Wednesday, November 11, 2015

In Defence of Constitutional, Liberal Democracy. There's Not Much Time to Spare.

None of us has (or can have for that matter) a reliable vision of what awaits our society and every other in the decades ahead. We're very nearly at the cliff's edge. We either must find new modes of organization - economic, social and political (domestic and international) - or the inertia of the old models will drag us over the side.  The promise of globalization has proved hollow and the political and economic ideologies it spawned or allowed to find traction are backfiring in many ways. As Conan Doyle would put it, "the game's afoot."

I think many of us sense that things aren't working. Just as we stare into an array of looming, potentially existential threats the models we fashioned in the assumption they would serve and protect us are failing. The Golden Age from the 50s through the 80s are now a fading memory.

Some contend even Canadians have a "pretend/quasi democracy" which mirrors the transition to less liberal democracies underway worldwide. How much of the elation you felt in the wake of the last election came from the ouster of Harper, how much from the installation of Trudeau and his (so far) seeming intent to stage a progressive restoration? Both factors were present and seemingly inseparable but I suspect that each was somewhat distinct of the other. Taken together, however, they reflected a righting of the political keel in a nation that had, for a decade, listed sharply toward illiberal democracy.

The politics of fear and division were the stock in trade of Stephen Harper. Curiously (and despicably) enough these were tools or weapons he employed to greatest effect on his own supporters. He corralled his base with visions of the dangerous incompetence of his rivals; their amoral, godless ways; the risk of the nation falling into the control of the "other" and, to be honest, by appeals to his supporters' basest instincts and biases. If you were a bigot, it was music to your ears. 

It was fascinating to watch how, in trouncing first Dion and then Ignatieff, Harper quite deliberately avoided having to run on either his record or his vision. He turned both campaigns into referenda on the opposition leader and merely offered the public a pretence of "competent management" in lieu of any actual platform. That was about as close as we got to honesty from Harper. He didn't propose to lead but only to manage, administer, rule.

In Harper's approach was the essence of illiberal democracy. You still get to vote but your vote doesn't matter much except to decide by whom you'll be ruled, the decision-making process in turn shaped by a corporate media peddling messaging that rendered the electorate misinformed, conditioned, almost powerless. Once installed, Harper corrupted the institutions of government, transforming them into his partisan, political agencies which required that they be sequestered, gagged, cut off from the public. This polluted democracy isolates the governed from those who rule, a gap wide enough to accommodate the influence of new interests - corporatism. This is the inevitable outcome of neoliberalism indulged, even nurtured. In the States it's called "political capture" which is so evident in Republican hopefuls courting the billionaires - the Kochs, the Coors family, Sheldon Adelson - whose money largely determines the leadership contests.

Illiberal democracy quickly becomes the engine of mass political disenfranchisement that extends into problems such as inequality; the collapse of social mobility; the economic and then political hollowing out of the middle class; and the host of social ills that flourish in its wake.

Illiberal democracy enshrines the religion of neoliberalism - free market fundamentalism and the mystical governance of the "invisible hand." It is religion. It is not evidence-based. It is faith based and plucked out of a host of competing, equally faith based ideologies. Radical Islam with its Sharia law does not hold a candle to this ideology. Radical Islam won't enslave you, neoliberalism already has.

I posted this discussion between Chris Hedges and John Ralston Saul last week but if you missed it you should watch it now. We all need to understand how our entire political apparatus - Tory, Liberal and New Democrat - has succumbed to this ideology and how, through them, that entraps all of us including you and yours. Only when you see how it is structured, how it operates and all the contradictions and fallacies that it conceals, can you understand how it has arisen and why we must break its hold on our politics and our society. You will also see how Harper rode the ideology of technocracy to claim the highest seat of power.  After that it was simply a matter of manipulating a minority of the public to seize absolute political control over all of us.

I recall when this free market fundamentalism, deregulated capitalism on steroids, came into vogue. I knew of Adam Smith from undergrad economics but I hadn't really read his works especially his seminal work, the 1776 "The Wealth of Nations" that the neoliberals cited as their gospel. So I bought it and I read it and, as Ralston Saul observes in this interview, it was obvious that Smith had very different thoughts than what they claimed.  Only those who hadn't read Smith could swallow the words and thoughts they were attributing to him. And again, the same thing with Edmund Burke, the supposed founding father of conservatism. As I read Burke it became inescapable that these modern prophets of conservatism were not conservative at all. They were something alien to conservatism as expressed by Burke and practised by the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

These people are quacks in the same way as Christian fundamentalists serve up a perverted excuse for Christianity that at once suppresses the teachings of Christ and thereby creates theocratic voids that they can fill with really nasty shit plucked out of the Old Testament. They proclaim Biblical inerrancy, heavily and conveniently edited to suit their purposes of course.

We need to begin thinking of neoliberalism as a contagion, something to be identified and purged from our body politic, a shackle on our nation and our people that must be broken. That will be a truly Herculean task that will have to be meticulously undertaken if we're to avoid simply replacing one false ideology with another of our choosing.

I would suggest a couple of starting points. One is with democratic reform, a process that must begin with the restoration of an informed electorate which necessitates the dismantling of the corporate media cartel and its replacement with a genuinely free press.  The other is the reclaiming of those incidents of state sovereignty often surrendered, thrown away for no good reason through neoliberal trade agreements. 

If we don't breathe new life into our democracy we risk losing it to the rising power of authoritarianism. That's already upon us and it has to be beaten back.

Let's do this thing.


Toby said...

For those who want to take John Ralston Saul a little deeper, there is this.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

Thanks so much for posting this video. It's another notch to understanding the extent of Neoliberalism globally and how it is operational through deception and propaganda. I am fascinated with understanding it's alledged fundamental philosophical ideas only to learn these ideas are not philisophical,but quasireligious and are sustained and active through authoritarianism. And now I'm going out to buy more of Sauls books.