Beyond Left & Right:
Wolfgang Streeck’s Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism
Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism
New York: Verso, 2014
As anyone who regularly reads Leftist academic literature can attest, often hidden within it is a sense of loss, an implicit — perhaps subconscious — desire for particular values and ethical norms deemed to have been lost since the Industrial Revolution.The critical reader is often struck by the disjuncture between these messages and the general thrust of the Leftist attack on Western civilization and the white race — the very things that kept many of the various problems of industrial capitalism (and modernity in general) at bay. The Left has engaged in a systematic program of tearing down the foundations of white society yet bemoans the loss of the ethical restrictions that arose from those very foundations.
A New Rightist might agree with a particular Leftist’s analysis of a particular set of symptoms, but the Leftist’s diagnosis will be radically different because he is limited in what he is allowed to explore by the very nature of his moral-political worldview. A Leftist will complain, for example, about low voter participation in Western democracies or the rampant corruption within the banking system but will never attribute these things to the demographic dismantling of white societies and the resultant loss of social trust and faith in the system that stems from the dilution of white culture. And, of course, there is never a mention of the domination of the financial system by a hostile, predatory, and rootless Jewish elite.
To ignore race and culture is to always have an incomplete understanding of any historical process. One simply cannot offer a wholly accurate or sensible critique of “satanic mills” or the juggernaut of financialization without understanding the racial and cultural checks and balances which had to have been eroded before such things could become ubiquitous in the West. In its willful ignorance of these facts, the Left is very similar to the mainstream Right. And this is precisely why neither group is ever able to justify its positions without an extraordinary amount of obfuscation, wrong-headed intellectuality, and outright lies.
When we except the Jew and all the complications he entails from the equation, the average Leftist is probably closer to our economic positions than the average mainstream Rightist. In recent decades, we have seen on the Left a distinct turn away from “hard” questions of class and economics and towards “soft” postmodern political whining and Gramscian Cultural Marxism. Despite what some in the New Right may think, this does not make all on the Left happy. There has been an internal backlash against this for some time, for reasons so obvious we need not dwell on them here. As such, there is a tremendous opportunity for the New Right to incorporate the disaffected “traditional” Left into its intellectual sphere by dealing seriously with economic questions and leaving the manufactured and ill-fitting Left-Right economic dichotomy in the dust. But first we need to understand their language and we need to be conscious of exactly where our various ideas converge and diverge. The best way to begin to move in this direction is simply by reading Leftist critiques and extracting the value contained therein so that we may reformulate their arguments, find their conceptual weaknesses and provide the crucial missing information regarding the role of race in questions of economics and culture.
Following the recent review by Eugène Montsalvat of Alain de Benoist’s book, On the Brink of the Abyss: The Immanent Bankruptcy of the Financial System, it seemed appropriate to offer readers the opportunity to discover another work which, based on Mr. Montsalvat’s review, seems to touch on some similar topics and concepts but from a somewhat heterodox Leftist position. It is also a work which might prompt those in the New Right who continue to maintain a bias towards capitalism to begin to question their economic assumptions and ideological commitments. The book is Wolfgang Streeck’s Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism. It is an “expanded version” of his Adorno Lectures from June 2012 at the Institute For Social Research at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany.
Starting from a conceptual framework grounded in Marxism and the crisis theory of the Frankfurt School, Streeck traces the development of capitalism and its effects on democracy and the nation-state from the early 1970s (the era in which Keynesian economics gave way to the globalism and internationalism of neoliberalism) to the present. The book is important not only in that it provides a cogent critique of capitalism and neoliberalism, but that within this critique is a very serious stance against internationalism, which logically opens the door for a nationalist, racialist response to these problems. Indeed, implicit in the entire book is a call for a resurgence of nationalism to counteract the problems of international finance and globalization. It is not only a highly thought-provoking work, but it is a good way to introduce oneself to serious contemporary Leftist economic critiques while remaining free of the anti-white, anti-West bias one finds in much of this kind of literature. In order to stay with the general theme of this piece, however, I will set aside certain aspects of the book in order to focus on a few major themes I feel to be most relevant to the New Right.
