Liberal Capitalism is Dead

From its beginnings out of the European Enlightenment, liberal capitalism was based on a promise of progress through justice predicated on equality before the law. In light of the fact that the Enlightenment ran alongside the European Witch Hunts, the ideological foundations of liberal capitalism have always been something of a thought experiment, since the political democracy of liberal capitalism has tended to turn a blind eye to the class war characteristic of the Witch Hunts. This is doubly true of the class war of societies dominated by class hierarchies, such as every society that a liberal democracy has ever operated within. The fact that the Enlightenment did take place alongside the Witch Hunts might perhaps be considered indicative of a pronounced cognitive dissonance; the failure amongst liberal capitalists to perceive any could likewise be considered telling.

As the radical historian Rudolf Rocker noted in the years prior to WWII, the promise of equality before the law under liberal democracy was shipwrecked on the rocks of class society, a fact that has only become truer in the post-war period, as the United States acted as midwife for the rise to power of a transnational corporate empire in the midst of its own rise to global dominance as geopolitical hegemon. With the rise of transnational corporate capitalism, the limitations of liberal capitalism are becoming too conspicuous to safely sweep under the rug. Politicians are bought and paid for before they even reach office thanks to corporate campaign donations, as are the national committees of two-party duopolies, and this is only the beginning.

On shipwrecks

In digging deeper, we find that the revolving door between transnational corporations and the state builds and sustains old boy networks and creates institutional linkages with private, unaccountable power; private security outnumbers state armed forces in most countries these days, private prisons create demand for draconian sentencing laws, and Amazon aids both the CIA and NSA by storing their copious surveillance data on its cloud servers. Public choice theorists sponsored by the Koch brothers propagandise jurists and policymakers behind the scenes to protect corporate power from democracy by conflating individual freedom and extreme class privilege. This and various other forms of totalitarian mischief are enabled by the legal fiction of corporate personhood—one that stands, not because of any clear judicial ruling that can be pointed to as a cogent argument as to why corporations should have the same rights as human beings, but as a series of fait accomplis perpetrated in the closing decades of the 19th century, beginning with Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co. in 1886.

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Ben Debney is a PhD candidate in history at Western Sydney University, Bankstown. He is the author of The Oldest Trick in the Book: Panic-Driven Scapegoating in History and Recurring Patterns of Persecution (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).     Wildcat Ocular lives and works in Melbourne, Australia.

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