Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 14 July 2016

Globalisation or, The 'Freedom' of the Bourgeoisie

We have seen how Constant mistakes the unimpeded circulation of capital across nation-states, and hence liberalism, with democracy. This confusion is the reason why Constant fails to perceive the evident antithesis between these two historico-political concepts. Not only is liberalism not democracy, but in reality liberalism is antithetical to democracy.  For the very freedom of capital under liberalism to move across political boundaries entails the inability of those who do not own capital to control the social resources owned by the owners of capital as the central aspect of social wealth in a capitalist society. 

Constant cannot see that the separation of capital in its most emancipated and therefore “liquid” form from its real material conditions of production can only be fictitious and that every attempt to separate capital as “value” – as money – from its real productive existence must end up in the separation of workers from the object of their activity. Not only is this undemocratic, but it infringes against the very essence of political life, which is the ability of a community to determine its mode of existence, cultural and productive. Hence, the freedom of capital to circulate, if on one hand it entails the political emancipation of the bourgeoisie from a particular political order, at the same time decrees the instability of capitalist industry against all forms of political society or association. This is the Ungeselligkeit (Unsociability) of bourgeois “society” to which Kant perceptively referred; here lies the schism and chasm between bourgeois and citoyen that Marx so keenly denounced. Constant was hoping to identify the interests of the bourgeois with those of the citizen, without noticing that bourgeois interests are “private” whereas those of the citizen are necessarily public and political. The “freedom” of the bourgeoisie consists in its ability to move capital across international boundaries: as such, this mobility of capital not only is inconsistent with the political freedom of democratic societies, but it actually serves to undermine their political stability by giving absolute priority to the interests of the bourgeoisie - by blackmailing nation-states through capital mobility.

Does this mean that we ought to oppose the internationalization of capital – what people call loosely “globalization”? Not at all. After all, if our ultimate aim is to unite humanity under one banner, the removal of barriers to capital mobility and to trade are absolutely essential because they bring about the harmonization and homogenization of productive processes that are indispensable to political harmony and therefore to global democracy and peace. But what this means is that we ought to fight on two fronts – one internal and the other external. Internally, we ought to fight against the dilution and reversal of political and living standards; externally, we must push for homogeneous political and working conditions across countries. We must impede the capitalist strategy of setting off one nation-state against another – that is, precisely that competitive tension between countries and peoples that Constant perhaps unwittingly sought to foist upon us in the guise of liberalism or “modern liberty”.

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