Global Weimarism: Or why the centre cannot hold
By Jeffrey Harrod
The 1919 Weimar Republic in Germany collapsed when the political liberal government could not prevent the rise of the authoritarian right. There were three elements of Weimar situation – the collapse of the elite aristocratic government, the immobilism of the political liberal Weimar government in power and the rise and success of the right populist party. These three elements are currently found at the global level. The attempt to create a global elite via globalisation has collapsed into competing imperial elites, the current governments within the political liberal hegemony have been unable to make the changes necessary to prevent the rise of right populism in Europe. The global rise of a left populism, however, makes an outcome similar to the failure of the Weirmar Republic less certain.
The 1919 so-called Weimar Republic government in Germany was the successor to a failed imperial and elitist government. For some time the Weimar Republic was governed by the politically liberal social democratic party. But in the late 1920s, under the impact of difficult economic conditions, the social democratic party found itself incapable of resisting the rise of the populist right. It seemed that it could not react to the various crises of the time or to the growing threat of the radical right in the form of Hitler’s party. For this reason the Weimar Republic has given its name to any period in which governments seem incapable of taking decisive or radical action necessary to deal with substantially changing economic, political and social developments.
“Weimarism” has thus become the word to describe the condition of weakness of political liberalism in the face of radical challenges to liberal dogma and practices. It is a condition of political immobilism in which actions taken are neither sufficient to respond to change nor even to save the existing structure.
In this article I argue that we are currently in a position of “global Weimarism”.
Governments seem incapable of facing the concerted actions of international financiers, of controlling the socially negative actions of corporations, preventing rising inequality, organising a healthier economy or dealing with violence and disruption.
The social unrest and protest movements in Europe and USA and Middle East seem to have no impact on the nature and direction of policy, of the fundamental objectives or nature of the societies involved. The financial events since 1998 show that any policy or state action seems only to further pass public money to private elites and financial organisations without addressing the changes needed to prevent a reoccurrence. Political parties in power solve none of the real or perceived problems of the bulk of the populations. In the rich countries of the world the rise of populist right parties is now confirmed. In the poor countries the rise of populist left, the emergence of undirected mass action, and the increasing success of political religion dominate the political scenes.
As the poet Yeats put it
“The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”
What was the trajectory which brought about this situation? In analogy with Weimar - why did the elite government of the world fail? Why was established political liberalism in major powers unable to create more robust democratic global governance? Finally, will the rise of the populist right result in anarchy “loosed upon the world” as in the aftermath of the Weimar Republic?
The historical development of the Weimar Republic had three basic elements:-
* first there was the collapse of the aristocratic elitist and conservative government
* second, political liberals were the successors to this collapse and faced the cumulative pressure for meaningful reform they appeared unable to deliver
* third while in power the liberals faced a growing power of the radical right which eventually triumphed.
Specific historic circumstances rooted in one country is, as with all political theories, difficult to apply at the global level mainly because there is no global state or government apparatus. However, the use of the Weimar concept is sufficiently well-known and rooted in political discourse to make it a useful explanatory tool.
First Element of Weimar: The Failure of the Global Elite
While the Weimar Republic was a successor to a failed elitist government at the global level there was no such all-powerful elite. Until the middle of the 20th century there were only imperial elites based on nation states and competing with each other to extract from the rest of the world. Thus fifty years ago the first task of those ambitious to govern the world more cohesively was to create a globalized elite. That is, not an imperial elite in which the power elite of one nation had imperial intent over the elites and peoples of other nations but a globalized elite composed of similar elites from many different nations acting in cooperation to extract from the peoples of the world.
The objective of such an elite was to move to a form of global governance which would provide access to the wealth, riches and labour, would enabled them to exercise power and influence in detail at a distance and share more-or-less equitably the spoils so derived. Such a notion of a globalized elite must be distinguished from the global elite as a secret cabal, so much the favourite of the more quixotic of conspiracy theories. The global elite-in-formation of the last half of the 20th century was mainly comprised of the heads of banks and corporations and their supporting agencies who, while not always revealing their actions, were certainly not adverse to the attention paid to their status and privileges.
The ideological instrument for this project was “globalisation”. For three decades at least “globalisation” was promoted and promulgated as a desirable condition and suitable for a world in which communication and travel had become easier. The acceptance of the idea of a “globalised world” not only consolidated, enhanced and legitimised the globalized elite activities but also helped weaken any potential resistance.
