Since the financial meltdown, it is shocking how surprisingly accurate the late George Carlin’s stand up comedy sketches have proven to be. It seems, frankly, that the intellectual fallacies, farmed in the western enlightenment (see BBC documentary “Racism: A history”), and harvested by the amalgamation of Thatcherism and Reganomics, are coming home to roost—12 years into the 21th Century. Choose your poison from the Thatcherism era; and there are many to pick from.
Five that immediately come to mind, are: firstly, the rise of Schumpeterianism; secondly, the rise of Machiavellian premise (i.e. spin and manipulation); thirdly, the rise of popular capitalism and commodification; fourthly, the seamless acceptance of social Darwinism; and lastly, the use of a type of utilitarian ethics, bleached of all common decency, which serves to intellectually betray the poor. Social mobility has fallen, this is happening on the back of increasing inequalities. It is impossible to know what delusions were going through the minds of these intellectuals and leaders.
Either way, the human costs of their actions were evidenced in the recent London riots, amongst other intensifying social phenomena. The price of commodities is rising, as external inflation pushes up the cost of living. This is, undoubtedly, due the rising purchasing power of the emerging and frontier markets. It seems that our leaders could have learned a thing or two from Dambisa Moyo’s How The West Was Lost, and equally well from her thesis Dead Aid. Big government, paradoxically, mocked in Yes Minister, was not the problem in itself. It is just a matter of how one uses it. Why do I say this?
Well, just look at the state capitalism initiatives of the emerging and frontier markets. What I believe has been the problem has been the continuous centralisation of power into the hands of an increasingly “disconnected” ruling class; these persons, undoubtedly, misused that power; “pick your grievance” should be the general statement. I thought (correct me if I am mistaken, of course) that the whole concept of the liberal distrust of power hinged on the belief that “no one individual has a monopoly over knowledge”. Surely, J.S Mill’s harm principle, the corner stone of liberal democracy, is the highest manifestation of such a notion.
Indeed, for me, the breaking of the post-World War II consensus marked the continuation of the naturalistic fallacy, falsely named “the free market”. There is nothing “free” about markets; the very idea that there is such a thing as a “free market” is little more than a neo-liberal fantasy; sugar coated in populace and appealing humanistic liberal values; this may all serve as a means to make such positions palatable, but not democratic. I recently came across a Cornell West YouTube interview, hosted by the Big Think—
—and I cannot help but to feel that what equates to the heist of the century is being concealed with the help of the cosy relationships between our elected leaders and their media buddies. Indeed, as a PPE student myself, I must applaud their great use of Machiavellian tactics, all of which makes for very clever politics on the part of our politicians and their hired help; however, this clever politics has not been very healthy nor helpful to democratic values, nor has it helped the pockets of the average Joe. Funny enough—or perhaps not—those who were the victims of the laissez faire era have, unfortunately, been turned into the enemies of the new era; this is something that the riot report is currently highlighting.
Why is this happening? you may ask. For sure, of course, Machiavellian tactics do play a part. More simply, however, the answer may lie in the philosophy of Michel Foucault and his concept of the power to define. The poor have been made to look like—to use Mr West’s words—firstly, those who will not work; secondly, those who are irresponsible; and finally, as the failures in a society otherwise of success. I do not deny that incentives should be provided to reward good behaviour, but then again, looking at the reward structure within our society leaves much to be desired. Frankly, you do not have to be a “lefty” or a “socialist” to agree with me on some or all of my points thus far. The inner logic of such persisting lefty or socialist myths, merely, serve to reinforces a powerful barrier to change. This is why, I believe , we live in an intellectually occupied society.
In my opinion, Tocqueville’s Democracy in America is very important to the democratic debate. Specifically, three ideas come to mind—when thinking of Tocqueville—which can be found in his famous thesis, Democracy in America; they are his warning against administrative centralization, his warning about the inherent tendency of limited intellectually thought within democracies, and his famous equality of conditions. These are all democratic principles, and not leftist propaganda.
I thought we lived in a liberal democracy? I mean, thinkers such as Tocqueville can hardly be thought of as leftist. I believe that there is a general misconception of what is, truly, wrong within our government, and thus within our society as a whole. The troubles, for me, are wide-ranging and deeply rooted; to resolve them is going to require the unthinkable—a complete re-examination of our society, its values, and the very functions of its institutions. The revision of the very idea of what it means to be British, and even European. But sadly, I am not sure whether if old Britain is ready for such a change. The system only seems to be good at punishing dissenters, and often rightly so, but the question that remains should be: what do we do now? How do we move past a fragmented society?
Without a doubt, the answers will require a long stare into the abyss, and the unearthing of a deliberately buried past! It is no longer, I believe, a matter of ideological battles, but rather a battle for democratic values. I cannot help but to feel that there is a need for a new political paradigm, a paradigm shift away from the out-dated so-called “Anglo-Saxon capitalist model”, to a more “state friendly model”. And, with this change, there has to be a radical rethink of how we conceptualize freedom. Conversely to what some of my contemporaries seem to imagine, freedom does not exist per se. What we may all agree on, however, is that any concept of freedom must contain a negative and a positive notion; the former being a freedom from government, and thus freedom from constraints (this is, legal or physical); the latter being a freedom to self-govern (this is, more direct forms of democracy and more local government initiatives).