2018, from the Liberal State of Rule of Law to the State of Permanent Exception? (II)

We are now facing an incredibly powerful and destructive imperialism, yet one in economic and political decadence, with a profoundly fractured society.

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In the previous article we saw that, under the presidency of Donald Trump, the imperialism of globalizing neoliberal capitalism, this "high tech" version of the liberal imperialism of the 19th century, assumes in its National Security Strategy (NSS) that it is the unquestioned supreme power at a global level, which de facto implies -- in the imperial centre and in the periphery -- the end of "Liberal Democracy" and of the liberal State of the Rule of Law that we knew or imagined in this "world system".


We are now facing an incredibly powerful and destructive imperialism, yet one in economic and political decadence, with a profoundly fractured society, which in order to survive eliminated the brake and the “reverse gear” (a political system stripped of feed-back to correct itself, as well of any responsibility, according to US researcher Charles Hugh Smith), and that has decided to act with all the impunity and force of empire when it needs to impose its policies on that periphery carefully kept underdeveloped, to those “shithole countries” as Trump himself (to “put things in their place”, as the Ambassador of the United States at the United Nations likes to say) labelled Haiti, El Salvador and ultimately all the nations of Africa and of Our America.


This is why this second part has been a slow reflection that needs to be submitted to judgment, since it is a question, on the one hand, of seeking an explanation of the whys and wherefores of this demolition of the liberal State of Law in which we have lived and struggled, which has so well served the development of capitalism in the central societies and their “industrial civilization”, and that has left a certain nostalgia “for the old times in which capitalism worked well”. And thus it is necessary to clarify the nature of the “liberal doctrine”, that is so malleable that in practice it always served to give capitalism the justifications destined to continue exploitation and prevent the peoples from coming to power to install a true and popular democracy.


It therefore seems to me necessary to recall what Karl Marx wrote in The eighteenth Brumaire of Luis Bonaparte: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language () The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future. It cannot begin with itself before it has stripped away all superstition about the past. The former revolutions required recollections of past world history in order to smother their own content. The revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury their dead in order to arrive at its own content.” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/subject/hist-mat/18-brum/ch01.htm)


Liberalism without democracy?


In a recent work, anthropologist Maximillian Forte, Professor at Concordia University of Montreal, notes that “Liberal democracy has been reduced to a shell, more a name than a fact that deserves the name. For many years, liberalism has been liberal authoritarianism or post-liberalism or neoliberalism, with a high elitist disdain for democracy and a fear of the masses everywhere.” [1], and in another article he points out that “Little can express the death of liberalism more than the sight of Liberals, and liberal democrats, recoiling from liberal democracy. Their preference? A liberalism without democracy, like in early 19th-century Britain—one that was already rejected by the late 19th-century. To the extent that a commitment to liberal democracy has been a hallmark of modern liberalism, that association has now been terminated. By default, the dominant realignment is toward a combined dictatorship of corporations, monarchs, and technocrats.”


What Forte points out, as do (fortunately) a growing number of intellectuals, does not depart far from the description that British economist John A. Hobson pointed out in 1902 in his book Imperialism: A Study, when analyzing politics, society and the economy in England and the countries affected by the rentier and parasitical capitalism of English imperialist globalization in the 19th century, a book that Vladimir Lenin used for his important work Imperialism the superior phase of capitalism, nor from the profound analysis of Karl Polanyi in his book The Great Transformation. The analyses of the past and of the present are necessary to expose the reality of liberal democracy and of the liberal State of Law in this neoliberal globalization, in the countries of the imperial centre and periphery, where this absolutism or totalitarianism of the market dominates.


