Throughout the text, Macpherson singles out two dimensions of a well-formed society, both prerequisites of a viable political community, both culminating for him and for Hobbes in the institution of the state: (I) social cohesion; and (II), a common enough recognition of a fundamental equality spanning over the entire commonwealth so as to include each and every one. Both are deemed necessary ingredients of that quality of mind and spirit we call loyalty, a sentiment which typically expresses itself in a political obligation of sorts, an obligation to the sovereign, the state, whatever the sovereign’s form; an obligation, besides, which must be shared by all, if not most, of the citizens in order to sustain the state as a viable political entity it was designed to be, an entity one could believe in. Each, if found wanting, spells out a potential disaster, the state’s fall from grace. This much, I’m certain, is on the right track; I find no fault whatever here with Macpherson’s reasoning.
The problem of social cohesion arises for Macpherson as a direct consequence of a development which corresponds to extending universal franchise to include most everybody: Negroes, freemen, women and urban dwellers. Prior to the completion of this democratization process, the agrarian, propertied class held a virtual monopoly when it came to political/economic decision-making. Naturally, the kind of cohesion associated with such a society was limited to cohesion which revolved mostly if not solely around the common interests of the ruling class: no other kind mattered because those who were disenfranchised didn’t count as full-fledged members of the political community. Since universal suffrage had changed all that, the problem of social cohesion had become the perennial problem for any mature, fully-developed liberal democracy, laboring, besides, under the auspices of market relations which, routinely, trumped all other relations, political relations included. Hence Macpherson’s ultimate solution to the problem of social cohesion: full-scale socialism. In the event “…that market society could be abandoned [my emphasis], the problem of cohesion would be resolved…” is the direct quote.
Let’s turn our attention now to how Macpherson proposes to deal with the problem of fundamental equality to be accorded to each and every member of the commonwealth. On what grounds could a polity, whatever its form, survive, let alone prosper, against all manner of challenges and counterclaims?
For Hobbes, it was equality based on insecurity: everyone was equally insecure and subject to the vagaries and dictates of the impersonal marketplace. We’ve seen, however, that with the commencement of the democratization process, by now well-nigh complete, its form being the granting of universal suffrage, another variable was introduced into the equation, a monkey wrench, as it were. I’m referring here, of course, to a deep-seated division along class lines: the division between the haves and the have-nots, or more succinctly perhaps, between the ruling class and the rest of us.
By way of reminder, let me state from the outset that the ruling class didn’t exactly disappear just because universal suffrage had become the law of the land; nor does it matter all that much that until now at least, the underclass has been docile for the most part, unable to mount any serious challenge to the existing social order, engaged in a dubious battle. The seeds have been sown and, sooner or later, they’re bound to bear fruit: that’s all that matters from the conceptual as well as historical standpoint! Meanwhile, it behooves us to expand on our definition of fundamental equality. Since the parameters have all changed and it’s no longer plausible to speak of social cohesion in any meaningful sense of the term, whereas talk of social division is rapidly becoming the norm, the new definition must accommodate these changes, since equality under the market no longer suffices. Hence the move from a citizen of a nation-state to a citizen of the world: since the first-mentioned political configuration can’t possibly satisfy the equality requirement, condemning thus all nation-states to their eventual demise on the grounds of illegitimacy, the second one must. All that remains is to couch the principle of fundamental equality in more universal, human terms.
Well, that’s exactly what Macpherson proposes in the following excerpt:
We may take some comfort from the fact that the two problems, of cohesion and of equality, do not now have to be solved in that order. The question whether the actual possessive market relations of a given liberal-democratic state can be abandoned or transcended has now become of secondary importance. For a further change in the social facts has supervened. The very factor, namely, technical change in the methods of war, that has made war an impossible source of internal cohesion, has created a new equality of insecurity among individuals, not merely within one nation but everywhere. The destruction of every individual is now a more real and present possibility than Hobbes could have imagined