Wolfgang Streeck is a German sociologist and the emeritus director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, Germany. He has published extensively and taught at numerous prestigious universities throughout his career, including the University of Köln, Columbia University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His work has focused on “collective group representation and self-government in contemporary democratic societies, starting out, but by no means ending, with collective bargaining” in which his “special concern was with the inclusion of labor and its organizations in public policy […].” He acknowledges the influence of the Frankfurt School and their work on crisis theory, as well as that of Karl Marx, but treats them and their various approaches to capitalism not as beatified and definitive but rather as tools to be used when appropriate and discarded at will when their ideas do not seem to sufficiently explain current problems. That is to say, he is certainly of the Left but he is not defined or limited by its orthodoxy — the explicit admission of which often slips into his writing.
In the book’s introduction Dr. Streeck writes that, as a student at Frankfurt University, he attended lectures and seminars by the Jewish sociologist Theodor Adorno but “did not understand much. . . . Only later did I realize how much I had missed as a result. Thus, my strongest memory of Adorno has remained the deep existential seriousness of his work — in stark contrast to the indifference with which so much social science is conduced today, after decades of professionalization.” He also writes: “Fortunately, no one will think me qualified to discuss Adorno’s work.” These statements appear to carry a tone of respectful distance — as if he knows what his audience wants to hear and is unwilling to disappoint them, but perhaps is not fully onboard the entire intellectual package himself. He takes a similar tack with regard to Marxism when he writes: “After what has happened since 2008, no one can understand politics and political institutions without closely relating them to markets and economic interests, as well as to class structures and conflicts arising from them. Whether or not this is ‘Marxist’ or ‘neo-Marxist’ is a matter of complete indifference to me, and I have no wish to enter into it.” Upon first reading, these statements seem to be of minor importance, even mere asides. But as the book progresses and his larger theme plays out, the above interpretation seems less and less like the wishful thinking of a Rightist reviewer. Regardless, within the first few pages of his introduction the reader is made aware that what will follow might not necessarily be what the typical Leftist, Marxist or otherwise, would expect from a book on the end of capitalism.
Buying Time is fairly straight-forward. It is not so dense that a non-specialist could not profit from it. Yet, despite its relatively short length (about 200 pages), it covers a lot of ground and deals with some very complicated economic questions. The first part of the book, “From Legitimation Crisis to Fiscal Crisis,” is an “account of the nexus linking financial, fiscal and growth crises, a nexus which has so far resisted successful management and confronts politics with unending mysteries.” In it he describes the crisis theories of the Frankfurt sociologists, through which the problems of capitalism came to be seen as less economic and more social. They believed that the “capitalist line of fracture . . . was no longer its economy but its polity and society; located in the field of democracy rather than the economy, of labour rather than capital, of social integration rather than system integration.” Thus began the gradual shift from the supposedly scientific economic principles of Marxism to attempts to undermine capitalism as a social system — the “legitimation crisis” of the chapter title. The idea was that “[d]emands for the democratization of all areas of life and for political participation beyond the limits of existing institutions would grow into a rejection of capitalism as a society and explode from within an obsolete organization of work and life based on private property.” That this did not happen is self-evident. Contrary to what the Frankfurt School models predicted, the masses did not reject the mixed economy of postwar capitalism at all. But the elites did.
The late 1960s brought a tremendous growth in consumerism and an expansion of markets, both old and new. The very generation poised to reject such developments — the Baby Boomers — was the primary engine driving this fast-paced materialist machine. At the same time, as Dr. Streeck points out, “the money economy tirelessly conquered new spheres of social existence that had had previously been reserves of unpaid activity, opening them up for production and absorption of surplus-value.” He spends a bit of time here talking about the rehabilitation of the concept of wage labor as well, a process that he believes found fertile ground in the Protestant work ethic: this newly adrenalized consumerism fit neatly into a culture in which work was a sacred duty and a man’s value was attached to his financial success and to the degree to which he subordinated other aspects of his life to his pursuit of that success. Dr. Streeck, interestingly, mentions the role of feminism in the process of the financialization of Western culture. He notes how women, who had begun to view family life and housework as drudgery and the male work world as somehow liberating, “often became allies of the employers seeking labour-market deregulation, to allow ‘outsiders’ to undercut (male) ‘insiders’.” He sees this as having “deepened corporate integration and served as a vehicle for personal identification with the aims of profit extraction.” For Dr. Streeck, the entry of women en masse into the workforce was a clear attempt to break the power of labor. And, unlike many of his Leftist contemporaries, he leaves it at that. There is no ensuing moralizing about liberation or personal dignity or patriarchy.