And as sociologist Boaventura dos Santos Sousa reminds us, so as to remove any doubt as to alternatives, the European Union (EU) is a good example to demonstrate where “the principle of dominant sovereignty arose (…) with the way that Germany imposed its sovereign interests (that is, of the Deutsche Bank) above the interests of the countries of Southern Europe in the EU”[2].  In effect, the well-known German “efficiency” crudely exposes the “unhitching” of the economy with respect to politics and society, via this supranational institutionalization that is the EU, to which José Manuel Barroso, former chief of the European Commission, “at times (liked to) compare (…) to the organization of an empire” [3], which obviously comes accompanied by its “dominant sovereignty” – a State of permanent exception – under which, by the exercise of hard power above any other consideration, by the language of “exception” of Carl Schmitt [4], it is possible to deny any manifestation of defence of the collective rights implicit in the State of law and liberal democracy supposedly in force, as Andrés Gil points out in the case of Spain and Catalonia [5].


Whom does liberalism free?


Having come to this point, it is worth putting into perspective the historical actors of liberal doctrine, of democracy and the State of liberal law, a task that is not easy because of its gelatinous consistency and the forms that it has adopted as political doctrine, in order to adapt to the transformations of capitalism and society. Gerald F. Gaus, professor of philosophy and researcher of liberalism, considers that although the divide between the old and the new is multifaceted, “the crux is a debate about the place of the market, private property, and democracy in a liberal polity”, with the liberals traditionally opting for a limited government to favour the market, which should regulate itself, with a strong protection of the rights of private property, investments, interchanges and inheritance, and that “limited democracy is endorsed as a way to control government”. [6].


In another work Gaus points out the need to distinguish two aspects in liberal theory:

 (1) liberalism as a political doctrine that can accommodate diverse and conflicting values or preference and (2) liberalism as a doctrine with incompatible theoretical commitments. It is a virtue of liberalism that it can accommodate those value clashes; some seek individuality while others strive after community… Liberalism, we have seen, seems torn between polar opposites (p. 19) and he then notes that the development of liberal political theory in the 20th century has taken it to the point where: “all liberalism is now market liberalism” (p.187)


1) liberalism as a political doctrine that can accommodate diverse and conflicting values and preferences, and 2) liberalism as a theory incompatible with theoretical commitments. It is a virtue of liberalism to accommodate itself to these contradictions of values, some seeking individuality while others struggle for the community. Liberalism, as we see, appears to be torn by the polarity of these oppositions, and he then notes that the development of liberal political theory in the 20th century has taken it to the point where “all liberalism is liberalism of the market”.


In The Great Transformation Polanyi describes “the separation of government from business”, that is, the combat against the absolutism of the monarchies, that in England goes back to 1694 and that became concrete when commercial capital had won its joust against the Crown.  A century later, it was no longer commercial but industrial property that was to be protected, and not against the Crown but against the people. Only by misconception could seventeenth century meanings be applied to nineteenth century situations. The separation of powers, which Montesquieu (1748) had meanwhile invented, was now used to separate the people from power over their own economic life. Quoting the US liberal Arthur Twining Hadley, Polyani points out that the American Constitution, shaped in a farmer-craftsman environment by a leadership forewarned by the English industrial scene, isolated the economic sphere entirely from the jurisdiction of the Constitution, put private property thereby under the highest conceivable protection, and created the only legally grounded market society in the world. In spite of universal suffrage, American voters were powerless against owners. (...) Both inside and outside England, from Macaulay to Mises, there was not a militant liberal who did not express his conviction that popular democracy was a danger to capitalism. [7]


This is why, as sociologist Pablo González Casanova writes, the word “democracy” in capitalism was emptied of real content and used as a disguise of republics and monarchies, oligarchs and bourgeoisies, and of regimes and dominant classes that in no way made effective the sovereignty of the people, the real power of the people, and only used the term to hide their true authoritarianism [8].


“Antiliberal” mutations of capital


Nevertheless, during the serious economic depressions of the industrial era, caused by liberal globalizations (the long depression at the end of the 19th century and the Great Depression of the 1930s), that upset the economies of societies organized by the capitalist mode of production, the indispensable workers unleashed great class struggles, created unions and political parties that constituted the anarchist, socialist or communist “threat” and obliged the state to intervene in order to effect certain reforms. That is, that the correlation of social forces in these historical moments of class struggle obliged industrial capitalism–equipped at that time for convenience with a system of feedback and responsibility–adopted a “mutation” of the State to protect the interests of industrial capital and broad social sectors, responding to this “solid society” (Zygmut Bauman) necessary to the organization of the increasingly complex industrial production.


