A curtain of gloom is descending on the continent: Capitalism, democracy and Europe

Published date01 September 2017
Date01 September 2017
A curtain of gloom is descending on the continent:
Capitalism, democracy and Europe
Hauke Brunkhorst*
The democratic and social states of the EU (together with other OECD countries) have transformed capitalism.
This was also due not only to national but also to the impressive advances of transnational constitutionalism.
Great parts of the means of production have been socialised or partly socialised. Finally, the democratic and social
states of Europe did not turn to socialism, but became a new formation of democracy with socialist characteristics,
and that for the time being was the only formation of modern democracy that ever worked. However, democratic
social welfare capitalism has suffered from two problems: secular stagnation and horizontal exclusion. Aggressive
neoliberalism, politically and theoretically well prepared, took its chance and changed the direction of the evolu-
tion of world society. The last 40 years witnessed a great transformation from fullfledged marketcontrolling
democracy to marketconforming postdemocracy. However, in Europe, political alternatives between social
and neoliberal models remained open until the establishment of a common currency without legislator and
government, which had the unintended effect of excluding all alternatives to neoliberalism once it was established
under the rule of competition law that became the substantial (factual) constitution of Europe. The global
economic crisis of 2008 caused a state of permanent crises in Europe, which at present are managed by an ever
more exceptional regime of technocrats and experts. It would seem that either democracy comes to an end in
Europe and in all of its Member States or Europe becomes the first transnational regime that is not less but more
democratic and social than its former Member States.
The idea of a democratic and social Europe emerged within the context of the global social and political conflicts that
defined the first half of the twentieth century,
and which resulted, among other things, in the establishment of
democratic and social states, which define themselves as open and cooperative.
However, the postwar institutional
embodiments have come under growing pressure since the late 1970s. As a result, democratic and social states, and
by extension, democratic and social Europe, is by now in retreat. Economistic imperatives, imposed in the name of
containing and overcoming the post 2007 manifold crises, but resulting in patterns of distribution of income and
wealth that increase inequalities, are in the process of subverting democratic selfgovernment.
I have to thank Agustin Menéndez for his terrific work of editing, polishing my English, and improving the content of my paper.
K. Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Beacon Press, 1944); S. Halperin, War and Social Change in Modern Europe: The Great
Transformation Revisited (Cambridge University Press, 2003).
J.E. Fossum and A.J. Menéndez, The Constitution's Gift: A Constitutional Theory for a Democratic European Union (Rowman & Littlefield,
2011); C. Thornhill, A Sociology of Transnational Constitutions (Cambridge University Press, 2016).
DOI: 10.1111/eulj.12237
Eur Law J. 2017;23:335349. © 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/eulj 335

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