Political Freedom, the Social Contract, and Occupy Wall Street

On November 4, 2011, I put some thoughts about democracy into a short comment, which I posted at the web-site of Louis Proyect, a writer I respect.

The Unrepentant Marxist

The thread into which I placed my comment was a heated discussion between Marxists about the pros and cons of one Marxist academic and media hound called Zizek, and his recent article “Is Democracy the Enemy?”

My first reaction was: democracy is only the enemy if the people are your enemy.

Later, I was reminded of some important history (noted below), and from this, and also reflecting on my own biases that show up in my writing, arrived at a conclusion about what “democracy” really means, or at least what it really should mean.


November 6 is the 20th anniversary of the end of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, which itself was declared dissolved on December 26, 1991.

Here is a discussion about this at RT TV:


Two quotes from the show that I particularly liked:

“There are more communists in Berkeley than in Poland” — by a Communist Party official in Poland in the 1980s.

“The social contract was broken…” hence the people lost faith in the Communist Party (from the 1970s) and finally the state (the USSR).

I view Occupy Wall Street (OWS) as a popular reaction to “the social contract was broken” (from 1981 on) in the USA (as with the similar popular protests in the Euro-zone these days).

The Communist Party had ceased to be the exclusive holder of power in the USSR after 1989; Gorbachev had introduced/allowed multiparty parliamentary politics, though the CP retained much control. So, the USSR was a multiparty democracy between 1989-1991.

An interesting conclusion of the panel in this show was that the end/”collapse” of the CP/USSR was a contingent event, not an inevitable one. Had Gorbachev acted differently, there might still be a multiparty democratic USSR.

I think the social contract, and political freedom are the two essentials for any ideology to enjoy enduring popular support. Democracy is a political form that can facilitate the operation of the first and the experience of the second. But a hollow democracy, as we are increasingly experiencing here in the USA, is a form without substance if “the social contract is broken” (government fails as the steward of popular social goals and benefits), and if popular (as opposed to elite/insider or corporate) “political freedom” is disconnected from political power, so the “general will” (Rousseau) does not affect the course of government. Democracy alone, as an empty formalism, is not the real issue, but “democracy” spoken of as a label for an integrated procedural complex that expresses the social contract and mediates real political freedom.


I am pleased to announce the Internet publication of two articles, which connect history to current events (OWS) and also probe the connection of our interpretations of current events with our own self images (OWS and Libya). I took my time to include a good amount of historical data in these articles, and to write them so they unreel smoothly. Also, I aimed for informative works instead of polemical ones.

Political Belief and Self Image: Aron, OWS, And Libya
7 November 2011

From Social Contract to Occupy Wall Street
7 November 2011

The article on political belief was inspired by my experiences arguing my case for support of the Libyan Revolution. I was led to do a great deal of reading, from early this year, and the incubated pondering on this topic was applied to describe how a personal self conception could express itself publicly as “political belief”, and how such subconscious extensions of personality can clash emotionally in what should be even-tempered discussions of political facts. I illustrate the general ideas with three examples: 1950s Cold War political argumentation among French intellectuals, the thinking of people in Occupy Wall Street (OWS), and the arguments pro and con over the Libyan Revolution.

What is Occupy Wall Street (OWS)? In order to know that, one has to understand where OWS comes from, that is to say what is it about conditions today that have led so many people to manifest as OWS? Part of my research to answer these questions was to review the history that led to the economic conditions of today. My views on OWS are presented in both articles, the second article being an effort to show the details of the shift from the 1945 international consensus for social contracts, to the post 1970s dissension of neo-liberalism and widening income inequality.

My own article on OWS is an attempt to provide a “complete package” in the sense of including discussion of: “where did OWS come from?” and “what are OWS individuals thinking?” with “how is OWS affecting mainstream/corporate political opinion?” plus “what public policies would answer OWS grievances?”, with a listing of some Internet resources presenting pertinent economic data.


7 thoughts on “Political Freedom, the Social Contract, and Occupy Wall Street

  1. By e-mail, I received the following from “a correspondent” about my article “Political Belief and Self Image: Aron, OWS, and Libya”
    Dear Manuel,

    Your piece on Libya published on Swans two weeks ago struck a chord. It made me think yet again about the anti-imperialist crowd and the so-called revolutionaries that “defended” Gaddafi. I have no patience with them. They are the same crowd who defended the Soviet Union in 1956 (Budapest) and in 1968 (Prague). When a “leader” — Gaddafi — calls his own rebellious people rats, vows to hunt them from street to street, house to house, and talks about an ocean of blood (maybe, it was his son who said that), such a person has to go. Period. That, as I have been argued time and again, there is no proof that he would have leveled Benghazi makes my head spin 100 rotations per second. Can they figure out what took place in Misurata, and for that matter Sirte?

    I very much regretted the violence, but in the fortnight leading to his capture and lynching, I kept telling my companion that the only way to stop the ongoing violence was to have the guy killed. NATO did its part and the folks from Misurata finished the job, however unpleasantly but quite understandably. There is no way to know what the future entails for Libya, but it was quite obvious what the situation was entailing.

    I was also told repetitively that Gaddafi had done much good for the country (free housing, free healthcare, free education, etc.) but if that was true why would people rebel? And he was supposedly a pan-African lavishing money on African leaders and projects. See how much good resulted from his “efforts”!

