International Endowment for Democracy ���or���

Democracy and Dictatorship:
Means and Ends of the State

By Werner Bonefeld
published in Critique Vol. 34, No. 3, December 2006

This article explores Walter Benjamin's insight according to which the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'State of emergency' is not the exception but the rule. The liberal state tradition, and not just its authoritarian wing, understands this well and does indeed conceive of the state as the executive committee of the bourgeoisie. The neo-liberal conception of laissez-faire does not extend to the state. Laissez-faire is no response to riots. That is to say, neo-liberalism does not view dictatorship as the opposite to the liberal democratic state but sees it instead as a means that safeguards the ends of the rule of law in the face of democratic pressures.

Keywords: Class struggle; Democracy; Dictatorship; Force of law; Rule of law; Violence
The purpose of 'military government is to protect the welfare of the governed'—it is 'inspired by humanitarian consideration'.1

By the end of the 19th century, Marx's co-author of the Communist Manifesto, Friedrich Engels, seemed to distance himself from the Manifesto's memorable insight that the capitalist state is the executive committee of the bourgeoisie.2 In his Preface to the English edition of Volume I of Capital, Engels observed that in England conditions were such that 'social revolution might be effected entirely by . . . legal means'.3 He thus suggested that given the right conditions, socialism can be achieved by means of democratic-parliamentary struggle, and that such struggle is able to transform the state into an instrument, as it were, of the executive committee of the proletariat. This view presupposes that the state is fundamentally impartial towards the antagonistic social interests, and that state purpose, in itself indeterminate, is contingent upon the balance of class forces. The state is thus presumed to exist for the law, and the law is what parliamentary majorities determine it to be. On the basis of these assumptions, socialism would indeed be possible by legal means. Its realisation would require a socialist parliamentary majority that in the face of bourgeois dismay decrees socialism by an act of law. Can the state however be independent of the society from which it springs?

Some 13 years after Engels' enunciation of the parliamentary road to socialism, Rosa Luxemburg argued with remarkable foresight that democracy is not a neutral thing but fundamentally a liberal-democracy. In times of crisis, she argued, its liberal character and purpose will be protected at all costs, including the suspension of democratic government. On the one hand, she argued, and 'in accordance with its form, parliamentarism serves to express, within the organisation of the state, the interests of the whole of society'.4 The incursion of mass democracy into the liberal parliamentary system of bourgeois representation posits and reproduces the class antagonism between capital and labour at the heart of the law-making institution of the bourgeois state. On the other hand, however, 'the present state is not "society" representing the "rising working class". It is itself the representative of capitalist society. It is a class state.'5 And that is to say, what parliamentarianism expresses in its form as a representative of the whole of society 'is capitalist society, that is to say, a society in which capitalist interests predominate. In this society, the representative institutions, democratic in form, are in content the instrument of the interests of the ruling class. This manifests itself in a tangible fashion in the fact that as soon as democracy shows the tendency to negate its class character and become transformed into an instrument of the real interests of the population, the democratic forms are sacrificed by the bourgeoisie and by its state representatives'.6

Friedrich's cynical notion that military government protects the welfare of the governed expresses nonetheless the obvious truth that the bourgeois state is the political organisation of bourgeois society. It recognises bourgeois class interests as universal-human interests. The state is the institution of what Rousseau called the general will of bourgeois society. It sets the rules of the game, and thus provides a framework that codifies and regulates the conduct of the many private interests on the basis of law and order. Thus, liberals 'must employ political channels to reconcile differences' because the state is the organisation that provides the means 'whereby we can modify the rules'.7 However, what happens when 'they' modify the rules? In conditions of insurrection and insubordination, 'the law needs to be broken in order to preserve it'.8 That is to say, the much-praised capacity of deliberative democracy to reconcile differences has to be preserved by the force of law. Instead of the rule of law, the force of law-making violence is unleashed to re-impose a social order fit for the rule of law.

The remainder of the essay first examines the (neo-)liberal conception of the free economy and the strong state. It then reviews the necessity of the state in Kant and Hegel, and the final section turns to the connection between democracy, class struggle and dictatorship. The conclusion looks at the war on terror as a means of legitimising the strong state in the USA—a state that according to the former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is edging towards dictatorship.9

No sacrifice is too great for our democracy, least of all the temporary sacrifice of democracy itself.10

The late Engels was right to see the emergence of mass democracy as a challenge to the liberal state. He was however mistaken to believe that the liberal state lacked the capacity to contain democratic aspirations within the limits of its form.11 Every liberal constitution entails the real possibility that the class antagonism between capital and labour is reproduced within the state, that is, the very institution charged with codifying and regulating bourgeois interests as universal human interests. The 'fundamental contradiction' of parliamentary constitutional government consists in the following:

The classes whose social slavery the constitution is to perpetuate, proletariat, peasantry, petty bourgeoisie, it puts in possession of the political power through universal suffrage. And from the class whose old social power it sanctions, the bourgeoisie, it withdraws the political guarantees of this power. It forces the political rule of the bourgeoisie into democratic conditions, which at every moment help the hostile classes to victory and jeopardise the very foundations of bourgeois society. From the ones it demands that they should not go forward from political to social emancipation; from the others that they should not go back from social to political restoration'.12
The strength of the state depends thus on its independence from society—it is its independence from society that allows its effective operation as a bourgeois state. In the face of mass democratic aspirations, the state thus needs to be 'powerful . . . to preserve its own independence'.13 It is its independence from society that allows the state to be a 'strong and neutral guardian of the public interest' asserting 'its authority vis-a`-vis the interest groups that press upon the government and clamor for recognition of their particular needs and wants'.14 A state that does not defend its independence from the democratic aspirations of the dependent masses will lose its authority to govern and instead, will have become 'their "prey"'.15 Democracy has thus to be fettered to ensure that the state is not dragged down into society, to maintain its independence from society. Failure to do so will 'eventually lead to class war'.16 There arises then the need to preserve the rule of law by means of its— temporary—suspension. As Rossiter notes, 'rebellions' cannot be suppressed by 'juridical injunction'. Suppression requires concentrated force that is employed 'in the name of freedom'.17

