Mark Mazower and the crisis of democracy
Historian Mark Mazower writes in the Financial Times today that “those (in Europe) preaching austerity do not see themselves as contributing to a crisis of democracy, but they are” and that the “legitimacy of the democratic order itself” is threatened. This is a thoughtful piece but I think Mazower elevates form over substance a bit here by minimizing the fundamentally undemocratic nature of capitalism.
It should be self-evident that a society arranged like ours, in which a tiny fraction controls all significant levers of economic power and is able to decree, through the impersonal laws of orthodox money and consolidated oligopolistic “markets”, how and to what purpose the vast majority will live, cannot be congruent with democracy. That the actual formal institutions of democracy perpetuate this tyranny is prima facie proof they are not in fact truly democratic.
The compatibility of democracy with concentrated power has always been a source of great tension. Perhaps a temporary shaky truce was possible in older times when larger percentages at least had their own land to fall back on as a means of survival. Now, though, virtually everyone is a landless “employee”, a modern day serf, whose very survival is almost completely determined by the whims of higher forces.
Our “order” is not democracy; it’s capitalism – the unbridled tyrannical dominance of a tiny minority – hidden behind facades of formal democracy. The crisis, then, can’t be one of a democracy that doesn’t exist; it’s rather a crisis of democratic facades which quickly translates into a crisis of the broader “order” itself. The key question is what happens as the facades crumble – do we move toward real democracy or to the opposite extreme? We all hope for the former of course, but the author rightly lays out the darker option – a descent into an even more brutal tyranny.
(The achievements of the 1950s and 1960s) now look in danger of being undone. For it is not written in stone that Europe will always be identified in the minds of its citizens with growth and democracy. A different future may lie ahead in which Europe is identified instead with stagnation, unemployment, and tyranny.