Here's something interesting I found in Gisela Kaplan's book on Contemporary Western European Feminism. She puts forward the argument that capitalism and democracy are contradictory. The primary ideal of democracy is egalitarianism, which stands in stark contrast to the strictly hierarchical, competitive and discriminatory nature of capitalism. And yet in Europe the two work perfectly well together. Why? Because democracy, understood only in terms of politics, does not reveal anything about the economic structure and power relations in wider society. However, in post-war Europe, there has been a new emphasis on social democracy -- the need to tackle things like equality of opportunity and distribution of wealth. This outlook is advocated in defiance of the ideological principles of capitalism.

Feminism is an integral part of this movement. It has emerged out of the awareness that the democratic ideal has been inhibited by capitalism. The women's movement is a deus ex machina, created in an environment of industrialisation and parliamentary democracy, and working towards discrediting both. In which case, if the basic workings of capitalism remain, the feminist agenda can go only so far. True equality of the sexes won't be achieved unless the state intervenes in the workings of the capitalist system to enforce it.

Interesting brain food. I'm not sure whether I'm convinced...

1 comment:

  1. I take issue with the negative slant on the 'ideological principles of capitalism'. While capitalism is indeed based on hierarchy (capital over labour) and competition, it also encourages people's energies, it results in very rapid technological innovation and creates products directly targeted at people's wants. As such, I think capitalism shouldn't be dismantled so much as contained. Most people agree with this. The question is how much. As a social democrat, my instinct is 'a lot'.

    Nevertheless, I get a little twitchy when the state tries to intervene in order to change cultural values. Politicians should certainly provide moral leadership in the way they behave and what they say. However, the state should restrict itself to removing barriers to self-realisation (lack of education, contraception, child-care). Culture belongs to civil society. It's up to the people to change it.