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Posted on Dec 14, 2010 by Biblioklept
The key ingredient of classical totalitarism is violence toward opponents. Also in all classic totalitarian states such as Nazi Germany, Italy, Spain and the USSR, the Party willws imposed via charismatic leader and the citizenry were kept mobilized to support the state and pledge unconditional allegiance to the party and the leader. Sometimes population was wipe up to the state of frenzy by ideological purity campaigns or purges. Opponents were sent to concentration camps or exiled.
With inverted totalitarism the key idea different: a passive but thoroughly monitored and thoroughly brainwashed populace is the goal that can be achieve with just surveillance and propaganda components of four key components of totalitarism:
Other components are present but in more mild and somewhat modified form. Direct physical violence toward opponents is replaced with financial suppression which proved to be no less effective. Ideological propaganda paradoxically morphed in entertainment. Mobilization takes form of jingoism.
Here is Wikipedia take on the term (please remember that such entries in Wikipedia are heavily redacted ;-):
Inverted totalitarianism is a term coined by political philosopher Sheldon Wolin in 2003 to describe the emerging form of government of the United States. Wolin believes that the United States is increasingly turning into an illiberal democracy, and he uses the term "inverted totalitarianism" to illustrate the similarities and differences between the United States governmental system and totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union.
In Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, inverted totalitarianism is described as a system where corporations have corrupted and subverted democracy and where economics trumps politics. In inverted totalitarianism, every natural resource and every living being is commodified and exploited to collapse and the citizenry are lulled and manipulated into surrendering their liberties and their participation in their government by excess consumerism and sensationalism.
It's pretty much self-evident that the United States historically has a controversial and at times acrimonious relationship to the idea of domestic democracy. For example existence of slavery, absence of voting rights for woman and voting restrictions existed in USA till 50th. So in a very deep sense of this word the USA was a pretty backward state.
To define a preconditions for democracy we will use Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” address to Congress, on January 6, 1941. By all accounts they form an important base for understanding liberal democracy. Here are FDR’s own words, quoted at length:
The current situation in the USA a clear denial of all four freedoms although each to different degree. Some are denied more (the third and the forth), some less (the first and the second are denied not directly but via corporate ownership of mainstream media and implicit support of Evangelicals by power elite, especially in the South; remember bible reading in Bush II White House).
On August 17, 1975 (which is almost 40 years before Snowden) Senator Frank Church stated on NBC's Meet the Press without mentioning the name of the NSA about this agency (Wikipedia):
In the need to develop a capacity to know what potential enemies are doing, the United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air. Now, that is necessary and important to the United States as we look abroad at enemies or potential enemies. We must know, at the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left such is the capability to monitor everything — telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.
If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology.
I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.
It goes without saying that inverted totalitarism is much better then classic variants as close acquaintance with Gestapo or KGB is harmful for one's health. And that's what opponents of the regime faced. Here they just ignore the opponents and cut oxygen, in indirect way. Voice of opponents of the regime is just drown in the see of official propaganda and they are never invited to TV programs with significant popularity and influence on public opinion. As Orwell aptly noted "ignorance is strength" ;-). Also people who failed "loyalty test" might be simply remove from position where they can make a difference. Without too much noise. Net result is very similar, but for dissidents in case of inverted totalitarism teeth remain in place.
In inverted totalitarism the key method of dealing with opponents with ignore then or discredit them if they got certain level of popularity or try to incorporate them into existing two parties duopoly. Cutting oxygen for them, in an indirect way also works wonders. Voice of opponents of the regime is just drown in the sea of official propaganda; they are never (or rarely) invited to TV programs with significant popularity and influence on public opinion. As Orwell aptly noted "ignorance is strength" ;-). The net result is very similar, but for dissidents in case of inverted totalitarism teeth remain in place.
At the same time foreign policy is exactly the same: financial and military-industrial interests have consistently used ideology and propaganda to create fake and exaggerate existing foreign threats and thus overcome popular opposition to war and opposition to the extension of the empire. The term "democracy" is employed constantly to imply that it actually exists, yet the two-party form of government allows only the choice between two pre-selected representative of the elite, the situation eerily similar to one party rule practiced in the USSR. In other words, voice of the citizens is systematically ignored and suppressed and the election system ensure that the real power is concentrated in the hands of the elite ( aka top 1% ).
Financial support for the candidates is drawn primarily from large corporations, who operate the political levers of both parties to serve their own interests first. And they are extremely interested in wars that open new markets. As aptly formulations two-time Medal of Honor winner USMC Maj. Gen. Smedley D. Butler in 1933, that "War is a racket. The few profit -- the many pay." Every war in the American past was a matter of choice, not, as national ideology proclaims, a necessity.
In case of Bush and Obama administration inverted totalitarism was replaced or evolved into National Security State which uses the same combination of ruthless military expansion and foreign wars with "democratic" smokescreen in home policy. Under Obama administration, the tendencies that come to the foreground during Bush II administration, such as total surveillance actually became even more pronounced. He solidified started under Clinton the transition of the Democratic Party into a moderate wing of Republican party, serving mainly financial oligarchy. Due to his appetite for foreign wars, it is actually an open question whether Obama can be even classified as a moderate Republican such as Dwight D. Eisenhower.
As for foreign wars, the Obama White House, GOP, and Wall Street have always been on the same page, despite media assertions to the contrary. If you're still clinging to the foolish belief that the neoliberal, war-mongering Democratic Party is in any way better than the neoliberal, war-mongering Republican Party, I urge you to read Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion
The absence of permanent military and political mobilization along with merge of corporate interests of transnational and the state defines a new type of political system. Gone is racial component of totalitarism. Here is one quote from Amazon review of Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (New in Paper)
The author uses the terms "managed democracy" and "inverted totalitarianism" almost interchangeably to describe the marginalization of citizens to control the direction of the nation through the political process. He contrasts the inverted form with the totalitarianisms of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia.
In those cases the citizenry were kept mobilized to support the state with no reluctance to suppress dissenters. In this new modern form, a passive populace is preferred. Barriers to participation like faulty management of elections are implemented, but more subtle and effective is the propaganda dispensed by schools and the media, not to mention the numbing component of entertainment, especially spectaculars.
Also disconcerting to the average person is constant technological change as well as an unsettled economy usually instigated by business entities. Moreover, the perpetual "war on terror" creates widespread apprehension. A fearful and distressed citizenry is less likely to have the energy to challenge the power of elites and governmental measures that supposedly provide protection, like the Patriot Act.
Essentially inverted totalitarism is adaptation of principles of Bolshevik party by the modern financial elite (accomplished via turncoat Trotskyites like James Burnham who changed camps after the WWII, later forming neocon camp). In his article, “Democracy in America is a Useful Fiction”, Hedges defines “inverted totalitarianism”
“Inverted totalitarianism" represents “the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry. Inverted totalitarianism differs from classical forms of totalitarianism, which revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader, and finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state.
The corporate forces behind inverted totalitarianism do not, as classical totalitarian movements do, boast of replacing decaying structures with a new, revolutionary structure. They purport to honor electoral politics, freedom and the Constitution. But they so corrupt and manipulate the levers of power as to make democracy impossible.”
The manifesto of inverted totalitarism is widely considered to be so called Lewis Powell’s memo, but its role as a crystallizing force for the movement is probably exaggerated. The initial phase was probably McCarthy witch hunt which had shown efficiency of witch hunts and media pressure in demobilization of opposition even without sending supporters of opposite views into concentration camps. In 1970 this process of simply ostracizing political opponents was actually already twenty years old and in pretty developed stage. I suspect that it was mainly the creation of people like Richard Mellon Scaife, who inherited part of the vast Mellon fortune from his alcoholic mother and bunch of similar people who inherited vast fortunes. For example, Scaife money also helped fund television documentaries on the economics of Milton Friedman, the guru of the monetarist school of free-market economics. Those "anti-Titans of Industry" bankrolled not just the conservative legal movement, but the conservative movement in general.
It is very interesting how they managed to adopt and rectified the key parts of Bolsheviks' Party strategy. The irony is that methods developed to protect and expand communist ideology proved to be no less effective in protecting and expanding "capitalist ideology". This might be a classic case of adoption of the principles of bitter enemy. Among them:
Here is an interesting review of Wolin book: Opinion Inverted Totalitarianism in the US
The US is a self-declared empire that scholars have labeled a “superpower” since it achieved military and cultural hegemony in a “unipolar moment” at the “end of history” while seeking “full-spectrum dominance” of land, sea, air, cyberspace and outer space, as stated in the Department of Defense’s Joint Vision 2020.
In order to impede the Soviet Union’s imperial projects, the US likewise slung itself astride the globe using multilateral institutions, spy networks and covert operations which produced a “Cold War” that eliminated the idea of peacetime and demanded permanent military mobilization bolstered by the military-industrial-congressional complex while placing citizens on high alert against nuclear threats and a domestic infestation of “reds” that excused the government’s surveillance of citizens.
The Constitution, which limits power, and a democracy, which requires local control and citizen empowerment, are both profaned by superpower, which defies limits in its quest for global supremacy, overshadowing localities and overpowering citizens while projecting power outward and inward simultaneously.
To describe this configuration, the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin coined the term “inverted totalitarianism.”
In old totalitarianism, the state dominated the economy while iconic demagogues who permanently held office mobilized citizens and openly flaunted the blanketing power of the new order they were imposing. With inverted totalitarianism, the economy dominates the state wherein temporary “representatives” serve a permanent corporate regime that demobilizes citizens while claiming to protect individual liberty by reducing state power, thus concealing the totalitarian character.
In terms of the two-party system, Republicans are avid, pitiless, intolerant, unbending, predatory, anti-democratic, iron-willed ideologues who’ve sold out to big business while courting big religion, and Democrats ape them, thus creating a one-party climate that fulfills the wishes of corporate “citizens” while systematically neglecting the needs of regular citizens, producing an apathetic electorate that’s lost hope in the political process.
State power is legitimated by media events called “elections” that elites have learned to control through finance, marketing and media ownership, while politicians accept bribes called “contributions” that are considered “speech” – as defined by the Supreme Court, effectively using “free speech” to silence the citizenry while replacing constituents with lobbyists.
Citizens fear job loss and benefit loss due to downsizing and outsourcing, which maximize “efficiency,” while the government shreds social safety nets for the sake of “efficiency,” leaving citizens vulnerable and yet unable to protect themselves when states outlaw collective bargaining, thus criminalizing worker self-defense.
Contrary to popular belief, slashing federal programs enhances state power by making government less unwieldy and easier to control since it dilutes public involvement, thus depleting public power and solidifying executive power.
The idea of democracy is emptied of substance and used as a slogan to justify military invasion, occupation and torture while the doctrine of “preemptive war” renders all acts of aggression as defensive and undertaken for the sake of insuring “stability.” For example, deference to US demands and the protection of corporate assets – in a war against terrorism that lacks a specific geographic location and thus requires the globe-girdling ability to strike anywhere anytime.
Instead of a politburo circulating state propaganda that touts one political ideology, the corporate media feigns democratic debate that features “both sides” who are portrayed as extreme opposites but actually reflect a slim range of political discourse, thus giving the appearance of freedom while relying on White House, State Department and Pentagon spokespeople to supply the “official” version of political affairs, which are broadcast into every home through television, thus manipulating the public rather than including them.
Democracy functions as a useful myth that obscures the totalitarian atmosphere in which citizens feel politically impotent and fearful as they are dwarfed by giant, rigid, top-heavy bureaucracies that respond to the protocols of a corporate state that collaborates with telecommunications companies to monitor the population and develop detailed digital profiles of citizens while local police forces cooperate with federal law enforcement agencies, augmenting the burgeoning prison industry as the state loosens laws that forbid army soldiers from patrolling US streets.
The corporate state defunds public programs and forces everything into the market, including health, education, social security, pensions, public broadcasting, prisons, water, soldiers, surveillance and national intelligence, while businesses commodify the environment and patent DNA.
In a way the US are now victim of their own success as the system created to fight they arch-enemy, the USSR is now destroying host country itself.
Among books on the subject I can recommend Democracy Incorporated Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism by Professor Shaldon Wolin. Here is a coupe of Amazon reviews:R. L. Huff "An old reader" (Louisiana) - See all my reviews
The author is absolutely right -, October 10, 2012
- yet what's new?
When has Democracy in America not been managed? From robber baron "Lords of Creation" mouthing "the public be damned," to political bosses admonishing their machine electorate to vote early and often, irresponsible private elites and their bought "public servants" have always formed an entrenched nexus of privilege. Wolin is aware of these precedents, and alludes to them; but like Progressives of a century ago, he appeals to some lost Grecian golden age from which we've somehow allowed ourselves to fall. There was never such an era. What you see is what there always was. The exceptions have been just that.
Nor has modern media really altered this trajectory. The "soft totalitarianism" produced by 9/11 was no different from the managed hysteria over Pearl Harbor, nor Hearst's profit-driven newspaper crusade to remember the Maine, nor Lincoln's manipulation of Ft. Sumter. Perhaps the root problem is the very concept of American democracy as "consensus," so that we all "meet in the middle." But what if that consensus allows for white supremacy, Protestant ascendancy, or other inherently undemocratic cultural heritage? This dichotomy has been part of the American experience since the first colonies were founded as private proprietaries. "American values" then seem but a political grafting onto a granted social order where everyone "knows" his/her place and expectations.
Again, I don't dispute the author's "timely message for our age." It's just that an ancient fart like me knows this age differs from others only in style, not substance. As George Bernard Shaw wrote in "Major Barbara": "The government of your country! I am the government of your country: I and Lazarus. Do you suppose that you and a half a dozen amateurs like you, sitting in a row in that foolish gabble shop, can govern Undershaft and Lazarus? No, my friend: you will do what pays us. You will make war when it suits us, and keep peace when it doesn't. You will find out that trade requires certain measures when we have decided on those measures. When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need. When other people want something to keep my dividends down, you will call out the police and the military. And in return you will have the support and applause of my newspapers, and the delight of imagining you are a great statesman. Government of your country! Be off with you, my boy, and play with your caucasus and leading articles and historic parties and great leaders and burning questions and the rest of your toys. I am going back to my countinghouse to pay the piper and call the tune."
L. Frederick Fenster, MD
A brilliant formulation of the American dilemma June 18, 2008
Author makes a compelling case that the direction of our contemporary politics is toward a political system that is the very opposite of what our leadership, the mass media, opinion leaders, think tanks etc. claim it is--ie, the world's foremost exemplary of democracy. The consummated union of corporate power and governmental power has resulted in an American version of a total system, which he calls "inverted totalitarianism."
Unlike traditional totalitarianism (Nazi Germany, Stalin's USSR etc.) the American system of control is not to mobilize the populace, but to distract it, to encourage a sense of dependency (by cultivating fear, calling everything a "war,") and by actaully encouraging political disengagement (claiming that our government, which is supposed to be democracy's agent for helping promote the common good, is actually the "enemy.") The destiny of the USA is fast slipping from popular control, while our citizenry shows little interest or concern.
A very provocative book.
1 Comment |
John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE™ VOICEManaged Democracy, Superpower, and alas, even, "Inverted Totalitarianism" June 17, 2008
This is a seminal work which "tells it like it is" concerning the current power arrangements in the American political system, as well as the political leadership's aspirations towards global empire. Prof. Wolin sets the tone of his work on page 1, with the juxtaposition of the imagery of Adolph Hitler landing in a small plane at the 1934 rally at Nuremberg, as shown in Leni Reifenstahl's "Triumph of the Will," and George Bush landing on the aircraft carrier "Abraham Lincoln" in 2003. Certainly one of the dominant themes of the book is comparing the operating power structure in the United States with various totalitarian regimes of the past: Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Prof Wolin emphasizes the differences between these totalitarian powers, and the softer concentration of power in the United States, which he dubs "inverted totalitarianism."
The book is rich with insights - the best way to savor Prof. Wolin's erudition is in small chunks. He shows the influence of the ancient Greeks, both Plato, as well as the Athenian political operative, Alcibiades, on the neo-cons "founding father," Leo Strauss. He examines in detail the efforts of some of America's own "founding fathers," particularly Madison and Hamilton, on how democracy should be contained and managed. He quotes at length an amazingly prescient passage from Tocqueville predicting one possible scenario for the future of the American democracy, which ends with "...and finally reduces each nation to nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd" (p79-80). He also discusses the profound impact of the "National Security Strategy of the United States" document of 2002 on the traditional vision of the values and rights expressed in the Constitution. ....
He seasons his learning with nuggets of wry wit: "such a verdict after Florida would be an expression of black (sic) humor. (p102); "... to endorse a candidate or a party for reasons that typically pay only lip service to the basic need of most citizens...It speciousness is the political counterpart to products that promise beauty, health, relief of pain, and an end to erectile dysfunction." (p231); and "No collective memory means no collective guilt; surely My Lai is the name of a rock star." (p275). He also has a knack for using the popular phrases for a given sentiment, for example: "get government off our backs."
As other observers have also noted, there is the sharpest of contrasts between FDR's maxim that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" to the current constant promotion of holding the citizenry in a constant state of fear, admirably summarized on the domestic front by: "Downsizing, reorganization, bubbles bursting, unions busted, quickly outdated skills, and transfer of jobs abroad create not just fear but an economy of fear..." (p67)
For all the above, Prof. Wolin deserves 5 and ½ stars, but I did think his presentation was marred by poor organization, redundancy, and lapses into turgid prose. For example, on p. 190, long after the issue has been thoroughly discussed, he says "The administration seized on 9/11 to declare a `war on terrorism.'" Similarly, on p. 202 he says "Historically, the legislative branch was supposed to be the power closest to the citizenry..." Numerous other examples could be cited. Also, I tried - real hard- to come to terms with the term "inverted totalitarianism" but just never could - the intrinsic meaning simply is not there, like as in "managed democracy." Perhaps something like a "hyper-concentration of power" conveys the meaning better.
Overall though, the book is an essential read for anyone interested in the current state of the world.
Apr 08, 2018 | www.zerohedge.com
The mainstream media deflects attention from where power resides: corporations, not with the leaders of the free world. The arguments posed by Chris Hedges, that the U.S. is neither a democracy nor a republic but a totalitarian state that can now assassinate its citizens at will, are pertinent ones. Scary ones. Especially as consecutive governments seem equally as impotent to invoke any real change for the States. If the media won't stand up to the marionettes who pull the strings of the conglomerates causing deep, indelible polarisation in the world abound; then so we must act. Together.
Listen to the full interview in our weekly Newsvoice Think podcast.
We were delighted to have Chris Hedges on an episode of the Newsvoice Think podcast as we seek to broadcast perspectives from all sides of the political spectrum. Right, left, red, blue and purple.
In our interview with Chris, we discussed a range of topics facing the U.S. today as the Trump administration looks back at a year in power, and forward to the November '18 midterms where Democrats will be looking to make gains. Chris was scathing of that party describing them as a "creature of Wall Street, which is choreographed and ceased to be a proper party a long time ago." As a columnist with Truthdig, and a big advocate of independent media. Chris Hedges was the perfect interviewee for us to draw on the benefits of crowdsourced journalism and the challenges facing sites at the mercy of Facebook, Google and Twitter algorithms.
Chris's ire against the corporate interest of Facebook et al didn't let up saying dissident voices were being shut down and that corporate oligarchs were only too happy to let them. The neutralisation of the media platforms that seek to provide independent opinion on U.S. current affairs is in full pelt.
North Korea was the hot topic in 2017. Commentators said it was like a return to the days of the Cold War. But Hedges pointed that we need to remember what happened during the Korean War -- how the North was flattened by U.S. bombs -- and that as a result they, as a nation, suffer from an almost psychosis as a result. Trump, he said, is an imbecile and only deals in bombast, threats and rhetoric.
Not surprisingly, Trump got it hard from Hedges. Describing his administration as a "kleptocracy" who will seek to attack immigrants and up the xenophobia stakes as it distracts and covers for the unadulterated theft of U.S. natural resources.
As young people look to estimable journalists, activists and politicians in the States to help give them a voice, Hedges sees the democratic system as utterly futile. Encouraging mass civil disobedience instead, the ex-NY Times foreign correspondent states that railroads should be blocked and shutting down corporate buildings, for example, is the only way forward.
The perennial argument between Republicans and Democrats is just that; is the U.S. a Republic or a Democracy? Hedges thinks neither. He told Newsvoice that the States is an inverted totalitarian country where the government regards the public as "irrelevant".
Unlike Ben Wizner from the ACLU who sees hope in delaying Net Neutrality, at least until a new administration is in power, Chris feels it is hopeless -- that it is a dead duck, and as Net Neutrality slows down independent media platforms, the public will be at the behest of corporate social media sites such as Facebook who'll increasingly deem what you do and don't read or see.
You can read more of Chris' work at Truthdig where he has a weekly column every Monday.
Jun 28, 2013 | www.theguardian.com
Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden are upset about something, they just can't say what. In a letter sent to the National Security Agency this week about a fact sheet on its surveillance programs, the senators complained about what they refer to only as "the inaccuracy". The inaccuracy is "significant". The inaccuracy could "decrease public confidence in the NSA's openness and its commitment to protecting Americans' constitutional rights". But, because the information underlying it is classified, the inaccuracy can't be described.
This is either a frustrating illustration of the absurdities of America's secrecy regime, or the start of a pretty solid vaudeville act.
The frenzied public debate over the NSA leaks has focused on the correctness of the government surveillance programs themselves. But America cannot properly debate these and future surveillance efforts until it decides what can be debated.
As an official in the first Obama administration, I worked in jobs requiring top secret clearance. I know firsthand how essential secrecy can be to effecting policy goals and how devastating leaks can be. I navigated diplomatic relationships threatened by the indiscriminate release of WikiLeaks documents, and volunteered on the taskforce that sifted through them, piecing together the damage done. But it is also true that a culture of over-classification has shielded too much from public debate and that more could be disclosed without damaging the efficacy of intelligence programs.
Trillions of new pages of text are classified each year. More than 4.8 million people now have a security clearance, including low level contractors like Edward Snowden . A committee established by Congress, the Public Interest Declassification Board, warned in December that rampant over-classification is "imped[ing] informed government decisions and an informed public" and, worse, "enabl[ing] corruption and malfeasance". In one instance it documented, a government agency was found to be classifying one petabyte of new data every 18 months, the equivalent of 20m filing cabinets filled with text.
It is difficult to argue that all or even most of that information should be classified. By keeping too many secrets, America has created fertile ground for their escape. Already, the Obama administration has been forced to initiate six espionage prosecutions for leaks – twice as many as every previous administration combined.
It has also left the American people disillusioned and mistrustful. This is especially true of a new generation raised in a networked world that has made them expect far greater transparency from the institutions around them. According to a recent Pew Research Center/ USA Today poll , a clear majority of young people (60%) feels that the NSA leaks served the public interest.
The leaks illustrate how bad the lack of trust has become - and present an opportunity for greater disclosure.
There is no doubt that some secrecy is essential to the efficacy of surveillance programs like those revealed by the NSA leaks. The specific sources and methods of such programs should be protected. However, it is entirely possible to protect those specifics while also broadly disclosing to the public the scope of information subject to collection, and the rationale behind doing so.
That level of disclosure should be the norm for future programs, and can still be instated in the case of the current NSA surveillance programs. Two Congressmen – Democrat Adam Schiff, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, and Republican Todd Rokita – introduced a bill last week that would call on the Department of Justice to declassify the legal justifications for NSA surveillance efforts. Universal public disclosure of individual decisions could impede the efficacy of the program, but there is no reason the Department of Justice can't disclose its generalized legal reasoning. That's a drawer in the stadium of filing cabinets that America can safely open.
"You can't have 100% security and then have 100% privacy," President Obama said in the days immediately following the leaks. "We're going to have to make some choices as a society." But the government can and should let Americans know what choices it is that they're making. The intelligence community might find Americans, particularly young Americans most suspicious of government institutions, more sympathetic to their delicate balancing act as informed participants.
Mar 11, 2018 | www.thenation.com
"Empire" and "superpower" accurately symbolize the projection of American power abroad, but for that reason they obscure the internal consequences. Consider how odd it would sound if we were to refer to "the Constitution of the American Empire" or "superpower democracy." The reason they ring false is that "constitution" signifies limitations on power, while "democracy" commonly refers to the active involvement of citizens with their government and the responsiveness of government to its citizens.
For their part, "empire" and "superpower" stand for the surpassing of limits and the dwarfing of the citizenry. The increasing power of the state and the declining power of institutions intended to control it has been in the making for some time. The party system is a notorious example.
...Representative institutions no longer represent voters. Instead, they have been short-circuited, steadily corrupted by an institutionalized system of bribery that renders them responsive to powerful interest groups whose constituencies are the major corporations and wealthiest Americans. The courts, in turn, when they are not increasingly handmaidens of corporate power, are consistently deferential to the claims of national security. Elections have become heavily subsidized non-events that typically attract at best merely half of an electorate whose information about foreign and domestic politics is filtered through corporate-dominated media. Citizens are manipulated into a nervous state by the media's reports of rampant crime and terrorist networks, by thinly veiled threats of the Attorney General and by their own fears about unemployment.
What is crucially important here is not only the expansion of governmental power but the inevitable discrediting of constitutional limitations and institutional processes that discourages the citizenry and leaves them politically apathetic. In the United States, however, it has been apparent for decades that corporate power has become so predominant in the political establishment, particularly in the Republican Party
...At the same time, it is corporate power, as the representative of the dynamic of capitalism and of the ever-expanding power made available by the integration of science and technology with the structure of capitalism, that produces the totalizing drive
.. a pervasive atmosphere of fear abetted by a corporate economy of ruthless downsizing, withdrawal or reduction of pension and health benefits; a corporate political system that relentlessly threatens to privatize Social Security and the modest health benefits available, especially to the poor. With such instrumentalities for promoting uncertainty and dependence, it is almost overkill for inverted totalitarianism to employ a system of criminal justice that is punitive in the extreme, relishes the death penalty and is consistently biased against the powerless.
Thus the elements are in place: a weak legislative body, a legal system that is both compliant and repressive, a party system in which one party, whether in opposition or in the majority, is bent upon reconstituting the existing system so as to permanently favor a ruling class of the wealthy, the well-connected and the corporate, while leaving the poorer citizens with a sense of helplessness and political despair, and, at the same time, keeping the middle classes dangling between fear of unemployment and expectations of fantastic rewards once the new economy recovers.
That scheme is abetted by a sycophantic and increasingly concentrated media; by the integration of universities with their corporate benefactors; by a propaganda machine institutionalized in well-funded think tanks and conservative foundations; by the increasingly closer cooperation between local police and national law enforcement agencies aimed at identifying terrorists, suspicious aliens and domestic dissidents.
What is at stake, then, is nothing less than the attempted transformation of a tolerably free society into a variant of the extreme regimes of the past century. In that context, the national elections of 2004 represent a crisis in its original meaning, a turning point. The question for citizens is: Which way?Sheldon Wolin Sheldon Wolin is the author, most recently, of Alexis de Tocqueville: Man Between Two Worlds (Princeton). A new edition of his book Politics and Vision is forthcoming. He is professor emeritus of politics at Princeton University.
Feb 17, 2018 | www.nakedcapitalism.com
Yves here. This Real News Network interview with professor emeritus John Weeks discussed how economic ideology has weakened or eliminated public accountability of institutions like the Fed and promote neo[neo]liberal policies that undermine democracy.
SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The concept of the [neo]liberal democracy is generally based on capitalistic markets along with respect for individual freedoms and human rights and equality in the face of the law. The rise of financial capital and its efforts to deregulate financial markets, however, raises the question whether [neo]liberal democracy is a sustainable form of government. Sooner or later, democratic institutions make way for the interests of large capital to supersede.
Political economist John Weeks recently gave this year's David Gordon Memorial Lecture at the meeting of the American Economic Association in Philadelphia where he addressed these issues with a talk titled, Free Markets and the Decline of Democracy. Joining us now is John Weeks. He joins us from London to discuss the issues raised in his lecture. You can find a link to this lecture just below the player, and John is, as you know, Professor Emeritus of the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies and author of Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policy. John, good to have you back on The Real News.
JOHN WEEKS: Thank you very much for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: John, let me start with your talk. Your talk describes a struggle between efforts to create a democratic control over the economy and the interest of capital, which seeks to subjugate government to the interest, its own interest. In your assessment, it looks like this is a losing battle for democracy. Explain this further.
JOHN WEEKS: Yeah, so I think that Marx in Capital, in the first volume of Capital, refers to a concept called bourgeois right, by which he meant that, you said it in the introduction, that in a capitalist society there is a form of equality that mimics the relationship of exchange. Every commodity looks equal in exchange and there is a system of ownership that you might say is the shadow of that. I think more important, in the early stages of development of capitalism, of development of factories, that those institutions or those factories prompted the growth of trade unions and workers' struggles in general. Those workers' struggles were key to the development, or further development of democracy, freedom of speech, a whole range of rights, the right to vote.
However, with the development of finance capital, you've got quite a different dynamic within the capitalist system. Let me say, I don't want to romanticize the early period of capitalism, but you did have struggles, mass struggles for rights. Finance capital produces nothing productive, it doesn't do anything productive. So, what finance capital does basically is it redistributes the income, the wealth, the, what Marx would call the surplus value, from other sectors of society to itself. And it employs relatively few people, so that dynamic of the capital, industrial capital, generating its antithesis So, that a labor movement doesn't occur under financial capital.
In addition, financial capital leads to inequality, and that inequality, as you've seen in the United States and in Europe and many other places, it increases. And suddenly, not suddenly, but bit by bit, people begin to realize that they aren't getting their share and that means that the government, to protect capitalism, must use force to maintain the order of financial capital. And I think Trump is the fulfillment of that, and I think there are other examples too which I can go into. So, basically, my argument is that with the rise of finance and its unproductive activities, you've got the decline in living standards of the vast majority, and in order to maintain order in such a system where people no longer think that they're sort of getting their share, and so justice doesn't become, a just distribution doesn't become the reason why people support this system, increasingly it has to be done through force.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, John. Before we get further into the relationship between neo[neo]liberalism and democracy, give us a brief summary of what you mean by neo[neo]liberalism. You say that it's not really about deregulation, as most people usually conceive of it. If that's not what it's about, what is it, then?
JOHN WEEKS: I think that if you think about the movements in the United States, and as much as I can, I will take examples from the United States because most of your listeners will be familiar with those, beginning in the early part of the twentieth century, in the United States you have reform movements, the breaking up of the large monopolies, tobacco monopoly, a whole range of Standard Oil, all of that. And then of course under Roosevelt you began to get the regulation of capital in the interests of the majority, much of that driven by Roosevelt's trade union support. So, that was moving from a system where capital was relatively unregulated to where it was being regulated in the interests of the vast majority. I also would say, though, I won't go into detail, to a certain extent it was regulated in the interest of capital itself to moderate competition and therefore, I'd say, ensure a relatively tranquil market environment.
Neo[neo]liberalism involves not the deregulation of the capitalist system, but the reregulation of it in the interest of capital. So, it involves moving from a system in which capital is regulated in the interests of stability and the many to regulation in a way that enhances capital. These regulations, to get specific about them, restrictions on trade unions, as you, on Real News, a number of people have talked about this. The United States now have many restrictions on the organizing of trade unions which were not present 50 or 60 years ago, making it harder to have a mass movement of labor against capital, restrictions on the right to demonstrate, a whole range of things. Then within capital itself, the regulations on the movement of capital that facilitate speculation in international markets. We have a capitalism in which the form of regulation is shifted from the regulation of capital in the interest of labor to regulation of capital in the interest of capital.
SHARMINI PERIES: John, give us a brief summary of the ways in which neo[neo]liberalism undermines democracy.
JOHN WEEKS: Well, I think that there are many examples, but I'm going to focus on economic policy. For an obvious case is the role of the Central Bank, in the case of the United States' Federal Reserve System, in which reducing its accountability to the public, one way you can do that is by assigning goals to it, such as fighting inflation, which then override other goals. Originally, the Federal Reserve System, its charter, or I'll say its terms of reference, if you want me to use that phrase, included full employment and a stable economy. Those have been overridden in more recent legislation, which puts a great emphasis on the control of inflation. Control of inflation basically means maintaining an economy at a relatively high level of unemployment or part-time employment, or flexible employment, where people have relatively few rights at work. And that the Central Bank becomes a vehicle for enforcing a neo[neo]liberal economic policy.
Second of all, probably most of your viewers will not remember the days when we had fixed exchange rates. We had a world of fixed exchange rates in those days that represented the policy, which government could use to affect its trade and also affect its domestic policy. There have been deregulation of that. We now have floating exchange rates. That takes away a tool, an instrument of economic policy. And in fiscal policy, there the, here it's more ideology than laws, though there are also laws. There's a law requiring that the government balance its budget, but more important than that, the introduction into the public consciousness, I'd say grinding into the public consciousness, the idea that deficits are a bad thing, government debt is a bad thing, and that's a completely neo[neo]liberal ideology.
In summary, one way that the democracy has been undermined is to take away economic policy from the public realm and move it to the realm of experts. So, we have certain allegedly expert guidelines that we have to follow. Inflation should be low. We should not run deficits. The national debt should be small. These are things that are just made up ideologically. There is no technical basis to them. And so, in doing that, you might say, the term I like to use is, you decommission the democratic process and economic policy.
SHARMINI PERIES: John, speaking of ideology, in your talk you refer to the challenge that fascism posed or poses to neo[neo]liberal democracies. Now, it is interesting when you take Europe into consideration and National Socialist in Germany, for example, appeal mostly to the working class, as does contemporary far-right leaders in Poland and Hungary, that they support more explicit neo[neo]liberal agendas. Why would people support a neo[neo]liberal agenda that exasperate inequalities and harm public services that they depend on, including jobs?
JOHN WEEKS: I think that to a great extent it is country-specific, but I can make generalizations. First of all, I'm talking about Europe, because you raised a case in some European countries, and then I'll make some comments about the United States and Trump, if you want me to. I think in Europe, a combination of three things resulted in the rise of fascism and authoritarian movements which are verging on fascism. One is that the European integration project, which let me say that I have supported, and I would still prefer Britain not to leave the European Union, but nevertheless, the European Union integration project has been a project run by elites.
It has not been a bottom-up process. It has been a process very much run by elite politicians, in which they get together in closed door, and they make policies which they subsequently announce, and many of the decisions they come to being extremely, the meaning of them being extremely opaque. So, therefore, you have the development in Europe of the European Union which, not from the bottom up, but very much from the top down. You might suggest from the top, but I'm not sure how much goes down. That's one.
The second key factor, I would say, for about 20 years in European integration, it was relatively benign elitism because it was social democratic, it had the support of the working class, or the trade unions, at any rate. Then, increasingly, it began to become neo[neo]liberal. So, you have an elite project which was turning into a neo[neo]liberal project. Specifically, what I mean by neo[neo]liberal is where they're generating flexibility rules for the labor market, austerity policies, bank, balanced budgets, low inflation, the things I was talking about before.
