After 400 years, in 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Monarchy and Empire was ruined, crumbled, done, and over. This left a pool of Habsburg Empire dependents—courtiers–out of work. Despite the end of their world, the most resourceful of these fortunate sons of empire yet had something important to contribute to the global capitalist order that subsumed them. Uniquely and perhaps more cynically than most, Austrian courtiers recognized that Anglo-American-centered capitalism was a system not dissimilar from their own beloved empire. Anglo capitalism also prospered by exacting tribute, by prosecuting war and exploiting masses of men, women, children, as well as nature, for the sake of the accumulation and concentration of power.
The imperial monarchy’s weakness had been that its plunder-and-mercantilism economies tolerated merchants’ (often, aristocratic merchants) limitless exploitation and ravaging, inter alia, of each other. This cannibalism capitalism accomplishes also (witness the massive self-destruction of capital today, in order to facilitate primitive accumulation), but within capitalist constraints, to a capitalist end: the concentration of global wealth and parameter-determining social power within a small coterie of capitalists of the future. This is the only element of equilibrium to the capitalist system, and while it is more equilibrium than absolutist or feudal mercantilism has to offer, it’s a preciously-narrow sort of equilibrium, grotesquely misrecognized as a global equilibrium.
For example, all that’s been happening in the world since the imperial Nixon regime is everyone is scraping and clawing, lying and self-promoting to make it into that 0.1% of the population that will be the holy elect saved, and in doing so, they automatically facilitate the violent primitive accumulation that will ensure capitalism’s continuance, along with national and regional economic destruction, the working class’ immiseration, and environmental ravishment.
Capitalism is an organized, highly-stratified system the Habsburg Empire courtiers could not just understand, but embrace as a sweeping advancement in rational despotism.
What the Austrian courtiers’ experience of the ultimate fall of their empire taught them and what they could appreciate above all was that all systems of human domination are vulnerable when their elites lose a strategic sense of whom to mine and wage war upon (less powerful groups of people) and what select group of men to organize with, protect, and promote (the capitalist class). The Austrians as well as Keynes saw that there is a potential strategic problem here in capitalism–that value is extracted and accumulated via exploiting potentially-creative human workers, yet capital is measured–baroquely–in more concrete exchange currency–making it sometimes individually-rational for capitalists to destroy whole economies in their unceasing, system-motivated efforts to use economic, political and cultural tools to monopolize social wealth. Keynes thought this meant that government has to step in to include the welfare and uphold the integrity of potentially-creative human workers, in order to protect value and the economy in a region. The more feudal Austrians simply recognized that capitalist supernovae first expand, then obliterate capital and the courtier job market. In the face of the Great Depression, the Austrians discerned a need for capitalist generals and marketeers. Perhaps there would even be a market for capitalist generals and marketeers.
When talking to people they would manipulate—the working class, politicians, the media–what conservatives proclaim to the staff is essentially this: “Capitalism is heaven. All you need to do is believe that capitalists are not the humans who disappoint us and over whom we fall into occasional misanthropy; rather, capitalists are the sacred, commanding, disciplining, all-wise, all-loving patriarchs of our ancient childhood desires and dreams. They are the lords. If we give our work, blood, sweat, tears, children, culture, food, knowledge, land, air, and water over to them, if we give them our lives and our souls, they will create heaven on Earth. To the extent that heaven does not exist on Earth yet—well, that’s the fault of our own failure to give ourselves faithfully over to capitalist command.”
By contrast, democrats—the women and men who want to augment and expand the germ of democracy, equality, fraternity, and broad liberty and human development forged in the first bourgeois and working class coalitional struggles to overthrow feudalism—what democrats observe is that capitalism works because an organized capitalist elite accrues and hoards wealth in this way: disruptively, violently, and cripplingly, by exploiting workers and nature. Accumulation-via-exploitation results in concentrated wealth and power, produces despotism and belligerent imperialism, and fails to fall out in proliferated and dispersed wealth because it is enabled not by paying workers a comfortable share of the product value, but by coercive threat, by capitalists studiously manipulating and here and there deploying a vast, global reserve army of labor—the unemployed, interns, slaves, indentured servants, the elderly, women and children paid low “dependent” wages or nothing at all for their work, people paid “colored” or immigrant or low-caste wages, or nothing at all for their work, people who have to eke out their households in the margins and in ruined environments.
For a further discussion of the Austrian courtiers’ contributions to the making of a more political economics discipline (posing as scientific), see also: “Box 6.5 The Marginalists” pp. 125- 130, as well as pp. 132, 153-155, 161, 223-224, 259, 267, 295-297, 391, 413 and 487 in Varoufakis, Y., J. Halevi & N. J. Theocarakis. 2011. Modern Political Economics: Making Sense of the Post-2008 World. Routledge.
Radhika Desai’s “Secondhand Dealers” (New Left Review) briefly reviews the impact of the White Emigration to the UK. (That means that Stuart Hall probably treated this subject.)
Here is a political scientist discussing the central political role of demonstrative passion in conservative hegemony.