The Homogeneous and Universal State

Many marxian and post-marixian theorists are rightly concerned about the periodization of the twentieth century: the empire/industrial driven growth from the 1870s through the 1910s; culminating in the transfer of global economic responsibility during World War I from Great Britain to the United States; the equally dramatic and related explosion in US investment throughout the 1920s, built in no small measure on the JP Morgan cycle of German reparations=>UK and FR=>US and, from there, to growth sectors throughout South America, North Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The 1929 financial collapse has been interpreted both as the terminal event in UK global economic responsibility or the signal event in US global economic responsibility. (This transfer needs to be distinguished from the US’s industrial and financial supersession of the UK, which had already taken place in the 1890s.) We then follow the rise the of US through the 1930s and 40s, to its emergence in the immediate post-war period as the universal coordinator of the global economy.

And, yet, we should not permit this uneven, fitful narrative to obscure the steady drive toward universal laws of international commerce and trade for which, without question, Westphalia was the signal event. In Westphalia already we can see the emergence, on the international stage, of an actor or agent whose priority over individual social, political, or economic actors is beginning to enjoy increasingly universal acceptance.

That this actor or agent can embrace, incorporate, and, indeed, constitute the needs and desires of consumers can, in this broader context, be appreciated as its own further elaboration—its own subsumption of the individual into itself as a means to realize its own universality. The KWNS (Keynesian Welfare National State) need not, therefore, from this vantage point be viewed so much as a break on the universalization of the value form of capital as much as a further elaboration and expansion of this form.

At the same time, however, this vantage point may help us to appreciate why, when the KWNS begins to restrict this elaboration and expansion, the value form of the commodity is sufficiently flexible to shed its dependence on its institutions and thought forms in order to enjoy continuing unrestricted elaboration and expansion—to be sure, now at the expense of those individuals which momentarily it embraced as vehicles to promote its own expansion.

This universalization and homogenization are likely to be missed in accounts that focus on a narrative of justice or human rights, for which the totalizing role of the KWNS comes to be interpreted as distinct from and in opposition to the injustice of the free market. KWNS is thus cast as emancipatory in contrast to the SWPR (Schumpeterian Workfare Post-national Regime).

In fact, the two are but two phases of the same movement.

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