公 法 评 论 惟愿公平如大水滚滚,使公义如江河滔滔
et revelabitur quasi aqua iudicium et iustitia quasi torrens fortis

 Giddens’ Idea of Democratisation

Andy Blunden

Globalisation, the loss of authority by the state, civic decline, ... let’s start with the family.

“The Family is becoming democratised”

It has transpired that as soon as it became possible for women to earn a living through wage labour, as ‘free labourers’, the family as we have known it could not survive. This process Giddens recognises.

As the domestic servitude of women disappears, the gap can only be filled by other means: by free association or by the market. In the main, the market has filled the void through the manufacture of domestic appliances and processed foods and through the service industries, but free association has also grown. Giddens shares the concern of many that the market is in fact so far unable to satisfactorily solve the problem of bringing up children, caring for the disabled or elderly, in fact, anything other than the inheritance of property and “exchange of services”.

Giddens focuses on the market and the growth of contractual relations as the significant trend, and he describes this process as one of democratisation. But is this tenable?

“We are dealing with profound processes of change in everyday life, which it is well beyond the capacity of any political agency to reverse” (p. 91)

“There is only one story to tell about the family today, and that is of democracy. The family is becoming democratised, in ways which track processes of public democracy;” (p. 93)

“Contractual commitment to a child could thus be separated from marriage ... enforcing parenthood contracts ... Children should have responsibilities to their parents ... could be legally binding ...” (p. 95-97)

It is true in the sense that domestic servitude is being overthrown, and it is true that it is neither slaves or proprietors, but the movement of free labourers that have been responsible for the spread of democratic institutions. It is true that there is a great deal of symmetry between the process of replacement of domestic servitude by commodity production in the family over the past 50 years, and in the general social division of labour over the past three hundred years.

“The traditional family was above all an economic and kinship unit. Marriage ties were not individualised as they are now, and love or emotional involvement was not the prime basis of marriage, as they have subsequently become.” (p. 91)

So the bonds of custom and loyalty of the pre-modern family, are being replaced by bonds of genuine friendship and/or those of contracting property-owners.

But neither of these relations can be described as “democratic”. The contractual relations of independent economic agents is not a political relation at all, though it seems that this relation forms the substrate of democracy, and at the very least is a relation with an exclusively bourgeois content. But relations of free personal association cannot either be described as “democratic” either, unless the meaning of the word is reduced to trite generality. For such relations to form the foundation of the state pre-supposes an as yet unseen qualitative transformation of society.

But Giddens is quite insistent in his observation that the “democratisation” of the family parallels that of society generally. This is only possible if we assume that it is the relations of independent property owners, of economic agents, which is the aspect of the new family which is taken as socially significant.

Democratisation of the Public Services

People do not see in the state a manifestation of their own will; they see the state as an agency which can be dealt with in the same way one treats a market stall-holder; the reaction to the service provider who proceeds according to a rule-book is the same whether the service provider is issuing dole payments, car licences, road-side assistance or cappuccinos. Giddens’ response is symmetrical with this perception. He wants the welfare state to start acting like a customer-focussed service provider and the “clients” to behave as clients, and pay for what they receive:

“[The welfare state] is essentially undemocratic, depending as it does upon a top-down distribution of benefits. ... it does not give enough space to personal liberty, ... bureaucratic, alienating and inefficient”

“Moral hazard exists when people use insurance protection to alter their behaviour ... It isn’t so much that welfare provision create dependency cultures as that people take rational advantage of opportunities offered ... the higher the degree of benefits the greater will be the chance of moral hazard ... benefit dependency becomes expected behaviour”

“No rights without responsibilities” (p. 66)

Again Giddens correctly identifies that former relations of authority of person over person have been undermined and the social pressures of bourgeois society force such relations to be replaced by those of commodity exchange. People no more respect the Prime Minister than they do the railway official or the bank manager. It is true, in my view, that the fact that the public service is the instrument of a government constituting a public political power elected by popular suffrage does not give the public service the right to exercise authority in the name of democracy.

However, two things: firstly, sections of the population feel no contractual relation to the state and Giddens’ suggestion that claimants should be obliged to give in exchange for benefits can only be oppressive. Secondly, such a view idealises the customer-provider relation which is in fact a mutually alienating relation which (as Marx eloquently explains in his Comment on James Mill), each seeks only to dupe the other.

