And so, though it seems to make no sense, the middle-class man becomes a socialist or leftist; and this is because Marx was very wrong, our social opinions are not derived from the property we hold—our social opinions are derived from the interaction of our biology, environment, and whatever ideas exist in our mind where “religion” customarily belonged, from the ideas we use to determine our social value in a group. This was true in the case of Marx and Engels, the latter owned a factory and yet—in a contradiction of Marxist theory—his ownership of property did not determine his social consciousness, he was a socialist and not a defender of property.
A while ago, I met a group of evolutionary scientists who were total devotees of polyamory. This was all handled in an excessively rational and passionless way—possibly because they were all so ugly. As they swapped partners on spreadsheet rotation what they were really engaged in was a middle-class display of effortful control and status signalling. They could demonstrate their superiority by engaging in this exercise in emotional self-regulation and developing elaborate intellectual justifications for it; ironically, these were based on evolutionary psychology—a discipline that would surely assert that humans would experience jealousy and envy with regards to sex, so as to maximise the survival of their genes. Yet somehow these “scientists” managed to twist their ideas to support polyamory, to pervert what their own research would tell them were healthful reactions.
There is nothing new in this bloodless, passionless, and unerotic display: about a hundred years ago, intellectuals—just like the erstwhile para-scientist H.G. Wells—were obsessed by the idea of “free love”. It was the same idea as polyamory, even justified with the same “scientific” framework; and you see in these recurrent ideas the clearly middle-class value of non-coerced exchange, in this case of sexual partners, as an ideal—just think of the trend for swinging in the 1970s, if it comes to that. Indeed, polyamorists often come from libertarian or “rationalist” circles and justify their actions with almost mathematical precision (sexy, no?).
The same goes for ideas like communes, another socialistic phenomenon that refuses to die—just like communism. It is not just that those involved in communes or polyamory are naïve—although that plays a role, high intelligence correlates with impracticality—but rather it is, once again, the idea that this is the rational thing to do. Agreeable people of high intelligence do find it possible to share without a strong financial or property aspect, although this still takes considerable self-control; it is just a slight step above their polite office interactions and non-coerced exchanges of goods and services for money. The idea of bludgeoning someone over the head for money rarely occurs to them; so they think, “We can do without money and property, after all.”
As a corollary to polyamory, I once heard of a vegan commune that was overrun by rats; the rats ate all their food, yet they refused to kill the rats—eventually the commune collapsed, fortunately before starvation set in. As with the suppression of jealousy and envy in polyamory, the vegans repressed natural survival instincts with “reason” in order to defend a highly moralised but impractical vision. Of course, communes and polyamory usually go together, marriage treats woman as property and, therefore, for the communard, must be abolished as much as the idea of owning your own car or house. Communes and polyamory circles always collapse—human nature cannot be stretched that far; and yet the idea always seems very possible to this group of people, because basically “nice” cooperators are predisposed to and are socialised to behave in this way in ordinary society.
This also explains, incidentally, why “nice” straight-A middle-class students often end up in bizarre cults. They are predisposed and socialised to admire the idea of non-coerced cooperation mediated though a moral framework—often with a strong element of shame. Cults provide a very rigorous version of what middle-class people are meant to be; so the cult, often with a commune element, is catnip to able members of the middle class, particularly when advanced atomisation has set in and society is very fragmented. It is no surprise that the obedient straight-A student who “was never in trouble at school” has shaved his head and goes under the name “Bri’nith-Ba” and claims intimate contact with UFOs; his entire predisposition and training meant that the cult called to him at a fundamental level.
If you sprinkle this disposition with a “scientific” cultural view and socialisation process that holds everything improves by default in every generation and that traditions are unscientific and oppressive—traditions held people back from wealth in the past, rationalists say—then you have the preconditions for the middle class to attack property, both in the form of physical property and in terms of men owning women through marriage. Can you justify property on rational grounds? It is harder than you might think. “It must be property is the final impediment to a society of frictionless voluntary exchange,” so thinks the young middle-class intellectual. They have thought so for 200 years, since the French Revolution at least—and they return to this idea with predictable regularity.