Rossiter's point is hardly surprising. It expresses a common view. According to Locke, it is the prerogative of the state 'to act according to discretion for the public good, without the prescription of the law and sometime even against it'. Machiavelli noted 'that republics which, when in imminent danger, have recourse neither to a dictatorship, nor to some form of authority analogous to it, will always be ruined when grave misfortune befalls them'. Rousseau concurred, arguing that 'the general will is indubitable . . . that the state shall not perish'.18 In Carl Schmitt's definition of the political as the relationship between enemy and foe, or in Marxist language, the class antagonism between capital and labour, the state is properly a state on the condition that it recognises the (class) enemy, and organises its policies accordingly. The state is, as it were, the 'monopolist of the ultimate decision' as to whether the containment of the enemy on the basis of the rule of law is effective or whether its (temporary) suspension is required so that order can be restored. As he saw it, 'there is no legal norm that can be applied to chaos. Order has to be established for the legal norms to be effective'.19 Whether there is order or disorder, whether the rule of law applies or whether it needs to be re-imposed upon society by means of force (the force of law without the rule of law) is a question of judgment—not of law but of a sovereign decision. All law, as Schmitt put it, is 'situational', and its rule depends on an extra-legal coercive force. This force rules, as it were, through as well as over and above the rule of law. 'Sovereign is who decides on the state of emergency'.20 Whether the rule of law applies or whether it needs to be 'broken' in order to preserve freedom is thus a question, not of law, but sovereign decision and judgement in the face of the (class) enemy. Necessity knows no law.

Schmitt formulated the dictum that the state shall not perish in conditions of mass democratic incursion into the homogeneity of the relationship between the bourgeois state and its bourgeois constituency. The achievement of political rights by the organised labour movement disrupted the homogeneity of relations between bourgeois society and its state. Democracy, as Schmitt saw it, depends on the fundamental homogeneity between rulers and ruled. It is, as it were, possible only on the condition that it is a democracy of 'friends'. The materialisation of the working class as mass democratic subject disrupted this homogeneity and allowed entrenchment of the (class) enemy within the institution that was to codify and regulate its subordination to capital. Schmitt argued that the (Weimar) state had become the prey of antagonistic social interests, requiring the 'friends' to reassert the independence of the state from society by means of emergency rule. Schmitt's analysis of the ills of Weimer was widely shared,21 and his demand for the 'free economy and the strong state' was the demand of neo-liberalism.22 That is to say 'the government beyond its proper sphere ought not to have any power; within its sphere it cannot have enough of it'.23 Like Schmitt, the neo-liberals of the late 1920s and early 1930s criticised 'classical liberalism' for failing in the face of the proletarian threat. Laissez-faire is no 'answer to riots'.24

The neo-liberal demand for the strong state is a demand for the limited state. It intervenes into society, not to effect redistribution, but to eliminate 'private power from the economy'.25 As Hayek saw it, the liberal state intervenes in an attempt to facilitate competition or, in the words of Friedman, to 'determine, arbitrate and enforce the rules of the game'. The neo-liberal state governs by "'planning" for the free price mechanism', as Balogh put it in his assessment of neo-liberal reforms in postwar Germany.26 The free price mechanism is a sort 'continuous consumer plebiscite', whose operation requires a strong state to prevent 'coercion and violence'. Its prime duty is 'preventing private coercion' by trade unions.27 In sum, 'liberalism had not demanded weakness from the state, but only freedom for economic development under state protection'. Such protection 'demands a strong state'. The strong state is a 'state where it belongs; over and above the economy, over and above the interested parties [Interessenten]'. The strong state is the 'market-liberal interventionist state'.28

In contrast, the weak state does not stand over and above society. Instead, it is drawn into society and has become the prey of antagonistic social interests. The 'socialisation' of the state undermines its independence and thus imperils its bourgeois character. It is as if 'the mob has seized the seat of government'.29 Instead of government there is what the neo-liberals of the 1970s called 'ungovernability'. The ungovernable state is a state of 'pure quantity' (cf. Schmitt), unable to distinguish between the bourgeois friend and the working class foe, and therefore unable to enforce the rules of private property against entrenched class relations. Instead of eliminating 'private power' from the economy by attacking trade unions and deregulating labour relations, the economic costs of democracy increase30 and the 'lamentable weakness' of the state31 is such that it becomes regarded as 'a sort of unlimited-liability insurance company, in the business of insuring all persons at all time against every conceivable risk'.32 What to do when government no longer governs over society but is instead dragged down into society? According to, among others, Rossiter, Friedrich and Hayek, the state has to govern and a dictatorship might be required that 'ends the crisis and restores normal times'. Dictatorship is a 'temporary form of state organisation to restore legitimate authority once the emergency for the state is over'. According to Friedrich, when a 'constitutional government' cannot cope with emergency situations, resolution can only be found by 'turn[ing] to dictatorship'.33 As Hayek notes, 'dictatorship may impose limits on itself, and a dictatorship that imposes such limits may be more liberal in its policies than a democratic assembly that knows of no such limits'. Unsurprisingly, Hayek accepts that Schmitt's conception of sovereignty—'sovereign is the one who decides on the exception'—has 'some plausibility'.34 A dictatorship that imposes limits on itself, and that thereby facilitates market freedom by curtailing democratic aspiration on a liberal basis, and that thus deregulates entrenched class relations in an attempt to achieve the 'complete eradication of all orderlessness from markets and the elimination of private power from the economy', is a dictatorship that 'should be no cause for alarm'. It should be no cause for alarm because it is 'constitutional'. That is to say, a constitutional dictatorship is not 'a contradiction in terms' but rather 'the litmus test of constitutionalism'.35

