Leviathan on the Right
For years there have been attempts to exorcise the idea of Left and Right in politics. Numerous pundits have maintained that the postmodern era we transverse has blurred ideological differences bringing together policies of development and growth. There is a consensus now on the supremacy of the market and on policies focusing on innovation and dynamic entrepreneurship. However, ideas of extensive state intervention in the economy and politicians’ efforts to establish procedures through which they can help extend the benevolent hand of the nanny state to their voters are still alive and going.
The lack of ideological fratricide due to the fading of militant Marxism has not persuaded politicians that their role is simply to set rules for the markets to function and for individuals to compete. They still take it upon themselves to intervene for the purpose of soothing constituents or favoring long time cronies by enabling them to make fortunes on the back of taxpayers money. State intervention therefore today is not so much an ideological prerogative as a tool in the hands of politicians and parties to extract favors and maybe foster corruption.
It is therefore no surprise to discern an anti-statist stand among former socialist sympathizers. And discover fervent supporters of a public sector Leviathan in the ranks of die hard conservatives. This, at first glimpse, political anomaly it is the result not of the rebirth but rather of the decline of ideologies. In the United States there was a real political revolution among Republicans who dismissed thw ability of the state to deliver efficiently programs of social welfare and poverty alleviation. The end result was a popular movement against taxation and in favor of the personalization of all state benefits.
Surprisingly enough it was exactly the conservative administration of George W. Bush who undermined this popular outcry, strengthened the ability of the state to dictate economic policy and deepened public spending. In an interesting book, that inspired the title of the present paper, Michael D. Tanner depicts dramatically this unexpected process. In his Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservativism Brought Down the Republican Revolution (Cato Institute, 2007) Tanner examines the transformation of conservative doctrine in America, decrying the movement towards big-government spending. Since being elected, George W. Bush has allowed the largest expansion of government spending since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society (when domestic spending increased by 27%).
Miles apart from conservative political thought and practical political paradigms the Bush administration succumbed to selfish and egotistical considerations aiming at the vote of specific segments of the society. Tanner refutes the claim that spending increased due to measures related to the aftermath of 9/11 maintaining that it was lukewarm statism that influenced and finally brought down the Bush regime. There were essentially his policies of “home ownership society” that pre-empted the subprime crisis and eventually caused the economic melt-down.
It is not surprising therefore, that similar expansionist ideas appear to dominate the actions and thoughts of conservative political opetators across the globe. From the nourishing of national champions in the economy that French President Sarkozy appears to promote to the bailing out of major corporations that A. Merkel favours in Germany the conservative movement delivers policies lacking a central firm conviction. Likewise, right wing parties in southern Europe are attracted immensely to the virtues of the state expanding public bureaucracies and distributing favours to selected businesses.
Greece is no exception to this rule. The difference is that the country’s political culture is impinged with notions of a leftist supremacy. Due to post- civil war guilt the conservative movement did not ever dare to dispute the righteousness of the socialist credo. As a result the Right’s policies developed in a context of agonizing justification for the approval of a leftist intelligentsia. The end result has always been statism, dominance of the government bureaucracy, hordes of badly paid but arrogant civil servants and an economy unable to find its own footing and develop an energetic and innovative initiatives.
In short, it appears that the dreadful state Leviathan, instead of a leftist scarecrow to frighten away enthusiastic entrepreneurs, is a product of right wing convictions and policies. Before engaging in a battle against the Left the Right ought to fight its own self indulged demons.