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Democracy and Capitalism: Complements or Enemies?

Updated on August 3, 2015
AlexTomczuk profile image

Undergraduate student with a varying degree of interests; however, I carry a focus on US foreign policy/international affairs.

Private Interests: Smothering 'Our' Voice

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Corporations dictate the legislative agendas of politicians; thus, stripping power away from individuals to rule as a true majority.
Corporations dictate the legislative agendas of politicians; thus, stripping power away from individuals to rule as a true majority.
Corporations dictate the legislative agendas of politicians; thus, stripping power away from individuals to rule as a true majority. | Source

There exists a divide among intellects when evaluating the elements of liberal democracy. Mankind has long history of oppression that results from a power structure that elevates one group and undermines another. Today, the United States has approached the controversy of “basic rights” with the inclusion of the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights preserves the civil liberties of mankind while promoting the ongoing development of liberties with new policies and methods of implementation. The United States has coupled its democratic principles with an economy that values private capital over strict government control. Capitalists are seen to be the source of stimulation for the economy because they own the resources that are utilized for means of production. This type of system limits government involvement in the affairs of citizens because the power is vested with the capitalists; however, this limitation to the government has brought forth new methods of brutality. At one end of the spectrum exists the scholars that subscribe to the philosophy of socialism; but, these individuals face the critiques of conservative thinkers. Each school of thought takes a strong stance on its view of liberal democracy partnered with capitalism; however, each approach presents beliefs that resonate with the opposing community. Is capitalism the only guarantee against the infringement of liberties, are there quality alternatives, or is compromise possible?

“The political rule of the producer cannot coexist with the perpetuation of his social slavery” (Marx, 242). Karl Marx makes it evident that democracy is incompatible with a system

that embraces private ownership because hierarchy naturally breeds hatred. Marx does not deny that corporations have the ability to “put the right man in the right place;” yet, he contends that capitalism creates a barrier to a man’s political freedom (Marx, 214). “This therefore means that the right to freedom ceases to be a right as soon as it comes in conflict with political life, whereas in theory political life is simply the guarantee of the rights of man…” (Marx, 236). Karl Marx identifies that capitalism creates a system where the wealthy yield political authority and the masses are slaves to their cause. Economic interests are prioritized so that widespread poverty is the norm and domination is the tool employed by the wealthy to secure their economic agenda. In fact, Joseph Schumpeter affirms this idea, despite tackling the problem with conservative beliefs.

Joseph Schumpeter’s examination of the ordinary citizen reveals a disturbing reality that plagues a principle theme of democracy. Democracy is characterized to be “rule by the people;” however, Schumpeter argues that the average individual is ignorant or under a false pretext because he/she lacks the commitment to contemplation. People are able to make rational decisions if the issue has an immediate or direct effect on their livelihood because they exercise careful evaluation of a situation. On the other hand, when “dangers do not materialize,” a citizen develops “a reduced sense of reality” that translates to “the absence of effective volition” (Schumpeter, 295). Schumpeter goes on to illustrate Marx’s concept that the masses are enslaved to the aspirations of the wealth with his comment: “…the more complete the absence of the rational criticism and of the rationalizing influence of personal experience and responsibility, the greater the opportunities for groups with an ax to grind” (Schumpeter, 296). There exists a divide between the private and public sphere of people’s lives that is viewed as a direct consequence of capitalism. The wealthy are afforded the opportunity to partake in politics because they “have an

income without personal labor or derive it from intermittent labor” (Weber, 283). This system that is centralized around a power structure creates a division of labor that is efficient when measured quantitatively; however, this specialization translates to ignorance among the masses because they find justification in knowledge that has a measured impact (profit). Does the solution call for an overthrow of the proletariat and installation of a new economic system? Marx and his followers praise the commune and describe it to be a solution to the protests of inequality naturally inherent in the economics that dictate.

