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Lecture 2

POL242Y5 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Ernest Gellner, Liberal Democracy, The Communist Manifesto


Department
Political Science
Course Code
POL242Y5
Professor
painter-manning
Lecture
2

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The Future of History: Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle
Class?
Francis Fukuyama
The global financial crisis that began in 2008 and the ongoing crisis of the euro are both
products of the model of lightly regulated financial capitalism that emerged over the past
three decades. Yet despite widespread anger at Wall Street bailouts, there has been no great
upsurge of left-wing American populism in response. It is conceivable that the Occupy Wall
Street movement will gain traction, but the most dynamic recent populist movement to date
has been the rightwing Tea Party, whose main target is the regulatory state that seeks to
protect ordinary people from financial speculators. Something similar is true in Europe as well,
where the left is anemic and right-wing populist parties are on the move.
several reasons for this lack of left-wing mobilization = is a failure in the realm of ideas. For
the past generation, the ideological high ground on economic issues has been held by a
libertarian right. The left has not been able to make a plausible case for an agenda other than
a return to an unaffordable form of old-fashioned social democracy. This absence of a
plausible progressive counter - narrative is unhealthy, because competition is good for
intellectual debate just as it is for economic activity.
THE DEMOCRATIC WAVE
ideas do not become powerful unless they speak to the concerns of large numbers of ordinary
people. Liberal democracy is the default ideology around much of the world today because it
responds to and is facilitated by certain socioeconomic structures. Changes in those structures
may have ideological consequences, just as ideological changes may have socioeconomic
consequences.
Almost all the powerful ideas that shaped human societies up until the past 300 years were
religious in nature, with the important exception of Confucianism in China. The first major
secular ideology to have a lasting worldwide effect was liberalism, a doctrine associated with
the rise of first a commercial and then an industrial middle class in certain parts of Europe in
the seventeenth century. (By "middle class," I mean people who are neither at the top nor at
the bottom of their societies in terms of income, who have received at least a secondary
education, and who own either real property, durable goods, or their own businesses.)
Liberalism holds that the legitimacy of state authority derives from the state's ability to
protect the individual rights of its citizens and that state power needs to be limited by the
adherence to law. One of the fundamental rights to be protected is that of private property;
England's Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 was critical to the development of modern liberalism
because it first established the constitutional principle that the state could not legitimately tax
its citizens without their consent.
Liberalism did not necessarily imply democracy. The Whigs who supported the constitutional
settlement of 1689 tended to be the wealthiest property owners in England; the parliament of
that period represented less than ten percent of the whole population. Many classic liberals,
including Mill, were highly skeptical of the virtues of democracy: they believed that
responsible political participation required education and a stake in society-that is, property
ownership. Up through the end of the nineteenth century, the franchise was limited by
property and educational requirements in virtually all parts of Europe. Andrew Jackson's
election as U.S. president in 1828 and his subsequent abolition of property requirements for
voting, at least for white males, thus marked an important early victory for a more robust
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democratic principle.
In Europe, the exclusion of the vast majority of the population from political power and the rise
of an industrial working class paved the way for Marxism. The Communist Manifesto was
published in 1848, the same year that revolutions spread to all the major European countries
save the United Kingdom. And so began a century of competition for the leadership of the
democratic movement between communists, who were willing to jettison procedural
democracy (multiparty elections) in favor of what they believed was substantive democracy
(economic redistribution), and liberal democrats, who believed in expanding political
participation while maintaining a rule of law protecting individual rights, including property
rights.
At stake was the allegiance of the new industrial working class. Early Marxists believed they
would win by sheer force of numbers: as the franchise was expanded in the late nineteenth
century, parties such as the United Kingdom's Labour and Germany's Social Democrats grew
by leaps and bounds and threatened the hegemony of both conservatives and traditional
liberals. The rise of the working class was fiercely resisted, often by nondemocratic means;
the communists and many socialists, in turn, abandoned formal democracy in favor of a direct
seizure of power.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, there was a strong consensus on the
progressive left that some form of socialism-government control of the commanding heights
of the economy in order to ensure an egalitarian distribution of wealth-was unavoidable for all
advanced countries. Even a conservative economist such as Joseph Schumpeter could write in
his 1942 book, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, that socialism would emerge victorious
because capitalist society was culturally self-undermining. Socialism was believed to represent
the will and interests of the vast majority of people in modern societies.
Yet even as the great ideological conflicts of the twentieth century played themselves out on a
political and military level, critical changes were happening on a social level that undermined
