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Liberal compromise and the struggle for social justice

By Tristan Ewins - posted Wednesday, 21 May 2008


In pursuing the aim of “The Good Society” (see my earlier article in On Line Opinion), it is necessary to aim for the right economic, political and social mix.

In pursuit of this, one response is the pursuit of a “democratic mixed economy”: an economic template which pursues economic democracy, strategic planning and public ownership, and the harnessing of market forces.

The “Good Society”, however, is more than a question of how best to manage the economy. Underlining Australian democracy - and democracies the world over - is a presumed social contract of liberal democratic consensus.

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The maintenance of social compromise, here, is critical. To begin with, such a compromise can provide the framework for cultural and political pluralism: essential for modern multicultural societies.

However, the rationale for social compromise goes deeper still:

All social actors have a shared interest in avoiding a “vacuum” which can be filled by a desperate and brutal struggle to re-impose a social order.

Such scenarios developed during the 1789-1799 Revolution in France, and also following the 1917 Russian Revolution. After the experience of the Jacobins in France, the desperate efforts of revolutionary governments to hold power has been termed as “Jacobinism”.

Whatever the ideals of the revolutionaries in such struggles, ordinary people in their hundreds of thousands perished in the Terror and the wars which ensued.

Of course, counter-revolutionary terror can be just as horrible, or worse, than revolutionary terror. But surely, if there is an alternative - and less brutal - road to change, then we should use it. So, in avoiding such terror, the social compromise of liberal democracy commands our attention and respect.

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The composition of any “liberal democratic consensus” or “social compromise”, however, is strongly contested.

Without social rights and social democracy, such a consensus is simply not enough. The liberal democratic consensus underlining the United States, for instance, is not necessarily a comfort to its poor and vulnerable, including the unemployed, the exploited and the homeless.

And sometimes - such as with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 - the acquiescence of elected governments in the face of such barbarism and horror - shatters any illusion or semblance of legitimacy.

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About the Author

Tristan Ewins has a PhD and is a freelance writer, qualified teacher and social commentator based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also a long-time member of the Socialist Left of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). He blogs at Left Focus, ALP Socialist Left Forum and the Movement for a Democratic Mixed Economy.
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Imagining ‘The Good Society’ - On Line Opinion

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