In The Servile State, Hilaire Belloc argued that industrial capitalism would eventually result in a transcendent regulatory regime. This regulatory regime replaces pure capitalism with a system of duties and obligations. Instead of a pure economic relationship between labor, business and the marketplace, a legal relationship is created and enforced by the state. The state, in theory, becomes the arbiter between the economic parties, balancing claims and adjudicating disputes.
This dynamic works as follows. The state, facing popular unrest due to the natural inequality that emerges from capitalism, sets about regulating capital. In order to do that, however, it must also regulate labor. Every new set of rules on capital requires a change or addition to the rules on labor, resulting in a complex web of reciprocal obligations and duties between the state capital and labor.
The regulatory regime that emerges from this dynamic would blur of the lines between the state and capital. The state would protect the interests of capital, while capital would support the interests of the state. Further, the system would require people to work for others, either as labor or as a paternalistic business owner. The business would have legal duties to its workforce and labor would have no choice but to work within the highly regulated system. Everyone is a servant of everyone else.
When Belloc was writing, he did not imagine that the state and capital would have a third element in addition to the economic and legal. That is the spiritual. A century ago, the spiritual was still the explicit domain of churches, which stood outside the economic and legal relationship between the state, capital and labor. Public morality was to some degree enforced by the state, but it was assumed that morality had its roots in the religious traditions. Religion was the ultimate moral authority.
Today, the spiritual is the domain of corporate giants. So-called “woke capital” is an effort to impose an official morality on the public. State sanctioned oligopolies control access to essential services like the internet, banking and the media. The result is anyone falling outside the accepted corporate morality runs the risk of being fired from their job, losing access to essential services and being socially ostracized. Woke capital not only has economic and legal duties. It has spiritual duties, as well.
A good example to see how this works is in professional sports, where the team owners are not just putting on shows for customers. They are expected to provide morality tales to the public within and around the presentation of the games. Owning a sports team is no longer about owning an entertainment business. It’s not just rich guys blowing their millions competing with one another. The sports team is now a public trust, supported with billions in public money, in order to enforce public morality.
Before and during the games, there are mini-performances that “celebrate our democracy” or “celebrate our diversity.” These little shows have no natural place in the game itself. People at a football game don’t care that the teacher of the month is a one-legged gender fluid person of color. No one cares, except for the people in charge of the show, who see the event as a way to promote their morality. The proliferation of pink, for example, is to display the dominance of that cult.
Then you have the regulation of the game itself. A player gets into trouble and the league will investigate. Think about that for a second. Not long ago, it was just assumed that the police and courts did the investigating. If your employer learned you were charged with a crime, they may ask you to resign or maybe take a leave of absence, but only if it was going to be a distraction. Today, your employer believes they own the whole you, even the parts of your life outside of your work.
What Belloc imagined was a world in which labor, business and the state were tied together by a system of positive laws. The obligations on capital and labor would resemble the ancient relationship between the slave and owner. In the ancient world, slavery was a regulated practice. The slave owner had duties to his slaves, like feeding them and providing them with shelter. Of course, the slave was legally and economically obligated to work for his master under the same regulatory regime.
What we are seeing is a slightly different part of the ancient world, the time when the West was transition from the Roman Empire to the medieval period. In the early middle ages, slave owners were often required to tend to the spiritual needs of their slaves by converting them to Christianity or prohibiting them from converting to other religions, especially Judaism. Jews, of course, saw it as their duty to convert their slaves to their faith, despite the law. The slave owner was his slave’s spiritual leader.
That’s the emerging custodial state. Belloc saw that the industrial age allowed for the concentration of capital and the possibility of a servile state. The technological age is allowing for a concentration of power, not just wealth, and therefore the emergence of a custodial state. The massive power centers based in technology and finance are creating a thicket of economic, legal and spiritual obligations between the managerial elite that control these power centers and the people subject to them
You hear it in the language used by the servants of the tech barons. When YouTube or Twitter stages a purge of “hate speech” they send out women and homosexuals, a sort of priestly class in the custodial state, to explain why they had to protect their people from these dangerous purveyors of hate speech. They are not business owners serving customers. They are keepers of a public trust. They have a moral duty, they even say it, to look out for the emotional and spiritual well-being of society.
This is where the social credit system the Trump administration is planning will differ from what is evolving in China. The Chinese communists are far too practical to worry about the spiritual well-being of their people. They do worry about their social cohesion, especially in difficult times. Their system is about suppressing those who will question the party during difficult economic times. The Chinese social credit system is an entirely defensive system to prevent the organization of political opposition.
What is evolving in America is an offensive system. In order to maintain an acceptable social credit score, people will have to actively display their virtue. It’s not unreasonable to think they will be scanning the crowds at sporting events to make sure everyone is properly enthusiastic for the salute to our diversity. Your participation in the company multicultural celebration will go a long way to determining your social credit score, not just your position within the firm. Passivity will not be tolerated.
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