The democracy can only prosper, when the state succeeds in translating the desires of the citizens into a good policy. This column analyzes the philosophical ideas about this problem, and notably how the various political thinkers want to morally fill in the general interest. Their design appears to rest on two pillars, namely the security of existence and the personal autonomy. Views from the social-democratic history are studied, namely those of Karl Kautsky, Pieter Jelles Troelstra, Joop den Uyl, Oskar Lafontaine, Anthony Giddens, and Wouter Bos.
The core problem of the political economy concerns the transformation of the individual needs of the citizens into a general interest. It is obvious that for such a transformation an instrument is required, namely the state. However, the character of the state is controversial. Some see that state as an administrative body, that is established by entrepreneurs and intellectuals in order to regulate the markets and society. In that view the state must mainly provide a judicial system, that mediates in conflicts of interest. The citizens must have a maximal freedom to act. Others believe, that the state has emerged in a natural manner from the primitive communities, such as the extended family or the tribe. In that case the state is mainly the bearer of a shared ethics or morals, that give an indentity to the community. Then the administrative and judicial bodies emerge from the tradition.
Suppose that the desires, needs and interests of the individual citizens are represented by a general welfare function W. Furthermore, suppose that the state is democratic, so that the people themselves form the sovereign power. Then the popular representatives install a government, that gets the instruction to optimally further the wel-being of the people. The government develops a policy, that serves the universal or general interest, and that can be represented by a target function U. Now the policy formulation and execution can be represented by a symbolic process W → U. Five obvious questions arise, which incidentally are interwoven.
In the present column the philosophical ideas with regard to these questions will be studied for various political scientists and writers, and notably how they search for the moral definition of the general interest. Your columnist limits his study to the political thinkers of social-democratic origin, because he is most familiar with these. A previous column has shown, that since the rise of the social-democracy four episodes can be distinguished. Although the classification is rather arbitrary, and other phase models are conceivable, the used analysis turns out to be fairly fruitful.
Your columnist has selected leading social-democrats from each of these episodes, just like in the mentioned column. The aim is to test the preceding arguments on their accordance with reality, and to correct it, if necessary. The selected leaders are Karl Kautsky, Pieter Jelles Troelstra, Joop den Uyl, Oskar Lafontaine, Anthony Giddens, and Wouter Bos.
Nine years ago your columnist read Der Weg zur Macht by Karl Kautsky1. Kautsky has written this book in 1909, when the SPD had actually already changed into a reformist party. Due to the revolutionary composition he has trouble to get Der Weg zur Macht published. He argues in his book, that the SPD should not form a coalition with the bourgeois parties, because these persist in their conservatism. The contrasts are too large. He advocates to organize mass action of the proletariat. The social democracy can appear as the natural speaker of the proletariat. The proletariat is indispensable for the economy, and therefore it will in the end be able to seize power. Kautsky predicts that this revolution will certainly come, and calls her a historical inevitability.
For the proletariat continues to grow, while the capitalists will reduce to a small elite of super rich. According to Kautsky the concentration of the richness is the reason of existence for the social democracy. Others have called his vision fatalistic, but he does acknowledge the existence of the free will. However, the individual can not escape from the historical developments. The social relations push the will into a certain direction. If one knows the social processes, and its tendencies, then purposeful actions can be taken. But the revolution has her own vigour, that unfolds itself in an economic, legislative and moral pressure. So the aim is not a violent coup d'etat, for the military forces are too strong to be conquered. The SPD must gain the trust of the people, and in that way get the army on her side.
Unfortunately a large part of the proletariat does not get over the consciousness of the countryside. The migrant workers remain reactionary as well. Moreover Kautsky expects, that the trade unions will weaken due to the rise of the economic combinations like trusts and cartels. Nonetheless Kautsky thinks that a revolution is possible, namely in case that a war erupts. And this chance is considerable, since the states have become imperialistic, and therefore they regularly come into conflict with each other. This is the nasty perspective, that Der Weg zur Macht offers, and that unfortunately has in part been realized. But the SPD has been wise enough to use the revolutionary moment only for the extortion of the universal suffrage. After that she has wisely given up power again. Kautsky ignores in his book that democratic process. He believes that the people can only bring a new regime to power, and that it will subsequently delegate the transformation W → U completely to the elite.
