Are liberals in control? And do liberals really hurt the people they try to help? How you answer depends on your definition of the “L” word.
Once, to be a liberal meant to privilege the market over people. So wrote Adam Smith, the guru of capitalism, over two centuries ago. For him, liberalism was nations and peoples pursuing their self-interest, or freedom, in the marketplace. Thus freed, society would prosper.
Currently, liberalism describes policies or views that run counter to the market freedom that Smith backed. His vision was the traditional meaning of liberalism. Today it is actually the conservative, or free-market, approach.
In President George W. Bush’s America, such liberalism is a dangerous sickness, writes author Samir Amin, a top social scientist based in Dakar, Senegal. In his book titled The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World, he argues that the global consequences of this virus are spawned by a theory of an imaginary market. It presents an idealized version of the capitalist economy. Thus regular people’s struggles against racism, sexism and militarism vanish. In their places are “natural” rates of unemployment and “preventive” wars.
Reading Amin’s book helps us to see more clearly the distinction between the imaginary market and real capitalism. Coercion is a key to capital accumulation. A case in point is the U.S. conquest of Iraq. Companies that are politically connected to the GOP are looting Iraq’s resources, with the biggest prize of all its oil reserves. This trend of might makes right for corporate profits is barbaric, Amin notes.
For him, this imperial outcome flows, historically, from a U.S.-centered belief system of extreme individualism. Tragically, it has crushed the concept of equity. By contrast, equity has been central to European liberalism since the French Revolution that inspired revolutionary Haitians, and others.
The opposite has been and is the case on the U.S side of the Atlantic. Two examples are the American legacy of genocide and slavery. The U.S. populace and the world are the worse for the resulting sickness of America’s political culture. Amin pulls no punches in criticizing the U.S.
“American society despises equality,” he writes. “Extreme inequality is not only tolerated, it is taken as a symbol of “success” that liberty promises. But liberty without equality is equal to barbarism.” From my armchair in the U.S., I can see a bit better now why Europeans work fewer hours, have better health care and enjoy longer life expectancies than Americans. Amin has much faith in Europeans to forge policies that put humanity before profitability.
America’s war on terror, Amin reasons, is partly a cover for a weak U.S. economy in decline since the Vietnam War. The early 1970s was the end of the “Golden Age” of post-World War II prosperity for corporate America. Its rate of profits slumped due to new entrants into the global market, German and Japanese rivals nabbing market share and profits. The current phase of U.S. military aggression is a response to that continued commercial decline. Amin brings a robust critique to the ideology of America’s business and war culture.
However, I wanted more on how market ideology is produced and reproduced. Parroting the market myths on commercial media is one thing. But don’t people’s lives generate market ideology in other ways? Doesn’t being a wage earner result in an acceptance of tyranny as a natural law, like gravity? How can there be a “free” job market with no real freedom over one’s life at work? This is a symptom of the infection that Amin terms the “liberal virus,” that the market brings us the opportunity for liberty.
Protect yourself against the dangerous sickness of market mystification. Read The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World by Samir Amin.
SETH SANDRONSKY lives and writes in Sacramento firstname.lastname@example.org.