Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 28 April 2017

LIBERALISM AND DICTATORSHIP: Benjamin Constant vs. Carl Schmitt

We have argued repeatedly here that liberalism and democracy are conceptually contradictory and, therefore, they have been shown historically time and time again to be incompatible. A liberal regime aims exclusively to preserve, protect and enhance individual property rights: as such, therefore, it is incorrect to identify it with “individualism”, except perhaps as a contrast to “collectivism”, because in championing the rights of individuals who own property, liberalism quite obviously will crush the rights of individuals who do not own property or who own less property. Evidently, the paramount protection of property rights and therefore the free exchange of claims to property - which, together, form the essence of liberal doctrine and practice -, is entirely inconsistent with the exercise of political freedom and decision-making by all members of society in a manner that is not tainted by the ownership of property.

Two of the biggest fallacies in Benjamin Constant’s oblique championing of liberalism are, first, his assertion that the ability of property owners to remove their property from a nation-state is an exercise of democracy; and second that, by removing their property to other nation-states, property owners actively discipline their nation-state and establish “competitive tension” between nation-states to foster democratic principles and institutions worldwide. This is perhaps the biggest non sequitur in Constant’s entire otherwise most valuable oeuvre: - because quite clearly, as the history of western liberalism and capitalism reveals, the bourgeoisie removes property from a nation-state and places it in another nation-state not at all to promote democratic rights, but rather to ensure that private property rights are protected! There is a vital difference between the protection of property rights and democracy that Constant clearly missed! On the contrary, history reveals that the bourgeoisie is indeed quite willing to move capital to authoritarian and even dictatorial regimes so long as it can reasonably expect that such regimes will protect and enhance its property rights! Even under Hitler, under no less than the Nazi dictatorship, the German bourgeoisie was entirely happy to keep its property under the protection of that most brutal regime.

Thus, far from enhancing democracy, the free movement of capital has more often than not enhanced dictatorship. Perhaps the most colossal example of this in capitalist history is the huge transfer of capitalist investment to the Chinese dictatorship from 1980 until our present day! And this occurred in large part not because the bourgeoisie could be sure of the protection of its rights – though that was reasonable given the ability of the Chinese dictatorship to enforce them against its own people -, but rather because the Communist Chinese dictatorship was willing to subject its population of over a billion people to the exploitation on the part of the Western capitalist bourgeoisie and, in the process, to turn itself into a powerful capitalist bourgeoisie in its own right!

As we have argued repeatedly here, it was Carl Schmitt who perhaps most systematically and coherently demolished the rationale and ideology of liberalism, precisely by evincing the theoretical-historical inconsistency of democratic parliamentary institutions and the institutions of private property. Of course, Schmitt’s aim was manifestly anti-democratic; yet this does not diminish the potency of the arguments he advanced against Western bourgeois parliamentary regimes. The false identification of liberalism with democracy is the reason why every critique of liberalism is immediately denounced by the bourgeoisie as an assault on “democracy” – by which it means “liberalism”.

In the present day, aside from the Western bourgeois transfer of resources to the control of the Chinese dictatorship without first exacting peremptory guarantees for the democratic representation of its oppressed workers and wider population, perhaps the worst example of how liberal principles can demolish democratic institutions is the championing of liberal economic principles and practices by the German bourgeoisie – what is widely known as Ordo-liberalism -, a practice that is rapidly leading to the unravelling of the European Union and its lurching into authoritarian, if not openly dictatorial, waters. So strident and harmful has this practice been, that even the most prominent commentators of bourgeois publications have inveighed against it, to no avail.

To be continued.

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