Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Philosophy

Abstract

The modern epoch is characterized by a paradoxical form of social inequality in which poverty expands alongside the unprecedented growth in socially-produced wealth. Any one conception of this dynamic stakes a claim within the classical liberal problematic, in which the central political challenge is the negotiation of individual interests with those of the social whole. Part one of this work analyzes three influential conceptions of the inequality paradox in the history of social thought, those of G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes, each encompassing a perspective on the nation-state and its relationship to the institutions of economic intercourse. The first chapter analyzes and argues for an interpretation of "the problem of poverty" in Hegel's Philosophy of Right. I intervene in an ongoing discussion on whether and how Hegel resolves the problem he raises. How Hegel proposes to resolve the problem and the form his criticisms take hold important implications for those drawing contemporary insights from Hegel's work. Marx's early work represents a fuller critical response to the modern problem of poverty, in which he identifies its dual political and economic character expressed in the economic dispossession and political exclusion of a significant population in the Prussia of his day. I argue that the consolidation of bourgeois property and social relations in Germany played a critical role in the development of Marx's political economy, but that most significant was his debate with Proudhon over the significance of the problem of poverty for the modern epoch. The third chapter presents an analysis of John Maynard Keynes's critical appraisal, written some five decades after Marx, of the modern inequality paradox in his time, a period newly marked by world war and revolution. I present a philosophical assessment of his proposed rectification of the problem. The justifications he offers bear notable similarities to Hegel's approach to the issue. In part two, I turn to the present period, where the growth of social inequality in the latest phase of the expansion of capitalism worldwide has strained the nation-state system to its limits and posed political challenges for which institutions have not yet been developed, as Thomas Piketty has argued. Considering the historical models for thinking about the modern inequality paradox, I offer an analysis of Piketty's latter-day Keynesianism and that of political economist Geoff Mann. In contrast to Keynes' outlook, both contemporary thinkers express immense anxiety over the unlikelihood that the world economy in its current form can be rationally managed by global collaboration among competing nations. I then offer a counter-assessment to the viewpoints of Piketty and Mann, based on the inequality data Piketty, et al. have produced. I argue there is a more equitable and democratic alternative before us.

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