Tied in to this collection of significant social shifts were the numerous strikes which occurred around the world from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. These, the author claims, resulted in a momentous break in the social relationship between labor and capital. He writes: “[Capital’s] response was to begin with preparations to withdraw from the postwar social contract, overcoming its passivity, restoring its capacity for action and organization, and extricating itself from democratic efforts to plan its activity and use it for other objectives than its own.” It was this response to the “test” of democratic power over capital, inherent in the nature of the strike, that created the massive push for liberalization and market expansion, exemplified by the Reagan-Thatcher years. The Keynesian economic policies of Western governments and the relatively high expectations of Western labor continued to be a barrier between capital and its interests. That is to say, labor and the public sector continued to resist the interests of capital and demanded some level of social responsibility and so capital “escape[d] into the market: freeing the capitalist economy from the bureaucratic-political and corporatist controls of the reconstruction period, with a recovery of profit margins to be achieved through free markets and deregulation instead of through government policies with their danger of social obligations coming with them.” During the period of the oil crisis of 1979, the power of trade unions was curtailed and deregulation implemented across the board. This overhaul of the system of social safety nets that had developed in the postwar period was “increasingly defended with reference to the expansion of markets beyond national frontiers. . . . At the end, over and above national differences and specificities, stood a ‘lean’ and ‘modernized’ welfare state increasingly geared to ‘recommodification,’ whose ’employment-friendliness’ and lower costs had been bought by lowering the minimum subsistence level as a social right.”
There is much more to the first part of this book: further critiques of the Frankfurt School, more details of the neoliberal turn and of the various types of crises under capitalism but, as Dr. Streeck himself admits, there is little that is groundbreaking in and of itself in the these chapters. These topics have been under discussion for some time and merely provide the historical groundwork for his more important arguments. But for the purposes of this review, what is most important about this first part of the book is that the author begins to subtly shift the standard Leftist narrative by connecting globalization with a lack of nationalism. He writes:
The utopian ideal of present-day crisis management is to complete, with political means, the already far-advanced depoliticization of the economy; anchored in reorganized nation-states under the control of international governmental and financial diplomacy insulated from democratic participation, with a population that would have learned, over the years of hegemonic re-education, to regard the distributional outcomes of free markets as fair, or at least as without alternative.
The problem, for Dr. Streeck, is not globalization qua globalization, nor is it the nation-state itself, but rather the authority imposed upon the nation — indeed, the transformation of the character of the nation itself — by the dominant internationalist political and economic order.
In the next part of the book, “Neoliberal Reform: From Tax State to Debt State,” the author describes two types of states: the traditional “tax state” and the neoliberal “debt state” along with the corresponding social categories of Staatsvolk and Marktvolk. The tax state, as one might guess, is a state in which taxes are the primary source of government revenue. Numerous theorists, notably Joseph Schumpeter, had attempted to predict the future of this model and had concluded that it would ultimately fail. Simply put, they believed that the citizenry would be squeezed past the breaking point for the benefit of the rich, who could and would easily evade contributing their share of taxes, thus making the state and therefore capitalism itself unsustainable. These ideas, however, “would ultimately be banished to the catacombs in the history of economic thought, especially after 1945, when a welfare-state capitalism domesticated along Keynesian lines appeared to usher in a new era.” Dr. Streeck goes into some detail about these debates and the history of this line of thought, but this discussion occurs primarily so that he can provide a historical context for the replacement of the tax state by the debt state. What matters for our purposes is that the tax state is beholden to the citizenry by the very nature of its revenue source. There is generally going to be a fairly high degree of accountability when a government must rely on the people it governs for its ability to function.