Then the third element, toxic, the most toxic of them, but the other, they're volatile, is the legacy of fascism in Europe. Every European country, with the exception of Britain, had a substantial fascist movement in the 1920s and 1930s. I can go into why Britain didn't sometime. It had to do with the particular class struggle of the, I mean, class structure of Britain. Poland, ironically enough, though, is one of them. It was overrun by the Nazis, and occupied, and incorporated into the German Reich. Ironically, it had a very right-wing government with a lot of sympathies towards fascism when it was invaded in the late summer of 1939.
France had a strong fascist movement. Of course, Italy had a fascist government, and Hungary, where now you have a right-wing government, a very strong fascist movement. The incorporation of these countries into the Soviet sphere of influence, or the empire, as it were, did not destroy that fascism. It certainly suppressed it, but it didn't destroy it. So, as soon as the European project began to transform into a neo[neo]liberal project, and that gathered strength in the early 1990s, I mean, the neo[neo]liberal aspect of the European Union gathered strength in the early 1990s, exactly when you were getting the "liberation" of many countries from Soviet rule. And so, when you put those together, it led to, It was a rise of fascism waiting to happen and now it is happening.
SHARMINI PERIES: John, earlier, you said you'll factor in Trump. How does Trump fit into this phenomena?
JOHN WEEKS: I think that as The Real News has pointed out, that many of Trump's policies appear just to be more extreme versions of things that George Bush did, and in some cases not that much different from what Barack Obama did. Now, though I wouldn't go too deeply into that, I think that that is the most serious offenses by Obama that have been carried on by Trump have to do with the use of drones and the military. But at any rate, but there's a big difference from Trump. For the most part, the previous Republican presidents, and Democratic presidents, accepted the framework of, the formal framework of [neo]liberal democracy in the United States. That is, formally accepted the constraints imposed by the Constitution.
Now, of course, they probably didn't do it out of the goodness of their heart. They did it because they saw that the things that they wanted to achieve, the neo[neo]liberal goals that they wanted to achieve were perfectly consistent with the Constitution's framework and guarantees of rights and so on, that most of those rights are guaranteed in a way that's so weak that you didn't have to repeal the first 10 Amendments of the Constitution in order to have repressive policies.
The difference with Trump is, he has complete contempt for all of those constraints. That is, he is an authoritarian. I don't think he's a fascist, not yet, but he is an authoritarian. He does not accept that there are constraints which he should respect. There are constraints which bother him, and he wants to get rid of them, and he actually takes steps to do so. What you have in Trump, I think, is a sea change. You have a, we've had right-wing presidents before, certainly. What the difference with Trump is, he is a right-wing president that sees no reason to respect the institutions of democratic government, or even, you might say, the institution of representative government. I won't even use a term as strong as "democratic." That lays the basis for an explicitly authoritarian United States, and I'd say that we're beginning to see the vehicle by which this will occur, the restriction on voting rights. Of course, that was going on before Trump, it does in a more aggressive way. I think the, soon, we will have a Supreme Court that will be quite lenient with his tendency towards authoritarian rule.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, John. Let's end this segment with what can be done. I mean, what must be done to prevent neo[neo]liberal interests from undermining democracy? And who do you believe is leading the struggle for democracy now, and what is the right strategy that people should be fighting for?
JOHN WEEKS: Well, one thing, I think, where I'd begin is that I think progressives, as The Real News represents, and Bernie Sanders, and all the people that support him, and Jeremy Corbyn over here, I'll come back to talk about a bit about Jeremy. We must be explicit that we view democracy, by which we mean the participation of people at the grassroots, their participation in the government, we view that as a goal. It's not merely a technique, or a tool which, what was it that Erdoğan so infamously said? "Democracy is like a train. You take it to where you want to go and then you get off." No. Progressive view is that democracy is what it's all about. Democracy is the way that we build the present and we build a future.
I'm quite fortunate in that I live in perhaps the only large country in the world where there's imminent possibility of a progressive, left-wing, anti-authoritarian government. I think that is the monumental importance of Jeremy Corbyn and his second-in-command, John McDonnell, and others like Emily Thornberry, who is the Foreign Secretary. These people are committed to democracy. In the United States, Bernie Sanders is committed to a democracy, and a lot of other people are too, Elizabeth Warren. So, I think that the struggle in the United States is extremely difficult because of the role of the big money and the media, which you know more about than I do. But it is a struggle which we have to keep at, and we have to be optimistic about it. It's a good bit easier over here, but as we saw, and you reported, during the last presidential election, a progressive came very close to being President of the United States. That, I don't think was a one-off event, not to be repeated. I think it lays the basis for hope in the future.
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JTMcPhee , February 17, 2018 at 9:35 amWobblyTelomeres , February 17, 2018 at 10:44 am
"Informed speculation" with lots of footnotes and offshoots in this Reddit skein: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/1llyf7/about_how_much_in_todays_money_was_30_pieces_of/
"A lot of money" in those days- Some say JI "bought land" with the shekels. An early form of asset swap? A precursor to current financialist activities?James T. Cricket , February 18, 2018 at 3:46 am
Good article. If it were any bleaker, I'd suspect Chris Hedges having a hand in writing it.
The democratic nation-state basically operates like a criminal cartel, forcing honest citizens to surrender large portions of their wealth to pay for stuff like roads and hospitals and schools.
There it is, the Gorgon Thiel, surrounded by terror and rout.David , February 17, 2018 at 7:56 am
I suppose you've read this.
Here's a quote:
"Altman felt that OpenAI's mission was to babysit its wunderkind until it was ready to be adopted by the world. He'd been reading James Madison's notes on the Constitutional Convention for guidance in managing the transition. 'We're planning a way to allow wide swaths of the world to elect representatives to a new governance board,' he said."
I was having trouble choosing which of the passages in this article to provide a mad quote from. Some other choices were
Altman's going to work with the Department of Defense, then help defend the world from them.
OpenAI's going to take over from humans, but don't worry because they're going to make it (somehow) so OpenAI can only terminate bad people. Before releasing it to the world.
Altman says 'add a 0 to whatever you're doing but never more than that.'
But if this sort of wisdom (somehow) doesn't work out well for everybody and the world collapses, he's flying with Peter Thiel in the private jet to the New Zealand's south island to wait out the Zombie Apocalypse on a converted sheep farm. (Before returning to the Valley work with more startups?)
These are your new leaders, peopleJTMcPhee , February 17, 2018 at 8:45 am
I think it's revealing that the only type of democracy discussed, in spite of the title, is "[neo]liberal democracy", which the host describes as "based on capitalistic markets along with respect for individual freedoms and human rights and equality in the face of the law."
I've always argued that [neo]liberal democracy is a contradiction in terms, and you can see why from that quotation. [neo]liberalism (leaving aside special uses of the term in the US) is about individuals exercising their personal economic freedom and personal autonomy as much as they can, with as little control by government as possible.
But given massive imbalances in economic power, the influence of media-backed single issue campaigns and the growth of professional political parties, policy is decided by the interventions of powerful and well-organised groups, without ordinary people being consulted. At the end, Weeks does start to talk of grassroots participation, but seems to have no more in mind than a campaign to get people to vote for Sanders in 2020, which hardly addresses the problem. The answer, if there is one, is a system of direct democracy, involving referendums and popular assemblies chosen at random.
This has been much talked about, but since you would have the entire political class against you, it's not going to happen. In the meantime, we are stuck with [neo]liberal democracy, whose contradictions, I'm afraid are becoming ever more obvious.Eustache De Saint Pierre , February 17, 2018 at 9:33 am
"Contradictions?" One question for me at least would be whether the features and motions of the current regime are best characterized as "contradictions." If so, to what? And implicit in the use of the word is some kind of resolution, via actual class conflict or something, leading to "better" or at least "different." All I see from my front porch is more of the same, and worse. "The Matrix" in that myth gave some comforting illusions to the mopery. I think the political economy/collapsed planet portrayed in "Soylent Green" is a lot closer to the likely endpoints.
At least in the movie fable, the C-Suite-er of the Soylent Corp. as the lede in the film, was sickened of what he was helping to maintain, and bethought himself to blow his tiny little personal whistle that nobody would really hear, and got axed for his disloyalty to the ruling collective. I doubt the ranks of corporatists of MonsantoDuPont and LockheedMartin and the rest include any significant numbers of folks sickened by "the contradictions" that get them their perks and bennies and power (as long as they color inside the lines.)Michael C , February 17, 2018 at 8:46 am
I hope I am way off the mark, but within that genre & in terms of where we could be heading, the film " Snowpiercer " sums it up best for me- a dystopian world society illustrated through the passengers on one long train.torff , February 17, 2018 at 10:02 am
Thanks for the Real News Network for covering issues that never see the light of day on the corporate media and never mentioned by the Rachel Maddow's of the "news" shows.Yves Smith Post author , February 17, 2018 at 6:59 pm
Can we please put a moratorium on the term "free market"? It's a nonsense term.Katz , February 18, 2018 at 11:09 am
Yes, I wrote about that at length in ECONNED. I kept the RNN headline, which used it, but should have put "free market" in quotes.Jim Haygood , February 17, 2018 at 10:59 am
I actually like the term and find it useful, insofar as it describes an ideology -- as oposed a real political-economic arrangement. The presence of "free markets" may not be a characteristic of the neo[neo]liberal phase, but the belief in them sure is.
(Which is not to say there aren't people who don't believe in free markets but do invoke them rhetorically for other ends. That's a feature of many if not most successful ideologies.)RBHoughton , February 17, 2018 at 6:24 pm
' Originally, the Federal Reserve charter included full employment and a stable economy. Those have been overridden in more recent legislation, which puts a great emphasis on the control of inflation.
Eh, this is fractured history. The Fed was set up in 1913 as a lender of last resort -- a discounter of government and private bills.
In late 1978 Jimmy Carter signed the Humphrey Hawkins Act instructing the Fed to pursue three goals: stable prices, maximum employment, and moderate long-term interest rates, though the latter is rarely mentioned now and the Fed is widely viewed as having a dual mandate.
The Fed's two percent inflation target it simply adopted at its own initiative -- it's not enshrined in no Perpetual Inflation Act.
' We had a world of fixed exchange rates which government could use to affect its trade and also affect its domestic policy. We now have floating exchange rates. That takes away a tool. '
LOL! This is totally inverted and flat wrong. The Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system prevented radical monetary experiments such as QE which would have broken the peg. Nixon unilaterally suspended fixed exchange rates in 1971 because he was unwilling to take the political hit of formally devaluing the dollar (or even more unlikely, sweating out Vietnam War inflation with falling prices to maintain the peg).
Floating rates are a new and potentially lethal monetary tool which have produced a number of sad examples of "governments gone wild" with radical monetary experiments and currency swings. Bad boys Japan & Switzerland come readily to mind.
To render history accurately requires getting hands dirty with dusty old books. Icky, I know. :-(Yves Smith Post author , February 17, 2018 at 7:00 pm
Yes but globalisation meant that all central banks and finance ministers had to act concertedly as in G-20 and similar meetings. While we may talk of floating exchange rates, each country fixes its interest rate to maintain parity with the others. Isn't that so?The Rev Kev , February 17, 2018 at 7:29 pm
Ahem, you skip over that the full employment goal was added to the Fed mandate in 1946, long before the inflation goal was added.Steven Greenberg , February 17, 2018 at 11:26 am
I think that the key piece of info is that the Federal Reserve was created on December 23rd, 1913. That sounds like that it was slipped in the legislative back door when everybody was going away for the Christmas holidays.Lee Robertson , February 17, 2018 at 11:42 am
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Second of all, probably most of your viewers will not remember the days when we had fixed exchange rates. We had a world of fixed exchange rates in those days that represented the policy, which government could use to affect its trade and also affect its domestic policy. There have been deregulation of that. We now have floating exchange rates. That takes away a tool, an instrument of economic policy. And in fiscal policy, there the, here it's more ideology than laws, though there are also laws. There's a law requiring that the government balance its budget, but more important than that, the introduction into the public consciousness, I'd say grinding into the public consciousness, the idea that deficits are a bad thing, government debt is a bad thing, and that's a completely neo[neo]liberal ideology.
===== /quote =====
This makes absolutely no sense and seems to have the case exactly backward. Our federal government has no rule that the budget must be balanced. Fixed exchange rates were not a tool that could be used to affect trade and domestic policy in a good way.Susan the other , February 17, 2018 at 1:29 pm
Any hierarchic system will be exploited by intelligent sociopaths. Systems will not save us.ebbflows , February 17, 2018 at 4:19 pm
I enjoyed John Weeks' point of view. He's the first person I've read who refers to the usefulness of a fixed exchange rate. Useful for a sovereign government with a social spending agenda. We have always been a sovereign government with a military agenda which is at odds with a social agenda.
Guns and butter are a dangerous combination if you are dedicated to at least maintaining the illusion of a "strong dollar." That's basically what Nixon finessed. John Conally told him not to worry, we could go off the gold standard and it wasn't our problem since we were the reserve currency – it was everybody else's problem and we promptly exported our inflation all around the world. And now it has come home to roost because it was fudging and it couldn't last forever.
Much better to concede to some fix for the currency and maintain the sovereign power to devalue the dollar as necessary to maintain proper social spending. I don't understand why sovereign governments cannot see that a deficit is just the mirror image of a healthy social economy (Stephanie Kelton).
And to that end "fix" an exchange rate that maintains a reasonable purchasing power of the currency by pegging it to the long term health of the economy. What we do now is peg the dollar to a "basket of goods and services"- Ben Bernanke. That "basket" is effectively "the market" and has very little to do with good social policy.
There's no reason we can't dispense with the market and simply fiat the value of our currency based on the social return estimated for our social investments. Etc. Keeping the dollar stubbornly strong is just tyranny favoring those few who benefit from extreme inequality.albert , February 17, 2018 at 2:23 pm
Bancor. Then some got delusions of grandeur.Paul Cardan , February 17, 2018 at 2:37 pm
" Democracy is not under stress – it's under aggressive attack, as unconstrained financial greed overrides public accountability ."
I request a lessatorium* on the term 'democracy', because there aren't any democracies. Rather than redefine the term, why not use a more accurate one, like 'plutocracy', or 'corporatocracy'.
-- -- -- -
* It's like a moratorium, you just do less of it.Tomonthebeach , February 17, 2018 at 4:30 pm
What is this democracy of which you speak?Synoia , February 17, 2018 at 6:32 pm
I had not given much thought to "Fascist" until the term was challenged as a synonym for "bully." So, I started reading Wikipedia's take on Fascismo. What I discovered was the foremost, my USA education did not teach jack s -- about Fascism – and I went to elite high school in libr'l Chicago.
Is Fascism right or left? Does it matter? What goes around comes around.
What I gleaned from my quick Wikiread was the apparent pattern of economic inequality causing the masses to huddle in fear & loathing to one corner – desperation, and then some clever autocrat subverts the energy from their F&L into political power by demonizing various minorities and other non-causal perps.
Like nearly every past fascism emergence in history, US Trumpismo is capitalizing on inequality, and fear & loathing (his capital if you will) to seize power. That brings us to Today – to Trump, and an era (brief I hope) of US flirtation with fascism. Thank God Trump is crippled by a narcissism that fuels F&L within his own regime. Otherwise, I might be joining a survivalist group or something. :-)c_heale , February 17, 2018 at 7:29 pm
Left and right are more line circle that a line.
I view the extreme left and extreme right, meeting somewhere, hidden, at the back of a circle.flora , February 17, 2018 at 8:01 pm
I always believed this too!
Neoliberalism involves not the deregulation of the capitalist system, but the reregulation of it in the interest of capital. So, it involves moving from a system in which capital is regulated in the interests of stability and the many to regulation in a way that enhances capital.
Prominent politicians in the US and UK have spent their entire political careers representing neoliberalism's agenda at the expense of representing the voters' issues. The voters are tired of the conservative and [neo]liberal political establishments' focus on neoliberal policy. This is also true in Germany as well France and Italy. The West's current political establishments see the way forward as "staying the neoliberal course." Voters are saying "change course." See:
'German Politics Enters an Era of Instability' – Der Speigel
Feb 16, 2018 | www.unz.com
If anything, recent weeks have offered remarkable evidence of just how victorious this country's losingest commanders and their colleagues really are in our nation's capital. In the bipartisan style that these days usually applies only to the U.S. military, Congress has just settled on giving an extra $165 billion to the Pentagon over the next two years as part of a formula for keeping the government open. As it happens, the 2017 Pentagon budget was already as large as the defense spending of the next seven nations combined. And that was before all those extra tens of billions of dollars ensured that the two-year military budget (for 2018 and 2019) would crest at a total of more than $1.4 trillion .
That's the sort of money that only goes to winners, not losers. And if this still seems a little strange to you, given that military's dismal record in actual war-fighting since 9/11, all I can say is: don't bring it up. It's no longer considered polite or proper to complain about our wars and those who fight them or how we fund them, not in an age when every American soldier is a " hero ," which means that what they're doing from Afghanistan to Yemen , Syria to Somalia , must be heroic indeed.
In a draft-less country, those of us not in or connected to our military are expected to say " thank you " to the warriors and otherwise go about our lives as if their wars (and the mayhem they continue to generate abroad) were not a fact of global life. This is the definition of a demobilized public. If you happen to be that rarest of all creatures in our country these days -- someone in active opposition to those wars -- you have a problem. That means Stephanie Savell, who co-runs the Costs of War Project , which regularly provides well-researched and devastating information on the spread of those wars and the money continually being squandered on them, does indeed have a problem. It's one she understands all too well and describes vividly today.
Apr 04, 2015 | Economist's View
Darryl FKA Ron -> pgl...
At the risk of oversimplifying might it not be as simple as stronger leanings towards IS-LM and kind are indicative of a bias towards full employment and stronger leanings towards DSGE, microfoundations, and kind are indicative of a bias towards low inflation?
IN general I consider over-simplification a fault, if and only if, it is a rigidly adhered to final position. This is to say that over-simplification is always a good starting point and never a good ending point. If in the end your problem was simple to begin with, then the simplified answer would not be OVER-simplified anyway. It is just as bad to over-complicate a simple problem as it is to over-simplify a complex problem. It is easier to build complexity on top of a simple foundation than it is to extract simplicity from a complex foundation.
A lot of the Chicago School initiative into microfoundations and DSGE may have been motivated by a desire to bind Keynes in a NAIRU straight-jacket. Even though economic policy making is largely done just one step at a time then that is still one step too much if it might violate rentier interests.
Darryl FKA Ron -> Barry...
There are two possible (but unlikely) schools of (generously attributed to as) thought for which internal consistency might take precedence over external consistency. One such school wants to consider what would be best in a perfect world full of perfect people and then just assume that is best for the real world just to let the chips fall where they may according to the faults and imperfections of the real world. The second such school is the one whose eyes just glaze over mesmerized by how over their heads they are and remain affraid to ask any question lest they appear stupid.
A more probable school of thought is that this game was created as a con and a cover for the status quo capitalist establishment to indulge themselves in their hard money and liquidity fetishes, consequences be damned.
Richard H. SerlinConsistency sounds so good, Oh, of course we want consistency, who wouldn't?! But consistent in what way? What exactly do you mean? Consistent with reality, or consistent with people all being superhumans? Which concept is usually more useful, or more useful for the task at hand?Richard H. Serlin -> Richard H. Serlin...
Essentially, they want models that are consistent with only certain things, and often because this makes their preferred ideology look far better. They want models, typically, that are consistent with everyone in the world having perfect expertise in every subject there is, from finance to medicine to engineering, perfect public information, and perfect self-discipline, and usually on top, frictionless and perfectly complete markets, often perfectly competitive too.
But a big thing to note is that perfectly consistent people means a level of perfection in expertise, public information, self-discipline, and "rationality", that's extremely at odds with how people actually are. And as a result, this can make the model extremely misleading if it's interpreted very literally (as so often it is, especially by freshwater economists), or taken as The Truth, as Paul Krugman puts it.
You get things like the equity premium "puzzle", which involves why people don't invest more in stocks when the risk-adjusted return appears to usually be so abnormally good, and this "puzzle" can only be answered with "consistency", that people are all perfectly expert in finance, with perfect information, so they must have some mysterious hidden good reason. It can't be at all that it's because 65% of people answered incorrectly when asked how many reindeer would remain if Santa had to lay off 25% of his eight reindeer ( http://richardhserlin.blogspot.com/2013/12/surveys-showing-massive-ignorance-and.html ).
Yes, these perfect optimizer consistency models can give useful insights, and help to see what is best, what we can do better, and they can, in some cases, be good as approximations. But to say they should be used only, and interpreted literally, is, well, inconsistent with optimal, rational behavior -- of the economist using them.Of course, unless the economist using them is doing so to mislead people into supporting his libertarian/plutocratic ideology.
As an old broken down mech engineer, I wonder why all the pissing and moaning about micro foundations vs aggregation. In strength of materials equations that aggregate properties work quite well within the boundaries of the questions to be answered. We all know that at the level of crystals, materials have much complexity. Even within crystals there is deeper complexities down to the molecular levels. However, the addition of quantum mechanics adds no usable information about what materials to build a bridge with.
But, when working at the scale of the most advanced computer chips quantum mechanics is required. WTF! I guess in economics there is no quantum mechanics theories or even reliable aggregation theories.
Poor economists, doomed to argue, forever, over how many micro foundations can dance on the head of a pin.
RGC -> dilbert dogbert...
Endless discussions about how quantum effects aggregate to produce a material suitable for bridge building crowd out discussions about where and when to build bridges. And if plutocrats fund the endless discussions, we get the prominent economists we have today.
Darryl FKA Ron -> dilbert dogbert...
"...I guess in economics there is no quantum mechanics theories or even reliable aggregation theories..."
[I guess it depends upon what your acceptable confidence interval on reliability is. Most important difference that controls all the domain differences between physical science and economics is that underlying physical sciences there is a deterministic methodology for which probable error is merely a function of the inaccuracy in input metrics WHEREAS economics models are incomplete probabilistic estimating models with no ability to provide a complete system model in a full range of circumstances.
YOu can design and build a bridge to your load and span requirements with alternative models for various designs with confidence and highly effective accuracy repeatedly. No ecomomic theory, model, or combination of models and theories was ever intended to be used as the blueprint for building an economy from the foundation up.
With all the formal trappings of economics the only effective usage is to decide what should be done in a given set of predetermined circumstance to reach some modest desired effect. Even that modest goal is exposed to all kinds of risks inherent in assumptions, incomplete information, externalities, and so on that can produce errors of uncertain potential bounds.
Nonetheless, well done economics can greatly reduce the risks encountered in the random walk of economics policy making. So much so is this true, that the bigger questions in macro-economics policy making is what one is willing to risk and for whom.
The arguments over internal and external consistency of models is just a convenient misdirection from what policy makers are willing to risk and whose interests they are willing to risk policy decisions for.]
Darryl FKA Ron -> Peter K....
unless you have a model which maps the real world fairly closely like quantum mechanics.
[You set a bar too high. Macro models at best will tell you what to do to move the economy in the direction that you seek to go. They do not even ocme close to the notion of a theory of everything that you have in physics, even the theory of every little thing that is provided by quantum mechanics. Physics is an empty metaphor for economics. Step one is to forgo physics envy in pursuit of understanding suitable applications and domain constraints for economics models.
THe point is to reach a decision and to understand cause and effect directions. All precision is in the past and present. The future is both imprecise and all that there is that is available to change.
For the most part an ounce of common sense and some simple narrative models are all that are essential for making those policy decisions in and of themselves. HOWEVER, nation states are not ruled by economist philosopher kings and in the process of concensus decision making by (little r)republican governments then human language is a very imprecise vehicle for communicating logic and reason with respect to the management of complex systems. OTOH, mathematics has given us a universal language for communicating logic and reason that is understood the same by everyone that really understands that language at all. Hence mathematical models were born for the economists to write down their own thinking in clear precise terms and check their own work first and then share it with others so equipped to understand the language of mathematics. Krugman has said as much many times and so has any and every economist worth their salt.]
likbez -> Syaloch...
I agree with Pgl and PeterK. Certain commenters like Darryl seem convinced that the Chicago School (if not all of econ) is driven by sinister, class-based motives to come up justifications for favoring the power elite over the masses. But based on what I've read, it seems pretty obvious that the microfoundation guys just got caught up in their fancy math and their desire to produce more elegant, internally consistent models and lost sight of the fact that their models didn't track reality.
That's completely wrong line of thinking, IMHO.
Mathematical masturbations are just a smoke screen used to conceal a simple fact that those "economists" are simply banking oligarchy stooges. Hired for the specific purpose to provide a theoretical foundation for revanschism of financial oligarchy after New Deal run into problems. Revanschism that occurred in a form of installing neoliberal ideology in the USA in exactly the same role which Marxism was installed in the USSR.
With "iron hand in velvet gloves" type of repressive apparatus to enforce it on each and every university student and thus to ensure the continues, recurrent brainwashing much like with Marxism on the USSR universities.
To ensure continuation of power of "nomenklatura" in the first case and banking oligarchy in the second. Connections with reality be damned. Money does not smell.
Economic departments fifth column of neoliberal stooges is paid very good money for their service of promoting and sustaining this edifice of neoliberal propaganda. Just look at Greg Mankiw and Rubin's boys.
But the key problem with neoliberalism is that the cure is worse then disease. And here mathematical masturbations are very handy as a smoke screen to hide this simple fact.
likbez -> likbez...
Here is how Rubin's neoliberal boy Larry explained the situation to Elizabeth Warren:
"Larry [Summers] leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice. I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don't listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People - powerful people - listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: they don't criticize other insiders."
Elizabeth Warren, A Fighting Chance
Syaloch -> likbez...
Yeah, case in point.
Dec 10, 2017 | www.facebook.com
The investigation to somehow blame Russia for Donald Trump's election has now merged with another establishment goal of isolating and intimidating whistleblowers and other dissidents, as Dennis J Bernstein describes.
The Russia-gate investigation has reached into the ranks of journalism with the House Intelligence Committee's subpoena of Randy Credico, who produced a series about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for Pacifica Radio and apparently is suspected of having passed on early word about leaked Democratic emails to Donald Trump's supporter Roger Stone.
The Credico subpoena, after he declined a request for a "voluntary" interview, underscores how the investigation is moving into areas of "guilt by association" and further isolating whistleblowers who defy the powers-that-be through unauthorized release of information to the public, a point made by National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas Drake in an interview.
Drake knows well what it means to blow the whistle on government misconduct and get prosecuted for it. A former senior NSA executive, Drake complained about a multi-billion-dollar fraud, waste, and widespread violation of the rights of civilians through secret mass surveillance programs. As a result, the Obama administration indicted Drake in 2010, "as the first whistleblower since Daniel Ellsberg charged with espionage," according to the Institute for Public Accuracy.
In 2011, the government's case against him, which carried a potential 35 years in prison, collapsed. Drake went free in a plea deal and was awarded the 2011 Ridenhour Truth Telling Prize.
I interviewed Drake about the significance of Credico's subpoena, which Credico believes resulted from his journalism about the persecution of Julian Assange for releasing information that powerful people would prefer kept hidden from the public. (I had a small role in Credico's 14-part radio series, Julian Assange: Countdown to Freedom . It was broadcast first as part of his Live on the Fly Series, over WBAI and later on KPFA and across the country on community radio.)
Credico got his start as a satirist and became a political candidate for mayor of New York City and later governor of New York, making mainstream politicians deal with issues they would rather not deal with.
I spoke to Thomas Drake by telephone on Nov. 30, 2017.
Dennis Bernstein: How do you look at Russiagate, based on what you know about what has already transpired in terms of the movement of information? How do you see Credico's role in this?
Thomas Drake: Information is the coin of the realm. It is the currency of power. Anyone who questions authority or is perceived as mocking authority -- as hanging out with "State enemies" -- had better be careful. But this latest development is quite troubling, I must say. This is the normalization of everything that has been going on since 9/11. Randy is a sort of 21st century Diogenes who is confronting authority and pointing out corruption. This subpoena sends a chilling message. It's a double whammy for Randy because, in the eyes of the US government, he is a media figure hanging out with the wrong media figure [Julian Assange].
Dennis Bernstein: Could you say a little bit about what your work was and what you tried to do with your expose?
Thomas Drake: My experience was quite telling, in terms of how far the government will go to try to destroy someone's life. The attempt by the government to silence me was extraordinary. They threw everything they had at me, all because I spoke the truth. I spoke up about abuse of power, I spoke up about the mass surveillance regime. My crime was that I made the choice to go to the media. And the government was not just coming after me, they were sending a really chilling message to the media: If you print this, you are also under the gun.
Dennis Bernstein: We have heard the charges again and again, that this was a Russian hack. What was the source? Let's trace it back as best we can.
Thomas Drake: In this hyper-inflated, politicized environment, it is extremely difficult to wade through the massive amount of disinformation on all sides. Hacking is something all modern nation-states engage in, including the United States, including Russia. The challenge here is trying to figure out who the players are, whose ox is being gored, and who is doing the goring.
From all accounts, Trump was duly elected. Now you have the Mueller investigation and the House investigation. Where is this all leading? The US intelligence agency hasn't done itself any favors. The ICA provides no proof either, in terms of allegations that the Russians "hacked" the election. We do have the evidence disclosed by Reality Winner that maybe there was some interference. But the hyper-politicization is making it extraordinarily difficult.
The advantage that intelligence has is that they can hide behind what they are doing. They don't actually have to tell the truth, they can shade it, they can influence it and shape it. This is where information can be politicized and used as a weapon. Randy has found himself caught up in these investigations by virtue of being a media figure and hanging out with "the wrong people."
Dennis Bernstein: It looks like the Russiagaters in Congress are trying to corner Randy. All his life he has spoken truth to power. But what do you think the role of the press should be?
Thomas Drake: The press amplifies just about everything they focus on, especially with today's 24-hour, in-your-face social media. Even the mainstream media is publishing directly to their webpages. You have to get behind the cacophony of all that noise and ask, "Why?" What are the intentions here?
I believe there are still enough independent journalists who are looking further and deeper. But clearly there are those who are hell-bent on making life as difficult as possible for the current president and those who are going to defend him to the hilt. I was not surprised at all that Trump won. A significant percentage of the American electorate were looking for something different.
Dennis Bernstein : Well, if you consider the content of those emails .Certainly, the Clinton folks got rid of Bernie Sanders.
Thomas Drake: That would have been an interesting race, to have Bernie vs. Trump. Sanders was appealing, especially to young audiences. He was raising legitimate issues.
Dennis Bernstein: In Clinton, they had a known quantity who supported the national security state.
Thomas Drake: The national security establishment was far more comfortable having Clinton as president. Someone central to my own case, General Michael Hayden, just a couple days ago went apoplectic because of a tweet from Trump taking on the mainstream media. Hayden got over 100,000 likes on his response. Well, Hayden was central to what we did in deep secrecy at the highest levels of government after 9/11, engaging in widespread surveillance and then justifying it as "raw executive authority."
Now you have this interesting dynamic where the national security establishment is effectively undermining a duly elected president of the United States. I recognize that Trump is vulnerable, but these types of investigations often become highly politicized. I worry that what is really happening is being sacrificed on the altar of entertainment and the stage of political theater.
What is happening to Randy is symptomatic of a larger trend. If you dare speak truth to power, you are going to pay the price. Is Randy that much of a threat, just because he is questioning authority? Are we afraid of the press? Are we afraid of having the uncomfortable conversations, of dealing with the inconvenient truths about ourselves?
Dennis J Bernstein is a host of "Flashpoints" on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom . You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net .
orwellexiled off mainstreet , December 7, 2017 at 4:23 pm
"Raw Executive Authority" means Totalitarianism/Fascism.Jerry Alatalo , December 7, 2017 at 3:34 pm
Yeah, it is definitely a way of describing the concept of fascism without using the word. The present Yankee regime seems to be quite far along that road, and the full-on types seem to be engaged in a coup to eliminate those they fear may not be as much in the fascist deep-state bag.jaycee , December 7, 2017 at 3:56 pm
It is highly encouraging to know that a great many good and decent men and women Americans are 100% supportive of Mr, Randy Credico as he prepares for his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. Remember all those standing right there beside you, speak what rightly needs to be spoken, and make history Mr. Credico!mike k , December 7, 2017 at 5:49 pm
The intensification of panic/hysteria was obviously triggered by the shock election of Trump. Where this is all heading is on display in Australia, as the government is writing legislation to "criminalise covert and deceptive activities of foreign actors that fall short of espionage but are intended to interfere with our democratic systems and processes or support the intelligence activities of a foreign government." The legislation will apparently be accompanied by new requirements of public registration of those deemed "foreign agents". (see http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/12/07/auch-d07.html ).
This will be an attack on free speech, free thought, and political freedoms, justified by an orchestrated hysteria which ridiculously assumes a "pure" political realm (i.e. the "homeland") under assault by impure foreign agents and their dirty ideas. Yes, that is a fascist construct and the liberal establishment will see it through, not the alt-right blowhards.john wilson , December 8, 2017 at 5:48 am
How disgusting to have to live today in the society so accurately described by Orwell in 1984. It was a nice book to read, but not to live in!fudmier , December 7, 2017 at 4:42 pm
Actually Mike, the book was a prophesy but you aren't seen nothing yet. You me and the rest of the posters here may well find ourselves going for a visit to room 101 yet.Al Pinto , December 7, 2017 at 5:23 pm
Those who govern (527 of them) at the pleasure of the constitution are about to breach the contract that entitles them to govern. Limiting the scope of information allowed to those who are the governed, silencing the voices of those with concerns and serious doubts, policing every word uttered by those who are the governed, as well as abusing the constitutional privilege of force and judicial authority, to deny peaceful protests of the innocents is approaching the final straw.
The governors and their corporate sponsors have imposed on those the governors govern much concern. Exactly the condition that existed prior to July 4, 1776, which elicited the following:
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the Political bands which connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the laws of nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
I submit the actions and intentions of those who govern that are revealed and discussed in this article https://consortiumnews.com/2017/12/07/russia-gates-reach-into-journalism/ should be among the list of impels that support the next declaration.mike k , December 7, 2017 at 5:53 pm
Those who govern (527 of them and the puppet master oligarch behind them) will make certain that there's no support for the next declaration. There's no respect to the opinions of the mankind, what matters is keeping the current status quo in place and further advance it by silencing the independent media.
Maybe when the next "Mother of all bubbles" come, there's an opportunity for the mankind to be heard, but it's doubtful. What has taken place during the last bubble is that the rich has gotten richer and the poor, well, you know the routine.
https://usawatchdog.com/mother-of-all-bubbles-too-big-to-pop-peter-schiff/john wilson , December 8, 2017 at 5:44 am
Truth is he enemy of coercive power. Lies and secrecy are essential in leading the sheeple to their slaughter.Christene Bartels , December 8, 2017 at 9:57 am
Perhaps the one good thing about Trumps election is that its shows democracy is still just about alive and breathing in the US, because as is pointed out in this article, Trump was never expected to win and those who lost are still in a state of shock and disbelief.
