Four pillars

The four pillars of human politics

Neo-liberalism was constructed on the four pillars of individual freedom, strong defence, open markets and small government. These were not new ideas, but established principles that combined in the post-war period to distinguish Western liberal democracies from repressive, centralised regimes.

In co-opting them to the commercial interests of capital-owners and investors, neo-liberalism gave them a particular spin. “Individual freedom” meant the rights that derive from ownership; “strong defence” favoured the military-industrial complex; “open markets” permitted winner-takes-all exploitation of people, resources and the environment and “small government” meant low taxes and light regulation on business. 

The four pillars remain valid, even if the neo-liberal framing does not. Human politics has its own framing of these pillars, which goes something like this:

  • Individual freedom depends upon having the space in which to exercise it. People need homes to live in, access to the resources that permit them to work productively and time in their lives that is not devoted to drudgery or financial subsistence, otherwise they are slaves to the system and not free in themselves.
  • Strong defence need not depend solely on guns and aircraft, but is rooted in a resilient society built on mutual support, shared interests and economic and environmental, as well as physical, security. A fractured society cannot hope to defend itself effectively, not least because it has lost touch with the values it is seeking to defend.
  • Open markets are accessible markets – those in which people are free to participate on equal terms to their mutual benefit. At their most effective they connect producer and consumer as closely as possible, minimising the transactional costs extracted by intermediaries as goods travel long distances and change hands many times.
  • Small government means the primacy of personal autonomy, placing authentic human relationships at the centre of the social system. It means cultivating an administrative state that empowers human connection and relationship while reducing the influence accorded to corporate and institutional entities.

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