The ideologists (including your columnist) pass fairly often through a young period and an old period. While for instance V.I. Uljanov (nicknamed Lenin) becomes radical during the war, Kautsky turns towards more moderate insights. Thus he is disillusioned by the Russian october revolution in 1917. From that moment onwards he polemises with an increasing vigour against Leninism. On the other hand Lenin is indignant at the refusal of Kautsky to put his former text into practice! Henceforth Kautsky argues that the social democracy aims to liberate the people from all oppression. Both the democracy and socialism are only instruments for this aim, and Kautsky gives already in 1918 priority to the former. In the same text he asks to protect the rights of minorities, including the political opposition2. With that Kautsky is converted to the pluralism of Schumpeter, albeit a bit late.
In 1928 Kautsky states that the social democracy strives for the liberation of the working class by her own force. The proletariat must lift up itself with regard to its morals, intellect and organization3. In the pamphlet De dictatuur van het proletariaat from 1932 Kautsky states on p.14, that the proletariat should first rise to a higher development, and that will happen in the struggle for the realization of the democracy. On p.17 he states: "A dictature is a state where only one will can be expressed. (...) However, the proletariat is by no means a self-evident phenomenon, nor a united, homogeneous mass"1. The course of life of Kautsky illustrates how in her first period the social democracy still propagates out of date views from the middle of the nineteenth century. Only in her second period her views change into a more pluralist direction.
The Dutch SDAP-leader Pieter Jelles Troelstra rejects in his pamphlet Theorie en beweging of 1902 the ideological bigotry4. He states that the theory is not essential. He prefers the empiricism (p.13): "The interest of the masses and their will, such as it emerges from the present productive system, are given scientific facts". And: "[A theory may help,] since it makes our movement root in the deepest reality of life: the satisfaction of man with regard to his existential needs. (...) But: it remains a theory and a view of reality, and not reality herself" (p.19-20).On p.34 he repeats: "The ideas are our instruments, not our goal; our main principle is the class interest of the workers, also the main cultural interest of mankind". Furthermore: "A theory that wants to be more dogmatic and sharp than the actual character of the movement allows, will not incite it, but distance it from the theory" (p.30). In short, the masses determine the target function U.
When Troelstra states "The movement consists of the large masses of exploited people, and the industrial proletariat is merely its vanguard" (p.35), then he is already close to the pluralism of Schumpeter. Troelstra acknowledges the importance of the democracy: "The actions of the social-democracy in parliament are bound to lead to a compromise. (...) It can not completely ignore the responsibility for the existing situation" (p.39). In the pamphlet De SDAP, wat zij is en wat zij wil4 Troelstra points to the importance of the individual development (p.41): "The new life in the struggle with and for his comrades leads to such a high level of better, purer, nicer and moral life, that even the ties of an outdated ethics of slavery are no longer able to stop the proletariat on its way. (...) An ambition has entered his life, which transforms him into a developed, at least striving for development, citizen of his nation, knowledgeable about his times".
On various places Troelstra again refers to pluralism. The industrial proletariat canvasses for the support of the other groups and classes. On p.53 of the last mentioned pamphlet he states: "In the end it is not a narrow class interest, which tries to unfold itself against the general interest, that in this [struggle] motivates the proletariat. (...) Its struggle is the only force, which can bring the large subjected masses to freedom, to being a complete person". This perspective explains his futile call of 1918 to temporarily install a social-democratic minority government. In the pamphlet Inzake partijleiding from 1906 he states on p.26: "In the domain of the spiritual life the coercing power of the state is not [decisive], but merely the free competition of opinions". Incidentally, in economic respect he has always retained his belief in the determinism of the historical materialism.
On p.30 he gives the example of the freedom of education, which he advocates for the sake of pluralism: "So some [the opponents of Troelstra within the SDAP] want to combat the spiritual propaganda against our party not with purely spiritual means, but prohibit or at least impede it with the power of the state"5. On p.81 the pragmatic Troelstra shows appreciation for the welfare function W and again warns against dogma's: "Talmud-like subtleties replace the sound feeling of the true relations in the factory, workshop, municipality and state". He pleads in favour of (p.99): "the sense for the special, the recognition of the practical consequences of one's actions on the feeling and thinking of the people". It is clear that Troelstra defends a more mature standpoint than Kautsky. Nevertheless, Troelstra will become extremely disappointed by the unexpectedly bad election result of 1917. He succeeds less than Kautsky in joining the reorientation towards the second episode.