The “welfare State”, this mutation of a liberal State towards a corporative, “antiliberal”, protectionist regulator State, the planner in economic and social aspects, was destined to save industrial capitalism from the clutches of a destructive financialization in an unstable monetary context, and to prevent the affected society from questioning the private property of the means of production. To understand that context in the US in 1933, it suffices to read the warning of a lucid capitalist, the banker Marrimer Eccles, before the US Congress [9], something simply unimaginable today.


Meanwhile, this “antiliberal” Welfare State – that still raises nostalgia and serves to confuse political struggles in many countries –, was the salvation raft for capital to survive and bring to completion the monopolistic phase of the industrial era, that of their factories with hundreds or thousands of workers, with a mode of production dependent on millions of workers and therefore obliged to a “marriage of reason” (Bauman) of Capital with Labour that in the US and Europe lasted the three decades that were necessary for the development of productive forces applying the sciences and technologies of automation, informatics and the transport of merchandise that allowed them to reach the dreamed for opportunity of developed capitalism, to begin to “free itself” from the majority of human labour (organized in unions, with labour protection, dignified wages and collective social rights), in order to put the powers of the State at the disposition of the transnationals and finance, interested in wiping out borders (putting an end to national sovereignties), in eliminating the regulations and fiscal burdens of capitalists and the collective rights that made possible the political struggles for social reform and in actively dismantling societies through introducing labour “flexibility”, with the strategic goal of limiting the scope of popular sovereignty, of the legislative apparatus, with respect to the Agreements and conventions designed to facilitate neoliberal globalization  that was born with the creation of transnational corporations, financialisation and the consequent delocalization of industrial production.


Subsequently, and depending on the stages of development of industrial capitalism, as we have seen, liberal phases were alternated with “antiliberal” or corporate ones. The most recent in the history of capital is this “liberation” of wage labour to pay very low wages, the possibilities of dominating other markets, of drastically reducing the costs of storage and accelerating the rhythms of circulation of capital with the combination of automation, delocalization, just-in-time deliveries and electronic commerce, among other factors. If we add to that the rapid development of telecommunications and informatics, it is easy to understand the vertiginous growth and the primacy that the financial sector reached during the present neoliberal globalization.


Absolutism the order of the day


The advances achieved by this “really existing” capitalism explain the prepotency and the arrogant impunity with which imperialism acts, the “frankness” of the ESN, of the “tweets” and declarations of Donald Trump, projecting himself as “the lord of the world”. And in effect, if we look closely, this capitalism has been able to create and place at its service the three powers reserved for the gods (and for the absolute monarchs who claimed to represent divine power): omnipresence (to be wherever everywhere with consumption, with their finances and businesses, with their military bases, etcetera), omniscience (with their agencies of State espionage–NSA, CIA, etc.–and private ones–Google, Facebook, among others–that spy on us and control us, who are aware of whatever we think, read and write, of our illusions and realities, of our decisions and even of where we are and what we spend on, a very profitable power since they sell this precious information to the monopolies in order to subject us even more), and omnipotence (because of their enormous and extensive military, financial and monetary power, and because with the “world order” that they have created with free trade agreements and institutions that rule trade, finances and respect for private property, can apply their laws where they dominate or influence, and punish with sanctions–for not obeying this domination–where it is absent).


This much coveted absolutism, based on the real and virtual yoke capable of constantly subjecting billions of individuals, is a fatal threat for societies already in a process of atomization, but it appears to be the only remaining way out–although it takes us to the abysm–for this “really existing” capitalism. This explains why the US NSS has as its principal objective to combat and destroy the “revisionism” of Russia and China, two countries that have taken on the mission to stabilize and protect their societies and international coexistence, and are therefore, according to researcher Enrico Cau, acting “as a strong regional stabilizing force” and applying policies in a convergent way within a geopolitical space that is crucial for the interests of both countries and “with significant consequences in distant regions, such as the South, East and Southeast of Asia and the Centre and East of Europe, regions in which the US is losing influence”; and they are also impacting in our hemisphere in countries that seek to protect themselves from neoliberal globalism, such as Bolivia and Venezuela, among others.[10]


