The problem with democracy for those with a corporatist agenda is that it always has the potential of putting limits on corporate power. If 'the people' can decide to create public policies, those policies might not be entirely friendly to a society in which corporations are free to pollute all they want, can exploit people with no let or hinderance, pay no taxes, and offer no social safety net in the form of pensions and social welfare. From the corporatist point of view, democracy must be suppressed and curtailed at all cost, through trickery, control, and even illegal activity.
But to understand what is really going on, I think we need to have some sense of how the rightwing has changed and what the modern corporatist turn in rightwing politics is really about. With this in mind, I have jotted down a few thoughts on the subject of corporatism and the right. It is necessarily a truncated set of ideas but I think it offers some brief outline on the issues and gives some idea why democracy has become the enemy of the rich and powerful.
Understanding the nature of rightwing politics has, I think, become very confusing for many people in recent years. The right talks about smaller government but consistently expands the size and reach of government. They talk about lower taxes but in reality that idea seems to only be applied to large corporations and the very rich. They talk about more freedoms but they continually suppress democracy and extend the ability of government to wield arbitrary power in many areas of society. They seem to pay lip-service to libertarian principle but never seem to have any real notion of applying such principles.
What is going on here?
Well, I believe that the only way to really understand modern rightwing ideology is to understand the basic changes that have taken place in capitalism over the past century or so. The movement of capitalist ideology has been a movement from individualism to corporatism. And it is this change which is essential to the understanding of rightwing ideology in modern times.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. What must be understood, first and foremost, is that rightwing ideology has, at its core, a basic belief in social Darwinism. Now I am careful to stress the word “social” in that phrase because capitalists are not now, nor have they ever been, real Darwinists. Let’s face it, a guy like Mitt Romney wouldn’t last five minutes in a Mad Max, post apocalyptic world where the notion of survival of the strongest really applied. Capitalists have always believed that competition must be managed, not allowed to expand in a “natural” way. Adam Smith understood this very clearly. That is why Smith was at pains to make it clear that there was an important distinction between “Capitalism” and the “Market.” The market is an exchange of goods and services. Capitalism, on the other hand, is system in which the government regulates the system in order to protect existing wealth and set the terms for the creation of wealth. In other words, Capitalists have never believed in the so-called “free-market,” nor have they believed in a real system of competition. If you doubt the idea that the rightwing doesn't really believe in the 'free-market,' ask your self why they don't advocate for your individual right to practice as a doctor without the proper training, or you are prohibited from selling food without complying with a host of regulations.
Thus we can say that capitalists advocate an ideology of social Darwinism – a system of regulated competition in which those who already have wealth or are willing to comply with certain rules of the game can maintain their power and money. Policies such as welfare or collective bargaining, therefore are seen by the right as fundamentally to be resisted because they encourage equality (of both opportunity and living) and this is the very opposite to what capitalists want. But, of course, in so-called democratic societies the rightwing has continually been forced to temper these beliefs in social Darwinism because the public advocacy of such beliefs doesn’t win elections.
However, the process of successful social Darwinism has changed as capitalism changed and developed. As time passed, capitalism has gradually moved away from the single capitalist unit of entrepreneurship to the limited liability company and the corporation. As this process has happened, the corporation becomes the central focus of Capitalists and the rightwing in general. The corporation is the focal point for those social Darwinists who seek avenues to unhindered possibilities of wealth and power. Labor laws, increased union power, and technological advancements all made capitalist enterprise gradually more the purview of large corporations. Thus, if capitalists want to maintain the best possible atmosphere for their social Darwinist ideology they must make the corporation the central focus of all politics and social and economic policy. They continually attempt to legitimize the power of corporations by promoting the twisted notion that "corporations are people."
For these reasons, modern rightwing ideology should be called corporatism rather than conservatism. This change has been made more clear in recent years as so-called conservatives have, in most Western democracies, moved away from their traditional social issues. Rather, those who we have traditionally called conservatives have focused their entire attention on shifting the body politic toward servicing corporations and their interests. In this context democracy, and legislative bodies become a bothersome impediment to the maintenance and increase in corporate power. Stephen Harper’s hatred of the House of Commons and the processes of democracy are not simply coincidental quirks of his pathological personality. Rather, these are specific strategies toward finding ways of increasing corporate wealth and power. Similarly, attacks on unions and the principles of collective bargaining are about shifting social power in favor of corporations.
On the ideological front, the right continually harps at entirely false notions of so-called “fiscal responsibility” as they attempt to convince people that despite greater social wealth than ever before, we can’t afford as a society to pay people good wages and have decent salaries. As corporatism begins to colonize every part of society, people begin to entirely abandon Kant’s categorical imperative as people become nothing more than lifeless pawns in the service of corporate profits. And as people become increasingly dehumanized, they adopt the ideology of their oppressors and actually begin to act like the automatons that they have been treated as.
So it is this shift toward a corporatist ideology that makes a concerted attack by the rightwing on the process of democracy an essential element of rightwing ideology. The rightwing wants to create a society in which the pursuit of wealth and power is the only conceivable social good and corporations are the vehicle for that pursuit. Thus they want to manifest the notion of politicians simply as administrators of a society of corporation interests rather than a group of public policy makers. In this context, the very idea of democracy must be severely limited and, wherever necessary, suppressed altogether. The less people think of government as a body that helps to create an educated, fulfilled, population that lives in a society with high degree of social, economic, and political equality, and the more people can be convinced that the purpose of government is only to 'administer' a corporate economy, the less important the very notion of democracy becomes and the more pointed the conditions of social Darwinism become for those who hunger to live a life of exploitation and power.
As I said, these thoughts are truncated, but I think the idea is outlined fairly clearly. Democracy will continue to be in retreat as long as people let the rightwing pursue its corporate agenda. As long as we let people like Stephen Harper suppress democracy, information, and public interest in meaningful politics, the more we will move away from a society of relative equality and meaningful prosperity.