Yesterday's Liberals are Today's Monarchs | Today's Liberals are Tomorrow's Ancien Regime

The constant assertion from free market apologists is that the market is the most rational agent for resource allocation. The market sees all and will respond accordingly to ensure general economic equilibrium. They counterpose the efficiency of markets to what they see as the stifling problematic of any centralization of economic power; whether feudal, socialist, or distributive-democratic. Free market apologists also claim the legacy of the liberal revolutions of the Eighteenth Century. Rousseau, Adams, Madison, Jefferson, Locke et al. are viewed as the great initiators of liberal freedom. In this way, the establishment of liberal democracies was really a victory of capitalist democracies. That is, the revolutions of the Eighteenth Century eradicated the stifling hierarchical oppression of centralizing social, political, and economic restraint and released liberal man (yes, "man") towards new socio-economic and political arrangements. 

But it seems to me that the key historical insight such persons overlook is that, while the liberal revolutions were indeed radical in their particular historical context, the victory of liberal, capitalist democracy was a victory for the few and not the many. This can be seen stridently in the discussions surrounding the drafting of the United States Constitution as Madison and others clearly sought to create a socio-political system that would concentrate power into the hands of the wealthy male constituents of the American colonies. The rest? They were literally inconsequential. Non-landowners (women, children, slaves, non-neurotypical, and the poor more broadly) were excluded from the freedom that was achieved and then subsequently protected by the establishment of the Nation State. In a sense, they were the subaltern of their day – they had no capacity to "speak."

History has thus unfolded by the expansion and further legitimation of this asymmetry of power relations. Written into the very fabric of our structural relations is the assumption that Classical Liberalism was about freedom tout court. When in reality, Classical Liberalism was about freedom for those who had a voice at the time. But here's the twist: even if we grant a measure of appreciation for the legacy of these revolutions (and I think we ought to), to seek to preserve that paradigm of socio-political legitimation is to ignore the need for further eradication of residual and expanding hierarchical rule.

Yesterday's liberals are today's monarchs.

Of course, this isn't literal. But there is a sense in which it must be taken seriously. The victorious ones who took power after the great revolutions of the Eighteenth Century are those who control the means of production. They are those with property-power. More than that, they are the ones with knowledge-power as well. Not only do they wield direct political and economic power through the construction of laws, the setting of wage relations, and the entire gamut of related social issues, but they also control the dominating ideologies of the day. Truth is conditioned by power. And our truths are the truths of liberal, capitalist democracy.

This hegemonic paradigm of control, however, is not freedom in any meaningful sense. This was Marx's insight. Yes, the revolutions of yesteryear were necessary to wrest power from the hands of clergy and king. Yes, new spaces of economic growth were opened. Yes, in many ways, human communities benefited around the globe from this. But we must not pretend that these were advancements so much as they were transfigurations. I say this because a new elite, capable of just as much control, if not more, was created and let loose. This is the new class of clergy and kings. Wielding not cross and sword but market and rule of law, they erect social tiers that cannot, must not, they threaten, be traversed if the system is to stay in tact.

The irony is that this threat is contrary to a perpetual disposition toward human freedom and global ecological flourishing. For while the establishment of liberal, capitalist democracies provided a modicum of freedom for market players, it excluded the majority of human beings from the fullness of democratic society. Free market ideologists miss this, or ignore it, or simply don't care. They continue to espouse that markets lead to freedom, that market choice is the embodiment of rationality – yesterday's liberals are today's monarchs. 

Perhaps then, we can hope – today's liberals are tomorrow's Ancien Regime