Liberalism vs. Democracy
Σεπτεμβρίου 3, 2012 § Σχολιάστε
Ο Paul Gottfried, στο βιβλιο του για τη μαζικη δημοκρατια, αναφέρεται στην «Παρακμή του αστικού πολιτισμού» του Π. Κονδύλη.
In the chapter «Liberalism vs. Democracy» of his book on mass democracy, Paul Gottfried refers to P. Kondylis:
Panajotis Kondylis, a Germanophone Greek scholar whose work is not yet widely known, breaks new ground in this respect. Kondylis examines the distinctions between liberal bourgeois and mass democratic societies by looking at their literary and cultural artifacts. Modern democracies differ from premodern ones, according to Kondylis, in that they dissociate citizenship from cultural and ethnic identities and in the way in which mass production affects society. The modern, as opposed to premodern, democrat is not communally situated and has a ﬂuid cultural identity being shaped by a consumer economy. He also inhabits a culture that remains hostile to the older liberal universe. Postmodernism in literature and literary criticism, Kondylis argues, is the latest in a series of cultural strategies aimed at subverting the nineteenth-century liberal order. The refusal to recognize a ﬁxed or authoritative meaning for inherited texts, which is characteristic of postmodernism, represents an assault upon “liberal” education. Contrary to the world of moral and semantic order presided over by an ethical deity, which bourgeois liberals preached, the postmodernists exalt indeterminacy. They decry the acceptance of tradition in discourse, as well as in political matters, as a “fascist” act of domination – or as the inadmissible allowance of the past to intrude upon the present.
Nowhere does Kondylis call for the eradication of postmodernism or make the facile assumption that by opposing it the present generation can resurrect the bourgeois world. He contends that liberal and mass democratic societies are not only distinct but mutually antagonistic and that this antagonism has expressed itself culturally as well as socioeconomically. For over a hundred years bourgeois liberalism has been under attack from authors and artists presenting views about human nature and the nature of existence antithetical to bourgeois convictions. Materialism, atheism, and pluralism have been three such worldviews, which the bourgeoisie long viewed with justiﬁable suspicion. Deconstructionism is a more recent form of cultural criticism aimed at inherited assumptions about meaning. By now, Kondylis maintains, the old liberals have been reduced to a “rearguard struggle [Nachhutgefecht],” while watching their opponents take over culture and education.
But the reason for this reduced liberal presence, Kondylis explains, is not an insidious contamination by a cultural industry separated from the rest of society. Cultural radicals have done well in mass democracies because they continue to target the liberal order that the democrats deposed. The cultural opposition continues to mobilize even after the political war has ended. Victorian rigidity, social status, and elitist attitudes about education have all remained the butts of academic and literary criticism, and this opposition points back to the conditions of strife in which mass democracy arose. This cultural insurgency, Kondylis observes, draws strength from a subversive source that once served liberalism in its war against the past. The Enlightenment tradition of critical rationalism was crucial for the war of ideas waged by the bourgeoisie and its defenders against the remnants of an older world. Despite the attempt to integrate this outlook into a bourgeois vision of life, Enlightenment rationalism has played a new destructive role, as the instrument of a war against the bourgeoisie on behalf of openness, skepticism, and material equality.
These pointed observations about the culture of mass democracy do not deny the fact that cultural differences exist among democrats. Deconstructionists and liberal democratic absolutists still ﬁght over the values to be taught in history and literature courses. And some advocates of post-World War Two abstract expressionism, such as Hilton Kramer, have now come to oppose later schools of art as relative cultural traditionalists.
Nonetheless, radically antibourgeois movements have remained powerful in our cultures, as mass democracy continues to struggle against the remains of an older heritage. In the United States traditional liberal and agrarian democratic forces stayed alive into the twentieth century and resisted the inroads of the democratic administrative state. Mass democracy needed a cultural as well as political strategy to triumph, and the values and concepts juggled by our literary and now media elites are keys to the emergence of a postliberal society and politics.
Kondylis also makes clear that mass democracy could not have developed without the demographic and economic revolutions that transformed Western Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Industrialization, agricultural modernization, an urban working class, the disappearance of a family-based craft economy, and the operation of assembly-line production were the factors, Kondylis observes, contributing to mass democracy. Although imperial Rome experienced the concentration of uprooted proletarii in its swelling, strife-ridden cities, it could not have produced a modern political movement, because it lacked both mass production and mass consumption. Earlier societies had to deal with perpetual scarcity and with the need to share limited resources in a communal setting. The modern West, by contrast, provides more and more material gratiﬁcation to socially isolated individuals. Its politics are therefore predicated on hedonism and individual self-actualization, values that give an ethical dimension to a consumer economy. Mass democratic politics also advocates material equality, as opposed to the exclusively formal or legal equality preached by nineteenth-century liberals.
By stressing the ties between modern democracy and material pleasure, Kondylis also explains why modern democracy cannot appeal effectively in the long run to an ethic of austerity. At the end of the eighteenth century, both American and French revolutionaries invoked classical ideals of republican simplicity, a practice found preeminently in the political writings of Rousseau. Self-indulgence and luxury were viewed as aristocratic ﬂaws and, among nineteenth-century French republicans, as upper-middle-class vices. Democratic and later socialist revolutionaries even tried to exemplify the moral conduct which they hoped to enforce in a society of equals. The Jacobin socialist Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805–1881) lived and dressed like a priest; and the self-proclaimed republican Senecal in Gustave Flaubert’s novel L’Education sentimentale (1869) is made to appear eccentric in his extreme pursuit of virtue. Senecal is shown embracing dietary and sexual restraints and scorning sumptuous living. In a similar vein, black Marxist president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe has denounced the homosexuals in his homeland. Mugabe is outraged that “sodomists and sexual perverts” continue to be found there and scoffs at the idea of “rights for those given to bestiality.” All of these revolutionary democratic or socialist appeals to public virtue hark back to republican models that Kondylis views as incompatible with mass democracy. What distinguishes the latter from the former, in his opinion, is the prevalence of hedonism associated with mass production and mass consumption. This ethos express itself as a ceaseless desire for consumption combined with resentment against those who have more access to pleasure.
It was the failure of liberalism, from the standpoint of mass democracy, to move decisively enough toward material equality and individual self-expressiveness that led to its undoing. The defenders of bourgeois liberalism temporized when faced by the sociological evidence of inequality in their own society. They claimed to be more interested in freedom than in the further pursuit of equality but were also more committed to family cohesion and gender distinctions than to individual freedom. The reason for this is clear, according to Kondylis. Bourgeois liberals were both economic innovators and perpetuators of an urban civilization going back to the Middle Ages. In their heyday they spoke about sweeping change, but they were never as dedicated to the social and cultural implications of a consumer economy as were those who replaced them.
SOURCE: Gottfried, Paul Edward. After liberalism: Mass democracy in the managerial state. Princeton University Press 1999, pp. 32-35
NB: Quotes refer to Kondylis’ book (1991): Der Niedergang der bürgerlichen Denk- und Lebensformen. Die liberale Moderne und die massendemokratische Postmoderne. (The decline of bourgeois civilisation. The Liberal Modern and Mass-democratic Post-modern), only available in German and in Greek.