Distinguishing social democracy

Distinguishing social democracy:

Under left-liberal (as opposed to soc dem) regimes, organized labor does not participate in mid- to longer-range socio-economic planning. However, left think tanks can contribute mid- to long-range planning analyses.

Conversely, there are a variety of ways in which business leaders contribute to public policy formation, because business (public and private, but not cooperative) is regarded by the lib-left govt as the engine of growth.

This exclusion of cooperatives from the field of perceived contributors to growth indicates that lib-left govts may also be distinguished from social democratic govts by an assumption that growth is a product of “efficient” social-hierarchy-inflating organizational forms.

In lib-left regimes, labor views its role, and the liberal government views labor’s role as (often obstructive) ballast to economic growth initiatives that are seen as the natural concern of business. That’s labor’s negative role. It’s not a leadership role.

Labor’s positive role in capitalist democracy thus largely devolves to delivering votes to the left-liberal govt, because although the lib-left does not regard labor as a central social or economic policy resource, as opposed to conservative govts the lib-left govt will not actively try to break organized labor and it may implement those modest proposals of labor that do not impede the business-driven growth planning.

Hence, with a range of ruling (capitalist) political perspectives that always preemptively block information from labor (except what little leaks obliquely through the market), we repeatedly sink into crisis cycles–crisis of profit begets > capital deregulation and overmobilization, working class overregulation, demobilization, and dispossession beget > speculative bubbles/primitive accumulation beget > underconsumption crisis begets > further primitive accumulation, repeat. We fixate on the speculative bubbles moment in the midst of all this autistic failure, hoard wealth, and laud ourselves endlessly for being such top-notch managers and philanthropistes.

This is why for Rawlsianism to work, socialist politics and the communist horizon must be more highly valued, and even defended– by liberals.
As far as I know, this seeming impossibility has only been (temporarily) accomplished in Scandinavia and Minnesota. (While Latin America leftists tried to forge a left-lib coalition from scratch, the US destroyed this effort and enforced conservative rule in Latin America, see Greg Grandin.)

In “Right-wing Rawlsianism: A Critique” (forthcoming in Journal of Political Philosophy) Samuel Arnold argues that if liberals agree that agency is the essence of justice, then liberals have to pick which side they are on–because economic democracy fosters more agency than Trickledown provides.

Arnold’s is a clever detonation of a bridge from liberalism to conservatism, using some of the bridge-builders’ own ideal theory tools. (Particularly with respect to Rawls’ difference principle: A liberal justice-maximizing directive to choose the political-economic system that maximizes the least-advantaged group’s expectations for an index of primary goods that include income and wealth, but also status (qua capacity for agency in the workplace and self-respect in society).)

Upon deriving the optimal realization of liberal justice (agency) in workplace democracy, Arnold concludes (p. 32),

Milquetoast liberal egalitarianism is unstable: liberal egalitarianism must move far to the left in order to avoid being jerked far to the right.”

We need to keep heaping on the demonstrations that economic democracy fosters more agency than GDP/GNP tumescence.

For one example, insofar as political-economic systems can be said to have intentions, how plausible is it that capitalism does not intend to support social pathologies (Arnold, p.29)? Studies of primitive accumulation, the WEB DuBois tradition, socialist feminists, Harvey et al have a lot to say about how capitalism “intends to” (is built and maintained to) and does depend upon and support social pathologies. This approach apprehends the connection between economic (eg. workplace) tyranny and racism, sexism, colonialism, etc., for a powerpunch assertion that inequality is both fundamental to capitalism (even if it is shifted around across some social groups, over time and space) and fatally (from the perspective of justice) undermines agency (power to).

…& on the matter of historical-materialism’s putative incapacity to deal with difference (from a postmodern POV), from Arnold (p. 29):

Patriarchy, discrimination against the weak or the different, pressure to conform, and countless other social practices that prevent people from realizing their full agential potential: how long can these pathologies withstand the countervailing winds of a social democracy, with its democratic workplaces, its flattened division of labor, its robustly egalitarian public institutions?”

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The Difference Between Right and Left

This “is the great divide between right and left: not that the former stands for freedom, while the latter stands for equality (or statism or whatever), but that the former stands for freedom for the few, while the latter stands for freedom for the many” (Corey Robin “When Libertarians Go to Work” 2012).