But empires --not even this one with “divine powers”-- are not immortal. The history professor Alfred McCoy reminds us that empires seem "indomitable" while at the height of their power. "And yet empires by their very nature, because they operate far beyond their natural boundaries, are incredibly fragile" and "like many fragile ecosystems, once the change, the decline sets in, you get an unpredictable cascade effect. They collapse with an extraordinarily, unholy speed… Once empires start unraveling, it happens very quickly," he concludes [11].


At this point there is a growing consensus, and anthropologist Forte points out the rapid decline and isolation of the US in the world, and indicates that the role that Trump is playing is “to render the previously dominant narratives of US hegemony less credible, less tenable, and less consistent, while simultaneously making the projection of US power both less sustainable and more abrasive”. And he recalls that in his speech to the UN General Assembly in mid-September 2017, Donald Trump exposed the true face of his aggressions and US expansionism to the point where “If Trump had consciously set about to repel imperialism’s force multipliers, he could not have done a better job than he did at the UN that day.” [12]. In reality many observers already point out the failure–and in general the counterproductiveness–of the policies destined to establish or reestablish the power of this “dominant sovereignty” through threats of military aggression, economic sanctions that include the utilization of financial mechanisms (IMF) and commercial ones (WTO) to apply severe financial and commercial restrictions (with Cuba, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and China in their sights).


What does all this mean for Our America?


One question that seems important is how the present strategy of imperialism is reflected across all the countries of Our America, that is once again taking on the role of a strategic “backyard” in the face of the loss of influence and power of the US in various regions of the world.


As distinct from the central countries of the empire, where societies have been disarticulated by the development of “actually existing capitalism” that is characterized by the “destruction of society and nature”, as the sociologist and compañero Andrés Piqueras points out in his last book [13], and where, with a few exceptions, there is scarce or very focalized resistance, in Latin American societies there is still a good deal of “social muscle”, which is manifested in a resistance that at times is vigorous and militant, as we see in Honduras in the face of electoral fraud, in Argentina vis-à-vis the repressive measures and “mega-decrees” of Macri, worthy of a State of exception, in Brazil with the construction of a popular front against Temer, among other examples, and in parallel we see the massive popular resistance to defend the emancipatory processes in Venezuela and Bolivia against the attacks of the empire and its local allies.


And even through Democracy and the State of liberal law innately bring with them the objective of preventing the people from coming to power and endangering the “sacred right” of private property (because the State of law is the Law of the strongest, as Marx said), it is no less true that in the context of the long history of colonialism and imperialist interventions suffered by a majority of Latin American and Caribbean countries, through necessity extensive and profound thought has been developed as well as experiences of anti-imperialist struggles in whatever spaces of democracy exist, and many times in its absence, struggles that in the past allowed for the forging of movements of national liberation, political and electoral alliances to form popular governments with genuine democratic intentions, or to undertake great political and social struggles. The history of anti-imperialist struggles and for a genuine democracy explains the recurrence of coups, with the help of Washington, to put an end to these governmental experiences and to crush the emancipatory struggles.


And if there be something of the indomitable in our history, from the First Nations and up to now, this may be due to the record of assaults that our region has suffered against any democratic attempt, and that here all possible forms of democratic negation on the part of imperialism and their local allies have been applied by these traditional oligarchies and the businessmen at the service of finance and transnationals, and as we have seen for some years, with “attacks from inside of the liberal State” through the subversive utilization of the legal apparatus–thanks to the incrustation in the Courts of a caste of jurists formed and often bought–to destabilize or overthrow reformist and popular governments, or to create States of exception destined to bring back or protect “neoliberal absolutism”, all this with the strategic collusion of corruption and of journalism manipulated by the concentrated media.