The author defines the debt state as “a state which covers a large, possibly rising, part of its expenditure through borrowing rather than taxation, thereby accumulating a mountain of debt that it has to finance with an ever greater share of its revenue.” Arising from the efforts of the capitalist class to deregulate in the wake of the social turmoil and organized labor activity of the late 1960s and 1970s, the financial sector played a major part in the implementation of the debt state model. Dr. Streeck writes that “finance markets had to be integrated internationally in order to satisfy the huge credit needs of rich industrial countries, especially the United States. This process . . . was under way globally by the 1980s at the latest.” The rapid expansion of consumer credit, and the resultant sense of immediate prosperity, allowed for easy arguments to be made about the cutting of government expenditures and the privatization of institutions that had previously been integral to the relationship between the tax state and the citizenry. Thus a process began by which Baby Boomer consumerism, easy credit, an expanded and deregulated financial sector, and privatization allowed capital to spread globally with state support, thereby further severing the ties of the state to its people. The author writes: “In the debt state . . . a second category of stakeholders appears alongside the citizens who, in a democratic tax state and established political theory, constituted the only reference group for the modern state.” This leads us to Dr. Streeck’s concept of the Staatsvolk and theMarktvolk.
The two models of state described above necessarily involve two different conceptions of citizen. As the debt state replaces the tax state, these two groups which increasingly overlap. The first group, the Staatsvolk, is based on ties to the state by virtue of birthright and reciprocal obligations of national and community interest; the second, theMarktvolk, is “bound to national states purely by contractual ties, as investors rather than as citizens.” The author provides a chart that makes the differences very clear:
Staatsvolk vs. Marktvolk
national vs. international
citizens vs. investors
civil rights vs. claims
voters vs. creditors
elections (periodic) vs. auctions (continual)
public opinion vs. interest rates
loyalty vs. “confidence”
public services vs. debt service
As the state further acquiesced to the demands of the capitalist class and further shifted the practice of government to the debt state model, the value of the traditional ‘citizen’ shifted accordingly. Governments became beholden to international creditors and national investors and proportionally less accountable to the Staatsvolk, to whom little was now owed and whose opinions and needs were of secondary importance to maintaining a good international credit rating and appeasing the Marktvolk power brokers. In the neoliberal order, these two groups are the source of a delicate and malignant tension in debt states. He writes: “Democratic debt states must manouevre between their two categories of stakeholders, keeping them both at least sufficiently happy that they do not withdraw their loyalty or, as the case may be, their confidence.”
Dr. Streeck sees seven fundamental problems with the emergence of this new class of international “citizen”:
- first, that the “rising indebtedness of the rich democracies has for some time been curtailing their effective sovereignty, by subjecting the policies of their governments to the discipline of financial markets”;
- second, that the “main aim of lenders to governments in their conflict with a state’s citizens must be to ensure that, in the event of a crisis, their claims take precedence over those of the Staatsvolk — in other words, that debt service gets priority over public services”;
- third, that in “struggle for ‘market confidence,’ debt states must make visible efforts to show that they are always ready to fulfill their civil law contractual obligations”;
- fourth, that “to combine austerity with growth is like squaring a circle,” which is to say that spending cuts increase the likelihood of default and so economic policy becomes a complicated balancing act;
- fifth, that “an ever larger part of the Marktvolk also belongs to the Staatsvolk,” thereby creating conflicting loyalties in individual citizens over the future of their nation, i.e. whether their allegiance is to the community or their pocketbook;
- sixth, that the “power of investors feeds mainly on their advanced international integration and the presence of efficient global capital markets, both of which make it possible for them to switch quickly from one investment to another if ‘confidence’ is lost”; and
- finally, that markets “may engage the services of the ‘international community’ and its organizations to back up their claims on a debt state. In doing this, they can take advantage of their organizational lead over a state system which, while embedded in global markets, continues to be nationally based.”
In each of the above, we see clearly that the essential problem of the debt state model and the ascendancy of the rootless Marktvolk is much deeper than any particular mode of governance and/or economy, however great the degree to which either contributes to the degradation of a particular nation or region. The most fundamental problem is the ideological valorization of internationalism over nationalism. In other words, neoliberal capitalism is a multifaceted and sometimes subtle — but always insidious — process by which the very concept of “citizen” is subverted and the integrity of national identity diminished through the political philosophical “long con” of international solidarity perpetrated by both the Left and the mainstream Right.
