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Yugo into History ( July 17th, 1991 ~ The Pittsburgh Post - Gazette)

In his interesting piece, “Misreading Yugoslavia” (July 8), Dejan Kovacevic, emphasizes the ethnic roots of the Yugoslav crisis but seems oblivious to huge ideological differences between the Yugoslav republics. Communist-dominated Serbia and Montenegro are the two republics that are least interested in large-scale market reforms for fear of losing control over the federal bureaucracy and army. Although the records of Slovenia and Croatia are far from perfect, these republics have made bold steps in the direction of market reforms and safeguarding the rights of their minorities. Kovacevic’s allegations that 700,000 ethnic Serbs were killed by Fascist Croats during World War II are reminiscent of the decades-old Yugoslav propaganda whose purpose was to discredit Croatia’s claims for an independent homeland. World War II in Yugoslavia was a messy affair, involving a dozen different factionsm each with an impressive record of butchery. Of course, with the dissolution of communism, some of these exaggerated war casualties are bound to come under close scrutiny. In the long run, neither side in Yugoslavia will benefit from manipulating their war dead. Kovacevic should have also looked at the record of 45 years of Communist Yugoslavia in which Serbs played a dominant role in the secret police, federal bureaucracy and the army. Although Serbs make up 37 percent of the Yugoslav population, 76 percent of Yugoslav army officers are of Serbian origin. In independent-minded Croatia, at least until last year, Serbs made up a staggering 67 percent of the police force. Lastly, it is unwarranted to blame Croatia or Slovenia for the breakup of Yugoslavia, as some recent news reports have suggested. Ironically, the most expedient destroyers of Yugoslavia have been the Serbian leadership, under Slobodan Milosevic, and the federal army – both of which have had a hard time adjusting to changes in Eastern Europe. As long as the threat of the federal army looms large on the Yugoslav horizon, any meaningful dialogue between the Yugoslav republics is doomed to fail.

Huntingdon, Pa.

Editor’s note: The writer is an assistant professor of political science at Juniata College. Tomislav Sunic, Yugoslavia, is an assistant professor of government who teaches European politics, the politics of the Soviet Union, and theories of international politics at Juniata College. He is a graduate of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Zagreb, Yugoslavia. His book, Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right, was published in 1990.

Yugoslavia: The End of Communism, The Return of Nationalism (20 April 1991 ~ America National Catholic weekly)

The end of communism in Yugoslavia has brought the return of nationalism and a host of new problems steeped in ethnic roots, said Tomislav Sunic, a Croatian who now teaches in Juniata College.

As a result, he believes, “representative democracy…as attractive and functional a model as it may be in the relatively homogeneous societies of the West, has, in the fractured Yugoslavian state, little chance of success.” The issues of uneven territorial, linguistic, and demographic distribution will continue to hinder the chances of implementing such a democracy. “The only democracy that can possibly function in Yugoslavia is one that first takes root within the ethnic confines of each of its constituent peoples,” Sunic stated. He also believes that “liberalism and a free market system in Yugoslavia will intensify ethnic resentments and lead to more instability. “The independent-minded Slovenes, Croats, and Albanians reminds us that political theologies come and go, but ethnic identities have an extraordinary long life,” he observed. Moreover, he feels Yugoslavia’s multi-ethnic turmoil, pitting Catholic Slovenes and Croats against Christian Orthodox Serbs, could once again sweep Europe into another cycle of dangerous uncertainty. “If there is something that binds the Yugoslav people together, it is the bonding of mutual hate,” he said. He recalled that the first cracks in the Yugoslav structure appeared last year when, in free elections Croats and Slovenes ousted the local communist governments from power and replaced them with central-rightist parties. In contrast, Serbia voted overwhelmingly last December for communism and a hard-line leader, Slobodan Milosevic. The result, he said, was that “Yugoslavia effectively ceased to exist and in its place, ‘Serboslavia’ was born. As to the future, Sunic stated that Serbian actions, meant initially as an attempt to preserve Yugoslavia at all, are ironically speeding up the disintegration of the country. He said: “The survival of Yugoslavia no longer depends on how to bring Slovenia and Croatia back to the Yugoslavian fold but on how to change Serbia’s own mindless policy of ethnic exclusion that may soon result in war of all against all.” Already, he believes, the simmering anti-trust between the Serbs and Croats reached its culminating point. The tensions may foretell of civil war. Sunic said Yugoslavia is no longer just ethnically fragmented beyond repair, but is also ideologically and religiously polarized to the breaking point.

Will Yugoslavia collapse? Will it survive? No one is sure, but some feel it is possible that a confederate state with only a semblance of central government may emerge. Sunic’s assessment is that “a break-up is already looming on the horizon.” He adds, “This may, after all, be not such a bad idea, for unlike in previous epochs, the Balkans have ceased to be an athletic field for foreign powers bent on pitting one ethnic group against another.” Western illusion that peace and stability will come to a hybrid state such as Yugoslavia “have floundered again on the reality of irreconcilable ethnic aspirations,” he observed. In short, while communism has receded, ethnic issues have surfaced in its place. Before democracy can arrive, the ethnic issues need to be resolved.

Tomislav Sunic, Croatia, is an assistant professor of government who teaches European politics, the politics of the Soviet Union, and theories of international politics at Juniata College. He is a graduate of the School of Humanities at the University of Zagreb, Yugoslavia. His book, Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right, was published in 1990.

Yugoslavia’s Ethnic Troubles (The World and I ~ August 1987)

To the Editor:

I read rather belatedly the delightful article by the Yugoslav expatriate Mihajlov [September 1986,] in which he successfully exposes the myth of Titoist Yugoslavia as a form of political charade. He is right in observing that it is now Yugoslavia’s turn to face increasing economic chaos and the complete erosion of federal authority. I would like, however, to point to some details that Mihajlov did not fully elucidate, and that may lead some uninformed readers to the conclusion that problems in Yugoslavia are exclusively due to communist mismanagement of the country’s economy. Equally important causes of Yugoslav problems lie in the intricacies of the Yugoslav multiethnic system. The lack in international consensus is by and large the main factor in political and economic instability in communist Yugoslavia, the factor that was also decisive for the failure of prewar non-communist Yugoslavia. It would therefore be wrong to assume that some Western-imported quick fix of liberalism and democracy could bring the everlasting remedy to a country still searching for its national legitimacy. Even in a highly democratic Yugoslavia, such as Mihajlov and probably many other scholars envision, the ethnic tensions, particularly those between the Serbs and Croatians, would simply not go away. Interethnic resentment in Yugoslavia must be understood as a predictable outcome of circumstances surrounding the creation of the Yugoslav state, which to this date, for many Yugoslavs, remains an artificial geographic entity. Ever since its inception at Versailles in 1919, Yugoslavia has been more in line with the panslavist ideas of nineteenth-century politicians than with the hard-core reality of the nationalist twentieth century. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, that the opponents of panslavism and its offshoot “Yugoslavianism” have traditionally been Slavs themselves! It is a sad but also instructive reality that Poles, Ukrainians, Slovaks, and Croatians often perceive their Slavic Russian, Czech and Serbian neighbors as a far greater threat than their non-Slavic neighbors. In many aspects Yugoslavia is the ideological and legal replica of the Soviet Union, with one major exception: Yugoslavia is eighty times smaller in size, and when ethnic ferment emerges within one constituent republic, its signals are rapidly sent to its neighbors. There is hardly any possibility of geographically accommodating one ethnic group in Yugoslavia without automatically raising the fears of others. This is particularly the case when unexpected demographic changes, such as those in the Serbian southern province of Kosovo, occur. Even before the Second World War, the ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia were in the majority. Today their tremendous growth has given them a complete numerical edge over the Serbian population in Kosovo, whose longstanding claims to an “historic” Kosovo of Serbian “ethnic purity” appear increasingly unrealistic. One could probably argue that demographically, for the traditionally oppressed ethnic Albanians, is the continuation of politics by other means. Despite the overwhelming majority of ethnic Albanians, the police in Kosovo, just like anywhere else in Yugoslavia, are staffed predominantly with Serbian nationals, especially at command levels – a fact that only fuels the already existing anti-Serbian resentment in Yugoslavia. But the Albanian question is only the tip of the Yugoslavian iceberg. Ironically, at the time when Belgrade party communiqués, along with the pronouncements of many prominent Serbian intellectuals, pathetically deplore the exodus of Serbs from Serbian Kosovo, the same party communiqués and pronouncements pass over in silence the decade-long Croatian exodus from Bosnia and Herzegovina – the region to which Croatians lay ethnic and historic claims. And while the Serbian exodus often ends up in the historic parts of Croatian Bosnia and Herzegovina, or at “worst” in central Serbia, the Croatian exodus ends up in emigration overseas. Hundreds of thousands of Croatians scattered from Seattle to Sydney could certainly write, whether right or wrong, a long litany of their “historic” grievances. To many Western observers, who are often unable to grasp the meaning of nationalism in Eastern Europe, the interethnic tension in Yugoslavia appears negligible, or on the wane. Such a Western attitude is excusable given the totalitarian nature of the Yugoslav system, which forces its citizens to self-surveillance and utmost caution in discussing national issues with foreigners. Everybody wants democracy in Yugoslavia, and I have no doubt Mihajlov and other scholars do too. But democracy is not a perishable commodity to be sold to Yugoslavs as a short term loan, or wrought by inducing the party potentates to a miraculous shift in their behavior. Democratization of Yugoslavia implies first and foremost a thorough assessment of the very concept of Yugoslavia. Is Yugoslavia a viable reality for the twenty-first century? How will this third “democratic” Yugoslavia match the aspirations of its constituent nations? Last but not least, what role will Yugoslavia play in a crisis situation, and will that role be beneficial to the NATO powers? As long as democratic forces in Yugoslavia are stigmatized by the government and media as foreign agents, CIA conspirators, and fascist counterrevolutionaries, there is little hope for change. The atmosphere of a political witch-hunt in Croatia, for which the party officials bear great responsibility, can disappear only if the central government grants Croatians the legal right to speak their own language and stops using the “Serbo-Croatian” hybrid that is now mandatory in all public institutions, including the army. A good step in that direction would include the gradual removal of the Serbian-staffed police in Croatia and their replacement with Croatian officials. Such a positive action could significantly defuse the often irrational fear and hatred between the Serbs and Croatians that has long prevailed and that has inflicted immense human suffering on both peoples. But are the Titoist inheritors really ready for a dialogue with their democratic opponents? De they wish to widen or to bridge the gap between the rival Yugoslav nations? Have they not proclaimed themselves “democratic” and their opponents “fascists”? A case in point is my father, 72-year-old retired judge Mirko Sunic. His numerous appeals to the party for respect for the legal aspirations of the Croatian people, as well as for other nations in Yugoslavia, have never been heeded by the authorities; instead, he was recently sentenced to four years in prison on a charge of “hostile propaganda.” Another illustration is the horrifying death of a Jewish Croatian, Ernest Brajder. He died under extreme police torture – for collecting signatures for a petition (the so-called Zagreb petition) against the mistreatment and for the release of political prisoners.

