The growing interest in and acceptance of socialist ideas in the United States with a hundred year time lag has engendered a desperate attempt to fit the political center into the new equation in a way that preserves its self-declared superiority. The latest contribution to this effort is by The Economist, which, faced with an unusual task, breaks with its elegant style in the title: Manifesto for Renewing Liberalism.
The eminent British weekly defines liberalism as “a universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets, limited government and a faith in human progress brought about by debate and reform”. Rather surprisingly, it does not contend that liberalism will cure all ills on the way to the moon, however the five thousand word manifesto claims that it did invent social democracy.
According to the Economist’s editor-in-chief, Zanny Minton Beddoes:
“Although many early liberals feared mob rule, they embraced democracy. After the Depression in the 1930s they acknowledged that government has a limited role in managing the economy.”
How can you embrace democracy while defining it as ‘mob rule’? As for inventing social democracy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt faced a veritable mutiny of the robber barons against his introduction of social security, causing him at one point to advise progressives: “Make me do it”.
In a similar example of liberal’s penchant for making monumental events appear almost banal, Beddoes affirms: “Partly in order to see off fascism and communism after the second world war, liberals designed the welfare state,” failing to mention that this took place not in the US but in Great Britain, and not as a generous gesture to the working class of a country devastated by war, but as the only way to rebuild it, and thanks to the Labor Party.
Avoiding the dirty word ’neo-liberalism’ (which nearly destroyed the European welfare system with the 2008 economic crisis), Beddoes merely criticizes the ‘liberal meritocracy’ for being closed and self-sustaining, adding, in one of her better lines: “Liberal technocrats contrive endless clever policy fixes, but they remain conspicuously aloof from the people they are supposed to be helping. This creates two classes: the doers and the done-to, the thinkers and the thought-for, the policymakers and the policy-takers.” But this sophisticated distortion of class warfare merely serves to obscure the fact that “a universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets, limited government and a faith in human progress brought about by debate and reform” replaces equity with pious intentions.
Beddoes manages to contrast the “popular rebellion against liberal elites” with a so-called reversal of enlightenment ideas in China, “showing that dictatorships can thrive”. Here, indeed, is the crux of current liberal angst: authoritarian regimes (not ‘dictatorships’) are forging ahead, increasingly challenging the liberal version of democracy by garnering popular approval for their policies. Among their tools is the notion of subsidiarity, according to which decisions are taken on the level that corresponds to their impact. Recognizing the limits of representation, not to mention its arbitrary rule currently fueling popular disaffection with the Union, Brussels backs greater democracy at the local level.
In addition to ignoring this development, the Economist manifesto also fails to recognize the growing clout of worker-owned businesses, designated as coops. American pundits could be forgiven for ignoring the existence of the Spanish-based Mondragon cooperative, but a British-based weekly?
The Mondragon Corporation is a corporation and federation of worker cooperatives based in the Basque region of Spain. It was founded in the town of Mondragon as far back as 1956 by graduates of a local technical college, and today is the tenth-largest Spanish company in terms of asset turnover. By 2015, 74,335 people were employed in 257 companies and organizations in four areas of activity: finance, industry, retail and knowledge.
Nothing, it seems can dent suave liberal assurance, not even recognition of the role of money in the sacrosanct exercise of the ballot — not to mention government — or war. Beddoes proclaims that liberalism ‘made the modern world’, and rightly condemns its failure to recognize that ‘the state can work harder for the citizen by recasting taxation, welfare, education and immigration’ cutting the economy free from ‘the growing power of monopolies’.
But juxtaposing ‘a commitment to individual dignity’ and’ open markets’ — for example by ‘eliminating planning restrictions that shut people out of the most prosperous cities’ — will never suffice to correct liberalism’s failings. In a basic confusion between philosophy and economics, liberalism believes it can count on the former to police the latter, while an ever more sophisticated public increasingly realizes that ideology matters. The needs of the many must take precedence over the whims of the few, no matter how grandly expressed.
Deena Stryker is an international expert, author and journalist that has been at the forefront of international politics for over thirty years, exlusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook”.