The potential resistance of this attempt to create easy access to foreign wealth and to its ideology of globalisation could be fourfold; nationalists rejecting foreign ownership of assets, statesmen faithful to the concept of, and the pursuit of, the national interest; religious adherents finding fault with claimed universalistic values and moral imperatives; and socialists objecting to private ownership and seeking local social solidarity. The weakening or elimination of these forces then became a principal political objective in the process of the formation of a globalized elite.
Using Political Liberalism
For this project the financial and corporate elites and cooperating government elites were able to recruit the already existing and pervasive ideology of political liberalism.
It is necessary to use the term “political liberalism” to distinguish between that and economic Liberalism. Political liberalism was born of the enlightenment and is the most powerful strain in politics today and is based on notions of social justice, morality and human rights. Economic liberalism was born in the 19th century and promotes markets, free enterprise and free trade. The philosophers of economic liberalism claimed that political liberalism could only be achieved through free markets. There is also confusion because of different usages on the two sides of the Atlantic. In the USA “liberals” are political liberals who promote “political correctness” while the conservatives are economic liberals. In Continental Europe “liberal” would normally mean the economic version. One of the major shifts in political discourse in the past 30 years has been the coming together in Europe of these two. After the war political liberals were also state-promoting socialists and therefore were the enemy of economic liberals seeking to reduce state intervention. From 1975 onwards political liberalism collapsed into a single “Liberalism” as so-called socialists accepted market-based solutions, and privatization (de-nationalisations) This development culminated in the “Third Way” position held by Schroeder in Germany, Blair in the UK, Kok in The Netherlands and Clinton in USA to name but a few. Nothing could be more eloquent of this development is the description of Liberal from the website of Liberal International which describes itself as the preeminent network for “promoting liberalism, individual freedom, human rights, the rule of law, tolerance, equality of opportunity, social justice, free trade and a market economy”.
Traditionally political liberalism had always had a strong anti-state strain; political liberalism was secular; political liberalism was internationalist (read anti-nationalist); political liberalism was anti-confiscatory socialist; political liberalism exalted the individual. These characteristics, which as laudable as they may seem, were pushed to the extreme to create a form of political liberal fundamentalism which matched market fundamentalism in which the state was the potential oppressor, nationalism was irrational and divisive, religion meant only freedom to private worship and, minority rights were as important as majority rights. Above all, individual political rights were more important than group, communal or collective economic and social rights.
From 1970’s onwards the globalized elite in-formation in coalition with local liberal politicians moved to weaken state government and any political force which would support it. The European Union, originally created to prevent war, was now turned into a state-dissolving operation in the name of integration and harmonisation. The most conservative of persons and organisations defended individual human rights because such rights were a counter to collective or communal rights and involved no distributional or confiscatory threat. Any solidarity based on nationalism, religion, ethnicity or social class was opposed on the grounds of political correctness.
Thus the greatest mobilising forces of humankind - belongingness, religion, ethnicity, locale and social class - were weakened and denied importance.
The leading factions in this project were at the head of USA banks and corporations. The sheer size and global reach of these business organisations - achieved principally during World War II - and the weakening of state control through deregulation meant that their global power was well advanced. Because of the residue of imperial connections and an over-internationalised economy the business elites from the United Kingdom were able to play a key but subordinate role. For this reason the search for suitable global economic and political conditions often manifested itself as the imposition of the Anglo-American political economy model.
Promoting the Anglo-American Model
The Anglo-American model has some distinguishing features. First, the USA and the UK have the least equal income distribution compared with other richer countries. For most of the last quarter of the 20th century the top 20 percent of incomes in the US and UK absorbed twice as much of national income than in Germany or Japan. This characteristic meant that countries adopting the model had a relatively larger body of low-waged persons. The creation of a disproportionate underclass in the Anglo-American model would become, thirty years later, an important contribution to global Weimarism. But at the beginning in the 1970s the readjustment of income distribution meant dramatically higher rewards for the banking and corporate elites. Thus the position of the Anglo-American model – often inaccurately known as neo-liberalism – was shorthand for improving the financial power, the global activities and, it was hoped, the possibility of globally integrated elites. The voices of the discontent were tolerated much as a monarch tolerates the insulting jokes of the jester – so a trade unionist at Davos noted in 1997 “…….. the fasting growing export of what is called the US model, but I am here to warn you. With all due respect, it is a highly costly, toxic export, dangerous to the health and welfare of working people and national economies across the world”
Outside of Europe the most potent example of this strategy were the structural adjustment programmes of the inter-state International Monetary Fund (IMF) in which the UK, the USA and other capital rich and exporting countries had a dominant position. The demands of structural adjustment were that the country should be “integrated into the global economy” which usually meant every material aspect of protecting statehood, culture, tradition or ethnicity from outside interventions had to be dismantled. State assets were passed to foreign corporations. State programmes for the poor or for economic development had to be abandoned. The popular opposition knew what was happening as is revealed in the creativity of their anti-IMF slogans: - in Jamaica the graffiti read “help we have been IMF’ed” , in Korean “I’M Fired” and more recently in Greece “International Monetary Fraud” .