Disinterring the philosophical roots of both social conservativsm and economic libertarianism–both of which yearn for a more modern and contemporary version of serfdom, Robin discusses an example of this conservative difference (more or less: “Freedom for me and my friends. The Fuck for everyone else.” The paraphrasing is mine, not Robin’s. He’s very polite.)  in the recent (2012) libertarian gender politics, where we find libertarians fighting to legally force doctors to rape women who request abortions.

Libertarian sophists argue that this mandatory institutionalized rape is “regulation,” equivalent to requiring businesses to follow basic worksite safety regulations–except better because women deserve it since women are dirty, bad property.

Robin provides a link to James Grimmelman’s post on libertarian contract theory.

A contemporary psychology movement, in contrast to Robin’s political-historical analysis, tries to argue that the difference between conservatives and liberals is simply that conservatives are more moral than liberals. Don’t you just adore ahistorical ideal-types empiricism? It’s so cute. It’s like a little intellectual/ethical baby vole, all hairless and blind.

They don’t even acknowledge that Leftists exist in their scheme, so I’m guessing the psychologists would classify Leftists as abjectly immoral.  Or maybe it’s only liberals who have a stunted morality. Shrug. It’s also possible that Leftists may not exist in Viriginia, home of “moral psychology,” so maybe they didn’t have access to Leftists to hook up to their moral measurement-o-tron.

So guess who adores the intellectual/ethical baby vole mostest? You got it: Professional liberals. The same folks what love conservatives’ Latte’ Liberals critique (eg. “Stuff White People Like”). Ah, they love a joke on themselves. Were I a psychologizin’ man, I’d quickly hypothesize that every foundation liberal carries a little internalized voice, the voice of his or her conservative daddy.–Doesn’t every opportunity to reconcile with the Patriarch feel cathartic.

Liberals: perpetually frozen in terror and propriety, teetering at the brink of Enlightenment, and with only a light breeze of patriarchal romanticism, tumbling backward into freedom for the few at the expense of the many.

At least Stiglitz and Krugman dove into the eternal Enlightenment question on the side of expanding freedoms for the many.

On White Male Property owning Citizenship in the US

Civic virtue as a property of propertied white men:

A number of authors argue that the 19th Century concept of US citizenship and civic virtue was grounded in being a white male property-owner — with property-ownership construed broadly to include tool-owning tradesmen, a notion that spilled over into the racial exclusivism practiced by the US craft unions:

Political and legal theorist Aziz Rana’s The Two Faces of American Freedom (2010).

Historian David Montgomery’s Citizen Worke(1995).

Political scientist Rogers Smith‘s Civic Ideals (1999) gives a fairly broad backdrop.

Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo argues that liberalism is essentially about exclusion: the advancement of slavery, colonialism, genocide, racism and snobbery. Much of his book Liberalism, A Counter-history (2011) is focused on the United States, in both the early republican and antebellum periods. (Here is a New Left Project debate on Losurdo‘s thesis . Here is a review of Liberalism in Counterfire.) Jodi Dean has argued that the exclusion thesis is a red herring; the problem with capitalism is exploitation, not exclusion.

Christopher Tomlins’s Law, Labor, and Ideology in the Early Republic (1993) (It can complement the Orren text, see below.)

Andrew Shankman’s Crucible of American Democracy (2004).

Seth Cotlar’s Tom Paine’s America (2011).

On how long citizenship actually took to get to white males, cross-class, in the US:

Best book about thwarted suffrage in the US (including that of working class white males) is The Right to Vote (2000) by historian Alex Keyssar. (Hear Keyssar speaking about contemporary barriers to suffrage in the US.)

Political scientist Karen Orren’s book Belated Feudalism (1991) is about the persistence in the US of feudal common law, in the form of employment law, well into the 20th century.

Thanks to John Gulick, C. Robin and Anthony Galluzzo.





