5. An Undogmatic Dialectic View of History
Although there is no end of history in sight, but rather the end of the post-Cold-War Interregnum, one should not shy away from viewing history through the lens of dialectics, as many interesting insights are to be gained in this way.
In particular, the aspect of the negation of a negation deserves to be studied more. With every model comes the danger that one might attempt to force observations to fit the model; nevertheless it is worth looking at some developments of modernity under the ‘negation of a negation’ premise, or to put it more simply, how even the best and sometimes successful attempts can lead to very different results in the long-term, either by unwillingly paving the way for something else or by actively, yet unintentionally, producing its own negation.
The examples are endless. Each example below is primarily chosen to demonstrate the aspect of the negation of a negation, and not to prove that world history is an upwards tending curve.
5.1 The French Revolution1
As already mentioned, a very simple example can be found in the history of Liberalism itself, where the Absolutism of the French monarchy (thesis) found its negation in the liberal, bourgeois French Revolution (antithesis), which itself led to the rule of Napoleon, which was both Liberal and Absolutist (synthesis). By defunding France, partially to finance the land-owner revolution of the insurrectionist colonial low-tax Taliban2 and on the other side of the Atlantic, the French monarchy undermined itself monetarily and ideologically, thereby facilitating its own demise.
5.2 The German History in the 20th Century
Another showcase is found in the end of WWI, where the Western Allies, and here especially France, sought to weaken, democratize and humiliate Germany through the Treaty of Versailles,3 so that it would no longer be a threat. This attempt ended, supposedly successfully, in the unstable Weimar Republic (Thesis). This found its obvious negation in the Totalitarian system of National Socialism, which came close to dominating all of Europe and the World (Antithesis), leading in turn to a completely, and literally, ruined, defeated and occupied Germany, at the hands of both Liberal (Great Britain, France, US) and Communist (Soviet Union) powers.
Whereas today Germany is the most liberal, multicultural and highly economic nationalist nation in Europe (under the pretence of free trade, with a high trade surplus,4 at the cost of the rest of its European partners and on the back of its own working class through its possession of the greatest low-wage sector in the EU5), it is also politically the most dominant power on the continent (Synthesis) with a military that is in a pitiable state, and therefore a greater danger to its neighbours, than an armed one would be6 The new antithesis and then again the synthesis are already on their way, yet they are characteristically not definable yet. Will it be Muslim/Islamist, Anarcho-tyrannical or the product of some economic colony of a rising China? None can say.
However, just viewing the rise of National Socialism through the inner German lens leaves out the fact that much of its diplomatic and military success was due to the creation of the various small artificial Nation states between Germany and Soviet Russia.
While the newly created Weimar Republic7 was objectively weakened by inner turmoil and outer repression (the Treaty of Versailles, loss of territory, occupation of the Rhinelands, on-going military conflicts in the east, attempted coups d’etat etc.) it was relatively strengthened in comparison to the newly created states to its east. This was pointed out by none other than Winston Churchill and can be proven by the cascade in which the Eastern Eastern European countries,8 often the left-overs of Austria-Hungary, fell under German control.
One could argue that President Wilson’s ‘city on a hill’9 idealism with the goal of democratic self-determination of nations10 (Thesis) paved the way of the National Socialist expansion into Eastern Europe, succeeded by the Soviet one (Antithesis) as none of those newly formed states (German Austria, Chzechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, the Baltics) was itself resilient enough to withstand what was coming from east or west.
Furthermore the destruction of both empires Wilhelmian Germany and Austria-Hungary paved the way for a petty ethnic nationalism (Antithesis to Wilson’s ideals) with the fight over territorial belonging11 between peoples who before this had lived for hundreds of years together in relative peace, fights which brought nothing but pain to both the German peoples and their former non-Germanic co-subjects.
It is today, in the shadow of the post-WWI past, largely forgotten that the Germans and (e.g.) the Poles were decidedly closer in the state of Prussia (although often not equal in practice) than they are today. This can be proven by the fact that in those territories where votes were held, based on birthright, as to whether these regions should be long to Germany and the Prussian state (its important in retrospect to distinguish here from an Identitarian perspective) or to the newly formed Poland, the population that was born there and for economic reasons had migrated for instance into the Rhinelands, returned to the East of Prussia to cast their vote for Germany12, 13, independently of personal ethnic and religious heritage.
