What We Have in Common
A Philosophy of the Commons
A polemical tract in defence of community and shared resources
Inspired by a wide range of critical thinkers, Thijs Lijster finds an alternative to neoliberalism in the tradition of thinking about the commons, or shared resources that anyone can use, without them being anyone’s property. In the olden days they were forests or pastures, but (scientific) knowledge, public space in the city or the Internet can also be seen as such commons.
Like Naomi Klein, Lijster reminds us that neoliberal policies have been characterized by the expropriation and privatization of common property and public services, erosion of the welfare state, and upward distribution of wealth. These policies also created new forms of resistance and the demand that the most basic, crucial aspects of our daily lives – like housing, care and education – should not be treated in terms of capital gain but as valuable common property. As a result of a cascade of crises, we are witnessing an overall systemic one. The promised trickle-down effects of growth, geopolitical stability and increasing democratization and freedom have failed to arrive. Billion-dollar injections into banks and big business at citizens’ expense have punctured the illusion of free competition and unmasked the once vehemently-professed curse on government intervention.
The pandemic, the economic crisis and climate catastrophe have put a dent in our self-image as autonomous individuals. The ideal of the self-sufficient and self-reliant homo economicus is one that fewer and fewer people uphold. Calls for a greater ‘sense of community’ are everywhere. But what is community and what actually connects us? That question is usually answered in terms of ‘norms and values’ or ‘national identity,’ but it can also be answered as what we have in common and in this, the collective commons can form a starting point.
The book is divided into five parts. In the first, Lijster examines the ‘undeath’ of neoliberalism and the rise of far-right movements. Part two deals with the concept of the commons; what they are, why they have attracted interest, and why the commons and capital should be seen as two opposing social systems. In part three, Lijster argues that the commons should not be seen as a defined ‘thing’ but primarily as practice, a notion illustrated by the university, the digital world, and the city. He goes on to discuss the ‘community of the commons’ and ‘common sense’ – a way of seeing and understanding that points to our ability to see the commons, and ourselves as a community. In his conclusion, Lijster explores what kind of politics might follow from the concept and practice of the commons. His aim is not to develop a new political system, but to propose a change of perspective.