Neoliberal globalization at any cost


As proof of these “attacks from inside” of the State of Liberal Law, it is sufficient to see the reactionary role in El Salvador that the Constitutional Court plays to paralyze the plans of the FMLN government and provoke conditions for an electoral defeat or for instability to force “regime change”.  We can recall the role of the Supreme Court and of the legal apparatus in general in the soft Coups d’État, such as that made to impeach Dilma Rousseff and install Michel Temer, and that will now come into play with the decision of the Temer government to accelerate the trial of ex-president Lula in the appeal court, which constitutes “the quintessence of the regime of exception and the juridical terrorism installed in Brazil”, as pointed out by Jeferson Miola (Nodal).


In Honduras the Supreme Court and the Supreme Electoral Tribune are employed to “legalize” repeated electoral frauds, while last December, with the adoption by the Congress of Mexico the Law of Internal Security, the Executive will have the Law of the State of exception permanently at its disposition, together with an electoral year that could crystalize the strong opposition of the people to the “institutional dictatorship” of the PRIAN [14].


In Argentina, as indicated by political expert Edgardo Mocca, the government (of Macri) assumes violence not as a crisis but as a new stage of its mandate, pointing out that “in the exercise of state violence and in the public circulation of information the state of law is not in force, we are faced with a new regime. Nevertheless what is most characteristic of Macrism in these days–following the shake-up produced by the irruption of social protest in the streets and the tendency towards new political-parliamentary regroupings–is the unusual way in which publicity and violence are intertwined. Normally violence is assumed as a “political cost” to pay for applying a programme of an anti-popular government. As such, they attempt to minimize the damage, seeking to make the repression invisible, or when that is not possible, attributing it to “excessive actions” of the state agents involved. In the present situation, on the contrary, the violence towards the other is being converted into a political argument. Previously they proceeded, as so many times in our history, to construct an internal enemy” [15].


President Macri has a long experience in the utilization of the State of exception to defend the Liberal state of globalization, since that was how he governed the City of Buenos Aires, that is, utilizing state violence which is exercised both through the police and the gendarmerie as well as through laying off workers and declaring a record number of decrees of necessity and urgency (DNU) to abolish laws of social importance and modify others outside the reach of Congress or of legislative discussion. And in this Macri acts no differently from the way in which the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy managed the result of the referendum in Catalonia, or the situation in Brazil, with President Temer when he affirmed, in a speech before the Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock Raising, that he “is taking advantage of unpopularity to do what Brazil needs”.


All this brought me to recall conversations, at the end of the 1970s, with the Argentine-Canadian philosopher Jorge Ruda, who introduced me to reading Carl Schmitt from a Marxist point of view, and who reminded me that the “Political Theology” of Schmitt was the totally anti-democratic recipe for the seizing of all power by capital, which brought me to the conclusion that the use of a State of exception to put all power in the hands of Supreme Capital is nothing more nor less than the last stage of capitalism.


So what to do now, when Liberal Democracy is already buried?


In his analysis entitled “The swing to the right of Latin America: its oppositions”, the Mexican academic and former public servant Victor Flores Olea concluded there was a swing to the right under way, but “not without a strong opposition...” (La Jornada 16.01.2018), which corresponds to a long and deep experience of struggle against imperialism and its agents that oppress our peoples.


But recalling the warning of Marx and the advice of Pablo González Casanova, it is time to recognize that it will not be by putting on the “cloak” of liberal Democracy, already buried by globalizing imperialism, that our peoples will achieve a true popular Democracy. For a long time now we have known what is the result, in the matter of popular democracy, under the present “rules of the game” [16].


This is why this journalist who was raised listening to tangos keeps constantly in mind, in the face of the daily “outrages to reason” and “the outbursts of insolent evil” that we see at present, the lyrics of the tango Cambalache of Enrique Santos Discépolo [17]. The “insolent evil” is the calculated cruelty, destined to terrify, to humiliate and not leave the slightest doubt about who is in charge and can act with complete impunity, as for example happened with the expulsion of the journalist and compañera Sally Burch from Argentina to prevent her from covering the meeting of the World Trade Organization and – I have no doubts–, to demonstrate to journalists and foreign observers that the Macri government does what it wants to do because it already feels close to “supreme power”, and doesn’t have to be accountable to anyone, except to Wall Street, the IMF and the transnationals. And it was all this that led me to write these two long articles.


