The Multidimensional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy, Takis Fotopoulos (2005)



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The present universalisation of what we may call heteronomous modernity” induced Fukuyama[1] to triumphantly declare the “end of History”. But, today’s multidimensional crisis is in fact a crisis of the main political and economic institutions of this form of modernity. The aim of this book is to show that the ultimate cause of the present multidimensional crisis is the present huge and growing concentration of power at all levels, which is seen as the inevitable outcome of the dynamic of the institutions of heteronomous modernity (i.e. of the market economy and representative “democracy”) and to propose a new liberatory project, not just as a new utopia but as perhaps the only way out of the crisis.


In this book’s problematique both the analysis of the causes of the present crisis as well as the ways out of it have to be seen in terms of the historical conflict between the autonomy/democratic tradition and the heteronomy tradition. The fundamental aim of those inspired by the former was the equal distribution of all forms of power, particularly the political and economic power, whereas the aim of supporters of the latter had always been to produce and reproduce forms of social organisation based on the concentration of power.


The autonomy project, which emerged  in classical Athens, was eclipsed for almost 15 centuries, a period during which the heteronomy tradition was dominant, but reappeared again in the twelfth century AD,  in the medieval free cities of Europe, soon  coming into conflict with the new statist forms of heteronomy which, at the end, destroyed the attempts for local self-government and federalism.[2]  The shift to modernity was marked by a fierce political, social and ideological conflict between the two traditions, with the heteronomy tradition expressed, mainly, by the spreading of the market economy and representative “democracy”. During the same period, the autonomy project, under the influence of the Enlightenment’s ideas, was radicalised at the intellectual, social and political levels (e.g., Parisian sections of the early 1790s, Spanish collectives in the civil war etc.)


It is therefore obvious that the present predominance and universalisation of the heteronomous form of modernity does not imply the existence of some sort of evolutionary process towards this form of modernity, as Fukuyama and other ideologues of heteronomous modernity assume. Similarly, no evolutionary process towards an autonomous society could also be established.[3] Therefore, an autonomous society, like the inclusive democracy proposed here, represents simply the conscious choice among two social possibilities, which schematically may be described as the possibility for autonomy versus the possibility for heteronomy, rather than the actualisation of any unfolding potentialities. In other words, a democratic society will simply be a social creation, which can only be grounded on our own conscious selection of those forms of social organisation  that are conducive to individual and social autonomy.


However, the fact that a democratic society represents a conscious choice does not mean that this is just an arbitrary choice.  This is clearly implied by the very fact that the autonomy project turns up in history again and again, particularly in periods of crisis of the heteronomous society. Furthermore, the fact that the heteronomous society has been the dominant form of social organisation in the past is not indicative of its intrinsic superiority over the autonomous society. Heteronomous societies have always been created and maintained by privileged elites, which aimed at the institutionalisation of inequality in the distribution of power, through violence (military, economic) and/or indirect forms of control (religion, ideology, mass media).


In this book’s problematique therefore, the collapse of “actually existing socialism” does not reflect the “triumph of capitalism”, as celebrated by its ideologues. Nor, of course, does it “legitimise” a social system which, in its present universality, condemns to misery and insecurity the vast majority of the world population and threatens the planet with an ecological catastrophe. Furthermore, it does not herald the historical victory of Western “socialist” statism over Eastern “socialist” statism, as social democrats have hastened to declare. Social democracy, in the form that dominated the quarter of a century after the World War II (full employment through active state intervention, state commitment to welfare state and the redistribution of income and wealth in favour of the weaker social groups) is dead and buried. As I will attempt to show in this book, It has been replaced everywhere by the present neoliberal consensus (flexible labour markets, “safety nets” and the redistribution of income and wealth in favour of the privileged social groups). It is therefore obvious that at the beginning of a new millennium, the development of a new liberatory project is imperative. Such a project should represent both the synthesis, as well as the transcendence, of the two major historical traditions, namely, the  democratic and the socialist ones, as well as the anti-systemic currents within contemporary movements for emancipation (the anti-globalisation “movement”, the Green and feminist movements, the indigenous and the radical Third World movements).


The new liberatory project cannot be but a project for an inclusive democracy that would extend the public realm, beyond the traditional political domain, to the economic and broader social domains. An inclusive democracy implies the abolition of the unequal distribution of political and economic power and the institutional structures which reproduce them, as well as the hierarchical structures in the household, the workplace, the education place and the broader social realm. In other words, it implies the elimination of domination relations at the societal level, as well as the implied notion of dominating the natural world.


