McKenzie Wark on Mon, 9 Dec 96 05:42 MET

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Re: nettime: The English Ideology

There's more than one conception of liberty in the
British tradition. I say British, rather than English,
because of the key contribution of the Scottish
Enlightenment, particularly David Hume, Adam Smith, and
the rather neglected Adam Ferguson. 

Mark is right to point to the narrowing of conceptions
of liberty, which are based on a very narrow reading
of only the first two books of Adam Smith's Wealth of
Nations. But i think its important to stress that even 
Smith had a creative sense of the value of what Hume
called the artifice of institutions. In opposition to
the weird grafting of Smith's brilliant analysis of
the market and the division of labour onto Hobbsian
ideas about the negative, limiting role of the state,
its time to go back to the creative, productive idea
of the institution as one finds it in Hume. Liberty
emerges out of the invention of kinds of institutional
arrangement that shape the passions towards peaceful
conflict and productive, creative combination. (Its no
accident that Deleuze began a long career in thinking
about the creative and productive combinations of
desire with a reading of Hume...).

I think Mark lets a certain paranoid vision get away from
him. What i have always found interesting about John Perry
barlow is that i don't think the ideas from which he starts
are all that helpful as an explanation of, or guide to, 
the very interesting things he's involved himself in. That
idea of the state as a monolithic entity, rather than a
collection of institutions, that conception always of it
as only a limit to liberty -- these things strike me as
a pretty persistent current in American civil thinking. 
Sounds like Madison and Jefferson to me. Its what's so
strange about American polity -- the only state constituted
on suspicion of the state itself. 

"We no longer have roots, we have aerials."
 -- McKenzie Wark 

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