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Making Modernity Work
The Reconciliation of Capitalism and Democracy

Gideon Rose
Foreign Affairs, January/February 2012

We are living, so we are told, through an ideological crisis. The United States is trapped in political deadlock and dysfunction, Europe is broke and breaking, authoritarian China is on the rise. Protestors take to the streets across the advanced industrial democracies; the high and mighty meet in Davos to search for “new models” as sober commentators ponder who and what will shape the future. In historical perspective, however, the true narrative of the era is actually the reverse—not ideological upheaval but stability. Today’s troubles are real enough, but they relate more to policies than to principles. The major battles about how to structure modern politics and economics were fought in the first half of the last century, and they ended with the emergence of the most successful system the world has ever seen. Nine decades ago, in one of the first issues of this magazine, the political scientist Harold Laski noted that with “the mass of men” having come to political power, the challenge of modern democratic government was providing enough “solid benefit” to ordinary citizens “to make its preservation a matter of urgency to themselves.” A generation and a half later, with the creation of the postwar order of mutually supporting liberal democracies with mixed economies, that challenge was being met, and as a result, more people in more
Gideon Rose , Editor of Foreign Affairs.

of traditional bulwarks against life’s vicissitudes.” a progressive expansion [3] . It is rather a package of 20 carefully culled selections from our archives. In ideological terms. as the increasing prevalence and dominance of market relationships broke down existing hierarchies. economic. limited government. capitalism produced long-term aggregate benefits along with great volatility and inequality. we have thus decided to take readers on a magical history tour. t h e b i rt h of t h e mode r n In the premodern era. political. all the rest is commentary. It highlighted the manifold rewards of moving to a world dominated by markets rather than traditional communities. To commemorate Foreign Affairs’ 90th anniversary. which collectively shed light on where the modern world has come from and where it is heading. an increase in material benefits and personal freedoms.” But along with the gains came losses as well—of a sense of place. The shift produced economic and social dynamism. freer lives than ever before. the first modern political ideology. and social life was governed by a dense web of interlocking relationships inherited from the past and sanctified by religion. This combination resulted in what Polanyi called a “double movement. of social and psychological stability. classical liberalism. Left to itself. nor is it a showcase for the most famous names to have appeared in the magazine. along with three new pieces. Limited personal freedom and material benefits existed alongside a mostly unquestioned social solidarity. tracing the evolution of the modern order as it played out in our pages. Traditional local orders began to erode with the rise of capitalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. and free commercial transactions. at least. Liberalism stressed the importance of the rule of law. a shift the economic historian Karl Polanyi would call “the great transformation. and a decrease in communal feeling. emerged to celebrate and justify it. As this process continued. richer. What follows is not a “greatest hits” collection of our most well-known or influential articles.Return to Table of Contents Making Modernity Work places have lived longer.

was “a boot stamping on a human face—forever. with both the right and the left promising. then ultimately collapsed under its own weight as its nonmarket economic system could not generate sustained growth. but it was capitalism of a very different type from that which had existed before the war—one tempered and limited by the power of the democratic state and often made subservient to the goals of social stability and solidarity. fascist and communist regimes seized control of their own destinies and appeared to offer compelling alternative models of modern political. as George Orwell noted. better path. And liberalism’s central principle of laissez faire was abandoned in the depths of the Depression. What eventually emerged victorious from the wreckage was a hybrid system that combined political liberalism with a mixed economy. and social organization. therefore. relief from the turmoil and angst of modern life. liberalism was being challenged by reactionary nationalism and cosmopolitan socialism. the problems with all these approaches became clear. Communism lost its appeal as its tyrannical nature revealed itself.Return to Table of Contents The Clash of Ideas of both market society and reactions against it. Fascism flamed out in a second. in their own ways. rather than the other way [4] . Having discarded liberalism’s insistence on personal and political freedom. even more destructive world war. both fascism and communism quickly descended into organized barbarism. The vision of the future they offered. As the political scientist Sheri Berman has observed. seemingly revealing the bankruptcy of the liberal order and the need for some other. since it contained no rationale for activist government and thus had no answer to an economic crisis that left vast swaths of society destitute and despairing. economic. “The postwar order represented something historically unusual: capitalism remained. The catastrophic destruction of the Great War and the economic nightmare of the Great Depression brought the contradictions of modernity to a head. As democratic republics dithered and stumbled during the 1920s and 1930s.” Yet classical liberalism also proved unpalatable. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Over time. however.