One of the wiser and more competent of African leaders Julius Nyerere
of Tanzania- who always argued his countries greatest asset was its nationally based solidarity was also aware of the scourge of the IMF – much earlier than the current Greek and Irish leaders - when he rhetorically asked in 1980 “ I do not know whether there are now people who honestly believe that the IMF is politically or ideologically neutral…..When did the IMF become the International Ministry of Finance? When did the nations agree to surrender to it the power of decision-making?
“Free Trade” and International Organisations
Another important plank in the construction of the globalisation ideology was “free trade”. The rhetoric of free trade was one which a broad spectrum of political positions found difficult to resist. “I am not a protectionist but…..” was the typical apologetic response of trade unionists and occasionally left-wing party politicians who were faced with the destruction of industries, livelihoods and communities in its name. The political liberal free-trade onslaught had been so successful that the passionate opposition to it by Keynes as a prominent left-leaning economist was never invoked. Thus in the name of “free trade” functioning production patterns and sectors were uprooted and destroyed. The rhetoric denied the right of human communities to move to create their own production and consumption patterns. The actions and policies of free trade advocates moved closer and closer towards arguing that nations, languages and cultures were restraints to trade and needed to be abolished leaving the globalized elite unlimited access.
The use of pre-existing inter-state organisations was a key strategy in this task. Many of the policies that were needed to forge global elite power were extremely unpopular. Privatisation as deregulation and restriction of the welfare state would have never survived a popular vote. However, when unpopular policies were executed or said to executed by international organisations or regional organisations and treaties – IMF, EU, UN, NAFTA, bilateral trade and investments treaties – they were more readily accepted because it provided three important political advantages against potential opposition. First, treaties – essentially legislation from abroad - prevented meaningful public exposure – how would a farmer know that his rights were to be purchased by a foreign corporation through a Bilateral Investment Treaty? Second, politicians could blame external organisations for adverse conditions and for unpopular policies. Third, and most important, resort to the international level secured the support of political liberals as these organisations were based on international cooperation and to oppose them was nationalistic, parochial and illiberal.
There was some opposition to this strategy. So while the virtues of integration of nations were preached, in reality the global population divided itself into nations and ethnicities even more stringently; during the period of globalisation at least 14 new nations came into existence and the fighting for many more was in progress. Six walls of separation were built to separate warring religions and ethnicities. The French and Dutch populations, when given the chance through the referenda of 2005, voted against further extension of the European Union state-dissolving policies.
This opposition was sporadic and not based on a movement or party so initially the development of a globalised elite with global governing power and the policies needed to sustain it was highly successful.
The sale of state and collective assets at knock down prices through privatization swelled the numbers of the elite hopefuls – millionaires and billionaires expanded exponentially. Corporations could purchase almost anything and any price. Loans at exorbitant interest rates were made and the returns collected. Pyramid scheme fraudsters and operators were admired and received celebrity status. Paper money from the property bubble was converted into usable and enduring luxuries. The extraction from the poorer countries was a success. The “third world debt crisis” was not a crisis for the lenders because almost all the loans were paid back at interest rates set by the lenders.
Corporations amalgamated and got larger and larger until in different global sectors competition was reduced or eliminated – the corporation had destroyed the competitive market. Three to five corporations dominated most all global sectors and in one instance one corporation controls the whole sector. Banks were freed of regulatory restrictions and international financial transactions soared. Logically and ethically dubious levels of bonuses and salaries were paid at the “international” (read Anglo-American) rates.
The global elite somewhere around the end of the 20th century seemed to be successful as self-congratulatory meetings in the extra-governmental fori (Davos, Trilateral Commission and Bilderberg) testified.
The Failure of the Global Elite and the Restoration of Imperial Elites
But this situation was short-lived.
The attempt to create a global elite failed. In doing so it supplied the first element of the Weimar situation - the incompetence of a governing elite.
