The Dark Side of Liberalism: Elitism vs. Democracy

By Robert Hollinger | Go to book overview

Chapter 10
On Liberalism, Democracy,
and Elitism Today

Francis Fukuyama's claim1 that liberalism has won a worldwide victory, and that we are at the dawn of what Hegel called [the end of history,] was popular in 1989. Today, after the 1994 elections, it is being claimed that liberalism is dead. Have things changed that much in five years? Or might both claims be right?

For Fukuyama, [liberalism] means classical, eighteenth-century free market capitalism and individual rights. But it is precisely this version of liberalism that is not dead, but which emerged triumphant in 1994. It is only [welfare state liberalism,] not the liberalism that is today's conservatism and libertarianism, that he has died.

But it is not just welfare state liberalism that has died. Democracy, too, is on the verge of extinction, despite what pundits said about the [will of the people] in the 1994 elections. If [democracy] amounts to more than voting for mean-spirited candidates who blame the ills of this country on the poor and on the liberal elites, or against candidates who sound like Andrew Carnegie in [The Gospel of Wealth,] then it seems to me that there is no evidence at all that democracy is alive, let alone thriving, in the United States (or anywhere else, for that matter) today.

What has, perhaps, died is a version of liberal democracy that combines the modern, welfare-state mentality with that of the liberal elite. Yet, what we have now is not populism, but rather a combination of a kind of cultural populism (the culture wars) and the same old liberal managerial-elite mentality that both liberals and today's conservatives endorse. The top-down management style of leadership that dominates governments, corporations, schools, universities, hospitals, Wal Mart, and just about everything else, is another chapter in the history of the corporate ideal that has influenced the United States for almost a hundred years.

In this book I have tried to tell the story of the liberal elite and its ambivalent relationship to democracy, and show why its decline, at least in the

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