Daniel Bell and Seymour Martin Lipset saw it as “the end of ideology. It offered neither salvation nor utopia. It has never been as satisfying as the religions. believe that the Welfare State is ‘the road to serfdom.” Reflecting the hangover of the interwar ideological binge. the older ‘counter-beliefs’ have lost their intellectual force as well. a system of mixed economy and of political pluralism. This had the ironic effect of stabilizing the system rather than overturning it. sacred or secular. Few ‘classic’ liberals insist that the State should play no role in the economy. it has managed to weather all subsequent challenges. its basic framework has remained remarkably intact. Yet its success has been manifest—and reflecting that. The upheavals of the late 1960s seemed poised to disrupt it. the system stressed not transcendence but compromise. and so their lasting impact was on social life instead. At the same time.’ In the Western world. As Bell put it in 1960. “Few serious minds believe any longer that one can set down ‘blueprints’ and through ‘social engineering’ bring about a new utopia of social harmony. they had little to offer in terms of politics or economics. the desirability of decentralized power. And it remains a work in progress. and few serious conservatives.Return to Table of Contents Making Modernity Work around. But despite what activists at the time thought. therefore. at least in England and on the Continent. requiring tinkering and modification as conditions and attitudes change.” All refer to essentially the same thing. t h e on c e a n d f u t u r e or de r The basic question of modernity has been how to reconcile capitalism and mass democracy. it replaced.” Karl Dietrich Bracher talks of “democratic liberalism.” Other scholars use other terms: Jan-Werner Müller prefers “Christian Democracy. helping it live up to its full potential by [5] . and since the postwar order came up with a good answer.” Francis Fukuyama wrote of “the end of History”.” Berman calls the mixture “social democracy.” John Ruggie refers to “embedded liberalism. there is today a rough consensus among intellectuals on political issues: the acceptance of a Welfare State. only a framework within which citizens could pursue their personal betterment.

But remembering the far greater obstacles that have been overcome in the past. however. to that order’s present difficulties and future prospects.∂ [6] . and have liberalized their polities and societies along the way (and will founder unless they continue to do so). meanwhile. it has seen better days. Lax regulation and oversight allowed reckless and predatory financial practices to drive leading economies to the brink of collapse. And a loss of broad-based social solidarity on both sides of the Atlantic has eroded public support for the active remedies needed to address these and other problems. this is not an ideological issue. through the crisis of liberalism and the emergence of the postwar order. the cost and duration of which remain unclear.Return to Table of Contents The Clash of Ideas bringing previously subordinated or disenfranchised groups inside the castle walls. under twenty-first-century conditions. making the modern political economy provide enough solid benefit to the mass of men that they see its continuation as a matter of urgency to themselves. as do the contractors involved. Still. Although the structure still stands. and one need only glance at a newspaper to see why. The much-ballyhooed “rise of the rest” has involved not the discrediting of the postwar order of Western political economy but its reinforcement: the countries that have risen have done so by embracing global capitalism while keeping some of its destabilizing attributes in check. The old and new articles that follow trace this story from the totalitarian challenge of the interwar years. have proved to be either dead ends or temporary detours from the beaten path. even as mature economies have found it difficult to generate dynamic growth and full employment in an ever more globalized environment. The question is not what to do but how to do it—how. optimism would seem the better long-term bet. Renovating the structure will be a slow and difficult project. The neoliberal revolutionaries of the 1980s had little more luck. Economic inequality has increased as social mobility has declined. Poor management of public spending and fiscal policy has resulted in unsustainable levels of debt across the advanced industrial world. All potential alternatives in the developing world. Some of our authors are distinctly gloomy. never managing to turn the clock back all that far. to rise to the challenge Laski described. at root.