The alternative to authoritarianism

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

For those who follow international or foreign news, the big political story this past week was the surge in the number of seats won by the “far right” parties in Europe. I am referring to the recent elections in all European countries for the members of the European Union Parliament, the legislative body of the European Union (EU).

These “far right” parties used to be considered as fringe groups not to be taken seriously. In fact, they were often referred to as fascist groups. Although they are not yet in any position to take over the EU Parliament, their increase in the number of seats garnered, plus the fact that Trump is leading in the United States elections, indicates that the growth of “far right” parties and politicians seems to be a global trend.

This rise in populism is being viewed by analysts as a revolt against the establishment or elite politics. For the common people, the last few years have seen the rise of cost of living, even in established economies of Europe and the United States. At the same time, the ordinary consumers have seen the rise of extravagant living by the very rich.

The worrisome aspect of populist leaders is their admiration for authoritarian governments. Trump and European populist leaders like Marine Le Pen of France have publicly expressed their admiration for Vladimir Putin, the authoritarian leader of Russia. The “far right” has also publicly expressed their disdain for such progressive ideas as human rights.

Unfortunately, populism undermines the practice of democracy. At the same time, the capitalists that are supposed to thrive in a democratic society have helped to undermine the very essence of democracy, which is supposed to mean that all men and women, rich and poor, are equal, especially in political terms. The contemporary version of capitalism has led to vast inequalities of power. In the so-called capitalist democratic countries, politics has turned into a game where one side, i.e. the rich, is structurally set up to win, while the other side, i.e. the common people, lacks the power to play.

In this kind of scenario, where the rich employers actively undermine the ability of workers to bargain more effectively, it is no wonder that the ordinary laborer will be tempted to turn to populists and view them as saviors.

The masses cannot be expected to embrace capitalism as they do not see how this ideology benefits them. The only alternative to populism for the masses has been “social democracy.” In this ideology, political power could and should be used to control the abuses of capitalism. In contrast to communism and Marxism, social democrats accept that capitalism is the best engine of economic growth and innovation. However, social democrats also fear the abuses of an unfettered market economy.

In Scandinavia and other parts of Europe where social democracy has gained some political power, this has led to governments building strong safety nets, empowering the unions and regulating the operations of markets in other ways.

In the United States, there are now leaders in the Democratic Party who have become social democrats or democratic socialists, as they call themselves. In fact, President Biden is beginning to sound more and more like a social democrat, joining the ranks of Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It seems that American liberals like Biden have begun to acknowledge that capitalism produces negative effects like income inequality and insecurity and that government needs to ameliorate these effects. Social democrats assert that all economics is also political and that the rules governing the economy shape political and economic outcome.

Therefore, government must help shape the relative power of different economic groups such as helping the masses gain more political power. Social democracy is therefore the best tool for constraining capitalism’s negative effects without resorting to totalitarianism. Capitalism must look to a way of championing those who have been left behind to counter the messianic message of populists. If this is not done, and the populists take over, that will be the end of human rights and democracy itself.

The recent events in Europe and the United States where populism has gained strength demonstrate that unless an answer can be found that will alleviate the abuses of capitalism, the world will find that the masses will turn to populism and authoritarianism as the alternative. I still believe that the best alternative that will address the abuses of capitalism without resorting to authoritarianism is social democracy.

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Join Write Things in a hybrid creative writing workshop for kids and teens on June 24, 26, 28, July 1,3,5 (MWF, 3-5 pm) in Fully Booked BGC and via Zoom. It’s Writefest 2024 which runs for six sessions and today on its tenth year. Our final offering for the year. Workshop facilitators are teacher-writers Sofi Bernedo, Mica Magsanoc and Roel SR Cruz. Special guest authors are fictionist Joel Donato, Ching Jacob a.k.a Cupkeyk and poet Dawn Lanuza. For more info: [email protected].

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