Tomislav Sunic
Goleta, California

Yugoslavia’s Gulag (The Sacramento Bee)

I read with interest your article on the arrested Yugoslav citizens (“28 Yugoslav Citizens Arrested,” The Bee, April 22). I would like to point out that these are not isolated cases of the police crackdown on dissidents. Far worse are the constant persecutions against Croats and ethnic Albanians at home and abroad (including the U.S.A.). During the last 20 years, more than 50 Yugoslav citizens, mostly Croats, were killed or abducted by the Yugoslav secret police, in the West and the U.S. (Libyan-style diplomacy). Yugoslavia is very often praised by the U.S. media as a “model country with the most liberal Communists.” It would be useful that your readers know that Yugoslavia’s political prison population far exceeds that of all other East European Communist countries. The Reagan administration may wrongly have reason to “contain communism” in Central America with the taxpayers’ money. The billions of dollars which Reagan has been pumping into Yugoslavia serve only to strengthen communism. Yugoslavia challenges the domination of the Soviet Union. It certainly never challenges the principles of scientific gulag communism.

by Tomislav Sunic (signing as “Croatian Dissident”)

THE JERUSALEM POST (October 15, 2009) Letters to the Editor

Offensive, intolerable... ...and incomplete Sir,

Whenever an article appears in the foreign media dealing with the role of Croatia during WWII, the reader must expect a deluge of unsubstantiated body counts. For their part, to prove their anti-fascist atonement, Croats worldwide must resort to apologetic disclaimers and self-accusatory mea culpas.

Your writer might as well have gone a step further and declared that present-day Croatia is a Xerox copy of the former fascist WWII Croatia - since, after all, this newly reborn state uses more or less the same insignia while officially rejecting the number of 700,000 victims allegedly killed by Croat fascists.

What in fact are the empirical sources that the author mines when he states that WWII Croatia was "the most murderous of the Axis-aligned countries?" Instead he discusses the marginal Croatian NGO, the Croatian Cultural Movement (HUP) and its desire to erect a monument to Ante Pavelic.

Is your writer fluent in Croatian and German? Has he ever visited the German Federal Archives in Koblenz in order to give free rein to Efraim Zuroff's admonition "to any person with any sense of moral integrity" regarding the crimes committed by Ustashi Croats? The whole piece smacks of the old-style Yugoslav communist "normative agitprop locution," or the Soviet-styled "double talk" - which a B-student would have a hard time swallowing.

Croatian history - and, for that matter, European history as a whole - is not black and white. Your writer could have mentioned that the head of WWII Croatia, Ante Pavelic, had a number of Muslim ministers in his government, and that a number of Croats of Jewish extraction served as high ranking officers in Ustashi military units.

Last but not least, he might have mentioned large-scale genocides, in the months after WWII, of hundreds of thousands of Croatian and German civilians by the Yugoslav communist strongmen Josip Broz Tito, whose handful of surviving butchers, although senile, are still vocal in Croatia. As usual their killing fields are consigned to historical oblivion.

Instead of wasting time on the trivial portraiture of would-be Pavelic fans, serious research should be done on communist crimes of the former Western darling, the ex-communist Yugoslavia.


The Washington Times Letters to the Editor ~ December 28, 2001 '' Croatia Back in Chaos? ''

I have read with interest Jeffrey T. Kuhner's Dec. 26 Op-Ed column on Croatia and its difficult road to democracy, "Not yet Bush of the Balkans." Mr. Kuhner is right in critically assessing the pervasive Balkanesque cronyism and corruption in Croatian politics. Yet he briefly and only sketchily mentions the large-scale massacres and removal of thousands of Croat civilians and competent professionals by the former Yugoslav communist security apparatus, which is still partially alive in Croatia. One's view of what happened in ex-communist Yugoslavia - and later in the late President Franjo Tudjman's Croatia - depends on the observer's vested interests, his ethnic prejudices and his historical perspectives. One thing remains certain, though: Croatia lacks solid elements of civil society and ignores the Western rules of meritocracy. Similar to other post-communist countries in the region, modern Croatia is deeply infected by the legacy of communist mendacity and double-dealing and the spiral of silence and civic fear. Waffling empty Western-imported clichés about human rights and market democracy, the revamped Croatian diplomacy shows amazing signs of provincialism and incompetence. What a would-be democratic Croatia needs is a solid dose of re-education and decommunization. Undoubtedly, a staggering number of Mr. Tudjman's officials were recycled communists who briefly put on display a feigned Croat patriotism. Was not the current President Stipe Mesic also Mr. Tudjman's pal until their fateful split in 1994? These remarks may seem of minor importance, but what is worrisome is the present ungovernability of Croatia. Mr. Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan may have good intentions about the country's future. Yet, good intentions do not suffice to make a good politician or make a country safe for entry into the rich men's club of the European Union or NATO.

Furthermore, the coalition government - at bureaucratic loggerheads with Mr. Mesic - has an unsavory international reputation as a coalition of five swingers making poorly mimicked passes at the European Union. Apparently, this is because of a naive effort to extract a certificate of good democratic behavior or some putative charity from credulous EU and U.S. taxpayers. With mutual mudslinging within this motley crew of four diverse parties, a question remains: Is Croatia a governable entity? Mr. Tudjman did his best to bring Croat ex-communists and anti-communists together. His motto was "reconciliation." The present Croatian government is doing exactly the opposite; it is unstitching the country and driving a wedge between expatriate and homeland Croats, between the former communists and the right-wing opposition figures, and between the politically correct and politically incorrect. Outside of regurgitating - in broken English and in the old wooden communist lingo - slogans such as "free market" or "necessity for economic transition," the present political class in Croatia is a carbon copy of the late "homo sovieticus" universe - albeit with the mandatory and feigned liberal veneer. Forty-five years of communist and Titoist terror brought about negative selection and depleted the Croatian society of honest, law-abiding and professional Croatian politicians - irrespective of their ideological creed. Hence, the country is gripped by paralysis and slated for long-term instability. Slowly, but surely, Croatia is pushing its way back into a still unnamed and unknown chaos.

Novi Zagreb, Croatia.

Wall Street Journal August 26-27, 1988 ~ Yugoslav Solution: Ethnic Questions Should Come First

Since 1980, the year of President Tito’s death, Yugoslavia has been edging toward a political, economic and ideological crisis. Until last year, the Communist League had been able to achieve a semblance of stability by repeatedly reassuring its disgruntled citizens that "next year it will be better." But the ongoing deterioration of the Yugoslav economy and the continuing ethnic ferment has finally made the party hard-liners realize that the survival of the country depends on urgent political and economic overhaul.

Yet the solution is not easy to find. Though the party has shown more good toward dissenting voices and has gone as far as to admit large-scale corruption and mismanagement among some of its top-ranking officials, it is still miles away from adopting a market economic and genuine political pluralism. The recently thwarted military coup against the most liberal and prosperous republic of Slovenia, still hotly debated in this tiny western-most republic, bears witness that Yugoslav authorities are deeply divided, and that hard-liners and liberals have diametrically opposite political and economic objectives.

The central issue behind the continuing struggles in Yugoslavia is again the unresolved question of the country’s five different nations that live side by side. Ethnic animosity between Western European and Byzantine Balkan cultures brought pre-war Yugoslavia to its collapse. Today it is again shaking the country’s fragile unity, albeit this time with more vocal ethnic contestants. As the case of Slovenia shows, the increased demands for autonomy only corroborate the fact that liberalization cannot be a piecemeal process.

The liberalization is pompously advocated in the sphere of economics, in the case of multiethnic Yugoslavia it will necessarily spill over into demands for more national autonomy. In fact, it appears that the chaotic Yugoslav economy has only served as a catalyst for bringing to the fore the dormant, yet ever-present ethnic tensions, splitting the once-monolithic Communist League along national lines. Many Yugoslav observers, including the dissidents, no longer speculate whether Yugoslav peoples should stay together in this multiethnic makeup. Rather, their main concern is whether it is still feasible to have a true democracy while ignoring the voices of the increasingly self-assertive nations.

The party’s standard response to the ethnic aspirations of its constituent republics is that too much liberalization and democracy could result in nationalist outbursts and separatist tendencies that could lead the country into another civil war. In reality, however, the problem is the party’s "Balkan cuisine" mentality, dishing out artificial and fabricated crises and thus playing off one nation against another.

But neither does the climate among the Yugoslav dissidents look rosy. Traditionally divided along ethnic lines and unable to move beyond their regional ghettos, the dissidents and substantial numbers of Yugoslav intellectuals now are poorly equipped to provide a valid solution to the mounting problems of Yugoslavia. Whenever the Serbian dissidents try to appeal to the sense of Yugoslav solidarity, they seldom find support among Croats and Slovenians.

The apprehensions among Croats and Slovenians probably make some sense. So far the Serbian party leadership has tacitly condoned the resurgence of nationalism in its own republic, while simultaneously warning against the ghost of Slovenian and Croat nationalism that purportedly threatens Yugoslav unity. On top of it, Serbia, which has traditionally functioned as the backbone of the Yugoslav ideal and the bulwark of the country’s stability, is experiencing its own troubles-brought about by the pressure from its own southern flank, populated by predominantly Moslem ethnic Albanians. The "Albanian question" didn’t exist as long as Tito was alive.

Today, however, the Albanians have the agenda of the party leadership, which refers to it as Serbia’s "Palestinian question". The demographic explosion of the non-Slavic Albanians has sent shockwaves throughout Serbia, confronting the population with the prospect that they might soon be driven out of their historical lands by the more proliferate ethnic Albanians. In Yugoslavia, ethnic rivalry seldom occurs harmlessly, and often one nation’s gain is another nation’s loss.

A vivid indication of the prevailing winds came last weekend, when 20,000 Serbs and Montenegrins mobbed the streets of Montenegro’s capital, Titograd, demanding weapons to settle their dispute with the Kosovo Albanians. That followed fourteen recent demonstrations for direct Serbian control over Kosovo and Vojvodina. The regime’s warnings against the gathering seem only to encourage them.

Located in a sensitive spot of Europe’s non-aligned socialist Yugoslavia has meant that the end of World War II played the role of an ideological and geographical buffer zone between the two superpowers. Undoubtedly, a divided or disintegrated Yugoslavia could hardly be in the interest of either the West or the Soviet Union. Yet hopes that a liberation process can be judiciously allocated in the realm of human rights and the economy, while bypassing the national grievances, may prove to be a dangerous delusion.

Mr. Sunic teaches comparative communist systems at the University of California in Santa Barbara, California.

America in the Eyes of Eastern Europe

While a massive amount of both critical and laudatory literature on America is circulating in western Europe, only a few critical books on America and the American way of life can be found in today's postcommunist eastern Europe. This essay is my attempt to add to that literature.

Tomislav (Tom) Sunić, a former professor of political science at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, and a former Croatian diplomat, is the author of several books and numerous essays. He currently resides in Europe.

Before attempting to tackle this complex subject (an eastern European account of America), one needs to define terms. People living in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, or Slovenia do not like being called eastern Europeans; the term eastern Europe has a ring of an insult to their ears. They consider themselves, despite their region's undemocratic past, full-blooded Europeans--as much if not more so than west Europeans. There may be some truth in this semicomplacent attitude. From the ethnic point of view, all postcommunist countries in eastern Europe are highly homogeneous, with only a few non-Europeans living on their soil. By contrast, western Europe, or what is today part of the fifteen states of the European Union, has a non-European population of approximately 7 percent. Moreover, the population of the United States--which can be thought of as an extension of western Europe--is well over 25 percent non-European in origin. Ironically, due to the closed nature of its communist past, eastern Europe has never known a large influx of non-Europeans. The paradox is therefore twofold: the label eastern Europe is viewed by many as ideologically colored, its derogatory meaning referring to the formerly Soviet-occupied and communist-ruled part of Europe. Second, although claiming to be 100 percent Europeans, all east European nations, and particularly the newborn nation-states in the region, are well aware of their ethnic roots--certainly more so than are west Europeans. For decades, if not centuries, and even during the darkest hours of communism, east Europeans had a strange love for America, while displaying strange resentments toward their next-door European neighbors.

