Sunday, March 09, 2008

Liberty, Democracy, Socialism

I see these three things as interrelated but not totally and immediately connected to each other. Rather, I see a society that's fundamentally socialist as one that's built on a foundation of social justice so that the values of a just society take precedence over individual claims to wealth based on an extension of liberalism to include freedom to make whatever profit you want and keep it all. From there this socialism is most closely linked to democracy, which the principal of popular possession of resources entails in a certain aspect. Then, democracy and socialism are linked to liberalism in that they both are linked to increased freedom for the individual as a member of a society that augments general freedom, and it follows that personal, individual, freedom should follow as a consequence to the impulse behind both socialism and radical democracy.

But these three terms aren't necessarily strongly linked in that there have been socialist societies that have been actively anti-liberal, such as Stalinist ones that linked every aspect of personal freedom to bourgeois illusions. There have also been socialist societies that have been comparatively more democratic, such as some anarchist experiments in Spain during the civil war and perhaps the Bolshevik revolution and the early Soviet state, but have in many respects been anti-liberal in terms of respecting freedom of the individual to be an individual as well.

There have also been states that have been very democratic but that have been only somewhat socialist and have been actively anti-liberal, the French Revolutionary state under Robespierre being the classical example. Robespierre, who oversaw the Terror, where scores of people were executed because of either their former position in society or their perceived attitude to the revolutionary state, made the statement that the Terror was democracy realized in that to truly push through pure democratic reforms you need to step on the rights of individuals somewhat.

And of course there have been liberal societies that have been democratic to some degree but utterly contemptuous to social justice or a sense of social ownership of resources. The U.S. in many respects,for example.

Finally, we have examples of states that have individual freedom but have no or little democracy or concern for social justice. The theologian Paul Tillich, who was a religious socialist, remarked that he considered the Prussian state of the late 19th century to be an example of this, where individual freedom of thought an action were pretty much wide open as long as you didn't use your freedom to try to influence the decisions of the government. I think that this state is what the U.S. is approaching today.

The point is that these three things, democracy, liberalism, and socialism, can be seen as three clusters of ideas that can be plotted on a three dimensional diagram, with different positions being able to be formed for virtually any permutation.

Liberalism does not automatically imply socialism as its logical conclusion, although some people would like to think so.

According to the current head of the House of Habsburg, constitutional monarchy in principle is perfectly compatible with Socialism as defined as non-Communist social democracy.

It's an exercise to find out where you yourself are located on the graph.

Personally, I'm a Socialist, I believe very strongly in democracy, but when it comes to liberalism I take what's come to be known as a post-liberal stance on things, which means supporting individual freedom but chucking the discourse of classical liberalism overboard for a more complex definition of how things work in reality. In this I draw heavily on the Romantic tradition of Continental Europe and on the general 19th century continental European thought about politics and society as well. My position vis-a-vis liberalism is also informed by the conservative critique of liberalism brought about by the French Revolution, so that it's sort of a response to the people who responded to liberalism in the first place.

*on edit: freedom and liberty, then, aren't the same things in that freedom is a much broader term than liberty. Democracy and socialism contribute to the amount of general freedom in a society, so that a truly free society could be seen as exemplifying all three values. Liberty, Democracy and Socialism.

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