The middle class are pioneers in hypocrisy, and this is because they are also moralists. The Quakers, for example, are great businessmen—great voluntary cooperators—but they are also parasites. They are so into voluntary cooperation that they do not believe in warfare, everything can be a negotiation for the complete businessman; so why fight? Yet, in practice, Quakers benefit from those men who make war on their behalf—they are free riders. Thus, in colonial America, assemblies would pass bills to fund arms and soldiers under a suitable assumed name so that Quaker legislators could vote for war while pretending they were pacifists. Here we see the origin of what the contemporary right calls the “virtue signal”—the hypocritical Quaker who proclaims pacifism but votes for war so long as the words “war”, “army”, and “soldier” do not appear in the bill.
There are four groups the middle class dislikes: aristocrats (soldiers); mystics and monks (as opposed to conformist parish priests); artists (people with integrity to an idiosyncratic vision); and scientists (by which I mean the lone genius who follows the logic of his ideas to their terminal conclusion, regardless of society’s views). The commonality between these groups is that none is very concerned with social propriety or moralism. The aristocrat justifies himself by his blood, he does not need to show that he is a “good person”; the mystic takes his instructions from God and there is no negotiation with God—a fact that threatens middle-class people who want to “cut a deal” with everybody; the artist has loyalty to their inner visions, whether considered depraved or despicable by mainstream standards; and the scientist is prepared to cut against social norms if logic and data so dictate.
These groups—outsider minorities—form the counterbalance to middle-class society, always marginal and regarded as disreputable or disgusting by the middle class. However, middle-class society relies on these groups for many important functions. The scientist, for example, provides technical innovations that can be turned to profit and the military—organised as a parallel feudal society within middle-class society—protects the middle class from outside predation. The soldiers themselves—tainted with blood, with the sin of coerced cooperation—are celebrated at a distance by the middle class, but they are cold-shouldered up close; they would prefer their children not to become that.
Communist countries usually experience the apotheosis of middle-class moralism and conformism: the purity spiral. Everybody knows that revolutions eat their children; and the revolution eats its children for the same reason that suburban neighbours miserably police who parks their car where in the street—moralism. When Stalin and Trotsky competed to destroy each other over ideological issues, it was the same situation as two middle-class neighbours in competition to see who cares more about Black Lives Matter, except the stakes were existential. The aristocrat laughs at this silly competition over what they regard as nonsense; the artist has his own view; the mystic takes his orders from God; and the soldier wants his orders—but the middle class competes for the right “party line” and in the revolution they compete to the death, as opposed to mere social death.
This is, in part, why Jews, Quakers, and other Protestant-like groups are often overrepresented among leftists. Superficially, it makes no sense; why would people well-known for being good at money-making and business be communists? But look further. They are really good at negotiations, deals, and moralism—although they accumulate money and property through responsible action, money and property are almost secondary aspects of their behaviour. They are not greedy, on the contrary the middle classes often experience intense guilt that they have money while other people do not—though in certain Protestant sects, money and property indicate a blessing from God—and so, once again, the middle class becomes tempted through guilt to change society to reduce inequality.
Hitler noticed that wealthy Jews were often communists; he inferred that capitalism and communism were two wings of a Jewish plot to undermine the Aryan race, but he mistook the situation. Jews, Quakers, and Protestants often become communists, despite their wealth, because the traits that allow them to acquire wealth are the same traits that make communism attractive to them. There is no plot behind this tendency and it crosses different sects; the commonality is a higher than average intelligence that seeks novel solutions, a cooperative disposition, and a moralised outlook on society—the latter trait being a particular weakness of Quakers and Jews.
Nietzsche was, much as he was brilliant, wrong about ressentiment as the driving force behind the left; although the middle classes may somewhat resent the dashing aristocrats and the free-wheeling artists, their real problem is that they are quite genuinely too “nice”—and this niceness allows them to support self-serving lies. They genuinely feel bad that they have more than the working class—or, in the modern racialised version, that white people have more than black people in America. This is much more insidious than ressentiment; it is a genuine religious belief, underpinned by a biological disposition, that holds that if the old ways of living are removed an era of material prosperity and peace will be ushered in. This idea is already current in liberalism, an ideology that places the blame for war and poverty on the old “corrupted” religions and aristocracy—communism takes it a step further.