The same goes for other minorities that had long lived there, and proud loyal Prussians long before other German territories fell to the Hohenzollern dynasty like Protestant Masurs14 (ethnically and linguistically Slavic) or the Jewish population, allowing the emancipation, assimilation and rise of such formidable men like the businessman and Nationalist politician Walther Rathenau15 to the highest offices, despite the of course existing anti-Semitism. Due to his administrative efforts, Germany, historically short on resources and manpower in comparison to its enemies east and west, was able to maintain the war economy, until it reached the point of total exhaustion. Seeing the immanent complete breakdown of the German Reich in 1918, Rathenau later supported, though with gritted teeth, the treaty of Versailles to prevent worse from arising (e.g. the occupation of the Reich and its refracturing). After a highly anti-Semitic campaign, he was murdered in 1922.
Much of his administrative framework, meaning the incorporation and submission of private business into a centrally administrated economy while maintaining the profit motive in it, incentivised striving for efficiency, was later revived under Albert Speer in WWII, without of course paying tribute to Walther Rathenau. Despite Western Allied airborne bombing campaigns and military failure on land, German industrial output would reach its maximum in 1944,16 differently from during WWI, sadly, on account of the incorporation of forcefully recruited slave work and the exploitation of occupied lands.
However the split that occurred between the Germans and the Polish at the end of the first World War did not occur out of nothing, but had its roots in the nineteenth century as a tragic by-product of the Kulturkampf17 (the goal being the subjection of the Catholic Church under the German state and its breaking as a political force) between Protestant Otto von Bismark and the Catholic Church, which included measures like the prohibition of political preaching, state oversight of Catholic schools, introduction of civil marriage etc. Much of this was perceived in the Polish site as an attack on Polish identity, which is Catholic at its core, in the now more and more ethnically defined German Empire. As can be seen once again today, and also during the Cold War, the role of the Catholic Church for Polish culture cannot be underestimated; this Kulturkampf thus led to the increasing alienation of the Polish population.
In a way, the old Prussian (very imperial Roman) synthesis, with its ethos of service to state and monarch, its Prussian virtues18 like order, cleanliness and (often physically brutally enforced) discipline, and its religious and cultural tolerance were lost and slowly degenerated into a narrow-minded ethnic German Nationalism beginning with Wilhelm II and culminating later on.19
The closest thing today for better understanding of this old Roman/Prussian synthesis can be found in the French Foreign Legion.20
The wounds that were torn between the German-speaking ethnicities and their non-German co-subjects at the end of WWI have only superficially healed today, since they were deepened in WWII and its aftermath until late into the 1990s. However, they reopen easily, as when the Polish feel threatened in their sovereignty and are reminded of their historically bad treatment by Germany and Russia through things like Northstream II, a pipeline through the Baltic Sea from Kaliningrad to Germany without the participation or inclusion of Poland.21
While Germany and its Western Slavic neighbours could to some degree heal themselves, each one separated in their own states after the ethnic cleansing of the Germans from Poland, Chzechoslovakia and the Baltics, this was decidedly not the case for the Austrians and their former co-subjects, with the Slovenian22 minority in Austrian Carinthia and the Austrian minority in Southern Tyrole23 in Northern Italy, where both of these conflicts turned very violent more than once.
Especially noteworthy here is the negative example of Jörg Haider,24 who with some virtuosity played the flute of anti-Slavic, anti-Slovenian sentiment in return for cheap electoral gains by playing on the fear and trauma (SHS state occupation of Carenthia after WWI, Partisan action during WWII, abduction and killing of civilians after WWII by Tito’s partisans) of the German-speaking population, e.g. in the struggle over bilingual village and city name plates,25 rather than trying to reconcile both ethnicities.
On a personal note, the author is extremely afraid, with the call for the re-introduction of national border controls in the face of the migrant crisis of recent years and the on-going Corona crisis and with all the (varyingly) just critiques of the present-day EU, if not calls for its abandonment, that many of these superficially resolved conflicts (Catalonia, Southern Tyrol, Carinthia, Northern Ireland, Hungarian minority in Romania, Russian minority in the Baltic states etc.) will re-emerge and hurt both the people living there and Europe as a whole. Especially worrying are Northern Ireland and Brexit. It is to be hoped that the IRA, whatever splinter group, and the militant Loyalist militias won’t return. The Balkans are more than a warning written on the wall, considering the suffering and the crimes committed on all sides. Presently, the greatest danger is found in the ongoing conflict over Crimea and the Donbass region, where the conflict is costing lives; this conflict has implications which are as much of a local ethnic as of a geopolitical character, and it is far from being solved.26 To some degree and in the face of a new refugee crisis it feels like a Greek tragedy: whatever one does, one does wrong.
