It has recently been reported in the news that both sides in the ongoing Libyan civil war have begun to issue their own respective currencies. It would seem that two conflicting sides both enforcing their own form of government and issuing their own respective forms of money is Duopoly writ large.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The emergence of two separate entities is the end of duopoly.
There is a lot of confusion about the nature of duopoly. I notice that although it is a phrase that is used a lot more since I first began referring to it five years ago, most people still do not understand the idea underpinning duopoly.
The often used bog standard definition of duopoly characterises it essentially as a two party political system. A classic example of this is America which has only ever had two parties with a realistic chance of forming an administration or electing a president. These are the Republicans and the Democrats.
But recent events in America have thrown this conception of the two party duopoly in America into doubt. On the Republican side Donald Trump, together with his new model army of disenfranchised American Dreamers, has undertaken what has been referred to as a ‘hostile takeover’ of the Republican party. On the other side Bernie Sanders is continuing to make the nomination of Hillary Clinton as the official opposition candidate difficult.
Commentators describe the situation as the breakdown of the old-fashioned American duopoly. They have suggested that the Republican Party will inevitably split as a consequence of the nomination of Trump.
Some have also suggested that supporters of Bernie Sanders will not be satisfied with a Hillary Clinton nomination. There is increasing pressure on Bernie Sanders to run as a third party independent candidate in the event that he does not receive the nomination.
Can we infer from all this that the traditional system is breaking down under the pressures of globalisation etc. ? Despite all the hopeful insurgent punditry the fact is that this does not represent any significant change to the duopoly.
The significance of duopoly does not rest on the fact that there are only two alternative parties on offer. In many nations states in Europe there are a plethora of political parties competing for office. Traditionally in these countries government administrations are made up of an amalgam of many of these different parties. Yet these multi party systems are still essentially duopoly on the Anglo Saxon model. And they should be, many of them were expressly created by America in the aftermath of WW II.
Duopoly in post war Europe is crystallised in the proportional representation system which was expressly designed to prevent the dominance of any single political party and in particular, to prevent the possibility that at a communist party might rise to political prominence through the electoral process.
After the Second Germanic War most mainstream European political structures were discredited by the failure to fight Nazism or even active collaboration. This contrasted starkly with the success of the Soviet Union and the terrible price paid for victory but which enhanced the reputation of the Soviets across the globe.
This, together with the fact that the Anglo Saxon nations were struggling to rehabilitate these same European nations in the aftermath of defeat, meant that nothing was off the table in what became in effect a battle against the idea of victory against fascism. This included subversion and terrorism- famously in the affair of the P2 Masonic lodge and Operation Gladio.
At home in the Anglo Saxon victor nations, there was no necessity to create a system to prevent communists or even socialists from coming to pre-eminence since they were firmly excluded from the political process. And hadn’t the Anglo Saxons fought against Nazism (sort of?). There was no need to create a multi party proportional system.
Interestingly, that has changed now. A proportional electoral college was created by the AS Labour Party with the openly stated objective of preventing the Scottish Nationalist Party gaining an absolute electoral majority in Scotland. Of course, as we know it did not work. But it points us to the key duopoly dynamic here. That the multi party system is a means of preventing an outcome you don’t want by controlling what is on offer.
In post war Europe what was not wanted was communism, and the controlled offer was duopoly. Just the same, in Scotland what was not wanted was independence and the controlled offer was again, duopoly.
The recent Presidential elections in Austria are a further excellent illustration of the point.. Austria, like most other European countries has a proportional system that traditionally encourages many political parties. Within this framework, the Social Democrats have been traditionally dominant, forming part of the majority of administrations since WW II.
But in this election, both traditional parties of the ‘right’ and ‘left’, the People’s party and the Social Democrats failed to gain enough support to make it through into the second round of voting.
The reason for this was the rise of the so-called ‘hard right’ Austrian Freedom party whose anti immigration, anti-Muslim stance is often described in mainstream media as a polarising force in Austrian politics.
