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Three recent books about the future of democracy

 The most searching of the three calls into question whether that future is compatible with capitalism as we have come to know it.

Martin Wolf, The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (Penguin Press, 2023)

Francis Fukuyama, Liberalism and Its Discontents (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022)

Pranab Bardhan, A World of Insecurity: Democratic Disenchantment in Rich and Poor Countries (Harvard University Press, 2022)

Marx himself wasn’t so sure that capitalism would end with the overthrow of the state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, or even armed struggle.

As he saw it, “the abolition of capitalist property from within the bounds of capitalist production itself” was the obvious result of corporate capitalism, founded on the twin pillars of joint-stock companies and modern credit, both of which separated ownership and control of private property. 

The situation confronting today’s intellectuals is, then, comparable to that which Madison faced in the spring of 1786

Martin Wolf, Francis Fukuyama, and Pranab Bardhan have put themselves in Madison’s place, by publishing manifestos that combine theoretical sophistication and historical method in ways that enable us to rethink majority rule and thus reimagine the future of democracy. All three acknowledge that the parasite called neoliberalism has just about killed off its capitalist host by spawning authoritarian alternatives with global appeal. 

The age of democratic capitalism, according to Wolf, commenced about 1870 and ended around 1980. 

By his accounting, then, capitalism has continued to develop since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher dismantled the postwar Keynesian consensus in the West and Mikhail Gorbachev dismantled communism in the East, but democracy has stalled. 

In fact, capitalism in the West has by now devolved to a baroque, rentier stage (Wolf abjures the label of neoliberalism) recalling the grotesque caricatures of the late nineteenth century, when bloated monopolists were rendered as vampires or cephalopods, all teeth or tentacles. 

Meanwhile, the growth of democracy has been stunted by the rise of state/authoritarian capitalism in Eastern Europe and Asia (particularly in China), and of angry, ethno-nationalist populism in Britain and the US.

James  Livingstone ProjectSyndicate 10 March 2023


Martin Wolf “The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism” Årets viktigaste bok


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