In the third part of the book, entitled “The Politics of the Consolidation State: Neoliberalism in Europe,” Dr. Streeck refers to the collective internationalist financial and political class as the “consolidation state” — “an international regime operating at multiple levels of government.” As the traditional state system withers under the pressures described above, this new state model is gaining ground. The European Union is emblematic of this new approach to governance: a supranational, undemocratic regulating body based not on the needs of European national citizens but on appeasing its investors. This, along with a common currency, “serve[s] to eliminate national sovereignty as one of the last bastions of discretionary politics in an integrated market society.” For Dr. Streeck, the influence of an international governing body on nominally independent nation-states is an obvious and demonstrable threat to democracy. The market dictates the direction of the nation rather than the reverse, and the traditional tax state’s “duty to protect” becomes the consolidation state’s “duty to pay.” The consolidation state seeks to utterly destroy national sovereignty, its only remaining foe.
The author goes into far too much detail about particular European countries and their various roles as both collaborators and victims of the consolidation state to be covered here, but he makes a compelling case for what has been described above with specific examples from recent history, including analyses of, among other things, Germany, Greece, and, perhaps most interesting of all, Italy. In the final chapter of the third part of the book, Dr. Streeck reveals himself to be pessimistic about the situation. He asks: “What is to be done in a . . . unified Europe, when intergovernmental obligations and the laws of financial markets have closed the traditional democratic channels of interest articulation?” International capital seeks nothing other than the complete submission of the state and its citizens to the power of the market and it appears at the moment that little can stop it. In one particularly telling paragraph, which is well worth quoting at length, Dr. Streeck writes:
If constructive opposition is impossible, those who are not content to spend their life paying off debts incurred by others have no option other than destructive opposition. This is needed to strengthen the delaying effect of what is left of democracy in national societies. If democratically organized populations can behave responsibly only by giving up use of their national sovereignty, and by limiting themselves for generations to keeping their creditors happy, then it might seem more responsible to try to behave irresponsibly. If being rational means accepting as self-evident that the demands of ‘the markets’ on society must be met, at the expense of the majority who have nothing to show but losses after decades of neoliberal market expansion, then indeed irrationality may be the only remaining form of rationality. Of course, it may take a long time for this conclusion to impose itself. Its denunciation as ‘populist’ is a tried-and-tested technique of rule, which in Germany goes together with largely successful attempts to equate criticism of monetary union and of the general course European integration has taken in the past two decades with opposition to ‘Europe’ in general, a longing for parochial Kleinstaaterei, or even the imperialist nationalism of the interwar period.
This paragraph is interesting in that it encapsulates the frustrations felt by many in Europe but also in the United States and elsewhere in the white world. Whites in North America, for example, have long tended to politically and ideologically back theMarktvolk (in the United States, the Republican Party) and what have we gotten for having done so? The shipment of jobs overseas, a degraded popular culture, and, most importantly, the importation of masses of non-white scab laborers that threaten to forever alter the character of our nations. Of course, Dr. Streeck does not enter into the questions of immigration or race in any way, but it is crystal clear that this is a huge part of the problem. And when one unveils the racial and cultural character of theMarktvolk — Jews and their greedy, deracinated collaborators — the concept acquires greater accuracy and a far deeper and greater significance.
