Sunday, June 14, 2015

A social-democracy of fear

In the essay about social-democracy by the late Tony Judt which has been re-published in the volume “When the Facts Change”, he defends his ideology as a moral issue. Not necessarily a positive project, but a “conservative” project in the sense of defending the welfare state. But in order not to lose the welfare state we must adapt our institutions to a global order with problems that go beyond the nation-state:
“The answers to such questions should take the form of a moral critique of the inadequacies of the unrestricted market or the feckless state. We need to understand why they offend our sense of justice or equity. We need, in short, to return to the kingdom of ends. Here social democracy is of limited assistance, for its own response to the dilemmas of capitalism was merely a belated expression of Enlightenment moral discourse applied to “the social question.” Our problems are rather different.
We are entering, I believe, a new age of insecurity. The last such era, memorably analyzed by Keynes in The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919), followed decades of prosperity and progress and a dramatic increase in the internationalization of life: “globalization” in all but name. As Keynes describes it, the commercial economy had spread around the world. Trade and communication were accelerating at an unprecedented rate. Before 1914, it was widely asserted that the logic of peaceful economic exchange would triumph over national self-interest. No one expected all this to come to an abrupt end. But it did.
We too have lived through an era of stability, certainty, and the illusion of indefinite economic improvement. But all that is now behind us. For the foreseeable future we shall be as economically insecure as we are culturally uncertain. We are assuredly less confident of our collective purposes, our environmental well-being, or our personal safety than at any time since World War II. We have no idea what sort of world our children will inherit, but we can no longer delude ourselves into supposing that it must resemble our own in reassuring ways.
We must revisit the ways in which our grandparents’ generation responded to comparable challenges and threats. Social democracy in Europe, the New Deal, and the Great Society here in the US were explicit responses to the insecurities and inequities of the age. Few in the West are old enough to know just what it means to watch our world collapse.We find it hard to conceive of a complete breakdown of liberal institutions, an utter disintegration of the democratic consensus. But it was just such a breakdown that elicited the Keynes–Hayek debate and from which the Keynesian consensus and the social democratic compromise were born: the consensus and the compromise in which we grew up and whose appeal has been obscured by its very success.
If social democracy has a future, it will be as a social democracy of fear. Rather than seeking to restore a language of optimistic progress, we should begin by reacquainting ourselves with the recent past. The first task of radical dissenters today is to remind their audience of the achievements of the twentieth century, along with the likely consequences of our heedless rush to dismantle them.”

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