    Something that I have always found intellectually specious is the old saying, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It never passed the smell test for me whether used by Western governments or “revolutionaries.” I put revolutionaries between quotation marks because they make me laugh — revolutionaries sitting in front of a computer and typing endless nonsense…

    When all is said and done, remember the four obligations Albert Camus asked intellectuals to observe:

    1) Recognize totalitarianism and denounce it.
    2) Do not not lie and know to confess (or acknowledge) what you ignore.
    3) Refuse to dominate.
    4) Refuse in all occasions and whatever the pretext any despotism, even if temporary.

    Seems we will never learn…

    Great and sensible piece, Manuel. Thank you.

  2. The pro- and anti-intervention argument about NATO and the Libyan Revolution continues. Four related articles appeared on the Internet in November 2011.

    The first article is “Libya and the Left” by Michael Bérubé. This is a critique of anti-interventionist “left” commentators.

    Bérubé’s article was quickly noted, favorably though briefly, by Juan Cole. The entry at Cole’s blog on “Libya and the Left” is really a long series of readers’ comments, some quite long.

    The anti-interventionist response to Bérubé and Cole appeared in Counter Punch, led off by editor-publisher Alexander Cockburn, with “The ‘Left’ and Libya.”

    A similar anti-interventionist article by David N. Gibbs appears in the same issue of Counter Punch.

    I found the comments by “Joe from Lowell” at the Juan Cole site to be the clearest:

    [Quote Joe from Lowell]
    I’m come to learn from this episode that a large segment of the anti-war left approaches questions of American military power using the same intellectual strategy as the neoconservative right. They don’t need to know anything about the particular situation or circumstances; they just have to consult their pre-existing ideological script about American military action in the abstract. That the two groups’ prejudices about American[s] going to war are polar opposites, [does not prevent that] they are used in the same way.

    If you read liberal or leftist commentary about issues like global warming, health care, public transit, income inequality, or the federal budget, you find an astounding level of knowledge and a deep commitment to the facts. It’s clear why the phrase “Reality-based community” applies. The contrast to the commentary about Libya, or any other military-related subject, could not be more dramatic. It isn’t just that they don’t know anything about Libya and what was happening there, but that they so obviously didn’t think that they need to in order to decide exactly what they think.

    It’s not the presence of a bias that’s the problem, and that is the equivalent of the neocons’ bias, but it’s use. I prefer anti-war biases to pro-war biases, too, but that’s not the point.

    Everyone has their biases, their ideological constructs, their ways of viewing the world. The question is, do you treat your biases as sufficient for answering questions, or do you let the evidence to make up your mind?
    [End quote Joe from Lowell]

    The four articles are:

    Michael Bérubé (before 5 Nov 2011)

    Juan Cole (5 November 2011)

    Alexander Cockburn (25 November 2011)

    David N. Gibbs (25 November 2011)

  3. On January 13, 2012, Clay Claiborne wrote a summary of events in post Revolution Libya:

    The Current Situation In Libya

    This item is recommended and introduced by Louis Proyect, on January 30, at his blog:

    Some numbers from Claiborne’s report:

    7 million, the population of Libya

    30,000 Libyans killed during the war (most by Gadaffi forces)

    40 to 70 civilians killed by NATO bombing

    9 Libyans killed in post war fights involving militias (“brigades”)

    Claiborne’s article/blog includes other items on the subject, linked.

    “So there were no massive civilian causalities from NATO bombs as the anti-interventionists predicted, and there were no NATO boots on the ground, as the anti-interventionists predicted.” — CC

    “For a few days, those nostalgic for Qaddafi took heart at news that a revolt against the government-backed militia in Bani Walid took place under the toppled regime’s green flag but eventually it turned out that there was no support for Qaddafi, even in his erstwhile stronghold. Apparently, the real base of support is among Western leftists who resent those Libyans who had the impudence to rise up and defeat the dictator who worked with the CIA and killed 2000 prisoners at Abu Salim in one fell swoop.” — LP

    Encouraging news.

  4. I am quoted in “Charles Krauthammer & Robert Reich at The Richmond Forum,” from my article “From Social Contract To Occupy Wall Street.” You can see it at page 21 (“The Debate”) in the electronic version of the program booklet from this upcoming event (“The American Social Contract,” 24 March 2012), at this web site:

    My line the Richmond Forum liked is:

    “Every desire for social change held by every person in the Occupy Wall Street movement can be reflected in one simple phrase: renew the social contract.”

    The people quoted on page 21 are (in order listed):

    Charles Krauthammer
    Rep. Barney Frank
    Rep. Paul Ryan
    Robert Reich
    Elizabeth Warren
    George Will
    William Graham Sumner (1840-1910)

    The set-up in the Richmond Forum booklet is pure “freedom” versus “equality,” the classic unresolvable ying-yang duality Raymond Aron wrote about so intelligently. Of course, the real solution to the “either/or” is “and,” (the Tao) the honest and intelligent balancing of “freedom” (individual, market, ambition) and “equality” (compassion, fairness, justice, socialism).

    The American codewords for the poles of the duality are Republican (freedom) and Democrat (equality). The R-pole people above are: Krauthammer, Ryan, Will; the D-pole people are: Frank, Reich and Warren. MG,Jr was selected as a far out (left out?) equality voice, and Sumner, whose quote is in favor of previous turn-of-the-century social Darwinism, hales from the far right shore of fascist freedom, for “the fittest.”

  5. Clay Claiborne has written a nice summary of the situation in Libya a year after liberation, as part of an excellent critique of the pro-dictatorship conspiracy-minded anti-interventionism of comfortable and unthinking Western “leftists.”

    The American Left and the Arab Spring
    by CLAY CLAIBORNE on AUGUST 17, 2012

    Fundamentally, Clay’s critique is of people who allowed themselves to fall into “reductio ad absurdum.”

Comments are closed.