Trump's election has also shown us in vivid technicolour, just what is really going on in the deep state. Absolutely none of this stuff would have come out had Clinton won and anything there was would have been covered up as though under the concrete foundation of a tower block. However, Trump still has four years left and as a British prime minister once said, "a week is a long time in politics". Well four more years of Trump is a hell of a lot longer so who knows what might happen in that time.
One things for sure: the Neocons, the deep state, and all the rest of the skunks that infest Washington will make absolutely sure that future elections will go the way as planned, so perhaps we should celebrate Trump, because he may well be the last manifestation of the democracy in the US.
In the end, what will bring this monstrously lumbering "Russia-gate" dog and pony show crashing down is that stupid, fake Fusion GPS dossier that was commissioned, paid for, and disseminated by Team Hillary and the DNC. Then, as with the sinking of the Titanic, all of the flotsam and jetsam floating within its radius of destruction will go down with it. What will left to pluck from the lifeboats afterwards is anyone's guess. All thanks to Hillary.
Apparently, Santa isn't the only one making a list and checking it twice this year. He's going to have to share the limelight with Karma.
Oct 07, 2017 | www.moonofalabama.org
psychohistorian | Oct 6, 2017 11:07:01 PM | 25
"We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives.
They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal.
We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power."
George Orwell, 1984
Sep 25, 2017 | www.defenddemocracy.pressNoam Chomsky Neoliberalism Is Destroying Our Democracy Defend Democracy Press
CL: Social democracy
NC: Social democracy, yeah. That's sometimes called "the golden age of modern capitalism." That changed in the '70s with the onset of the neoliberal era that we've been living in since. And if you ask yourself what this era is, its crucial principle is undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy.
It's not called that. What it's called is "freedom," but "freedom" means a subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power. That's what it means. The institutions of governance -- or other kinds of association that could allow people to participate in decision making -- those are systematically weakened. Margaret Thatcher said it rather nicely in her aphorism about "there is no society, only individuals."Since the Second World War, we have created two means of destruction. Since the neoliberal era, we have dismantled the way of handling them.
She was actually, unconsciously no doubt, paraphrasing Marx, who in his condemnation of the repression in France said, "The repression is turning society into a sack of potatoes, just individuals, an amorphous mass can't act together." That was a condemnation. For Thatcher, it's an ideal!and that's neoliberalism. We destroy or at least undermine the governing mechanisms by which people at least in principle can participate to the extent that society's democratic. So weaken them, undermine unions, other forms of association, leave a sack of potatoes and meanwhile transfer decisions to unaccountable private power all in the rhetoric of freedom.
Well, what does that do? The one barrier to the threat of destruction is an engaged public, an informed, engaged public acting together to develop means to confront the threat and respond to it. That's been systematically weakened, consciously. I mean, back to the 1970s we've probably talked about this. There was a lot of elite discussion across the spectrum about the danger of too much democracy and the need to have what was called more "moderation" in democracy, for people to become more passive and apathetic and not to disturb things too much, and that's what the neoliberal programs do. So put it all together and what do you have? A perfect storm.
CL: What everybody notices is all the headline things, including Brexit and Donald Trump and Hindu nationalism and nationalism everywhere and Le Pen all kicking in more or less together and suggesting some real world phenomenon.
NC: it's very clear, and it was predictable. You didn't know exactly when, but when you impose socioeconomic policies that lead to stagnation or decline for the majority of the population, undermine democracy, remove decision-making out of popular hands, you're going to get anger, discontent, fear take all kinds of forms. And that's the phenomenon that's misleadingly called "populism."
CL: I don't know what you think of Pankaj Mishra, but I enjoy his book Age of Anger , and he begins with an anonymous letter to a newspaper from somebody who says, "We should admit that we are not only horrified but baffled. Nothing since the triumph of Vandals in Rome and North Africa has seemed so suddenly incomprehensible and difficult to reverse."
NC: Well, that's the fault of the information system, because it's very comprehensible and very obvious and very simple. Take, say the United States, which actually suffered less from these policies than many other countries. Take the year 2007, a crucial year right before the crash.
What was the wondrous economy that was then being praised? It was one in which the wages, the real wages of American workers, were actually lower than they were in 1979 when the neoliberal period began. That's historically unprecedented except for trauma or war or something like that. Here is a long period in which real wages had literally declined, while there was some wealth created but in very few pockets. It was also a period in which new institutions developed, financial institutions. You go back to the '50s and '60s, a so-called Golden Age, banks were connected to the real economy. That was their function. There were also no crashes because there were New Deal regulations.
Starting in the early '70s there was a sharp change. First of all, financial institutions exploded in scale. By 2007 they actually had 40 percent of corporate profits. Furthermore, they weren't connected to the real economy anymore.
In Europe the way democracy is undermined is very direct1. Decisions are placed in the hands of an unelected troika: the European Commission, which is unelected; the IMF, of course unelected; and the European Central Bank. They make the decisions. So people are very angry, they're losing control of their lives. The economic policies are mostly harming them, and the result is anger, disillusion, and so on.
... ... ...
NC: I think the fate of the species depends on it because, remember, it's not just inequality, stagnation. It's terminal disaster. We have constructed a perfect storm. That should be the screaming headlines every day. Since the Second World War, we have created two means of destruction. Since the neoliberal era, we have dismantled the way of handling them. That's our pincers. That's what we face, and if that problem isn't solved, we're done with.
CL: I want to go back Pankaj Mishra and the Age of Anger for a moment!
NC: It's not the Age of Anger. It's the Age of Resentment against socioeconomic policies which have harmed the majority of the population for a generation and have consciously and in principle undermined democratic participation. Why shouldn't there be anger?
CL: Pankaj Mishra calls it -- it's a Nietzschean word -- "ressentiment," meaning this kind of explosive rage. But he says, "It's the defining feature of a world where the modern promise of equality collides with massive disparities of power, education, status and!
NC: Which was designed that way, which was designed that way. Go back to the 1970s. Across the spectrum, elite spectrum, there was deep concern about the activism of the '60s. It's called the "time of troubles." It civilized the country, which is dangerous. What happened is that large parts of the population -- which had been passive, apathetic, obedient -- tried to enter the political arena in one or another way to press their interests and concerns. They're called "special interests." That means minorities, young people, old people, farmers, workers, women. In other words, the population. The population are special interests, and their task is to just watch quietly. And that was explicit.
Two documents came out right in the mid-'70s, which are quite important. They came from opposite ends of the political spectrum, both influential, and both reached the same conclusions. One of them, at the left end, was by the Trilateral Commission -- liberal internationalists, three major industrial countries, basically the Carter administration, that's where they come from. That is the more interesting one [ The Crisis of Democracy , a Trilateral Commission report]. The American rapporteur Samuel Huntington of Harvard, he looked back with nostalgia to the days when, as he put it, Truman was able to run the country with the cooperation of a few Wall Street lawyers and executives. Then everything was fine. Democracy was perfect.
But in the '60s they all agreed it became problematic because the special interests started trying to get into the act, and that causes too much pressure and the state can't handle that.
... ... ...
Listen to the full conversation with Noam Chomsky on Radio Open Source.
Aug 30, 2017 | www.defenddemocracy.press
By Manuela Cadelli, President of the Magistrates' Union of Belgium
The time for rhetorical reservations is over. Things have to be called by their name to make it possible for a co-ordinated democratic reaction to be initiated, above all in the public services.
Liberalism was a doctrine derived from the philosophy of Enlightenment, at once political and economic, which aimed at imposing on the state the necessary distance for ensuring respect for liberties and the coming of democratic emancipation. It was the motor for the arrival, and the continuing progress, of Western democracies.
Neoliberalism is a form of economism in our day that strikes at every moment at every sector of our community. It is a form of extremism.
Fascism may be defined as the subordination of every part of the State to a totalitarian and nihilistic ideology.
I argue that neoliberalism is a species of fascism because the economy has brought under subjection not only the government of democratic countries but also every aspect of our thought.
The state is now at the disposal of the economy and of finance, which treat it as a subordinate and lord over it to an extent that puts the common good in jeopardy.
The austerity that is demanded by the financial milieu has become a supreme value, replacing politics. Saving money precludes pursuing any other public objective. It is reaching the point where claims are being made that the principle of budgetary orthodoxy should be included in state constitutions. A mockery is being made of the notion of public service.
The nihilism that results from this makes possible the dismissal of universalism and the most evident humanistic values: solidarity, fraternity, integration and respect for all and for differences.
There is no place any more even for classical economic theory: work was formerly an element in demand, and to that extent there was respect for workers; international finance has made of it a mere adjustment variable.
Every totalitarianism starts as distortion of language, as in the novel by George Orwell. Neoliberalism has its Newspeak and strategies of communication that enable it to deform reality. In this spirit, every budgetary cut is represented as an instance of modernization of the sectors concerned. If some of the most deprived are no longer reimbursed for medical expenses and so stop visiting the dentist, this is modernization of social security in action!Read also: The only real way to stop atrocities like the Manchester attack is to end the wars which allow extremism to grow
Abstraction predominates in public discussion so as to occlude the implications for human beings.
Thus, in relation to migrants, it is imperative that the need for hosting them does not lead to public appeals that our finances could not accommodate. Is it In the same way that other individuals qualify for assistance out of considerations of national solidarity?
The cult of evaluation
Social Darwinism predominates, assigning the most stringent performance requirements to everyone and everything: to be weak is to fail. The foundations of our culture are overturned: every humanist premise is disqualified or demonetized because neoliberalism has the monopoly of rationality and realism. Margaret Thatcher said it in 1985: "There is no alternative." Everything else is utopianism, unreason and regression. The virtue of debate and conflicting perspectives are discredited because history is ruled by necessity.
This subculture harbours an existential threat of its own: shortcomings of performance condemn one to disappearance while at the same time everyone is charged with inefficiency and obliged to justify everything. Trust is broken. Evaluation reigns, and with it the bureaucracy which imposes definition and research of a plethora of targets, and indicators with which one must comply. Creativity and the critical spirit are stifled by management. And everyone is beating his breast about the wastage and inertia of which he is guilty.
The neglect of justice
The neoliberal ideology generates a normativity that competes with the laws of parliament. The democratic power of law is compromised. Given that they represent a concrete embodiment of liberty and emancipation, and given the potential to prevent abuse that they impose, laws and procedures have begun to look like obstacles.Read also: EU lies on Cyprus, Ireland, Portugal and Greece
The power of the judiciary, which has the ability to oppose the will of the ruling circles, must also be checkmated. The Belgian judicial system is in any case underfunded. In 2015 it came last in a European ranking that included all states located between the Atlantic and the Urals. In two years the government has managed to take away the independence given to it under the Constitution so that it can play the counterbalancing role citizens expect of it. The aim of this undertaking is clearly that there should no longer be justice in Belgium.
A caste above the Many
But the dominant class doesn't prescribe for itself the same medicine it wants to see ordinary citizens taking: well-ordered austerity begins with others. The economist Thomas Piketty has perfectly described this in his study of inequality and capitalism in the twenty-first century (French edition, Seuil, 2013).
In spite of the crisis of 2008 and the hand-wringing that followed, nothing was done to police the financial community and submit them to the requirements of the common good. Who paid? Ordinary people, you and me.
And while the Belgian State consented to 7 billion-euro ten-year tax breaks for multinationals, ordinary litigants have seen surcharges imposed on access to justice (increased court fees, 21% taxation on legal fees). From now on, to obtain redress the victims of injustice are going to have to be rich.
All this in a state where the number of public representatives breaks all international records. In this particular area, no evaluation and no costs studies are reporting profit. One example: thirty years after the introduction of the federal system, the provincial institutions survive. Nobody can say what purpose they serve. Streamlining and the managerial ideology have conveniently stopped at the gates of the political world.
The security idealRead also: DEMOCRATIC MENTAL HEALTH SOLIDARITY NETWORK
Terrorism, this other nihilism that exposes our weakness in affirming our values, is likely to aggravate the process by soon making it possible for all violations of our liberties, all violations of our rights, to circumvent the powerless qualified judges, further reducing social protection for the poor, who will be sacrificed to "the security ideal".
Salvation in commitment
These developments certainly threaten the foundations of our democracy, but do they condemn us to discouragement and despair?
Certainly not. 500 years ago, at the height of the defeats that brought down most Italian states with the imposition of foreign occupation for more than three centuries, Niccolo Machiavelli urged virtuous men to defy fate and stand up against the adversity of the times, to prefer action and daring to caution. The more tragic the situation, the more it necessitates action and the refusal to "give up" (The Prince, Chapters XXV and XXVI).
This is a teaching that is clearly required today. The determination of citizens attached to the radical of democratic values is an invaluable resource which has not yet revealed, at least in Belgium, its driving potential and power to change what is presented as inevitable. Through social networking and the power of the written word, everyone can now become involved, particularly when it comes to public services, universities, the student world, the judiciary and the Bar, in bringing the common good and social justice into the heart of public debate and the administration of the state and the community.
Neoliberalism is a species of fascism. It must be fought and humanism fully restored.
Published in the Belgian daily Le Soir, 3.3.2016
translated from French by Wayne Hall
Le néolibéralisme est un fascisme, par Manuela Cadelli
Jun 27, 2017 | off-guardian.org
U.S. President Donald Trump, who during the election-campaign ferociously condemned Barack Obama's foreign policies, while asserting nothing concrete of his own, has, as the U.S. President, committed himself quite clearly to continuing Obama's publicly stated policy on Syria, which policy was to place, as the first priority, the elimination of ISIS, and as the policy to follow that, the elimination and replacement of Syria's government. I have previously indicated that on June 19th "Russia Announces No-Fly Zone in Syria - War Against U.S. There" , and that the early indications are that Trump has changed his Syria-policy to accommodate Russia's demands there; but, prior to June 19th, Trump was actually following Obama's publicly stated Syria-policy.
As also will be shown here, Obama's publicly stated policy - to destroy ISIS and then to overthrow Syria's President Bashar al-Assad - was actually less extreme than his real policy, which was to overthrow Assad and to use the jihadist forces in Syria (especially Al Qaeda in Syria) to achieve that objective. Trump, at least until 19 June 2017, has been adhering to Obama's publicly stated policy. Russia's warning was for him not to adopt and continue Obama's actual policy (to overthrow Assad).
Here is the part, of the by-now-famous 12 August 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analysis of the intelligence regarding Iraq and in Syria, that the press (despite its extensive reporting about the document) has not yet reported from the Judicial Watch FOIA disclosures (which had included that document and many others), but which part of it shows even more than the part that has been reported from the document, Obama's having made an informed choice actually to protect Al Qaeda in Syria, so as to bring down and replace the Syrian government - Obama's actual prioritization (contrary to his publicly stated one) of overthrowing Assad, even above defeating the jihadists in Syria; and this was clearly also a warning by the DIA to the Commander-in-Chief, that he can have either an overthrow of Assad, or else a non-jihadist-controlled Syria, but not both, and that any attempt to bring down Assad by means of using the jihadists as a proxy army against him, would ultimately fail:http://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version.pdf
page 69 of 100:
D. AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq], through spokesman of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) Abu Muhammed Al Adnani, declared the Syrian regime as the spearhead of what he is naming Jibha Al Ruwafdh (forefront of the Shiites) because of its (the Syrian regime) declaration of war on the Sunnis. Additionally, he is calling on the Sunnis in Iraq, especially the tribes in the border regions (between Iraq and Syria), to wage war against the Syrian regime, regarding Syria as an infidel regime for its support to the infidel party Hezbollah, and other regimes he considers dissenters like Iran and Iraq.
E. AQI considers the Sunni issue in Iraq to be fatefully connected to the Sunni Arabs and Muslims.
A. The [Syrian] regime will survive and have control over Syrian territory.
B. Development of the current events into a proxy war: with support from Russia, China, and Iran, the regime is controlling the areas of influence along coastal territories (Tartus and Latakia), and is fiercely defending Homs, which is considered the primary transportation route in Syria. On the other hand, opposition forces are trying to control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to the western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar), in addition to neighboring Turkish borders. Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey are supporting these [jihadist] efforts
And here is from the part that the press did report:https://www.facebook.com/ayssar.midani/posts/10152479627582395
Ayssar Midani, May 23, 2015 · Paris, France:
"C: If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime."
The "supporting powers" are: western countries, the Gulf States and Turkey The DIA warns that the creation of such an Salafist principality would have "dire consequences" for Iraq and would possibly lead to the creation of an Islamic State and: create the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi.
These DIA folks really earned their salary.
The Obama administration, together with other supporter of the Syrian "opposition", knew that AQ was a large part of that "opposition" from the very beginning. The U.S. and others wanted a Salafist [i.e., fundamentalist Sunni] principality in east Syria to cut Syria and Lebanon off from a land route to Iran. It was warned that such a principality would create havoc in Iraq and to the return of AQ in Iraq (today the Islamic State) to Mosul and Ramadi.
I quoted from that part in December 2016 , which was the time when the two Presidents, Obama and Turkey's Erdogan, began their joint effort to relocate ISIS from Mosul Iraq, into Der Zor Syria, in order to culminate their (and the Sauds') joint plan to use ISIS so as to bring down Assad. Then, I headlined, on 30 April 2017, that they had actually completed this task of moving Iraq's ISIS into Syria, "How Obama & Erdogan Moved ISIS from Iraq to Syria, to Weaken Assad" . That's why the Syrian government is now fighting to take Der Zor back from ISIS control.
Other portions of the Judicial Watch FOIA disclosures which received little or no press-coverage (and that little being only on far-right blogs - not mainstream 'news' sites) add still further to the evidence that Obama was using Al Qaeda and its friends, as a proxy army of jihadists to overthrow Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and replace him by a jihadist regime that would be loyal to America's fundamentalist-Sunni 'allies', the Sauds who own Saudi Arabia, and the Thanis who own Qatar. (Of course, now, the Sauds are trying to destroy the Thanis, too.)
These unpublished or little-published portions from the Judical Watch disclosures, also add to the ample published evidence that the Obama regime was transporting (as these documents acknowledged on page 4) "weapons from the former Libya military stockpiles located in Benghazi, Libya" which "were shipped from the port of Benghazi, Libya to the ports of Banias and the Port of Borj Islam, Syria," for use by Obama's 'moderate rebels' (a.k.a.: jihadists) in Syria. Specifically:page 4:
18 Sep 2012
2. During the immediate aftermath of, and following the uncertainty caused by, the downfall of the ((Qaddafi)) regime in October 2011 and up until early September of 2012, weapons from the former Libya military stockpiles located in Benghazi, Libya were shipped from the port of Benghazi, Libya to the ports of Banias and the Port of Borj Islam, Syria. The Syrian ports were chosen due to the small amounts of cargo traffic transiting these two ports. The ships used to transport the weapons were medium-sized and able to hold 10 or less shipping containers of cargo.
3. The weapons shipped from Libya to Syria during late-August 2012 [i.e., the period immediately prior to this memo] were sniper rifles, RPGs, and 125mm and 155mm howitzers missiles. The numbers for each weapon were estimated to be: 500 sniper rifles, 100 RPG launchers with 300 total rounds, and approximately 400 howitzers missiles.
It's now clear that Trump (at least until June 19th) has been continuing Obama's stated policy of killing ISIS and then overthrowing Assad. But of course no one can yet know whether or not he would be continuing it in precisely the way that Hillary Clinton made clear that she would do, which is to announce a no-fly zone in Syria and thus grab control over some portion of the sovereign nation of Syria. That way would result, now after 19 June 2017 ( Russia's warning to shoot down U.S. aircraft that attack Syrian government-allied forces ), either in U.S. retreat or else shooting down Russian planes in Syria, and war between U.S. and Russia, ending in nuclear war.
When I presented, in my December 2016 report, what I referred to above as "the part of the 12 August 2012 DIA analysis of the intelligence regarding Iraq and in Syria that the press has not yet reported from the Judicial Watch FOIA disclosures," I didn't mention then that one news-medium did report a part of that section, and it was a rabidly pro-Republican site, Glenn Beck and his "The Blaze," which headlined about this matter, very appropriately, "'It Is Damn Near Criminal': Glenn Beck Says the U.S. Is Using Islamic State as a 'Pawn'," which point, Beck presented rather well in the video accompanying it. Unfortunately, however, closed-minded 'liberals' and 'progressives' paid no attention to this and to the other evils perpetrated by Obama ( such as these ). Regardless of how untrustworthy Beck is, his statements about that particular matter were actually spot-on.
Obama was using ISIS in this way, but after Russia started bombing ISIS in Syria on 30 September 2015, Obama joined in so as not to make obvious to the world that he had been protecting and even arming ISIS until that date, and that prior to Russia's bombing ISIS, the U.S. had actually ignored ISIS.
Now that ISIS in Syria seems to be on its last legs there, only Kurds and Al Qaeda in Syria ( and their backers especially the U.S. and Sauds ) remain as big threats to Syria's sovereignty, and the evidence at least till June 19th, has been that Trump definitely backs the Kurds there, and might also be backing Al Qaeda there as well. If he continues backing the Kurds and Al Qaeda there, after Russia's warning on June 19th (which the neoconservative Washington Post called only "bluffing" and the neoconservative CNBC called "bluster" ), then the U.S. will be at war not only against Russia, but also against Turkey, and also against Iran, and it would be World War III because it would be U.S.-v.-Russia. Turkey is already at war against the Kurds; and, if America is fighting for the Kurds, to break up Syria, then Turkey - a member of the NATO anti-Russia alliance - will paralyze NATO; and the U.S. will then be waging its war without NATO's support.
Trump would need to be very stupid to do such a thing. It would be an intelligence test which, if Trump fails, the world will end, in nuclear winter - with or without support from the rest of NATO. But, nonetheless, some in the American 'elite' and its employees, say that it would merely be a recognition of Russia's "bluffing" and "bluster." One wonders what objective this 'elite' believes to be worthy of taking the risk that they're wrong. What do they actually hope to 'win', fighting on the side of the Sauds (and their Israeli agents), in order to conquer Syria? Why are they so desperate, to do that?Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They're Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010 , and of CHRIST'S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity .
Eric Blair says June 27, 2017Moon of Alabama commented yesterday on the US and its allies defeat (so far) in S.E. Syria. At an MSM ignored DoD press conference the US military admitted as much. From MoA's article:bevin says June 26, 2017
Q: [ ] [W]hat potential threat do you believe these Iranian backed militias and regime forces continue to pose to your forces and your partner forces in the At Tanf - Abu Kamal area?
COL. DILLON: Well if the Syrian regime - and it looks like they are making a concerted effort to move into ISIS held areas. And if they show that they can do that, that is not a bad sign. We are here to fight ISIS as a coalition, but if others want to fight ISIS and defeat them, then we absolutely have no problem with that. And as they move eastward toward Abu Kamal and to Deir Ezzour, if we - as long as we can de-conflict and make sure that we can focus on what it is we're there to do, without having any kind of strategic mishaps with the regime or with pro-regime forces or with Russians, then that is - we're perfectly happy with that.
In a later part the spokesperson also concedes that the forces in al-Tanf are now very constricted in their movement:
if the regime is - has moved into an area that is towards Abu Kamal, then we are going to be limited to how far out we do patrols [from al-Tanf] with our partner forces.
Somewhat later the point is made again and even clearer – al-Tanf is now useless and the Syrian army is free to do what it does:
COL. DILLON: So what I was saying about that is that, out of the At Tanf area, we have used that to train our partner forces and to continue to - to fight ISIS, you know, if they are in and around that area.
You know, now that the regime has moved in, and they have made some significant, you know, progress, as it looks, towards moving to Abu Kamal and perhaps Deir Ezzour, if they want to fight ISIS in Abu Kamal and they have the capacity to do so, then, you know, that - that would be welcome.
We as a coalition are not in the land-grab business. We're in the killing ISIS business, and that is what we want to do. And if - if the Syrian regime wants to do that, and they are going to, again, put forth a concerted effort and show that they are - are doing just that in Abu Kamal or Deir Ezzour or elsewhere, that means that we don't have to do that in those locations.
So I guess that - what I'm saying is, in the At Tanf area, we will continue to train our partner forces. We will continue to do patrols in and around At Tanf in the Hamad desert. But if our access to Abu Kamal is shut off because the regime is there, that's okay.
Hmm the US military standing down? I haven't looked at the entire transcript yet but this seems almost too good to be true. Of course these press conference proclamations need to be washed down with a generous helping of delicious salt. Even if the statements are sincere, the interventionists, their media "partners" and think tank propagandists will keep on pushing for "regime change" (a coup by any other name ) and the destruction of Syria.
On the bright side US/NATO uncontested domination of the globe was stopped in its tracks by the Russian military in Syria on 30.09.2015 and there is simply no way Washington can bribe, threaten or beat every nation in the world into submission.This is a culture at the end of its tether: it simply cannot put up with dissent or contradiction, so brittle is it. It is all part of a refusal to face ugly reality, symptomatic of which is the relegation-to Die Welt's Sunday edition- of Seymour Hersh's latest investigation of US state mendacity its irresponsibility in the matter if the recent "Sarin" attack blamed on Assad.captain Swing says June 27, 2017
Ray McGovern has a piece at Counterpunch today in which he reveals that "Even the London Review of Books, which published Hersh's earlier debunking of the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin-gas incident, wouldn't go out onto the limb this time despite having paid for his investigation.
"According to Hersh, the LRB did not want to be "vulnerable to criticism for seeming to take the view of the Syrian and Russia governments when it came to the April 4 bombing in Khan Sheikhoun." So much for diversity of thought in today's West."
https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/06/26/hershs-big-scoop-bad-intel-behind-trumps-syria-attack/Very interesting article from Counterpunch. Thanks.Jerry Alatalo says June 27, 2017bevin,archie1954 says June 26, 2017
The facts Seymour Hersh's article lays out pushes one in the direction that Trump – totally ignoring his intelligence and military experts telling him their was no certainty Assad was responsible – had knowledge the event was a false flag. Trump couldn't be so stupid as to not understand what his experts were telling him. After launching the 50 Tomahawk missiles, he lied through his teeth to the world, saying "we know we have the evidence..", then UN Ambassador Nikki Haley (like Colin Powell, before the illegal Iraq War) blasted Assad falsely, held up pictures at the Security Council of dead children which were quickly plastered on the front pages of newspapers globally,, and literally warned Syria's Bashar al-Jaafari of impending war.
Hersh's article shows Trump, Haley and the U.S. administration, UK/France and other United Nations representatives were lying about "we have the evidence", and owe their citizens and the world an explanation, plus an apology. These psychopath liars are extremely dangerous and must become held to account for their deceptions.If the US were to persist in this dangerous dance with the devil, I could imaging NATO being split by Turkey, refusing to get involved any further and even separately protecting Europe from Russian retaliation by entering into a defense treaty with Russia. The US then would be shouldering the whole foolish confrontation by itself and perhaps having to deal with China and North Korea at the same time. Now that would be an interesting scenario.Michael Leigh says June 26, 2017I think the worthy Historian, Eric Zuesse has not considered the possibility that a new midlle East regional grouping, offers the best chance of allowing the USA to gracefully avoid the ultimate failure of its Middle East policy by conceding to the combined alliance, of the major traditional Nations and their forces of the Middle East; being Egypt, Iran and Turkey.
Currently divided by a false religious and secular division, posed by primarily Great Britain and the USA, it was the British who over 100 years ago financed and invented the Sunni Wahhabi division which sunni division represents the most murderous of the current Islamic terrorist outrages financed also by the USA and Saudi Arabia throughout the region and globe.
Similarly, the Anglo-Franco financed and hosting of the Muslim Brotherhood to further frustrate and end Turkey's leadership of the declining Otterman Empire, formally lead by Turkey.
The most important factor against a new alignment of those three aforementioned regional leaders; is the current illegimate counter-alliance of " the lawless Hebrew State of Israel " and the Teflon-guarded deep state, which appears to own and really run the also infamous North America State?
www.chomsky.infoAMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Noam Chomsky, world-renowned dissident, author of more than 100 books, speaking to us from Boston. Noam, you wrote a piece after the midterm elections called Outrage Misguided. I want to read for you now what Sarah Palin tweeted Ð the former Alaskan governor, of course, and Republication vice presidential nominee. This is what she tweeted about WikiLeaks. Rather, she put it on Facebook. She said, "First and foremost, what steps were taken to stop WikiLeaks' director Julian Assange from distributing this highly-sensitive classified material, especially after he had already published material not once but twice in the previous months? Assange is not a journalist any more than the editor of the Al Qaeda's new English-language magazine ÒInspire,Ó is a journalist. He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands. His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders? Noam Chomsky, your response?
NOAM CHOMSKY: That's pretty much what I would expect Sarah Palin to say. I don't know how much she understands, but I think we should pay attention to what we learn from the leaks. What we learned, for example, is kinds of things I've said. Perhaps the most dramatic revelation, or mention, is the bitter hatred of democracy that is revealed both by the U.S. Government -- Hillary Clinton, others -- and also by the diplomatic service.
To tell the world well, they're talking to each other -- to pretend to each other that the Arab world regards Iran as the major threat and wants the U.S. to bomb Iran, is extremely revealing, when they know that approximately 80% of Arab opinion regards the U.S. and Israel as the major threat, 10% regard Iran as the major threat, and a majority, 57%, think the region would be better off with Iranian nuclear weapons as a kind of deterrent. That is does not even enter. All that enters is what they claim has been said by Arab dictators -- brutal Arab dictators. That is what counts.
How representative this is of what they say, we don't know, because we do not know what the filtering is. But that's a minor point. But the major point is that the population is irrelevant. All that matters is the opinions of the dictators that we support. If they were to back us, that is the Arab world. That is a very revealing picture of the mentality of U.S. political leadership and, presumably, the lead opinion, judging by the commentary that's appeared here, that's the way it has been presented in the press as well. It does not matter with the Arabs believe.
AMY GOODMAN: Your piece, Outrage Misguided. Back to the midterm elections and what we're going to see now. Can you talk about the tea party movement?
NOAM CHOMSKY: The Tea Party movement itself is, maybe 15% or 20% of the electorate. It's relatively affluent, white, nativist, you know, it has rather traditional nativist streaks to it. But what is much more important, I think, is the outrage. Over half the population says they more or less supported it, or support its message. What people are thinking is extremely interesting. I mean, overwhelmingly polls reveal that people are extremely bitter, angry, hostile, opposed to everything.
The primary cause undoubtedly is the economic disaster. It's not just the financial catastrophe, it's an economic disaster. I mean, in the manufacturing industry, for example, unemployment levels are at the level of the Great Depression. And unlike the Great Depression, those jobs are not coming back. U.S. owners and managers have long ago made the decision that they can make more profit with complicated financial deals than by production. So finance -- this goes back to the 1970s, mainly Reagan escalated it, and onward -- Clinton, too. The economy has been financialized.
Financial institutions have grown enormously in their share of corporate profits. It may be something like a third, or something like that today. At the same time, correspondingly, production has been exported. So you buy some electronic device from China. China is an assembly plant for a Northeast Asian production center. The parts and components come from the more advanced countries and from the United States, and the technology . So yes, that's a cheap place to assemble things and sell them back here. Rather similar in Mexico, now Vietnam, and so on. That is the way to make profits.
It destroys the society here, but that's not the concern of the ownership class and the managerial class. Their concern is profit. That is what drives the economy. The rest of it is a fallout. People are extremely bitter about it, but don't seem to understand it. So the same people who are a majority, who say that Wall Street is to blame for the current crisis, are voting Republican. Both parties are deep in the pockets of Wall Street, but the Republicans much more so than the Democrats.
The same is true on issue after issue. The antagonism to everyone is extremely high -- actually antagonism -- the population doesn't like Democrats, but they hate Republicans even more. They're against big business. They're against government. They're against Congress. They're against science
Oct 29, 2015 | naked capitalismCHRIS HEDGES, PULITZER-PRIZE WINNING JOURNALIST: Welcome back to part four of our interview with Professor Sheldon Wolin, who taught politics for many years at Berkeley and later Princeton. He is the author of several seminal works on political philosophy, including Politics and Vision and Democracy Incorporated.
I wanted just to go through and I've taken notes from both of your books, Politics and Vision and Democracy Incorporated, of the characteristics of what you call inverted totalitarianism, which you use to describe the political system that we currently live under. You said it's only in part a state-centered phenomenon. What do you mean by that?
SHELDON WOLIN, PROF. EMERITUS POLITICS, PRINCETON: Well, I mean by that that one of the striking characteristics of our age is the extent to which so-called private institutions, like the media, for example, are able to work towards the same end of control, pacification, that the government is interested in, that the idea of genuine opposition is usually viewed as subversion, and so that criticism now is a category that we should really look at and examine, and to see whether it really amounts to anything more than a kind of mild rebuke at best, and at worst a way of sort of confirming the present system by showing its open-mindedness about self-criticism.
HEDGES: And you said that there's a kind of fusion now of–and you talk a lot about the internal dynamics of corporations themselves, the way they're completely hierarchical, even the extent to which people within corporate structures are made to identify with a corporation on a kind of personal level. Even–I mean, I speak as a former reporter for The New York Times–even we would get memos about the New York Times family, which is, of course, absurd. And you talk about how that value system or that structure of power, coupled with that type of propaganda, has just been transferred to the state, that the state now functions in exactly the same way, the same hierarchical way, that it uses the same forms of propaganda to get people at once to surrender their political rights and yet to identify themselves through nationalism, patriotism, and the lust for superpower itself, which we see now across the political landscape.
WOLIN: Yeah. No, I think that's a very strong element, in fact decisive element in our present situation. There's been a kind of conjuncture between the way that social and educational institutions have shaped a certain kind of mentality among students, among faculty, and so on, and the media itself, that are in lockstep with the requirements of the kind of political economic order that we have now, and that the basic question, I think, has been that we have seen the kind of absorption of politics and the political order into so many nonpolitical categories–of economics, sociology, even religion–that we sort of lost the whole, it seems to me, unique character of political institutions, which is that they're supposed to embody the kind of substantive hopes of ordinary people, in terms of the kind of present and future that they want. And that's what democracy is supposed to be about.
But instead we have it subordinated now to the so-called demands of economic growth, the so-called demands of a kind of economic class that's at home with the sort of scientific and technological advances that are being applied by industry, so that the kind of political element of the ruling groups now is being shaped and to a large extent, I think, incorporated into an ideology that is fundamentally unpolitical, or political in a sort of anti-political way. What I mean by that: it's a combination of forces that really wants to exploit the political without seeking to either strengthen it or reform it in a meaningful way or to rejuvenate it. It sees the political structure as opportunity. And the more porous it is, the better, because the dominant groups have such instrumentalities at their control now in order to do that exploitation–radio, television, newsprint, what have you–that it's the best possible world for them.