Hayek's conception of dictatorship as a means of securing the liberal state in the face of mass democratic aspirations is apt. Government must govern; noncompliance has to be turned into compliance, order to be restored. There can be 'no democracy in abnormal times'.36 Law cannot be applied to chaos—law requires order; rebellions are not resolved by parliamentary debate—the imposition of order requires executive action. Order needs to be imposed so that law can rule. The imposition of order makes possible the codification of social relations and their regulation on the basis of the rule of law. Imposition of order has the force of law. The rule of law presupposes the force of law, that is, violence is a law-making power and a law-preserving power.37

The inner dialectic of civil society . . . drives it . . . to push beyond its own limits.38

The understanding of bourgeois society as an antagonistic society was already accepted by Immanuel Kant. It was because of its antagonism that its reproduction required a specific political form that codifies and regulates the conduct of exchange relations. The purpose of the state was to secure the common interest of bourgeois society, allowing the many competing private interests to develop on the basis of law. For Kant, thus, the antagonism was not one of class. His conception of antagonism was pre-modern. For him the social antagonism comprised the competitive relations between distinct branches of production and especially the competition between petit commodity producers. As he saw it, antagonism was entailed in the 'unsocial sociability of men to come together in society coupled with continual resistance which constantly threatens to break this society up'.39 The state appears here as a force that regulates the unsocial character of society to secure its fundamental sociability. The state institutionalises, as it were, the mutual dependency of each individual on all other individuals. Its independence allows it to codify and regulate the competing private interests within a social framework. The working class, or the forth estate, did not inform his conception of the antagonistic society.

Kant's conception of the state rests on the positing of social antagonism not in the form of irreconcilable class interests but rather in the form of reconcilable bourgeois interests. The private interests are 'unsocial' and therefore demand cohesion on the basis of law. As he put it, 'the great problem for the human species, the solution of which nature compels him to seek, is that of attaining a civil society which can administer justice universally'. At issue was the establishment of a 'perfectively just civil constitution'. Thus, the universal interests of competitive society required the establishment of a 'perfect civil constitution' so that the 'innate capacities . . . of antagonism within society' could be resolved on the basis of a 'law-governed social order'.40 In today's parlance, the necessity of the state arose for Kant out of the conflict between pluralist interests and he argued that the state has to retain its independence from these interests so as to secure their civil conduct. The state is thus conceived as a necessary form of conflict resolution—it codifies property rights and regulates the use of force.

Kant's conception of the necessity of the state echoes insights of Smith and Rousseau. Kant's argument that justice needs to be administered universally echoes Smith's notion of the state as the institution responsible for the impartial adjudication of justice in case of clashes of interests. And the universal character of such administration is akin to Rousseau's general will that expresses the fundamental sociability of the divided and competing private interests. According to Kant, the state is necessary to represent the general interest over and against the conflicting claims and relations of the private interests—a society based solely on egoism is impossible. Its unsocial character will destroy what it itself presupposes: society's fundamental sociability.

Hegel was the first major thinker who understood the antagonistic nature of bourgeois society. For him the social antagonism is one of class. For Hegel, the fundamental condition of bourgeois society is no longer the competitive relationship between petit commodity producers. Bourgeois society is conceived as a class society.41 His theory of the state thus differs from Kant's inasmuch as the recognition of labour's antagonistic presence in and against bourgeoisie society renders impossible reconciliation on the basis of a common interest. Class society is a society divided by irreconcilable interests. The state is by necessity a class state. The state is thus no longer seen to be necessary as an institution of the general interests over and against the competing private interests. Instead, it is necessary in order to sanction the rule of private property against 'the poor'. Its purpose is the containment of labour within the limits of bourgeois society—a containment based on law and coercive force: the force of law.

Hegel develops the necessity of the state from the internal dynamics of bourgeois society. In his Philosophy of Right, he first introduces the notion of general dependency: the particular person is essentially related to other particular persons, each finds satisfaction by means of the others, and their reciprocal relationship means that the satisfaction of needs comprises a universal system of mutual dependency.42 There is thus a division of labour and satisfaction of needs by means of exchange. Concerning the state, his purpose here is the 'protection of property through the administration of justice'. However, and importantly, 'the infinitely complex, crisscross, movement of reciprocal production and exchange, and the equally infinite multiplicity of means therein employed' goes beyond the division of society into individualised individuals, or in today's language, the so-called market individual. That is, the division of labour crystallises 'into systems, to one or another of which individuals are assigned—in other words, into class divisions'.43 These divisions are of an antagonistic kind and the development of bourgeois society leads to its polarisation into antagonistic classes. According to Hegel, the polarisation of society into two opposing classes is an innate necessity of bourgeois society. It belongs to its constituted dynamic. As he sees it, the market economy 'results in the dependence and distress of the class tied to [work]'. Dependence and distress are also entailed in the 'inability to feel and enjoy the broader freedoms and especially the intellectual benefits of civil society'.44

