More On: Liberal Democracy
In many ways, the liberal democracy derived from nineteenth-century liberalism appears to have reached its conclusion. Can we resurrect it, or will something more dictatorial supplant it?
Liberal democracies are political regimes in which citizens entrust political power to a political class that is constitutionally constrained in exerting political authority, at least on paper. Additionally, liberal democracies are expected to safeguard civil liberties and to respect nominally private property rights.
What looks to be a fantastic idea on paper does not always run well in practice. Further examination of the past century of Western politics reveals that the previous laissez-faire classical liberal order of the nineteenth century has been relegated to an afterthought by today's progressive liberals. Furthermore, modern liberal democracy has devolved into a fragile cover for soft despotism. Western governments' response to the covid-19 outbreak has broken the myth of liberal democracy utterly.
In that regard, recent events in Canada, a country regarded in high favor by progressives globally, have been revelatory. The use of the Emergencies Act by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to crush the Freedom Convoy protests shown to the world that liberal democracy is not "unique" and is just as prone to devolve into petty authoritarianism as any other political system.
Protests and blockades against the Trudeau government's harsh covid-19 restrictions prompted the government to unleash the proverbial hounds on those who dared to object to government overreach.
The Trudeau regime has killed two birds with one stone by utilizing emergency powers to attack both peaceful protestors and the nascent cryptocurrency industry—one of the few spheres of human activity that has not been completely absorbed by the state. Chrystia Freeland, Canada's Deputy Prime Minister, said in mid-February that the crypto wallets of Freedom Convoy demonstrators and those sponsoring the rallies had been blocked. While Trudeau appears to have withdrawn his government's emergency powers, the harm has been done.
The actions of the Canadian government, not its boastful rhetoric about human rights, have exposed the hollow nature of liberal democracy in the post-1945 era. When pushed to the limit, liberal democracies such as Canada eventually crumbled and displayed their real authoritarian colors to the world.
What the West is witnessing at the moment is the conclusion of more than a century of unrelenting government expansion. Government overreach has accumulated to such an extent that any illusions Westerners may have had about the claimed liberties they enjoy have evaporated.
Westerners will need to pause and exercise some introspection. Pace the great Ludwig von Mises, democracy isn’t the apotheosis of political systems. In Nation, State, and Economy, Mises argued:
Liberalism in its nineteenth-century manifestation fosters social collaboration and voluntary trading. By contrast, democracy in a mass society has resulted in the formation of a technocratic system that protects property rights officially but micromanages human conduct through the gradual establishment of bureaucratic diktats and the employment of a welfare state to pay off the populace. Central banking and a massive warfare state are additional characteristics of this omnipotent state, which arose not coincidentally during the twentieth century's consolidation of broad democracy.
If one wants to make peace, then one must get rid of the possibility of conflicts between peoples. Only the ideas of liberalism and democracy have the power to do that.
To be fair to Mises, he was a product of his time. He viewed democracy pragmatically as the lesser of two evils on a war-torn European continent littered with monarchs and budding nationalist groups committed to collectivist ideas. However, democracy has outlived its usefulness and is incapable of containing the torrential flood of statism currently sweeping the Western world.
Returning to glorified eras of the past is out of the question. We must forge ahead and pave the way for a more equitable society founded on private property and associational freedom. Carl Schmitt, a jurist, once stated that "a historical fact exists only once."
Promoting laissez-faire liberalism is always beneficial since it imposes certain constraints on what a regime may get away with. However, history demonstrates that relying solely on ideological bulwarks is insufficient.
Perhaps it is time to think bigger, and one way to do so is to rely on one of Mises's lesser-known areas of his life's work. Specifically, his emphasis on radical decentralization. This can take the shape of nullification, soft secessionism, localism, and other decentralized power-dismantling mechanisms. The task at hand is to piece together a decentralized alternative that builds on the positive parts of the previous liberal order while correcting its shortcomings in order to establish a new architecture of ordered liberty and voluntary association.
The major issue for Westerners as they traverse the uncharted waters of woke dictatorship will be to think beyond established systems of political organization. Decentralization on a massive scale will serve as a beacon for Western countries that have lost their course. It remains to be seen whether these countries reverse their trajectory.