Elites must govern. They must learn to placate protests and conditions by timely concessions in order to buy another fifty years of dominance. They must know and understand the very people who provide them the surpluses and who underwrite their privileged lifestyle. Above all they must learn to control their greed sufficiently to prevent intolerable conditions producing an uncontrollable uprising. The French and Russian and German aristocracies could not do this and the result was the massive social economic and political upheavals whose history and development – the Republic, the Communist and the Fascist respectively – still dominate political discourse everywhere. To forge global operations the separate elites would also have to develop a basic cross-national solidarity
There was such a minimal solidarity. All agreed that executive salaries and bonuses should be paid at the highest rate amongst the nations. They all agreed that there should be unrestricted access to the wealth and resources of subordinate economies. But these basics were not enough to forge an elite capable of the required governing subtleties, prepared to compromise and to put global elite interests above national elite interests.
There were a number of reasons why the potential global elite could not establish sufficient solidarity to create stable global governance. First the lead Anglo-American elite could not overcome their cultural disposition to favour the short-term, nor their general lack of respect for differences in behaviour and objectives of their potential partners in the project.
Second, there was no agreement on how the instruments of extraction – banks and corporations – should be distributed. So throughout the period the mergers and acquisitions concluded particularly favoured the USA compared with other large global economies. The disproportionate power of the United Kingdom remained – in proportion to the size of its economy the UK had almost the same number of the largest multinationals as Germany which is three to five times economically larger. As the Anglo-Americans encircled the Japanese the latter retired from the global coalition never to return.
Third there were instances in which different elites exploited situations in a differential manner. The so-called shock-therapy which started in Russia in the 1990s should have swollen the global elite by co-opting partners from Russia. But German banking elites saw an opportunity on their doorstep to cut out the USA and others. The short term loans from German banks during the shock therapy and the pain they induced in repayment was said by Yuri Luzhkov, until recently Mayor of Moscow, to have stripped Russia of its assets and was a “crime” while a prominent economist noted that subsidies “had been siphoned out of the pockets of the Russian taxpayers and into the pockets of corresponding banks and financial institutions”.
The North American and European elites thus earned the enmity of Russians for at least decades. But it meant that the Russian elite could not easily become part of the governing global elite although many of them enjoy purchased “observer” status.
There were also personal disputes with the global elite – the Bush-Bin Laden family business connection before would have been typical of the sociometry of elite construction – ethnically, religiously and nationally different but united in their global aspirations for globally produced surpluses. Osma Bin-Laden’s defection and anti-American activities, of course, meant this connection was severed.
End of Globalisation - Return to the Imperial
Relations amongst the elite then soured progressively after the turn of the century. The USA refused to allow non-USA corporations participate in the re-construction of Iraq. An important lack of solidarity because the conflict-based destruction – reconstruction cycle with public money (“defence” and “aid”) was an important tactic in which the global elite secured extraction from global taxpayers.
Throughout the 2000s small but important events made national elites recoil more and more from any consensus building. G.W. Bush dramatically broke even with the hallowed free trade myth when he imposed high tariffs on steel imports to put US workers first. Also symbolic was the “airliner war” and the US formal complaint against Airbus which succeeded in the very forum designed to cement rather than divide corporate elites in the World Trade Organisation.
The elite solidarity became constrained. The wannabe global elite had become infected with precisely the characteristic that its ideology of globalisation had sought to deny.
The global elite was in fact not global but international.
The final tipping point of the ending of the dismantling of the global elite could be seen as the decision of the USA bankers to solve their internally generated problem by breaking global elite solidarity and fraudulently offloading their distress to their supposed companions in Europe. This was the decision in 2006 to allow the USA financiers to package their loss-making mortgages in wrappings which disguised the true nature of them. They used the trust that had been established over 20-30 years to enable American banks to sell worthless paper to non-American banks and so started a spiral of off-loading between banking elites.
The effects of the 2006 decision in the USA was historic in the sense that it marked the end of the possibility of constructing a functioning, governing global elite with a useful solidarity and, above all, it jettisoned the disguising cloak of globalisation and the natural efficiency of markets.
It took the consequent financial events of 2008 to reveal publicly this lack of elite solidarity. The national elites collapsed into an angry shouting match as each tried to protect its national-based exposures, assets and potential returns by extracting differentially from others. The halcyon days over the fragmented global elite returned to a familiar pattern – the restoration of imperialism in which the most powerful elites sought to control, not the world in conjunction with other elites, but simply to extract from the different nations elite and underclass alike.
Part of this return was to have recourse to states in order for them to sustain their privileged returns and life style. The dangers of this recourse were to undermine the ideology of globalisation - “is globalisation dead? asks the Financial Times. The academics that had changed their titles to include globalization, secured funds, promotions and general support to study “the process of globalisation” changed the names of their institutes. Globalizer Kenneth Rogoff finally agreed in 2011 about globalization that in the future there would “less of it”.