HEDGES: You actually cite Nietzsche, saying how prescient Nietzsche was. I think you may have said he was a better prophet than Marx, I think, if I remember correctly, in Politics and Vision, but how Nietzsche understood the disintegration of liberal democracy and the liberal class, and also understood the rise of fundamentalist religion in an age of secularism and how dangerous that was.
WOLIN: Yeah. I think that's–obviously, I think that's true of him, and I think it was very farseeing on his part. He, of course, was not a sympathizer with those development, but he wasn't an ordinary sympathizer, either, with the sort of historical elites, or even current elites, that were either capitalist or nationalistic, as in the case of Germany.
Nietzsche was trying to really retrieve a notion of the value, intrinsic value, of political life. And he found it, however, only comprehensible to him in terms of some kind of dichotomy between elite and mass. And that, I think, was the failing of Nietzsche, because he saw so much in terms of tendencies in our society and culture that would ruin us to democracy and needed to be reformed, but reformed in a way that would promote democracy, but which Nietzsche would inevitably try to turn into vehicles for celebrating or encouraging elite formations. And he simply could not conceive of a society that would be worthwhile in which elites were not given the most prominent and leading role. He just couldn't conceive it. He had the kind of 19th century sort of Hegelian notion that the masses were ignorant, they were intolerant, they were against progress, and all the rest of it. He simply, like so many very good writers in the 19th century, didn't know what to do with the, quote, people.
HEDGES: Including Marx.
WOLIN: No, no. They didn't. They tried to either neutralize them or tried to co-opt them, but they never really tried to understand them.
I think the best–the best political movement, I think, which did try to understand them in a significant way, strangely enough, was the American progressive movement, which was very much rooted in American history, in American institutions, but saw quite clearly the dangers that it was getting into and the need for really significant reform that required democratic means, not elitist means, for their solution, and above all required America to really think carefully about its role in international relations, because he saw that that was a trap and, as an aggressive, dominant role in economic relations, was a trap because of what it required, what it required of the population in terms of their outlook and education and culture, and what it required in the way of elites who could lead those kinds of formations. And I think for that reason he was literally a pessimist about what could happen and he had nowhere to go. He had no great trust in the people, and he had come to distrust the elite. I think in the end he took a kind of view that what elites should do is to hunker down and preserve culture, preserve it in its various manifestations–literature, philosophy, poetry, so on.
HEDGES: But he certainly understood what happened when the state divorced itself from religious authority,–
WOLIN: Oh, yeah.
HEDGES: –that you would see the rise of fundamentalist religious movements in fierce opposition to the secular state, number one; and number two, you would see a frantic effort on the part of the state to sacralize itself.
WOLIN: Yeah. Yeah, now, that's true. It did try to do that. It did that rather -- far less in the United States, but it certainly did it in Germany, and to some degree Italy, but not fully.
... ... ...
HEDGES: You said that in inverted totalitarianism, it is furthered by power holders and citizens who often seem unaware of the deeper consequences of their actions or inactions. What I find interesting about that statement is you say even the power holders don't understand their actions.
WOLIN: Yeah, I don't think they do. I think that's most–I think that's apparent not only in so-called conservative political officeholders, but liberal ones as well. And I think the reason for it isn't far to see. The demands of contemporary political decision-making, that is, actually having to decide things in legislation or executive action in a complex political society and economic society such as ours, in a complex political, economic society such as the world is, make reflection very difficult. They make it extremely difficult. And everybody's caught up in the demands of the moment, and understandably so. It becomes again a kind of game of preservation, of keeping the ship of state afloat, but not really trying seriously to change its direction, except maybe rhetorically.
Now, I think the demands of the world are such now and so dangerous, with the kind of weaponry and resources available to every crank and nut in the world, makes it extremely difficult for governments to relax a moment and think about social order and the welfare of the citizens in some kind of way that's divorced from the security potential of the society.
HEDGES: We'd spoke earlier about how because corporate forces have essentially taken over not only systems of media but systems of education, they've effectively destroyed the capacity within these institutions for critical thinking. And what they've done is educate generation–now probably a couple of generations of systems managers, people whose expertise, technical expertise, revolves around keeping the system, as it's constructed, viable and afloat, so that when there's a–in 2008, the global financial crisis, they immediately loot the U.S. Treasury to infuse a staggering $17 trillion worth of money back into the system. And what are the consequences? We'd spoken earlier about how even the power holders themselves don't often understand where they're headed. What are the consequences of now lacking the ability to critique the system or even understand it? What are the consequences environmentally, economically, in terms of democracy itself, of feeding and sustaining that system of corporate capitalism or inverted totalitarianism?
WOLIN: Well, I think the only question would be what kind of time span you're talking about. I mean, I see the kind of erosion of those institutions that you mention as so continuous that it won't take terribly long before the substance of them is completely hollowed out and that what you will get is institutions which do no longer play the role they were intended to, either role of lawmaking in an independent way or criticism or responsiveness to an electorate, so that I think the consequences are with us already. And of course the turnoff on the part of the voters is just one indication of it, but the level of public discourse is certainly another, so that I see it as a process which now is finding fewer and fewer dissident voices that have a genuine platform and mechanism for reaching people. I don't mean that there aren't people who disagree, but I'm talking about do they have ways of communicating, discussing what the disagreements are about and what can be said about the contemporary situation that needs to be addressed, so that the problem, I think, right now is the problem that the instruments of revitalization are just really in very bad disrepair. And I don't see any immediate prospect of it, because–.
HEDGES: You mean coming from within the system itself.
WOLIN: Coming from within. You know, years ago, say, in the 19th century, it was no ordinary occurrence that a new political party would be formed and that it would make maybe not a dominant effect, but it would certainly influence–as the Progressive Party did–influence affairs. That's no more possible now than the most outlandish scheme you can think of. Political parties are so expensive that I needn't detail the difficulties that would be faced by anyone who tried to organize one.
I think the beautiful example we have today, I just think, fraught with implications, is the Koch brothers' purchase of the Republican Party. They literally bought it. Literally. And they had a specific amount they paid, and now they've got it. There hasn't been anything like that in American history. To be sure, powerful economic interests have influenced political parties, especially the Republicans, but this kind of gross takeover, in which the party is put in the pocket of two individuals, is without precedent. And that means something serious. It means that, among other things, you no longer have a viable opposition party. And while however much many of us may disagree with the Republicans, there is still an important place for disagreement. And now it seems to me that's all gone. It's now become a personal vehicle of two people. And God only knows what they're going to do with it, but I wouldn't hold my breath if you think constructive results are going to follow.
HEDGES: Well, didn't Clinton just turn the Democratic Party into the Republican Party and force the Republican Party to come become insane?
WOLIN: Yeah, it's true. Yeah, I mean, it's true that beginning with the Clinton administration, the Democratic Party has kind of lost its way too.
But I still–maybe it's a hope more than a fact, but I still have the hope that the Democratic Party is still sufficiently loose and sufficiently uncoordinated that it's possible for dissidents to get their voices heard.
Now, it may not last very long, because in order to compete with the Republicans, there will be every temptation for the Democrats to emulate them. And that means less internal democracy, more reliance on corporate funding.
HEDGES: Wouldn't it be fair to say that after the nomination of George McGovern, the Democratic Party created institutional mechanisms by which no popular candidate would ever be nominated again?
WOLIN: Oh, I think that's true. The McGovern thing was a nightmare to the party, to the party officials. And I'm sure they vowed that there would never be anything like it again possible. And, of course, there never has been. And it also means that you lost with that the one thing that McGovern had done, which was to revitalize popular interest in government. And so the Democrats not only killed McGovern; they killed what he stood for, which was more important.
HEDGES: And you saw an echo of that in 2000 when Ralph Nader ran and engendered the same kind of grassroots enthusiasm.
WOLIN: Yeah, he did. He did.
HEDGES: And just as it was the Democratic establishment that virtually, during the presidential campaign, the Connolly Democrats conspired with the Republican Party to destroy, in essence, their own candidate, you saw it was the Democratic Party that destroyed the viability of Nader.
WOLIN: Yeah. Yeah, that's true. That's true. The Democrats –- I mean, it's not surprising, because as we've said many times, the Democrats are playing the same game as the Republicans and have a nuance and some historical baggage that compels them to be a little more to the left. But it seems to me that the conditions now in which political parties have to operate, conditions which involve large amounts of money, which involve huge stakes because of the character of the American economy now, which has to be very carefully dealt with, and very cautiously, and given the declining role of America in world affairs, I think that there's every reason to believe that the cautionary attitude of the Democratic Party is emblematic of a new kind of politics where the room for maneuver and the room for staking out significant different positions is shrinking, shrinking very, very much.
Thank you very much. Stay tuned for part five coming up of our interview with Professor Sheldon Wolin.
Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years. He has written nine books, including "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle" (2009), "I Don't Believe in Atheists" (2008) and the best-selling "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America" (2008). His book "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction.
TranscriptCHRIS HEDGES, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING JOURNALIST: Hi. I'm Chris Hedges. And we are here in Salem, Oregon, interviewing Dr. Sheldon Wolin, who taught politics for many years at Berkeley and, later, Princeton. He is the author of several seminal works on political philosophy, including Politics and Vision and Democracy Inc.. And we are going to be asking him today about the state of American democracy, political participation, and what he calls inverted totalitarianism.
So let's begin with this concept of inverted totalitarianism, which has antecedents. And in your great work Politics and Vision, you reach back all the way to the Greeks, up through the present age, to talk about the evolution of political philosophy. What do you mean by it?
SHELDON WOLIN, PROF. POLITICS EMERITUS, PRINCETON: Well, I mean by it that in the inverted idea, it's the idea that democracy has been, in effect, turned upside down. It's supposed to be a government by the people and for the people and all the rest of the sort of rhetoric we're used to, but it's become now so patently an organized form of government dominated by groups which are only vaguely, if at all, responsible or even responsive to popular needs and popular demands. But at the same time, it retains a kind of pattern of democracy, because we still have elections, they're still relatively free in any conventional sense. We have a relatively free media. But what's missing from it is a kind of crucial continuous opposition which has a coherent position, and is not just saying, no, no, no but has got an alternative, and above all has got an ongoing critique of what's wrong and what needs to be remedied.
HEDGES: You juxtapose inverted totalitarianism to classical totalitarianism -- fascism, communism -- and you say that there are very kind of distinct differences between these two types of totalitarianism. What are those differences?
WOLIN: Well, certainly one is the -- in classic totalitarianism the fundamental principle is the leadership principle and the notion that the masses exist not as citizenry but as a means of support which can be rallied and mustered almost at will by the dominant powers. That's the classical one. And the contemporary one is one in which the rule by the people is enshrined as a sort of popular message about what we are, but which in fact is not really true to the facts of political life in this day and age.
HEDGES: Well, you talk about how in classical totalitarian regimes, politics trumps economics, but in inverted totalitarianism it's the reverse.
WOLIN: That's right. Yeah. In classic totalitarianism, thinking here now about the Nazis and the fascists, and also even about the communists, the economy is viewed as a tool which the powers that be manipulate and utilize in accordance with what they conceive to be the political requirements of ruling. And they will take whatever steps are needed in the economy in order to ensure the long-run sustainability of the political order. In other words, the sort of arrows of political power flow from top to bottom.
Now, in inverted totalitarianism, the imagery is that of a populace which is enshrined as the leadership group but which in fact doesn't rule, but which is turned upside down in the sense that the people are enshrined at the top but don't rule. And minority rule is usually treated as something to be abhorred but is in fact what we have.
And it's the problem has to do, I think, with the historical relationship between political orders and economic orders. And democracy, I think, from the beginning never quite managed to make the kind of case for an economic order that would sustain and help to develop democracy rather than being a kind of constant threat to the egalitarianism and popular rule that democracy stands for.
HEDGES: In your book Politics and Vision, you quote figures like Max Weber who talk about capitalism as in fact being a destructive force to democracy.
WOLIN: Well, I think Weber's critique of capitalism is even broader. I think he views it as quintessentially destructive not only of democracy, but also, of course, of the sort of feudal aristocratic system which had preceded it. Capitalism is destructive because it has to eliminate the kind of custom /ˈmɔːreɪz/, political values, even institutions that present any kind of credible threat to the autonomy of the economy. And it's that -- that's where the battle lies. Capitalism wants an autonomous economy. They want a political order subservient to the needs of the economy. And their notion of an economy, while it's broadly based in the sense of a capitalism in which there can be relatively free entrance and property is relatively widely dispersed it's also a capitalism which, in the last analysis, is [as] elitist as any aristocratic system ever was.
HEDGES: You talk in the book about about how it was essentially the engine of the Cold War, juxtaposing a supposedly socialist Soviet Union, although like many writers, including Chomsky, I think you would argue that Leninism was not a socialist movement. Adam Ulam talks about it as a counterrevolution, Chomsky as a right-wing deviation. But nevertheless, that juxtaposition of the Cold War essentially freed corporate capitalism in the name of the struggle against communism to deform American democracy.
And also I just want to make it clear that you are very aware, especially in Politics and Vision, of the hesitancy on the part of our founding fathers to actually permit direct democracy. So we're not in this moment idealizing the system that was put in place. But maybe you could talk a little bit about that.
WOLIN: Well, I think that's true. I think the system that was consciously and deliberately constructed by the founders who framed the Constitution -- that democracy was the enemy. And that was rooted in historical realities. Many of the colonial governments had a very strong popular element that became increasingly prominent as the colonies moved towards rebellion. And rebellion meant not only resisting British rule, but also involved the growth of popular institutions and their hegemony in the colonies, as well as in the nation as a whole, so that the original impulses to the Constitution came in large measure from this democratizing movement. But the framers of the Constitution understood very well that this would mean -- would at least -- would jeopardize the ruling groups that they thought were absolutely necessary to any kind of a civilized order. And by "ruling groups", they meant not only those who were better educated, but those who were propertied, because they regarded property as a sign of talent and of ability, so that it wasn't just wealth as such, but rather a constellation of virtues as well as wealth that entitled capitalists to rule. And they felt that this was in the best interests of the country.
And you must remember at this time that the people, so-called, were not well-educated and in many ways were feeling their way towards defining their own role in the political system. And above all, they were preoccupied, as people always have been, with making a living, with surviving. And those were difficult times, as most times are, so that politics for them could only be an occasional activity, and so that there would always be an uneasy relationship between a democracy that was often quiescent and a form of rule which was constantly trying to reduce, as far as possible, Democratic influence in order to permit those who were qualified to govern the country in the best interests of the country.
HEDGES: And, of course, when we talk about property, we must include slaveholders.
WOLIN: Indeed. Indeed. Although, of course, there was, in the beginning, a tension between the northern colonies and the southern colonies.
HEDGES: This fear of direct democracy is kind of epitomized by Thomas Paine, --
WOLIN: Yeah. Yeah.
HEDGES: -- who was very useful in fomenting revolutionary consciousness, but essentially turned into a pariah once the Revolution was over and the native aristocracy sought to limit the power of participatory democracy.
WOLIN: Yeah, I think that's true. I think it's too bad Paine didn't have at his disposal Lenin's phrase "permanent revolution", because I think that's what he felt, not in the sense of violence, violence, violence, but in the sense of a kind of conscious participatory element that was very strong, that would have to be continuous, and that it couldn't just be episodic, so that there was always a tension between what he thought to be democratic vitality and the sort of ordered, structured, election-related, term-related kind of political system that the framers had in mind.
HEDGES: So let's look at the Cold War, because in Politics and Vision, as in Democracy Inc., you talk about the framing of what Dwight Macdonald will call the psychosis of permanent war, this constant battle against communism, as giving capital the tools by which they could destroy those democratic institutions, traditions, and values that were in place. How did that happen? What was the process?
WOLIN: Well, I think it happened because of the way that the Cold War was framed. That is, it was framed as not only a war between communism and capitalism, but also a war of which the subtext was that communism was, after all, an ideology that favored ordinary people. Now, it got perverted, there's no question about that, by Lenin and by Stalin and into something very, very different.
But in the Cold War, I think what was lost in the struggle was the ability to see that there was some kind of justification and historical reality for the appearance of communism, that it wasn't just a freak and it wasn't just a kind of mindless dictatorship, but that the plight of ordinary people under the forms of economic organization that had become prominent, the plight of the common people had become desperate. There was no Social Security. There were no wage guarantees. There was no union organization.
HEDGES: So it's just like today.
WOLIN: Yeah. They were powerless. And the ruling groups, the capitalist groups, were very conscious of what they had and what was needed to keep it going. And that's why figures like Alexander Hamilton are so important, because they understood this, they understood it from the beginning, that what capitalism required in the way not only of so-called free enterprise -- but remember, Hamilton believed very, very strongly in the kind of camaraderie between capitalism and strong central government, that strong central government was not the enemy of capitalism, but rather its tool, and that what had to be constantly kind of revitalized was that kind of relationship, because it was always being threatened by populist democracy, which wanted to break that link and cause government to be returned to some kind of responsive relationship to the people.
HEDGES: And the Cold War. So the Cold War arises. And this becomes the kind of moment by which capital, and especially corporate capital, can dismantle the New Deal and free itself from any kind of regulation and constraint to deform and destroy American democracy. Can you talk about that process, what happened during that period?
WOLIN: Well, I think the first thing to be said about it is the success with which the governing groups manage to create a Cold War that was really so total in its spread that it was hard to mount a critical opposition or to take a more detached view of our relationship to the Soviet Union and just what kind of problem it created. And it also had the effect, of course, of skewing the way we looked at domestic discontents, domestic inequalities, and so on, because it was always easy to tar them with the brush of communism, so that the communism was just more than a regime. It was also a kind of total depiction of what was the threat to -- and complete opposite to our own form of society, our old form of economy and government.
HEDGES: And in Politics and Vision, you talk about because of that ideological clash, therefore any restriction of capitalism which was defined in opposition to communism as a kind of democratic good, if you want to use that word, was lifted in the name of the battle against communism, that it became capitalism that was juxtaposed to communism rather than democracy, and therefore this empowered capital, in a very pernicious way, to dismantle democratic institutions in the name of the war on communism.
WOLIN: Oh, I think there's no question about that, the notion that you first had to, so to speak, unleash the great potential capitalism had for improving everybody's economical lot and the kind of constraints that had been developed not only by the New Deal, but by progressive movements throughout the 19th century and early 20th century in the United States, where it had been increasingly understood that while American economic institutions were a good thing, so to speak, and needed to be nurtured and developed, they also posed a threat. They posed a threat because they tended to result in concentrations of power, concentrations of economic power that quickly translated themselves into political influence because of the inevitably porous nature of democratic representation and elections and rule, so that the difficulty's been there for a long time, been recognized for a long time, but we go through these periods of sleepwalking where we have to relearn lessons that have been known almost since the birth of the republic, or at least since the birth of Jeffersonian democracy, that capitalism has its virtues, but it has to be carefully, carefully watched, observed, and often controlled.
HEDGES: Thank you. Please join us for part two later on with our interview with Professor Sheldon Wolin.
Hedges & Wolin (2-8) Can Capitalism and Democracy CoexistCHRIS HEDGES, PULITZER-PRIZE WINNING JOURNALIST: Welcome back to part two of our discussion of the state of American democracy and the rise of corporate capitalism, inverted totalitarianism, with Professor Sheldon Wolin.
Professor Wolin, we were talking about the freeing of corporate capital, because of the Cold War, from internal democratic restraints. And that freeing saw corporate capital really make war against participatory democracy, democratic institutions. Can you describe a little bit what the process was, how they began to hollow out those institutions and weaken them?
SHELDON WOLIN, PROF. EMERITUS POLITICS, PRINCETON: Well, I think you really have to start with the political parties themselves.
The Republicans, of course, have never had much of an appetite for popular participation. The Democrats have had a checkered history of it. Sometimes very sympathetic, and other times indifferent. But during the '60s, and really even during the '50s as well, movement toward democracy began to take shape with the realization of the kind of voter restrictions, the most elephant elementary kind of restrictions on democracy, prevalent especially, of course, in the South, and especially involving the disfranchisement of African-American voters, so that that kind of development--and, of course, the attempt on the part of Freedom Riders and others to go into the South and try to help African-Americans organize politically and to defend their rights--created a kind of political context, I think, probably which had never existed before, in which there were fundamental arguments about franchise, election, disenfranchisement, race, and a range of related issues that simply called for a kind of debate that, as I say, had scarcely been raised for decades. And it meant that a certain generation, or a couple of generations, had had a political exposure that was truly unprecedented in recent American history, not only the Freedom Riders who went down, but practically every campus in the country was affected by it, and not only because various faculty and students went to Alabama and elsewhere, but because it became a standard topic of conversation, to learn how the movement was doing, what kind of obstacles were being met, and what we could do, and there were marches and marches and marches, so that it was a political experience that was, I think, as I've said, unprecedented in terms of its intensity and in terms of the huge number of citizens being involved of a younger age.
HEDGES: And yet, when we look back at the nine 1930s, what I think marked the so-called New Left was that it was not coupled with labor.
WOLIN: No, it wasn't. No, it wasn't. The '30s were kind of a peculiar thing. I mean, it shouldn't be simply dismissed, because it did have lasting influence, because it showed, to some degree at least, that it was possible to get a progressive administration, that Roosevelt, whatever his failings and shortcomings, had shown that with sufficient popular support, you could manage to make some kind of dent in the kind of political privileges that existed in the country and help to benefit the economic plight of most people. And he did make serious attempts. It, of course, ran into all kinds of problems, but that's the nature of politics. But I don't think it can be underestimated, the extent to which the New Deal influence spread throughout the society. I think it had an extraordinary effect, long-run effect in terms of igniting ideas about popular participation and its possibilities.
HEDGES: And yet it was really a response to the breakdown of capitalism.
WOLIN: It certainly was. I mean, it had its limitations.
But I think there's a very real question about how far the country was prepared to go at that time. It's important to remember that the early '30s--meaning by that from 1932, say, on--was not only a period of New Deal ferment; it was also a period of reactionary ferment, and that one mustn't forget such things as the Liberty League, and also, and above all, Father Coughlin, who was an extraordinary figure, someone who began as a defender of the New Deal and ended up as a bitter anti-Semite and had to be disowned--or at least throttled--by his own church, he had become so extreme.
But there were a lot of things percolating in those years, and on both sides, because, I've said, the New Deal and the liberal resurgence also would cause the reaction that I think led to a kind of permanent--I want to say permanent conservative realization that it had to develop a kind of standing set of its own institutions and foundations and fund-raising activities all the year round, not just to wait for elections, but to become a kind of permanent force, conscious conservative force in American politics from the ground up.
HEDGES: And that started when, would you say?
WOLIN: I would say it started with the reaction to the New Deal, which would mean in about 1934.
HEDGES: And so, essentially they're building antidemocratic institutions to burrow themselves into what we would consider the fundamental institutions of an open society--universities, the press, political parties. Would that be correct?
WOLIN: Yeah, that would be largely correct, yes. They did realize that those institutions were porous and that they lent themselves to an influence of money and the influence of the kind of people who had big money. And so they waged a counter campaign. And the result was, I think, a sort of permanent change, especially in the Republican Party, because remember, the Republican Party was not a reactionary party in the early '30s, and even as late as the 1936 election with Alf Landon, who was very much a moderate--and he only won Maine and Vermont, but still he was significant--and that Wendell Wilkie was a power in the party until at least 1940, had a very important liberal wing. So it took a while for the evolution of the Republican Party to becoming the kind of staunch and continuous opponent of New Deal legislation with leaders who by and large were committed to rolling it back and to introducing conservative reforms in education and economic structure and social security systems and so on.
HEDGES: We'd spoken earlier about what you term inverted totalitarianism. When did that process begin? Would we signal the beginning of that process with those reactionary forces in the 1930s? Is that when it started?
WOLIN: I think in the broad view it would start back then. I think it didn't gain full steam until you had those parallel developments that involved such sophisticated public relations powers and political party organizations that were round-the-year operations, that with a conscious ideological slant and an appeal to donors who wanted to support that kind of slant, so that politics--while all of those elements had been present, to be sure, for a long time, they achieved a certain organizational strength and longevity that I think was unique to that period.
And one has to remember that the '30s was a very troubled political period, because not only of the New Deal and the controversies it raised, and not only because of the reactionary elements at home, but Europe was clearly heading toward some uncertain future with Hitler and Mussolini, and then the specter of Stalin, so that it was a very, very worrisome, nervous period that had a lot to be nervous about.
HEDGES: Do you have a theory as to why Europe went one way and America went another?
WOLIN: Well, I'm sure there are lots of reasons. One that I would emphasize is the failure of governments in that country to be able to capture and mobilize and sustain popular support while introducing structural, economic, and social changes that would meet the kinds of growing needs of a large urban and industrialized population. I think that was the failure.
HEDGES: You talk in--I think it's in Politics and Vision--about how fascism arose out of Weimar, which was essentially a weak democracy. And yet you argue, inverted totalitarianism, certainly a species of totalitarianism, can often be the product of a strong democracy.
WOLIN: It can, in the sense that that strong democracy can do what its name implies. In the pursuit of popular ends, it develops inevitably powerful institutions to promote those ends. And very often they lend themselves to being taken over and utilized, that--for example, that popular means of communication and news information and so on can become very easily propaganda means for corporate capitalism, which understands that if you gain control of newspapers, radio, television, that you're in a position to really shape the political atmosphere.
HEDGES: You write in Democracy Incorporated that you don't believe we have any authentic democratic institutions left.
WOLIN: I don't. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but I think--in terms of effective democratic institutions, I don't think we do. I think there's potential. I think there's potential in movements towards self-government, movements towards economic independence, and movements towards educational reform, and so on, that have the seeds for change. But I think that it's very difficult now, given the way the media is controlled and the way political parties are organized and controlled, it's very difficult to get a foothold in politics in such a way that you can translate it into electoral reforms, electoral victories, and legislation, and so on. It's a very, very complex, difficult, demanding process. And as I've said before, democracy's great trouble is it's episodic.
WOLIN: And that just makes it easier for those who can hire other people to keep a sustained pressure on government to go the other way.
HEDGES: You talk about how democratic institutions which have essentially surrendered themselves to corporate power have pushed politics, if we define politics as that which is concerned with the common good and with accepting the risks, the benefits, and the sacrifices evenly across the society, that essentially that has pushed political life, to some extent, underground, outside of the traditional political institutions.
WOLIN: I certainly think that there's something to be said for that, because I think if you look strictly at our political parties and the national political processes, you get a picture of a society which seems to be moribund in terms of popular democracy. But if you look at what happens locally and even in statewide situations, there's still a lot of vitality out there, and people still feel that they have a right to complain, to agitate, to promote causes that would benefit them. And this still remains, I think, a strong element in it.
But I do think we're facing a period in which economic uncertainty is such that, particularly for younger people, in the sense that we don't really know anymore, with any degree of high certainty, how to prepare young people for a constantly changing economy, so that young people, in a certain sense, who are the sort of stuff of later political movements and political support systems, that young people are in a very real way puzzled and, I think, confused, and sort of don't know where to go, and are being propelled in certain directions that don't really add up to their long-run benefit. And it starts with, I think, the secondary education, and it continues in college. The plight of liberal arts education is just extraordinary today. It's so much on the defensive and so much on the ropes that it's hard to see what, if any, place it'll have in the future.
HEDGES: It's hard to see you in most politics departments at American universities today. It was probably a lonely position even when you--.
WOLIN: Oh, yeah, because most American--most political science departments have become in effect social science departments and much more addicted to seeking out quantitative projects that lend themselves to apparent scientific certainty and are less attuned--in fact, I think, even, I would say, apprehensive--about appearing to be supportive of popular causes. It's just not in the grain anymore. And the more that academic positions become precarious, as they have become, with tenure becoming more and more a rarity--.
HEDGES: Thirty-five percent now of positions are actually tenured.
WOLIN: Yeah, I would believe it. I would believe it. I mean, and that becomes a problem in terms of finding people willing to take a certain risk, with the understanding that while they're taking a risk, it won't be so fatal to their life chances. But I'm afraid it is now. And it doesn't bode well, because it seems to me, in a left-handed sort of way, it encourages the kind of professionalization of politics that results in the kind of political parties and political system that we've been warned about from the year one.
HEDGES: And a political passivity, which you say--you talk about classical totalitarian regimes mobilize the masses, whereas in inverted totalitarianism, the goal is to render the masses politically passive. And you use Hobbes to describe that. Can you speak a little bit about that?
WOLIN: Well, Hobbes is interesting because he writes in the so-called social contract tradition, and that had been a tradition which grew up in the late 16th and 17th century. The social contract position had furthered the notion that a political society and its governance should be the result of an agreement, of an agreement by the people as to what sort of government they wanted and what sort of role they wanted to play for themselves in such a government. And the social contract was an agreement they made with each other that they would create such a system and that they would support it, but they would reserve the right to oppose it, even rebel against it, if it proceeded to work contrary to the designs of the original contract, so that that became the sort of medium by which democratic ideas were carried through the 17th century and into much of the 18th century, including the American colonies and the arguments over the American Constitution as well--and especially, I should add, in the arguments about state constitutions and government.
HEDGES: And that fostering of political passivity, you have said in your work, is caused by what you were speaking about earlier, the economic insecurity, the precariousness of the position, which I think you go back to Hobbes as citing as one of the kind of fundamental controlling elements to shut down any real political activity.
WOLIN: Yes, I believe that very strongly. I think if you go back way to the Athenian democracy, one of the things you notice about it is that it paid citizens to participate. In other words, they would be relieved from a certain amount of economic insecurity in order to engage actively in politics. Well, when we get to our times and modern times, that kind of guarantee doesn't exist in any form whatsoever. We barely can manage to have an election day that isn't where we suspend work and other obligations to give citizens an opportunity to vote. They have to cram a vote into a busy, normal day, so that the relationship between economic structures and institutions and political institutions of democracy are just really in tension now, in which the requirements of the one are being undercut by the operations of the other. And I don't see any easy solution to it, because the forces that control the economy control to a large extent public opinion, modes of publication, and so on, and make it very difficult to mount counter-views.
HEDGES: Well, in fact, to engage in real participatory democracy or political activity is to put yourself in a more precarious position vis-à-vis your work, your status within the society.
WOLIN: There's no question about it. And that's true of, I think, virtually every activity. It's now certainly frowned upon in academic work, and certainly in public education it's frowned on. And there's no effort made to really make it a bit easier for people to participate. And the intensity that economic survival requires today leaves most people exhausted. There's--and understandably. They don't have much, if any, time for politics. So we're in a really difficult situation, where the requirements of democracy are such that they're being undermined by the realities of a kind of economy and society that we've developed.
HEDGES: Which you point out Hobbes foresaw.
WOLIN: He did. He did indeed. And his solution was you surrender your political rights. Yeah.
HEDGES: Thank you.
Stay tuned for part three with our discussion with Professor Sheldon Wolin.
therealnews.comCHRIS HEDGES, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING JOURNALIST: Welcome back to part three of our discussion with Professor Sheldon Wolin.
You talk in both of your books, Politics and Vision and Democracy Incorporated, about superpower, which you call the true face of inverted totalitarianism. What is superpower? How do you describe it?
SHELDON WOLIN, PROF. EMERITUS POLITICS, PRINCETON: Well, I think it's important to grasp that superpower includes as one of its two main elements the modern economy. And the modern economy, with its foundations in not only economic activity but scientific research, is always a dynamic economy and always constantly seeking to expand, to get new markets, to be able to produce new goods, and so on. So the superpower's dynamism becomes a kind of counterpart to the character of the modern economy, which has become so dominant that it defines the political forms.
I mean, the first person to really recognize this -- which we always are embarrassed to say -- was Karl Marx, who did understand that economic forms shape political forms, that economic forms are the way people make a living, they're the way goods and services are produced, and they determine the nature of society, so that any kind of government which is responsive to society is going to reflect that kind of structure and in itself be undemocratic, be elitist in a fundamental sense, and have consumers as citizens.
HEDGES: And Marx would also argue that it also defines ideology.
WOLIN: It does. It does define ideology. Marx was really the first to see that ideology had become a kind of -- although there are antecedents, had become a kind of preconceived package of ideas and centered around the notion of control, that it represented something new in the world because you now had the resources to disseminate it, to impose it, and to generally make certain that a society became, so to speak, educated in precisely the kind of ideas you wanted them to be educated in. And that became all the more important when societies entered the stage of relatively advanced capitalism, where the emphasis was upon work, getting a job, keeping your job, holding it in insecure times. And when you've got that kind of situation, everybody wants to put their political beliefs on hold. They don't want to have to agonize over them while they're agonizing over the search for work or worrying about the insecurity of their position. They're understandably preoccupied with survival. And at that point, democracy becomes at best a luxury and at worst simply an afterthought, so that its future becomes very seriously compromised, I think.
HEDGES: And when the ruling ideology is determined by capitalism -- corporate capitalism; you're right -- we have an upending of traditional democratic values, because capitalist values are about expansion, exploitation, profit, the cult of the self, and you stop even asking questions that can bring you into democratic or participatory democracy.
WOLIN: I think that's true to an extent. But I would amend that to say that once the kind of supremacy of the capitalist regime becomes assured, and where it's evident to everyone that it's not got a real alternative in confronting it, that I think its genius is it sees that a certain relaxation is not only possible, but even desirable, because it gives the impression that the regime is being supported by public debate and supported by people who were arguing with other people, who were allowed to speak their minds, and so on. And I think it's when you reach that stage -- as I think we have -- that the problematic relationship between capitalism and democracy become more and more acute.
HEDGES: And yet we don't have anyone within the mainstream who questions either superpower or capitalism.
WOLIN: No, they don't. And I don't think it's -- it may be a question of weakness, but I think -- the problem is really, I think, more sort of quixotic. That is, capitalism -- unlike earlier forms of economic organization, capitalism thrives on change. It presents itself as the dynamic form of society, with new inventions, new discoveries, new forms of wealth, so that it doesn't appear like the old regime -- as sort of an encrusted old fogey type of society. And I think that makes a great deal of difference, because in a certain sense you almost get roles reversed. That is, in the old regime, the dominant powers, aristocracy and so on, want to keep the lid on, and the insurgent democracy, the liberalizing powers, wanted to take the lid off.
But now I think you get it -- as I say, I think you get it kind of reversed, that democracy, it now wants -- in its form of being sort of the public philosophy, now wants to keep the lid on and becomes, I think, increasingly less -- more adverse to examining in a -- through self-examination, and becomes increasingly, I would say, even intolerant of views which question its own assumptions, and above all question its consequences, because I think that's where the real issues lie is not so much with the assumptions of democracy but with the consequences and trying to figure out how we've managed to get a political system that preaches equality and an economic system which thrives on inequality and produces inequality as a matter of course.