It seems that civil society is civil only on the condition that the labouring class is excluded form it. However, exclusion is not possible for the simple fact that the expanded reproduction of bourgeois society results 'in the creation of a rabble of paupers' and the 'concentration of disproportionate wealth in a few hands'. What to do 'when the masses begin to decline into poverty' and start to rebel? He rejects redistribution of wealth as this 'would violate the principle of civil society'. He also argues that what today is called a policy of full-employment is contrary to the logic of civil society. Rather than solving the problem, it would intensify it. Thus, 'despite an excess in wealth, civil society is not rich enough, that is, its own resources are insufficient to check excessive poverty and the creation of a penurious rabble'. There is no economic answer to the polarisation of society. In fact, 'the inner dialectic of civil society . . . drives it . . . to push beyond its own limits'.45 How to keep the poor at bay and thus contain the class antagonism within the limits of its bourgeois form? For Hegel, there is only a political answer. He charged the state with the task of containing the class antagonism.

In summary, the dynamic of bourgeois society creates the polarisation of society according to antagonistic class interests. The defence of the 'rich against the poor' is a political task. Its resolution conforms to bourgeois society: 'interventionism' in terms of the provisions of welfare and employment are contrary to its logic and interests, and will only serve to make things worse. Interventionism has to be in conformity with the logic of civil society, or as Röpke would put it, 'interventionism' has to be in harmony with the 'natural tendency of the market'.46 Only such intervention secures the best of all worlds, allowing regulation of the class antagonism on the basis of free and equal exchange relations between capital and labour, reinforcing competition between workers for employment and conditions, and thus reinforcing the individualisation that is so typical of class society. The containment of the class antagonism can go forward by ethical means, which purport that regardless of conditions, we are all members of the one-national boat—specific class interests appear in the form of the universal, national interest. And the interest of the working class? The ethical appeal to the one-national society must lead, as Müller-Armack put it, to the incorporation of the market-mechanism 'into a total life style'. Containment can also go forward by coercive means that replace the carrot by the stick. In either case the stick is either directly applied or hidden in the carrot. As Walter Benjamin put it: 'the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the "state of emergency" in which we live, is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight'.47

Hegel's conception of civil society confirms Benjamin's critique of its oppressive character. According to Hegel, civil society a selfish, competitive and antagonistic society, where great wealth is accumulated by the few at the expense of the many, and that thus condemns the masses to poverty. Civil society required the authority of the state to keep it from imploding under the weight of its own contradictions. Hegel painted civil society in the following term:

[the individual] is subject to the complete confusion and hazard of the whole. A mass of the population is condemned to the stupefying, unhealthy, and insecure labour of factories, manufactures, mines, and so on. Whole branches of industry, which support a large bulk of the population, suddenly fold up because the mode changes or because the values of their products fall on account of new inventions in other countries, or for other reasons. Whole masses are thus abandoned to helpless poverty. The conflict between vast wealth and vast poverty steps forth, a poverty unable to improve its conditions. Wealth . . . becomes a predominant power
fostering resentment and hatred. The integration of civil society was seen to establish a 'moving life of the dead. This system moves hither and yon in a blind and elementary way, and like a wild animal calls for strong permanent control and curbing.'48 It requires, in short, the strong and capable state to render its conduct 'civil' by containing the 'poor' within the boundaries of bourgeois society. Indeed, the political cohesion of civil society was seen to be advanced by 'successful wars' that 'have checked domestic unrest and consolidated the power of the state at home'.49 Marx's substitution of civil society for bourgeois society is therefore apt: the 'free' worker is as much an abstract subject of rights as the owner of the means of production. The separation of labour from the means of production assumes a form of freedom that is focused on the labour contract. This contract is the fundamental form of all relations in 'civil' society—it connects freedom with exploitation.

There is no legal norm that can be applied to chaos. Order has to be established for the legal norms to be effective.50

From the above it appears that the state is a specific form of conflict resolution. In Kant, it codifies the rules of the game and regulates the relationship of ownership between the subjects of exchange, rendering their conduct civil on the basis of law and order. The state appears here as an 'extra-economic coercive force' that safeguards the fundamental 'sociability' of 'unsocial' exchange relations. The reconciliation of individual owners of commodities on the basis of law and order is not problematic since their relationship is premised on the recognition of property rights. Once, however, the conflict over property rights assumes an antagonistic form, the conflict-resolution by means of law and order changes in character. Instead of liberal deliberation on the forms of legal regulation,51 the emphasis falls now on the imposition of order as the condition of law. The working class, as Clarke has rightly argued, is 'always the object of state power. The judicial power of the state stands behind the appropriation of labour without equivalent by the capitalist class, while preventing the working class from using its collective power to assert the right to the product of its labour'.52 That is to say, following Clarke, the codification of the relationship between capitalist and labourer as equal and free citizens who contract in liberty on the labour market is contradicted by the content of the exchange. Once the wage contract is signed, the factory floor beckons. The recognition of the labourer as an equal citizen not only confines the terms of exchange within the limits of the rights of property. It also subordinates the working class to capital: the recognition of capital and labour as equal and free partners in exchange entails the substantive guarantee of exploitation.