Imperial dysfunction set in as pressures for extraction were transmitted via corporations to other populations. The personnel of German subsidiaries of General Motors had to suffer in order to pay the previously generous health and retirement benefits of American workers. More significantly the German managers of that company complained of having to produce models not suited (dysfunctional) to the European market and having “to telephone each day to Detroit for operating funds to be transferred” .
The restoration of imperialism brought into focus the position of the USA investors as possessing the greatest stock of investment and having the greatest weight in finance. The upper incomes in internally weakened economy USA begin to rely on receipts from abroad - in 2011 fifty percent of the income from the Standard and Poors top 500 corporations was derived from abroad. In 2011 the restoration to profit growth of the top 40 French corporations was based on extraction from “emerging markets”. The cables from USA embassies published by Wikileaks also revealed how much the state in its outreach of embassies supported USA corporations and banks against corporations and banks from other nations.
The oligopolies in the global industrial and product sectors, content for sometime to consider mergers and acquisitions without thought of the nationality of the headquarters, now become aware of the national balances by sector. The so-called banana war was a surrogate of a battle between further power going to the two US-headquartered corporations which control more than 50 percent of the market and the smaller non-US corporations which have a sizable proportion of the European market. In 2011 on the insistence of the EU Commission it was resolved in favour of the USA corporations but not before the real nature of the battle was revealed and the possibility of sharing the spoils was eliminated. Imperial competition emerges in the weaker economies as one corporation via incompetence and greed upsets the plans of another corporation of different nationality.
The result of these battles as in Bolivia, Venezuela, and soon elsewhere in Latin America and Asia, was nationalisation of foreign assets. Thus a French headquartered water corporation hastens to assure its Moroccan hosts that it more sympathetic to the public sector and does not have the same policies as the US-Headquartered Bechtel which was involved in the events leading to the “water wars” in Bolivia.
The struggle by oligopolies for a market share starts to become a simple national confrontation rather than the pre-existing cartel-like cooperation. Competition is not therefore based on the quality or efficiency of exports but how corporate and banking elites can outwit their other-nation rivals in their multi-faceted use of power to increase surpluses.
The possibility of stable elite global governance was lost.
Financial, corporate and state elites then began to drift back to their middle of the 20th century position as attached to, embedded in, and creatures of a discrete people, or nation.
So the first element in the Weimar history emerged - the world was being governed, or rather attempted to be governed, by a weakened, incompetent and disintegrating global elite.
Second Element Weimar: The Weakness of Political Liberalism
The mid 2010s saw the beginning of the second element of the global Weimar story – the inability at all levels to deal with the social and political fallout of the greed and self-seeking of the disintegrating global elite.
Gradually and then with increasing intensity after the global financial events of 2008 the national and essentially liberal political establishments, who had for three decades been the transmitters of global policy, now had to deal with the issues on a national basis and on their own.
Like the Weimar political liberals they were faced with the remains of the previous global elite’s strategies and constructs. Some of these were of an enduring nature, and were created over decades and may, therefore, take decades to remove.
First of these is the weakened nature of the public sector. The target of the global elite had been the state as it was the only possible power entity which could regulate or control their dominant organisations of banks and corporations. This had been realised with some success. For thirty years the state had been robbed of the most competent persons and minds as “public service” was decried and lost prestige, as the salaries, images and definitions of success moved from public service and politics to the financial and corporate sectors. The regulatory and steering function of the civil service was reduced under the de-regulation but at the same time those regulations that remained could not be enforced with the skill and talent required to efficiently confront those who sought to avoid or evade such regulations. Generations of graduates who would have normally moved into public services took up positions in the mostly ineffectual civil society organisation – the ubiquitous non-governmental organisations.
So the remnants of governing politicians were now required to enforce austerity or otherwise deal with the problems issuing from the global level with a hollowed-out state.
The Remains of Globalism: Universal Underclass
The second residue of past global elite policies is the material consequence of the global extraction which has created in numerous nations a materially deprived, education and employment starved, and often ethnically or religiously distinguishable underclass.