HEDGES: Well, in all totalitarian societies there's a vast disconnect between rhetoric and reality, which, of course, would characterize inverted totalitarianism as a species of totalitarianism.
WOLIN: Well, I guess that's true. I think I'd probably qualify that, because I'd qualify it in the sense that when you look at Naziism and fascism, they were pretty upfront about a lot of things -- leadership principle, racist principles -- and they made no secret that they wanted to dominate the world, so that I think there was a certain kind of aggressive openness in those regimes that I think isn't true of our contemporary situation.
HEDGES: And yet in the same time, in those regimes, I mean, you look at Stalin's constitution as a document, it was very liberal, --
HEDGES: -- it protected human rights and free speech. And so on the one hand -- at least in terms of civil liberties. And we have, as superpower, exactly replicated in many ways this call for constant global domination and expansion that was part of what you would describe as classical totalitarianism. And that -- you're right, in that the notion of superpower is that it's global and that that constant global expansion, which is twinned with the engine of corporate capitalism, is something that you say has diminished the reality of the nation-state itself -- somehow the nation-state becomes insignificant in the great game of superpower global empire -- and that that has consequences both economically and politically.
WOLIN: Well, I think it does. I think one has to treat the matter carefully, because a lot of the vestiges of the nation-states still are, obviously, in existence. But I think one of the important tendencies of our time -- I would say not tendencies, but trends -- is that sovereign governments based on so-called liberal democracy have discovered that the only way they can survive is by giving up a large dose of their sovereignty, by setting up European Unions, various trade pacts, and other sort of regional alliances that place constraints on their power, which they ordinarily would proclaim as natural to having any nation at all, and so that that kind of development, I think, is fraught with all kinds of implications, not the least of [them] being not only whether -- what kind of actors we have now in the case of nation-states, but what the future of social reform is, when the vehicle of that reform has now been sort of transmuted into a system where it's lost a degree of autonomy and, hence, its capacity to create the reforms or promote the reforms that people in social movements had wanted the nation-state to do.
HEDGES: And part of that surrender has been the impoverishment of the working class with the flight of manufacturing. And I think it's in Politics and Vision you talk about how the war that is made by the inverted totalitarian system against the welfare state never publicly accepts the reality that it was the system that caused the impoverishment, that those who are impoverished are somehow to blame for their own predicament. And this, of course, is part of the skill of the public relations industry, the mask of corporate power, which you write is really dominated by personalities, political personalities that we pick. And that has had, I think (I don't know if you would agree), a kind of -- a very effective -- it has been a very effective way by which the poor and the working class have internalized their own repression and in many ways become disempowered, because I think that that message is one that even at a street level many people have ingested.
WOLIN: Yeah. I think you're right about that. The problem of how to get a foothold by Democratic forces in the kind of society we have is so problematic now that it's very hard to envision it would take place. And the ubiquity of the present economic system is so profound (and it's accompanied by this apparent denial of its own reality) that it becomes very hard to find a defender of it who doesn't want to claim in the end that he's really on your side.
Yeah, it's a very paradoxical situation. And I don't know. I mean, I think we all have to take a deep breath and try to start from scratch again in thinking about where we are, how we get there, and what kind of immediate steps we might take in order to alter the course that I think we're on, which really creates societies which, when you spell out what's happening, nobody really wants, or at least not ordinary people want. It's a very strange situation where -- and I think, you know, not least among them is, I think, the factor that you suggested, which is the kind of evaporation of leisure time and the opportunities to use that for political education, as well as kind of moral refreshment. But, yeah, it's a really totally unprecedented situation where you've got affluence, opportunity, and so on, and you have these kinds of frustrations, injustices, and really very diminished life prospects.
HEDGES: You agree, I think, with Karl Marx that unfettered, unregulated corporate capitalism is a revolutionary force.
WOLIN: Oh, indeed. I think it's been demonstrated even beyond his wildest dreams that it -- yeah, you're just -- you just have to see what happens when a underdeveloped part of the world, as they're called, becomes developed by capitalism -- it just transforms everything, from social relations to not only economic relations, but prospects in society for various classes and so on. No, it's a mighty, mighty force. And the problem it always creates is trying to get a handle on it, partly because it's so omnipresent, it's so much a part of what we're used to, that we can't recognize what we're used to as a threat. And that's part of the paradox.
HEDGES: You take issue with this or, you know, point out that in fact it is a revolutionary force. And yet it is somehow, as a political and economic position, the domain of people as self-identified conservatives.
WOLIN: Yeah, it is. I think they're conservative on sort of one side of their face, as it were, because I think they're always willing to radically change, let's say, social legislation that's in existence to defend people, ordinary people. I think they're very selective about what they want to preserve and what they want to either undermine or completely eliminate.
That's, of course, the kind of way that the political system presents itself in kind of an interesting way. That is, you get this combination of conservative and liberal in the party system. I mean, the Republicans stand for pretty much the preservation of the status quo, and the Democrats have as their historical function a kind of mild, modest, moderate reformism that's going to deal with some of the excesses without challenging very often the basic system, so that it kind of strikes a wonderful balance between preservation and criticism. The criticism -- because the preservation element is so strong, criticism becomes always constructive, in the sense that it presumes the continued operation of the present system and its main elements.
HEDGES: Of both corporate capitalism and superpower.
HEDGES: And yet you say that at this point, political debate has really devolved into what you call nonsubstantial issues, issues that don't really mean anything if we talk about politics as centered around the common good.
WOLIN: Yeah, political debate has become either so rhetorically excessive as to be beside the point, or else to be so shy of taking on the basic problems. But again you're back in the kind of chasing-the-tail problem. The mechanisms, i.e. political parties, that we have that are supposed to organize and express discontent are, of course, precisely the organs that require the money that only the dominant groups possess. I mean, long ago there were theories or proposals being floated to set up public financing. But public financing, even as it was conceived then, was so miniscule that you couldn't possibly even support a kind of lively political debate in a modest way.
You know, politics has become such an expensive thing that I think really the only way to describe it realistically is to talk about it as a political economy or an economic kind of political economy. It's got those -- those two are inextricable elements now in the business of the national or state governments, too.
HEDGES: And yet I think you could argue that even the Democratic Party under Clinton and under Obama, while it continues to use the rhetoric of that kind of feel-your-pain language, which has been part of the Democratic establishment, has only furthered the agenda of superpower, of corporate capitalism, and, of course, the rise of the security and surveillance state by which all of us are kept in check.
WOLIN: Yeah, I think that's true, because the reformers have simply hesitated -- really, really hesitated -- to undertake any kind of a focus upon political reform.
HEDGES: Haven't the reformers been bought off, in essence?
WOLIN: I think it's the no-no subject. I don't think it even has to be bought off anymore. I think that it is such a kind of third rail that nobody wants to touch it, because I think there is a real in-built fear that if you mess with those kind of so-called fundamental structures, you're going to bring down the house. And that includes messing with them even by constitutional, legal means, that it's so fragile, so delicate, so this that and the other thing that inhibit all kinds of efforts at reforming it. As the phrase used to go, it's a machine that goes of itself -- so they think.
HEDGES: Thank you.
Stay tuned for part four, coming up, of our interview with Professor Sheldon Wolin.
therealnews.comCHRIS HEDGES, PULITZER-PRIZE WINNING JOURNALIST: Welcome back to part five of our interview with Professor Sheldon Wolin, who taught politics for many years at Berkeley and later Princeton. He is the author of several seminal works on political philosophy, including Politics and Vision and Democracy Incorporated.
I wanted to ask about the nature of superpower, and particularly the role of the military in superpower. And I thought I'd begin by asking, because the military is something you have personal experience with, your own -- you were a pilot of a B-24. Were these flying fortresses? Was that -- ? That's what they were.
SHELDON WOLIN, PROF. EMERITUS POLITICS, PRINCETON: [crosstalk] bombardier and a navigator was what I was.
HEDGES: A bombardier and a navigator. And in the South Pacific?
HEDGES: And you flew how many combat -- ?
HEDGES: Fifty-one missions. And what was -- from when to when, and what were you targeting?
WOLIN: Well, our group started from Guadalcanal when the Americans took it over, finally. And what we were, essentially, was the air force to support MacArthur. And MacArthur's strategy was to proceed island by island, taking them back from the Japanese and getting closer and closer to Japan proper. And we were the support group for that, which meant softening up the Japanese island holdings prior to invasion. And then the other unfortunate mission we had was to chase the Japanese Navy, which proved disastrous, because -- .
HEDGES: Isn't that a novel use of --
WOLIN: Oh, it was a terrible -- .
HEDGES: -- aren't those, like, about as maneuverable as a tank in the air?
WOLIN: It was terrible. And we received awful losses from that, because these big lumbering aircraft, particularly flying low trying to hit the Japanese Navy -- and we lost countless people in it, countless. So we spent that. And we were going from island to island, making our way eventually to the Philippines itself.
And then I left at that point. I had finished my missions. And the Air Force was at that point preparing for the invasion of Japan, which, of course, didn't actually take place.
HEDGES: Where were you when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
WOLIN: I was on a road to Miami Beach to visit -- I had my wife, and we were going to visit my mother.
HEDGES: Did you at the time recognize the significance of that?
WOLIN: I didn't, I don't think. We quickly learned something about it, because there were some people I was associated with who knew some of the men involved in the development of it, and they used to tell me things about Oppenheimer and the others that -- especially, of course, you became aware of this when Oppenheimer ran into his own trouble with the Un-American Activities people.
HEDGES: Well, and this is because he turned on the nuclear program after --
WOLIN: Right, yes, he did.
HEDGES: -- producing the weaponry.
WOLIN: Yes, he did. Yeah.
HEDGES: What, from your own experience, because you write about the military and you write about superpower -- but your own experience in the military, what did you learn from that? What did -- it wasn't theoretical for you. You were in war. You were in the giant bureaucracy of the military itself.
WOLIN: Well, you must remember the cardinal fact, which is we were all so young. I was 19. And the other members of our crew, there was only one who was about 23 or 24. So we were all extremely inexperienced and impressionable, and we were flying these giant bombers and going into combat not knowing anything about what it meant except, you know, in sort of formal lectures, which we might have had. So the experience was always quite traumatic in a lot of ways. Some of it didn't register until much later, but for some of them, some of the people I knew, it registered very soon, and we had quite a few psychological casualties of men, boys, who just couldn't take it anymore, just couldn't stand the strain of getting up at five in the morning and proceeding to get into these aircraft and go and getting shot at for a while and coming back to rest for another day.
It was a difficult time. It was very difficult time. And I think the fact that saved us was that we were so young, we didn't know what was going on, basically. And I think there was a lot of coming to grips with it later in the lives of most of us, that we began to appreciate and realize what we had been through. And that didn't help terribly much, but it did allow you in some sense to come to grips with what it had meant, especially the kind of suppressed memories you had of bad incidents that happened.
HEDGES: How did it affect you? Did you walk way differently both emotionally and intellectually, do you think, from the war?
WOLIN: Yeah, I think -- as I look back, I think I went through a period of being very inward-looking.
And the other thing to be remembered is the pace of things from the moment you got out. In my case, I had to go back to undergraduate school to finish my degree, so I was back for a year. Then you jump right into graduate training. And graduate education was at that point so overwhelmed by numbers that everything was kind of compressed and brief, and not terribly much time to digest things, and then you were scouting for a job, so that one had the impression that the pressure that had been building up in the war and in the war service just kept on going, and that you never really had a chance to relax, because now you were faced with tenure and the problems of tenure and the problems of publication and teaching, so that it exacted a toll. There's no question about it. We never really managed to relax, because we -- I suppose we did relax a bit when we finally got tenure, but even then it was very competitive, because the password was publication. And so you were constantly pressured to write and write and write.
HEDGES: And you did.
WOLIN: Yeah, you did. But I think I was fortunate enough to enjoy it, actually, enjoy the writing. But for a lot of my colleagues, they would manage it, but it exacted a price. It's hard to explain to people how difficult it is to write when one simply has to write when it simply has to be forced in a lot of ways.
HEDGES: Well, see, the difference is you are a writer. I mean, you're quite a good writer, which is not common among academics.
WOLIN: Yeah, I had always enjoyed writing, from the time I was grammar school to the time I went to college. I enjoyed it very much. But some of my colleagues, who loved the subject matter and were good teachers, just couldn't write. And it was tragic, because they had a lot to give, and they couldn't get tenure because they hadn't passed this particular bar.
HEDGES: Well, and you also had -- so you were at Harvard in the 1950s, and this was when the academy was being purged, --
WOLIN: Oh, yeah.
HEDGES: -- Staughton Lynd, you may know, driven out of Yale, you know Chandler Davis, I mean, a long list of great, great scholars and academics who were targeted from outside and within the academy and pushed out. And this was something that coincided with the development of your own formation as an intellectual and as a writer. And I wondered how that experience also affected you, because you held fast to a very kind of radical critique of -- .
WOLIN: Well, I mean, I had a very peculiar experience when I get hired at Berkeley, because I didn't realize when I went there that the position I was taking was one occupied by a man who refused to take the loyalty oath. And I didn't know that at the time. And so when I did learn it, of course, I felt kind of guilty about the whole thing. Yeah, he lost the job. He quit.
And it was -- in one sense, you know, you sort of said to yourself, well, I don't have to worry about the loyalty oath, 'cause I've taken it in the military many, many times, so that it's nothing new to me. But later on you began to think about it more and realize that maybe there was a larger issue there than you thought, because it meant that you were accepting a certain orthodoxy from the outset and that you weren't quite as free as notions of academic freedom suggested you were. And it was a kind of rude awakening for a lot of us, I think, because we also were carrying the wartime propaganda about we represent the forces of freedom and open society and all the rest of it. And then to find ourselves really kind of cramped for expression in that very tense kind of postwar Cold War war period, it was not a pleasant time. I didn't enjoy those years of teaching. It settled down later, but didn't settle down for much, because we then had the fracas of the '60s, too, which was very disturbing and upsetting to all the academic routines.
HEDGES: How much damage do you think those purges, triggered by the McCarthy era in the early '50s, did to the academy?
WOLIN: I think it did a lot to people, but often in ways they weren't quite aware of. It had a definite chastening and deadening effect on academic inquiry and political expression. And what happened was, I think, the worst part of it, was that once that got into the air, it became normal. You accepted those things really unconsciously.
HEDGES: When you say "those things", what are you talking about?
WOLIN: You're talking about how far you question government policies, how far you question dominant values, what you said about the economy, and things of that sort. And the problem was that you faced the students with a far less critical attitude than you should have had, and it took a long while, I think, to kind of disentangle yourself from that kind of coverage which the loyalty of the period gave to people. And since academic jobs then were scarce, you always kind of swallowed whatever you had to swallow to get a job. So you may have been a radical in graduate school or undergraduate school, but you knew that you couldn't carry that torch as a prospective faculty member.
HEDGES: I talked to Larry Hamm, who at Princeton organized the anti-apartheid movement. This would have been in the '70s. And he said of roughly 500 Princeton faculty, there were only three or four, yourself included, who joined those demonstrations.
WOLIN: Yeah, that's true. It was -- . Yeah, we paid a price. I think the most humiliating episode for me was when some of the undergraduates were protesting Princeton investment in South Africa and they wanted to present their case to the alumni. And the alumni had a meeting, and the kids were supposed to present it. And at the last minute, the kid that was leading the group got a little cold feet, and he said, would you come in with me? And I should have said no, but I didn't. So I went in with him. And I've never been jeered quite so roundly by the alumni sitting there waiting to be talked to by the students about investment in South Africa. Some of them called me 50-year-old sophomores and that kind of thing. It was a difficult experience. But the students did well. They held their own.
HEDGES: It was one of the largest -- at Princeton, surprisingly, one of the largest student -- well, largely 'cause of Larry, who's a remarkable organizer and very charismatic and deep integrity and --
WOLIN: Yes, he was.
HEDGES: -- and still doing it in Newark today.
I wondered whether that experience says something about the University, about its cowardice and, I guess, let's say, the faculty in particular.
WOLIN: Oh, I think it did. I think all those events of the '60s on, on through the '70s, did. It's hard to realize at the outset of the [incompr.] particularly I'm speaking from my experience at Berkeley. It's really hard to recognize the moment when the faculty suddenly realized that they were a kind of corporate body that could stand up against the regents and take a stand when they thought there was interference with academic freedom, as there tended to be with the regents. They did kind of mess around with curriculum and tried to influence faculty hiring and so on. It was a very, very grim chapter. But the effect of it was to make you very, very much on guard against the rule of the graduated students and their influence in the university, because at Princeton you had, like at very few other places, lots of concentrated money, and the university were dependent on that to a large extent, so that the alumni had a kind of position that I didn't experience anywhere else in terms of their prominence and, I think, the informal influence that they exercise over a lot of matters that they had no business dealing with. It was an education in alumni relations, the like of which I never had anyplace else.
HEDGES: When you came back from the war, you went to Oberlin, and then you went to Harvard.
HEDGES: Many of the academics at these institutions during the war had served in positions of some authority in Washington, had certainly integrated themselves into the war effort. And I wondered if you thought this was a kind of turning point in terms of academia fusing itself, the way business had, with the military, you know, intellectually, in terms of serving the ends of superpower?
WOLIN: Well, I think it certainly had some influence, in the sense that I guess one of the things that struck me at Harvard, in terms of going to seminars where the professor had been active in Washington during the war, was the -- I mean, they were always interesting because of inside stories, but they were also really quite uncritical of anything that they either were doing or the government was doing during this period. In other words, there was no detachment, because they were so, in a certain sense, carried away by their own experience and their kind of self-assumption about their importance and so on that it -- I found some of the early years at Harvard, experience with faculty, to be very unnerving in a lot of ways.
Now, it isn't true of all of them. Some of them, like -- I don't know whether you knew Merle Fainsod or not, but Merle was chairman of the department. But he was a wonderful person, and he had been in Washington during the war with one of the agencies controlling prices and wages. But he was -- he never threw his weight around or tried to rely on Washington experience as the answer to all lectures. He was a very good man and a very, very serious academic.
But others, like Bill Elliott, as I say, were just so infatuated with their own self-importance that I learned absolutely nothing from them in class, and I don't think any of the other students did. They never came prepared. They always would kind of talk off the top of their head. And more often than not, it would be autobiographical. And it just was a very disheartening kind of experience.
I remember when I first came to Harvard, at graduate school, there was a man who taught the history of political theory named Charles McIlwain. And McIlwain was of the old school. He was a very careful, very erudite scholar with very few if any axes to grind. And I, unfortunately, didn't come to Harvard till his very last year there, but I did manage to sit in on some of his lectures.
Well, he was succeeded by another man, Carl Friedrich, who was so infatuated with himself and his self-importance and his role in the postwar constitutions that were written for the German states, the provinces, that he could hardly bother teaching you the subject matter and was much more concerned that you shared his experiences and the kind of role he had played in the postwar world. And I have never seen such a parade of academic egos in my life as that moment, when so many of them were clearly so marked by the Washington experience.
HEDGES: I'm wondering if that isn't an important rupture for academia, going back to Julien Benda's Treason of the Intellectuals, where he writes about how it is not the role of the intellectual to formulate policy, to adjust the system, but to stand back with a kind of integrity and critique it. But you had that combination of the fusion of academia with Washington, carried forward in the '60s under Kennedy and others, coupled with the anticommunism. And I wondered whether you thought that that was a kind of radical break or a destructive force within academia when set against the prewar -- .
WOLIN: Well, yes, it certainly cast a kind of set of constraints, many of which you didn't really recognize till later, about what you could teach and how you would teach and what you wouldn't teach. And its influence was really simply very great, because people -- it's not so much what they said as what they didn't inquire into.
HEDGES: Well, and also it's who's let into the club.
WOLIN: Yeah. Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed.
HEDGES: I mean, [Staughton Lynd], one of our great historians, pushed out of Yale for going on a peace delegation to Hanoi during the war, blacklisted, gets a law degree -- he's still working on behalf of, at this point, prisoners and workers in Youngstown, Ohio.
Please join me for part six of my interview with Professor Sheldon Wolin (thank you) later on.
therealnews.comCHRIS HEDGES, PULITZER-PRIZE WINNING JOURNALIST: Welcome to part six of my interview with Professor Sheldon Wolin, who taught politics for many years at Berkeley and later Princeton. He is the author of several seminal works on political philosophy, including Politics and Vision and Democracy Incorporated.
We were talking about superpower, the way it had corrupted academia, especially in the wake of World War II, the increasing integration of academics into the power system itself. And I wanted to talk a little bit about the nature of superpower, which you describe as essentially the face of inverted totalitarianism. You say that with superpower, power is always projected outwards, which is a fundamental characteristic that Hannah Arendt ascribes to fascism of totalitarianism fascism and that the inability--and she juxtaposes Nazi Germany with countries like Hungary, so that the nature of fascism in a country like Hungary is diluted because they don't have that ability to keep pushing power outwards. We, of course, in our system of inverted totalitarianism, have been constantly expanding--hundreds of bases around the world; we virtually at this point occupy most of the Middle East. And I spent seven years in the Middle East, and to come back to America and have Americans wonder why we are detested is absolutely mystifying, because the facts on the ground, the direct occupation of two countries, the proxy wars that are carried out--Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen--have engendered ISIS and resurrected al-Qaeda and other jihadist movements in a way that is completely understandable and rational from their perspective. So I wondered if you could talk about what that quality of constantly projecting power outward does to the nation and to democracy itself.
SHELDON WOLIN, PROF. EMERITUS POLITICS, PRINCETON: Well, I think in some respects it's pretty apparent what it does in terms of governing institutions. That is, it obviously enhances their power and it increases their scope, and at the same time renders them less and less responsible, even though we've kept the outward framework of elections and criticism and all the free press, etc. But the power is there, and it is--thanks particularly to contemporary technology, it is power that's kind of endlessly expandable.
And it's very different from the sort of imperialism of the 18th or 19th centuries, where resources always had a limit and that territorial and other expansion was severely restricted by it. But now expansionism is accompanied by an ability to impose cultural norms, as well as political norms, on populations that did not have them. And that has made a tremendous difference in the effect of the imperial reach, because it means that it's becoming easier to have it rationalized not only at home, but also abroad. And the differences, I think, are just very, very profound between the kind of expansionism of the contemporary state, like America, and those in the 18th and 19th centuries.
HEDGES: What are the consequences? You talk in Politics and Vision about--you mentioned Thucydides and Thucydides raising up the figure of Pericles, who warned the Athenian demos that expansion, constant expansion, would ultimately destroy Athenian democracy by in essence bringing back the mechanisms for control, the harsh, violence mechanisms of control of empire, back into Athens itself. And that, of course, is what we have done, from the use of drones to militarizing police forces, to the security and surveillance state. What are the consequences, the physical consequences of superpower?
WOLIN: You mean particularly upon the population?
HEDGES: Right. Upon us.
WOLIN: Yeah. Well, I think what it does is create an enormous chasm between the sort of pictures we have of or are given of what our system is in high school, grammar school, even college, and the reality of where we are. I think it's that disjunction that seems to me so kind of perilous, because it means that much of our education is not about the world, our world that we actually live in, but about a world that we idealize and idealize our place in it. That makes it very difficult, I think, for Americans to take a true measure of what their leaders are doing, because it's always cast in a kind of mode that seems so reassuring and seems so self-confirming of the value of American values for the whole world.
And I think that that problem is such that you don't really have a critical attitude in the best sense of the word. I don't mean that the public is never disgruntled or the public is never out of sorts; I'm talking about a critical attitude which really is dealing with things as they are and not with a simple negativism, but is trying to make sense out of where we are and how we've gotten to be where we are. But it requires, I think, a level of political education that we simply haven't begun to explore.
And I think it's become more difficult to kind of get it across to the public, because there's no longer what Dewey and others called the public. The public is now so fragmented and so almost comatose in so many ways that it becomes very difficult to reach them. And there are so many intermediaries of entertainment and diversion and so on that the political message, even when it's presented, which it is, rarely, as some kind of public-spirited set of ideals, just gets lost.
It's a very, very perilous period, I think, because I think the net effect of it is to render the political powers more independent even while they proclaim their democratic basis.
HEDGES: And, of course, superpower creates a bureaucracy which operates in secret, virtually. And I think that is something that we have seen transferred back, that you're no longer allowed to peer into the internal mechanisms of power. And the Obama administration has been quite harsh in terms of going after those few whistleblowers, people within the systems of power who have reached out through the press--Edward Snowden would be an example--to allow the public to see the workings of power, misusing the Espionage Act, which was really the equivalent, I think, of our foreign secrets act, to shut down this kind of lens into how power works. And that is, I think, the disease of superpower itself that has now been brought back, would you say?
WOLIN: Yeah, I think that's substantially correct. The difficulty is really so enormous now in trying to educate a public to awareness of what is happening when there are so many countervailing methods of conditioning and informing that public that are quite concerned to prevent exactly that. And I think it's very much a question of whether the whole idea of a public isn't in such jeopardy that it isn't really faced with a certain kind of antiquarian significance, and nothing more, because the public has, I think, ceased to be a kind of entity that's self-conscious about itself--I mean when everybody may vote and we say the public has expressed itself. And that in one sense, in a quantitative sense, is true. But the real question is: did they, when they asserted themselves or voted in a certain way, were they thinking of themselves as a public, as performing a public act, a political act of a citizen? Or were they expressing resentments or hopes or frustrations more or less of a private character? And I think that it's that kind of a quandary we're in today. And, again, it makes it very difficult to see where the democracy is heading with that kind of level of public knowledge and public political sophistication.
HEDGES: Well, the public is encouraged through the ethos of capitalism to express their interests. And I think it's in Politics and Vision that you speak about how that fragmentation of the public is by design, that people are broken down according to their (quote-unquote) interests, not as a citizen within a democracy, but as a particular group that seeks to acquire certain rights, power, economic advantages. And that fragmentation, which is assiduously cultivated--opinion polls become a way to do that, although, of course, modern public relations do it and campaigns do it, that rather than speak to a public in a presidential campaign, you target quite consciously--these public relations mechanisms within the campaigns will target these fragments to keep them fragmented.
WOLIN: Yeah, I think that's true, and I think that's a very significant development, where they--I mean, the notion of a public had always assumed a kind of cohesive character and some kind of a set of commonalities that justified describing it as a public. But I think that that day has long since gone, because of precisely what you describe, and that is the fragmentation of it, deliberate fragmentation of it, and the skill with which you can slice and dice the public into smaller fragments that can be appealed to, while holding that fragment in relative isolation from what's happening to the other fragments or to the society as a whole. Yeah, you can target now in a way that you couldn't before. Before, you had a blunt instrument called public opinion, and you assumed it, yet you shaped it as you shape some kind of amorphous mass into a whole. But that's not it anymore. It's far more sophisticated, far much more aware of lines of distinction that set one public against another, and that you had to be careful not to ruin your own case by antagonizing one public that you needed for your cause, so that it's become a highly, highly sophisticated operation that has no counterpart, I don't think, in our previous political history.
HEDGES: It makes Walter Lippman look benign.
WOLIN: Yeah, it certainly does. Yeah. I mean, his public is still a coherent whole, even if it's a little crazy.
HEDGES: And I think what's frightening is the way not only the public has been fragmented, but the way that these fragments are manipulated to be turned one against the other. So, for instance, corporate capitalism strips workers of benefits and job protection, pensions, medical plans, and then very skillfully uses that diminished fragment to turn against public sector workers, such as teachers, who still have those benefits. So the question doesn't become, why doesn't everyone have those benefits; the question becomes, to that fragment which is being manipulated by forces of propaganda and public relations, you don't have it, and therefore they shouldn't have it.
WOLIN: They shouldn't have it. Yeah.
HEDGES: And I think that's example of what you are speaking about.
WOLIN: Yeah, I think that's accurate. The ability of the fragmentation strategy is really quite astounding, and it's that we've got such sophisticated means now of targeting and of fashioning messages for specific audiences and insulating those messages from other audiences that it's a new chapter. It's clearly a new chapter. And I think that it's fraught with all kinds of dangerous possibilities for any kind of theory of democracy which requires, I think, some kind of notion of a public sufficiently united to express a will and a preference of what it needs and what it wants. But if you're constantly being divided and subdivided, that's an illusion now, that there is a public.
And the amazing thing, it seems to me, is that the ruling groups can now operate on the assumption that they don't need the traditional notion of something called a public in the broad sense of a coherent whole, that they now have the tools to deal with the very disparities and differences that they have themselves helped to create, so that it's a game in which you manage to undermine the cohesiveness which publics require if they are to be politically effective, and you undermined that. And at the same time, you create these different distinct groups that inevitably find themselves in tension or at odds or in competition with other groups, so that it becomes more of a melee than it does become a way of fashioning majorities.
HEDGES: And this was quite conscious, the destruction of the public.
WOLIN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, again it's that theme we've talked about. They're capable of doing it now, that is, of dealing with fragmented publics who aren't aware of their ties to those fragments but are--everybody feels sort of part of a group that has no particular alliance with another group.
HEDGES: And the cultivation by the dominant forces of that sense of victimhood of your group.
HEDGES: And that victimhood is caused by another fragment.
HEDGES: I mean, that, of course, characterizes the right wing.
WOLIN: Yeah. Yeah.
HEDGES: The reason for our economic decline and our social decline is because of undocumented workers, or because of liberals, or because of homosexuals or whatever.
WOLIN: Yeah. No, that's a time-honored strategy of really not only divide and conquer; subdivide and subdivide and conquer.
HEDGES: They were good students of Hobbes, I guess.
WOLIN: Yeah. Yeah, better than they know.... ... ...
therealnews.comCHRIS HEDGES, PULITZER-PRIZE WINNING JOURNALIST: Welcome to part seven of my interview with Dr. Sheldon Wolin, who taught politics for many years at Berkeley and later Princeton. He is the author of several seminal works on political philosophy, including Politics and Vision, Democracy Incorporated, and a book on Tocqueville.
And it's Tocqueville who I think expresses this notion of participatory democracy that you embrace. And I wondered if you could explain what that means and set it against what you call, I think, manufactured democracy.
SHELDON WOLIN, PROF. EMERITUS POLITICS, PRINCETON: Well, Tocqueville discovered -- I mean, he didn't invent the notion, but he discovered this significance of viable local self-government. And he insisted that a democracy, if it were to avoid the pitfall of becoming a mass democracy, would have to zealously protect and nurture these smaller groupings, whether they be municipalities, religious groupings, or economic groupings of one kind or another, but that these were the major forces for offsetting the drive of modern power towards concentration and control, so that that was the basic struggle for him was between these two forces. And he saw in the New England town meetings and in the New England local self-government schemes the answer to how you kept democracy alive -- you kept it alive locally -- and that the effect of keeping it alive locally was to dilute the significance of majority rule at the national level.
Tocqueville feared majority rule because he thought it meant uniformity of belief imposed by the power of the majority. I think he in a certain sense may have overstated that and paid insufficient attention to the rule of elites. I think that in some of his later writings, especially when they were concerned with France, in the 1840s -- .
HEDGES: This is Ancien Régime.
WOLIN: Yeah. I think he became aware that there was a problem with that and that the old regime's system of corporate bodies had to be carefully thought through because they could easily become simply vested interests, and so that there was a lot of unfinished business in Tocqueville, and I think it's very important in understanding him that you recognize it.
HEDGES: But I think that his definition of what participatory democracy is is one that you embrace.
WOLIN: Yes, it is. And I think that the common thread I think we both share (if I can put it that way pretentiously): that we share the notion that the problem is centralized power. And that centralized power has assumed, because of scientific and technological developments, has assumed a quality of menace that it simply didn't have before. Before, it was simply the power of a central government in its army and in its bureaucracy to sort of enforce its will. But now it's much more than that. It's the ability to shape and direct society in a fashion that's much more of a lockstep thing than was ever conceived by Tocqueville.
HEDGES: And this was Lenin's genius, in that as a revolutionary, he understood that.
WOLIN: Yes, he did. Yes, he did. And it is at the same time the tragedy of Marx, because he both understood the Lenin point of view, but he also understood the point of view of more participatory kind of institutions. And I think he never managed to overcome that, because he thought that revolution required mass movements, mass organization, and that once you got there, you didn't know what to do with it after the revolution, except sustain it in certain institutions, and that the problems of participation and the kind of experience Marx wanted people to get in running government and running economic institutions was becoming increasingly more difficult.
HEDGES: And what Lenin grasped is that the goal was to seize those centers of power, destroy the Soviets, destroy autonomous power, and in essence harness that system which you talk about, that complex system, to his own ends.
WOLIN: Yeah, and to simplify it in doing it, I mean, not just take it over, but refashion it in a way that was harmonious with this kind of central regime he wanted. In other words, you didn't just take over local institutions and local parties and so on and so forth, which had their own histories and ideologies and practices, but you reshape them, and you reshape them in accordance with a centralized power system that Lenin, I think, very unfortunately led towards uniformity, because I think he saw or thought he saw that uniformity was also a key to exercising power in a way that could change a whole society, a way that you could not do it if you kept recognizing differences, tolerating them, even encouraging them.
HEDGES: Well, he didn't tolerate any differences at all, starting with Bakunin.
WOLIN: No, he didn't. He certainly didn't.
HEDGES: Adam Ulam, in his great book on Lenin, Bolsheviks, said that the only people that Lenin finally admired deeply were quite successful capitalists, because they had accomplished in the capitalist world what he was seeking to accomplish in that uniformity and that complete hierarchical, repressive, and unforgiving system that in many ways just became a form of state capitalism.
WOLIN: Right. Yeah. True enough.
HEDGES: You had published -- I think it was for five years -- this journal, --
WOLIN: Oh yes.
HEDGES: -- Democracy. I see you have the great historian Arno Mayer contributed to this.
WOLIN: Yes. He was on the editorial [crosstalk]
HEDGES: Oh, he was on -- in 1982, which must have boosted your esteem and popularity at the Politics Department at Princeton.
WOLIN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I remember once when I was up editing that journal, I left a copy of it on the table in the faculty room, and hoping that somebody would read it and comment. I never heard a word. And during all the time I was there and doing Democracy, I never had one colleague come up to me and either say something positive or even negative about it. Just absolute silence.
HEDGES: It was five years that you did it?
HEDGES: And why?
HEDGES: Why? Why did you see the need for this journal?
WOLIN: Well, I saw a need for it because I thought a couple of things. I thought political theory had to justify itself not just as an historical discipline that dealt with the critical examination of idea systems, but also that political theory had a role to play in helping to fashion public policies and governmental directions, and above all civic education, in a way that would further what I thought to be the goals of a more democratic, more egalitarian, more educated society.
HEDGES: And I assume that's because you saw within the intellectual landscape that that was not being addressed.