The left opposition to the Freedom Party coalesced around a Green ‘independent’ politician. As the final tally was revealed Austrian politics was split more or less neatly down the middle with the left gaining a majority of only 31,000 votes.
Given the potential significance of the election of a ‘hard right’ politician in Austria for the first time since the end of the Second World War, it seems a little odd that there has been so little further discussion of the election after the narrowest of victories for the left.
The general consensus in the liberal press seems to have been that they have managed to dodge a bullet and as a consequence nothing more needs to be said. I suspect that underpinning this reticence is also a desire to let sleeping dogs lie; liberals hope that the Freedom party will give up and go away.
But just because the hard right did not win this specific election does not mean that they are likely to go away any time soon. And this presents a very difficult problem for their opposition.
What has happened in Austria is that politics has cohered around a new fulcrum point. Whereas before, broadly speaking economic issues were the defining factor in politics, now immigration has become the pivot point of contention and definition.
The right wing have formed a coalition to achieve a very specific objective, which is to end the present immigration policy and prevent father inroads into Austrian society Muslims.. And the left-wing opposition has also formed a coalition to achieve a specific object which is to prevent the right wing from achieving their objectives!
But that leaves the left caught in a difficult trap of their own making. They have accepted that immigration is the central fulcrum of Austrian politics and this new right wing is not likely to change its opinion or its objectives is it? Unless something can be done to disassemble this new right wing coalition, Austrian politics will be fighting this immigration battle for the foreseeable future.
What can be done to disassemble the right wing coalition? The only possible answer for the left is to end the immigration that has caused all that fuss in the first place and that is hardly likely.
So Austrian politics is becoming locked into a zombie state that is a political corollary to the economic zombie condition that many developed nations also find themselves in. This is not coincidence, This new situation is a composite of the politics of cultural constituencies and the politics of duopoly. We can call this a Frailed State.
A Frailed State is one where economics is no longer the central pivot around which politics is constructed. Instead increasingly immigration and the rights and obligations of minorities is the fulcrum around which politics is organised. The Frailed state is a stopping point on the trajectory leading toward the Failed State.
Across the newly Frailed States, economic political parties and ‘classes’ are increasingly being replaced with cultural constituencies. The number and nature of these cultural constituencies differs from place to place and is necessarily determined by the region and geographic area they occur in.
But just as old style economic constituencies were variations on the theme of who gets what money and where, so new style cultural constituencies are variations on the theme of: Where do you come from and what do you expect as a consequence?
The important point to understand is that it did not matter how many individual economic constituencies there were in old style politics, so long as they all fit somewhere on the economic spectrum. So long as there was a left and right pole in economics, it was a duopoly.
The same applies to cultural constituencies. It does not matter how many individual cultural constituencies there are, so long as they all fit somewhere on the immigration spectrum. So long as there are left and right poles in immigration it is a duopoly.
So now we begin to understand the real significance and power of duopoly. Duopoly is not a two party system, it is an offered spectrum of choice and opinion based around two options which we cannot ignore – Duopoly is when we have to take a position somewhere along the line of a given spectrum.
Only a short time ago it was a spectrum of distribution at one end and private economic power at the other. The conflict that gave rise to the economic spectrum has been resolved now in favour of the Free Marxet- the synthesis of economic ‘left’ and ‘right’ !
Even only a couple of decades ago, it was still the standard belief and rhetoric on the left that economic disparity leads to revolution; that if the economic spectrum between left and right extremes became sufficiently stretched it would snap. This led to the Keynesian reform economics that has shaped the past six decades or so.
But Globalisation and the Free Marxet has led to the end of economics as the pivot and the emergence of culture and identity as the swing point of a new spectrum. I have discussed this before in writing on cultural constituencies.
In the old, class based system it was argued that people were different from each other because they were fighting for resources.
In the new system people are fighting for resources because they argue they are different from each other.
And the consequence of this is that it is possible to have an economic revolution and still have a country at the end of it. But if people increasingly see themselves as different from each other, the fight starts over resources, but it can only end with the nation breaking apart.
Frailed States lead in the end to Failed States.