I have lived in Pars now for two decades and in that time I have been sustained mainly by French economic sociologists and institutional economists, as well as by networks taking in Latin America, Southern and Northern Europe, Africa and South Asia. There is a dominant ideology in these circles: the economy is dominated by capitalism, neoliberalism or "markets" driven by English individualism, so that social or collective considerations are marginalised, obscured or repressed. The policy therefore is to restore society to its proper place. Sometimes this is articulated through the idea of a commons.
C B Macpherson, in the introduction to his reader Property, reminds us that there are only two kinds of property -- private, held exclusively against the world, and common with inclusive access and use. The problem is that private property is now overwhelmingly owned by public bodies, by governments and corporations. The confusion is compounded in that private property is still talked about as if it were individually owned objects rather than ideas and business corporations won the human rights of individual citizens while retaining their legal privileges.
Emile Durkheim and his nephew Marcel Mauss, in tracts ranging from The Division of Labour in Society (1893) to The Gift (1925), attacked the bourgeois ideology stemming from English writers like Herbert Spencer. The industrial division of labour and the market contracts that sustain it are not anti-social, but their social principles are usually hidden from view. The task therefore is not to restore social interests that were previously missing, but to build on what people already were doing along these lines and to develop new more visible institutions and practices better able to guarantee individual and social interests than what we have now.
Instead of tinkering with stand alone concepts like the commons or counterculture, we have to have a comprehensive human philosophy. What does it mean to be human? To be self-reliant and to belong to others. Both are partial, difficult to attain and complementary. But holding two ideas in ones head at once is apparently hard. So is the notion that self-interest and mutuality must be combined pragmatically. Even harder is combining the ideas that each human being is unique and part of humanity as a whole.
Kant, in Perpetual Peace, pointed out that we once roamed the earth without restriction, but our movements are now controlled by territorial states whose purposes include the use of armed force to maintain unequal relations between the world's peoples. Earlier he insisted that the potential of human reason will only be realized at the species, not the individual level. He asked how societies were organized beyond he reach of states, at a time when he knew that coalitions of states were gearing up for the Napoleonic wars. The most difficult task for humanity and the last is universal provision of social justice. The means to this end is conflict, so that people will eventually choose law over suffering and loss.
We know that world society has degenerated since the settlement of the late 1940s, after thirty years of war and depression ended in a world revolution linking western industrial societies, the Soviet bloc and newly independent countries as developmental states. These gave priority to ordinary people's purchasing power, public infrastructure and services, curbing capital flows and economic inequality, while sustaining the biggest economic boom the world has seen. The events of 1979-80 were a counter-revolution against that revolution and we are still living with its priorities.
It is too late to revert to the Keynesian policies of the post-war era. The money genie has been released from the bottle. Corporations now outnumber governments by 2 to 1 in the top 100 economic entities of our world. They are busy building a world society of which they will be the only effective and responsible citizens. The American Empire still has a lot of hard power, even if its soft power is diminished. Europeans' share of world population in 2100 will be a sixth of what it was in 1900. Africa is the only region whose population is growing now and its share will have quintupled in the same period. Africa and Asia will account for around 82% of living humanity in 2100. Is the West ("the whites") going to hand over peacefully or go down with a fight?
And yes, we have stumbled into universal communications which may not remain so for long. What difference does that make to our hopes for a better future? But don't imagine that the parochial mutterings of a self-selected group of western geeks who flourished in the 1990s will come up with a discourse that grabs more than a tiny bit of the necessary action. The net has to be cast much wider and what circumstances will conspire to make that happen? Above all, if politics has to be reinvented to meet current and future global needs, where will states be located and is their reconfiguration possible without general war, as after 1945?