Any American who travels to Budapest, Zagreb, or Warsaw, be it in a public or private capacity, is welcomed. An American backpacker may enjoy passing through Copenhagen or Amsterdam, but he will never be so warmly embraced by west Europeans as he will be by his east European hosts. The communist rule, which lasted well over forty years in eastern Europe and seventy in Russia, created a mental atmosphere whereby the very term West became synonymous with America, and only to a lesser degree with nearby western Europe. The West, in the eyes and ears of east Europeans, was not so much the rich and opulent Germany or France, but rather the distant, Hollywood-hazed America.

While one could find scores of Marxist true believers in American academia during the Cold War, most east Europeans privately nurtured strong anticommunist and pro-American feelings. Former Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had more true, albeit hidden, constituents in communized Poland, Hungary, and Albania than on the West or East Coast. It was difficult for many east Europeans, particularly those who physically suffered under communism, to grasp the motives of young American students during the anti-Vietnam protests in the late sixties. Of course, pro-American and anticommunist sentiments among the wide layers of eastern European society had to be skillfully hidden. But a great majority of people in eastern Europe privately applauded the U.S. bombing of Vietnam and the harsh anticommunist rhetoric of Nixon and Reagan. They were all persuaded that, sooner or later, American GIs would liberate their homelands from the red plague. But today east Europeans are beginning to realize that America had other fish to fry than liberating Hungary in 1956 or Poland in 1980.

The Passing of the American Age

After the fall of communism, the United States is still perceived by many east Europeans as the incarnation of good, a symbol of enormous wealth, and a place of boundless economic opportunity. To some extent, east European attitudes toward America resemble those of west Europeans following World War II. In their eyes, America was a myth that surpassed the often-gloomy American reality. Many east Europeans are now going through similar psychological convulsions and self-induced misperceptions. The first cracks in their imaginary image of America are beginning to appear. On a political level, with the end of the bipolar system and the breakup of the Soviet Union, America has become the only role model in the neighborhood. Whether they like it or not, east European politicians know that entrance into the international community means, first and foremost, obtaining a certificate of good democratic behavior from Uncle Sam, and only much later a passing grade from the fledgling European Union (EU). Challenging and opposing U.S. foreign policy in this region is a luxury that no east European ruler can afford, short of paying a hefty price (as Serbia did a half-decade ago). But contradictions, if not outright hypocrisy, abound on both sides of the Atlantic. Even a self-proclaimed anti-American in eastern Europe will accept with great mistrust EU arbitration of a regional or ethnic dispute or armed conflict. He will always turn his eyes first toward America. Even among America-haters, the unwritten rule is that only America, due to its historical detachment, can be an honest broker. Despite almost grotesque cravings to join the EU exhibited by the entire east European political class, in the back of everybody's mind the quest is to join NATO first. The recent entry of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into NATO had far more psychological significance for people in the region than the protractedly scheduled entry into the European Union. Even the most cultivated east European opponent of the American way of life or the harshest critic of U.S. foreign policy does not dispute the fact that America elicits more confidence and sympathy among east Europeans than does the next-door European neighbor, who is traditionally and historically suspected of double deals and treachery.

While western Europe is often decried and derided by European conservative intellectuals as a protectorate of America or a subject of U.S. cultural imperialism, the fact of the matter is that everybody finds something inexplicably attractive about America. One can rave and rant about its decadence, its highest per-capita prison population, poor educational system, or military overextension, but every citizen in Europe, both west and east, is subconsciously enamored with either the real or surreal image of America.

Even gloomy projections of an apocalyptic end of America must be taken with caution. Many erudite conservative authors depict America as the belated aftershock of the late Roman Empire, with a willful, albeit often dangerous, desire to export global democracy by means of paleo- puritan and neoliberal messianism. But features of globalism and political messianism were common to all great powers in Europe throughout centuries. The Jacobin and post-Jacobin France at the end of the eighteenth century, for example, was no less a globalist power than America is today. The case was similar with the now-defunct Soviet Union.

Many Europeans, let alone east Europeans, do not realize that America is not just a continent but a planet with enormous differences in lifestyles and worldviews--despite its often-derided "McDonaldization" or its "Have a nice day" daily discourse. One learns to appreciate the allegedly decadent American system only after great distance in time and space. The supreme paradox is that many ancient and traditional European values were better defended intellectually by the Confederates in 1863, than by conservative Europeans, then and now. But is America still the same country today as it was just a decade ago? Certainly it has changed dramatically over the past ten years, not just due to a massive influx of non-European immigrants but also to an infusion of new role models and mindsets that they have brought with them. Only fifty years ago the overwhelming majority of American immigrants were Europeans, who saw in their newly adopted homeland an "extension," albeit a distant one, of their unfulfilled European dream. The very geographic distance from Europe made them accept wholeheartedly their new American destiny, yet they continued to honor their old European customs, often better and more colorfully than they had done on the other side of the ocean. This hardly seems to be the case with the new immigrants today. Many of these immigrants, especially those coming from Latin America, do not experience a geographic gap from their abandoned homeland because they live in its close vicinity. What is more, due to the rising tide of globalism, their loyalty is often split between their old homeland and their new American one. They may often experience the American dream as just another passing journey, looking instead to whatever will bring them greater financial and economic success. Early America was grounded in the roots of the Western heritage and had no qualms about displaying the badge of traditional Christian and European values, such as chivalry, honor, and the sense of sacrifice. This seems increasingly difficult to preach to new would-be Americans whose religious customs, cultural roots, and historical memory often stretch to the different antipodes of the world. Contradictions, paradoxes, and hypocrisies abound. Probably one of the best early observers of postmodernity, the conservative author and novelist Aldous Huxley, wrote in a little-known essay that America would be the future of the world--even if and when America, as a separate country and jurisdiction, fades into oblivion. The American system of soft ideology--that is, the dictatorship of well-being and the terror of consumerism--makes it globally appealing and yet so self-destructive. As an English sophisticate and aristocratic conservative, Huxley deeply resented the massification of America, in which he foresaw both a blueprint and a carbon copy of softened communist totalitarianism. But was he not a contradictory person himself, despite his visionary predictions? Did he not choose sunny, ahistorical, decadent, and uprooted California as his deathbed, not his own rainy England or somewhere else in rooted Europe? And did he not spend much of his later life on LSD-induced trips?

American vs. Soviet Man

Eastern Europe's distorted image of America, coupled with an often ludicrous love of the imaginary America, was a logical response to the endless anti-American rhetoric propagated by its former communist masters. Even when communist apparatchiks aired slogans that carried some truth about racial discrimination, poverty, and high crime rates in the United States, the east European masses refused to believe them. This was understandable. How could they believe communist officials, given the fact that the communist system was founded on the big lie and could only function by lying on all wavelengths twenty-four hours a day. Instead, east Europeans opted for their own self-styled vision of America, which real Americans would have found hard to believe in. The gloomier the picture of America presented by the communists, the more east Europeans believed in its opposite pastoral and pristine side.

Ten years after the fall of communism, eastern Europeans are gradually toning down their illusions about quick Americanization--that is, a sudden outbreak of affluence--in their countries. Hence another paradox: Ten years ago, communist mendacity, police repression, and economic scarcity prompted them to kick out the red plague, but today it is American-style capitalism that makes them cry out for more communist-style security and economic predictability, saying to themselves, "Who says, after all, that totalitarianism cannot be democratic, and that an individual always knows what is in his own best interests? Sometimes a leader, a strongman, fuehrer, caudillo, or vodj, best knows the answer." The legacy of communism in eastern Europe is hard to grasp even for scholars of substantial culture and intellectual probity. Communism created distinct patterns of behavior that will take longer to discard than the ideological or juridical legacy of communist repression. The shrewd traveler to eastern Europe, whether businessman, politician, or student, will notice that citizens of today's Prague, Bucharest, Budapest, or Zagreb still display behavioral traits of the communist system. The communist culture of social leveling created a peculiar mind-set of base survivalism, visible today even among individuals who brag that they are ardent anticommunists. American businessmen are often amazed with the way the new postcommunist political elites conceptualize a free market, forgetting that beneath the style and rhetorical veneer of the new class, the substance of communism was never uprooted. Indeed, from the Balkans to the Baltics, the majority of politicians in eastern Europe are basically recycled communists, who for obvious geopolitical reasons converted to Americanophile opportunism. It is questionable to what extent they are true democrats now, and to what extent they were true communist democrats twenty years ago. Thus, there are many misunderstandings and misperceptions on both sides of the Atlantic.

The culture of postcommunist mediocrity and mendacity cannot be wished away by State Department officials or would-be UN Samaritans. Generally speaking, the American attitude toward eastern Europe is based on pragmatic (albeit too idealistic) models and schemes that foresee a solution, or at least a contingency plan, for every crisis. But formulas or models do not work in postcommunist eastern Europe. An average east European is still prone to irrational emotional outbursts and continues to harbor paranoid conspiracy theories. Given that he sees others, including Americans, as crooks, he will himself continue cheating and pilfering, and do his best to double-cross others. In essence, past communist terror badly weakened what we might call the genetic pool of eastern Europeans. Therefore, many east Europeans accept the vaunted transition toward democracy--i.e., American-style capitalism--only on a purely rhetorical level. Initiative, commitment, and self-reliance, which are taken for granted by Americans, are nonexistent in eastern Europe. The imbedded communist practice of double deals presents a formidable barrier in east European--American business or political relationships. Numerous U.S. scholars and politicians think that these barriers will fade away with the brutal implemention of free markets, but they are wrong.

The primitive appeal of communism abided in the psychological security and economic predictability it provided. Most east Europeans would now like to have it both ways: They would like to retain the economic and political security of communism, while having all the imagined glitz and glory of projected Americanism. For eastern Europeans, the American dream basically boils down to transplanting themselves physically into the imaginary yet real soaps of Santa Barbara or Melrose Place. One may argue, as does Jean Baudrillard, a theorist of postmodernity, that America is utopia achieved. This is true in a sense, if we disregard the ever-increasing economic inequalities and growing social anonymity that could spell the end of the American dream. Conversely, eastern Europe today is a laboratory where different and sometimes obnoxious ideas are officially heralded one day, only to be discarded the next. Americans frequently observe that little can be achieved in this tragic part of Europe by role-modeling or preaching democracy.

Eastern Europe skipped the most important part of its modern history; it never carried out wholesale decommunization, and it never began educating its masses in civility. Consequently, a strong irrational element in human behavior will continue to exist in eastern Europe. Eastern Europe has already had too much of verbal democracy. What it needs is civility. During the initial postcommunist phase, east Europeans became ardent anticommunists who thought that by hollering anticommunist slogans, they would immediately open up the road to rich America. It is no accident that the first governments in postcommunist eastern Europe were made up of radical anticommunist and nationalist spokesmen. Then, during the second phase, which is still in progress, east Europeans, particularly the political class, engaged in a grotesque mimicry of America. Everybody regurgitates the words economic growth, privatization, globalization, and Euro-Atlantic integration without knowing what they stand for. This phase is coming to an end, leaving a dangerous vacuum behind and a minefield of mass anxiety ahead.