WOLIN: I didn't think it was. I mean, I had respect for the people, especially at The Nation magazine, which I thought was trying very hard. My problem with The Nation, I thought, was that it was -- I hate to appear this way, but I didn't think its intellectual level was very high. And that mattered because its arch enemy, The New Republic, whatever you may think about its politics, managed to attract intellects of a pretty high order. And that meant that the liberal radical case was not being presented at its best and that it was mostly a kind of responsive set of reactions to what the government was doing or what capitalists were doing, but had no coherent idea of what they really wanted to get to in terms of a just and more equal society.
HEDGES: Were you seeking to do what Dwight Macdonald did with politics?
WOLIN: A bit. I admired his work. I thought he was a real groundbreaker. And I certainly did learn from him about trying to do something like this. I think he's underappreciated, --
HEDGES: Yeah. No question.
WOLIN: -- very much underappreciated. He was a little quixotic, but he was -- .
HEDGES: You know the great story about him and Trotsky? He was not orthodox in any of his beliefs, but for a while he was a member of the Trotskyite party. But, of course, he kept writing things that Trotsky didn't approve of, until a letter came from Mexico from Trotsky, said that everybody has the right to the stupidity of their own beliefs, but Comrade Macdonald overabuses the privilege, and he was expelled.
But he did very much what you did, and he attracted the kind of intellectual radical thinkers -- I mean, everyone from Orwell to Hannah Arendt to Bettelheim -- who were not being published. And I know you had written for a while for The New York Review of Books and, with the rise of that neoliberal embrace of what became corporate capitalism, were essentially dropped from [it], if we want to call The New York Review of Books the mainstream.
WOLIN: Yeah, it did. It was too bad. I enjoyed that relationship. And it was a long-standing relationship, where I was a contributor almost from the first edition of the The New York Review of Books.
The -- kind of interesting about my rupture with The New York Review of Books: it came about -- although it was probably festering, because I was moving more towards the left, they were moving more towards the center -- the rupture came when one of the editors' friends in the New York circle of intellectuals wrote a book on education. And Bob Silver gave it to me to review for The New York Review of Books. And I thought it was not a very good book, and I thought that it was not even a liberal view of educational reform, and I said so. And he refused to publish it. Well, what's so interesting is that the author of that book, about a decade later, publicly disowned the book because she too regarded it as not really sufficiently advanced or liberal in its viewpoint. But that was ten years later; it didn't do me any good.
But the relationship was good while it lasted. And I certainly owe Silvers a great debt in giving me a chance very early to write for a large audience.
HEDGES: When you talk about participatory democracy in an age of superpower, in an age of inverted totalitarianism, how is that going to now express itself within that superstructure?
WOLIN: Well, I think it will express itself -- I guess the answer I would give is that precisely it doesn't express itself. I think it's shaped and it's allowed only the outlets that are conceived to be consonant with the purposes of those in power, so that it's not autonomous anymore in any significant sense. I mean, we have to keep realizing how difficult it is to get ideas into the public arena now for any significant audience. It's becoming more and more a matter of a few outlets. And if you should for one reason or another become persona non grata with any of those outlets, then your goose is cooked, there's no other way to go, so that there's a kind of, I think, hidden sort of force. I don't want to call it censorship. That's too strong. But there's a kind of hidden force that kind of makes you think twice about how far you want to go in pushing a particular point that is at odds with either the existing notions of the powers that be or the existing notions of the opposition.
HEDGES: Which is called careerism.
WOLIN: It is.
HEDGES: And it's a powerful force.
WOLIN: It is indeed.
HEDGES: Both within the media, within academia. And coming from the New York Times culture, you learn not so much how to lie; you learn what not to say, what not to address, what questions not to ask.
WOLIN: Yeah, I'm sure that's true. I'm sure it's true. I used to get a taste of it at Democracy, even, when I was editing it, that there were certain taboo matters.
HEDGES: Did you look at the Occupy movement as a form of participatory democracy?
WOLIN: I did to an extent, yeah. I think it had certain healthy significance. I think it was kind of under -- I hate to sound this way, but I thought it was under-intellectualized in the sense that it didn't express, seemed quite unable to express its own fundamental beliefs in a kind of coherent way that could really grab the country's attention. I think it was very strong on tactics and actions of that kind, and kind of weak in terms of its ability, as I say, to formulate in some kind of broad-based way its own system of beliefs.
HEDGES: But it was at least a place, a physical place in which -- .
WOLIN: Oh, no question about it. I think it's been grossly underestimated in terms of its importance. And the trouble is, when it doesn't get recognized for its importance, it gradually loses that importance, because people forget about it. And it's too bad. I mean, memories are so short these days anyway. But the way it sort of disappears and seems to leave no noticeable mark is a really tragic aspect of our politics today, because people sacrificed, they were thinking, and they were trying to achieve a laudable end. And they were ridiculed and abused and so on, and above all, forgotten.
HEDGES: And the state physically eradicated their encampments.
WOLIN: Yeah, it did. Now, it's a bad chapter, and I hope someday somebody writes it as a cautionary tale.
HEDGES: Has true participatory democracy become, in the age of inverted totalitarianism, subversion in the eyes of the state?
WOLIN: I'm not sure it's quite reached that point, because I think the powers that be view it as harmless, and they're smart enough to know that if something's harmless, there's no point in sort of making a pariah out of it, so that I think they're capitalizing on the sort of short attention span that people, especially people working, have for politics, and that it would soon go away and run its course, and that if they could contain it, they wouldn't have to really repress it, that it would gradually sort of shrivel up and disappear, so that I think it's been a deliberate tactic not to continuously engage the democracy movement intellectually, because that's a way of perpetuating its importance. Instead, you surround it with silence, and hoping (and, in the modern age, with good reason) that memories will be short.
HEDGES: And you use cliches in the mass media to demonize it and belittle it.
WOLIN: Indeed. Indeed.
HEDGES: Thank you very much.
Stay tuned for our final segment with Prof. Wolin, on revolution, coming up. Thanks.
therealnews.comCHRIS HEDGES, PULITZER-PRIZE WINNING JOURNALIST: Welcome to our interview with Professor Sheldon Wolin, our final segment, where we are going to talk about revolution.
When you have a system of totalitarianism, in this case inverted totalitarianism, when you have effectively fragmented and destroyed the notion of the public, when you have institutions that define themselves as democratic and yet have abandoned civic virtue and the common good and in fact harnessed their authority and their power to the interests of corporations, which is about creating a neo-feudalism, a security and surveillance state, enriching a small, global oligarchic elite, perpetuating demilitarization of the society and superpower itself, which defines itself through military prowess, is that a point at which we should begin to discuss revolution?
SHELDON WOLIN, PROF. EMERITUS POLITICS, PRINCETON: I think it is, but I think the proper emphasis should be on discussing it carefully, that is to say, I mean by carefully not timidly, but carefully in the sense that we would really have to be breaking new ground. And I think it's because of the nature of the forces we've been talking about that constitute a challenge, I think, the like of which hasn't happened before, and that we've got to be very sure, because of the interlocked character of modern society, that we don't act prematurely and don't do more damage than are really justifiable, so that I think revolution is one of those words that I'm not so sure we shouldn't find a synonym that would capture its idea of significant, even radical change, but which somehow manages, I think, to discard the physical notions of overthrow and violence that inevitably it evokes in the modern consciousness. And I don't have a solution to that, but I think that that's required. I think the idea of revolution simply carries too much baggage, and the result of that is you're forced to fight all sorts of rearguard actions to say what you didn't mean because of the overtones and implications that revolution seems to have to the modern ear. So I think we do have to start striving for a new kind of vocabulary that would help us express what we mean by radical change without simply seeming to tie ourselves to the kind of previous notions of revolution.
I think the contemporary condition--as I'm sure Marx would have been the first to acknowledge--is quite without precedent in terms of the concentration of capitalist power and of the relationship between capitalism and the state. It's always been there. But now we're talking about aggregates of power the like of which the world has never seen, and a world that we have now come to see is in the throes of being integrated by those powers.
So I think we really have to know when we're being trapped by our own language and need to at crucial points hold up that language for scrutiny and say, maybe it needs to be rethought in a different direction or needs to be modified in a serious way, so that we're really making contact with what the world actually is.
HEDGES: And yet, in the archaic sense of the word, it's about a cycle. Revolution is about coming back--
HEDGES: --in this sense, coming back to participatory democracy that we've lost.
HEDGES: And the popular notion of revolution, which you correctly point out does not bear much resemblance to the historical reality of revolutions, in the sense that most revolutions, although violence are certainly part of it, most revolutions are finally nonviolent, in the sense that you have the armed forces, in the case of the Cossacks going to Petrograd, in the case of in the Paris commune, where the national army refuses to -- turns in their arms and creates the commune in 1871 in Paris, even in contemporary situations, such as the downfall of the Shah in Iran in 1979 and the army refuses to fight, it is about converting intellectually, morally, ethically, those within the power structure who realize its decay, its corruption, its repression and no longer are willing to sacrifice for it.
WOLIN: Well, I guess I'm not quite certain. I'm not quite certain in the sense that I think your formulation would rely more than I would on trying to persuade the powers that be and the structure to change course or modify their behavior and modify their beliefs, and I don't think that's possible. Or if it's possible, it's not possible on a large scale. There might be deviants and rebels who would. But I really think it's--I mean, to have the form that I think would really justify calling it revolution, I think it has to be generated and shaped outside the power structure, and I think because what you're trying to do is to enlist and educate groups and individuals who have not had a political education or experience of much of any kind, and so that your task is compounded. For those who think the basic problem is just seize power, you're still confronted by that in that formula with a population that's basically unchanged, and that you then face the kind of cruel choices of forcing them to change so that they can support your structure, so that the real, I think, really difficult challenge is to accompany the attempt to gain power with an equally strong emphasis on public education that makes it, so to speak, a potentially responsible repository of that power.
HEDGES: Now, I would totally agree that it has to be formed outside of power, but I'm wondering whether once you can create a revolutionary ideology and a force that contests power--one of the secrets to revolutionary successes is that that message, which is what Václav Havel would call "living in truth", that message, once it penetrates the lower levels of power--and I'm thinking of, like, the police or the case--those foot soldiers that are tasked with protecting an elite that they may very well view is venal--whether that can create or in revolutionary society creates enough paralysis within the structures of power that you can bring it down. And I covered the fall of East Germany, where in the fall of 1989, Eric Honecker, who had been in power for 19 years as the dictator, sent down an elite paratroop division to Leipzig, because at that point they had 70,000 people massing in the streets. And when that paratroop division refused to fire on the crowd, the whole apparatus of the Stasi state crumbled almost at such a dizzying speed, none of us could keep track of it, and Honecker was out of power within a week. So I'm asking whether that--I think you're right, of course, that all of those revolutionary forces have to be formed outside of the structures of power, but whether finally in some sense appealing, if you want to call it, to the conscience of those at the low level, though people who are like the Cossacks, who come in and are told to quell the bread riots, and instead fraternize with the crowds, whether that is, in your eyes, a kind of fundamental moment by which a power elite can be removed.
WOLIN: I think there's something very much to be said for that. And, of course, one wants to avoid apocalyptic notions. But I think what we're dealing with is the ability of democrats (small d) to sustain the kind of political education in such a way that you concentrate upon those lower echelons of power and get them to think differently about their role. It's a very touchy subject, because it leaves you open to accusations of promoting disloyalty among the police, say, or among the army or what have you. And in a sense that's true. But I think that nonetheless, without trying to, so to speak, baldly subvert the role of those powers in society, it is possible to reach them and to create a climate where they themselves have to come to grips with it. And I think that's a task that's arduous, and it's difficult, and it's even a little dangerous in our present age.
HEDGES: Would you--if you look at those revolutionary philosophers--and we could perhaps even include Plato--they always talk about the creation of an elite, what Lenin would call a revolutionary vanguard, Machiavelli would call his republican conspirators, Calvin would call his saints. Do you see that as a fundamental component of revolution?
WOLIN: To some extent I do. I would want to, of course, naturally, avoid words like elite, but I do think, given the way that ordinary people become exhausted by the simple task of living, working, and trying to sustain families and neighborhoods in a way that just takes all of their energy, I do think it calls for some kind of group, or class, you could even call them, who would undertake the kind of continuous political work of educating, criticizing, trying to bring pressure to bear, and working towards a revamping of political institutions. And I don't mean to imply that there should be a disconnect between that group and ordinary people. I do think it requires that you recognize that such a group is necessary, in that the second task is to make sure that there are open lines of communication, of contact, of meetings between leaders and the people, such that there's never a sense of estrangement or alienation, such that leading groups feel they're free to pursue the good as they see it and for the good of the masses who do not.
HEDGES: Do you worry about Bakunin's critique of the Bolsheviks, that power is the problem, and that once these people, who may be very well intentioned--Trotsky would be an example: pre-revolutionary Trotsky, postrevolutionary Trotsky, at least in his writings, was very democratic; once in power, he was Lenin's iron fist. And I wonder whether Bakunin's not right that power's the problem, in that sense, and creating an elite is a very dangerous move, or a vanguard or whatever.
WOLIN: Yeah, I think it is. And I think that our situation's somewhat different from what Trotsky and the others faced, in the sense that there are openings in our system of governance and of public discourse that do provide an opportunity, if you're willing to work hard enough, to get dissident voices out into the public realm, so that the need for force, violence, and so on, it seems to me, is simply unnecessary, that as long as we have constitutional guarantees that still mean something and that we have free forms of communication that still mean something, I think that we're obligated to play by those rules, because they do allow us to disseminate the kind of message we want to disseminate, and that the need to sort of circumvent them or in some sense subvert them, it seems to me, is self-defeating.
HEDGES: And yet climate change has created a narrowing window of opportunity if we are going to survive as a species. An unfettered, unregulated corporate capitalism, which commodifies everything, from human beings to the natural world--and this comes out of Marx--without any kind of constraints--and it has no self-imposed limits--it will exploit those forces until exhaustion or collapse. And we are now seeing the ecosystem itself teetering on collapse.
WOLIN: Yeah. No, it's true. But I don't really see any other solution than to really put your chips where an enlightened public would take a stand. And I think the problem, to some extent, is that there are enlightened publics in this country, but there's no concerted general movement which can profess to represent a large body of opinion that's opposed to these kind of developments you've just described.
And I think it's the--there's a certain lack of organization, not in the sense of following previous prescriptions of organization, but of trying to find methods whereby power, ordinary people and their power, can be brought to bear in ways that will deter and dissuade those who are in a position to influence these decisions, because time, as we all know, is running out, and that if we continue along the same course, I'm afraid the result is not simply going to be environmental disaster; it's also going to, I think, feed the--in an unhealthy way, it will feed an outcry for really forceful government, and not in a necessarily democratic way.
HEDGES: And yet, if we don't respond, it is in essence collective suicide.
WOLIN: It is. It is indeed.
HEDGES: Now, Weber has a very bleak view in the age of bureaucracy. And he actually talks about the banishment of mystery. And as a former theologian, that is really the banishment of the sacred: nothing has an intrinsic value; everything only has a monetary value. Weber, like Rawls, is scathing about allowing a capitalist class to even ever assume power. And Weber writes in Politics as a Vocation, which you cite in Politics and Vision, that the very figure that he holds up as a political hero, who resembles the classical hero, is some way--and holds on to civic virtue, can never overcome what the Greeks would call fourtoúna, and that finally you live in a world where you have the necessary passion of those who would carry the common good within them thrown up against this massive monolith, this impersonal monolith of bureaucracy. And I wonder if--and because that is the reality, a reality that in many ways Weber discovered--and he, like--I think if you go back to classical writers like Augustine, would argue--and you know Weber better than I--but would argue that in some sense--or at least my reading of it is that in some sense he's calling for those of us who care about the common good and civic virtue to stand up in the face of a very bleak reality. And, again, Augustine would do this while saying that in the end you can never create the kingdom of God, the city of man, city of God, and yet it finally becomes just a moral imperative. Whether you can actually succeed or not succeed (I don't know if that's a fair characterization of Weber) is not really the question. The question is: how do you retain your own moral integrity in the face of these horrifically destructive forces? And in some ways the question is not: can we succeed? And reading Weber, I think in some ways he would say you probably can't, but that you must resist anyway.
HEDGES: I think that's a fair reading of him. I think that for Weber, the truly important civic virtues were just exactly the ones that would assert themselves at a time when basic institutional values were at stake and human values were at stake, and that you don't win, or you win rarely, and if you win, it's often for a very short time, and that that's why politics is a vocation for Weber. It's not an occasional undertaking that we assume every two years or every four years when there's an election; it's a constant occupation and preoccupation. And the problem, as Weber saw it, was to understand it not as a partisan kind of education in the politicians or political party sense, but as in the broad understanding of what political life should be and what is required to make it sustainable, and so that he's calling for a certain kind of understanding that's very different from what we think about when we associate political understanding with how do you vote or what party do you support or what cause do you support. Weber's asking us to step back and say what kind of political order and the values associated with it that it promotes are we willing to really give a lot for, including sacrifice. And I think that it's that distinction between the temporary and the transient and what's truly of more enduring significance that sets Weber off against the group he hated, the relativists.
HEDGES: He's calling us to a life of meaning.
WOLIN: Yeah. Yeah.
HEDGES: Which you have exemplified.
HEDGES: Well, thank you very much, Professor Wolin.
WOLIN: My pleasure.
HEDGES: It's been a tremendous honor. You're--have had a tremendous influence on myself and many other--Cornel West and many, many others, and not only because of the power of your intellect, but the power of your integrity.
WOLIN: Well, thank you. I've enjoyed it very much.
HEDGES: Thank you very much.
WOLIN: I thank you for the opportunity to talk.
Oct 28, 2015 | coreyrobin.com
Sheldon Wolin's the reason I began drinking coffee.
I was a freshman at Princeton. It was the fall of 1985. I signed up to take a course called "Modern Political Theory." It was scheduled for Mondays and Wednesdays at 9 am. I had no idea what I was doing. I stumbled into class, and there was a man with white hair and a trim white beard, lecturing on Machiavelli. I was transfixed.
There was just one problem: I was-still am-most definitely not a morning person. Even though the lectures were riveting, I had to fight my tendency to fall asleep. Even worse, I had to fight my tendency to sleep in.
So I started-- drinking coffee. I'd show up for class fully caffeinated. And proceeded to work my way through the canon-Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, along with some texts you don't often get in intro theory courses (the Putney Debates, Montesquieu's Persian Letters, and for a last hurrah: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations)-under the guidance of one of the great readers of the twentieth century.
More than anything else, that's what Sheldon Wolin was: a reader of texts. He approached The Prince as if it were a novel, identifying its narrative voice, analyzing the literary construction of the characters who populated the text (new prince, customary prince, centaur, the people), examining the structural tensions in the narrative (How does a Machiavellian adviser advise a non-Machiavellian prince?), and so on. It was exhilarating.
And then after class I'd head straight for Firestone Library; read whatever we were reading that week in class; follow along, chapter by chapter, with Wolin's Politics and Vision, which remains to this day the single best book on Western political theory that I know of (even though lots of the texts we were talking about in class don't appear there, or appear there with very different interpretations from the ones Wolin was offering in class: the man never stood still, intellectually); and get my second cup of coffee.
This is all a long wind-up to the fact that this morning, my friend Antonio Vazquez-Arroyo, sent me a two-part interview that Chris Hedges conducted with Wolin, who's living out in Salem, Oregon now. From his Wikipedia page, I gather that Wolin's 92. He looks exactly the same as he did in 1985. And sounds the same. Though it seems from the video as if he may now be losing his sight. Which is devastating when I think about the opening passages of Politics and Vision, about how vision is so critical to the political theorist and the practice of theoria.
Anyway, here he is, talking to Hedges about his thesis of "inverted totalitarianism":
In classic totalitarianism, thinking here now about the Nazis and the fascists, and also even about the communists, the economy is viewed as a tool which the powers that be manipulate and utilize in accordance with what they conceive to be the political requirements of ruling. And they will take whatever steps are needed in the economy in order to ensure the long-run sustainability of the political order. In other words, the sort of arrows of political power flow from top to bottom.
Now, in inverted totalitarianism, the imagery is that of a populace which is enshrined as the leadership group but which in fact doesn't rule, but which is turned upside down in the sense that the people are enshrined at the top but don't rule. And minority rule is usually treated as something to be abhorred but is in fact what we have. And it's the problem has to do, I think, with the historical relationship between political orders and economic orders. And democracy, I think, from the beginning never quite managed to make the kind of case for an economic order that would sustain and help to develop democracy rather than being a kind of constant threat to the egalitarianism and popular rule that democracy stands for.
… ... ...
Capitalism is destructive because it has to eliminate the kind of custom, mores, political values, even institutions that present any kind of credible threat to the autonomy of the economy. And it's that–that's where the battle lies. Capitalism wants an autonomous economy. They want a political order subservient to the needs of the economy. And their notion of an economy, while it's broadly based in the sense of a capitalism in which there can be relatively free entrance and property is relatively widely dispersed it's also a capitalism which, in the last analysis, is [as] elitist as any aristocratic system ever was.
Have a listen and a watch. Part 1 and then Part 2.
Pt 1-8 Hedges & Wolin Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist
- Sheldon Wolin: Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? Parts 2-3, interviewed by Chris Hedges
- Sheldon Wolin: Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? Part 4, interviewed by Chris Hedges (transcript in naked capitalism)
- Sheldon Wolin: Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? Part 5, interviewed by Chris Hedges
- Sheldon Wolin: Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? Part 6, interviewed by Chris Hedges
- Sheldon Wolin: Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? Part 7, interviewed by Chris Hedges
- Sheldon Wolin: Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? Part 8, interviewed by Chris Hedges
- Chris Hedges: The Disease of Imperialism + Transcript
- Chris Hedges, Cornel West, Richard D. Wolff Respond to Thomas Paine's Question: What Is To Be Done? by Jill Dalton
- "Inverted Totalitarianism" by Guadamour
Sep 02, 2014 | jessescrossroadscafe.blogspot.com"Antidemocracy, executive predominance, and elite rule are basic elements of inverted totalitarianism.
Antidemocracy does not take the form of overt attacks upon the idea of government by the people. Instead, politically it means encouraging what I have earlier dubbed civic demobilization, conditioning an electorate to being aroused for a brief spell, controlling its attention span, and then encouraging distraction or apathy.
The intense pace of work and the extended working day, combined with job insecurity, is a formula for political demobilization, for privatizing the citizenry.
It works indirectly. Citizens are encouraged to distrust their government and politicians; to concentrate upon their own interests; to begrudge their taxes; and to exchange active involvement for symbolic gratifications of patriotism, collective self-righteousness, and military prowess.
Above all, depoliticization is promoted through society's being enveloped in an atmosphere of collective fear and of individual powerlessness: fear of terrorists, loss of jobs, the uncertainties of pension plans, soaring health costs, and rising educational expenses."
"Our corporate oligarchs are harvesting the nation, grabbing as much as they can, as fast as they can, in the inevitable descent." Chris Hedges
December 18, 2013 | The American Conservative
With the ongoing "war" approaching the 10-year mark, the U.S. economy shed a total of 7.9 million jobs in just three years. For only the second time since World War II, the official unemployment rate topped 10 percent. The retreat from that peak came at an achingly slow pace. By some estimates, actual unemployment-including those who had simply given up looking for work-was double the official figure. Accentuating the pain was the duration of joblessness; those laid off during the Great Recession stayed out of work substantially longer than the unemployed during previous postwar economic downturns. When new opportunities did eventually materialize, they usually came with smaller salaries and either reduced benefits or none at all.
As an immediate consequence, millions of Americans lost their homes or found themselves "underwater," the value of their property less than what they owed on their mortgages. Countless more were thrown into poverty, the number of those officially classified as poor reaching the highest level since the Census Bureau began tracking such data. A drop in median income erased gains made during the previous 15 years. Erstwhile members of the great American middle class shelved or abandoned outright carefully nurtured plans to educate their children or retire in modest comfort. Inequality reached gaping proportions with 1 percent of the population amassing a full 40 percent of the nation's wealth.
Month after month, grim statistics provided fodder for commentators distributing blame, for learned analysts offering contradictory explanations of why prosperity had proven so chimerical, and for politicians absolving themselves of responsibility while fingering as culprits members of the other party. Yet beyond its immediate impact, what did the Great Recession signify? Was the sudden appearance of hard times in the midst of war merely an epiphenomenon, a period of painful adjustment and belt-tightening after which the world's sole superpower would be back in the saddle? Or had the Great Recession begun a Great Recessional, with the United States in irreversible retreat from the apex of global dominion?
The political response to this economic calamity paid less attention to forecasting long-term implications than to fixing culpability. On the right, an angry Tea Party movement blamed Big Government. On the left, equally angry members of the Occupy movement blamed Big Business, especially Wall Street. What these two movements had in common was that each cast the American people as victims. Nefarious forces had gorged themselves at the expense of ordinary folk. By implication, the people were themselves absolved of responsibility for the catastrophe that had befallen them and their country.
Yet consider a third possibility. Perhaps the people were not victims but accessories. On the subject of war, Americans can no more claim innocence than they can regarding the effects of smoking or excessive drinking. As much as or more than Big Government or Big Business, popular attitudes toward war, combining detachment, neglect, and inattention, helped create the crisis in which the United States is mired.
A "country made by war," to cite the title of a popular account of U.S. military history, the United States in our own day is fast becoming a country undone by war. Citizen armies had waged the wars that made the nation powerful (if not virtuous) and Americans rich (if not righteous). The character of those armies-preeminently the ones that preserved the Union and helped defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan-testified to an implicit covenant between citizens and the state. According to its terms, war was the people's business and could not be otherwise. For the state to embark upon armed conflict of any magnitude required informed popular consent. Actual prosecution of any military campaign larger than a police action depended on the willingness of citizens in large numbers to become soldiers. Seeing war through to a conclusion hinged on the state's ability to sustain active popular support in the face of adversity.
In their disgust over Vietnam, Americans withdrew from this arrangement. They disengaged from war, with few observers giving serious consideration to the implications of doing so. Events since, especially since 9/11, have made those implications manifest. In the United States, war no longer qualifies in any meaningful sense as the people's business. In military matters, Americans have largely forfeited their say.
As a result, in formulating basic military policy and in deciding when and how to employ force, the state no longer requires the consent, direct participation, or ongoing support of citizens. As an immediate consequence, Washington's penchant for war has appreciably increased, without, however, any corresponding improvement in the ability of political and military leaders to conclude its wars promptly or successfully. A further result, less appreciated but with even larger implications, has been to accelerate the erosion of the traditional concept of democratic citizenship.
In other words, the afflictions besetting the American way of life derive in some measure from shortcomings in the contemporary American way of war. The latter have either begotten or exacerbated the former.
Since 9/11, Americans have, in fact, refuted George C. Marshall by demonstrating a willingness to tolerate "a Seven Years [and longer] War." It turns out, as the neoconservative pundit Max Boot observed, that an absence of popular support "isn't necessarily fatal" for a flagging war effort. For an inveterate militarist like Boot, this comes as good news. "Public apathy," he argues, "presents a potential opportunity," making it possible to prolong "indefinitely" conflicts in which citizens are not invested.
Yet such news is hardly good. Apathy toward war is symptomatic of advancing civic decay, finding expression in apathy toward the blight of child poverty, homelessness, illegitimacy, and eating disorders also plaguing the country. Shrugging off wars makes it that much easier for Americans-overweight, overmedicated, and deeply in hock-to shrug off the persistence of widespread hunger, the patent failures of their criminal justice system, and any number of other problems. The thread that binds together this pattern of collective anomie is plain to see: unless the problem you're talking about affects me personally, why should I care?
08/17/2012 | ZeroHeadge
When financialization fails, the consumerist economy dies. This is what is happening in Greece, and is starting to happen in Spain and Italy. The central banks and Central States are attempting resuscitation by issuing credit that is freed from the constraints of collateral. The basic idea here is that if credit based on collateral has failed, then let's replace it with credit backed by phantom assets, i.e. illusory collateral. In essence, the financialization system has shifted to the realm of fantasy, where we (taxpayers, people who took out student loans, homeowners continuing to make payments on underwater mortgages, etc.) are paying very real interest on illusory debt backed by nothing.
Once this flimsy con unravels, the credibility of all institutions that participated in the con will be irrevocably destroyed. This includes the European Central Bank (ECB), the Federal Reserve, the E.U., "too big to fail" banks, and so on down the financialization line of dominoes. Once credit ceases to expand, asset bubbles pop and consumerism grinds to a halt
Jesse's Café Américain
Here is a recent talk by Chris Hedges at the Cambridge Forum.
The video starts after two introductions and a brief expository by Hedges about the tragic life of Michael Jackson, which he sees as emblematic of the cult of celebrity and the exploitative tendencies of the reality show TV culture.
Apr 30, 2006 | Daily Kos
STEPHEN COLBERT: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Before I begin, I've been asked to make an announcement. Whoever parked 14 black bulletproof S.U.V.'s out front, could you please move them? They are blocking in 14 other black bulletproof S.U.V.'s and they need to get out.
Wow. Wow, what an honor. The White House correspondents' dinner. To actually sit here, at the same table with my hero, George W. Bush, to be this close to the man. I feel like I'm dreaming. Somebody pinch me. You know what? I'm a pretty sound sleeper -- that may not be enough. Somebody shoot me in the face. Is he really not here tonight? Dammit. The one guy who could have helped.
By the way, before I get started, if anybody needs anything else at their tables, just speak slowly and clearly into your table numbers. Somebody from the NSA will be right over with a cocktail. Mark Smith, ladies and gentlemen of the press corps, Madame First Lady, Mr. President, my name is Stephen Colbert and tonight it's my privilege to celebrate this president. We're not so different, he and I. We get it. We're not brainiacs on the nerd patrol. We're not members of the factinista. We go straight from the gut, right sir? That's where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. I know some of you are going to say "I did look it up, and that's not true." That's 'cause you looked it up in a book.
Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works. Every night on my show, the Colbert Report, I speak straight from the gut, OK? I give people the truth, unfiltered by rational argument. I call it the "No Fact Zone." Fox News, I hold a copyright on that term.
I'm a simple man with a simple mind. I hold a simple set of beliefs that I live by. Number one, I believe in America. I believe it exists. My gut tells me I live there. I feel that it extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and I strongly believe it has 50 states. And I cannot wait to see how the Washington Post spins that one tomorrow. I believe in democracy. I believe democracy is our greatest export. At least until China figures out a way to stamp it out of plastic for three cents a unit.
In fact, Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong, welcome. Your great country makes our Happy Meals possible. I said it's a celebration. I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.
I believe in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. I believe it is possible -- I saw this guy do it once in Cirque du Soleil. It was magical. And though I am a committed Christian, I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion, be you Hindu, Jewish or Muslim. I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.
The Kremlin StoogekieviteGiuseppe Flavio:
I just think that the key for understanding democracy in Russia is understanding mechanic of neoliberalism as global system: neo-colonialism via sophisticated use of the financial system instead of old fashioned direct colonial rule. In this scheme Russia is assigned a certain role and it is not very enviable role. And sliding county into this unenviable position is achieved first and foremost by integration of country financial system into global financial system and conversion of owners of local financial institutions into key elements of comprador class.
Some important effects of neo-liberalism on the country are (See Washington consensus in Wikipedia and elsewhere):
- Growth in international trade and cross-border capital flows (which in essence means free access of foreign capital to country financial system and its subordination to international monetary system with its good and bad effects)
- Elimination of trade barriers (while open talk is about goods, the key here are financial products - elimination of barriers for financial products aka "Hello gentlemen from Goldman Sacks")
- Cutbacks in public sector employment (especially in agencies regulating and monitoring financial capital)
- The privatization of previously public-owned enterprises (and first and foremost bank system including Central Bank under the disguise of independence from the government and via pre-selection of its presidents by financial sector).
- The transfer of the lion share of countries' economic wealth to the top economic percentiles of the population (which naturally transfer it abroad as it does not feel secure in its own country)
If a country wants to limit those effects without complete isolation it needs to create a strong state which can serve as sand in the wheels of financial liberalization. And that instantly will be declared undemocratic and viciously attacked by various elements of fifth column of neo-liberalism including first and foremost Western media and its agents within the country. That means that in pervert way "more democracy" drive serves as a Trojan horse for establishing compete dominance of foreign capital in the country (which essentially means colonization of the country and chronic poverty of its population - look at Ukraine as a good example).
I think that's why democrats are called "dermocrats" in Russia - on intuitive level people understand what will happen if they come to power and fear that Yeltsin years will return with vengeance (with new incarnation of Berezovski, Gusinski, Khodorkovski, Guidar, Chiubaytis, Jeffrey Sacks and so on and so forth). In other words, they are afraid of another round of shock therapy which is the essence of "disaster capitalism" (see THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, by Naomi Klein )
That does not mean that those who want "more democracy in Russia" are all tools of financial capital (fifth column). Some are but many are just kind of "useful idiots" (the term which was used for Soviet sympathizers in Western countries but is pretty much applicable here). Like in old proverb "Roads to hell are paved with good intentions". I might exaggerate a little bit but at least my analysis suggests that situation is very tricky and far from black and white "more democracy is good - less democracy is bad" and its natural generalization "All pigs are equal but some (financial pigs) are more equal then others" :-) . Because one interesting question is "Democracy for whom?" and if answer is "for Goldman Sacks" then the value of such democracy is very suspect.
I think that the key problem for the country is not "more democracy" (which in any case is limited to elite including comprador part of the elite) but creation of a system of self-defense against unrelenting assault of foreign financial capital, to the extent that is possible within already "neo-liberalized" country. In a way the country condition is not a good one for implementing "more democracy". And if comprador part of the elite can be somehow neutralized (first of all by cutting oxygen - restricting its access to TV and newspapers) I think less democracy is not so bad and might help to increase well-being of country population as less wealth will end in the coffers of foreign banks. But this might well be impossible in a long run with Putin or without. After all the role of personality in history is a limited one. He can just serve as a catalyst or inhibitor for something that has already has independent "right for existence" on a historical scene.Given that they've (OWS anyway) already indicated they think Obama is a snake oil salesman, I doubt (1) will come to passFoppe
Foppe, protesters like these made much more radical statements during the '68 "rebellion", claiming to be Marxist/Leninist/Trotskyist/Maoist/etc. but, besides a few that really remained true to their words, they lived comfortable middle-class lifes and their bosses entered the "bourgeois political establishment", often with right wing parties.that is, of course, true.kieviteActually former Trotskyites played important role in the revitalization of Republican Party.
Particularly James Burnham, who brought a strong tendency towards viewing all political national questions purely in ideological terms and rejected the idea of fair play. The idea of "export of democracy" is a modification of Trotsky's original idea of "exporting revolution" using bayonets. Michael Lind in the New Statesman from April 2004 wrote that,
"…neoconservative defense intellectuals…call their revolutionary ideology 'Wilsonianism' (after President Woodrow Wilson), but it is really Trotsky's theory of the permanent revolution mingled with the far-right Likud strain of Zionism".