The second episode is notably interesting due to the rise and fall of the plan-socialism. This ideology emerges during the interbellum, when it has become clear that a large-scale socialization of the industry is politically not feasible. In the Netherlands the new ideology culminates in the Plan van de Arbeid. Originally the idea is still a central control of all economic branches. After the Second Worldwar the Netherlands, partly due to the large influence of the economist Jan Tinbergen, prefer the planning at the macro-economic level. However, the experience shows that the reality is difficult to master in a plan. Therefore politics gradually abandons the planning instrument. This development becomes particular obvious in the publications of the social-democrat Joop den Uyl, who is deeply involved in the post-war policy formation6.
Moreover, Den Uyl plays a leading role in the following episode of emancipation and politization in the welfare state (in German: Sozialstaat, in Dutch: verzorgingsstaat). His preceding political formation in the second episode gives him sufficient ideological stability to bend the reckless fancies of Nieuw Links towards a more moderate and realistic direction. Den Uyl himself has summarized his ideas in the volume Inzicht en uitzicht, which covers both episodes. Already in 1947 Den Uyl advocates the personal development and equality of chances. On p.29 he states, that the socialism in the times of Troelstra was a "secularized religion", that since has disappeared. The determinism has been replaced by scepsis. The desire for a closed image of society has waned (p.40), and thus the socialist target function U has become fluid.
Already in 1955 Den Uyl disappointedly concludes, that there is a growing resistance against the attempts of the state to centrally plan the economy (p.59, 176). He dislikes the lack of engagement, and advocates a fixed course, based on proper morals ("philosophical convictions", see p.71), which however must be open and flexible. Thus he actually accepts pluralism. Then he notes, that the personal freedom can realized merely within the community (p.80). Den Uyl believes that education is essential in order to make the citizens fit to manage themselves (p.55, 134). The inequality of property leads to inequality of chances, but the state can bridle the power of capital. The state must guarantee employment, and realize just incomes (p.96). Den Uyl attaches much value to the improvement of the quality of labour, including a certain self-determination.
Therefore the workers have the right to democratically control the industries. This protects the general interest. Den Uyl is a fervent adherent of order (target function U), and at the beginning still recommends the public branch-corporations. During the third episode Den Uyl will search order more in the regulation by the state, complemented with the reinforcement of the works councils. Then he wants to involve the state in the control of industries, in many ways. The production goals must be determined democratically (p.171, 183)7. That is a two-edged approach. For, the citizens do get economic control by means of the elections, but as individuals they also are in an eternal conflict with the state bureaucracy. A typical example of censoriousness: Den Uyl wants to discourage the consumption (and thus the production) of luxury goods (p.136). Besides, he wants to restrict the private consumption in favour of more public goods and services (p.153, 235).
During the seventies Den Uyl, pressured by Nieuw Links, embraces the polarization and politization (p.145 and further). He starts to defend the standpoint, that the political parties must form coalitions already before the elections. It is the time, when many voters want to choose the matchmaker of the coalition (in Dutch: formateur) by themselves (p.161). This is the only way to create sufficient transparancy, so that a concrete alternative is offered to the voters. For "[The] lack of an alternative is a threat to the parliamentary democracy" (p.148). He prefers a pluralism full of conflicts. Then Nieuw Links tries tooth and nail to establish a system of participative democracy, which Jos de Beus calls the kind equality. Following Troelstra, Den Uyl states that the social-democracy is a vanguard, and the mouthpiece of the lowest income groups (p.223). Only she can guarantee the personal autonomy8.
On p.136 Den Uyl states: "The hallmark of socialism is the victory over greed and the realization of inner freedom". Security of existence is not equal to self-determination (p.152). He presents various proposals to make the people more autonomous. Thanks to the mass media the perspective of the people is increased, and they develop the desire to participate socially (p.128). Next a generous supply of libraries will allow them to better inform themselves. According to Den Uyl, knowledge is power. The information must be pluriform and complete (p.197). The increase of leisure time also offers people more opportunities for autonomy. Furthermore, autonomy is only conceivable in combination with a sufficient family income. In the administrative decisions the immediately involved citizens must have the right of say. This requires a transparant administration (p.151-153, 201). If need be, the citizens can organize themselves in pressure groups (p.201).
