Letter: “I would disagree with your decision to designate the western states as democracies” Ruthless Criticism

Letter to the GegenStandpunkt editors:
“I would stronly disagree with your designating the Western states democracies”

Due to protestors’ faulty criticisms of the festivities surrounding NATO's 60 year anniversary, we published a leaflet criticizing their arguments. As a response, we received the following letter:

Dear Gegenstandpunkt,

I have a minor criticism. I would strongly disagree with your designating Western states as democracies. Democracy means rule by the people. But in the West, the people doesn’t rule. After all, the economically powerful have decisive influence on political decisions – through personal ties (e.g., board of director positions, rotation between positions of economic and political power, corporate contributions to government officials and representatives). Trade associations work out legislation and the corresponding argumentation. Furthermore, they make use of consultants, traditional lobbying, media influence, and legal and illegal political contributions. And then there is capital tax evasion and fraud, which causes financial difficulties for the state. Therefore, we do not live in a democracy, but in a parliamentary system dominated by big business.

Reply from the editors:

You reproach us, with your “minor criticism,” for not delivering a criticism of Western democracies that, in your view, is absolutely crucial. You accuse us of conceding these countries, without any critique or disagreement, the title of democracy. And in your opinion, that is an honor to which they are by no means entitled. But your accusation that we are uncritical towards the state of “rule of the people” in Western democracies is something we could throw right back at you. For we think nothing of measuring democratic rule, which you and the rest of society hold in such high esteem, according to an invented standard of “true democracy” whenever one believes that the rules of good governance have been violated. Nor do we think that is particularly critical. We refuse to deplore all sorts of deviations from this beautiful ideal, without bothering to look into the why and wherefore of the states of affairs that deserve criticism. To measure the reality of political domination according to the ideals that it itself propagates and cultivates is pretty much the opposite of criticism. That is why your objections to the democracies that do exist are wholly unsuitable, even if they come across somewhat radical and fundamental:

What is it that you want to criticize about the business lobby? What employers do, that is, the interest that employers' associations represent? Do you have any criticism of that? Do you have anything against the consequences these interests have for so many people when “big business” pursues them with such verve? Or does the size of big business only bother you because of what you regard as their democratically improper amount of influence on politics, in which the “economically powerful” meddle so unjustifiably? And what is that you want to criticize about politics – parliamentarianism? Or do you want to defend it against the corruption of the members of parliament? Do you have anything against what tax revenues are used for? Or do you plead for dutiful tax payment instead of tax evasion? Is it the content of the laws you can't stand, or shadowy machinations involved in the process of legislation? Are you against the objectives of the nation’s politics or do you deplore its flawed operations and extrapolitical threats to its successful functioning?

You bemoan that the state is biased towards the interests of business. You further assume that this bias is not an exception, but the rule that characterizes the situation in all “Western states.” But you refuse to draw a conclusion about these states’ political program, which explains this “bias.” Instead, you undauntedly assume that “political decisions” actually could and should be different and much better than they – as you state yourself state and deplore – actually are. That is how much respect and goodwill one can have toward the actions of state power if one ignores the real reasons for these actions and adamantly maintains that the job of the practitioners of power is to serve philanthropic ends. That is why your only interest concerns what prevents states from doing precisely what they don’t do, but in your view actually should do. But by asking what prevents politicians from dutifully fulfilling their obligations to all that is true and good, you are hopelessly on the wrong track. The answers you can come up with for this question do not constitute any kind of an explanation, but are a way of measuring aberrations, errors and misconduct against what you feel can justifiably be expected from a politically correct government in a true democracy. In this sense, you “explain” the influence of lobbying, corruption, unfair advantage or also “personal ties” between “economic and political positions of power” only according to what they, measured against your ideal of democracy, are not. Have you not noticed that the personal ties between politics and big business are based on objective ties between the interests of the state and business? Have you still not noticed that the health of the nation, i.e., its international standing, depends indisputably and “without any alternative” on the health of “the economy” and its growth? And that this is the reason why there are so many important things for the masters of economy and politics to take care of together?

As for your siding with the people, whose rule you long for: you demand that this fine collective play a political role of which it, in your opinion, has been unjustly denied. You thereby ignore what this people consists of in reality and the role it really plays in the system of rule you hold in such high esteem. We regard such idealism as especially uncritical – towards the people and political rule.

Do you even know what a people is? You think of it as a mass of common people who just want a bit of fun in their lives and to raise their children in peace. This has nothing to do with the people that exists in reality. The people is an ensemble of fierce antagonisms, thoroughly and strictly organized by their lawful, constitutional and welfare-state authority. Not only do the interests of owners and non-owners, buyers and sellers, workers and entrepreneurs contradict each other, but even the interests of those who want the same thing, and therefore, in line with the logic of the market-economy, are competitors. Under the direction of the welfare state, even the most innocent natural differences between the youth and the aged, the healthy and the sick are turned into opposing positions which look on each other with bitter resentment. All conflicts are meticulously regulated; a massive legislative apparatus concerns itself solely with making these established conflicts between various portions of the people tenable and productive for the progress of the nation. The character and scope of each and every permissible means for battling out these antagonisms has been determined; all the pleasant and less pleasant consequences of these collisions of interests are taken into account, anticipated and legally regulated, and attended to after the fact.

This oversight over the competition that makes up all aspects of bourgeois society is the service that the state renders and the competing citizens demand as their indispensable means of living. Their common will to submit to the rule of the state is what first creates the common ground that makes a population a People, i.e., a political collective of competitors who supplement their conflicts amongst each other with a paradoxical willingness to refrain from these conflicts, because they take the latter’s continued existence, organized by the state, as the elementary condition for their own existence. The people, as ordered and orderly masses, is the product, basis and instrument of state rule and has no other will than to submit to state force. The people exercises this will by appointing agents in democratic elections and demand, in all servility, that this good will be rewarded with good governance.

And you think this nasty bunch – the People – exercises too little power in the democratic system? We, for our part, are fed up with it and its democratic-constructive cooperation with its rulers.