They also introduced the new level of understanding of political struggle and first of all the preeminent importance of total control of media and courts.
James Burnham in his book, The Machiavellians, argued and developed his theory that the emerging new elite would better serve its own interests if it retained some democratic trappings - some weakened opposition, illusion of "free press" and a controlled "circulation of the elites."
From National Review:
"…..This path had been pioneered much earlier by two Trotskyists: James Burnham, who became a founder of National Review, and Irving Kristol, who worked on Encounter magazine. Burnham was joined at NR by Suzanne LaFollette, who, piquantly enough, retained some copyrights to Trotskyist material until her death. But they were not the only people on the right who remained, in some degree, sentimental about their left-wing past. Willmoore Kendall, for example, was, as I recall, a lifelong contributor to relief for Spanish radical leftist refugees living in France. Above all, Burnham and Kristol, in a certain sense, did not renounce their pasts. They acknowledged that they had evolved quite dramatically away from their earlier enthusiasms. But they did not apologize, did not grovel, did not crawl and beg forgiveness for having, at one time, been stirred by the figure of Trotsky……"
Americans may be encouraged to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena. Essentially the election is a method of marginalising the population. A huge propaganda campaign is mounted to get people to focus on these personalised quadrennial extravaganzas and to think, "That's politics." But it isn't. It's only a small part of politics.
The population has been carefully excluded from political activity, and not by accident. An enormous amount of work has gone into that disenfranchisement. During the 1960s the outburst of popular participation in democracy terrified the forces of convention, which mounted a fierce counter-campaign. Manifestations show up today on the left as well as the right in the effort to drive democracy back into the hole where it belongs.
Bush and Kerry can run because they're funded by basically the same concentrations of private power. Both candidates understand that the election is supposed to stay away from issues. They are creatures of the public relations industry, which keeps the public out of the election process. The concentration is on what they call a candidate's "qualities," not policies. Is he a leader? A nice guy? Voters end up endorsing an image, not a platform.
Last month a Gallup poll asked Americans why they're voting for either Bush or Kerry. From a multiple-choice list, a mere 6 percent of Bush voters and 13 percent of Kerry voters picked the candidates' "agendas/ideas/ platforms/goals." That's how the political system prefers it. Often the issues that are most on people's minds don't enter at all clearly into the debate.
A new report by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, which regularly monitors American attitudes on international issues, illustrates the disconnect.
A considerable majority of Americans favour "working within the United Nations, even when it adopts policies that the United States does not like." Most Americans also believe that "countries should have the right to go to war on their own only if they (have) strong evidence that they are in imminent danger of being attacked," thus rejecting the bipartisan consensus on "pre-emptive war."
On Iraq, polls by the Program on International Policy Attitudes show that a majority of Americans favour letting the UN take the lead in issues of security, reconstruction and political transition in that country. Last March, Spanish voters actually could vote on these matters.
It is notable that Americans hold these and similar views (say, on the International Criminal Court or the Kyoto Protocol) in virtual isolation: They rarely hear them in campaign speeches, and probably regard them as idiosyncratic. At the same time the level of activism for social change may be higher than ever in the US. But it's disorganised. Nobody knows what's happening on the other side of town.
By contrast, consider the fundamentalist Christians. Earlier this month in Jerusalem, Pat Robertson said that he would start a third party if Bush and the Republicans waver in support for Israel. That's a serious threat because he might be able to mobilise tens of millions of evangelical Christians who already form a significant political force, thanks to extensive work over decades on numerous issues, and with candidates at levels from school board to president.
The presidential race isn't devoid of issue-oriented activism. During the primaries, before the main event fully gears up, candidates can raise issues and help organise popular support for them, thereby influencing campaigns to some extent. After the primaries, mere statements make a minimal impact without a significant organisation behind them.
The urgency is for popular progressive groups to grow and become strong enough so that centres of power can't ignore them. Forces for change that have come up from the grass roots and shaken the society to its core include the labour movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women's movement and others, cultivated by steady, dedicated work at all levels, every day, not just once every four years.
But you can't ignore the elections. You should recognise that one of the two groups now contending for power happens to be extremist and dangerous, and has already caused plenty of trouble and could cause plenty more.
As for myself, I've taken the same position as in 2000. If you are in a swing state, you should vote to keep the worst guys out. If it's another state, do what you feel is best. There are many considerations. Bush and his administration are publicly committed to dismantling and destroying whatever progressive legislation and social welfare has been won by popular struggles over the past century.
Internationally, they are calling for dominating the world by military force, including even the "ownership of space" to expand monitoring and first strike capabilities.
So in the election, sensible choices have to be made. But they are secondary to serious political action. The main task is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome.
Oct 4, 2011 | The Kremlin Stooge
IMHO you are going a little bit too far both in regard of the value of Russian independence and existence of democracy.
As for independence, nobody cares too much about Russian independence as long as most oligarchs have London real estate, keep money in Western banks, teach children abroad in best colleges, etc.
As for democracy it does exist, but only for a tiny fraction of population -- the elite and upper middle class. And this is nothing new. Historically democracy always existed mostly for the members of ruling class. For Greece that was class of slave-owners. Nothing essentially changed. This dream of "perfect democracy" is just a propaganda trick. And here you are right: "perfect democracy", "mass democracy" or "democracy for everybody" does not exist and never existed. Some strata of population and first of all low income strata historically were always excluded and marginalized. A simple question is: Does democracy exists if a party accepts $100K contributions?
But situation is more subtle. If the people's ability to vote candidates in and out of office has no meaningful influence on the decisions they make while in office, does democracy exist? The second important question is: "How much civil liberty and protection against government abuse remains in the system?"
In view of those arguments I think it is more correct to say that what in most cases what is sold under the marketing brand of "democracy" should be more properly called "inverted totalitarism". Like with totalitarism the net effect is marginalization of citizens to control the direction of the nation through the political process. But unlike classic totalitarian states which rely on mobilization around charismatic leader, here a passive populace is preferred (famous "Go shopping" recommendation by Bush II after 9/11).
Barriers to participation like "management" of elections using two party system and by preselection of candidates by party machine are used as more subtle and effective means of control. Formally officials purport to honor electoral politics, freedom and the Constitution. In reality manipulation the levers of power excludes everybody but a tiny percentage of the population (oligarchy).
Like in classic totalitarism propaganda dispensed by schools and the media, not to mention the entertainment. The stress is on eliminating the audience for anybody who does not support the regime. Ideology is supported by powerful research institutions (aka "think tanks") and is adapted to modern realities by well paid "intellectual agents". Milton Friedman is a classic example. The goal is the same as in classic totalitarism: the dominance of official ideology, especially in schools and universities. But this is achieved without violent suppression of opposing views, mainly by bribing and ostracizing instead of the key ingredient of classical totalitarism -- violence toward opponents.
This is the original book that exposed and documented the power wielded by the Council on Foreign Relations and other interrelated elite groups. He did this by reviewing Tragedy and Hope -- a history book written in about 1966 by Dr. Carroll Quigley, an insider with connections to the power elite.
Remember that Bill Clinton, in his inauguration speech, praised his favorite professor in college--DR. CARROLL QUIGLEY!!
I have read this book two or three times, and have never looked at current events the same. No matter who gets into office, the key positions always get filled with people from the same elite clubs.
This book will definitely make you THINK.
A Customer A compelling review, itself, of Tragedy and Hope by Quigley, March 10, 1999
This review is from: The Naked Capitalist (Hardcover) Once you read "The Naked Capitalist", you will embark on a quest to get a copy of "Tragedy and Hope", just to verify that what Mr. Skousen reviews in his book was actually printed in Dr. Quigley's, and IT IS! Then you realize that reading "Tragedy and Hope", as confirmed in other reviews, is a daunting task for the first 7 or 8 hundred pages. Then it gets really interesting and we begin to see that Mr. Skousen has presented a very balanced review, and an explosive commentary, on the world as "Hope" portrays. I had the rare chance to hear W. Cleon Skousen speak about the time "The Naked Capitalist" was first published, and the 6 hours of audio tapes I got from those sessions filled in, nicely, the information outlined in his book about the implications of "Tragedy and Hope".
Once one reads "The Naked Capitalist" for the seventeenth time, one realizes that Mr. Skousen's comments about the events around the world, put in the context of the information contained in "Tragedy and Hope", fit together extremely well.
There is no way that this is all fiction, as contained in both books, as some reviewers have stated. Those reviewers' comments must be viewed with skepticism, as they are precisely the kinds of comments meant by the "Power Bloc", as Skousen called it, to throw "us little people" off the trail of the truth. Too many of the people and events mentioned can be independently confirmed as having done or happened as both books state.
If you REALLY want an eye-opening experience, just read the membership roster of the Council on Foreign Relations, and then ponder what Quigley exposed and Skousen discussed, about people who are, or were, members of the CFR. Its membership roster reads like a "Who's Who" in the world today.
Robert D. Steele: Essential Pre-Cursor to Quigley's "Tragedy & Hope", January 4, 2007
Despite the considerable reading that I do, it was most helpful to have this book as both a capstone to reading Quigley's Tragedy & Hope- A History of the World in Our Time, and as a form of Cliff's Notes. While I am an estranged moderate Republican and shy away from those that have been too close to the extremes of either left or right, this is a sensible book, and it earns five stars on its merits.
The single most important contribution this book makes, at least for me, is in its discussion of the manner in which tax-exempt foundations are used to conceal and protect wealth from taxes, and to reward corrupt politicians who "went along."
Lest the more conventional readers dismiss the reviewer comment below about wars being about profit, about lending money to both sides and arbitraging the instability, I would point quickly to Smedley Butler's War Is a Racket: The Anti-War Classic by America's Most Decorated General, Two Other Anti=Interventionist Tracts, and Photographs from the Horror of It. General Butler was one of the most decorated Marines in history, and in his book he publicly denounces the role of the Marine Corps as an enforcer for the US banks. Then of course you have Confessions of an Economic Hit Man which I judge to be 15% fluff and 85% raw gold substance.
So there you have it--books like this are now entering the consciousness of the middle class, and with Lou Dobbs leading the pack, the middle class is beginning to rouse from its passive acceptance of elitist screw jobs on Congress, the White House, the economy, the military, and the poor. We *are* farm animals from whom profit is being harvested, and we will remain farm animals for so long as we fail to read and think and discuss and demand.
I end by urging one and all to join Reuniting America, and demand Electoral Reform as the one non-negotiable expecation from the current Congress and before November 2008.
By Henry Makow, Ph.D.
A "Far Side" cartoon describes our innocence about democracy.
A slave rowing a Viking ship puts up his hand and calls to the whip master: "Yoo-hoo! Oh, yoo-hoo... I think I'm getting a blister."
Like this man, most people cling to the belief that our leaders represent our interests.
"Yoo, hoo, Mr. Bush, you lied about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction."
At an elite gathering, Bush peered under his lectern and quipped: "Where are those weapons of mass destruction?"
A tiny cabal of international bankers chooses our "leaders". This clique, which subtly controls every significant facet of our society is gradually establishing an Orwellian global police state. Much of the ruling class has been duped to think they are building a better world.
Prove it, you say?
"The Naked Capitalist" by W.C. Skousen (available at www.abe.com & www.bookfinder.com) is yet another smoking gun. It is based on the revelations contained in Professor Carroll Quiqley's "Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time." (1966)
Quiqley, a Professor of History at the Foreign Service School at Georgetown University was a trusted insider who had access to their private archives. He felt the plot, which he supported, was too important to be kept hidden. However, shortly after publication, his book was taken off the market.
Cleon Skoussen was an FBI agent for 16 years and the Police Chief of Salt Lake City for four years. His "The Naked Capitalist" distills the most shocking evidence from Quigley's daunting 1300-page book.
At just 122 pages, "The Naked Capitalist" (1970) is a concise, lucid and absolutely convincing account of the international banker conspiracy. Historians have betrayed the public trust by largely ignoring this material.
Quigley confirms that a network of banking dynasties has, in Skousen's words, "acquired a choke-hold on the affairs of practically the entire human race." According to Quigley, they include "Baring, Lazard, Erlanger, Warburg, Schroder, Selingman, the Speyers, Mirabaud, Malet, and above all Rothschild and Morgan." (Citations are from Tragedy and Hope, 51-52)
Quigley confirms that, starting with the Bank of England in 1694, these dynasties organized themselves in a system of central banks that charge their respective nations billions of dollars in interest for the privilege of using currency backed by the nations' own credit. In other words, they have carried off a swindle of monstrous proportions.
Quigley quotes William Gladstone who as Chancellor of the Exchequer said in 1852: "The government itself was not to be a substantive power in matters of Finance, but was to leave the Money Power supreme and unquestioned." (325)
This power of the Bank of England. . . was admitted by most qualified observers. In January, 1924, Reginald McKenna. . . as chairman of the board of the Midland Bank, told its stockholders: 'I am afraid the ordinary citizen will not like to be told that the banks can, and do, create money. . . . And they who control the credit of the nation direct the policy of Governments and hold in the hollow of their hands the destiny of the people.'" 
Able to create money out of nothing, they naturally grabbed as much of the world's real wealth as they could. Quigley writes about the formation of their American cartels: "The period 1884-1933 was the period of financial capitalism in which investment bankers moving into commercial banking and insurance on the one side, and into railroading and heavy industry on the other were able to mobilize enormous wealth and wield enormous economic, political and social power." (71)
Indeed their representatives, the "Eastern Establishment" i.e. the Morgans and now the Rockefellers run the United States. (72) The principle mechanism is the Council on Foreign Relations.
According to Quigley, the ultimate goal is "nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled ...by the central banks...acting in concert." (324)
Quigley confirms that the bankers have usurped mankind's collective instincts by financing the Socialist and Communist movements. Bankers love big government because the ultimate monopoly is the State. Through it, they take over their competition and control debt, resources, market demand and labor.
Speaking of the Communist takeover of the US government in the 1930's and 1940's, Quigley writes, "it must be understood that the power that these energetic left-wingers exercised was never their own power of Communist power but was ultimately the power of the international financial coterie." (954)
In other words, millions of idealists committed to human brotherhood and equality were (and are) duped into advancing a totalitarian scheme to concentrate the world's wealth and power into the hands of the superrich. More opportunistic Leftists, Communists, Feminists and Globalists prosper while piously pretending to serve humanity.
The Money Power controls the debate and encourages gridlock by backing all shades of the political spectrum and marginalizing anyone who shines the spotlight on them. (Ever wonder why the word "Rothschild" has never crossed Noam Chomsky's lips? Or why the John Birch Society debunks the obvious fact that 9-11 was an "inside job?") The media is controlled through direct ownership and advertising.
Quigley writes: "To Morgan all political parties were simply organizations to be used, and the firm always was careful to keep a foot in all camps. Morgan himself, Dwight Morrow and other partners were allied with the Republicans; Russell C. Lewffingwell was allied with the Democrats; Grayson Murphy was allied with the extreme Right; and Thomas W. Lamont was allied with the Left." (945)
The Lamont family was "sponsors and financial angels to almost a score of extreme Left organizations including the Communist Party itself." (945)
A small cabal of people who are not even citizens hold the financial purse strings of every nation.
This goes a long way to explaining "globalization" and the push to one-world government. It explains the assault on race, religion, nation and family. The bankers want a homogenous deracinated neutered world that offers no basis of resistance.
It explains why in a time of supposed security danger, the southern border of the US is practically porous. The bankers want to undermine America's European character, which it perceives as a threat.
It explains the carte blanche Israel receives, the war on Iraq, and the fact that there is no opposition to the war in the mainstream parties or press. This war desecrates a cradle of civilization and assails Islam. It is also an opportunity to create more debt and enrich the bankers and their corporate allies.
It explains 9-11, the Patriot Repression Act and the phony "War on Terror."
It explains the depraved mass media and stupefying education system. I could go on but you get the picture. We are krill at the mercy of a gigantic whale. At the very least, let's not waste energy thinking we live in a free and open society.
Our democracy is a ruse. Ostensibly it expresses the aspirations of the people. In reality, it masks the insidious anti-human agenda of the central bankers.
by Jonathan Wallace firstname.lastname@example.org
We are told from first grade on that we live in a democracy, but most people never ask themselves whether this assertion is true. Is it?
Some folks will be very offended by the mere asking of this question, which indicates the depth of the indoctrination we all receive. Today it is more acceptable and commonplace to question the existence of God than democracy.
But why would the simple question, "Do we really live in a democracy?" create such a problem? As contemporary humans, witnesses to the spectacle of the stripping away of numerous well-rooted beliefs by modernity and the scientific method, this particular question should not be exempt.
I gave my answer in last month's essay, where I said that in my view the Federalist vision of "democracy" has failed. This was a representative republic, with massive safeguards built in to protect an elite against the will of the people. I quoted Federalist 10 for the proposition that direct democracies inevitably fail because they "have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention" and "have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property."
Turbulence, contention, security, property. I observed that American democracy does not have a very good track record on the first two heads. Personal security depends very much on who you are, as with the "wrong" color skin you can still get shot reaching for your wallet. This country has done very well by property. Is one out of four not bad?
I diagnosed the problem as follows. American democracy has a single point of failure. If the people's ability to vote candidates in and out of office has no meaningful influence on the decisions they make while in office, then democracy does not exist, because the will of the people has no influence on policy. Money has broken that link. Once the people admit a candidate in the gate, they have no further say in what he does, because his exclusive constituency becomes the people who give him the dollars for his next campaign. Though the voters have the authority to remove the politician from office on the next go round, two, four or six years later, this authority is easily defeated by a game involving media-disseminated disinformation, public complacency and short memory, and a byzantine legislative system which shields legislators from being held accountable for the choices they make.
Many people who would get incensed, really riled up, by the assertion "This is not a democracy" would nevertheless agree with the statements made in the prior paragraph. I do not think that Louis Harris polls or anyone else could scratch many voters who would rate their local legislator as "highly responsive to my opinions", if they could even remember his name. Fewer of us are voting, based largely on a perception that the system is a charade and that our votes don't count.
The problem is that we all pretend not to know what we really know, that the choice we make when we pull the voting lever does not give us any say into the decisions of the candidate we elect. If it did, I could pop over and see my invisible Congressman, Ed Towns, whom I have never encountered in my neighborhood, and tell him things like, "Ed, here's how I want you to come out on the privatization of social security," and he would care more about that than what Chase or Citibank think on the issue. Because I and a half million people with opinions are his boss.
Everyone knows that you can't get a personal meeting on a policy issue these days with most Congressman if you are not a significant contributor. You gave him that office by voting for him but you can't get into it unless you've paid.
That we all know this but don't want to know it is strikingly illustrated by an essay by Lars-Erik Nelson in a recent New York Review of Books (July 20, 2000). In the essay, titled "Watch Out, Democrats!", Nelson is reviewing five books on American politics. One is called "Democracy Derailed", and another is subtitled "Why the White Working Class Still Matters".
Nelson states the proposition that NAFTA and the WTO are bad for American working people, and that these people are still the mainstay of the Democractic party:[F]or Democrats the key to winning elections still lies in serving the interest of members of the working class, providing them with government services that cannot be supplied fairly by the marketplace and restraining the excesses of unfettered capitalism.
Yet he notes that President Clinton "has used his considerable charms" to sell NAFTA and Chinese admission to the WTO "by promising that free trade will mean more and better jobs for American workers. They have not believed him and for the most part they have been right not to do so." Nelson acknowledges that there is a disjunct, some kind of break down in communications between the Democrat's constituency and their policy choices. What is the source?In postindustrial Washington, Clinton and his favorites (wearing blue jeans to seem folksy) dine....on barbecue at a Democratic National Committee dinner that raises $25.5 million, much of it in $500,000 contributions, for the party that supposedly represents the common man.
I have finished reading The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, and I now understand why it is such a popular book of non-fiction.
It is remarkably well-researched, with an impressive set of footnotes based on original sources from diverse places. They are worth reading in themselves as they contain little delights and vignettes. The book provides deep insight into some of the minds of eyewitnesses grappling with the events of the day.
In part because of the source materials, the book spends what one might feel is an inordinate amount of time showing things from the perspective of Ambassador Dodd's daughter, the femme fatale Martha, and her many flirtations and affairs with the prominent of that city, including the head of the Gestapo and an NKVD agent from the Soviet embassy. She is not a particularly sympathetic character, being such an obviously shallow, albeit well-connected, narcissist. Even these episodes are well written enough to be interesting if one enjoys that sort of background perspective and romantic intrigue. And it is entertaining to read about the involvement of great literary names like Carl Sandburg and Thorton Wilder, amongst others. There is nothing in fame and recognition that deters personal folly.
Ambassador William E. Dodd himself is a frustrating figure, the southern born history professor from the University of Chicago who stumbles into the hornet's nest while looking for a sinecure. He comes across as petty and ineffective, carelessly anti-semitic in the manner of those times, and certainly no hero. And yet in the end he 'does the right thing' and looks good, and quite prescient, in comparison with his fellows. We might make some allowances to the need for a diplomat to be discreet while in office, and to manage perception for the support of official policy.
But it does bring home that point so many miss, that even while great events grind slowly along, ordinary and even extraordinary lives with all their petty preoccupations and diversions go on, the sun still shines, and people marry and are given in marriage, until the moment that, however slowly and in stages it may happen, the door finally closes. .
I gained a new understanding of how some of the earlier events in the post-Weimar government progressed, and how the rise of the Nazi party unfolded, slowly, with more, but unfortunately ineffective, opposition than we might have believed, at least from 1932 to 1935. And so it was very worthwhile. No one should have been caught by surprise if they had their eyes open.
In particular I finally understand the 'Night of the Long Knives' as more than a passing intramural event as it is depicted so often in documentaries which compress the great sweep of history into an hour or two, and too often crush out the real significance, the many human undercurrents amidst ordinary preoccupations and foibles that comprise great events.
The 'Night of the Long Knives' was the first overtly extra-legal action in the Nazi rise to power. And this might be a lesson for us today as we interpret contemporary events and the perversion of mere legality without regard to morality, tradition, or honor. It was a clear sign of things to come, for those who had a mind to see it.
The book ends with the recall of Ambassador Dodd to Washington, replaced with one of the crony members of 'The Pretty Good Club.' Dachau is full of political prisoners, Jews are being individually terrorized and denied basic human rights, the infirm and defective are being sterilized and murdered, and all political and public information has been brought into conformity with the Nazis through their program of Gleischaltung.
The real dark night of the soul and Kristallnacht lay in the future, having been born and emboldened by the continuing ap e.
It is interesting to contrast the complacency of the career diplomats, at that time most often Americans of privilege, and their preoccupation with obtaining full payment of the German bonds for their wealthy domestic constituents and the banks, with the agony of the German people as they slowly sunk into the abyss. The lone voices that were raised in protest were suppressed, ridiculed, marginalized, and ignored even in America.
This is a fine example of serial policy error in the service of privilege and the status quo. To many amoral minds, including especially the capitalists of the free world, Hitler's rise to power was just another business opportunity, and the plight of his victims a crisis not to be wasted, a source of great profit. And not all those who benefited were censured and punished. Some families rose to greater prominence and power, even in America, on a pile of European corpses.
In Germany the hopes of liberals and moderate conservatives alike fell before the uncompromising obsession for power and unrelenting fanaticism of a minority of some of the most banal and oddest people ever to take power in a major developed nation. Not one of them could have risen by individual merit, but they did have a talent in exploiting other people's fears and weaknesses, and the sharp and unwavering focus of the sociopaths and psychopaths, that seems to bewilder and beguile the more diffused nature of the average person.
I was struck in fact that the great failure that was made by so many was the assumption that as the leader of a great and educated nation, Hitler was rational, and would eventually make the most rational decisions. So they believed his many assertions of his peaceful intents, and good wishes, even as he turned Europe into an abattoir. Like the efficient market hypothesis, people were blinded to reality by a theory about the natural goodness and rationality of politicians.
The dichotomy is never so apparent as in contrasting the leaders of the movement with their own Aryan ideals: the club footed Goebbels, Himmler the chicken farmer, the sybaritic Göring, the weak minded and superstitious Hess, and the boorish fanatic Hitler. And the ordinary people made jokes about it, until even humour was crushed under the jackboot, choked out as fear and greed became pervasive. Through an astute combination of terror, propaganda, and the perversion of the law, an entire people were persuaded to sleepwalk into the abyss.
The author includes, almost as throwaways, some interesting insights into the German character and its mutation under the Nazis. In particular I was struck by his description of them doting on their dogs and their horses, and the national laws forbidding cruelty to animals, so that the horses, as Dodd the Virginia gentleman farmer observed, were among the fattest and best kept he had ever seen. And in the end of it all, during the Russian assault that leveled the area around the Tiergarten and the Reichstag, a stray shell struck the stables, and the horses stampeded down the ruined avenues, in flames.
As long as the personal interests of the status quo of the wealthy and powerful were served, those in positions of responsibility said and did nothing, until it was too late even for them."What most occupied the attention of the State Department [in 1934] was the outstanding German debt to American creditors. It was a strange juxtaposition. In Germany there was blood, viscera, and gunfire; at the State Department in Washington, there were white shirts [of the wealthy career diplomats and career politicians], Hull's red pencils, and mounting frustration with [Ambassador] Dodd to press America's case [for full payment of the sovereign German debt]...
In Berlin, Dodd was unmoved. He thought it pointless to pursue full payment, because Germany simply did not have the money, and there were far more important issues at stake...
Through his first year in Germany , Dodd had been struck again and again by the strange indifference to atrocity that had settled over the nation, the willingness of the populace and the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence, without protest...
Dodd continued to hope that the murders would so outrage the German public that the [Hitler] regime would fall, but as the days passed he saw no evidence of any such outpouring of anger...
For Dodd, a diplomat by accident, not demeanor, the whole thing was appalling. He was a scholar and a Jeffersonian democrat, a farmer who loved history and the old Germany in which he had studied as a young man. Now there was official murder on a terrifying scale. Dodd's friends and acquaintances, people who had been to his house for dinner or tea, had been shot dead.
Hitler's purge [June 30, 1934] would become known as 'The Night of the Long Knives,' and in time would be considered one of the most important episodes in his ascent, the first act in the great tragedy of appeasement...
This lack of reaction arose partly because many in Germany and elsewhere chose to believe Hitler's claim that he had suppressed an imminent rebellion that would have caused far more bloodshed. Evidence soon emerged, however, that showed that in fact Hitler's account was false...
The controlled press, not surprisingly, praised Hitler for his decisive behaviour...In a letter to Hull, Dodd forecast an even more terroristic regime... 'The people hardly notice this complete coup d'etat. It takes place in silence...I would swear that millions upon millions have no idea what a monstrous thing has occurred.'"
Erik Larson, The Garden of Beasts
July 24, 2011 | naked capitalism
Wasn't that pork part of the way they got some of the No votes to change to Yes? But the way this is being represented here, there would be less opportunity to do that.
Well, I'm not insisting on that argument. I don't doubt they can figure out how to do anything they want to do.
As for your other point, it's clear that the kleptocracy doesn't need anyone's "closet appetites" to bring about an apocalypse. The only question is how to prepare for it to be in the best position to build something better out of it.
But while you're wrong about my appetites, it's true that I don't regard classical fascism as one of the main threats we face. We have the full economic aspect of fascism, we have the permanent war*, and the police/prison state is being built up. So we have the top-down aspects.
But we do not have, and I'd argue are not likely to ever have, the real fascist social cohesion. This is partially because of America's extreme heterogeneity and fragmentation, and partially because the elites' own ideology of atomization and radical mercenarism and selfishness will tend to prevent any attempts to build the social bonding and self-sacrificial endurance and fanaticism which characterized classical fascism.
But it was those things which made fascism structurally so strong, that only external conquest through total war could destroy those regimes. Without it, this "fascism" is a top-heavy Tower of Babel with no real social base, just force enforced by mercenary thugs. Real fascism didn't (couldn't) rely on paid thugs, but on perverted idealism. How is technocratic neoliberalism ever supposed to conjure that idealism on a mass basis?
So that's why I place the threat of real fascism (as opposed to ad hoc police state escalation) rather low on my list of things to worry about.Patricia
Thanks Attempter, that was an insightful comment in response to Yves, hope you're right and I hope she engages you more often. What keeps me coming back is the conversation. Smart, informed people (and Craazyman's entities) moving forward with an honest back and forth. Flexibility and integrity. Thanks to all.Dave of Maryland
Perhaps we are already living in a rapidly developing oligarchy rather than fascism?
Athenians tried to minimize the inevitable rise of oligarchy by using a lottery (called sortition) for election of officials. I think it's a great idea.craazyman
Whatever is coming will be uniquely American. Not German, not Italian, not neo-French.
American atomization means we will be rendered poor. Scattered. Unable to organize. Unable to protest.
The real difference between American in 2011 and Italy and Germany in, say, 1935?
Citizens in those densely populated countries were comparatively rich.
We are scattered and poor. For Germany, the Nazi party was a seductive virus imported from who knows where. In America, the Tea Party neo-whatevers are a long pent-up endemic disease. Paradoxically, everything well-wishing liberals do for them only makes things worse. What's wrong with Kansas? Not a damn thing, except they don't like being lectured to. Would you?nowhereman
you are correct sir.
People lose sight of the fact that fascism was essentially a form of tribalism, where the group consciousness constellated areound the life force of the tribal blood dna as a refuge from the burden of individual awareness and moral conscience.
America was, at its best, founded on the notion of a conscious tribe and not a tribal consciousness. It was a Copernican revolution, much more so than France, which at the time of its revolution remained essential tribal. More like Rome, which despite all its horrors, made some steps toward the erasure of ethnicity as a definition of self. Consider that Paul himself used his Roman citizenship to avoid persection after the riots he instigated by his preaching of the gospel.
What this implies is that our form of fascism seeks some other metaphor than dna for the life force to constellate around. And so it constellates around the most potent abstraction of the life force, which is money. The problem, as you observe, is that money is not as stable a foundation as dna/ethnic identity. It flows and moves and spills, just like awareness itself. And the way money abstracts the procreative life force means that the offspring of the tribe that are heralded as fertility totems aren't actual children, but new forms of wealth and success, which innovation and chance drives as much as planned strategy or corruption.
The blessing of all this is that it represents one form of ascension over what Joyce called "The nightmare of history". The curse is that it creates its own demons and nightmares, if and when money pools into the hands of a corrupt oligarchy, a direction we seem to be heading in.
It's sort of fascism light, without the cement of ethnicity to bind it into a blind rage, but one that produces its own unique, skittish and unstable energies of corruption.attempter
Golly, just look at the start of any sporting event, NASCAR in particular. "My country, right or wrong" types everywhere you look. Now tell me there isn't a large base for the "brown shirt' brigade.
YOU SHOULD BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID. We'll all be looking at our nieghbors wondering if they'll give us up, pointing the finger to protect their own asses.attempter
I forgot to conclude my comment with the asterisk on "permanent war": While we have permanent war, it's not the kind of war Hitler used to generate a mass fanaticism of self-sacrifice. The very fact that the system uses mercenaries and the Pentagon won't touch the very idea of a draft with a ten foot pole is strong evidence that the elites don't think America can really be whipped into a war fever (or at least induced to endure whatever sacrifices are necessary). But that's part of the classical fascist formula.CoinKoin
There's no real patriots, nor is there much perverted but deeply-felt pseudo-patriotism. There's just the shallowness of bluster, little flags on cars, and lapel pins. If there's no pay in it, no one's going to lift a finger, and those who do accept pay will be cowardly bullies who will run away the moment anyone steadfastly fights back.
What could be the idealist basis for a more determined and tenacious fascism than this?attempter
> The record in the modern world that fascist regimes fall only to conquest.
What about Spain, Portugal, Greece, Argentina, and the other south-american juntas?Ellen Anderson
Yes, they gradually fizzled out. The only thing lacking was a strong affirmative vision and movement to succeed them. Therefore they simply lapsed into neoliberalism.CoinKoin
I don't understand what you mean by "idealist basis." What I was trying to say was that, if the global economy collapses and governments go broke, they will not be paying the mercenaries. Those people will be up for grabs and who knows who will have the wherewithal to grab them? Will they work for the Chinese for gold? Who knows?
I think that fascism requires a unified ideology as a necessary but not a sufficient condition. It must be backed up by a strong central government with the ability to support it. National governments are weakening themselves right now. What will it take for them to recover from a sovereign debt crisis? We can make some guesses, particularly since we know that energy resources will be critical, but no one ever can predict what will come out of chaos especially since the only common ideologies we share in the develop world surround the myth of progress and infinite growth.lambert strether
> they simply lapsed into neoliberalism.
They simply went to whatever the model was around them, which, for Spain and Portugal, was European-style social-democracy. Btw, it wasn't that "gradual" : in Portugal, for example, the regime change happened in one day, on April 25, 1974.SEC 503: EXEMPTION FROM EXCISE TAX FOR CERTAIN WOODEN ARROWS DESIGNED FOR USE BY CHILDREN. A classic for the ages!Middle Seamanrazzz
The Soviet Union, which we resemble most, was brought down through internal collapse of the house of cards.
That is our only hope.hermanas
Congress and this administration are one, no difference behind the smoke and mirrors so never let a serious crisis go to waste, if there isn't one then make one.appointmetotheboard
The founders put responsibility for war and taxes in "the people's house". They shirk it with the apparent approval of the court. Go figure, "nothing adds up to nothing".notabanker
Out of interest, has anyone come across any kind of impact assessment on default armageddon vs proposed spending cuts on the typical American citizen?
I know that there probably isn't enough detail known about the cuts for anything too serious. And its looking increasingly like a case of cuts and default, or just cuts. Nonetheless, could be an interesting read…lambert strether:
Came across a new app playing with the iPad yesterday that is essentially a polling app. Questions are posted and all response are tabulated. This is not a plug for the app, hence no name given.
Do you think of the average American as generally ignorant or generally intelligent?
79% answered Ignorant, overall, male and female responses alike
84% answered Ignorant, Democrat responses
72% answered Ignorant, Republican responses
80% answered Ignorant, Independent responses
9276 total responses.
Granted this is non-scientific and the demographic is iPad users, but very interesting nonetheless.Rex
That's just "creative class" arrogance. I mean, what are the demographics of iPad ownership? They don't think they're ignorant, just vos autres. These are, of course, the same idiots who thought Obama was liberal because of his skin color.Deb Schultz
Often, lately, it is painful to come here and read about the latest versions of abuses being distributed by the powerful. Most of my life I have ignored this type of thing because I was busy living and comfortable enough not to worry.
The financial crash several years ago shook my sense of security and I was shocked how hard it was to get any believable explanations of what had happened. Even harder to get, through normal channels, any rational assessment of what was then happening or where we should be heading.