Conservative liberals have a thankless task; they try to persuade their fellow middle-class liberals that their “nice” ideas are suicidal—yet to do so runs counter to middle-class values; they are not being “nice” or, as contemporary American progressives say, “good people”. It is not done to stand up and say: “Stop! Please stop!” The conservative liberals are correct at a base level: when middle-class liberals in America bang on about white supremacy they are signing their own death warrants, especially if America enters a purity spiral of the 1789 or 1917 variety on a racialised basis.
The moral ideas progressive liberals support contradict their material interests as property owners, yet they only became property owners, in part, because they are social conformists who know how to demonstrate their willingness and ability to engage in trustworthy behaviour; but the secular religion they now support has mutated into an ideology that wants their own destruction. Yet, quite rationally, the middle class, with its faith in progress and non-coercive cooperation, thinks that perhaps, just perhaps, this time we can undo the last traditional bar to universal free exchange, private property.
Hence the radical right castigates the progressive liberals as “Non-Player Characters”, grey-faced avatars of nothingness who repeat slogans from CNN, the universities, and their neighbours without thought. The thinking strata of any social group is always an elite—there are NPCs on the radical right, too. Yet the situation is pronounced on the left because the left is middle class and the middle class are dutiful conformists. “I agree with what he says about Critical Race Theory and transsexualism, but, you know, it wouldn’t do to say it out loud—especially from a career point of view,” whispers the mild middle-class conservative; and so the conservative liberal thinker is fated to be scorned by the very people he tries to save.
The reactionary view of this situation is that it is a punishment—a divine punishment—for the original liberal middle-class revolt against authority. The liberals decided to overthrow the Church and the aristocracy and allow every man to interpret the Bible, deal as he wished, and decide matters of war. The revenge, as with all revolutions, is that the revolutionists are eaten by the people below them and—just as certain decadent aristocrats and churchmen facilitated middle-class revolution—so the middle class facilitates its own executioners. The reactionary says that the whole farrago of technology, industry, godlessness, and hypocrisy cannot last; it will be extinguished by revolution and social collapse, or perhaps nuclear war—and this is the punishment for an attack against the divine order, and there is some truth in this view.
Our societies, Western societies anyway, depend on a tripartite structure: warrior, priest, and merchant—an observation made by Georges Dumézil. If one group exercises too much power then disaster follows; and, in our societies, it seems that the merchants tend to end up with the whip hand and then delude themselves into communism and their own destruction. What is required is the absolute spiritual position of the priest (mystic) and the warrior; both are existential positions, basically concerned with death, and such men live less hypocritical lives—it is hard to “look good” on the battlefield or when you speak divine truth.
Technology is too often conflated with social change by liberals and the Marxists, who make out that because technology and science have changed then social structures forged over millions of years should also change; it does not follow. Indeed, many scientific advances were created by men who were outsiders, difficult and disagreeable geniuses who disturbed the middle classes. The ancients had very sophisticated technology, but this did not depend upon liberalism or middle-class values; so I am optimistic that we can balance warrior, priest, and merchant in such a way that does not impede technology and industry—the reactionaries are only half-right, we do not need to wipe the slate altogether; although this may be done for us for other reasons.
Solzhenitsyn understood: liberalism leads to communism. The liberals shoot out the absolute positions of Church and aristocracy and atomise society; every man makes his own decisions about God and war, everything becomes a negotiation—a deal. Yet the liberal society still hypocritically leans on soldiers (aristocrats) and religious ideals to sustain it, even as it disprivileges them. The next stage is to abolish even money and property as old-fashioned impediments to a society of frictionless cooperation and exchange; at this stage all organic coordination breaks down and artificial and perverted forms of coordination, communism and fascism, arise—since society is not mostly composed of intelligent members of the middle class, everything becomes very brutal indeed.
Without property, we revert to the most primitive form of social organisation, not seamless non-coerced cooperation: we return to bands of men who just take whatever is required—the NKVD grabs grain from the kulaks. The termination of liberal middle-class rule is that the scum rises to the top and everything decent and sacred is destroyed, until the warriors and priests return to restore order.