5.3 Liberalism and Islamism
Another more recent example is the history of Liberalism from the last years of the Cold War up to today. The post-WWII need for oil by the Western capitalist economic systems (thesis) is widely known and painfully felt whenever the oil price rises, with the prime example being the oil crisis of the 1970s.27
This oil was mostly bought from the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia, which gave the governments of these regions practically unlimited funding and protection by the Western World, with the prime example being US military presence28 near the holy places of Islam in Saudi Arabia, something that is easily understandable as a humiliation for the average devout Muslim, not to speak of the other historical activities of Western Liberal Christian nations in the region, primarily France and Britain (the destruction of the Ottoman empire,29 the betrayal of the Arab rebels through the Sykes-Picot agreement,30 the foundation of the state of Israel,31 etc.).
The ruling dynasty of Saudi Arabia, which is publicly and in its political praxis adhering to the teachings of Wahabism,32 a radical string of Sunni Islam not dissimiliar to the seventeenth-century worldview of Puritanism, is using this money to fund its missionary activities to spread this form of Islamist teachings to Muslim countries33 and in the West and around the world where these teachings in part radicalize small parts of the (Western) Youth34 as well as some of their fellow migrant believers (anthithesis).
In some ways this is reminiscent of National Socialist Germany. A humiliated nation, culture etc. has according to Toynbee two alternatives: zelotry or adaptation. Germany after two lost World Wars decided to become totally Western after a failed bout of Zelotry with a Nationalist Biologism enriched by Wagnarian fantasies, namely National Socialism, and those parts of the Muslim world frustrated with Western domination choose a literal understanding of Islam and the Sharia outside of any historical context as the antithesis to Western Liberalism, instead of e.g. the joyful dancing of the Sufis.
But the United States of America even more explicitly fathered the demon of radical violent Islam with its financial and military support of the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan,35 with the prime example being a certain Osama bin Laden,36 trained and armed by the CIA. By flying weapons and radical Sunni Jihadists from around the world into Afghanistan, they managed to stop the expansion of Soviet Communism in Afghanistan and accelerated the downfall of the Soviet Union.
Yet by basically creating the Taliban and Al-Qaeda they obviously produced the clear negation of anything Liberal, a negation with Islamist characteristics (antithesis). The parallels to Germany at the end of WWI and its support of a certain Vladimir Lenin37 leap out at us, where the Russian October Revolution was a role model for various Communist uprisings,38 accelerating the fall of the Wilhelmian Germany, during the Great War.
Here the eternal words of Goethe’s wizard’s pupil come to mind: ‘the ghosts for which I called, I can’t get rid of them’.39
The same goes for the Neocon attempts to spread Western democracy (the Invasion of Iraq, the support of the Arab Spring, the bombing of Ghaddafi’s Lybia etc.), where whenever a more or less secular strongmen was toppled, the power vacuum after a period of chaos was or will be filled by Islamists e.g. the rise and fall of ISIS.
It could be argued that both Western liberalism (thesis), which or helped to strengthen if it did not father the threat of violent Islamism (antithesis), lead to the synthesis of the illiberal anti-terror measurements from Guantanamo,40 the drone programme,41 and the Patriot Act all the way up to the all-seeing NSA42 to respond to the terror threat, while supposedly maintaining freedom on the individual level (synthesis). The amount of already existing, or in the future to be implemented control by the combination of psychology and the already accumulating data are incomprehensible. The social credit system43 even now in China implemented is here, in warning and in blueprint. The calls for apps to track people and their contacts in the face of the Corona crisis, to monitor potential infections, is not more than the writing on the wall – and who seriously would believe that once introduced it would ever be abolished again? If all the traces people have already left on the Internet, from social media, GPS moving patterns, browser history, even credit card bills were used to automatically persecute any crime, from tax evasion to copyright infringement, how free would the Western peoples still truly feel?
5.5 Western (Neo-)Liberalism and China
Another case to which this model of the negation of a negation could be applied is the rise of the China, where the need of the Liberal consumerist West for cheap consumer goods and even cheaper labour, just as the need for Arab oil (thesis), fathered the present incomprehensible economic growth of China since the end of the Cold War, with the export of factories, jobs and technologies.
