Notes on Liberal Democracy

While noting that Donald Trump is most likely a horrible person, one of the good things emerging from this political season (and to a much lesser degree from the Bernie Sanders campaign) is the fact that the “party system” in particular and “liberal democracy” in general is failing to make good on its post-Enlightenment promises.  Of course, I expect left-wing outlets to attack any criticism of liberal democracy, but I was surprised to see some anti-Trump conservatives defend liberal democracy. Moreover, they see, possibly accurately, that the attacks on liberal democracy come increasingly from the so-called “Alt Right” and from monarchists like myself.

I don’t want to identify with the Alt Right simply because too many of them are vile racists and post-Nietzscheans.  Nevertheless, in many of these conversations few have actually defined and identified liberal democracy.  Taking my cue from Matthew Raphael Johnson, I’ll give it a try.  You will note that both Establishment Republicans and Establishment Democrats agree with every one of these points.  This is why “voting” rarely changes anything.

most of these points are taken from Matthew Raphael Johnson)

(1) Commitment to a market ideology which sees the world in quantified terms (and by market I don’t necessarily mean “capitalism,” though that could be included)
(2) a web of relations that depends on social credit
(3) Commitment to representative institutions, albeit with a major caveat: liberal loyalty to representative institutions only makes sense if liberalism itself is served.
(4) commitment to some abstract idea of “universal human rights.” But of course, a universal right is often too vague to be useful.

In another essay, Johnson lists these tenets as defining liberal democracy (especially in foreign politics)

1. Liberalism alone grants legitimacy.
2. Liberal values are comprehensive and self-evidently true. They require no supporting argumentation.
3. The “global community,” is a real entity, but the “nation” is the product of “myth.” It has the right to intervene wherever “democracy” is threatened.
4. Implicitly, the American taxpayer should be coerced to pay for these actions.
5. Capitalism is the sole rational mode of production.
6. Liberal democratic capitalism should be (and is) the only ideology that has the right to be imposed and enforced with American arms.
7. The only objects that exist in the universe are individuals. Collectives are only conventions.
8. Nationalism (which is undefined here) is inherently monstrous and ruinous. This includes all forms of economic nationalism such as import substitution.
9. Only the leader of global liberalism has the right to intervene in the politics of other states. Anyone else, especially if they are against the liberal consensus, does not have this right and should be obstructed by force.
10. American influence and power, if it is controlled by liberal values, is inherently just


4 comments on “Notes on Liberal Democracy

  1. cal says:

    Schmitt’s interesting here, because using his paradigm, the “global” society is nothing more than a universalized notion of the jus publicum europaeum, the advancement of Grotius’ (among others) notion of the Law of Nations. In other words, European norms are project globally. Schmitt is ambivalent about this (for and against).

    Thus Euro-American norms are globalized, which means Liberal values are now universal values applicable to all. We don’t live in a world much different the colonialism of yesteryear, which itself prided itself as an “advance” beyond the Atlantic world of chattel slavery (yet Africans still suffer).

    But on the other hand, I don’t think Nationalism is itself a remedy against a global capitalism, liberal crusades or other dominant notions. I think there’s sufficient evidence to argue that it was Nationalism that fueled Nazi dominance of Europe, and was the rhetorical backdrop for why the Germans had to invade France, the UK, and other Germano nation-states (for their own good) and annihilate the East (they were Asiatic-Jewish hordes).



    • If nationalism is reduced to racial purity, then yes, it led to Hitler. Also if nationalism is being used in the post-Enlightenment sense. If one uses it in the pre- or counter-enlightenment, where the nation and ethnos functions more on linguistic or cultural lines, then I don’t see it leading to Hitler.


      • cal says:

        I was particularly thinking about counter-Enlightenment strains. Rhetorically, Fichte and Herder are remarkable similar to Goebbels. Of course, there are some pretty tectonic shifts (most notably the change from ‘geist’ to blood-and-soil). But I don’t think they are different “ontologically”. The hatred against the Frenchman took on literary proportions similar to the hatred of the Jew. There’s even some disturbing proto-nationalism in the likes of people like Oliver Cromwell, where it was England’s “natural being” to be at war with Spain. It’s for this reason why he was so vicious in the conquest of Ireland. Was Drogheda equal to Dachau? No, but it’s not by category, but only degrees.

        Of course, given what you’ve said about Augustine’s definition of societas, you have some space to try and rework the notion of nation. But I think the connotation has a blood component that is not eradicable. Especially with the purveyance of racialized thinking upon the world. Whatever was good in the romantic’s notion of the nation is, for better or worse, dead.


  2. cal says:

    I will say that nationalism, in the short-run, is a medicine to call into question liberalism’s universalizing pretensions. Even if it is equally disastrous, I do enjoy watching someone like a Muamar Gaddafi (Pan-Arabism/Pan-Africanism), Hugo Chavez (Pan-Americanism) or Vladimir Putin (pan-slavism) embarrass the West through compelling alternatives to the so-called “global” narrative.


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