Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 3-2009, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich

Letter to the Editors
“I would strongly disagree with your designating Western states as democracies”

On the occasion of NATO opponents’ wrong criticism of the celebrations of NATO's sixty year anniversary, we published a leaflet criticizing their arguments. In response, we received the following letter.

Dear Gegenstandpunkt folks,

I have a minor criticism. I would strongly disagree with your designating Western states as democracies. Democracy means popular rule. But in the West, the people doesn’t rule. The economically powerful are the ones who really influence political decisions. This is done for instance through personnel linkages (e.g., directorships, switching positions of power between business and politics, corporate contributions to government officials and representatives). Trade associations work out legislation and the lines of argumentation. Furthermore, they make use of consultancy work, traditional lobbying, influence through the media, and legal and illegal political contributions. And then there is capital tax avoidance or evasion, which put the state in financial distress. So we are not living in a democracy but in a parliamentary system dominated by big business.

The editors’ reply:

With your “minor criticism” you complain that we fail to criticize Western democracies for something you think they should definitely be criticized for. You say we uncritically let them get away with claiming the honorary title of democracy that they are by no means entitled to. We can throw this accusation of being uncritical towards “popular rule” in the West right back at you. For we are not at all in favor of holding — nor do we think it particularly critical to hold — the way that democratic rule is exercised, which you too apparently have high esteem for, up to the invented standard of a true democracy whenever one thinks the moral code of good governance has been violated. Nor are we in sympathy with then deploring all sorts of deviations from this fine ideal without bothering about the way things really work and the reasons and purposes behind it, which are worth criticizing. The way you confront rule with the ideals that this rule itself begets and cultivates is pretty much the opposite of criticism. That is why your objections to really existing democracy are wholly unsuitable, even if they come across as somewhat radical and fundamental:

What is it that you really want to criticize about the business lobby? Business itself, i.e., the interest that business associations represent? Do you have any criticism of that? Do you have anything against the consequences these interests have for many people when “big business” vigorously pursues them? Or does its size bother you only because of the democratic impropriety of its influence on politics that you think the “economically powerful” keep meddling with so unwarrantedly? And what is that you want to criticize about politics — parliamentarianism? Or do you want to defend it against the corruption of members of parliament? Do you have anything against what tax revenues are used for? Or are you advocating dutiful payment of taxes rather than tax evasion? Is it the content of the laws you can't stand, or the shady wheelings and dealings of legislating? Are you against the objectives of politics or do you deplore its flawed functioning and the extrapolitical influence threatening its success?

You bemoan the state’s bias towards the interests of business. You further assume that this bias is not an exception, but the rule characterizing all “Western states.” But you refuse to draw a conclusion about these states’ political program, which explains this state of affairs. Instead, you undauntedly assume that “political decisions” really could and ought to be about something very different and much better than they — as you yourself note and deplore — actually are. This is how respectfully and constructively one can talk about the practice of political power when one ignores its real reasons and adamantly maintains that its real job is to serve philanthropic ends. Accordingly, your need for explanation begins with the question of what is preventing states from doing what they do not do but you think they really should do. You apparently find it rather uninteresting to ask the simple question of why states do what they do. When you ask what sort of things might be preventing politicians from dutifully fulfilling all that is true, good, and beautiful, you are hopelessly on the wrong track. Nothing you come up with to answer this question has the character of an explanation; rather, it consists in idealistically holding aberrations, transgressions, and breaches of duty against the yardstick of what one might expect from a politically correct authority in a genuine democracy. Thus you “explain” the influence of lobbying, corruption, unfair advantage, or the matter of “personal linkages” between “positions of power in business and politics” in an entirely negative way, by what it is not, measured against an ideal of what is politically right. Haven’t you noticed that these personal linkages are based on the fact that the interests of state and business are objectively interlinked? Has it never struck you that the well-being of the nation, i.e., its international standing, depends indisputably and “without alternative” on “the economy” and its growth? And that this is the reason why the masters of this economy and those of politics have such important dealings with each other?

As for your siding with the people, whose rule you find missing: you stand up for this fine collective playing a political role that you think has been unjustly denied without paying any attention to how a people actually exists and the role it really plays in the system of rule you hold in such high esteem. We regard such idealism as especially uncritical — vis-à-vis both the people and rule.

Do you even know what a people is? You think of it as a mass of ordinary people who just want a bit of fun in their lives and to raise their children in peace. This has nothing to do with the really existing people. The people is an ensemble of fierce antagonisms that are tightly organized down to the last detail by its lawful, constitutional, and welfare-state authority. The contradictions are not only between the interests of owners and non-owners, buyers and sellers, workers and businessmen. The interests of members of the people also oppose each other when they want the same thing, i.e., are competitors in accordance with the logic of the market economy. Under the direction of the welfare state, even the most innocent natural differences between young and old, healthy and sick turn into contrary positions that regard each other with bitter resentment. All conflicts are meticulously regulated: a massive legislative apparatus concerns itself solely with maintaining the established antagonisms between the sections of the people and making them productive for the progress of the nation. The character and scope of every permissible means for battling them out in a socially acceptable way is defined by law; all the fine and less fine consequences of these collisions of interest are taken into account and legally regulated beforehand, or attended to after the fact.

This supervision of competition is the service that the state renders and the competitors demand as their indispensable means of existence. It is actually only the common will to submit to the rule of the state that creates the common ground making a population a people, i.e., a political collective of competitors who supplement their conflicts with a paradoxical willingness to disregard these conflicts, because they take the state-organized continuation of the conflicts as the elementary condition for their own existence. As well-ordered masses, a people is the product, basis and instrument of state rule and has no other will than to submit to state power. Exercising this will, a people appoints agents of state power in democratic elections, demanding in return, in all servility, that this good will be rewarded with good governance.

And to you, this unpleasant bunch — the people — exercises too little power in a democracy? We, at any rate, have for quite some time been fed up with it and its constructive, democratic cooperation with its rulers.

© GegenStandpunkt 2009