Democracy And The New World Order: Dilemmas And Conflicts Essay
The prospects for democracy at the close of the 20th century are perilous. In an increasingly unified world system, it is no longer possible to write about the prospects for democracy except on a world scale. It cannot be a precious entity reserved for the rich First World ghetto of Western Europe and North American. Thus the three concepts, democracy, nationalism, and socialism, were about self-government. This remains the central problem of modern democracy: How can grossly unequal people, grossly unequal in wealth, cultural training, and power participate in administering public affairs?
Ancients Athenians called those inhabitants of a polis who could, but did not, participate in public affairs idiots. One can argue that really existing contemporary democracy, that is to say, capitalists democracy, turns an ever greater proportion of the population into political idiots. It does so through an increased emphasis on mass media, which has commodified politics, and through systematically dismantling or corrupting mass participatory institutiops, like political parties and labor unions, that make popular participation in decision making in mass polities even theoretically possible.Very well, so let me stipulate: I am not discussing the model of pluralist capitalist democracy, but only really existing capitalism in its relation to the prospects for democracy, East and West, North and South.
Capitalism, really existing capitalism that is, has its own specific institutions and legal systems. These can, but need not, coincide with parliamentary democracy of a more or less advanced and pluralist type. It has armed bodies of men to protect it, a dominant ideology, and certain kinds of political relations on a world scale. It is a world system. More precisely, today it is the world system.Despite the anti-statist Social Darwinian utopias of the Chicago school of economics and its many less-explicit imitators, really existing capitalism uses the state without compunction in both implicit and explicit ways that make democracy very problematic in most of the world. This willingness and ability to use the state to defend specific national capitalist interests have been modified and limited to varying extents internally by masslabor and social democratic movements and externally by transnational financial institutions and the world market. Sometimes the limits are imposed more narrowly by the policies of the dominant world power, the United States of America. The state has also been, under conservative, liberal, and even social democratic governments, an instrument for the defense of the general capitalist system against the narrow and short-sighted policies of major sector of the economy.
Capitalism is thus not simply the absence of socialism and feudalism. Under certain circumstances it may retain certain feudal institutions and even rely on statist institutions with elements of public ownership in sectors of the economy, which have sometimes erroneously been called socialist.Capitalism is also a system in which the political rule of parties committed to the maintenance of capitalism (whatever their state ideology) as its exists in real life is necessary. This is the case whether the dominate party is nominally pro-capitalist or pro-labor, conservative or social democratic. Really existing capitalism implies a whole raft of political, economic, and social relations, including the not so minor question of which groups are dominant or, more crudely put, the ruling class. Really existing capitalism is in very serious trouble. However, since capitalism is the world system today and, all verbiage aside, represents the realy New World Order the fact that it is in trouble is not necessarily good news for the prospects for democracy, or for that matter, for any prospects of a democratic socialism. There are other less pleasant alternatives. The capitalist “New World Order” is in substantial trouble in at least three places: the Third World South. Western Europe, and Eastern Europe.
That has an effect on the global prospects for democracy since the capitalism of the Southeast Asian Tigers and Japan, not to mention the one emerging in China, is not particularly congruent with democracy. The United States has a democratic system flawed by three peculiarities: a very weak and old-fashioned labor movement, the gross domination of the political processes by extremely expensive mass media, and an absence of anything resembling a responsible party system. It is a. system almost impervious to change, particularly to change driven by popular mobilization. Therefore, the problem of democracy is worldwide today. I will first take up the three specified problem areas in reverse order.