Finally, it is interesting that Den Uyl extends the demand for autonomy to the Third World. The policy of the modern industrial states must not hurt the autonomy in the Third World. All in all, your columnist believes that during his later years Den Uyl promotes the paternalistic state in a rather dogmatic manner. That is a pity, because during his younger years he still copies the ideological flexibility of the then party leader Willem Drees. Incidentally, Den Uyl excels in his capacity to translate the promotion of the personal autonomy into concrete policy measures. And that is laudable.
The view of the German social-democrat Oskar Lafontaine is interesting, because he once was the highest functionary within the SPD, and nevertheless has actively resisted the reorientation towards the fourth episode9. His view is explained well in Der andere Fortschritt. There Lafontaine states, that a political party must adhere to an utopia (p.212 and further). This could be called an ideology, or perhaps even a dogma, but in fact here he simply refers to the target function U. The party must not simply adapt U to the social reality. Namely, the utopia U has been derived from a careful analysis of the historical developments, and therefore she is something to go by for the political course of the party. Thanks to U the party can criticize the existing order, and she can act to reform it. Apparently Lafontaine prefers a less fluid U than Den Uyl.
Lafontaine obtained his political formation from New Left, and supports the critical theory of the School of Frankfurt, and notably the philosophers Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm. Whereas before Den Uyl has rejected the paradigm of Marx, it remains a guide for Lafontaine10. Lafontaine argues that capitalism is characterized by an unhealthy urge to further economic growth. For that purpose the system exploits both labour and the natural environment. He wants to realize a revolution, where the system is replaced by eco-socialism (p.188). Here the term socialism has its original meaning of the socialization of the productive property. Lafontaine even advocates in many places the self-government of the workers (p.166)! This is indeed personal autonomy, and in a very radical form at that. Unfortunately Lafontaine remains vague about its practical realization.
Following the critical theory, Lafontaine believes, that the German administration is degenerated into a technocracy. The human freedom must be recovered (p.20). Thanks to an environmental policy the interests of future generations can also be taken into account. Henceforth the tests by moral criteria must guarantee, that the technological developments do not derail (p.34). For instance (p.50): "Er wäre fatal, wenn der Bildschirm in Zukunft das Lesen ersetzte. (...) Sie fordern nicht Reflektion, sondern Reaktion heraus". Economic growth is not necessary, because the poor can be helped by means of redistribution of wealth (among others p.110, 113). Lafontaine even pleads in favour of the unconditional base income, which indeed would enormously enhance the personal autonomy (p.111, 119). Besides, he expects that due to the rising productivity the labour time will continuously be reduced. Therefore the available jobs must also be redistributed (p.88).
Because of the threatening unemployment, Lafontaine wants to slow down labour-saving innovations (p.101). Thus the autonomy of the entrepreneur is bridled. According to Lafontaine it is essential that the quality of labour is good (p.170). He thinks that workers wil become more innovative, when they own their enterprise (p.176). There already exist communes, where this appears to work (Netzwerk Selbsthilfe, p.181). The key words are participation, co-management, and autonomy (p.193). It sounds promising. Incidentally, despite the rather demagogic tone of Lafontaine the same standpoints are shared by Den Uyl. However, the latter usually enriches his arguments with nuances and relativities.
When Lafontaine writes Politik für alle, he has already left the SPD. In the ideological sense the book is similar to Der andere Fortschritt, but now Lafontaine has become even more embittered and radical. Whereas meanwhile the SPD under Schröder prefers a liberal course, Lafontaine advocates more state interventions in the economy. Following the School of Frankfort (Adorno) he states that the liberals aim at a cultural hegemony (p.49). People are manipulated by a clever use of language11. The factor labour is pressured to increase its performance. Lafontaine still demands co-management of the personnel, but no longer advocates ownership by the workers (p.115 and further). For instance, the personnel could decide by means of a referendum about proposed mergers (p.155). It is clear that Lafontaine is blind for the reasons to enter the fourth episode. He refuses to join this move.