Engel's hope that the democratic power of the working class might lead to the peaceful transition to socialism by means of parliamentary decree, seeks to exploit an opportunity structure that really is not there. As Clarke notes, 'capitalist property is founded not on the rule of law or on the supposed state monopoly of the means of violence, but on capitalist social relations of production'. That is to say, parliamentary representation tends to translate the demand for employment and social security into a politics of economic growth, and that is, into pressure on the state to facilitate the increase in the rate of accumulation. As Clarke put it, 'the development of parliamentary representation for the working class, however much scope it may provide for improving he material conditions of sections of the working class, far from being an expression of collective working-class strength, becomes the means by which it is divided, demobilised and demoralised'.53

The great calamity for capital and its state is not the incorporation qua representation of the working class into the system of liberal-democracy. As Schumpeter noted, liberal democracy is to be welcomed because it is the best mechanism yet invented to secure the circulation of elites by peaceful means, that is, by means of competitive elections.54 The great danger is the democratisation of society. Such democratisation threatens the bourgeois separation between the economy and the state. Working-class struggles for democratic control over the means of production and the perpetuation of resistance by means of mass demonstrations questions the boundaries of the 'economic' and 'political', and it does so by recognising and organising its "'forces propres" as social forces'.55 In times of such a 'crisis of a [liberal-] democracy, constitutional government must be temporarily altered to whatever degree is necessary to overcome the peril and restore normal conditions'.56 The neo-liberal demand for the free economy and strong state moves, as it were, from the lectern to the barracks, demanding police action. As Rüstow notes, 'the economic system requires a market police with strong state authority for its protection and maintenance'. For capitalist social relations to be again 'protected by an enlightened state', 'a more or less authoritarian direction of the state becomes unavoidable'. In short, insurrections, as Friedrich put it, 'create the states of emergency which call for the establishment of constitutional dictatorship'.57 The working class is thus deemed responsible for its own persecution. Necessity knows no decency. It knows no law. It demands the use of force.

The law of necessity is the law of violence—it imposes order with the force of law, so that the rule of law can be applied again, once the emergency is over. As Rossiter puts it, 'law is made for the state, not the state for the law'. In case circumstances 'are such that a choice must be made between the two, it is the law which needs be sacrificed to the state'. Thus, in order to preserve the law of private property, the rule of law has to be suspended so that it 'might not be permanently destroyed'.58 The use, then, of 'honest and organised force'59 entails not only 'more government and less liberty'.60 It also entails concentration of power in the hands of the executive. In the face of the democratisation of society, 'executive action' has to be released 'from the paralysis of constitutional restraints'. In times of need, the 'inefficiencies inherent in the doctrine of the subdivision of power' have to be overcome and 'power has to be concentrated in the hands of one man' who governs in freedom 'from the normal system of constitutional and legal limitations'.61 The 'extraordinary means for maintaining the state'—from martial law to a state of emergency, from restraint of civil liberties to a full-blown constitutional or commissarial dictatorship—entail however not just a temporary strengthening of the state where 'government will have more power, the people fewer rights'.62 It also entails the law of necessity and that is, the imposition of order as the precondition for the resumption of rule on the basis of law. The suspension of the rule of law means that the much-coveted statue of liberty is blindfolded so that its innocence is not compromised by the police-action undertaken in order to preserve the rule of law.

The aim of dictatorship is the 'complete restoration of the status quo ante bellum'.Yet, as Friedrich acknowledges, there are no 'institutional safeguards available for insuring that emergency powers be used for the purpose of persevering the institution'.63 The danger is that dictatorship becomes 'totalitarian', or in the words of Schmitt, instead of the desired commissarial dictatorship, it assumes the character of a sovereign dictatorship. What to do? How to keep the Hitlers out? How to make sure that dictatorship is in the name of freedom—like Pinoche's in Chile that Hayek found so praiseworthy.64 According to Friedrich a benevolent dictator is required: dictatorship needs to be 'in the hand of persons who would understand the nature of the world-revolutionary situation and would appreciate the limits of force in dealing with the conflict of this type'. Power as Rossiter puts it is not necessarily bad. It 'can be responsible, strong government can be democratic, dictatorship can be constitutional'.

Yet, 'no democracy' emerges from dictatorship unaltered and some 'dictatorships turned against what it is meant to defend'. There is thus no certainty. As Friedrich put it, 'how are we to get effective, vigorous governmental action and yet limit the power of governmental bodies so as to forestall the rise of a despotic concentration of power?'. For Friedrich this is a 'logical paradox' that can only be resolved in practice. In the face of insurrection and insubordination, there is no alternative to a dictatorial defence of—bourgeois—'freedom'. As Rossiter puts it, 'into whatever forbidden fields of freedom the necessities of crisis may force the leaders of a constitutional government to go, go they must or permit the destruction of the state and its freedoms'. The 'prize is freedom'.65


The world has become a dangerous place. There is not a single news bulletin without a report on the war on terror, accounts of yet more casualties, attacks on populations, security alerts, and further restrictions of civil liberties. Critical judgement appears abandoned in a thoughtless world. War is defined as peace-making; liberty and freedom are restricted ostensibly in order to protect liberty and freedom; deception and propaganda have entered the stage of a theatrical politics that, under the guise of choice and democratic values, pronounces the age old wisdom of tyranny—those who are not with us, are against us—as a means of defending choice and democracy.

Torture and the disappearance of people into prisons whose existence, paraphrasing Donald Rumsfeld, is an unknown known, have become accepted means in the defence of those same values and norms that protect against torture and incarceration without cause, due process, access to lawyer, and so forth. Then there is the calculated murder of people by suicide bombers, abductions and beheadings, and assassinations, and so on.

