by Umair Haque
February 13, 2018
from Eudaimonia Website






Which Would You Choose: Peasantry or Serfdom?

Inequality hurts young people most, because they have the most possibility to lose.

I'll give you the example of the average American millennial to make all this clear.


America's poor elderly are living in their cars, seeking seasonal work already, as their society implodes around them. But they're just a foreshadowing of the average young American's plight.


She'll never retire, build up savings, or achieve the incomes of her grandparents. She'll probably never even really have a "career", in the old sense, as gig work blows apart even once professional vocations, like medicine, law, and accounting. She'll struggle for healthcare, insurance, security, stability.


If she can educate herself, it'll cost her debt that cripples her for life. Marriage? Kids? All these things are declining precisely because young people cannot afford them.

Think about that for a second.

How desperate does the situation young people face have to be for simply having a family to become a luxury?

Now put yourself in the shoes of such a person.


Along comes some pollster, and asks you if you "believe in democracy".

Democracy? What is that, anyways?


Well, today, it's what neoliberalism's made of it, more or less.


Under its tenets,

  • markets replace governance

  • governments don't really need to exist

  • hence, a great global movement towards austerity  -  whether in America, Britain, Europe, or Australia...

Nobody outside Scandinavia (and even in many parts of it) is really standing for more generous, expansive, nurturing social contracts  -  only slightly different flavors of austerity and stagnation.

So globally, in all these places, social investment is being cut.


But who loses most when schools, libraries, parks, hospitals, and banks close? You...


You are giving up years of a full, happy life  -  but no one asked you if you wanted that when you were a babe. This is just the world you were born into. In that world, the one neoliberalism made, capitalism is substituted for democracy.


So democracy to you probably means something like capitalism, too.

But why should you trust capitalism? It is exactly what has created the inequality that is blowing up your life to the point that you cannot afford to even have a family.


So you throw your hands up, and say:

"democracy? Who needs it!"

Now, perhaps I go too far. Maybe none of that is the case.


Still, I'd bet that if we asked young people:

"should everyone have the right to healthcare, income, savings, education, etcetera", and "should people be able to consent to their own self-governance",

...they'd say yes, en masse, to both...


But that is all democracy is, in the truest sense.

"Democracy" has less to do with electoral mechanisms, and more to do with rights that underpin freedoms, which let people consent to govern themselves, instead of fighting their neighbors over the wrongs done by each to each, because, like peasants, no one has rights.


That was the point of the great breakthrough of human history known as constitutional democracy  -  which this age appears to have forgotten wholesale.

Forgetting the meaning of democracy is precisely why the world is reverting to,

  • feudalism

  • serfdom

  • neo-peasantry

So "giving up on democracy" might very well mean for young people simply that they would rather live happy and prosperous lives, whatever the abstractions of politics, than be forced to falsely "choose" between two equally unequal flavors of neofeudal subjugation, which is what "left" and "right", in today's stunted political economy, devolve to.


Wouldn't you reject taking part in the charade of choosing between two forms of your own self-destruction, too  -  and at least, that way, retain your dignity?

Peasantry or serfdom, which do you choose? A sane person would choose neither...

So vague statistical data like "young people don't believe in democracy!" demand not only interpretations, but interpretations made of historical understandings. It's hard to believe that the world's youth are turning into little Stalins and Hitlers.


If anything, they seem more sensible than their elders.


They're not the ones that chose austerity, bailouts, and depression, after all. So the problem the question points to, instead, might be in the question itself  -  it's erasure of the meaning of democracy itself.

Democracy is failing young people. So they are turning on it...


Would you believe in a system that was failing you? But "believing" does not mean "pledging blind allegiance". Nor does "democracy" mean "this social construction of it". Nor is it a binary choice between some ideal "democracy" and "authoritarianism", for as America shows us, both can coexist perfectly well.


And what young people really want, I'd bet, is change  -  from a system limited to that, to one which works, for the benefit of the people it is supposed to represent, empower, and legitimate.

In a way, especially in America, many young people haven't had an experience of a working democracy at all.


They don't really fully know what it means.

  • Is it just getting out of the way of capitalism?


  • Is it voting with your wallet?


  • Is it choosing between two lackluster candidates, neither of whom represents you in any way whatsoever, every few years?

  • Is democracy just the choice between peasantry or serfdom?

If that is all democracy is  -  and I must tell you, that is what appears to have degenerated into  -  then young people are precisely right not to believe in it.


It is up to them, though, to rediscover the truer meaning of the word...