The unpredictable nature of the European character is obvious. Who could have foretold the fall of the Berlin Wall, the brutal war between two similar peoples (Croats and Serbs), and the never-ending reshuffling of the EU? One may not rule out that after the experiment with "made in the U.S.A." style ultraliberalism, east Europeans may suddenly, out of defiance, revert to ageless domestic hard-liners. Security comes first; democracy may be a distant second. The rapid process of Americanization of eastern Europe, with its self-induced, self-gratifying dreams, may have its nasty drawbacks. If Americans themselves start raising questions about the veracity of their elections and the honesty of their leaders, their poor imitators in eastern Europe will flock to the large trove of their own strongmen. A parallel could be drawn with former European colonies, which after the end of French and English colonial rule, reverted to their own often unsavory customs. Moreover, the surplus population they keep sending to open-armed Europe and America bears witness to the decline of the West.

Additional Reading

  • Jean Baudrillard, translated by Chris Turner, America, Verso, New York, 1989.
  • Noam Chomsky, Secrets, Lies and Democracy, Odonian Press, Tucson, 1994.
  • Tomislav Sunić, Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right, Peter Lang Publishing, New York, 1990.
  • Alexander Zinoviev, The Reality of Communism, Victor Gollancz, London, 1985.

Issue Date: NOVEMBER 2001 Volume: 16 Issue: 11 Page: 292, AMERICA TODAY, Copyright 2001 THE WORLD & I Magazine. All rights reserved. The World & I is published monthly by News World Communications, Inc.

Historical Dynamics of Liberalism: From Total Market to Total State

The purpose of this essay is to critically examine the historical dynamics of liberalism and its impact on contemporary Western polities. This essay will argue a) that liberalism today provides a comfortable ideological "retreat" for members of the intellectual élite and decision makers tired of the theological and ideological disputes that rocked Western politics for centuries; b) that liberalism can make compromises with various brands of socialism on practically all issues except the freedom of the market place; c) that liberalism thrives by expanding the economic arena into all aspects of life and all corners of the world, thereby gradually erasing the sense of national and historical community which had formerly provided the individual with a basic sense of identity and psychological security. This essay will also question whether liberalism, despite its remarkable success in the realm of the economy, provides an adequate bulwark against non-democratic ideologies, or whether under some conditions it may actually stimulate their growth.

In the aftermath of the second world war, liberalism and Marxism emerged as the two unquestionably dominant ideologies following their military success over their common rival, fascism. This brought them into direct conflict with each other, since each contended, from their own viewpoint, that the only valid political model was their own, denying the validity of their opponent's thesis. Beaud writes that when the liberal and socialist ideas began to emerge, the former quickly cloaked itself in science ("the law of supply and demand," "the iron law of wages"), while the latter had the tendency to degenerate into mysticism and sectarianism.1

Some critics of liberalism, such as the French economist François Perroux, pointed out that according to some extreme liberal assumptions, "everything (that) has been happening since the beginning of time (can be attributed to capitalism) as if the modern world was constructed by industrialists and merchants consulting their account books and wishing to reap profits."2 Similar subjective attitudes, albeit from a different ideological angle, can often be heard among Marxist theorists, who in the analysis of liberal capitalism resort to value judgements colored by Marxian dialectics and accompanied by the rejection of the liberal interpretation of the concept of equality and liberty. "The fact that the dialectical method can be used for each purpose," remarks the Austrian philosopher Alexander Topitsch, "explains its extraordinary attraction and its world-wide dissemination, that can only be compared to the success of the natural rights doctrine of the eighteenth century."3 Nevertheless, despite their real ideological discord, liberals, neo-liberals, socialists, and "socio-neoliberals," agree, at least in principle, in claiming a common heritage of rationalism, and on the rejection of all non-democratic ideologies, especially racialism. Earlier in this century, Georges Sorel, the French theorist of anarcho-syndicalism, remarked with irony that "to attempt to protest against the illusion of rationalism means to be immediately branded as the enemy of democracy."4

The practical conflict between the respective virtues of liberalism and socialism is today seemingly coming to a close, as some of the major Marxist regimes move in the direction of a liberalization of their economies, even though the ideological debate is by no means settled amongst intellectuals. Undoubtedly, the popularity of Marxist socialism is today in global decline amongst those who have to face the problem of making it work. In consequence, despite the fact that support for Marxism amongst Western intellectuals was at its height when repression in Marxist countries was at its peak, liberalism today seems have been accepted as a place of "refuge" by many intellectuals who, disillusioned with the failure of repression in the Marxist countries, nevertheless continue to hold to the socialist principles of universalism and egalitarianism.

As François B. Huyghe comments, welfare state policies accepted by liberals have implemented many of the socialist programs which patently failed in communist countries.5 Thus, economic liberalism is not only popular among many former left-wing intellectuals (including numbers of East European intellectuals) because it has scored tangible economic results in the Western countries, but also due to the fact that its socialist counterpart has failed in practice, leaving the liberal model as the only uncontested alternative. "The main reason for the victories of economic liberalism," writes Kolm, "are due to the fact that all defective functioning of the non-liberal model of social realization warrants the consideration of the alternative liberal social realization. The examples of such cases abound in the West as in the East; in the North as in the South."6 In the absence of other successful models, and in the epoch of a pronounced "de-ideologization" process all over Europe and America, modern liberalism has turned out to be a modus vivendi for the formerly embattled foes. But are we therefore to conclude that the eclipse of other models and ideologies must spell the end of politics and inaugurate the beginning of the Age of Liberalism?7

Long before the miracle of modern liberalism became obvious, a number of writers had observed that liberalism would continue to face a crisis of legitimacy even if its socialist and fascist foes were miraculously to disappear. More recently, Serge-Christophe Kolm has remarked that liberalism and socialism must not be viewed in dialectical opposition, but rather as a fulfilment of each other. Kolm writes that the ideals of liberalism and Marxism "are almost identical given that they are founded on the values of liberty, and coinciding in the applications of almost everything, except on a subject which is logically punctual, yet factually enormous in this world: wage-earning, location of individuals and self."8 Some have even advanced the hypothesis that liberalism and socialism are the face and the counter-face of the same phenomenon, since contemporary liberalism has managed to achieve, in the long run and in an unrepressive fashion, many of those same goals which Marxian socialism in the short run, employing repressive means, has failed to achieve. Yet differences exist.

Not only do socialist ideologues currently fear that the introduction of free market measures could spell the end of socialism, but socialism and liberalism disagree fundamentally on the definition of equality. Theoretically, both subscribe to constitutional, legal, political and social equality; yet their main difference lies in their opposing views regarding the distribution of economic benefits/rewards, and accordingly, as to their corresponding definition of economic equality. Unlike liberalism, socialism is not satisfied with demanding political and social equality, but insists on equal distribution of economic goods. Marx repeatedly criticized the liberal definition of equal rights, for which he once said that "this equal right is unequal right for unequal labor. This right does not acknowledge class difference because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual talents, and consequently it holds individual skills for natural privileges."9 Only in a higher stage of communism, after the present subordination of individuals to capital, that is, after the differences in the rewards of labor have disappeared, will bourgeois rights disappear, and society will write on its banner: "From each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs."10

Despite these differences, it may be said that, in general, socialist ideas have always surfaced as unavoidable satellites and pendants of liberalism. As soon as liberal ideas made their inroads into the European feudal scene, the stage for socialist appetites was set - appetites which subsequently proved too large to fulfil. As soon as the early bourgeoisie had secured its position, liquidating guilds and feudal corporations along with the landed aristocracy, it had to face up to critics who accused it of stifling political liberties and economic equality, and of turning the newly enfranchised peasant into a factory slave. In the seventeenth century, remarks Lakoff, the bourgeois ideas of equality and liberty immediately provided the fourth estate with ideological ammunition, which was quickly expressed by numerous proto-socialist revolutionary movements.11 Under such circumstances of flawed equality, it must not come as a surprise that the heaviest burden for peasants was the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, which had hailed the rights of equality as long as it struggled to dislodge the aristocracy from power; yet the minute it acceded to power, prudently refrained from making any further claims about equality in affluence. David Thomson remarked with irony that "many of those who would defend with their dying breath the rights of liberty and equality (such as many English and American liberals) shrink back in horror from the notion of economic egalitarianism."12 Also, Sorel pointed out that in general, the abuse of power by an hereditary aristocracy is less harmful to the juridical sentiment of a people than the abuses committed by a plutocratic regime,13 adding that "nothing would ruin so much the respect for laws as the spectacle of injustices committed by adventurers who, with the complicity of tribunals, have become so rich that they can purchase politicians."14

The dynamics of liberal and socialist revolutions gathered steam in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, notably an epoch of great revolutionary ferment in Europe. The liberal 1789 revolution in France rapidly gave way to the socialist Jacobin revolution in 1792; "the liberal" Condorcet was supplanted by the "communist" Babeuf, and the relatively bloodless Girondin coup was followed by the avalanche of bloodshed under the Jacobin terror and the revolt of the "sans-culottes."15 Similarly, a hundred years later, the February Revolution in Russia was followed by the accelerated October revolution, replacing the social democrat, Kerensky, by the communist Lenin. Liberalism gobbled up the ancient aristocracy, liquidated the medieval trade corporations, alienated the workers, and then in its turn was frequently supplanted by socialism. It is therefore interesting to observe that after its century-long competition with socialism, liberalism is today showing better results in both the economic and ethical domains, whereas the Marxist credo seems to be on the decline. But has liberalism become the only acceptable model for all peoples on earth? How is it that liberalism, as an incarnation of the humanitarian ideal and the democratic spirit, has always created enemies on both the left and the right, albeit for different reasons?