The events of 9/11 demonstrated with brutal force the impotence of sense, significance, and thus reason and truth. The denial of human quality and difference was absolute—not even their corpses survived. And the response? It confirmed that state terrorism and terrorism are two sides of the same coin. They feed on each other, depend on each other, encourage each other, and recognise each other in their totalitarian world views: them and us. Between them, nothing is allowed to survive. Doubt in the veracity of the action is eliminated by the authoritarian decision to bomb and maim, to search and destroy.

No less disturbing is the increase in poverty across the world. According to Martin Wolf the gap in the average living standards between the richest and poorest countries has increased from a ratio of about 10 to one a century ago to 75 to one and under existing conditions of globalization 'it could easily be 150 to one' in half a century.66 However, the widening of the gap between the poor and the rich is not simply a matter of a world divided into rich countries and poor countries. Whole populations 'exist' below subsistence levels, not only in the so-called Third World but, also, in the rich capitalist countries. Recent estimates suggest that about 33 million people live below the poverty line in the USA—the richest country in the world.67

Against this background, Martin Wolf has argued that the success of globalization requires stronger states. In its substance, Wolf 's call for stronger states to facilitate the operation of the free market amounts to a pre-emptive counter-revolution against the anticipated rebellion. The dynamic of the new economy was sustained by three elements: the enormous increase in consumer debt, especially in the USA, a huge transfer of resources in the form of interest payments from debtor countries to Western banks, especially to US banks, and military Keynesianism—increased war spending—that subsidised the military-industrial complex and sustained the creditbased boom of the 1990s on a global scale.68 Conversely, then, of Wolf 's demand for action is a world economy that is dependent upon, and overshadowed by, a mountain of debt. Debt entails a politics of debt, and Wolf's insistence that the free economy and the strong state belong together is therefore to the point. The premise of a politics of debt is the ongoing accumulation of 'human machines' on the pyramids of accumulation. Its blind eagerness for plunder requires organized coercive force to sustain the huge mortgage on the future exploitation of labour in the present.

Terrorism, as Soros notes, provided not only the ideal legitimation but, also, the ideal enemy for the unfettered coercive protection of a debt-ridden free market 'because it is invisible and never disappears'. The indebted citizen has become a security risk. And what of the working class? It is claimed as an exploitable resource and commended as a military resource. As a democratic subject, it is systematically bullied to work harder for less in an attempt to secure 'the most effective wealthcreating system ever devised by mankind', as the Financial Times characterised globalisation at the end of the deep recession of the early 1990. With the tightening of anti-terror legislation across the world, the demand is not only that people comply with the constitutional order. Obedience to law, order and constitution is not sufficient—one is now also required to love them. It is for this simple reason, as Agnoli has argued in a different context, that all those who are lovingly tolerated as citizens are also systematically kept under surveillance as potential security risks. In conclusion, 'the state of exception . . . has become the rule'.69


  1. C. Friedrich, Constitutional Government and Democracy; Theory and Practice in Europe and America, Fourth edition (London: Blaisdell Publishing, 1968), p. 547.

  2. In our time, Milton Friedman has provided a cogent definition of the state as the executive committee of the bourgeoisie. As he put it, the state is 'essential both as a forum for determining the "rules of the game" and as an umpire to interpret and enforce the rules decided upon' and enforcement is necessary 'on the part of those few who would otherwise not play the game'. That is to say, 'the organisation of economic activity through voluntary exchange presumes that we have provided, through government, for the maintenance of law and order to prevent coercion of one individual by another, the enforcement of contracts voluntarily entered into, the definition of the meaning of property rights, the interpretation and enforcement of such rights, and the provision of a monetary framework'. The state has to 'promote competition' and do for the market what the market 'cannot do for itself '. M. Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1962), pp. 15, 25, 27, 34. Friedman's detailed list of state functions derives from Adam Smith's determination of the—liberal—state. On this, see S. Clarke, Keynesianism, Monetarism and the Crisis of the State (Aldershot: Edward Elgar, 1988); and S. Clarke, 'The Neo-Liberal Theory of the State', in A. Saad-Fihlo and D. Johnston (eds) Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader (London: Pluto Press, 2005).

  3. F. Engels, 'Preface to the English Edition', in K. Marx, Capital , Vol. I (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1886/ 1983), p. 17.

  4. R. Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution (London: Bookmarks, 1899/1989), p. 47.

  5. Ibid., p. 41.

  6. Ibid., p. 47.

  7. Friedman, op. cit., p. 23

  8. C.L. Rossiter, Constitutional Dictatorship. Crisis Government in the Modern Democracies (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1948), p. 12.

  9. S. Day O'Connor, Speech at Georgetown University, March, 2006, reported in The Guardian, 13 March 2006; and see N. Totenberg, 'Retired Supreme Court Justice Hits Attacks on Courts and Warns of Dictatorship', Raw Story, accessed 24 March 2006.

  10. Rossiter, op. cit., p. 314.

  11. See J. Agnoli, 'The State, the Market and the End of History', in W. Bonefeld and K. Psychopedis (eds) The Politics of Change (London: Palgrave, 2000), pp. 196-206.

  12. K. Marx, The Class Struggles in France, in Collected Works, Vol. 10 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1978), p. 79.

  13. A. Rüstow, 'General Social Laws of the Economic Disintegration and Possibilities of Reconstruction', Afterword to W. Röpke, International Economic Disintegration (London: W. Hodge, 1942), p. 276.