The income distribution and wage differential structures statistics are clear on this point. In every country of the world almost without exception the rich have become richer. This widening gap in income, it is true, has developed unevenly. In the lead is a cluster of so-called Anglo-Saxon nations: USA, UK, Australia, and New Zealand with a ratio of the top 20 per cent of incomes to the bottom 20 per cent of above 9 times, with France and Switzerland between 7 and 9 and the other continental European (states with eroding social democrat regimes) still maintaining a ratio of 6 to 1 and below. The most eloquent expression of the change in income distribution comes from the statistics of the ratio between the wealth of the richest person and that of the median household in the USA. In 1912 it was 1,250,000 to 1; and after dropping to 138.000 in 1962 in 1999 it was back to a ratio higher than the 1912 level - 1,416,000 to 1. The ratio of average Chief Executive Officers to average wage in USA was 35 to 1 in 1978 but 262 to 1 in 2009. The decline in net worth of the ethnically identifiable underclass continues - between 2005 and 2010 black and Hispanic Americans saw their net worth decline by over 50 percent while for white Americans it was only 16 percent.
The global elite would not usually advocate openly its clear intention of skewing the income distribution as it would confront political liberalism notions of equality There were, however, some politicians who were prepared to voice their counter political liberal values. One was Mrs. Thatcher who in 1991 said “It is our job to glory in inequality, and see that talents and abilities are given vent and expression for the benefit of us all”. Eight years later Chancellor Schroeder of Germany is quoted as averring: “I no longer believe that it is desirable to have a society without inequalities. This results in the oppression of the individual. When social democrats talk about equality, they should think of opportunities and not equality of results”. This latter tautology was central to the “Third Way” adherents such as Anthony Giddens, a theoretical sociologist, who used it without being prepared to consider of the possibility of the inequality arising from the equality of opportunity.
At the same time the deregulation gifts to the global elite did not stop at tax and amortisation but also extended to the use of labour in the variety of national settings. Migration as a deregulatory gift to employers resulted in migration of low-waged and low-skilled workers except in those countries in which the state still sustained its national and public responsibility - such as Japan. De-regulation of labour market laws resulted in increased numbers of low-waged workers, while outsourcing and trade firmly in the hands of the corporations not only provided surpluses but also the coercive instrument against those who had other visions of a world economy.
All this meant that at the turn of the century the two bottom income and social categories (D and E in the occupational criteria classification used in the UK) were swollen to levels not seen since the middle of the 19 century. The strategy to change the social class configuration from the binary working-class/bourgeoise of Marx to a four class system was successfully installed; a larger overclass and members of the global elite, a reduced and less powerful middleclass, a heavily reduced and powerless working class and a massive underclass. This four part social class structure had become the basic model during hegemony of the globalisation ideology.
The material distribution is more important than the ethical question of rich and poor. It had taken at least 35 years to arrive at this pattern of distribution and it created a variety of crises culminating in the financial crisis of 2008 while also producing a growing social turbulence. If the redistribution towards the rich created these acute problems after 35 years it was not possible to reverse the distribution and solve the immediate problems without direct confiscation of assets and income. Gradual reform is not an option to immediate problems arising from a structural basis. The overclass/underclass legacy of globalisation produces the immobilism of the reformist political liberals.
National Government in a Non-national Framework
The final residue of the failure to create global elite was the prevalent adherence to individual fundamentalism which, as noted above, made it difficult for politicians the use of collective solidarity or mobilisation on a national basis. In 2010 governments were being asked to resort to national solidarity to pay debts, solve the social demands of the increasingly agitated underclass without having recourse to the idea of national interest and a public service hardly capable of facing the bankers and financiers, even if they were so inclined.
So the political liberal regimes become trapped between the contradictions of policy promises and the demands of political liberalism – they must secure national solidarity without ever invoking nationalism one of the prime anathemas of political liberalism. The must restore solidarity-based regimes without ever enforcing a collective responsibility. They must create greater accountability and regulation without acting against corporations and the “free market”. The must govern without restoring the authority of the state for fear of being accused of being authoritarians.The seek to placate the still powerful who benefited from the globalised regime - the employers of migrants, the users of private facilities, the security-guard protected, the beneficiaries of low wages in services and, of course, those who received high managerial salaries in both public and private sector.
The contradictions become evident from the series of half-measures taken by the affected states. For example, they nationalise banks in an attempt to create order in finance but exercise minimal state control of them. They promise to deal with the real problems of migration while upholding open frontier policies. They attempt to deal with cross-border crime based on ethnic groups while preventing ethnic profiling. They seem to accept the demands for restriction of banker and corporate executive salary kleptomania but the either retain or even introduce tax laws which reward rather than constrain bonus and salary restriction. They respond to the demand for greater security by austerity-induced cuts in policing. They promise improvement and extension of public services while supporting the European Union privatisation and discredited public-private partnerships. They respond to the demand of ending out-sourcing, delocalisation and for protectionism by supporting an “open economy”.
