Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Liberalism versus Democracy


We have argued here on several occasions that liberalism, frequently associated with democracy as in the ubiquitous phrase “liberal democracy” – is in fact both conceptually (in terms of its ideological self-understanding by the capitalist bourgeoisie) and historically (in terms of the historical record of bourgeois liberal nation-states) quite incompatible with democracy – to the extent that, as we have sought to prove, the phrase “liberal democracy” is in fact an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Contrary to an almost universally accepted fallacy, not only are liberal capitalist nation-states in fact quite authoritarian (indeed, the historical logic of liberalism induces them to grow in authoritarian directions), but also they tend to be very belligerent militarily and quite repressive in their belligerence – contrary, once again, to the widespread fallacy that liberal States tend to be “weak” because they do not interfere with “private property”. On the contrary, it is the very need to preserve and enforce private property rights that turns liberal regimes into very repressive machines not just internally but also externally so as to protect the property rights of their citizens with foreign interests.
The ideology of liberalism is founded on extreme individualism and private property rights. Indeed, the individualism espoused by liberal regimes is really just a cover for the enforcement of private property rights. No less an apologist for liberal regimes than Benjamin Constant went so far as to suggest that the ability of property owners to transfer their property across nation-states was fundamental to the preservation of “democracy” in those nation-states! Here we confront immediately the horns of the dilemma that confronts increasingly authoritarian and undemocratic capitalist bourgeois liberal regimes the world over: on one side, the growing antagonism of their workers leads them to seek greener pastures in other nation-states; on the other side, the transfer of social resources to other nation-states increases the antagonism at home whilst it potentially empowers other nation-states. The capitalist bourgeoisie is therefore constantly torn between the need to keep its workers employed and rival bourgeois nation-states weakened, and the need to discipline its workers without strengthening foreign bourgeoisie.
The whole recent ideological rationale of pointing to automation and “artificial intelligence” as the real causes of lower living standards in the West is really (a) an attempt to present this disenfranchisement of Western workers as “scientific-technical” and therefore politically “neutral” without (b) immediately deflecting the blame to foreign nation-states because this, first, would raise inter-capitalist and inter-national tensions and, second, would highlight once again the “political” nature of automation and of “entrepreneurial competitive disruption”. In fact, these “disruptions” have been allowed by the “liberal” State only in areas that are not central to capitalist accumulation and that were already in decline in the West such as distribution (Amazon), media (Google, Facebook) and telephony (Apple) and transport (Uber). The core interests of the bourgeoisie in areas that are of strategic importance have been left untouched. The massification of service industries has served the ulterior purpose to reduce the political weight of middle classes in the West due to their “democratic” tendencies. Quite simply, Western middle classes have been obliterated except for certain sections that have been co-opted to the “internationalist” cause.
The problem is – and it is under the eyes of everybody a day after the French elections – that the annihilation of the working and middle classes in the West has led to a truly frightening delegitimisation of the capitalist liberal State! To the point that now the very foundations of the liberal State, and of the little democracy it still retains, are being rocked uncontrollably!

To be continued...

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