  14. C. Friedrich, 'The Political Thought of Neo-Liberalism', The American Political Science Review, 49:2 (1955), pp. 509-525, at p. 512.

  15. Ibid., p. 513

  16. A. Nicholls, 'The Other Germans—The Neo-Liberals', in R.J. Bullen, H. Pogge von Strandmann and A.B. Polonsky (eds) Ideas into Politics: Aspects of European Politics, 1880 .1950 (London: Croom Helm, 1984), pp. 164-170.

  17. Rossiter, op. cit., pp. 6, 303, 7.

  18. J. Locke, The Second Treaties of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1946), p. 82; N. Machiavelli, The Discourses (London: Penguin, 1970), p. 196; J.J. Rousseau, The Social Contract (London: Penguin, 1968), p. 171.

  19. C. Schmitt, Politische Theologie , Fifth edition 1990 (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1922), p. 20.

  20. Ibid., p. 11.

  21. Schmitt's insight into the crisis of the Weimar Republic was shared not only by neo-liberal authors, such as Böhm, Eucken, Müller-Armack, Rüstow and Röpke, but also Neumann and Kirchkeimer. Cf. D. Haselbach, Autoritärer Liberalismus und Soziale Marktwirtschaft (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1991); see also K. Tribe, Strategies of Economic Order: German Economic Discourse, 1750-1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). Where Neumann and Schmitt differed was in the prescription of how to resolve the crisis. Like Schmitt, the German ordo-liberals favoured a dictatorial resolution by means of a commissarial dictatorship headed by von Papen. The crunch between Schmitt and the ordo-liberals occurred with the Nazi dictatorship. Some ordoliberals rejected it as a sovereign dictatorship, whereas Schmitt lost no time to become Nazism's legal philosopher. Röpke and Rüstow emigrated, Eucken and Böhm stayed choosing, it is said, 'internal exile'; Müller- Armack also stayed. He had argued all along for the strong man and saw in Italian Fascism a means of overcoming the crisis of Weimar. In the late 1920 and early 1930s, Schmitt and the German neo-liberals fed on each other's analyses; their vocabulary and concepts were interchangeable. After the Second World War, there was great ambiguity towards Schmitt, and efforts of cutting the connection between Schmitt and the neo-liberals are legion. Hayek, for example, rejected Schmitt in toto, denouncing him as the 'leading Nazi theoretician of totalitarianism' only to acknowledge that Schmitt 'probably understood the character of the developing form of government better than most people'. F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (London: Routledge, 1944), p. 187; and Law, Legislation and Liberty (London: Routledge, 1979), p. 194. He accepted Schmitt's distinction between democracy and liberalism and argued that Schmitt's analysis was 'most learned and perceptive'. F.A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, (London: Routledge, 1960), p. 485. On the connection between Schmitt and Hayek, see R. Cristi, Carl Schmitt and Authoritarian Liberalism (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1998); and W. Scheuerman, Carl Schmitt. The End of Law (Boulder, CO: Rowan & Littlefield, 1999). On the connection between Schmitt and the German neo-liberals, see Haselbach, op. cit. See also A. Nicholls, Freedom and Responsibility (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), who praises Rüstow's description of the strong state as a 'landmark in the prehistory of the social market economy' (p. 48) but fails to mention Rüstow's explicit agreement with Schmitt's view on the free economy and the strong state (cf. C. Schmitt, 'Free Economy and Strong State', in R. Cristi, op. cit.). Similarly, Friedrich, 'The Political Thought of Neo-Liberalism', op. cit.

  22. Schmitt, 'Free Economy and Strong State', op. cit. Cf. A. Rüstow, 'Industrialisierung und Arbeitslosigkeit', Verhandlungen des Vereins für Sozialpolitik in Dresden 28. and 29. September 1932, (1932). pp. 62-67.

  23. Benjamin Constant, cited in W. Röpke, Civitas Humana (London: William Hodge, 1949), p. 28.

  24. A. Peacock and H. Willgerodt (eds), Germany's Social Market Economy, Vol. 1 (London: Macmillan, 1989), p. 6. In the face of mass democratic transformation and entrenchment class relations, the neo-liberals of the early 1930s argued that liberalism has to fight for the strong state. They criticised classical liberalism for its dependence on the idea of the 'invisible hand', and argued that capitalism was not the result of 'divine reason'. Instead of classical liberalism's 'deist philosophy', capitalism is a man-made order that depends for its operation on the 'extra-economic framework of moral, political, legal and institutional conditions, without which the capitalist market system cannot work'. Röpke, International Economic Disintegration, op. cit., pp. 67, 68; see also Röpke, Civitas Humana, op. cit.. Classical liberalism was criticised for its reliance on the philosophy of the invisible hand which for the neo-liberals meant that it had no answer to the proletarian challenge.

  25. Böhm, in Haselbach, op. cit., p. 92.

  26. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, op. cit.; Friedman, op. cit., p. 27; T. Balogh, An Experiment in 'Planning' by the 'Free' Price Mechanism (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1950).

  27. Röpke, cited in Peacock and Willgerodt, op. cit., p. 64; F.A. Hayek, A Tiger by the Tail (London: London Institute of Economic Affairs, 1972), pp. 66, 87.

  28. Rüstow, 'Industrialisierung und Arbeitslosigkeit', op. cit., p. 68; A. Rüstow, Rede und Antwort (Ludwigsburg: Hoch, 1963), p. 258.