And while China superficially overtook parts of the Western Capitalist production system44 and thereby became the next economic superpower to surpass the US, it is now able to rule the world and take over the position that all the empires (British empire, French Empire,US and Soviet Union) occupied before it. The West has produced its own negation (antithesis).
To put it simply: Just as smartphones made China great again, so did Neoliberalism with Communism.
In a way, China today is the synthesis of its Sino-Communist, Maoist history (politically, thesis)45 and the Western capitalist system (antithesis). Also, if one goes back to Marxist theory, the Chinese approach is in a way closer to Marx himself, since it was his belief that communism has to be preceded by capitalism, which is necessary for industrialisation,46 whereas in the Soviet Union this step of dialectical evolution was left out, and one jumped directly from an agrarian fuedalist society to the Communist one.
If we are to measure the amount of geopolitical power the Chinese state has already accumulated, a simple comparison is more than telling.
While the Muslim world, and the Arab nations in particular together with Iran, seem eager to express their discontent with the state of Israel and its behaviour towards the Palestinian population at the UN with a regularity only matched by that of the Friday prayers or the Muezzin call,47 the Umma is rather silent on the treatment of their fellow believers, namely the Uygurs in China,48 which is decidedly worse, since these are actively interned and forcibly de-Islamised.
Despite all the daily injustices, the institutional discrimination and the illegal settlements in the West Bank, the religious freedom of the of the Muslim Palestinians is the least infringed upon, with the state of Israel even closing down access to the Wailing Wall for Jews and tourists to ensure a peaceful celebration of the Islamic sacrifice festival.49
Former member of the German soccer team Mesul Özil50 and close friend to President of Turkey Erdogan is not wrong in calling this out.
Again, the EU by comparison51 at least condemned the internment and and re-education with the goal of de-Islamisation of this national minority in concentration camps.
The author would argue that the will to self-revisionism and economic pragmatism, both lacking in the Soviet sphere of influence for decades, best shown by the military intervention against the tame reformatory attempts of the Prague Spring52 as well as its internal stagnation, gave the Communist order of China the chance to survive, whereas Gorbachev’s reformatory attempts were too small and too late. If they had succeeded a decade earlier is another question.
China has learned the lesson from its failed predecessors, as all of these empires, including the US, believed it would be able to rule the world militarily, and exhausted themselves in this process, last but not least financially (thesis). China, by contrast, is today conquering the world peacefully, through economics53 (antithesis). Sometimes the author wonders if the US and its NATO allies have really won the Cold War, or if they have not just been left over for three decades, like a boxer who wins by the shear grace of going down only a few seconds after his opponent has been counted out KO.
While the US is eager to repeat the Soviet mistake – which is to say, the combination of an over-bearing military-industrial complex54 combined with a failing and self-disproving economic theory, namely Neo-Liberalism55 – the Chinese only have to wait to fill the vacuum the US will leave after finally imploding. Right now, in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis, with the financial markets collapsing and unemployment rates rising, the greatest long-term threat is that Western companies and their technologies are sold to Chinese interests.
The best way for a man to be disproven is if he makes predictions; but still one wonders whether, where today sea carriers of Chinese manufactured consumer goods are resting and re-fueling in Chinese-funded harbours around the world,56, 57 perhaps tomorrow Chinese aircraft carriers might be floating. Or will the economic expansion be followed by a demographic one? The explosion of the Coronavirus in Northern Italy due to the relatively high number of Chinese workers returning there after celebrating the new year in China could be an early indicator.58
Was the outbreak any personal fault of a Chinese worker who wanted to see his relatives? No.
Is the caravan of death in Northern Italy59, 60 the consequence of the free flow of goods, people and services around the world without the firewalls of national and civilizational borders, combined with a defunded health care system due to the politics of financial austerity,61 a historically unstable political system since the WWII62 and a demographically over aged population?63 Yes.
With all the anti-(Neo-)Liberal sentiments however, at least the US is ‘the devil one knows’, and so its political periphery Europe shouldn’t cheer to much for its decline, but remind itself of the destiny of the Soviet Union and its periphery, where the failure of an ideology and the downfall of its empire had very real negative consequences from the personal to geopolitical level, since nobody knows what will follow next.
5.6 (Neo-)Liberalism Revoking Itself
Before criticizing Neoliberialism and demonstrating how it revokes both itself and the ideals it claims to be built upon, it is necessary to define it.
