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DEFINING ECONOMIC LIBERALIZATION AND POLITICAL AUTHORITARIANISM

In order to set forth this argument it is important to clarify what is meant in the work by the terms political authoritarianism and economic liberalization. The latter will be defined first, as its meaning within the context of this work is more straightforward. The concept of economic liberalization is predominantly defined as the process by which a national economy becomes more market oriented, profit driven and placed within private hands. It is normally associated with the right of private property, wage labor, reduced state intervention into the economy and the relatively unregulated buying and selling of goods on the market. Processes of transition toward such a system are referred to as marketization. Of course, there is by no means total agreement as to a universal description of economic liberalization - for instance, some demand no public role in the economy and others a limited one or some proponents focus on macro considerations of economic growth as an indicator of economic health while others concentrate on the privatization of production and consumption on the micro level. However, there is a relative consensus as to the core tenants of principles, one which espouses a general commitment to capitalism.

The concept of authoritarianism is more ambiguous and therefore deserves greater analytical reflection. Traditionally, authoritarianism connotes a non-democratic regime (Gills, 2000; Vesta, 1999). More precisely, one which has not been legitimized by popular election or who upon election seeks to remain in power indefinitely. Authoritarianism is thus counterpoised to democracy, a relationship further transposed onto the opposition between capitalism and its economic competitors. Turning again to modernization theory, it is predominantly assumed that democracy and liberalization are partners in the struggle against authoritarianism and non-market “state-” based economic systems.

Recently, theorists from a wide range of perspectives have associated authoritarianism with themes of ideological openness. The sociologist Howard Gabennesch (1972) for instance, in the early 1970s linked authoritarianism, both as a politics and a personal framework for action, with ideological reification and the presence of a narrow “world view.” Similarly, psychologists Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswick, Levinson and Sanford (1950) postulated the so-called “authoritarian personality,” which resonated strongly with values of conformity and an unquestioned commitment to conventional values. Empirically, illiberal attitudes have been statistically associated with an authoritarian perspective (e.g. a desire for orthodoxy and acceptance of existing beliefs) stressing the need for orthodoxy and acceptance of existing belief - thus Canetti- Nisism (2004) found that the more orthodox one’s religious views, the more authoritarian, and less democratically oriented one’s political views tended to be.

Within the post-structuralist tradition, a normative and ethical commitment to ideological plurality, “openness” rather than essentialism, is a central component of its overall approach. Howarth (2000: 124) notes in this regard that:

a postfoundational perspective does not give rise to a certain set of political and ethical decisions - though it does rule some positions out - those based on essentialist presuppositions - for example. The assertion and justification of values are thus the result of an articulatory practice, rather than a necessary entailment.

Politically, this has spawned a rethinking of democracy highlighting the contingency, and therefore contestability, of prevailing norms and larger belief systems governing society. Laclau and Mouffe (1986: 149-93), among others, argue accordingly for a project of “radical democracy,” which in recognizing the inherently contingent, incomplete nature of the social would render political institutions and identities more open to contestation and differing ideological perspectives. In their words: “This moment of tension, of openness, which gives the social its essentially incomplete and precarious character, is what every project of radical democracy should set out to institutionalize” (ibid.: 190). Consequently, it is a type of politics “founded not upon dogmatic postulation of any “essence of the social,” but, on the contrary on affirmation of the contingency and ambiguity of every “essence,” and on the constitutive character of social division and antagonism (ibid.: 193).

As alluded to in the previous discussion of the conception of “illiberal democracies” of a democratic hegemony, it can be seen that such accounts of democracy, and by association authoritarianism, are both structural and subjective in nature. The former speaks to the ways in which a particular entrenched ideology remains unquestioned for guiding individual actions and decisions and the latter refers to how subjects ethically experience and relate to a social belief system - either democratically (e.g. contingent, open to contestation, never complete in its explanatory ability) or authoritarian (e.g. essentialist, unquestioned and totalizing in its scope). In this respect, political authoritarianism can be judged according to the degree of ideological openness within a given context as well as the affective investment individuals place in political discourses empowering the state to preserve this status quo.

This work accepts, and seeks to unite, these more formal and informal accounts of political authoritarianism. It defines authoritarianism as the presence of a non-democratically elected government as well as a political culture with relatively little ideological debate or possibility of change. Furthermore, it connects such authoritarianism to the legitimized power given to governments to protect this hegemonic system through a range of formal and informal repressive practices. Importantly, these are not always simultaneous in their occurrence. For instance, a formally democratic society may rely on a rather closed set of ideological values, such as the United States and its commitment to economic capitalism. This is, also, of course not to assume that there is ever a society, field of meaning, free from any sort of closure. Instead it is discussion of the degree certain dominant norms, beliefs and subjectivities are available to contestation and possible transformation within an existing political terrain as well as the state and other sovereign institutions’ accepted and often desired role for maintaining these entrenched socioeconomic relations.

However, it is the contention of this book that there is a positive and mutually reinforcing relationship between these two forms of political authoritarianism. To this end, the higher degree of ideological closure, the greater likelihood for formal political authoritarianism. The way ideological closure can give rise to and legitimize practices of political authoritarianism is important, whether in formal democracies or explicitly authoritarian regimes. Again, looking at the US context, the ideologically closed principles underlying the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” served to catalyze and justify authoritarian practices such as the curtailing of civil liberties and refusal of habeas corpus to suspected terrorist prisoners.

This research focuses thus on the exact ways official attempts to ideologically objectify, and thus close debate around, capitalism have discursively reinforced political authoritarianism, both formally and informally, in different settings internationally. More precisely, how an unquestioned ideological commitment to economic liberalization linked to discourses of globalization has produced a structurally reinforcing and affectively appealing capitalist fantasy of authoritarian capitalism politically.

 
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