The Elite Know What Makes Democracy Work

“Nowhere has democracy ever worked well without a great measure of local self-government.” ~Friedrich A. Hayek

That might have been one of the truest statements ever made by Hayek. Yet he didn’t state this with the assumption that, therefore, we the public should seek nor that the ruling elite like him should allow for “a great measure of local self-government.” Instead, he supported authoritarian regimes such as that of Augusto Pinochet.

He believed that democracy should be sacrificed every single time, even if it required violent oppression and mass death, in order to ensure the dominance of capitalism, that is to say of plutocratic corporatism and cronyism. He understood the precise conditions under which democracy thrives and he feared it.

Freedom must be prevented at all costs, according to his vision, at least freedom of everyone other than the capitalist class in a highly unequal society where the few horde the concentrated wealth. Our present lack of democracy isn’t for a lack of understanding democracy. Those seeking to destroy democracy understand full well what they’re doing.

Think about the next time you hear a self-proclaimed expert, not limited to the political right (Democratic professional politicians are among the worst), warns against too much democratic populism, warns against the mob — advising instead for lesser evilism, paternalistic moderation, centrism of an Overton window shifted far right. They are not defending your freedom but their own power, privilege, and profit.

Those like Hayek hoped to prevent democracy. They envisioned an authoritariasm of totalitarian proportions, such that social control would be absolute. Anyone who questioned or challenged, anyone who dared to speak with an honest and moral voice would be eliminated as untold numbers did under Pinochet. But other elites like John Sherman understood another threat, as he said of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890:

“[P]eople are feeling the power and grasp of these combinations, and are demanding of every State Legislature and of Congress a remedy for this evil, only grown into huge proportions in recent times… You must heed their appeal, or be ready for the socialist, the communist and the nihilist.”

Theodore Roosevelt echoed this thought when he warned that the elite should take heed of the problems the left-wing points to because they are real problems. Otherwise, the masses would turn to those who would do what needed to be done. More than a century on, Nick Hanauer, yet another white male elite of the capitalist class, warned of the pitchforks coming for the plutocrats.

If the elite don’t allow for basic democracy, the left-wingers will gain power. Hayek simply personified why radicalism was necessary, made clear that this is a fight to the death. And the death that the authoritarian elites have in mind is your death and that of your loved ones, your neighbors. This is why we find ourselves with a police state with the largest mass incarceration in history. The Hayekian elite haven’t quite figured out how to implement a Pinochet-style regime, but they’re working on it.

Now if the general public only understood democracy as well as did Hayek. Then we would have a revolution.

(Source: REAL Democracy History Calendar: May 6 – 12)

The Road to Neoliberalism

It is strange to continually see references to Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Hayek’s support of a brutal dictator like Augusto Pinochet shows that, in practice, he had nothing against going down the road to serfdom, in terms of his own confused use of that word. Such support demonstrates that he was morally insane and politically evil, and yet right-wingers continue to use that book like a magical talisman to wave away all alternative leftist possibilities.

Even ignoring the real world context of Hayek’s life, the title of his book is plain bizarre. He is arguing against oppressive centralization of power in large governments. But historically speaking, serfdom was part of feudalism. The one thing feudalism wasn’t is a national dictatorship like that of Pinochet’s Chile. Feudal lords were violently oppressive authoritarians that operated locally and on the small scale. Most of their power came from tradition and brute force at their command, not government and official laws. Feudal lords often fought against the centralized power of kings.

Let me put that in a modern context. There are two examples that come to mind that most closely approximate feudalism and serfdom.

The most obvious example was the plantation slave system, the aristocratic slaveholders having been the direct inheritors of the aristocratic feudal lords. I mean that literally and directly. Feudalism morphed into slavery with the one constant being the aristocracy, with a couple of centuries of overlap between the two systems. Interestingly, in the colonies, many of those slaveholding aristocrats fought against the British Empire in the American Revolution because they didn’t like a distant large centralized authoritarian government usurping their despotic power and overruling their own authoritarian aspirations within their local fiefdoms.

A more recent example is that of company towns. They aren’t as common these days, at least not in the Western countries, but from the 1800s to the early 1900s many of them were built in the United States. Before labor laws and protections, which is to say before much labor organizing, company towns were sometimes very much neo-feudalism with the ownership class having near total power over their workers. In company towns, workers were often in debt peonage/slavery and this was used as a form of rigid social control. Their entire lives were dominated by the company. They were required by the company to live in company housing, buy from the company store, go to the company doctor, send their kids to the company school, etc.

All of this relates to what is called corporatism (Southern Californian Birth of Salvific Corporatism; & Fascism, Corporatism, and Big Ag). It was a key pillar of fascism. And of course mass slavery was brought back under fascist states. One might note the growing role of prison labor in the US economy, a tradition that followed directly from slavery (From Slavery to Mass Incarceration).

Both of those examples came at a time when government was immensely smaller and less centralized. Feudalism and neo-feudalism is the very vision of authoritarian libertarianism, if we are to coin such a misnomer. This is is also the era that neoliberals love to fantasize about. It’s unsurprising that neoliberal superstars like Friedman, Reagan, and Thatcher loved Pinochet and any other right-wing authoritarian who came along. Neoliberalism has always depended on the alliance of fascist and theocratic states.

The first and only necessary principle of corporatist neoliberalism (or rather soft fascism) is the plutocratic privilege to deny everyone else’s rights and freedoms. Hayek didn’t care about civil rights and democratic systems of any sort and saw them as potentially dangerous. His so-called liberalism was (and still is) defined by one ideal, that of supposedly freedom of action in terms of unmeritocratic capitalism, but it didn’t apply to the freedom of action of anyone who disagreed with him, especially those not part of the oligarchy (the Golden Rule, those with the gold make and enforce the rules). So, he only believed in freedom of others to do what he thought they should do. Otherwise, they must be stopped from acting freely, even if it involved violent oppression, from mass killings to torture (thousands died, were harmed, went missing, and were made into refugees under Pinochet’s regime).

Of course, this oppressive unfreedom was supposedly only a temporary situation, until the malcontents were taken care of, the anti-capitalist obstacles removed, and the new social order was put in place. Then and only then would freedom reign. That was the dogmatic ideology of laissez-faire capitalism that captured power in Western countries and was violently enforced around the world. It was a serfdom made global, not limited to mere local authoritarianism and a quaint aristocracy. This is why spreading Western freedom around the world has required trillions of dollars of military force and millions killed — bombs and blood. It was Manifest Destiny at a larger scale, with even better rhetoric.

Some call this liberty.

* * *

Nietzsche, Hayek, and the Meaning of Conservatism
by Corey Robin

Hayek von Pinochet
by Corey Robin

Hayek’s Super-Highway
by John Médaille

The road to serfdom and taking the country back
by citizen k

Hayek and Pinochet
by John Quiggin

Capitalism is Not Meritocracy
by Frank Moraes

Bill Black: How Hayek Helped the Worst Get to the Top in Economics and as CEOs
by Yves Smith

The New Road to Serfdom
by Christopher Hayes

The Road from Serfdom
by Greg Grandin

Why libertarians apologize for autocracy
by Michael Lind

Friedrich Hayek: in defence of dictatorship
by Benjamin Selwyn

The Mad Dream of a Libertarian Dictatorship
by Jesse Walker

Money won’t compensate for my torture in Chile
by Leopoldo García Lucero