Why Rousseau and Marx had been so critical of liberal democracy? For a clear answer, look at the Presidential Election and the candidates. Rousseau and Marx knew the bourgeois would eventually swallow everything: the corporate takeover of politics is now justified by the US Supreme Court. The title of John Whitehead’s article “The Corporate Takeover of America — A Government of the Elites, by the Bureaucrats and for the Corporations” clearly summarizes the nature of liberal democracy at present. Numerous incentives in the form of tax-cuts and bailouts made to the bourgeoisie executives, business magnets and members of the moneyed class makes it simple: Democracy does not at all mean a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Liberal democracy is now simply a farce funded by the moneyed elites and staged by the politicians: the people are the helpless distant viewers.
Despite the abundance of theories both by philosophers and political scientists starting from Aristotle to Marx, humanity is still wrestling with the archetypal problems of equality, justice, and liberty. The democracy of the Athenians, the social contract of the Enlightenment philosophers like Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, or the communism of Marx – none has ultimately led humanity to a political promised land. Although some of the problems have been solved, newer ones have crippled the development. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was right in identifying the archetypal pattern of these problems, and this is why he saw the tragedy of mankind in the material advancement of the Enlightenment: he understood that other than liberating man, this advancement would entangle him in a complex system. This material development which makes spiritual aspect of life something moribund, the obsession with a reckless individual interest proposed by the empiricists like Hobbes and Locke, motivated Rousseau to search for an alternative, an alternative that would restore the lost humanity to man. However, the horror of Rousseau’s vision of the future of mankind has been practically witnessed by Karl Marx at the height of industrial revolution and the transition of the society from feudalism to capitalism. Unlike his predecessors, Marx was to apply a historical investigation of the economic inequalities among people in a society, and this investigation was to expose the bankruptcy of the moral philosophies of his time. Both Rousseau and Marx share a common stance in their rejection of the liberal philosophies: Rousseau views the democratic social contract as a foil for self-gratification, and Marx locates the perpetually increasing power of the bourgeois behind the back of a liberal democratic state.
Rousseau was right in detecting the moral decadence of the liberal social contract proposed by Locke and Hobbes. But, the remedy he provides is not like that of the one we find in Marx. Rousseau was not Marx, but he paved the ground for Marx to tread on. Rousseau’s Social Contract is thus less about the blueprint of the society he envisions than it is about the horrors of a society he finds himself in. The incomplete task of Rousseau would thus require Marx to complete. This is not to say that Marx lacks originality, rather to assert that Marx emerged with a far greater and broader understanding of modern capitalism of which Rousseau had a cursory idea. Rousseau urged to “Get the people to spread over the surface of the territory, get them to stay there, to cultivate the love for rural life and work connected with it, and so find the necessities and satisfaction of life that they don’t want to leave it”. It was Marx who, along with Engels, drew the map and planned the journey.
To the core of Marx’s political and economic philosophy lies the emancipation of the oppressed working-class people who keep feeding the voluptuous capitalist monster with their labor. Capitalism, which has its origin in the liberalism of Hobbes and Locke, reached its height under the western democracies. This is why most contemporary liberals consider American democracy as the best form of government, a form that provides the bourgeoisie with invisible power to gratify their unrestrained greed for profit. As Marx sees true emancipation through economic liberation, he finds the allegiance of the state to the whims of the bourgeoisie a formidable threat to the freedom he strives for. Marx values the exercise of democratic rights in the political sphere, but he goes beyond the political dimension and incorporates the economic aspects to it in proclaiming class struggle and violent revolution as the ultimate ways to form a real democratic society – ways that liberal democratic capitalism immediately condemns. With the risk of over-generalizing, it could be argued that Marx preaches a form of radical democratic shift from the subservient state of democracy in the capitalist economies.
Despite his penetrating knowledge of the ways capitalism was advancing towards a formidable thrust for everything, Marx did not expose the moral bankruptcy of capitalism. It would not be completely wrong to state that Marx, because of his rationalistic view of capitalism, took it for granted that at one stage capitalists would employ their human reason in solving the problems of humanity. The neoliberals, very much like Marx himself, consider leaving the market to decide social issues. This is the reason why the Occupy Wall Street or 1vs. 99% movement has been nipped at the bud. Moreover, neoliberal take-over of the state has resulted in the formation of policies that discourages individuals from actively participating in political issues. Reagan’s Drug War and Clinton’s “one strike and you’re out” policies have in many ways equipped the police in controlling and containing any subversive activities against the neoliberal state. As Marx states:
“… the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world-market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie. (Communist Manifesto)
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx regards the state as essentially oppressive and that it is dictated by capital. To make this acceptable to the ordinary mass, the capitalists almost always disassociate themselves from the political power. Funded by the capitalists, the politicians stage a drama of democracy that the mass people as the viewers have nothing to do other than willingly suspend their disbelief. Marx’s dismissal of liberal democratic capitalism is thus justified.