To solve these contradictions political liberalism would have to depart substantially from its dogma and would have to move to propose radical if not revolutionary solutions. To do so would change the nature and face of the political liberal hegemony with uncertain consequences. The fear of such change creates the apparent immobilism of current regimes - the fear of change means more of the same.
And so the second element of The Weimar Republic is established at the global level – social, economic, environmental and international conditions scream for confident, forceful, change and the political liberal incumbents respond with but weak and ineffectual palliatives.
Third Element Weimar: The Rise of Populism
The first two elements of the Weimar situation are current at the global level – the disintegration of aristocratic elite governance and the ineffectual political liberal regimes. In the Weimar situation these events resulted in the rise and eventual success of populism from the extreme right. At the global level, however, this third element of the Weimar situation is more complicated because the response to the imperialism of the elites and to political immobilism has been the rise of populism of from both the right and left of the political spectrum.
Populism is the political discourse which claims to represent the attitudes, ideas, material and psychological concerns of the people at the bottom of the social hierarchy in opposition to an elite in power. It is for this reason that populist rhetoric from both the right and the left appears similar at the beginning stages of the movement - both attack elites and both attempt to placate the fears of ordinary people concerning material security and alien threats both real and imagined.
Populism rises from a base in which the values of political liberalism have been challenged. Political liberal values issue from the Enlightenment writers in Europe in the 1600s who argued that rationality, humanism and universalism should govern the affairs of humankind. In Germany before Weimar the absolute nature of these values had been challenged by the counter-enlightenment writers of whom Frederic Nietzsche was symbolic but not, of course, the only one of importance. The rise of the populist right in Weimar started from a mood in which political liberal values had already been challenged.
There has been a global tendency to challenge political liberal values in general. For example, for at least four decades the faith in the values of rationality as embodied in science have declined. Although Enlightenment scholars saw rationality essentially in opposition to (religious) faith it had been translated from the beginning of the 20th century as the superiority of science. The argument being that rationalism was science and science was progress so much so that the disciplines which had to deal with emotion and prejudice were nevertheless dubbed as sciences – economics and sociology for example. The application of science to health and environment proved to be less than neutral and populations throughout the world have become skeptical of the so-called rational scientific applications to the human problems. Universalism translated into the weakening of national or ethnic communities has also been brought into disrepute even to the challenge of the absolute nature of human rights.
From this base populism of both right and left develops through two stages; the first is the demonization or the targeting of an identifiable group within the framework of a declared nationalism. The second stage is to designate part of the governing elite as the source of the malaise. The differences between left and right populism is the intensity of aggression towards the targets in stage one and the nature of the elites attacked in stage two.
Populism Stage 1: Nationalism, and Immigrants
Globalization created the swollen underclass and denied nationalism. Yet the real underclass, dispossessed, chance-poor, or just poor, are largely spatially immobile. Less than 3 percent of the world population are living outside their country of birth and in most cases the remaining 97 percent do not live far from their place of birth The ideology of globalisation and the globalising elite had used the Enlightenment ideas of universalism in a cynical and instrumental fashion to further their project of a world universally prepared to render to them their surpluses. They supported the universality of human political and civil rights but never of economic or social rights..
The non-material solutions to the problems of the low-waged, the less educated is thus local or national. The most immediate attack of populism is against the political liberal value of universalism and for the particularism of the nation. The populist right thus rejected the much-promoted transnationalism and in the context of political liberal hegemony were able to appropriate the label of "radical”. Political movements in the global South were couched in terms of freedom for the nation and the most high-profile conflicts were about the creating a nation or increasing national autonomy. The nominal discourse was about transnationalism globalism, tolerance and universalism and the real discourse was about locality, national, cultural and historical products and, above all, material and physical security.
Globalisations’ denial of nation passed the potential mobilising force of nationalism to political actors on the fringes of the political spectrum and to the nationalist populist right.
