Democracy as argument Ruthless Criticism

Towards the correct understanding of democracy

First, democracy is a peculiar way to organize state power: the competing candidates are obligated to be elected into office by calling on the people who are governed over. The infrastructure of democratic states therefore includes, along with the real apparatus of rule, a party system which recruits candidates for its cast of characters. The freedom of the voters to join these parties and to give their trust to one rather than the other in no way restricts the sovereignty of the elected office holders, but on the contrary assures them of unconditional recognition, even from supporters of the losing side. Vice versa, they demand that the voting citizens, in their opinions about government affairs and staff, adopt their standpoint as best they can and appreciate the enforcement problems that the state has, not least with people like themselves. This constructive self-denial requires that a people delude themselves (or let themselves be) and every election campaign shows how this is carried out: the parties aspiring to power spell out to the people that their strong leadership guarantees them of anything useful and is their elementary political need.

Second, despite all their experience with the methods of rule, the name democracy is counted as a value which – as befits a value – goes without saying. One can argue for and against state institutions and procedures, however good or bad; with democracy in the higher sense, this is inadmissible: the institutions are measured against democracy. In other words, democracy itself is not examined, rather the institutions are judged according to whether they are democratic. The idea is that a rule which allows itself to be periodically commissioned by its subjects would not be rule and its voters not subjects; a force that invites anyone who obeys it in practice to participate in it ideally would be non-violence; the true content and purpose of democratic state institutions would as a result be the liberation of people from oppression, almost as if the prevention of arbitrary power and despotism were an endless task which requires an entire state power. The corresponding ideal is called freedom and strictly speaking has only one grim content, that it promises the opposite of its opposite, namely no arbitrary rape by the state authority – a questionable promise, because it assumes that a democratic citizen in his political powerlessness could also continually cultivate the alternative. In light of this value, democrats interpret the form of state which they are familiar with as a realization of their freedom. At the same time, hardly anyone deceives themselves about the actually practiced procedures of democratic authorization, about the stupidities of “partisanship” and the sordid techniques of hunting for votes. However, all these bad experiences with their freedom to vote doesn't dissuade democrats from taking it to be the comparatively optimal fulfillment of the ideal standard of a profoundly free empowerment. Nor, for all their disdain for the notorious quarreling over votes, do they have any problem attributing the profound meaning to it of guaranteeing political freedom. To take one for the other, the procedure for the value and the value as a procedure, so that the lofty idea of freedom neither demeans the technique of legitimation of rule nor the practice of voting demeans the democratic idealism – that constitutes the secret of power and responsibility in a democracy. Criticism is thereby not excluded: it consists in comparing the experience with the idea of freedom that is believed in and, no matter how the comparison turns out, confirms their trust that the state power, no matter what it really wreaks, still always has an intrinsically citizen-friendly content and purpose.

There is a certain irony in this democratic delusion. The value concept as well as the state form it canonizes – according to its “real” intention – is based on the fact that democracy is the political form of a political-economic content and only functions if the corresponding raison d'état is on track. Democrats themselves admit that their much-praised way of making a state has some very specific social preconditions, namely when they point out that, for obvious reasons, a people must be “ready” for democracy in order for it to work out. It is indeed not really self-evident that a citizen as an everyday subject will properly put himself aside and imagine himself in the role of assigner of his own authority. But splitting his consciousness in such a functional way is also not merely a matter of habit. The democratic way of making a state presupposes that the society it rules in this way needs an official disciplinary power and in fact stands in a calculating relation to the power which it defers to. It must therefore involve a society of conflicting interests which needs supervision by force in order to be sustainable, but without giving up its conflicting content; in which not only the holders of successful interests impose, at the expense of the others, a public power necessary for their security, but also for the others, who are given the role of useful assistants to the dominant interests, who see their calling and their livelihood in it and who recognize that “it” does not work without a general supervisory power. This presumed, the state power refers to the conflicting interests and the living “circumstances” of its citizens which it puts into effect as an objective fact that it finds and helps them cope with – the beneficiaries as well as the exploited, the successful as well as those who work for the success of others. This is the basis for all the forms of servitude of the “people” that characterize a democratic state power. The freedom that it really grants its subjects exists in the right to shrewdly deal with a whole world of “objective compulsions” – the “silent compulsion” of economic relations as well as the very outspoken compulsions of the law and the responsible authorities who correspond to it – insofar as their private means reach. It is this compulsion to an opportunism of its own kind which the idea of freedom glorifies as liberation from state guardianship. Democracy is therefore not merely a procedural rule for governments, but thirdly a form with content: It is bases itself on the modern bourgeois class society and defines rule as the task of protecting, by any means necessary, the functioning of the “market economy” and its central legal institution, private property, of promoting economic policy and dealing with the consequences.

The contemporary ideology that always mentions “democracy and market economy” in the same breath is not so off the mark – except that it turns the matter upside down and conceives “free economy” as if that would be the definition of capitalistic activity, as a demand made by ideals of political freedom that are beyond question. In truth, the capitalistic relation between a society defined by private property and wage-labor and the state force that is necessary and functional for that society takes place in the form of the democratic participaton of voters in government and is idealized in the idea of bourgeois freedom. Therefore, under the sign of the state form and under all indications a supreme value, democracy signifies a complete reason of state which defines the political success conditions of productive private property, of capitals.

The freedom of the national economy to act beyond the restrictions of its original community is included in these success criteria. This freedom also has to create and to protect the national state power restricted within its borders. The foreign policy of democratic states has from the outset a material content, even if the claims that they raise against other states give the impression of a very abstract competition for “power” because they revolve around issues of sovereignty as such. When apart from all economic issues, diplomatic “courtesy” is required from other sovereigns, sovereign rights are complained about, and military parades and symbols of honor dominate the scene, this always includes the material demand which follows from the democratic raison d'être: The other state should comply with the “free market economy” interests of the demanding nation, i.e. its capitalists, and appropriately straighten up its own society for this purpose – thus govern themselves “properly.”

What is demanded there is not at all feasible with democratic methods for 90 out of 100 states in the world. The demands from abroad, from the various homelands of “market economy” freedom, mostly encounter circumstances in which capitalistic success has not at all come about in the local society and will also never come about as long as commercial interests from abroad are allowed to freely serve themselves. Consequently, all the conditions for a national class society “capable” of democracy are absent. The state's command over the locals remains the extended arm of foreign demands and never enters into relation with the governed people as a forcible “public service” to their – conflicting – interests; at best, it does so only formally, as a democratic farce. This does not at all hinder modern democrats, however, from dressing up their demanding posture against the rest of the world in the wish to meet the properly useful counter image of their own nation. And because one has the very best opinion of one's own nation, this wish thinks of itself as the generous offer that the rest of the world be allowed to operate in its own image. Thus the demand that all interests usefully tidy themselves up in a world of states serving the capitalistic success of one's own nation poses as the project of teaching other nations respect for freedom. Democracy, used in international politics as an argument, stands therefore fourthly for – imperialism.

[Arguments taken from GegenStandpunkt 1-93]