Notes on Four Futures by Peter Frase, Note 2

One of the problems faced by honest social theorists is that they too often set up paradigms of thought that are nothing but their own straw dogs to shoot down. Frase appears to be doing this in Four Futures. He starts by quoting Rosa Luxemborg: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.”[1] He draws the quote from a book written in 1915. Contemporary society certainly exhibits qualities of socialism and barbarism, but it can hardly be characterized as fundamentally either one of these, which leads me to believe that Ms. Luxembourg has either set up a false dichotomy, or that this is a very large and wide 100 year crossroads, which in the end has no meaning as such.

Frase goes on to set up his “four futures” as definitions from a grid along two axes—one is the equality-hierarchy axis, and the other is the abundance-scarcity axis. He then defines each of the four futures as occupying an extreme corner of each of the four quadrants thus made, with equality-abundance cheerfully defining communism, and assorted orders of decay through socialism (equality-scarcity), rentism (hierarchy-abundance), and exterminism (hierarchy-scarcity).[2]

For certain analytical exercises, this may be an interesting framework, but for defining the four possible futures that lie ahead, it misses key factors in the extreme. How about digitalism vs. concretism, conversion vs. extraction, conservation vs. progression, or any number of other linear spectrums. These are excluded because they largely defy what appears to be Frase’s main purpose—to assert that “where we end up will be a result of political struggle.”[3] If you assign any power for change to the changing technological landscape, which has also been an enormous driver of social change over the centuries, it belies the thesis that “change is always mediated by the power struggles between organized masses of people.”[4] I’m not denying that social strife occurs when society undergoes change, it’s just that such strife is rarely the cause of change.

I am bracing myself for a remainder of the book in which the marksman accurately shoots his own straw dogs. Such are the limits of ideology. Ho hum.

[1] Frase, Peter. Four Futures. P27

[2]  Frase, Peter. Four Futures. P29

[3]  Frase, Peter. Four Futures. P31

[4]  Frase, Peter. Four Futures. P30

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published.

To prevent spam, please show us you are a real person *