In 1998 the English sociologist Anthony Giddens publishes the essay The third way, where he tries to supply New Labour under Tony Blair with a new agenda12. Then the fourth episode is already in progress for ten years. At that moment center-left governments led by Bill Clinton (USA), Wim Kok (the Netherlands) and Romano Prodi (Italy) execute a pragmatic policy, where the operation of markets is valued positively. The book The third way is the political result of Giddens' attempt. A year before its publication New Labour wins the elections, whereas in Germany Gerhard Schröder also comes to power. Blair and Schröder are congenials, that sympathize with the ideas in The third way. On the other hand, the French social-democracy under Lionel Jospin continues the traditional model of much state and little market, at least for the time being. So there is plenty of reason to study The third way. Your columnist did this, already twelve years ago, for the first time.
Giddens does not mince matters, and states that Leninism and socialism are both out of date as ideologies, and made obsolete by reality. They have simply disappeared. He does not even try to justify his ideas with the original social-democratic morals. On the contrary, the social-democracy must re-invent herself. The new agenda is particularly different, because she want to serve the general interest by means of the operation of markets. For, since the eighties the social-democracy gives priority to the personal development (p.21). The old class structures no longer exist, so that the society de-politicizes. Thanks to pluralism the personal identity becomes more important (p.34). More then before the people are willing to reflect, and to accept mutual obligations. The state can support this by means of education and jobs, so that the human mobility is reinforced.
The traditional social-democratic demand of social equality has a purely economic meaning, and must be replaced by the much encompassing concept of social justice. That is to say, Giddens identifies equality with participation and inclusion (p.102). The state legitimizes itself by defending the general interest, for instance good education, social security and market regulations. The state is the bearer of morals (p.48). A striking example is the environmental policy, where the rights of future generations are protected. The state must evaluate the ethical and existential risks of the technological progress, and intervene with restrictions, if desired. And when bodies and institutes demand authority, then the democratic control must always be guaranteed. In this way Giddens wants to further the personal autonomy.
Giddens demands an important place for cosmopolitanism (p.69 and further). He yearns for a world government (p.151), but must admit that this wish is utopical for the foreseeable future. That raises the question who will realize the transformation W → U at the global level. Giddens places for this step his confidence in the morals of the nation-states, notably the willingness of international economic cooperation. This is striking, because thus the global administration would emerge from an agreement between various regional networks. This is a liberal model, where the individual interests compellingly lead to a collective "contract". Indeed Giddens advocates forms of rule, that differ from the traditional associations. The identity of individuals becomes diffuse.
The identification with the national state weakens, in favour of stronger ties with the province, Europe, or even the world. The state is merely a community of fate (p.132). Moreover, the weakening of the national state is necessary, because the market and the civil society must take over a part of the tasks of the state. Giddens calls this social liberalism (p.107). The state apparatus has an alienating effect on citizens, and therefore they want to regulate their own affairs13. A reflecting society can organize herself (p.80).
Such networks, prone to initiative, are particularly suited for ending the local impoverishment. Community care also fits well in this approach. In this manner Giddens introduces entrepreneurship in the social-democracy. Unfortunately he does not offer a solution for the reduction of unemployment. He states that it is conceivable, that for the present the unemployment is structural (p.110, and p.126 and further). The structurally unemployed must find their development in voluntary activities. Giddens proposes to compensate them with a benefit, possibly related to performance. The third way does not offer recipes for the limitation of market power.
In fact at present, more than fifteen years later, many of Giddens' suggestions have been realized, such as the decentralization and the delayed retirement of the elderly. In some aspects he has erred. For instance, he is deeply convinced that cosmopolitanism will rise, and therefore predicts that after 1988 the nationalist parties will wither. The consequence of The third way is that the social-democracy merges with social liberalism. Indeed an alternative is not easily conceivable. Thanks to the social component the existence remains livable and relaxed. Unfortunately Giddens has no answers for the problems, that haunt social liberalism, such as the high unemployment in Europe and the power of markets. The liberalism of Giddens offers good chances for personal autonomy, but the general interest fares badly. As an agenda it is incomplete14.