Free Market: The "Religion" of Liberalism

Liberalism can make many ideological "deals" with other ideologies, but one sphere where its remains intransigent is the advocacy of the free market and free exchange of goods and commodities. Undoubtedly, liberalism is not an ideology like other ideologies, and in addition, it has no desire to impose an absolute and exclusive vision of the world rooted in a dualistic cleavage between good and evil, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the "chosen and the unchosen ones." Moreover, the liberal ideal lacks that distinctive telos so typical of socialist and fascist ideologies. Contrary to other ideologies, liberalism is in general rather sceptical of any concentration of political power, because in the "inflation" of politics, and in ideological fervor, it claims to see signs of authoritarianism and even, as some authors have argued, totalitarianism.16 Liberalism seems to be best fitted for a secularized polity, which Carl Schmitt alternatively called the "minimal state" (Minimalstaat), and stato neutrale.17 It follows that in a society where production has been rationalized and human interaction is subject to constant reification (Vergegenständlichung), liberalism cannot (or does not wish to) adopt the same "will to power" which so often characterizes other ideologies. In addition, it is somewhat difficult to envision how such a society can request its citizens to sacrifice their goods and their lives in the interests of some political or religious ideal.18 The free market is viewed as a "neutral filed" (Neutralgebiet), allowing only the minimum of ideological conflict, that aims at erasing all political conflicts, positing that all people are rational beings whose quest for happiness is best secured by the peaceful pursuit of economic goals. In a liberal, individualistic society, every political belief is sooner or later reduced to a "private thing" whose ultimate arbiter is the individual himself. The Marxist theoretician Habermas comes to a somewhat similar conclusion, when he argues that modern liberal systems have acquired a negative character: "Politics is oriented to the removal of dysfunctionalities and of risks dangerous to the system; in other words politics is not oriented to the implementation of practical goals, but to the solution of technological issues."19 The market may thus be viewed as an ideal social construct whose main purpose is to limit the political arena. Consequently, every imaginable flaw in the market is generally explained by assertions that "there is still too much politics" hampering the free exchange of goods and commodities.20

Probably one of the most cynical remarks about liberalism and the liberal "money fetichism," came not from Marx, but from the Fascist ideologue Julius Evola, who once wrote: "Before the classical dilemma, your money or your life, the bourgeois will paradoxically be the one to answer: ‘Take my life, but spare my money.’"21 But in spite of its purportedly agnostic and apolitical character, it would be wrong to assert that liberalism does not have "religious roots." In fact, many authors have remarked that the implementation of liberalism has been the most successful in precisely those countries which are known for strong adherence to biblical monotheism. Earlier in this century, the German sociologist Werner Sombart asserted that the liberal postulates of economics and ethics stem from Judeo-Christian legalism, and that liberals conceive of commerce, money and the "holy economicalness" ("heilige Wirtschaftlichkeit") as the ideal avenue to spiritual salvation.22 More recently, the French anthropologist Louis Dumont, wrote that liberal individualism and economism are the secular transposition of Judeo-Christian beliefs, noting that "just as religion gave birth to politics, politics in turn will be shown to give birth to economics."23

Henceforth, writes Dumont in his book From Mandeville to Marx, according to the liberal doctrine, man's pursuit of happiness has increasingly come to be associated with the unimpeded pursuit of economic activities. In modern polities, he opines, the substitution of man as an individual for the idea of man as a social being was made possible by Judeo-Christianity: "the transition was thus made possible, from a holistic social order to a political system raised by consent as a superstructure on an ontological given economic basis."24 In other words, the idea of individual accountability before God, gave birth, over a long period of time, to the individual and to the idea that economic accountability constitutes the linchpin of the liberal social contract - a notion totally absent from organic and traditional nationalistically-organized societies.25 Thus Emanuel Rackman argues that Judeo-Christianity played an important role in the development of ethical liberalism in the USA: "This was the only source on which Thomas Paine could rely in his "Rights of Man" to support the dogma of the American Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. And this dogma was basic in Judaism."26 Similar claims are made by Konvitz in Judaism and the American Idea, wherein he argues that modern America owes much to the Jewish holy scriptures.27 Feurbach, Sombart, Weber, Troeltsch, and others have similarly argued that Judeo-Christianity had a considerable influence on the historical development of liberal capitalism. On the other hand, when one considers the recent economic success of various Asian countries on the Pacific Rim, whose expansionary impetus often overshadows the economic achievements of the countries marked by the Judeo-Christian legacy, one must take care not to equate economic success solely with the Judeo-Christian forms of liberal society.

Equal Economic Opportunity or the Opportunity to Be Unequal?

The strength of liberalism and of free-market economics lies in the fact that the liberal ideal enables all people to develop their talents as they best see fit. The free market ignores all hierarchy and social differentiation, except those differences which result from the completion of economic transactions. Liberals argue that all people have the same economic opportunity, and that consequently, each individual, by making best use of his or her talents and entrepreneurship, will alone determine his or her social status. But critics of liberalism often contend that this formula is in itself dependent upon the terms and conditions under which the principles of "economic opportunity" can take place. John Schaar asserts that liberalism has substantially transformed the social arena into the economic field track, and that the formula should read: "equality of opportunity for all to develop those talents which are highly valued by a given people at a given time."28 According to Schaar's logic, when the whims of the market determine which specific items, commodities or human talents are most in demand, or are more marketable than some others, it will follow that individuals lacking these talents or commodities will experience an acute sense of injustice. "Every society, Schaar continues, "encourages some talents and discourages others. Under the equal opportunity doctrine, the only men who can fulfil themselves and develop their abilities to the fullest are those who are able and eager to do what society demands they do."29 This means that liberal societies will likely be most content when their members share a homogeneous background and a common culture. Yet modern liberalism seeks to break-down national barriers and promote the conversion of hitherto homogeneous nation-states into multi-ethnic and highly heterogeneous political states. Thus, the potential for disputation and dissatisfaction is enhanced by the successful implementation of its economic policies.

It is further arguable that the success of liberalism engenders its own problems. Thus, as Karl Marx was quick to note, in a society where everything becomes an expendable commodity, man gradually comes to see himself as an expendable commodity too. An average individual will be less and less prone to abide by his own internal criteria, values or interests, and instead, he will tenaciously focus on not being left out of the economic battle, always on his guard that his interests are in line with the market. According to Schaar, such an attitude, in the long run, can have catastrophic consequences for the winner as well as the loser: "The winners easily come to think of themselves as being superior to common humanity, while the losers are almost forced to think of themselves as something less than human."30 Under psychological pressure caused by incessant economic competition, and seized by fear that they may fall out of the game, a considerable number of people, whose interests and sensibilities are not compatible with current demands of the market, may develop feelings of bitterness, jealousness and inferiority. A great many among them will accept the economic game, but many will, little by little, come to the conclusion that the liberal formula "all people are equal," in reality only applies to those who are economically the most successful. Murray Milner, whose analyses parallel Schaar's, observes that under such circumstances, the doctrine of equal opportunity creates psychological insecurity, irrespective of the material affluence of society. "Stressing equality of opportunity necessarily makes the status structure fluid and the position of the individual within it ambiguous and insecure."31 The endless struggle for riches and security, which seemingly has no limits, can produce negative results, particularly when society is in the throes of sudden economic changes. Antony Flew, in a similar fashion, writes that "a 'competition' in which the success of all contestants is equally probable is a game of chance or lottery, not a genuine competition."32 For Milner such an economic game is tiring and unpredictable, and if "extended indefinitely, it could lead to exhaustion and collapse."33

Many other contemporary authors also argue that the greatest threat to liberalism comes from the constant improvement in general welfare generated by its own economic successes. Recently, two French scholars, Julien Freund and Claude Polin, wrote that the awesome expansion of liberalism, resulting in ever increasing general affluence, inevitably generates new economic and material needs, which constantly cry out for yet another material fulfilment. Consequently, after society has reached an enviable level of material growth, even the slightest economic crisis, resulting in a perceptible drop in living standards, will cause social discord and possibly political upheavals. Taking a slightly different stance, Polin remarks that liberalism, in accordance with the much vaunted doctrine of "natural rights," tends, very often, to define man as a final and complete species who no longer needs to evolve, and whose needs can be rationally predicted and finalized. Led by an unquenchable desire that he must exclusively act on his physical environment in order to improve his earthly lot, he is accordingly led by the liberal ideology to think that the only possible way to realize happiness is to place material welfare and individualism above all other goals.34 In fact, given that the "ideology of needs" has become a tacit criterion of progress in liberalism, it is arguable that the material needs of modern anomic masses must always be "postponed," since they can never be fully satisfied.35 Moreover, each society which places excessive hopes in a salutary economy, will gradually come to view freedom as purely economic freedom and good as purely economic good. Thus, the "merchant civilization" (civilïzation marchande), as Polin calls it, must eventually become a hedonistic civilization in search of pleasure, and self-love. These points are similar to the views held by Julien Freund, who also sees in liberalism a society of impossible needs and insatiable desire. He remarks that "it appears that satiety and overabundance are not the same things as satisfaction, because they provoke new dissatisfaction."36 Instead of rationally solving all human needs, liberal society always triggers new ones, which in turn constantly create further needs. Everything happens, Freund continues, as if the well-fed needed more than those who live in indigence. In other words, abundance creates a different form of scarcity, as if man needs privation and indigence, "as if he needed some needs."37 One has almost the impression that liberal society purposely aims at provoking new needs, generally unpredictable, often bizarre. Freund concludes that "the more the rationalization of the means of production brings about an increase in the volume of accessible goods, the more the needs extend to the point of becoming irrational."38

Such an argument implies that the dynamics of liberalism, continually begetting new and unpredictable needs, continually threatens the philosophical premises of that same rationalism on which liberal society has built its legitimacy. In this respect socialist theorists often sound convincing when they in effect argue that if liberalism has not been able to provide equality in affluence, communism does at least offer equality in frugality!

Conclusion: From Atomistic Society to Totalitarian System

The British imperialist, Cecil Rhodes, once exclaimed: "if I could I would annex the planets!" A very Promethean idea, indeed, and quite worthy of Jack London's rugged individuals or Balzac's entrepreneurs - but can it really work in a world in which the old capitalist guard, as Schumpeter once pointed out, is becoming a vanishing species?39

