Liberalism against Democracy

by Caleb Roberts

Let us focus the issue.  It is agreed that the liberal movement, intent on the spreading of the market system, was met by a protective countermovement tending toward its restriction; such an assumption, indeed, underlies our own thesis of the double movement.  But while we assert that the application of the absurd notion of a self-regulating market system would have inevitably destroyed society, the liberal accuses the most various elements of having wrecked a great initiative.  Unable to adduce evidence of any such concerted effort to thwart the liberal movement, he falls back on the practically irrefutable hypothesis of covert action.  This is the myth of the anti-liberal conspiracy which in one form or another is common to all liberal interpretations of the events of the 1870s and 1880s.  Commonly the rise of nationalism and of socialism is credited with having been the chief agent in that shifting of the scene; manufacturers’ associations and monopolists, agrarian interests and trade unions are the villains of the piece.  Thus in its most spiritualized form the liberal doctrine hypostasizes the working of some dialectical law in modern society stultifying the endeavors of enlightened reason, while in its crudest version it reduces itself to an attack on political democracy, as the alleged mainspring of interventionism. (151)

Karl Polanyi | The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time