  29. Baruch, commenting on Roosevelt's decision to abandon the Gold Standard, quoted in A.M. Schlesinger, The Age of Roosevelt: The Coming of the New Deal (Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1959), p. 202.

  30. Cf. S. Brittan, Economic Consequences of Democracy (London: Temple Smith, 1977).

  31. Cf. Friedrich, 'The Political Thought of Neo-Liberalism', op. cit., p. 512.

  32. A. King, Why is Britain Harder to Govern (London: BBC Books, 1976), p. 12.

  33. Rossiter, op. cit., p. 7; Röpke, International Economic Disintegration, op. cit., p. 146; Friedrich, Constitutional Government and Democracy, op. cit., p. 558.

  34. Hayek citied in Cristi, op. cit., p. 168; Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty, op. cit., p. 125.

  35. Böhm, in Haselbach, op. cit., p. 92; Rossiter, op. cit., p. 4; Friedrich, Constitutional Government and Democracy, op. cit., p. 580. Friedrich's and Rossiter's conception of a constitutional dictatorship derives from Schmitt's commissarial dictatorship. Despite their obvious debt to Schmitt, he is not acknowledged. Like Hayek, they seek to distance themselves from him (Friedrich, p. 664; Rossiter, p. 14) but appear not to be able to do without him.

  36. Rossiter, op. cit., p. 8.

  37. Cf. W. Benjamin, 'Geschichtsphilosphische Thesen' in Zur Kritik der Gewalt und andere Aufsätze (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1965), pp. 78-94.

  38. G. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, T.M. Knox (trans.) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), p. 151.

  39. I. Kant, Political Writings, H. Reiss (ed.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), p. 44.

  40. Ibid., pp. 45, 47, 44.

  41. Some might object to the use of bourgeois society in this context and insist on the use of civil society. But recall Hegel's dictum: 'In this society, the individuals are not citoyens, they are bourgeois' (cf. Art. 89 of the Philosophy of Right of Heidelberg, 1817/18, first published in 1983 [Stuttgard: Klett-Cotta]). The German for 'civil society' is Zivilgesellschaft or zivile Gesellschaft, not buergerliche Gesellschaft, which translates as 'bourgeois society'.

  42. Hegel, Philosophy of Right , op. cit., pp. 122-129.

  43. Ibid., pp. 126, 130-131.

  44. Ibid., pp. 149-150.

  45. Ibid., pp. 150-151.

  46. W. Röpke, German Commercial Policy (London: Longmans, 1934), p. 50.

  47. Müller-Armack cited in Haselbach, op. cit., p. 155; Benjamin, op. cit., p. 84.

  48. G. Hegel, Jenenser Realphilosophie (Leipzip: Meiner, 1932), pp. 232, 240.

  49. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, op. cit., p. 210.

  50. Schmitt, Politische Theologie, op. cit., p. 20.

  51. Cf. Friedman, op. cit., p. 23.

  52. S. Clarke, 'State, Class Struggle, and the Reproduction of Capital, in id. (ed.) The State Debate (London: Palgrave, 1991), p. 198.

  53. Ibid., pp. 187, 200. Exploration of this issue is beyond the scope of this article. See, however, J. Agnoli, Die Transformation der Demokratie (Freiburg: a ira, 1990); Clarke, 'State, Class Struggle, and the Reproduction of Capital', op. cit.; London Edinburgh Weekend Return Group, In and Against the State (London: Pluto, 1978).

  54. J. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism & Democracy (London: Routledge, 1992).

  55. K. Marx, Zur Judenfrage, in MEW 1 (Berlin: Dietz, 1964), p. 370.

  56. Rossiter, op. cit., p. 5.

  57. Rüstow, 'General Social Laws of the Economic Disintegration', op. cit., p. 289; Nicholls, Freedom and Responsibility, op. cit., p. 169; Röpke, International Economic Disintegration, op. cit., p. 246; Friedrich, Constitutional Government and Democracy, op. cit. p. 580.

  58. Rossiter, op. cit., p. 11; ibid., citing Barthe´lemy; ibid., pp. 8, 12.

  59. Cf. M. Wolf, 'The need for a new imperialism', Financial Times, 10 October 2001.

  60. Rossiter, op. cit., p. 6.

  61. Friedrich, Constitutional Government and Democracy, op. cit., p. 563; Rossiter, op. cit., p. 288-290.

  62. Friedrich, Constitutional Government and Democracy, op. cit., p. 560; Rossiter, 1949, p. 5.

  63. Rossiter, op. cit., p. 7; Friedrich, op. cit., p. 570.

  64. See Cristi, op. cit., p. 168.

  65. Friedrich, Constitutional Government and Democracy, op. cit., pp. 580-581; Rossiter, op. cit., pp. 314, 13, 290

  66. M. Wolf, 'We Need More Globalisation', Financial Times, 10 May 2004.

  67. E. Vuliamy, 'US in Denial as Poverty Rises', Observer, 11 March 2003.

  68. Cf. W. Bonefeld, 'Human Progress and Capitalist Development', in A. Bieler, W. Bonefeld, P. Burnham and A. Morton, Global Restructuring (London: Palgrave, 2006), pp. 133-152.

  69. G. Soros, 'Burst the Bubble of U.S. Supremacy', The Miami Herald, International Edition, 13 March 2003; Financial Times, 24 December 1993; J. Agnoli, 'Destruction as the Determination of the Scholar in Miserable Times', in W. Bonefeld (ed.) Revolutionary Writing (New York: Autonomedia, 2003), pp. 25-37 ; cf. Benjamin, op. cit., p. 84. 
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