It remains to be seen how liberalism will pursue its odyssey in a society in which those who are successful in the economic arena live side by side with those who lag behind in economic achievement, when its egalitarian principles prohibit the development of any moral system that would justify such hierarchical differences, such as sustained medieval European society. Aside from prophecies about the decline of the West, the truism remains that it is easier to create equality in economic frugality than equality in affluence. Socialist societies can point to a higher degree of equality in frugality. But liberal societies, especially in the last ten years, have constantly been bedevilled by an uneasy choice; on the one hand, their effort to expand the market, in order to create a more competitive economy, has almost invariably caused the marginalization of some social strata. On the other hand, their efforts to create more egalitarian conditions by means of the welfare state brings about, as a rule, sluggish economic performance and a menacing increase in governmental bureaucratic controls. As demonstrated earlier, liberal democracy sets out from the principles that the "neutral state" and free market are the best pillars against radical political ideologies, and that commerce, as Montesqieu once said, "softens up the mores." Further, as a result of the liberal drive to extend markets on a world-wide basis, and consequently, to reduce or eliminate all forms of national protectionism, whether to the flow of merchandise, or of capital, or even of labor, the individual worker finds himself in an incomprehensible, rapidly changing international environment, quite different from the secure local society familiar to him since childhood. This paradox of liberalism was very well described by a keen German observer, the philosopher Max Scheler, who had an opportunity to observe the liberal erratic development, first in Wilhelmian and then in Weimar Germany. He noted that liberalism is bound to create enemies, both on the right and the left side of the political spectrum: On the left it makes enemies of those who see in liberalism a travesty of the natural rights dogma, and on the right, of those who discern in it the menace to organic and traditional society. "Consequently," writes Scheler, "a huge load of resentment appears in a society, such as ours, in which equal political and other rights, that is, the publicly acknowledged social equality, go hand in hand with large differences in real power, real property and real education. A society in which each has the "right" to compare himself to everybody, yet in which, in reality, he can compare himself to nobody."40 In traditional societies as Dumont has written, such types of reasoning could never develop to the same extent because the majority of people were solidly attached to their communal roots and the social status which their community bestowed upon them. India, for example, provides a case study of a country that has significantly preserved a measure of traditional civic community, at least in the smaller towns and villages, despite the adverse impact of its population explosion and the ongoing conflict there between socialism in government and liberalism in the growing industrial sector of the economy. By contrast, in the more highly industrialized West, one could almost argue that the survival of modern liberalism depends on its constant ability to "run ahead of itself" economically. The need for constant and rapid economic expansion carries in itself the seeds of social and cultural dislocation, and it is this loss of "roots" that provides the seedbed for tempting radical ideologies. In fact how can unchecked growth ever appease the radical proponents of natural rights, whose standard response is that it is inadmissible for somebody to be a loser and somebody a winner? Faced with a constant expansion of the market, the alienated and uprooted individual in a society in which the chief standard of value has become material wealth, may be tempted to sacrifice freedom for economic security. It does not always appear convincing that liberal societies will always be able to sustain the "social contract" on which they depend for their survival by thrusting people into material interdependence. Economic gain may be a strong bond, but it does not have the affective emotional power for inducing willing self-sacrifice in times of adversity on which the old family-based nation-state could generally rely. More likely, by placing individuals in purely economic interdependence on each other, and by destroying the more traditional bonds of kinship and national loyalty, modern liberalism may have succeeded in creating a stage where, in times of adversity, the economic individual will seek to outbid, outsmart, and outmaneuver all others, thereby preparing the way for the "terror of all against all," and preparing the ground, once again, for the rise of new totalitarianisms. In other words, the spirit of totalitarianism is born when economic activity obscures all other realms of social existence, and when the "individual has ceased to be a father, a sportsman, a religious man, a friend, a reader, a righteous man - only to become an economic actor."41 By shrinking the spiritual arena and elevating the status of economic activities, liberalism in fact challenges its own principles of liberty, thus enormously facilitating the rise of totalitarian temptations. One could conclude that as long as economic values remained subordinate to non-economic ideals, the individual had at least some sense of security irrespective of the fact his life was often, economically speaking, more miserable. With the subsequent emergence of the anonymous market, governed by the equally anonymous invisible hand, in the anonymous society, as Hannah Arendt once put it, man has acquired a feeling of uprootedness and existential futility.42 As pre-industrial and traditional societies demonstrate, poverty is not necessarily the motor behind revolutions. Revolution comes most readily to those in whom poverty is combined with a consciousness of lost identity and a feeling of existential insecurity. For this reason, the modern liberal economies of the West must constantly work to ensure that the economic miracle shall continue. As economic success has been made the ultimate moral value, and national loyalties have been spurned as out of date, economic problems automatically generate deep dissatisfaction amongst those confronted with poverty, who are then likely to fall prone to the sense of "alienation" on which all past Marxist socialist success has been based. One must therefore not exclude the likelihood that modern liberal society may at some time in the future face serious difficulties should it fail to secure permanent economic growth, especially if, in addition, it relentlessly continues to atomize the family (discouraging marriage, for example, by means of tax systems which favors extreme individualism) and destroys all national units in favor of the emergence of a single world-wide international market, along with its inevitable concomitant, the "international man." While any faltering of the world economy, already under pressure from the Third World population explosion, might conceivably lead to a resurgence of right wing totalitarianisms in some areas, it is much more likely that in an internationalized society the new totalitarianism of the future will come from the left, in the form of a resurgence of the "socialist experiment," promising economic gain to a population that has been taught that economic values are the only values that matter. Precisely because the "workers of the world" will have come to see themselves as an alienated international proletariat, they will tend to lean toward international socialist totalitarianism, rather than other forms of extreme political ideology.

JOURNAL OF SOCIAL, POLITICAL & ECONOMIC STUDIES (winter 1988, vol. 13 No 4) Historical Dynamics of Liberalism: From Total Market to Total State by Tomislav Sunić (University of California, Santa Barbara)


  1. Michael Beaud, A History of Capitalism 1500-1980 (Paris: New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983), p. 80. 

  2. François Perroux, Le capitalisme (Paris: PUF, 1960), p. 31. 

  3. Ernst Topitsch "Dialektik - politische Wunderwaffe?," Die Grundlage des Spätmarxismus, edited by E. Topitsch, Rüdiger Proske, Hans Eysenck et al., (Stuttgart: Verlag Bonn Aktuell GMBH), p. 74. 

  4. Georges Sorel, Les illusions du progrès (Paris: Marcel Rivière, 1947), p. 50. 

  5. François-Bernard Huyghe, La Soft-idéologie (Paris: Laffont, 1988). See also, Jean Baudrillard, La Gauche divine (Paris: Laffont, 1985). For an interesting polemics concerning the "treason of former socialists clerics who converted to liberalism," see Guy Hocquenghem, Lettre ouverte à ceux qui sont passés du col Mao au Rotary (Paris: Albin Michel, 1986). 

  6. Serge-Christophe Kolm. Le libéralisme moderne (Paris: PUF, 1984), p. 11. 

  7. Carl Schmitt, Die geistegeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parlametatarismus (München and Leipzig: Verlag von Duncker and Humblot, 1926), p. 23. 

  8. Kolm, op. cit., p. 96. 

  9. Karl Marx, Kritik des Gothaer Programms (Zürich: Ring Verlag A.G., 1934), p. 10. 

  10. Ibid., p. 11. 

  11. Sanford Lakoff, "Christianity and Equality," Equality, edited by J. Roland Pennock and J. W. Chapmann, (New York: Atherton Press, 1967), pp. 128-130. 

  12. David Thomson, Equality (Cambridge: University Press, 1949), p. 79. 

  13. Sorel, op. cit., p. 297. 

  14. Loc. cit. 

  15. Theodore von Sosnosky, Die rote Dreifältikeit (Einsiedeln: Verlaganstalt Benziger and Co., 1931). 

  16. cf. Raymond Aron, Democracy and Totalitarianism (New York: Frederick A. Praeger Publishers, 1969), p. 194 and passim. 

  17. Carl Schmitt, Der Begriff des Politischen (München and Leipzig: Verlag von Duncker and Humblot, 1932), p. 76 and passim. 

  18. Ibid., p. 36. 

  19. Jürgen Habermas Technik and Wissenschaft als Ideologie (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1968), p. 77. 

  20. Alain de Benoist, Die entscheidenden Jahre, "In der kaufmännisch-merkantilen Gesellschaftsform geht das Politische ein,"(Tübingen: Grabert Verlag, 1982), p. 34. 

  21. Julius Evola, "Procès de la bourgeoisie," Essais politiques (Paris: edition Pardès, 1988), p. 212. First published in La vita italiana, "Processo alla borghesia," XXV1II, nr. 324 (March 1940): 259-268. 

  22. Werner Sombart, Der Bourgeois, cf. "Die heilige Wirtschaftlichkeit"; (München and Leipzig: Verlag von Duncker and Humblot, 1923), pp. 137-160. 

  23. Louis Dumont, From Mandeville to Marx, The Genesis and Triumph of Economic Ideology (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977), p.16. 

  24. Ibid., p. 59. 

  25. cf. L. Dumont, Essays on Individualism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986). 

  26. Emanuel Rackman, "Judaism and Equality;' Equality, edited by J. Roland Pennock and John W. Chapman (New York: Atherton Press, 1967), p. 155. 

  27. Milton Konvitz, Judaism and the American Idea (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1978). Also German jurist Georg Jellinek argues in Die Erklärung der Menschen-and Bürgerrechte (Leipzig: Duncker and Humbolt, 1904), p. 46, that "the idea to establish legally the unalienable, inherent, and sacred rights of individuals, is not of political but religious origin." 

  28. John Schaar, "Equality of Opportunity and Beyond," in Equality, op. cit. , 230. 

  29. Ibid., p. 236. 

  30. Ibid., p. 235. 

  31. Murray Milner, The Illusion of Equality (Washington and London: Jossey-Bass Inc. Publishers, 1972), p. 10. 

  32. Antony Flew, The Politics of Procrustes (New York: Promethean Books, 1981), p. 111. 

  33. Milner, op. cit., p. 11. 

  34. Claude Polin, Le libéralisme, espoir ou péril (Paris: Table ronde, 1984), p. 211. 

  35. Ibid., p. 213. 

  36. Julien Freund, Politique, Impolitique (Paris: ed. Sirey, 1987), p. 336. Also in its entirety, "Théorie des besoins," pp. 319-353. 

  37. Loc. cit. 

  38. Ibid., p. 336-337. 

  39. Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), p. 165 and passim. 

  40. Max Scheler, Das Ressentiment im Aufbau der Moralen (Abhandlungen and Aufsäzte) (Leipzig: Verlag der weissen Bücher, 1915), p. 58. 

  41. Claude Polin, Le totalitarisme (Paris: PUF, 1982), p.123. See also Guillaume Faye, Contre l'économisme (Paris: ed. le Labyrinthe, 1982). 

  42. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Meridian Book, 1958), p. 478. 

Liberalism or Democracy ? Carl Schmitt and Apolitical Democracy

Growing imprecision in the language of political discourse has turned virtually everyone into a democrat or, at least, an aspiring democrat. East,West, North, South, in all corners of the world, politicians and intellectuals profess the democratic ideal, as if their rhetorical homage to democracy could substitute for the frequently poor showing of their democratic institutions.1 Does liberal democracy—and this is what we take as our criterion for the "best of all democracies"—mean more political participation or less, and how does one explain that in liberal democracy electoral interests have been declining for years? Judging by voter turnout, almost everywhere in the West the functioning of liberal democracy has been accompanied by political demobilization and a retreat from political participation.2 Might it be, that consciously or unconsciously, the citizens of liberal democracies realize that their ballot choices can in no substantial manner affect the way their societies are governed, or worse, that the rites of liberal democracy are an elegant smoke screen for the absence of self-government?

Liberal Parenthesis and the End of the Muscled State

This paper will argue both that democracy is not necessarily an accompanying feature of liberalism and that liberal democracy may often be the very opposite of what democracy is supposed to mean. Through the arguments of Carl Schmitt, I shall demonstrate that:

1) democracy can have a different meaning in liberal society than in non-liberal society,
2) the depoliticization of liberal democracy is the direct result of voter mistrust in the liberal political class, and
3) liberal democracy in multi-ethnic countries is likely to face serious challenges in the future.

Over the period of the last fifty years, Western societies have witnessed a rapid eclipse of "hard" politics. Theological fanaticism, ideological ferocity, and politics of power, all of which have until recently rocked European states, have become things of the past. The influence of radical left-wing or right-wing parties and ideologies has waned. "High" politics, as a traditional action and interaction process between the rulers and the ruled, and as a guide for purported national destiny, seems to have become obsolete. With the collapse of communism in the East, modern liberal democracies in the West appear today as the only alternative forms of government on the barren political and ideological landscape. Moreover, in view of the recent collapse of totalitarian ideologies, liberal democracy seems to have gained even more legitimacy, all the more so as it successfully accommodates differing political views. Western liberal democracy, people believe, can satisfy diverse and disparate opinions, and can continue to function even when these are non-democratic and anti-liberal.

For Schmitt, liberal tolerance towards opposing political views is deceiving. In all of his works, and particularly in Verfassungslehre and Die geistesgeschichtliche Lage des heutigen Parlamentarismus, he points to differences between liberalism and democracy, asserting that liberalism, by its nature, is hostile to all political projects. In liberal democracy, writes Schmitt, "politics far from being the concern of an elite, has become the despised business of a rather dubious class of persons."3 One may add that liberal democracy does not appear to be in need of political projects: With its vast technological infrastructure and the free market network, argues Schmitt, liberal democracy has no difficulty in rendering all contending beliefs and opposing ideologies inoffensive, or, at worst, ridiculous.4

In liberal democracy, in which most collective projects have already been delegitimatized by belief in individualism and in the private pursuit of economic well-being, "it cannot be required, from any thinkable point of view, that anyone lays down his life, in the interest of the undisturbed functioning [of this society.]"5 Little by little, liberal democracy makes all political projects unattractive and unpopular, unless they appeal to economic interests. Liberal democracy, writes Schmitt, seems to be fitted for a rational, secularized environment in which the state is reduced to a "night-watchman" supervising economic transactions. The state becomes a sort of inoffensive "mini-state" ["Minimalstaat"] or stato neutrale.6 One could almost argue that the strength of liberal democracy lies not in its aggressive posturing of its liberal ideal, but rather in its renunciation of all political ideals, including its own.