What’s at Stake in Understanding Conservatism
From a review of Manisha Sinha’s The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina:


Sinha demonstrates that “South Carolina pro-slavery thought was not the expression of Southern Republicanism, but increasingly its very negation. It was not a coincidence that secessionism was strongest in South Carolina, the only state by 1832 where presidential electors and the governor were not popularly elected, where the legislature was crudely malapportioned, and where local offices were limited by the state government. It was also not a coincidence that slaves were a majority of South Carolinians, and slaveholders nearly a majority of South Carolinian whites. And it certainly was not a coincidence that non-slaveholders were noticeably less enthusiastic for nullification, secession in 1851 and secession in 1861.

Leading Carolinians like John Caldwell Calhoun, Senator James Chesnut and the creepy, incestuous James Hammond all sneered at the Declaration of Independence. Sinha quotes one bravado warping Patrick Henry to declare “Give me Slavery or give me death.” Notwithstanding the views of some historians to the contrary, the South Carolinians criticized the North less for its oppression of wage laborers than for the possiblity that those laborers could vote themselves into power. They did not condemn Lincoln as an intolerant Protestant but as a dangerous socialist and feminist. Moreover, they were not slow to raise the Nativist card against the immigrants who were bolstering the North’s population.

Calhoun’s idea of a concurrent majority was not a thoughtful protection of minority rights, but a way to prevent one minority, his own, from ever being outvoted. Once the Confederacy was set up, the Southern elite dispensed with political parties. South Carolina also began to dispense with competitive elections, while its ruthless elite certainly did not act sentimentally (or even decently) towards opinions on slavery.

There have been many frauds and bullies in American political life: the Nixons, the Hoovers, the McCarthys, the Tillmans and the Bilbos. But much of their malignancy was purely personal, and they never threatened the core ideals of the republic. Calhoun was different, very different. Extremely intelligent, he was also utterly principled, and absolutely ruthless in carrying out that one principle. The problem was that the principle, despite all the complications of honor and paternalism, was slavery. More so than anyone else, Calhoun was the greatest enemy of liberty and freedom the United States ever had.


If you still don’t understand what’s at stake, perhaps you might glance at contemporary S. Carolina and US politics, inter alia. History is a child with progeria. 

“It isn’t that Americans view the past as irrelevant; it’s that they regard it as the stuff that dreams are made of, straw spun into gold, camera-ready for the preferred and more profitable markets in prime-time myth.

Why then argue for uses of history other than the ones that sponsor the election campaigns, blow the bubbles in Wall Street, underwrite the nation’s wars? The short answer is William Faulkner’s ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.'” (Lapham, Lewis. 2012. P. 28 in “Ignorance of Things Past,” Harper’s, May.)

Engels on Speculation and Political Formation in the US

Friedrich Engels (1892) on political-economic constraints, including speculation, on US political development:

“(W)holly different groups and interests are represented in each of the two big parties, depending on the locality, and almost each particular section of the possessing class has its representatives in each of the two parties to a very large degree, though today big industry forms the core of the Republicans on the whole, just as the big landowners of the South form that of the Democrats. The apparent haphazardness of this jumbling together is what provides the splendid soil for the corruption and the plundering of the government that flourish there so beautifully. Only when…settlement on the land becomes more and more difficult or falls prey to gouging — only then, I think, will the time come, with peaceful development, for a third party. Land is the basis of speculation, and the American speculative mania and speculative opportunity are the chief levers that hold the native-born worker in bondage to the bourgeoisie.

Only when there is a generation of native-born workers that cannot expect anything from speculation any more will we have a solid foothold in America. But, of course, who can count on peaceful development in America!”

Merci to Doug Henwood.

Robin : The Political Right

“What distinguishes the Right and the Left is your fundamental question about privilege and hierarchy…All the rest is commentary.” a) In response to an insurgent challenge, conservatives b) defend personal forms of rule, rule as domination, where you have higher beings governing lower beings.

See Karl Mannheim, “On Conservatism.” Conservatism is not the defense of hierarchies per se. It’s when a hierarchal regime gets challenged, conservative action intellectuals encounter a crisis of legitimation, and go back to reformulate a new defense of the ruling system of power.

Here’s Henwood’s interview of Robin , on the Right. Robin (See the link to his blog to the right.) demonstrates that the political Right is characterized by:

  • Its inherently reactionary nature
  • Its penchant for extremism and radicalism
  • Its affinity with violence
  • Its elitism (anti-democracy)
  • Its populism (masking the Right’s profoundly anti-democratic commitment, mobilizing shock troops in the street)
Right Populism: Social Movement Strategy

Anti-democracy and Right populism are fused in variants of this claim: Fealty to elite interests are the only real way that hoi poloi individuals can realize their interests. Trickle down TINA.

