Is Liberal Democracy Viable?
What constitutes a liberal democracy, to the exclusion of any other sort? And who’s a Liberal, anyway? How would a liberal democracy evolve and how would it survive?
Even non-liberals will admit democracy is a liberalising process. Where democracy advances, it creates positive rights in law. If Liberalism supports a state solution where others would apply a market-based solution, the Liberal plays a necessary role. For it is harder to be a Liberal: a state solution ought to be a last resort, used only where markets have demonstrably failed to provide one.
All liberal democracies have some common characteristics. They are relatively small and homogeneous societies. We see these aspects in Europe, the UK, Canada and Japanese societies. In such societies, it’s share and share alike: your grandmother and mine deserve generous benefits in their declining years. But let a wave of poor immigrants arrive on their shores, a reactionary element arises to delineate Us versus Them.
The Liberals fought for civil rights, opposed at every turn by people who believed such rights ought not be enacted in law. If they won the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s, the Liberals have lost the battle for workers’ rights, slowly retreating over the last four decades in the face of determined corporate opposition.
Let us first dispense with the truisms. Keynes was a man of his time and his truest disciples are all fiscal conservatives. When push comes to shove, as it did in 2008, the Conservatives were obliged to apply Keynes’ monetary solutions, if not his regulatory solutions. For all their much speechifying about the salutary effects of the so-called Free Market, its advocates refuse to address the unhealthy tendency of corporations to pervert and abolish regulations via the consolidation of power and therefore political influence, hence the Too Big to Fail phenomenon which led the feckless Conservatives to apply Keynesian solutions to corporate malfeasance.
The United States has never been a particularly Liberal society, not even at the height of FDR and his last acolyte, LBJ. Insofar as LBJ was able to enact some legislation to attenuate poverty and end racial discrimination, his enemies made sure such help would never truly change the fundamental equations of power. Instead of building homes for families, the poor were consigned to titanic housing projects, where only fatherless children and their destitute mothers could live. Thus was created a generation of poor and fatherless children. Perversely, public housing did more to emasculate a generation of poor men than any other phenomenon in modern history. It’s a pattern we also see in the banlieues of France, especially in Paris, where the Arabs and Africans are penned into housing projects. The UK, too, has its council estates, breeding grounds for every sort of trouble and societal anomie.
The French banlieues have become a hotbed of Communism and Islamism, especially Ivry-sur-Seine. The unabashedly fascist Front National has arisen in response to les beurs in France and in the UK, the British National Party represents the same. In Greece, there’s Golden Dawn. Even Germany’s Angela Merkel of the ostensibly Christian Democratic Party declares multiculturalism a total failure.
The Liberal observes two forces at work in the world: Capitalism and Statism. Even our Libertarian friends, though they would not describe themselves as Liberals, observe the need to attenuate Force and Fraud. These are profoundly small-L liberal concepts: the Liberal knows the State does not have a monopoly on power nor can Capitalism exist without necessary and sufficient market regulation. These two forces exist in an uneasy symbiosis. Let either Capitalism or Statism run amok and government trends toward fascism, where the Market and the State become as indistinguishable as the Pigs in the final paragraphs of Orwell’s Animal Farm.
The enemies of Liberalism have a distinct rhetorical advantage: they don’t have to fight the battles for human rights or market regulation. Thus, the Liberals get to make all the mistakes. Everyone else gets to benefit from what the Liberals achieve – and when the Liberal Red Hen points out how nobody else helped her in the course of making the delicious bread for the poor, the Conservatives roll their eyes to heaven and declare they were always on the side of the angels and fully supported the struggle for equal rights for bread, (if not for honest markets) especially for their own poor constituents. At the terminus of all such thinking is the Rugged Individual fighting against the tyranny of the State. If only ol’ Ruggie were fighting against tyranny, I might find this story more compelling.
Statism is not the only flavour of tyranny on offer. Most of the containers are labelled with individuals’ names and Corporatism has always done business with tyrants. It’s so efficient, you see. No troublesome regulations. Bribes are just a cost of doing business. We cannot fault Capitalism for this: capitalism is not immoral. It’s amoral. Right and wrong don’t enter into the proposition of profit and loss, nor should they, really. For all the Constitutional fuss and bother about the commingling of Church and State, I wonder if this century’s biggest moral conundrum won’t be the commingling of Corporation and State. But we can’t expect the State to be any more moral. Morality can’t be legislated. Even if we tried, we couldn’t enforce all those laws anyway.
We will only behave decently to those we view as our own. Therein lies the essence of liberal democracy, that we are not alone, that we are our brother’s keeper. But while that sentiment only extends to brothers, liberalism will always fail.
A viable liberal democracy cannot exist where all political debates resolve to Us versus Them. Where there’s no allowance for We in the discussion, we shall never have Liberalism. The litany of grievance against Them will always trump any larger considerations. It can’t be helped. Liberalism can only work when everyone admits they’re in the same lifeboat.