In 2006 Wouter Bos has introduced himself to the public with his book Dit land kan zoveel beter15. He believes that the state is mainly legitimized by offering security (p.76): "How do you restore hope and trust in a society, where the people have become so sombre and uncertain? This looks like the central challenge for Dutch politics". And on p.83: "The art of living together is to give each his or her place, to maximally use the available talents, and to build a common future, based on a shared fate and coherence". Here he clearly defends the right of personal autonomy. Interesting is also his view on solidarity (p.85): "Solidarity has for centuries been more than merely a matter of morals. (...) The most important reason for organizing solidarity [was] yet the well-understood self-interest". Bos justly defends a modern, behavioural economical view on solidarity.
Thus the relation with the state becomes two-edged (p.88): "Becoming a victim of the abuse of power or arbitrariness of the administration - it can happen to all of us". The citizens bear their own responsibility for the state. The class struggle obtains a modern form (p.95): "Active tolerance implies that freedom and criticism go hand in hand. (...) When the [political debate] is supported by a sound balance between confrontation and respect, then the dialogue and emancipation stimulate each other". Bos warns against the two-thirds society: "[She] is actually a middle class society where two-thirds of the citizens believe that they no longer depend on politics. They are too affluent for that".
Bos is clearly a politican of the fourth episode. On p.112 he states: "There is no reason to reject every form of operation of markets or private initiative. (...) [But] when you compare the rudeness of the market with the rudeness of the state, then this is not always in favour of the market". Nevertheless, he believes that the state must not hesitate to truly recede in favour of private initiatives. The desire to regulate is harmful. It has just been mentioned, that he wants to combat the conflicts of interest between groups with solidarity. She has three components: active tolerance, citizenship, and binding leadership (p.145-146). Indeed a better realization of the transformation W → U is barely conceivable.
In the same (election) year Bos publishes Wat Wouter wil15. There he elaborates on his presented views. Thus he explains on p.20 the active tolerance: "[Respect] is solid and something that you give or earn". Here the state and leadership may demand respect for themselves (p.24): "When society gets more diverse, (...) then the codes will have to be clearly reiterated and consistently be maintained". Apparently the state must invest more in social formation. Bos rejects the kind equality of the third episode (p.31): "Against the right to receive a benefit stands the duty to educate yourself or to work". The politization at that time ignored the need to delegate, because (p.40): "I think that people are more inclined to trust persons than party programs".
Bos repeats again the reason of existence for the social-democracy (p.45): "Equality is at best a means to realize the higher goal: to be able to emancipate yourself, to do something with your life". This is the core of the personal autonomy, and an echo of the view of the old Kautsky16.
The present column shows, that the leading social-democrats of all times propagate democracy and personal autonomy. Merely during the initial episode there is still a group, that favours the dictature, expecting thus to maximally satisfy the material needs of the proletariat. In pluralism the social-democracy is time after time ideologically in the wrong. Neither the large-scale nationalization, nor the central planning, nor the macro-economic planning turn out to be a viable alternative for the operation of free markets. It is simply untrue, that the state is better in controlling the economy than the private entrepreneurs. Therefore since the fourth episode the traditional social-democracy has disappeared. Incidentally, other ideologies (liberalism, christian democracy) also turn out to be unsound. In this way a political spectrum of programmatically floating parties is actually formed.
Autonomy develops into a two-way communication between the citizens and their rulers. Citizens defend their own interests at the administration (welfare function W), whereas the administration tries to form the citizens (target function U). Thus individual social-democrats can stress different nuances in the transformation W → U. The early Kautsky is dogmatic and wants to excessively impose the goals from above. On the other hand, during the same episode Troelstra fiercely rejects such dogma's, and strives for pluralism even within his party. Den Uyl defends the expansion of the public sector. The citizens would become happier, when they restrict their material consumption in favour of more collective goods. In this respect Den Uyl is so rigorous, that his view makes a rather dogmatic impression.
Lafontaine shares the view of Den Uyl. Moreover, he is, as a brain child of New Left, inclined to dictate his view to the citizens. He stresses the need to form the citizens in his desired direction, by means of formation and regulation. If desired, Giddens can be called the prophet of the fourth episode. His agenda of the Third way is liberal and truly places the personal autonomy at the centre. However, the agenda contains several serious political omissions, which hinder its execution. Bos treads programmatically into the footsteps of Wim Kok, and rejects dogma's. They both embrace the agenda of the Third way, but they retain elements from the third episode. Both Giddens and Bos probably sympathize with the traditional social-democracy, but they are no longer willing impose her by means of force on a majority or even on a large minority.