To some extent, this apolitical inertia appears today stronger than ever before, since no valid challenger to liberal democracy appears on the horizon. What a stark contrast to the time prior to World War II, when radical left- and rightwing ideologies managed to draw substantial support from political and intellectual elites! Might it be that the "Entzauberung" of politics has gone so far as to contribute to the strengthening of apolitical liberal democracy? Very revealing, indeed, appears the change in the behavior of modern elites in liberal democracies; left, right, and center barely differ in their public statements or in their political vocabulary. Their styles may differ, but their messages remain virtually the same. The "soft" and apolitical discourse of modern liberal princes, as one French observer recently wrote, prompts the "liberal-socialist" to exclaim: "I will die from loving your beautiful eyes Marquise." And to this the "socialist-liberal"responds: "Marquise, from loving your beautiful eyes, I will die."7 Leftwing agendas are so often tainted with rightwing rhetoric that they appear to incorporate conservative principles. Conversely, rightwing politicians often sound like disillusioned leftists on many issues of domestic and foreign policy. In liberal democracy, all parties across the political spectrum, regardless of their declaratory differences, seem to be in agreement on one thing: democracy functions best when the political arena is reduced to its minimum and the economic and juridical spheres are expanded to their maximum.

Part of the problem may result from the very nature of liberalism. Schmitt suggests that the notions of liberalism and democracy "have to be distinguished from one another so that the patchwork picture that makes up modern mass democracy can be recognized."8 As Schmitt notes, democracy is the antithesis of liberalism, because "democracy (...) attempts to realize an identity of the governed and the governors, and thus it confronts the parliament as an inconceivable and outmoded institution."9

Organic Democracy vs. Apolitical Democracy

True democracy, for Schmitt, means popular sovereignty, whereas liberal democracy and liberal parliament aim at curbing popular power. For Schmitt, if democratic identity is taken seriously, only the people should decide on their political destiny, and not liberal representatives, because "no other constitutional institution can withstand the sole criterion of the people's will, however it is expressed."10 Liberal democracy, argues Schmitt, is nothing else but a euphemism for a system consecrating the demise of politics and thus destroying true democracy. But a question arises: why, given liberalism's history of tolerance and its propensity to accommodate diverse groups, does Schmitt adamantly reject liberal democracy? Has not liberalism, particularly in the light of recent experiences with "muscled ideologies," proven its superior and humane nature?

The crux of Schmitt's stance lies in his conviction that the concept of "liberal democracy" is semantic nonsense. In its place, Schmitt seems to suggest both a new definition of democracy and a new notion of the political. According to Schmitt, "democracy requires, first homogeneity and second-if the need arises-elimination or eradication of heterogeneity."11 Homogeneity and the concomitant elimination of heterogeneity are the two pillars of Schmitt's democracy, something which stands in sharp contrast to liberal party systems and the fragmentation of the body politic. Democratic homogeneity, according to Schmitt, presupposes a common historical memory, common roots, and a common vision of the future, all of which can subsist only in a polity where the people speak with one voice. "As long as a people has the will to political existence," writes Schmitt," it must remain above all formulations and normative beliefs. (...) The most natural way of the direct expression of the people's will is by approvals or disapprovals of the gathered crowd, i.e., the acclamation."12 To be sure, with his definition of homogeneous democracy that results from the popular will, Schmitt appears to be holding the value of the traditional community above that of civil society which, for the last century, has been the hallmark of liberal democracy.13 One may therefore wonder to what extent can Schmitt's "organic" democracy be applicable to the highly fractured societies of the West, let alone to an ethnically fragmented America.

Schmitt insists that "the central concept of democracy is the people (Volk), not mankind [Menscheit]. (...) There can be-if democracy takes a political form-only popular democracy, but not a democracy of mankind [Es gibt eine Volksdemokratie und keine Menscheitsdemokratie]."14 Naturally, this vision of "ethnic" democracy collides with modern liberal democracy, one of the purposes of which, its proponents claim, is to transcend ethnic differences in pluralistic societies. Schmitt's "ethnic" democracy must be seen as the reflection of the uniqueness of a given people who oppose imitations of their democracy by other peoples or races. Since Schmitt's democracy bears a resemblance to ancient Greek democracy, critics must wonder how feasible this democracy can be today. Transplanted into the twentieth century, this democratic anachronism will appear disturbing, not least because it will remind some of both fascist corporate and Third World states with their strict laws on ethnic and cultural homogeneity. Schmitt confirms these misgivings when he states that "a democracy demonstrates its political power by knowing how to refuse or keep at bay something foreign and unequal that threatens its homogeneity [das Fremde und Ungleiche (...) zu beseitigen oder fernzuhalten]."15 Any advocate of liberal democracy in modern multicultural societies could complain that Schmitt's democracy excludes those whose birth, race, or simply religious or ideological affiliation is found incompatible with a restricted democracy. Foreign may be a foreign idea that is seen to threaten democracy, and a foreigner may be somebody who is viewed as unfit to participate in the body politic because of his race or creed. In other words, one could easily suspect Schmitt of endorsing the kind of democracy that approximates the "total state."

Nor does Schmitt treat the liberal principles of legality with much sympathy. In his essay "Legalitat und Legitimitat," Schmitt argues that the kind of liberal democracy creates the illusion of freedom by according to each political group and opposing opinion a fair amount of freedom of expression as well as a guaranteed legal path to accomplish its goal in a peaceful manner.16 Such an attitude to legal rights is contrary to the notion of democracy, and eventually leads to anarchy, argues Schmitt, because legality in a true democracy must always be the expression of the popular will and not the expression of factional interests. "Law is the expression of the will of the people (lex est quod populus jubet)," writes Schmitt,17 and in no way can law be a manifestation of an anonymous representative or a parliamentarian who solely looks after interests of his narrow constituency. Indeed, continues Schmitt, an ethnically homogeneous and historical people has all the prerequisites to uphold justice and remain democratic, provided it always asserts its will.18 Of course, one may argue that Schmitt had in mind a form of populist democracy reminiscent of the 1930s' plebiscitary dictatorships which scorned both parliamentary parties and organized elections. In his Verfassungslehre, Schmitt attacks free parliamentary elections for creating, through secret balloting, a mechanism which. "transforms the citizen (citoyen), that is, a specifically democratic and political figure, into a private person who only expresses his private opinion and gives his vote."19 Here Schmitt seems to be consistent with his earlier remarks about ethnic homogeneity. For Schmitt, the much-vaunted "public opinion," which liberals equate with the notion of political tolerance, is actually a contradiction in terms, because a system which is obsessed with privacy inevitably shies away from political openness. True and organic democracy, according to Schmitt, is threatened by liberal secret balloting, and "the result is the sum of private opinions."20 Schmitt goes on to say that "the methods of today's popular elections [Volkswahl] and referendums [Volksentscheid] in modern democracy, in no way contain the procedure for genuine popular elections; instead, they organize a procedure for the elections of the individuals based on the total sum of independent ballot papers."21

Predictably, Schmitt's view of democratic equality is dependent upon his belief that democracy entails social homogeneity, an idea Schmitt develops more fully in Verfassungslehre and The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. Although liberal democracy upholds the legal equality of individuals, it ignores the equality of rooted citizens. Liberal democracy merely provides for the equality of atomized individuals whose ethnic, cultural, or racial bonds are so weakened or diluted that they can no longer be viewed as equal inheritors of a common cultural memory and a common vision of the future. Undoubtedly, equality and democracy, for Schmitt, are inseparable. Equality in a genuine organic democracy always takes place among "equals of the same kind (Gleichartigen)."22 This corresponds to Schmitt's earlier assertions that "equal rights make good sense where homogeneity exists."23 Could one infer from these brief descriptions of democratic equality that in an ethnically or ideologically fragmented society equality can never be attained? One might argue that by transferring the political discourse of equality to the juridical sphere, liberal democracy has elegantly masked glaring inequality in another sphere-that of economics. One could agree with Schmitt that liberal democracy, as much as it heralds "human rights" and legal equality and proudly boasts of "equality of (economic) opportunity," encourages material disparities. Indeed, inequality in liberal democracy has not disappeared, and, in accordance with the Schmitt's 'observations regarding the shifts in the political sphere, "another sphere in which substantial inequality prevails (today, for example the economic sphere), will dominate politics. Small wonder that, in view of its contradictory approach to equality, liberal democracy has been under constant fire from the left and the right.24

To sum up, Schmitt rejects liberal democracy on several counts:

1) liberal democracy is not "demo-krasia," because it does not foster the identity of the governed and the governors,
2) liberal democracy reduces the political arena, and thus creates an apolitical society, and
3) in upholding legal equality, and pursuant to its constant search for the wealth that will win it support, liberal democracy results in glaring economic inequality.

The Rule of the People or the Rule of Atomized Individuals?

From the etymological and historical points of view, Schmitt's criticism of liberal democracy merits attention. Democracy signifies the rule of the people, a specific people with a common ethnic background, and not the people construed, after the manner of some liberal democracies, as the atomized agglomeration flowing from a cultural "melting pot." But if one assumes that a new type of homogeneity can develop, e.g., homogeneity caused by technological progress, then one cannot dispute the functionality of a liberal democracy in which the homogenized citizens remain thoroughly apolitical: Hypothetically speaking, political issues in the decades to come may no longer be ethnicity, religions, nation-states, economics, or even technology, but other issues that could "homogenize" citizens. Whether democracy in the twenty-first century will be based on apolitical consensus remains to be seen. Schmitt sincerely feared that the apoliticism of "global liberal democracy" under the aegis of the United States could become a dangerous predicament for all, leading not to global peace but to global servitude.25 As of today, however, liberal democracy still serves as a normative concept for many countries, but whether this will remain so is an open question.

In view of the increased ethnic fragmentation and continued economic disparities in the world, it seems that Schmitt's analysis may contain a grain of truth. The American experience with liberal democracy has so far been tolerable: that is, the U.S. has shown that it can function as a heterogeneous multi-ethnic society even when, contrary to Schmitt's fears, the level of political and historical consciousness remains very low. Yet, the liberal democratic experiment elsewhere has been less successful. Recent attempts to introduce liberal democracy into the multi-ethnic states of Eastern Europe have paradoxically speeded up their dissolution or, at best, weakened their legitimacy. The cases of the multi-ethnic Soviet Union and the now-defunct Yugoslavia-countries in endless struggles to find lasting legitimacy-are very revealing and confirm Schmitt's predictions that democracy functions best, at least in some places, in ethnically homogeneous societies.26 In light of the collapse of communism and fascism, one is tempted to argue that liberal democracy is the wave of the future. Yet, exported American political ideals will vary according to the countries and the peoples among whom they take root. Even the highly Americanized European countries practice a different brand of liberal democracy from what one encounters in America.