The implicit reality of a global division of labour is that we all work as collaborators in a single division of labour. But Giddens echoes the consciousness of his petit-bourgeois constituency in perceiving the social division of labour as a network of trading relations and seeks to extend this. This trend is not one of democratisation, but one of commericalisation or commodification.

Democracy is outflanking democracy

“The advance of the global marketplace and the retreat of large-scale war are not the only factors affecting the structures of states or the legitimacy of governments. Other influences include the very spread of democratisation, which is closely connected with the lapsing influence of tradition and custom .... Democracy is outflanking democracy...” (p. 71)

What does Giddens mean when he counterposes democracy to democracy? The ‘democracy’ which is threatened is presumably this farce in which elected are given a chance to choose whether tweedle-dum or tweedle-dee will decorate the parliamentary far?ade. Against this we see groups of people banding together to promote special interests. But this is just the classic outcome of the customer-service provider relation: the customers band together to put pressure on the service provider. But what is given from the outset is the mutual alienation of the two. Nowhere does Giddens talk about the kind of participatory democracy which is envisioned in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right or which lies at the foundation of socialism — it is a truly bourgeois conception of democracy.

Government by means of Taxation

Can Giddens’ observations be summed up by saying that the capacity of any person to exact authority from another without paying for it is in decline, and the gap is being filled by contractual and exchange relations. If this is so, then attention is focused on taxation as the source of the government’s capacity to act (as opposed to political or legal authority). Giddens points out that even governments which have prioritised tax-cuts have failed to reduce the magnitude of public spending, that a “law of diminishing returns” operates in taxation, and that from a time when taxation created collective resources for the majority of the community, it has become a means for the majority to provide benefits for minorities.

Giddens is too sophisticated a thinker to introduce the idea of a “social contract” between government and citizen, but one gets the impression that this is very much his idea. He certainly sees taxation as a central instrument for the government (over and above revenue raising) especially for re-distribution of wealth.

He rejects the idea that government agencies can exercise authority on behalf of the people, and instead advocates a relation in which government delivers services and citizens fulfil their obligations in a more or less contractual relation.

It is a couple of decades now since governments abandoned attempts to set the exchange value of their own currency. It seems that the capacity of governments to do anything that runs contrary to value-for-taxation-money it becoming less and less.

Micro-economic reform of Government

I think Giddens both describes and advocates for the extension of the essentially bourgeois relations into every corner of society. It is the same tendency which is seen in that trend of management thinking which casts every relationship in work as a customer/service-provider relation; even the employer/employee relation is seen as a relation wherein the employee provides services to the employer in exchange for wage payment, students are the customers of their teachers and claimants of the agency-staff and politicians provide representative services to their constituents.

As Marx says in Comment on James Mill:

“The community of men, or the manifestation of the nature of men, their mutual complementing the result of which is species-life, truly human life — this community is conceived by political economy in the form of exchange and trade. ...”

Marx goes on to describe what this looks like:

“Although in your eyes your product is an instrument, a means, for taking possession of my product and thus for satisfying your need; yet in my eyes it is the purpose of our exchange. For me, you are rather the means and instrument for producing this object that is my aim, just as conversely you stand in the same relationship to my object. But 1) each of us actually behaves in the way he is regarded by the other. You have actually made yourself the means, the instrument, the producer of your own object in order to gain possession of mine; 2) your own object is for you only the sensuously perceptible covering, the hidden shape, of my object; for its production signifies and seeks to express the acquisition of my object. In fact, therefore, you have become for yourself a means, an instrument of your object, of which your desire is the servant, and you have performed menial services in order that the object shall never again do a favour to your desire. If then our mutual thraldom to the object at the beginning of the process is now seen to be in reality the relationship between master and slave, that is merely the crude and frank expression of our essential relationship.

“Our mutual value is for us the value of our mutual objects. Hence for us man himself is mutually of no value.”

Relative to the relation of command of person over person, the relation of exchange of commodities is “free”, but it is in fact a mutually alienating relationship in which each dehumanises the other. I would describe the relationship of collaboration as the truly human relation between people that relate to one another in working and political life. The student is not the customer of the teacher, but rather the student and teacher collaborate in learning; the claimant is not the customer of the CES official, but the two are collaborators in resolving an employment problem.

Just as Hegel placed the relation between property-owners at the base of his ethics, Giddens also sees the relation between property-owners as the essential, indeed only human relationship. Such a view reflects the real growing domination of this relation over against all forms of traditional authority and activity, all idealism and all genuinely human relation.