Robin : “The most successful form of right wing populism–and I trace this to the slaveholders in the United States, I think they pioneered this–You offer a significant mass constituency the opportunity to play the part of the little king. It happens in the family. It happens in the workplace.” In Adams’ Discourses on Davila he says (and Rousseau makes a similar claim) that “the way hierarchy works is, people are always willing to submit to someone above them, but on one very important condition: That they are able dominate someone below them. You can put up with all manner of inequalities just so long as you’re not the one on the bottom rung” (Robin 2011). Experimental economists call this the Last Place Aversion.

The slaveholders recognized that if they could give almost every white man access to at least one slave, then they would have a political base. Slavers knew you had to make slaveholding a vaguely mass project, or else you’re going to truncate your political base.

You can go to the Liberty Fund,  which publishes all works of the right, from the 16th century Burke onward, to study the works of conservative John Caldwell Calhoun (“The Marx of the Master Class”). Calhoun wrote the American conservative strategic vision: The local is the sphere where you cultivate the Little Kings.

The slaveholder logic has become our society’s anti-choice abortion politics (Every nonelite man and woman gets to be the little king of all women’s bodies and lives.), as well as employers’ absolute discretion over employees in workplace. In return, the patriarchal and small business bondservants support the despotic class and their high-inequality regime.

Loss Passion

In addition to the activation of Last Place Aversion, the Right appeals to non-elites because the Right is attendant to issues of loss–loss of forms of power. Robin concedes that loss is partly a tactical instrument for the Right. Forms of power come with their own cultures, morays and folkways. The loss of these specific cultures, morays and folkways are felt as pain to non-elites as well as elites.

Burke and Hobbes argued that hand-in-hand with the death of an inegalitarian order came the tragic death of beloved identity–beautiful culture, morays and folkways. It is worth looking back at the historical record and asking: Can the Left not also be attendant to loss in emancipatory reform and revolution? 


The Enlightenment created a theory of victimology. Rousseau (“The Homer of the Loser”) is recognized as the first victimology philosopher. (TBD)

People react angrily when you try to analyze the Right. (This begs analysis.)
Gourevitch responds:

“The point here is not that ideological superstructure is crassly bolted onto the base of self-interest but that it is just not serious to try to locate the substance, much less vitality, of conservatism, or any other ideology, in metaphysical disagreement alone. If anything, metaphysical views often get forged in the heat of real battles. It is only when certain philosophical premises are challenged in a serious, even dangerous way, that they must self-consciously defend themselves” (Alex Gourevitch).

Robin predicts the demise of the contemporary Right. There’s a reason there’s no ideas in the Right, they’re on autopilot, because the Right is a reaction, and there’s no effective, intellectual, insurgent Left. Today for example, the antidemocratic Supreme Court is operating overtime as a conservative last-resort enforcer, spewing out constitutional interpretations permitting capitalist class corporate political domination and limitless police powers, as well as forbidding welfare state institutions.

The Right can also get a certain amount of mileage from the afterglow of the Left. The global anti-union and austerity campaigns (often decried by liberals as irrational) can be seen as such reactionary ideological putsches in decline. I think they can be fruitfully viewed as basic capitalist primitive accumulation. Isn’t primitive accumulation–sacking, raping, pillaging–the baseline conservative state?

I think that what the Austrians (the White Emigres) did was to recognize the left-dependency problem of reactionary politics. The Austrians sold and engineered a Right culture in the Anglo world, which was fertile for such a culture, that is explicitly alive to the importance of maintaining Right ideological momentum (Desai 1994: 42).

How they do it is very opportunistic. They continuously manufacture a “left”–They use anyone outside materially-fundamental networks, from liberals to conservatives, as their “left” wing to passionately react against. This reactionary opportunism maintains momentum, builds hegemony, and pushes the Right ever rightward. But ultimately I do think that this strategy is political disequilibrium business; it can devolve into incoherency and crisis. It could produce a lefty coalition bloc, as seems to be the case now with OWS, that could reinvigorate the Left.