However, although It is a positive development that nowadays the liberation discourse has moved from socialism to democracy, still, the usual discussion on democracy today involves various versions of what has been called “radical democracy” ―a term used by both postmodernists and supporters of the “civil society” approach. The common characteristic of all these approaches to democracy is that they all take for granted the present institutional framework, as defined by the market economy and representative democracy, and suggest various combinations of the market with forms of social/private ownership of the means of production, as well as the “democratisation” of the state in the sense of the enhancement of autonomous‑from‑the‑state social institutions and civil movements. 


In this book’s problematique, the “radical democracy” conception is both a-historical and utopian in the negative sense of the word. It is a-historical because it ignores the structural changes, which have led to the internationalised market economy and the consequent impotence of the civil societarian institutions (unions, local economies, civil associations etc). It is utopian because, within the present institutional framework of the market economy and representative democracy, which postmodernists and civil societarians take for granted, the enhancement of autonomous institutions is only possible to the extent that it does not contravene the logic and dynamic of the internationalised market economy and state power.


But, if a “radical” democracy, under today’s conditions of concentrated political and economic power, is utopian in the negative sense of the word, the type of inclusive democracy defined in this book is definitely more than just a utopia, in the sense of an ideal society. A liberatory project is not a utopia if it is based on today’s reality and at the same time expresses the discontent of significant social sectors and their explicit or implicit contesting of existing society. In fact, as the book attempts to show, the roots of the present multi-dimensional crisis (ecological, economic, political, social, cultural)  lie in  the non-democratic organisation of society at all levels, in the sense that  it is the concentration of power  in the hands of various elites that marks the foundation of every aspect of the crisis. This concentration, in turn, can be traced back to the establishment of the SYSTEM of the market economy and the consequent growth economy and the parallel introduction of representative “democracy”.


In this sense, the concept of inclusive democracy developed in this book does represent a synthesis of the democratic and socialist traditions ―which inspire its political and economic content, i.e. “direct democracy” and “economic democracy” with the contemporary movements for emancipation ―which inspire its ecological and social content, namely, “ecological democracy” and democracy in the broader “social realm” (workplace, household, etc.). It is therefore clear that an inclusive democracy has nothing to do with what passes as “democracy” today. An inclusive democracy would involve a decentralised society based on a confederation of demoi, that is, communities run on the basis of direct political democracy, as well as economic democracy (beyond the confines of the market economy and statist planning), democracy in the social realm and ecological democracy. Politics in this sense is not anymore a technique for holding and exercising power but becomes again the self‑management (in a broad sense that includes the political, as well as the economic and broader social domains) of society by its members.


In the first part of the book, the emergence of the system of the market economy and representative “democracy” is discussed and the process that led from liberal modernity to the present globalised neoliberal modernity is examined. It is shown that the present neoliberal globalisation is not a conjunctural phenomenon but the completion of a process which started almost two centuries ago and has transformed the socially controlled economies of the past into the internationalised market economy of the present. In this context, statism, i.e. the period of active state control of the economy and extensive interference with the self-regulating mechanism of the market aimed at directly determining the level of economic activity, was a historically brief interlude in the process of marketisation which ended in the 1970s when statism became incompatible with the growing internationalisation of the market economy (chapter 1).


Next, the collapse of socialist statism in both its “actually existing socialism” form in the East (namely the regimes of Eastern Europe, China and so on) and social democracy in the West is discussed. It is shown that the root cause of this collapse was the incompatibility of the socialist requirements for “social justice”, which imply a radical dispersion of economic power and equality, with the requirements of the growth economy (the by-product of the dynamics of the market economy in the West and of identification of Progress with the development of productive forces in the East) which inevitably lead to concentration of economic power.


Next, the demise of the growth and development ideologies, as a result of the realisation of the ecological bankruptcy of the growth economy and the parallel failure of the dynamics of the market economy to create a growth economy in the post-colonial South, similar to the one which has emerged in the North is discussed.


The first part concludes with an attempt to show that the main dimensions of the present multi-dimensional crisis (economic, ecological, political, social and ideological) not only are interconnected but that they may, also, be attributed in the last instance to the concentration of economic, political and social power that the institutional framework of the market economy and liberal “democracy” implies.


The second part of the book develops a new liberatory project in terms of the conception of an inclusive democracy. It begins with a discussion of the historical conceptions of democracy (classical, liberal, Marxist) and the various versions of “radical” democracy currently in fashion, as well as of the philosophical foundations of the democratic project. The next chapter outlines the new liberatory project in terms of a model for a confederal inclusive democracy and demonstrates the feasibility and desirability of a new type of social organisation that transcends the inefficiency of both the market economy and central planning in covering human needs. Finally, the book concludes with a brief discussion of the transitional political and economic strategy toward an inclusive democracy.





[1] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (London: Penguin 1993).

[2] Petr Kropotkin, Mutual Aid (London, 1902), chs. 5-6.

[3] TID, ch. 8.