“Communism alone is capable of providing really complete democracy, and the more complete it is, the sooner it will become unnecessary and wither away of its own accord” (Lenin, 246). Lenin begins to demonstrate the dramatic split between left-wing theories and right-wing theories on capturing the beauty of liberal democracy because socialist advocates favor the nationalization of the entire economy for the sake of equality. Marx, Lenin, and others alike attribute the flaws of liberal democracy to capitalism because the wealthy are in a position of power and only follow procedures to accumulate wealth in the long-run. The central feature of capitalism emphasizes the mistreatment of the majority by a minority group; yet, Lenin justifies discrimination and chaos that is to be the product of a transition to communism. Communism is an ideal that cannot be achieved in a short period and bloodshed is a crucial sacrifice for the greater good of the majority. Civil rights are to be suspended in the time of transition; but, the results will benefit the nation on a much larger scale and the “special apparatus” that wields powers will fade from existence. The “special apparatus” was once the military that acted upon the will of the oligarchs; but, the majority will rule the government and “excesses” will “wither away” because poverty will be uprooted: the source of “violation of the rules of social intercourse” will die (Lenin, 246). Skepticism begins to formulate when legal affairs are left in

the hands of the majority, especially when considering the theories presented by Schumpeter. Left-wing intellects negate such a hypothesis by asserting that individuals will find satisfaction in “the development and realization of the creative capacities of the individual” (Macpherson, 256). This notion finds the solution in reconnecting the split in man between private and public affairs, which is a consequence of capitalism. All of this is pleasing in theory, but is it practical? Humans are unpredictable creatures and self-preservation is a characteristic that all humans possess to some degree. Robert Michels highlights the difficulty in accepting popular rule because collective agreement does not constitute wisdom.

Men succumb to corruption. Among the majority, leaders will take hold of the group and direct the interests of the organization, which eventually seize to be the policies of the leaders alone. Essentially, within a majority exists a minority that develops when it tastes power. “The preponderant elements of the movement, the men who lead and nourish it, end up undergoing a gradual detachment from the masses, and are attracted within the orbit of the “political class” (Michels, 288). Michels claim of an oligarchy that is inescapable shifts the focus away from the economic system that dominates politics; rather, it criticizes the political parties that are organized to act on behalf of the people at large. Furthermore, Giovanni Sartori reiterates the infinite chaos through his critique of seeking “democracy in structures and not in interactions” (Sartori, 292). When is the time to analyze the institutions that are in place to preserve democracy? Michels and Sartori approach the issue by questioning the role of political parties in bringing about democracy within the existing structures. “A political party…exists for the very purpose of fighting for domination in the specific sense, and it thus necessarily tends toward a strict hierarchical structure” (Weber, 285). The Conservatives demonstrate that inequality cannot be directly linked to the principles of capitalism because the method for expression in politics is

naturally flawed. Inequality begins from the beginning of politics through representation that is exemplified by a party structured for efficiency. This idea that representative democracy breeds turbulence is an idea that resonates with left-wing subscribes; but, the economics of a country are not to be the scapegoat for the whims of the poor.

Overall, a great debate ensues over the partnership between democracy and capitalism. Modern society has grown in size and with this growth has brought a complexity of problems. Both parties will agree that “the growing complexity of the administrative tasks and the sheer expansion of their scope increasingly result in technical superiority of those who have had the training and experience” (Weber, 285). Liberals favor a centralization of power, which is hypothesized to promote equality because the economy will no longer be discriminatory; yet, conservatives propose that capitalism is not the problem. Conservatives value civil rights as much as any other individual; however, these thinkers believe rights are preserved through a hands-off approach. Does society let inequality steer the wheel of evolution? Does society abolish political parties? The questions are endless because the issues are riddled with complication; but, C.B. Macpherson may identify a legitimate starting-point for allowing democracy to live up to its name. Supply-and-demand economics has birthed a system that creates the desires of people; thus, “there is no reason to expect that the wants and tastes which it satisfies will reflect or permit that full development of the individual…” (Macpherson, 255).


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Works Cited

Blaug, Ricardo, and J. J. Schwarzmantel. Democracy: A Reader. New York: Columbia UP, 2000. Print.


© 2015 Alex Tomczuk

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      Howard Schneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Excellent Hub and paper, Alex. The complexity of our society and economy have deterred the citizenry from real knowledge of how the system works as well as the pertinent issues. After the Citizens United decision, the large donors now have carte blanche on influencing campaigns and issues. Most candidates, especially the Republicans, are now outright owned by their benefactors.

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