There is a tendency on both the Left and the Right to declare everything one does not like coming out of the capitalist way of organizing the economy ‘Neoliberal’. This is as un-intellectual as when from Liberal or Leftist sides (each having many shades of grey themselves) any Conservative or Right-wing position is automatically declared ‘Nazi’, ‘Fascist’ etc., or when from the Conservative/Right-wing side every cultural development one does not like is declared ‘Cultural-Marxist’ – leaving the author to wonder how many of those using this term on Twitter or in a Youtube commentary section, would be able to name three of the main protagonists of the Frankfurt School of thought,64 let alone how many had actually read them.
The same goes for the term ‘Liberal’: one is too often left in the dark as to which Liberalism is now meant in particular? That of Hume, Hobbes or Hayek?
Summarizing an ideology always means mutilating it, but nevertheless the (Neo-)Liberal tale65 is commonly presented as an amalgam formed out of the work of its main thinkers (von Mises,66 Hayek67 and Friedman68):
It starts from an individualist and anti-state position, which mainly claims that the involvement of the state in the economy is a threat to private individual freedom, as the state has a tendency to expand this involvement to buy votes or to satisfy the demands of the population – a development which ends in ‘socialism’ or dictatorship.
Therefore, the more Capitalism is unrestrained by governmental involvement, the more free the individual is. It is important to understand that this claim declares the market, understood as an organisational mechanism, not just empirically superior to any other way of organising the economy, as e.g. Adam Smith does in Classical Liberalism, but it also declares the market, meaning the unrestrained flow of goods, services, capital and people(s), a moral value in itself, whether it empirically works or not. This means in political praxis that lowering taxes is a moral goal in itself, as much as regulation in any form is per se a moral evil, as it puts elected governments automatically under the suspicion of being corrupt mechanisms of the state, intended to infringe on the individual property rights of the individual in the name of the masses.
To underpin this narrative, dialectics again comes to play. Neoliberalism sold itself as the greatest antithesis to both Communism and National Socialism alike.
By thinking one-dimensionally along the lines of the individual at the one end and the collective (meaning the state) on the other, it thereby managed to sell itself as ‘conservative’.
Polemically speaking, everyone demanding higher taxes, more oversight and regulation on the financial sector or a simple expansion of any social service or welfare program is basically a small Hitler or Stalin, or at least paving the way for one.
Within this logic, the state is reduced to the night watchman state, which means nothing else but that its only tasks are policing, the judicial system and the military. Every other aspect, every social service is to be shrunk and abolished in the long-term, from public education, infrastructure and health-care all the way up to worker’s safety laws.
All of these cutbacks, as painful as they may be, are justified on the one hand by the claim that people are thereby relieved from their serfdom to the state, and on the other hand that all of this will lead to a much higher level of prosperity. This prosperity is to be expected as individuals (must) put their resources to more efficient, more productive use, increasing the profit they make and re-investing it and repeating the whole process again, leading to an even higher level of prosperity. If these resources are put to inefficient use, this behaviour gets punished by the market, which leads to a more efficient use of resources in the long run. Within this logic, increasing profit is not just a possibility for the free individual. It is a moral obligation for the common good.
This ideology managed to hijack almost the entire political spectrum beginning with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and later in the 2000s parts of the old Left (e.g. Tony Blair, Labour, with his Third Way, or Gerhard Schroeder, SPD, with Agenda 2010).
This development can best be seen in the programmatic development of the German classical liberal party FDP to a (Neo-)Liberal one. Up until the 1970s69 it promoted, among other things, the active prevention of monopolies, a property tax and an inheritance tax, less in the name of redistribution of wealth than to prevent too great an accumulation of wealth, which would imply the threat of the submission of the state to personal economic interests, thereby paving the road for also the subjection of the individual under the economic interests of these individuals.
This ideology is the purposeful disarmament of the state in terms of addressing internal problems, thereby abolishing not just its inner functionalities but also the classical liberal ideal of individual freedom itself in living reality. If the only tool one has left is a hammer (police and military), then every problem becomes a nail (imprisonment within the state, military interventionism abroad).