And for all of the above, I am hardly surprised that Pope Francis, who certainly could not escape either from the tangos in his childhood and youth, has become so “discepoliano” when he paints the dramatic reality, as he did in his 2017 farewell message, when he said that humanity “wasted and harmed” the year “in many forms with works of death, lies and injustice”. And that although war is still the most flagrant sign of this “impenitent and absurd pride”, many other transgressions also provoked “human, social and environmental degradation.” [18]




(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)




1.- M. Forte, https://zeroanthropology.net/2017/01/18/the-dying-days-of-liberalism/ ; y https://zeroanthropology.net/2017/12/22/democratization-vs-liberalism-in-canada/


2.- Boaventura de Santos Sousa: http://www.cubadebate.cu/opinion/2017/11/12/desglobalizacion/


3.- José Manuel Barroso https://euobserver.com/institutional/24458


4.- Carl Schmitt, Teología Política, p. 5:

«Soberano es quien decide la excepción»: Sovereign is the one who decides the exception : It is precisely the exception that makes the subject of sovereignty relevant, that is, the whole question of sovereignty. The precise details of an emergency cannot be anticipated, nor can it even be deciphered what may happen in such cases, especially when it comes to an extreme emergency and how it should be eliminated. The precondition, as well as the content of jurisdictional competence in such a situation must necessarily be unlimited."  http://revistas.pucp.edu.pe/index.php/pensamientoconstitucional/article/viewFile/3346/3195


5.- Andrés Gil, El 155 y el sentido común de época: Carl Schmitt va ganando a Antonio Gramsci; http://www.eldiario.es/politica/sentido-Carl-Schmitt-Antonio-Gramsci_0_699580437.html


6.- Gerald F. Gaus, pág. 84, “On Justifying the Moral Rights of the Moderns: a Case of Old Wine in New Bottles”, 2007 Social Philosophy & Policy Foundation; “Liberalism at the End of the Century”, pages. 192 a 194.


7.- Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation. The political and economic origins of our time.(1944). Pages 225-226. Boston, Beacon Press, (1957).


8.- Pablo González Casanova, La verdad a medias  https://www.alainet.org/es/articulo/186892


9.- Marrimer S. Eccles, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriner_Stoddard_Eccles https://fraser.stlouisfed.org/scribd/?title_id=176&filepath=/files/docs/historical/senate/1933sen_investeconprob/1933sen_investeconprob.pdf&start_page=710


10.- Enrico Cau, The Geopolitics of the Beijing-Moscow Consensus https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/the-geopolitics-of-the-beijing-moscow-consensus/


11.- Alfred McCoy is professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.



12.- M. Forte, What Happened to the American Empire



13.- In “La Tragedia de Nuestro Tiempo –La destrucción de la sociedad y la naturaleza por el capital” (Anthropos, 2017), Piqueras makes a clarifying deconstruction - as Luis Enrique Alonso points out in his prologue " Cartografiando el sinsentido " - of the domination structures of late capitalism in all its dimensions and, at the same time, such an acute inquiry about the social actors that take on the dimension of subject in contemporary social conflict.


14.- Revista Proceso y PeriódicoCentral




15.- Edgardo Mocca https://www.elcohetealaluna.com/propaganda-y-represion/


16.- Alberto Rabilotta, El dueño de la pelota y las reglas del juego



17.- Enrique Santos Discépolo wrote Cambalache in 1934, in the era of the Great Depression provoked by the collapse of financial and monetary globalization (the gold standard). Lyrics in Spanish and English https://letrasdetango.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/cambalache/ and in French https://www.toutango.com/Texte-et-traduction-annotee-de-Cambalache_a292.html


18.- Papa dice en mensaje de fin de año que 2017 fue empañado por guerra y mentiras




- Alberto Rabilotta is an Argentine-Canadian journalist.


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