Schmitt observes that liberalism, while focusing on the private rights of individuals, contributes to the weakening of the sense of community. Liberal democracy typifies, for Schmitt, a polity which cripples the sense of responsibility and renders society vulnerable to enemies both from within and without. By contrast, his idea of organic democracy is not designed for individuals who yearn to reduce political activity to the private pursuit of happiness; rather, organic, classical democracy means "the identity of the governors and the governed, of the rulers and the ruled, of those who receive orders and of those who abide by them."27 In such a polity, laws and even the constitution itself can be changed on a short notice because the people, acting as their own legislators, do not employ parliamentary representatives.

Schmitt's democracy could easily pass for what liberal theorists would identify as a disagreeable dictatorship. Would Schmitt object to that? Hardly. In fact, he does not discount the compatibility of democracy with communism or even fascism. "Bolshevism and Fascism," writes Schmitt, "by contrast, are like all dictatorships certainly antiliberal, but not necessarily antidemocratic."28 Both communism and fascism strive towards homogeneity (even if they attempt to be homogeneous by force) by banning all opposition. Communism, for which the resolute anti-Bolshevik Schmitt had no sympathy, can surely be democratic, at least in its normative and utopian stage. The "educational dictatorship" of communism, remarks Schmitt, may suspend democracy in the name of democracy, "because it shows that dictatorship is not antithetical to democracy."29 In a true democracy, legitimacy derives not from parliamentary maneuvers, but from acclamation and popular referenda. "There is no democracy and no state without public opinion, and no state without acclamation," writes Schmitt.30 By contrast, liberal democracy with its main pillars, viz., individual liberty and the separation of powers, opposes public opinion and, thus, must stand forth as the enemy of true democracy. Or, are we dealing here with words that have become equivocal? According to Schmitt, "democratic principles mean that the people as a whole decides and governs as a sovereign."31 One could argue that democracy must be a form of kratos, an exercise, not a limiting, of power. Julien Freund, a French Schmittian, concurs that "democracy is a 'kratos.' As such it presupposes, just like any other regime, the presence and the validity of an authority."32 With its separation of powers, the atomization of the body politic, and the neutralization of politics, liberal democracy deviates from this model.

Conclusion: The Liberal 'Dictatorship of Well-Being'

If one assumes that Schmitt's "total democracy" excludes those with different views and different ethnic origins, could not one also argue that liberal democracy excludes by virtue of applying an "apolitical" central field? Through apolitical economics and social censure, liberal democracy paradoxically generates a homogeneous consumer culture. Is this not a form of "soft" punishment imposed on those who behave incorrectly? Long ago, in his observations about democracy in America, Tocqueville pointed out the dangers of apolitical "democratic despotism." "If despotism were to be established among the democratic nations of our days, it might assume a different character; it would be more extensive and more mild; it would degrade men without tormenting them."33 Perhaps this "democratic despotism" is already at work in liberal democracies. A person nowadays can be effectively silenced by being attacked as socially insensitive.

Contemporary liberal democracy amply demonstrates the degree to which the economic and spiritual needs of citizens have become homogenized. Citizens act more and more indistinguishably in a new form of "dictatorship of well-being."34 Certainly, this homogeneity in liberal democracy does not spring from coercion or physical exclusion, but rather from the voter's sense of futility. Official censorship is no longer needed as the ostracism resulting from political incorrectness becomes daily more obvious. Citizens appear more and more apathetic, knowing in all likelihood that, regardless of their participation, the current power structure will remain intact. Moreover, liberal democrats, as much as they complain about the intolerance of others, often appear themselves scornful of those who doubt liberal doctrines, particularly the beliefs in rationalism and economic progress. The French thinker Georges Sorel, who influenced Schmitt, remarked long ago that to protest against the illusion of liberal rationalism means to be immediately branded as the enemy of democracy.35 One must agree that, irrespective of its relative tolerance in the past, liberal democracy appears to have its own sets of values and normative claims. Its adherents, for example, are supposed to believe that liberal democracy operates entirely by law. Julien Freund detects in liberal legalism "an irenic concept" of law, "a juridical utopia (...) which ignores the real effects of political, economic and other relations."36 No wonder that Schmitt and his followers have difficulty in accepting the liberal vision of the rule of law, or in believing that such a vision can "suspend decisive [ideological] battle through endless discussion."37 In its quest for a perfect and apolitical society, liberal democracy develops in such a manner that "public discussion [becomes] an empty formality,"38 reduced to shallow discourse in which different opinions are no longer debated. A modern liberal politician increasingly resembles an "entertainer" whose goal is not to persuade the opponent about the validity of his political programs, but primarily to obtain electoral majorities.39

In hindsight, it should not appear strange that liberal democracy, which claims to be open to all kinds of technological, economic and sexual "revolutions," remains opposed to anything that would question its apolitical status quo. It comes, therefore, as no surprise that even the word "politics" is increasingly being supplanted by the more anodyne word "policy," just as prime ministers in liberal democracies are increasingly recruited from economists and businessmen.

Schmitt correctly predicted that even the defeat of fascism and the recent collapse of communism would not forestall a political crisis in liberal democracy. For Schmitt, this crisis is inherent in the very nature of liberalism, and will keep recurring even if all anti-liberal ideologies disappeared. The crisis in liberal parliamentary democracy is the result of the contradiction between liberalism and democracy; it is, in Schmittian language, the crisis of a society that attempts to be both liberal and democratic, universal and legalistic, but at the same time committed to the self-government of peoples.

One does not need to go far in search of fields that may politicize and then polarize modern liberal democracy. Recent events in Eastern Europe, the explosion of nationalisms all around the world, racial clashes in the liberal democratic West - these and other "disruptive" developments demonstrate that the liberal faith may have a stormy future. Liberal democracy may fall prey to its own sense of infallibility if it concludes that nobody is willing to challenge it. This would be a mistake. For neither the demise of fascism nor the recent collapse of communism has ushered in a more peaceful epoch. Although Western Europe and America are now enjoying a comfortable respite from power politics, new conflicts have erupted in their societies, over multiculturalism and human rights. The end of liberal apolitical democracy and the return of "hard" politics may be taking place within liberal democratic societies.


  1. See Giovanni Sartori, Democratic Theory (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1962), 3. "In a somewhat paradoxical vein, democracy could be defined as a high-flown name for something which does not exist." See, for instance, the book by French "Schmittian" Alain de Benoist, Democratie: Le probleme (Paris: Le Labyrinthe, 1985), 8. "Democracy is neither more 'modern' nor more 'evolved' than other forms of governance: Governments with democratic tendencies have appeared throughout history. We can observe how the linear perspective used in this type of analysis can be particularly deceiving." Against the communist theory of democracy, see Julien Freund, considered today as a foremost expert on Schmitt, in Politique et impolitique (Paris: Sirey, 1987), 203. "It is precisely in the name of democracy, designed as genuine and ideal and always put off for tomorrow that non-democrats conduct their campaign of propaganda against real and existing democracies." For an interesting critique of democratic theory, see Louis Rougier, La Mystique democratique (Paris: Albatros,1983). Rougier was inspired by Vilfredo Pareto and his elitist anti-democratic theory of the state. 

  2. See, for instance, an analysis of U.S. "post-electoral politics," which seems to be characterized by the governmental incapacity to put a stop to increasing appeals to the judiciary, in Benjamin Ginsberg and Martin Shefter, Politics by other Means: The Declining Importance of Election in America (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1990). 

  3. Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, trans. Ellen Kennedy (Cambridge: MIT,1985), 4. 

  4. The views held by some leftist scholars concerning liberalism closely parallel those of Schmitt, particularly the charge of "soft" repression. See, for instance, Jurgen Habermas, Technik und Wissenschaft als Ideologie (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1968). See also Regis Debray , Le Scribe: Genese du politique (Paris: Grasset, 1980). 

  5. Carl Schmitt, Der Begriff des Politischen (Munchen und Leipzig: Duncker und Humblot, 1932), 36. Recently, Schmitt's major works have become available in English. These include: The Concept of the Political, trans. G. Schwab (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Prress, 1976); Political Romanticism, trans. G. Oakes (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986); and Political Theology, trans. G. Schwab (Cambridge: MIT Press; 1985). There may be some differences between my translations and the translations in the English version. 

  6. Schmitt, Der Begriff, 76. 

  7. Francois-Bernard Huyghe, La soft-ideologie (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1987), 43 

  8. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 8. 

  9. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 15. 

  10. Schmitt, The Crisis ojParliamentary Democrary, 15. 

  11. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 9. 

  12. Carl Schmitt, Verfassungslehre (Munchen und Leipzig: Verlag von Duncker und Humblot, 1928), 83. 

  13. See Ferdinand Tonnies, Community and Society (Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft), trans. and ed. Charles P. Loomis (New York: Harper & Row, 1963). Tonnies distinguishes between hierarchy in modern and traditional society. His views are similar to those of Louis Dumont, Homo Hierarchicus, the Caste System and its Implications, trans. Mark Sainsbury and L. Dumont (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980). Dumont draws attention to "vertical" vs. "horizontal" inequality among social groups. 

  14. Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, 234. 

  15. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 9. 

  16. Carl Schmitt, Du Politique, trans. William Gueydan (Puiseaux: Pardes, 1990), 46. Legalitat und Legitimitat appears in French translation, with a preface by Alain de Benoist, as "L'egalite et legitimite" 

  17. Schmitt, Du Politique, 57. 

  18. Schmitt, Du Politique, 58. See also Schmitt's Verfassungslehre, 87-91: 

  19. Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, 245. 

  20. Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, 246. 

  21. Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, 245. 

  22. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 10. 

  23. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 13. 

  24. See, for instance, the conservative revolutionary, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Das Dritte Reich (1923) whose criticism of liberal democracy often parallels Carl Schmitt's, and echoes Karl Marx, The Critique of the Gotha Program, (New York: International Publishers, 1938), 9. "Hence equal rights here (in liberalism) means in principle bourgeois rights. The equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor." See also Schmitt's contemporary Othmar Spann with a similar analysis, Der wahre Staat (Leipzig: Verlag von Qnelle und Meyer,1921). 

  25. See Carl Schmitt, "L'unite du monde," trans. Philippe Baillet in Du Politique, 237-49. 

  26. In some multi-ethnic states, liberal democracy has difficulty taking root. For instance, the liberalisation of Yugoslavia has led to its collapse into its ethnic parts. This could bring some comfort to Schmitt's thesis that democracy requires a homogeneous "Volk" within its ethnographic borders and state. See Tomislav Sunic, "Yugoslavia, the End of Communism the Return of Nationalism," America (20 April 1991), 438--440. 

  27. Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, 234. See for a detailed treatment of this subject the concluding chapter of Paul Gottfried, Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory (Westport and New York: Greenwood Press, 1990). 

  28. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 16, 

  29. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 28. 

  30. Schmitt, Verfassungslehre, 247. 

  31. Carl Schmitt; "L'etat de droit bourgeois," in Du Politique, 35. 

  32. Freund, Politique et impolitique, 204. 

  33. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1966), vol. 2, book fourth, Ch. 6. 

  34. There is a flurry of books criticizing the "surreal" and "vicarious" nature of modern liberal society. See Jean Baudrillard, Les strategies fatales ("Figures du transpolitique") (Paris: Grasset, 1983). Also, Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (New York: Warner Books, 1979). 

  35. Georges Sorel, Les illusions du progres (Paris: M. Riviere, 1947), 50. 

  36. Freund, Politique et impolitique, 305. 

  37. Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie (Munchen und Leipzig: Verlag von Duncker und Humblot, 1934), 80. 

  38. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 6. 

  39. Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 7.