(Neo-)Liberalism is in a way thereby producing its own antithesis. It is no coincidence that the US has a prison population70, 71 relative to its total population comparable to level of North Korea,72 and to some degree comparable to that of the height of the Stalinist gulag system,73 admittedly with better judicial and nutritional conditions. To understand how the ‘land of the free and home of the brave’ turned into the home of the forcibly publicly housed it is worth comparing US economic policies after the Second World War in comparison to its judicial and internal security policies. It cannot escape notice how, parallel to Reaganomics,74 the drug war75 and other ‘tough on crime policies’76 were escalated, thereby expanding the US prison population, in a system which shows little rehabilitating success within the now often privately owned and administrated prisons,77 but not just there.
This should come to no surprise, since these companies are primarily driven by the profit motive or if state-run by the necessity to keep costs down for the tax payer, which means that they would undermine their own source of income by reducing the US prison population, whether by rehabilitating their inmates into productive tax-paying citizens (who might then not return to prison) or by introducing costly programs to achieve this goal.
Basically by accelerating the centrifugal forces of Capitalism (Reaganomics, NAFTA, free-trade agreements, deregulations of various kinds) and withdrawal on most fields (education, health care, investment in and maintenance of infrastructure) on the one hand (Thesis) and a tough-on-crime approach on the other, which is nothing other than the expansion of governmental power (which is utterly opposed when it comes to property rights), on the other, filling the void left on other fields, (Antithesis) one has created an illiberal Neo-Liberalism (Synthesis).
We can see the same pattern over and over again.
Consider, for instance, the opioid crisis,78 which was not produced by some evil Mexican drug cartels79 but by mainly legally acting pharma producers,80 who pushed a certain drug named in accord with the main ingredient Oxycodone81 (with its structure and its effects comparable to pure heroine) onto doctors and patients alike, turning doctors willingly or unknowingly into nothing but pushers.
Or take public advertisement.82 The US is the only Western country that allows the advertisement of prescription drugs on TV, thereby creating the demand for e.g. sleeping pills like Z-drugs, that are highly addictive and can cause an overdose by slowing the nervous system down to such83 an extent that one stops breathing.
All this was happening under the pretence of free speech and and free markets. One of the sales tactics was sending former strippers as pharma sales representatives to doctors’ offices – presumably for their high qualifications.84
There is clearly a place for strong opioid painkillers and other pharmaceuticals, and the author would be among the last to want any patient to live in pain, e.g. in the case of cancer or after a big surgery. But what was happening there had nothing to do with that, and many doctors, acting as pill mills and and pharma producers, knew this.
After they had gotten hooked, some of the addicts turned to illegal sources and methods to feed their habit, often now distributed by Mexican or Chinese drug cartels.85
What furthermore comes to play here is the failure of a dysfunctional state. The lack of oversight in terms of the US federal and state government, the lack of regulation to protect the individual patient trusting his doctor, and the lack of mental-healthcare facilities to address the issue of addiction – all measures of course costing taxpayer money – have contributed to a higher level of crime and imprisonment of poor and middle class US citizens across all racial and religious boundaries.
Are those individuals, be they addicted, criminal, imprisoned or all combined, today more free than they would have been under the Eisenhower or Kennedy Administration?
How the drug issue relates to the prison issue needs no further explanation, and how unstable economic conditions take their toll on mental health, rendering people still more vulnerable to addiction.
One can accuse the Old Marxism in its various forms as well as Neo-Marxism and the Frankfurt School of many things, but the 1980s with the triumph of Neoliberalism is not their crime. Here, the whole political spectrum from Centre to Right has some self-reflection to do as most of them, numerically speaking, have fallen into the Neoliberal trap.
The same logic arises over and over for the withdrawal of the state from essential fields, causing bigger problems and costs than its initial involvement.
Another example might be infrastructure. Which reasonably lead company would invest in Flint Michigan with its water crisis caused by its pipe system?86
But Neoliberalism even fails to uphold its most cherished idea, namely that of property rights and the non-involvement of the state in the economy itself, just like Marxism has over and over again failed to uphold its ideal of all people being equal.
From the financial crisis of 2007-2008 down to the present day Corona crisis, the government is the enemy until one needs a friend. Be it in the bailouts of the banks87 in 2007-2008 or the rescue packages now being stitched up,88 suddenly the ideology of non-involvement of the government in the economy go out the window, as soon as profit interests of big banks and big business are under threat, and the tax payer is asked to save the institutions to save himself from unemployment.
Neoliberalism in political praxis means nothing other than the privatisation of profits and the socialisation of losses. It means governmental inaction to start, and, once the situation produced by this inaction becomes unbearable, it becomes necessary to put exponentially more effort into preventing the worst.