the Marxist scenario. First, the real living standards of the industrial working class kept rising,
to the point where many workers or their children were able to join the middle class. Second,
the relative size of the working class stopped growing and actually began to decline,
particularly in the second half of the twentieth century, when services began to displace
manufacturing in what were labeled "postindustrial" economies. Finally, a new group of poor
or disadvantaged people emerged below the industrial working class-a heterogeneous mixture
of racial and ethnic minorities, recent immigrants, and socially excluded groups, such as
women, gays, and the disabled. As a result of these changes, in most industrialized societies,
the old working class has become just another domestic interest group, one using the political
power of trade unions to protect the hard-won gains of an earlier era.
Economic class, moreover, turned out not to be a great banner under which to mobilize
populations in advanced industrial countries for political action. The Second International got a
rude wake-up call in 1914, when the working classes of Europe abandoned calls for class
warfare and lined up behind conservative leaders preaching nationalist slogans, a pattern that
persists to the present day. Many Marxists tried to explain this, according to the scholar Ernest
Gellner, by what he dubbed the "wrong address theory":
Just as extreme Shi'ite Muslims hold that Archangel Gabriel made a mistake, delivering the
Message to Mohamed when it was intended for Ali, so Marxists basically like to think that the
spirit of history or human consciousness made a terrible boob. The awakening message was
intended for classes, but by some terrible postal error was delivered to nations.
Gellner went on to argue that religion serves a function similar to nationalism in the
contemporary Middle East: it mobilizes people effectively because it has a spiritual and
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emotional content that class consciousness does not. Just as European nationalism was driven
by the shift of Europeans from the countryside to cities in the late nineteenth century, so, too,
Islamism is a reaction to the urbanization and displacement taking place in contemporary
Middle Eastern societies. Marx's letter will never be delivered to the address marked "class."
Marx believed that the middle class, or at least the capital-owning slice of it that he called the
bourgeoisie, would always remain a small and privileged minority in modern societies. What
happened instead was that the bourgeoisie and the middle class more generally ended up
constituting the vast majority of the populations of most advanced countries, posing problems
for socialism. From the days of Aristotle, thinkers have believed that stable democracy rests
on a broad middle class and that societies with extremes of wealth and poverty are
susceptible either to oligarchic domination or populist revolution. When much of the
developed world succeeded in creating middle-class societies, the appeal of Marxism
vanished. The only places where leftist radicalism persists as a powerful force are in highly
unequal areas of the world, such as parts of Latin America, Nepal, and the impoverished
regions of eastern India.
Samuel Huntington labeled the "third wave" of global democratization, which began in
southern Europe in the 1970s and culminated in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in
1989, increased the number of electoral democracies around the world from around 45 in
1970 to more than 120 by the late 1990s. Economic growth has led to the emergence of new
middle classes in countries such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and Turkey. As the
economist Moisés Naím has pointed out, these middle classes are relatively well educated,
own property, and are technologically connected to the outside world. They are demanding of
their governments and mobilize easily as a result of their access to technology. It should not
be surprising that the chief instigators of the Arab Spring uprisings were well-educated
Tunisians and Egyptians whose expectations for jobs and political participation were stymied
by the dictatorships under which they lived.
Middle-class people do not necessarily support democracy in principle: like everyone else,
they are self-interested actors who want to protect their property and position. In countries
such as China and Thailand, many middle-class people feel threatened by the redistributive
demands of the poor and hence have lined up in support of authoritarian governments that
protect their class interests. Nor is it the case that democracies necessarily meet the
expectations of their own middle classes, and when they do not, the middle classes can
become restive.
THE LEAST BAD ALTERNATIVE?
There is today a broad global consensus about the legitimacy, at least in principle, of liberal
democracy. In the words of the economist Amartya Sen, "While democracy is not yet
universally practiced, nor indeed uniformly accepted, in the general climate of world opinion,
democratic governance has now achieved the status of being taken to be generally right." It is
most broadly accepted in countries that have reached a level of material prosperity sufficient
to allow a majority of their citizens to think of themselves as middle class, which is why there
tends to be a correlation between high levels of development and stable democracy.
Some societies, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, reject liberal democracy in favor of a form of
Islamic theocracy. Yet these regimes are developmental dead ends, kept alive only because
they sit atop vast pools of oil. There was at one time a large Arab exception to the third wave,
but the Arab Spring has shown that Arab publics can be mobilized against dictatorship just as
readily as those in Eastern Europe and Latin America were. This does not of course mean that
the path to a wellfunctioning democracy will be easy or straightforward in Tunisia, Egypt, or
Libya, but it does suggest that the desire for political freedom and participation is not a
cultural peculiarity of Europeans and Americans.
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