On the one side there is political liberalism, which favours individual freedom and an open and democratic society. And on the other side there is economic liberalism, which is just capitalism.
The trouble is that these aspects are not really compatible. When liberalism is battling against a feudal regime, it does seem to represent the cause of the people, as a whole, against a ruling elite.
But once it has achieved that goal and holds the reins of power, the limits of this political liberalism quickly become apparent. The law, which it once used as a weapon to fight entrenched injustice, suddenly becomes “law and order”, a tool for the defence of the liberal status quo.
Democracy, which seemed like such a good idea at the time, is now seen as a threat, a means by which “the masses” might interfere with the wealth and privilege of the mercantile classes.
Therefore, whenever economic liberalism finds itself under threat from “populism”, it quickly jettisons the principles of political liberalism to which it is theoretically tied.
In other words, these “principles” are not principles at all, just convenient postures designed to cloak the unpleasant reality of the economic liberals’ capitalist system.
We might even define liberalism as being the deception maintained by capitalism to hide its true nature.
Liberalism always claims to be motivated by the very best intentions. When it takes away our rights and freedoms, it reassures us that this is for our own “protection”. When its armies invade people’s lands, it is “liberating” them. When it destroys their cultures and communities it is “civilising” or “modernising” them. Its enemies are always despicable dictators, its wars are always “unavoidable”, the death it deals out is mere collateral damage in its invariably “humanitarian” missions against all the evils to which it is diametrically opposed simply by virtue of its liberal nature. Its imperial armed forces are its “defence” and its death-dealing arms-dealers are part of a crucial “defence industry” that not only keeps “us” safe but creates “jobs” and is very good for “The Economy”.
Liberalism has for many centuries been a convenient disguise for the rule of money, the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a small but very dominant elite. The disguise is convenient because it lulls the population into a false sense of complacency or pessimism.
“We live in a democracy, so if things don’t change it is maybe because people don’t want them to”, some conclude. “Maybe essentially, for all its faults, the capitalist world really is the only possible one and the best we can do is to tinker with the detail to make it as nice as possible. After all, the alternatives are all so much worse!”
If today it has become possible to see through the liberal lies, it is no doubt because the “nice” face of the system is rapidly disappearing as it faces the possibility of collapse. It is racking up its techniques of overt repression – from surveillance to political persecution, from blatant censorship to draconian seizures of “emergency” powers – without paying as much attention to its image as it used to. It doesn’t seem to care any more.Liberalism: the two-faced tyranny of wealth