Would the financial crisis of 2007-2008 have escalated that much if the sector hadn’t been deregulated for centuries?
One is left to wonder if the Corona crisis would have escalated, if the US healthcare system had not been defunded and privatised for centuries,89 if the Trump administration hadn’t cut funds to the CDC90, 91, or if in Austria the state government of Tyrol would have acted more decisively against the outbreak in Ischgl, from where it spread over all of Europe, instead of putting the interests of the local Tourism industry first?92 However, with all individual shortcomings by people in governmental positions, one cannot separate these people and their behaviour from the present-day ideology that has indoctrinated the political landscape for centuries.
That would be the same error as if someone were to claim that the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl93 had nothing to do with Communism and the Soviet state, its red-tapeism and secrecy.
The economic costs are now decidedly higher, caused by healthcare costs, public lockdowns and all other measures to flatten the curve of infection. Is there anything liberal about the forced closure of shops, public life and the curfews to prevent more infections? No.
Has it become necessary due to the initial inaction and the fear of negative economic effects? Yes.
It feels like a parody of what Ernst Jünger94 called ‘total mobilization’ in his Magnum Opus The Worker,95 for which he received praise from both ends of the Weimar political spectrum. But instead of a total mobilization, a total ‘Immobilization’ is presently taking place, where the most heroic thing that anyone can do is staying at home on the couch, watching one’s preferred streaming provider – with the exception of medical personnel, who often lack the basic supplies to protect themselves against the invisible, risking their own lives and some of them paying the ultimate price. They are the unsung heroes of the present day, just like the Liquidators of Chernobyl. The heroism of these health care works and other essential staff truly deserves more recognition, especially if one knows how the US truly treat their heroes,96 behind all the red-white-and-blue flag waving patriotism it is truly heartbreaking to see how many veterans fall through the cracks after returning home or even more how the 9/11 first responders had to go over and over with their hats in their hands to the US congress begging for financial support due their health care costs caused by the dust of the collapsed twin towers. One can only aspire to the ideal set by the late detective Luis Alvarez97 who visibly only days away from his own death by cancer testified to congress to hold the accountable for not prolonging the 9/11 victims fund, when it, medically speaking, didn’t concern him no more.
What can a simple nurse expect if the presently unknown longterm effects of Corona come to play in five, in ten years?
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Maybe it is time to lay former actor and President Reagan to rest and to dig up the heritage of General and President Eisenhower, who understood that the truth lay neither with Marx nor Mises, neither with an all-controlling State nor the laissez faire of the last centuries, and also not just in between in form of the welfare state for individuals and subsidies for companies, but rather with a reasonable engagement with economic world and a holistic view of state and society.
If one looks at the US alone, where capitalism clearly had its best period after WWII up to the 1970s, one wonders if the combination of Capitalism with the following exemplary measures, rather than any kind of hands-off approach, created so prosperous a working and middle class, and thereby one indifferent to any ideological adventure:
- A tightly regulated financial industry (e.g. Conference of Bretton Woods,98 Glass-Steagall Act,99 the gold standard100);
- The GI Bill;101
- A highly unionized industrial working force instead of union-busting policies;102
- A tightly regulated immigration policy;103
- A willingness to invest in civil infrastructure, e.g. the creation of US highway system;104
- A willingness to invest in science and technology, e.g. the space programme and the moon landing;105
- A well-funded education system worthy of the name with well-paid teachers;106
- A marginal tax rate of ca. 90 % under Eisenhower,107 last but not least to balance the budget;
- A relatively high minimum wage;108
- A balanced federal budget.109
Some of these points would be clearly declared Left-wing in the present-day political spectrum, as much as others would be considered Right-wing. But do these attributes really matter ? Or do they not condition each other to be fruitful policies ?
The aforementioned policies are not to be misunderstood as a simple call for their reimplementation, since they cannot be understood out of their cultural, historical and technological context. They rather demonstrate that Capitalism was not at its height when it was freest, when the beast was unleashed, but rather when the government was still willing to act as one. They were chosen to demonstrate how a government, by acting from the get-go, can ensure freedom and prosperity instead of later on having to compensate for its inaction.
There is a certain bittersweet beauty in Dialectics: things will never stay as they are, but nothing one has achieved will do so, either. Everything will inadvertently produce its own negation. Maybe the challenge lies in the very question of how, and by whom, the challenge itself is met to shape the characteristics of each new age.
Who will it be, if not us?