In the final section of the book, “Looking Ahead,” the author lambasts neoliberals for their refusal to recognize the very real differences between regional cultures and national populations. Here he comes very close to broaching the topic of race but never makes the critical leap. In discussing the possibility of a democratic European constitution, he writes that one “[could] come about only if these [local, regional, and national] differences are recognized in the form of autonomy rights: a refusal of such rights cannot but result in separatism, which would either have to be bought off or violently suppressed. The more heterogeneous a national population is, the bloodier is the history of (successful or failed) attempts to unify it.” Friedrich von Hayek, who is discussed earlier in the book as the man who originated the idea of what was to become the consolidation state, is similarly taken to task, further placing the author well outside the dichotomy of Left-Right. He writes:
Hayek’s error of reasoning, in his plan for an international federation wedded to neoliberalism, was to think that all participating national societies would happily adapt to — and could therefore be induced to merge their particular interests and identities into — the free market that central government would have to seek to establish for the sake of international peace. What escaped him was that people would try to defend their way of life and their economic practices by building on their cultural traditions and using whatever political institutions they had left to them. Perhaps the reason was that he considered such peculiarities to be no more than tattoos on the skin of a universalHomo oeconomicus; or that the democratic possibility of collective action against the justice of the market simply did not exist in his world.
One would have to resort to a very loose interpretation of the above to not recognize that Dr. Streeck is far more attuned to identitarian politics — and far more complicated and interesting — than the standard Leftist. If one follows his argument to its logical conclusion, nationalism is not only a positive force in the short term but is an absolutelynecessary force in the long term, if the West is ever to successfully challenge its internationalist overlords. The author might suggest that any effort to resist the influence of the consolidation state is worthwhile and, of course, he would be correct. But it will take a special kind of solidarity to do it successfully and definitively, one based not solely in economic interests but in race and culture. The Occupy Wall Street movement is the most recent and obvious example of how efforts based purely in economics, with no concern for national borders or a philosophical foundation in anything deeper or longer-lasting than vague de jour notions of multiculturalism and “fairness,” crumble under the weight of the neoliberal order and alienate those working class whites who would most benefit from real reform.
My hope here was to provide not only a selective review of this particular book but to encourage the reader to expand his intellectual input above and beyond the false dichotomy of Left and Right as it pertains to economics. There are interesting ideas being explored on the Left that could be of value to our particular political project. By exposing oneself to some of this literature one has access to a contemporary language of political economy that might otherwise be overlooked. And when one becomes versed in this language and this literature, one easily sees the opportunities for the conversion of disaffected and open-minded white Leftists, as well as new ways of defending the interests of already converted whites. Indeed, there is no one outside of the New Right who has the intellectual flexibility, the willingness, and the ability to use the entire spectrum of empirical data to paint an accurate picture of both the sources of these problems and their actual “on the ground” ramifications. Buying Time is an excellent book in nearly all respects. But it suffers from the author’s ignorance of — or unwillingness to address — the most basic biological realities that undergird these profoundly dangerous transformations of economy and state.
1. Alain de Benoist, On the Brink of the Abyss: The Imminent Bankruptcy of the Financial System (London: Arktos, 2015).
Eugène Montsalvat, “Alain de Benoist’s On the Brink of the Abyss: The Imminent Bankruptcy of the Financial System,” Counter-Currents Publishing, August 10, 2015, https://counter-currents.com/2015/08/alain-de-benoists-on-the-brink-of-the-abyss/ (accessed August 11, 2015).
2. Wolfgang Streeck, Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (New York: Verso, 2014).
3. Ibid., vii.
4. Wolfgang Streeck, “Report to the 2014 Meeting of the Advisory Board of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies,” http://www.mpifg.de/people/ws/forschung_en.asp (accessed August 11, 2014).
5. Streeck, Buying Time, vii.
6. Ibid., vii.
7. Ibid., xv.
8. Ibid., xvii.
9. Ibid., 14.
10. Ibid., 16.
11. Ibid., 17.
12. Ibid., 17.
13. Ibid., 18.
14. Ibid., 26.
15. Ibid., 27-28.
16. Ibid., 28-29.
17. Ibid., 46.
18. Ibid., 72.
19. Ibid., 72-73.
20. Ibid., 73.
21. Ibid., 79.
22. Ibid., 81.
23. Ibid., 81.
24. Ibid., 83.
25. Ibid., 84.
26. Ibid., 86.
27. Ibid., 87.
28. Ibid., 88.
29. Ibid., 88.
30. Ibid., 88.
31. Ibid., 90.
32. Ibid., 96.
33. Ibid., 114.
34. Ibid., 116.
35. Ibid., 159.
36. Ibid., 159-160.
37. Ibid., 180.
38. Ibid., 181.