It is not surprising then that the challenge to nationalism in Europe, the symbol of the hegemony of political liberalism and the source of both real and imagined problems was the non-absorbed migrant. Europeans had had long experience of migrants who usually, in the past, did one of two things, inter-married and disappeared or formed minority groups within majority territories and so created politics and wars for generations. But such migrations arose out of voluntary movements, wars and occasionally deportations. The new migration from 1950s onwards was the first in which the governing political elites had a policy which promoted, invited and welcomed migrants as was the case in the USA in the 19th century. Part of this policy was based on satisfying the hegemony of the USA. It was argued in international documents that the "immigrant" societies of USA, Canada and Australia were so successful they should be imitated by the Europeans. But this was yet another case of imperial dysfunction, for at the core of USA history was an original imperial population which committed genocide against the indigenous population and then invited roughly similar peoples to join them in the “freed” nation. The racially or ethnically definable underclass was imported as slaves without a thought concerning their integration, absorption or rights — indeed without the slightest concession to political liberal and Enlightenment values.
ln Europe the case was reversed - the contemporary different ethnicities and cultures had arrived, after long and bloody centuries, to invent the nation state as the solution to Hobbesian wars of everyman against everyman. The 20th century migration experiment then was undertaken after the ethno-nation state had been founded. The migrant became in Europe both the material and psychological threat and thus the political symbol for the populist right in the attempt to restore the nationalist values based upon the notion of a majority similarity.
Thus the contemporary populist right movements of Europe started with an anti-immigrant rhetoric as a mobilising force. They appealed pragmatically and rationally to those parts of the population which suffered real problems of adjustment to the new multiculturalism and also to those whose general fears and angst induced by globalisation and de-regulation were reduced by being able to find something, or someone, to blame.
Left populist throughout the world also used nationalist rhetoric and also claimed radicalism. However, they avoid the extremes and mono-cause of anti-immigrant xenophobia but in doing so have to ignore the contradictions between the mobilisation of ethno-nationalism and immigration.
Populism Stage 2 : Attack the Elites
To target the weak indefinitely is not a mobilising strategy which has longevity and a potential for increasing the number of followers. A logical extension of political targets for the populist right are the elites claimed to be responsible, unyielding and unresponsive to the real problems of in-migration. The apparent refusal of such elites to consider the problems of migration has at the base two sources - the adherence to a fundamental liberalism as described earlier but also because the real beneficiaries of migration – apart from the migrants themselves - were the direct users of migrant labour and those who benefit indirectly from the divisions created by migration. The use of migration to break solidarity of social movements based upon local, ethnicity and religion occurred both in Europe and the USA to the benefit of the conservative parties.
In the first decade of the 21 century the populist right thus started their twin attack against migrants and migration and the governing elites. They castigate “the global hyper class", "the politico-media caste” “the global elite", "the Davos elite", to list a few names gathered from the rhetoric of the right parties in Europe. One right populist leader - Geert Wilders in the Netherlands -argues that the nation is at war - a war between the people and “the multiculturalist elite”.
lf these parties came to power the analogy with Weimar would be sustained because they would have to complete their pogroms against minorities and would have to sustain their power against political liberalism by repression and war.
Global Weimarism would have reached its third and final stage when political liberal governments collapse under the onslaught of right populism and resulting in "mere anarchy loosed against the world".
But here the Weimar analogy at the global level becomes weak because there are now as many varieties of populism as there are regions of the world.
Some of the populist right are shifting their ground towards the concerns of the population other than migration - social and economic problems. As they do so they increase popularity and they move to the left. But in these parties and movements there is always one element missing - the target of economic power. The increased power of the global elite in the last half of the 20"‘century was a shift, at the national level, from state power to economic power. This is the shift the populist right conveniently forgets in the attempt to secure the support of economic power - business, corporations, banks and finance - to assist in them in their power-seeking strategy. So they end by placating pathological racism, weakly promoting nationalism, weakly supporting social amelioration and virulently opposing the current political elites. The rich, mega-rich, corporations, bankers and inter-state economic organisations escape their wrath and are hardly targeted at all. This is in contrast to previous so-called populist movements most of which contrasted the rich and the poor and depicted the wealth and income of the rich was the prime cause of the poverty of the poor.
Populism exists in the global scene in which economic elites are the targets as much as statesmen and women. These movements are often nationalistic, they accept the problems of migration but they are conscious of economic imperialism and the nature of imperial economic power; they see that the material solutions of their supporters are bound up with the control and accountability of economic power and not just elites said to be unfaithful to nationalism. When Hugo Chavez in Venezuela believed that the foreign-owned cement companies were hindering his programme. for building cheap housing he nationalised them. Populist leaders in the global south from Ghana’s Nkrumah in the 1960s onwards have seen the twin forces of economic power and imperialism as the principle blocks to social justice and the prevention of any programme of reform based upon such objectives.
lf this realisation became more widespread and resulted in more targeted strategies and if a more meaningful global left populism were to emerge then global Weirmarism may indeed not end with the tragedy and horrors following the collapse of the original Weimar Republic. It would also mean, however, that the centre did not hold.