Eventually, I found Yves' book Econned and this blog. Painful as it often is to see the current situation, I guess it must be better to know something close to the truth than not to know. I appreciate this island of veracity in a sea of lies and manipulation that is the norm.jpe
Thank you for posting this information, Yves. I read the Post article earlier this morning and couldn't quite figure out what the committee of 12 was all about, from the description given by Lori Montgomery. The whole report was rather poor, I felt. The Post pretty consistently fails to explain what the cuts proposed to Medicare and Social Security actually are and what they would mean to beneficiaries and annuitants. And of course, the Post just doesn't seem able to give clear, objective reports on the funding and function of these two programs. Nor do they consistently explain what a default could entail.
I think the collapse of democratic participation in governance has to be laid, in great part, at the feet of the Potemkin press. People are being deeply misled by the over-coverage of the personalities and 'politics'; there is almost no detailed discussion of the budget, the debt, the deficit and perhaps even less of the actual proposals to 'solve' these perceived problems. Very few reporters have the necessary knowledge to do this job. The ignorance is compounded by the mainstream media's apparent aversion to providing a public platform for those who are not part of the player in-crowd. One of the consequences of this narrow spectrum of either-or views on any given topic is that many people look elsewhere for their information and find it where they feel their biases are most confirmed.hermanas
The proposal only impacts the internal workings of Congress, so while it may be bad policy there's nothing unconstitutional about it. The constitution is very clear that Congress can determine its own rules.hermanas
12 gerrymanderd unbeatables does not reflect the will of the people.Externality
S.C.O.T.U.S. determines constitionality and their apolitical stature has been debunked.Succotash
This approach is similar to how the Bolsheviks destroyed the council democracy system that existed in the first days of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_democracy
The original idea for Soviet democracy was that average workers would elect the leadership of their respective local soviets, or councils. (The Russian word for "council" is "сове́т," pronounced "soviet." Local communities, factories, and military commands each had their own council.) The council leaders, would then, in turn, help elect the members of higher level bodies, who would in turn, help elect more senior leaders. This is analogous to the way that popularly elected state legislatures, before the 17th Amendment, chose US Senators.
The Bolsheviks turned quickly decided that the system was too cumbersome and allowed unwelcome dissent and debate. They initially kept the lower level councils, but concentrated all power the councils' hand-picked (by Moscow) executive committees (ExComs). On the rare occasion that the local councils met, their only role was to quickly rubber-stamp legislation written by the Moscow and the local ExComs. Failing to do so, the council members were told, would be disastrous for the USSR, global socialism, and for them and their families personally. 'The decision was made by the ExCom, comrade, there is no time to debate it here. Do you not trust the leadership?' (not an actual quote)
(Between 1919 and 1920, power was centralized even further, as the chairmen of the local soviets' ExComs were given sole authority. Finally, local leaders were simply appointed by Moscow to do the Party's bidding or chosen by the Party and "elected" in an unopposed "election." The next time a local soviet had any power or relevance was 1989.)
If the Super Congress system is implemented, the result would be very similar to that of the Bolsheviks' initial steps to consolidate power. The budget bills (and attached policy riders) would be sent to the Congress by the Super Congress days or hours before the deadline for debt default or government shutdown. Congressmen would be told that there was no time to read, debate, or amend the bill; it must be passed to protect the US and prevent a global economic catastrophe. As Nancy Pelosi would say, "But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoE1R-xH5To Immense pressure, including threats of various sorts, would be brought to bear against anyone who dared oppose it. Policy decisions, in the form of riders, would also be incorporated into the bill by the Super Congress; favored companies would receive favorable regulatory treatment in proportion to their
In short, Congress would meet primarily to vote on must-pass legislation created by a secretive (but intensely lobbied) Super Congress. The twelve anointed Senators would hold immense power over both fiscal and policy matters. 'The decision was made by the Super Congress, Senator, there is no time to debate it here. Do you not trust the leadership?'Dave of Maryland
At first glance, this "super Congress" proposal resembles simply a glorified Joint Committee and there's nothing unconstitutional about that. What's disturbing is the abdication of legislative responsibility that this proposal represents.
If the initial reports are accurate, the new committee would initiate and draw up legislation. What will the rest of Congress be doing in the meantime besides rhetorical posturing and raising campaign funds? The Super Congress would in due course present the House and Senate with bills which can be voted on, but not debated or amended. The term "rubber stamp" immediately comes to mind. The resemblance here is not so much to the early Russian soviets as to France's legislative body under Napoleon, which could vote on proposals but not debate them.
Of course, there's also the problem of the Super Congress itself. Since its membership will be split evenly between both houses and both parties there's a very good chance that it too might wind up deadlocked.
There's more than a whiff of desperation in this idea. It seems to be an attempt in Congress to maintain a shred of relevance and to ward off a Presidential dictatorship next month. This is due to the fact that there WILL BE a Presidential dictatorship next month if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling. Forget about anything Obama or Geithner say now about not taking the Fourteenth Amendment into account. When the time comes, the US Government will not default on or suspend any of its obligations, period.
The legislative branch of the Federal Government, as established in Philadelphia in 1787, may be nearing the end of its effective lifespan. If representative government is to survive in this country, we need to cut it off once and for all and get a new one.Jessica
Soviets are not quite the right idea.
It's a United Nations system: There is the General Assembly aka the House and Senate, and there is the hand-picked, well-controlled Security Council, aka Gang of 12, where all the real work gets done.
It's a significant advance on the Security Council. In the SC, you're stuck manipulating the same players over & over again. The US runs the place, but we have to work at it.
The Gang of 12, or 6 or 9 (whatever) are a rotating group picked from among 535 candidates. There's always going to be many eager applicants to do the King's bidding.
I thought that Bush/Cheney would find some way to annul the 2008 elections and stay on. But now I've realized that after eight years, the top leadership people are tired and just want to move on. On the other hand, the Gangs might just make their lives so much easier they will stay awhile longer.lambert strether
"I hate using the word "fascism" because overuse has weakened its bite, but trumped-up threat by trumped up threat, our government is moving relentlessly in that direction."
The other danger in using the word "fascism" is its Maginot Line quality. In other words, we become distracted looking for signs of a return to what top-down class warfare looked like in the 1930s and 40s in central Europe and because of that fail to notice the different form it is taking right now.
I appreciate Yves pointing out the details that tyranny by the elite is taking right now. The shift of power from (at least theoretically accountable) legislatures to deliberately insulated executive bodies is similar to the form that the European project has taken. Probably not a coincidence.
One difference between now and the 30s and 40s is clearly that the current elites are much, much sneakier and have way better PR. The use of pseudo-opposition in particular is new and diabolical.
Another difference, which Attempter may have been getting at, is that I believe our elites have neither vision nor coherence. They will have a difficult time holding together and will tear each other apart unless the non-elites take away their power.
That process will not necessarily be any less painful and destructive than the way in which the German elite of the 30s and 40s managed to unite everybody else against them, even forces, such as the US and the USSR, which were enemies almost all of the rest of the time. But the process will be different.
Finally, I wonder if much of the difference might stem from the effect of the first wave of unifying mass media (radio) in the 1930 compared to the current diversifying mass media (Internet), which generates more confusion and befuddlement than fanaticism.Viator
Ah yes, Paulson's infamous Clause 8, the Authoriziation To Use Financial Force (haw). As to the eternal question, stupid and/or evil, definitely evil.eclair
What's wrong with this article?
If you read the material you quickly find out that Rep. Andy Harris, renowned teaching physician at John Hopkins University Hospital, wasn't complaining about not having insurance. He was pointing out that for the first time in his life after having numerous jobs which always provided insurance from the very first day of employment his new government job only provided insurance after thirty days. A curious example of government ineptitude, particularly if you had an ill dependent, especially considering how urgently the case had just been made for everyone to have insurance. He full well knew he could remedy the situation with COBRA or likely a range of options since he was employed in a prestigious position at one of the nation's premier teaching hospitals.
So the link was pure left wing spin. As was the rest the the Alternet left wing propaganda and lame talking points.
Yves, you need to learn more about the Tea Party. You, they and some of your readers have more in common than you may imagine.EJ Milbankster
"We commented last night on the parallels between the pressure tactics used to railroad the passage of the TARP and our current contrived debt ceiling crisis. "
With emphasis on "contrived."
I've begun to see the current "crisis" as a kind of Reality Show. Not content with the humdrum and rather boring domestic sit-coms that deal only with day-to-day issues of the nation – birth, death, food, water, love and charity – the Congress has taken on the unscripted and insanely contrived premise of a Reality Show.
Imagine that we invent the concept of a "debt ceiling." We've reached the limit and to get it changed we have to get the two, philosophically opposite, teams to agree on a solution, with a cut-off date and the threat of a world financial melt-down to ensue if the teams fail to come up with a solution under the time limit.
Oh god, governing as Reality Show.
TV ratings will sky-rocket!Terry
The New York Times and the Washington Defense Post, incredible investigative reporting, I tells ya. Where o' where would we be without them. Wars, both domestic and foreign, rolled into authentic snooze, the likes of which are marginally more subtle then Murdoch product.Viator
The "joint" committee combining members from both Congressional houses is not new nor particularly effective, much less frightening. "Joint" committees, including the Joint Economic Committee (JEC), have existed for decades, if not more than a century. They have proven to be no more effective than their unicameral counterparts so don't expect any kind of secret deals rammed through Congress overnight–even if Boehner succeeds in making this happen.Sufferin' Succotash
Speak of the devil…
"The first top-to-bottom audit of the Federal Reserve uncovered eye-popping new details about how the U.S. provided a whopping $16 trillion in secret loans to bail out American and foreign banks and businesses during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."
"As a result of this audit, we now know that the Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world," said Sanders. "This is a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you're-on-your-own individualism for everyone else."
Do you think the Tea Party is fine with this? Happy about this? If you do you need to do some reading.
How about Ron Paul and the libertarians. Think they like this?Spigzone
The Tea Partiers seem perfectly happy voting for the politicians who will allow these sorts of bailouts to continue.
If Ron Paul is such a staunch defender of the little guy, then why is that it take the socialist Bernie Sanders to publicize the $16 trillion giveaway?Dave of Maryland
It's useful to consider there is a fundamental institutional future survival reality driving a concentration of power at the executive and legislative level and the continuing, seemingly unstopable, build out of a police state infrastructure.
The world has now entered the age of Declining Oil.
A year and a half ago two internal studies, one by the U.S. Joint Forces Command and one by it's German Counterpart, were leaked to the press. (one might assume governments around the world have done their own studies) Both studies determined that by the end of 2015, worldwide oil production would be producing 10 to 15 mbpd than at present and DECLINING. Both studies anticipated a world of increasing wars, political upheavals, famines and so on.
Germany's response is a national drive to wean itself from oil dependence (and after Fukushima to do so with non-nuclear sustainable energy) and onto sustainable energy sources and implement strict energy conservation programs.
The U.S. response is to NOT prepare for this in any even slightly meaningful way as to let Wall Street and Big Energy suck maximum profits from the situation while preparing a fully equipped and frightenly efficient police state infrastructure to handle the citizen uprisings that are inevitable as their standard of living lurches downward.
What has happened to this point is only a foretaste of what is coming. And it IS coming and it IS unavoidable. Energy = survival. Reduced energy = reduced survival.
The U.S. needed to have been on a crash program for the last decade to adequately prepare for Declining Oil. The day Obama took office was the last chance, as unlikely as it already looked considering his post election choices, to inform the citizenry of this reality and it's ramifications and at least ALLOW them the chance to rise to the occasion. Obama, as we now know, decided the easier route was to just continue implementation of Cheney's Master Energy Plan.
Realistically, the situation has passed a point of a corrective political based solution. Individually, it's time to take action locally to prepare for the shit-hurricane that, in one form or other, IS coming to a locality near you.John Merryman
I love this peak oil / declining oil crap. When was the last time you went to the pump and it said, "empty" – ?
What we have is a peak money / declining money situation. When was the last time you saw any money? When? Years and years ago!
There are vast reservoirs of MON$Y$$$ right beneath our feet! We just need to DRILL FOR IT, BABY !!!BS
The problem is a global private banking system that is sucking value out of every other sector of the economy and lacks the vision to moderate its behavior, so that it is rapidly reaching the edge.
When it freezes up, local communities will find they need to develop mediums of exchange. There will be lots of out of work banksters offering to set up such a system, for a small fee. What needs to be promoted is that these need to be public utilities. They can actually be somewhat distinct from current governing structure, much as complex organisms have distinct central nervous systems and circulatory systems. Government is society's central nervous system and finance is its circulatory system. We are simply reaching a paradigm shift in how societies function.
"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency."
This is about as meaningful as the signs in the all parking lots that say "we are not responsible for anything".
The courts have held otherwise. It will likely be the same thing here once a strong case gets to the courts on this.
Earlier this year, journalist Chris Hedges was interviewed by "Russia Today", the video of which is presented below. The substance of Hedges's discussion regards how the United States has evolved into a form of "inverted totalitarianism". He also discusses the inevitable collapse of the US infrastructure, as well as Obama's uselessness as a "political brand".
In his article, "Democracy in America is a Useful Fiction", Hedges defines "inverted totalitarianism"
"Inverted totalitarianism represents "the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry. Inverted totalitarianism differs from classical forms of totalitarianism, which revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader, and finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. The corporate forces behind inverted totalitarianism do not, as classical totalitarian movements do, boast of replacing decaying structures with a new, revolutionary structure. They purport to honor electoral politics, freedom and the Constitution. But they so corrupt and manipulate the levers of power as to make democracy impossible."
Inverted Totalitarianism A New Way of Understanding How the U.S. Is Controlled (Chalmers Johnson 19-5-2008) " ce399 research archive (fascism)
It is not news that the United States is in great trouble. The pre-emptive war it launched against Iraq more than five years ago was and is a mistake of monumental proportions - one that most Americans still fail to acknowledge. Instead they are arguing about whether we should push on to "victory" when even our own generals tell us that a military victory is today inconceivable. Our economy has been hollowed out by excessive military spending over many decades while our competitors have devoted themselves to investments in lucrative new industries that serve civilian needs. Our political system of checks and balances has been virtually destroyed by rampant cronyism and corruption in Washington, D.C., and by a two-term president who goes around crowing "I am the decider," a concept fundamentally hostile to our constitutional system. We have allowed our elections, the one nonnegotiable institution in a democracy, to be debased and hijacked - as was the 2000 presidential election in Florida - with scarcely any protest from the public or the self-proclaimed press guardians of the "Fourth Estate." We now engage in torture of defenseless prisoners although it defames and demoralizes our armed forces and intelligence agencies.
The problem is that there are too many things going wrong at the same time for anyone to have a broad understanding of the disaster that has overcome us and what, if anything, can be done to return our country to constitutional government and at least a degree of democracy. By now, there are hundreds of books on particular aspects of our situation - the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bloated and unsupervised "defense" budgets, the imperial presidency and its contempt for our civil liberties, the widespread privatization of traditional governmental functions, and a political system in which no leader dares even to utter the words imperialism and militarism in public.
There are, however, a few attempts at more complex analyses of how we arrived at this sorry state. They include Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, on how "private" economic power now is almost coequal with legitimate political power; John W. Dean, Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches, on the perversion of our main defenses against dictatorship and tyranny; Arianna Huffington, Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe, on the manipulation of fear in our political life and the primary role played by the media; and Naomi Wolf, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, on Ten Steps to Fascism and where we currently stand on this staircase. My own book, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, on militarism as an inescapable accompaniment of imperialism, also belongs to this genre.
We now have a new, comprehensive diagnosis of our failings as a democratic polity by one of our most seasoned and respected political philosophers. For well over two generations, Sheldon Wolin taught the history of political philosophy from Plato to the present to Berkeley and Princeton graduate students (including me; I took his seminars at Berkeley in the late 1950s, thus influencing my approach to political science ever since). He is the author of the prize-winning classic Politics and Vision (1960; expanded edition, 2006) and Tocqueville Between Two Worlds (2001), among many other works.
His new book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, is a devastating critique of the contemporary government of the United States - including what has happened to it in recent years and what must be done if it is not to disappear into history along with its classic totalitarian predecessors: Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Bolshevik Russia. The hour is very late and the possibility that the American people might pay attention to what is wrong and take the difficult steps to avoid a national Gtterdmmerung are remote, but Wolin's is the best analysis of why the presidential election of 2008 probably will not do anything to mitigate our fate. This book demonstrates why political science, properly practiced, is the master social science.
Wolin's work is fully accessible. Understanding his argument does not depend on possessing any specialized knowledge, but it would still be wise to read him in short bursts and think about what he is saying before moving on. His analysis of the contemporary American crisis relies on a historical perspective going back to the original constitutional agreement of 1789 and includes particular attention to the advanced levels of social democracy attained during the New Deal and the contemporary mythology that the U.S., beginning during World War II, wields unprecedented world power.
Given this historical backdrop, Wolin introduces three new concepts to help analyze what we have lost as a nation. His master idea is "inverted totalitarianism," which is reinforced by two subordinate notions that accompany and promote it - "managed democracy" and "Superpower," the latter always capitalized and used without a direct article. Until the reader gets used to this particular literary tic, the term Superpower can be confusing. The author uses it as if it were an independent agent, comparable to Superman or Spiderman, and one that is inherently incompatible with constitutional government and democracy.
Wolin writes, "Our thesis is this: it is possible for a form of totalitarianism, different from the classical one, to evolve from a putatively 'strong democracy' instead of a 'failed' one." His understanding of democracy is classical but also populist, anti-elitist and only slightly represented in the Constitution of the United States. "Democracy," he writes, "is about the conditions that make it possible for ordinary people to better their lives by becoming political beings and by making power responsive to their hopes and needs." It depends on the existence of a demos - "a politically engaged and empowered citizenry, one that voted, deliberated, and occupied all branches of public office." Wolin argues that to the extent the United States on occasion came close to genuine democracy, it was because its citizens struggled against and momentarily defeated the elitism that was written into the Constitution.
"No working man or ordinary farmer or shopkeeper," Wolin points out, "helped to write the Constitution." He argues, "The American political system was not born a democracy, but born with a bias against democracy. It was constructed by those who were either skeptical about democracy or hostile to it. Democratic advance proved to be slow, uphill, forever incomplete. The republic existed for three-quarters of a century before formal slavery was ended; another hundred years before black Americans were assured of their voting rights. Only in the twentieth century were women guaranteed the vote and trade unions the right to bargain collectively. In none of these instances has victory been complete: women still lack full equality, racism persists, and the destruction of the remnants of trade unions remains a goal of corporate strategies. Far from being innate, democracy in America has gone against the grain, against the very forms by which the political and economic power of the country has been and continues to be ordered." Wolin can easily control his enthusiasm for James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution, and he sees the New Deal as perhaps the only period of American history in which rule by a true demos prevailed.
To reduce a complex argument to its bare bones, since the Depression, the twin forces of managed democracy and Superpower have opened the way for something new under the sun: "inverted totalitarianism," a form every bit as totalistic as the classical version but one based on internalized co-optation, the appearance of freedom, political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, and relying more on "private media" than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda that reinforces the official version of events. It is inverted because it does not require the use of coercion, police power and a messianic ideology as in the Nazi, Fascist and Stalinist versions (although note that the United States has the highest percentage of its citizens in prison - 751 per 100,000 people - of any nation on Earth). According to Wolin, inverted totalitarianism has "emerged imperceptibly, unpremeditatedly, and in seeming unbroken continuity with the nation's political traditions."
The genius of our inverted totalitarian system "lies in wielding total power without appearing to, without establishing concentration camps, or enforcing ideological uniformity, or forcibly suppressing dissident elements so long as they remain ineffectual. A demotion in the status and stature of the 'sovereign people' to patient subjects is symptomatic of systemic change, from democracy as a method of 'popularizing' power to democracy as a brand name for a product marketable at home and marketable abroad. The new system, inverted totalitarianism, is one that professes the opposite of what, in fact, it is. The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed."
Among the factors that have promoted inverted totalitarianism are the practice and psychology of advertising and the rule of "market forces" in many other contexts than markets, continuous technological advances that encourage elaborate fantasies (computer games, virtual avatars, space travel), the penetration of mass media communication and propaganda into every household in the country, and the total co-optation of the universities. Among the commonplace fables of our society are hero worship and tales of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, action measured in nanoseconds, and a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility, whose adepts are prone to fantasies because the vast majority have imagination but little scientific knowledge. Masters of this world are masters of images and their manipulation. Wolin reminds us that the image of Adolf Hitler flying to Nuremberg in 1934 that opens Leni Riefenstahl's classic film "Triumph of the Will" was repeated on May 1, 2003, with President George Bush's apparent landing of a Navy warplane on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to proclaim "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.
On inverted totalitarianism's "self-pacifying" university campuses compared with the usual intellectual turmoil surrounding independent centers of learning, Wolin writes, "Through a combination of governmental contracts, corporate and foundation funds, joint projects involving university and corporate researchers, and wealthy individual donors, universities (especially so-called research universities), intellectuals, scholars, and researchers have been seamlessly integrated into the system. No books burned, no refugee Einsteins. For the first time in the history of American higher education top professors are made wealthy by the system, commanding salaries and perks that a budding CEO might envy."
The main social sectors promoting and reinforcing this modern Shangri-La are corporate power, which is in charge of managed democracy, and the military-industrial complex, which is in charge of Superpower. The main objectives of managed democracy are to increase the profits of large corporations, dismantle the institutions of social democracy (Social Security, unions, welfare, public health services, public housing and so forth), and roll back the social and political ideals of the New Deal. Its primary tool is privatization. Managed democracy aims at the "selective abdication of governmental responsibility for the well-being of the citizenry" under cover of improving "efficiency" and cost-cutting.
Wolin argues, "The privatization of public services and functions manifests the steady evolution of corporate power into a political form, into an integral, even dominant partner with the state. It marks the transformation of American politics and its political culture from a system in which democratic practices and values were, if not defining, at least major contributing elements, to one where the remaining democratic elements of the state and its populist programs are being systematically dismantled." This campaign has largely succeeded. "Democracy represented a challenge to the status quo, today it has become adjusted to the status quo."
One other subordinate task of managed democracy is to keep the citizenry preoccupied with peripheral and/or private conditions of human life so that they fail to focus on the widespread corruption and betrayal of the public trust. In Wolin's words, "The point about disputes on such topics as the value of sexual abstinence, the role of religious charities in state-funded activities, the question of gay marriage, and the like, is that they are not framed to be resolved. Their political function is to divide the citizenry while obscuring class differences and diverting the voters' attention from the social and economic concerns of the general populace." Prominent examples of the elite use of such incidents to divide and inflame the public are the Terri Schiavo case of 2005, in which a brain-dead woman was kept artificially alive, and the 2008 case of women and children living in a polygamous commune in Texas who were allegedly sexually mistreated.
Another elite tactic of managed democracy is to bore the electorate to such an extent that it gradually fails to pay any attention to politics. Wolin perceives, "One method of assuring control is to make electioneering continuous, year-round, saturated with party propaganda, punctuated with the wisdom of kept pundits, bringing a result boring rather than energizing, the kind of civic lassitude on which managed democracy thrives." The classic example is certainly the nominating contests of the two main American political parties during 2007 and 2008, but the dynastic "competition" between the Bush and Clinton families from 1988 to 2008 is equally relevant. It should be noted that between a half and two-thirds of qualified voters have recently failed to vote, thus making the management of the active electorate far easier. Wolin comments, "Every apathetic citizen is a silent enlistee in the cause of inverted totalitarianism." It remains to be seen whether an Obama candidacy can reawaken these apathetic voters, but I suspect that Wolin would predict a barrage of corporate media character assassination that would end this possibility.
Managed democracy is a powerful solvent for any vestiges of democracy left in the American political system, but its powers are weak in comparison with those of Superpower. Superpower is the sponsor, defender and manager of American imperialism and militarism, aspects of American government that have always been dominated by elites, enveloped in executive-branch secrecy, and allegedly beyond the ken of ordinary citizens to understand or oversee. Superpower is preoccupied with weapons of mass destruction, clandestine manipulation of foreign policy (sometimes domestic policy, too), military operations, and the fantastic sums of money demanded from the public by the military-industrial complex. (The U.S. military spends more than all other militaries on Earth combined. The official U.S. defense budget for fiscal year 2008 is $623 billion; the next closest national military budget is China's at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.)
Foreign military operations literally force democracy to change its nature: "In order to cope with the imperial contingencies of foreign war and occupation," according to Wolin, "democracy will alter its character, not only by assuming new behaviors abroad (e.g., ruthlessness, indifference to suffering, disregard of local norms, the inequalities in ruling a subject population) but also by operating on revised, power-expansive assumptions at home. It will, more often than not, try to manipulate the public rather than engage its members in deliberation. It will demand greater powers and broader discretion in their use ('state secrets'), a tighter control over society's resources, more summary methods of justice, and less patience for legalities, opposition, and clamor for socioeconomic reforms."
Imperialism and democracy are, in Wolin's terms, literally incompatible, and the ever greater resources devoted to imperialism mean that democracy will inevitably wither and die. He writes, "Imperial politics represents the conquest of domestic politics and the latter's conversion into a crucial element of inverted totalitarianism. It makes no sense to ask how the democratic citizen could 'participate' substantively in imperial politics; hence it is not surprising that the subject of empire is taboo in electoral debates. No major politician or party has so much as publicly remarked on the existence of an American empire."
From the time of the United States' founding, its citizens have had a long history of being complicit in the country's imperial ventures, including its transcontinental expansion at the expense of native Americans, Mexicans and Spanish imperialists. Theodore Roosevelt often commented that Americans were deeply opposed to imperialism because of their successful escape from the British empire but that "expansionism" was in their blood. Over the years, American political analysis has carefully tried to separate the military from imperialism, even though militarism is imperialism's inescapable accompaniment. The military creates the empire in the first place and is indispensable to its defense, policing and expansion. Wolin observes, "That the patriotic citizen unswervingly supports the military and its huge budgets means that conservatives have succeeded in persuading the public that the military is distinct from the government. Thus the most substantial element of state power is removed from public debate."
It has taken a long time, but under George W. Bush's administration the United States has finally achieved an official ideology of imperial expansion comparable to those of Nazi and Soviet totalitarianisms. In accordance with the National Security Strategy of the United States (allegedly drafted by Condoleezza Rice and proclaimed on Sept. 9, 2002), the United States is now committed to what it calls "preemptive war." Wolin explains: "Preemptive war entails the projection of power abroad, usually against a far weaker country, comparable say, to the Nazi invasion of Belgium and Holland in 1940. It declares that the United States is justified in striking at another country because of a perceived threat that U.S. power will be weakened, severely damaged, unless it reacts to eliminate the danger before it materializes. Preemptive war is Lebensraum [Hitler's claim that his imperialism was justified by Germany's need for "living room"] for the age of terrorism." This was, of course, the official excuse for the American aggression against Iraq that began in 2003.
Many analysts, myself included, would conclude that Wolin has made a close to airtight case that the American republic's days are numbered, but Wolin himself does not agree. Toward the end of his study he produces a wish list of things that should be done to ward off the disaster of inverted totalitarianism: "rolling back the empire, rolling back the practices of managed democracy; returning to the idea and practices of international cooperation rather than the dogmas of globalization and preemptive strikes; restoring and strengthening environmental protections; reinvigorating populist politics; undoing the damage to our system of individual rights; restoring the institutions of an independent judiciary, separation of powers, and checks and balances; reinstating the integrity of the independent regulatory agencies and of scientific advisory processes; reviving representative systems responsive to popular needs for health care, education, guaranteed pensions, and an honorable minimum wage; restoring governmental regulatory authority over the economy; and rolling back the distortions of a tax code that toadies to the wealthy and corporate power."
Unfortunately, this is more a guide to what has gone wrong than a statement of how to fix it, particularly since Wolin believes that our political system is "shot through with corruption and awash in contributions primarily from wealthy and corporate donors." It is extremely unlikely that our party apparatus will work to bring the military-industrial complex and the 16 secret intelligence agencies under democratic control. Nonetheless, once the United States has followed the classical totalitarianisms into the dustbin of history, Wolin's analysis will stand as one of the best discourses on where we went wrong.
Chalmers Johnson's latest book is Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (Metropolitan Books, 2008), now available in a Holt Paperback. It is the third volume of his Blowback Trilogy.
Robert Blando "Out the truth!" (Pa, usa) :
When the disparities in power distribution become too great and considering the inimical qualities embedded within the nature of the human animal, the two reinforce one another in way's antithetical(read parasitical) to the weak. Further you need to consider the origins of this social construct called THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; it was based on conquest and colonization, it was based on summary abnegation of peace treaties with the Native Americans even though as victors the U.S. political regime dictated the terms in the first instance. Talking between 1200 and 1400 different treaties ....not ONE of which was honored.
It's telling in that there's a political expediency totally divorced from any moral considerations which is endemic throughout up to and including George W. Bush who articulated to a caricature emblematic of this concept; grotesquely NAKED caricature I might add. Do I believe in DEMOCRACY INCORPORATED? I'd be a fool not to. Another good read is THE GLOBAL CLASS WAR which constitutes a nice complement to this title.
That book and another, the Lugano Report by Susan George, comprise the sum total of an overarching political thesis that I've formulated in regards THESE TIMES.
John Baesler (Bloomington, IN)
At the end of a long, distinguished career as one of America's foremost political philosophers, Sheldon Wolin takes a hard look at the current political system in America and arrives at the profoundly uncomfortable conclusion that America has become a "managed democracy," where the will of the American people is effectively removed from political, social and economic decision-making. He sees the country firmly set on its way toward becoming a system of "inverted totalitarianism" where democratic institutions are only empty shells and "democracy' has become a myth which in practice is completely controlled by transnational corporate elites and their willing executioners. You think it can't happen here? According to Wolin, it already happened, if you carefully define what "it" is.
The term "Inverted Totalitarianism" addresses the obvious rejoinder many people might make: Isn't America still a democracy? Where was the Machtergreifung--the coup or takeover of power? Wolin asserts that it does not require brown shirts marching in the streets for a totalitarian takeover to take place. In Inverted Totalitarianism, the Fuehrer is the product of the system (George W. Bush), not the architect; it does not celebrate the state but uses an informal network of corporate and political power. Inverted Totalitarianism does not mobilize its populations (the way communism and the Nazis mobilized theirs) with endless parades and speeches, but it keeps them quiet with Reality TV and consumer culture; it does not require unanimity among the people, but fosters a splintering of public opinion, etc. Still, the end result is a de-fanged democracy, laying prostrate before a mighty corporate elite in love with its own power.
In fact, the author avers that there was no intention of abolishing democracy in America. "Inverted totalitarianism" is the result, the grand total, of an infinite number of small actions that have accumulated in American history in recent decades. He also delivers one of the best accounts I have read so far of the counter-intuitive alliance between the Christian Right and American corporate elites, who seem so different from each other on first look. Yet what these two groups share, according to Wolin, is a deep veneration for sacred texts and objects (the bible, the constitution, the market) and a dynamic vision to change current society for an idealized past/apocalyptic future that needs to be realized by radical means.
If the reader already felt an inkling that something like this is going on, Wolin's book provides helpful categories of analysis to put it all together. According to Wolin, elitist republicanism and democracy always led an uncomfortable coexistence in American history. What tilted the country toward elite rule was "Superpower"--the vision of unlimited American military might abroad, which was created during World War II and fostered by the Cold War. "Superpower" demands unlimited freedom to act in secrecy by a small elite and can justify its actions with reason of state. 9/11 was the moment "Superpower" took over decisively.
In the introduction to the paperback edition, Wolin states that Barack Obama sees himself as providing change in the sense of a corrective, not as a radical change of direction, which many of his supporters, and Wolin himself, would have liked. Therefore the 2008 elections did not signal a significant departure from managed democracy. Writing in the summer of 2011, it's hard for me to disagree with this assessment.
On the other hand, this book will probably not change many people's minds. While Wolin relies on close reading of a few documents--such as the Federalist Papers--and makes excellent use of scholarly secondary literature in political science and history, his case is broad and assertive, rather than deep and persuasive. In order to fill in details the reader will have to consult other sources. For that reason, readers who already believe Wolin will readily agree with him, but others will demand more evidence and a more detailed account of how all of this came about. My tip: Look at the footnotes and keep reading.
Wolin does not offer much in terms of how to change all of this. Writers such as Chris Hedges use him to argue that essentially all is lost and what is left is peaceful, physical resistance. Wolin does notice that Superpower has been waning lately and that more and more Americans simply don't want to sacrifice more at home for ludicrous adventures abroad. As 1989 showed, a whole political system can collapse at a moment's notice. First cracks in the coalition between "Tea Party" and corporate conservatives can also be observed. So maybe we should not despair yet and instead work at mobilizing a counter-public sphere and alternative centers of power. On the other hand, watching the daily news emanating from Washington, it's hard not to become deeply pessimistic.
The book is a bit rambling and should have been cut by about 1/3, but like a doctor who diagnoses a disease, Wolin gives a name to phenomena many Americans have noted but could not quite put into context. For that reason the book provides a useful service and should be read widely. Help other customers find the most helpful reviews
This is the most insightful book yet on the decay of modern America. Extraordinarily well written, reasoned and structured, Democracy Inc. is rare in its brutal, penetrating critique of the corporate/government alliance that is slowly destroying the middle class. It describes in great detail what I call institutional plutocracy.
This book makes me want to move to Canada as my disgust for what America has become is almost overwhelming.
Sitting in Seattle (Seattle, WA)
As a fan of Chalmers Johnson (RIP) and Andrew Bacevich, as well as a former academic, I was looking forward to a book on this topic from an author of Wolin's stature. However, after attempting to read this book, I returned it. Here's the good, the mediocre, the bad, and the unacceptable -- based on my reading the first couple of chapters (in "the unacceptable", I explain why I stopped):
The good. The premise and thesis: that US democracy is being threatened by the very institutions that are often most closely associated with it, such as free enterprise. Wolin links this to other "totalitarian" tendencies and gives a nicely grounded exposition. This is an interesting twist on a common progressive theme and deserves to be developed in depth.
The mediocre. The writing drags along and feels weak. It does not have the power of a Vidal or Roy, nor the breeziness of Bacevich, nor the intense fact-gathering and relentness of Chalmers, nor the academic rigor of Wolin's early work. It reads as if we should expect some big insight in just a few more pages, but then the chapters just deflate.
The bad. As some other reviews have noted, the concept of "inverted totalitarianism" is extremely awkward. Wolin attempts early in the book to show that the US today has some inverted parallels to fascist states such as Nazi Germany. But this argument is strained at best and off-putting at worst. There is a fallacy known sarcastically as "reductio ad hitlerum" and Wolin comes uncomfortably close to engaging in that. That's too bad because that whole argument is irrelevant and a distraction: the core concept here is better expressed as "corporate plutocracy" or "free market dominance" or something like that. There is no reason that could not be explicated quite well on its own (cf. C. Johnson or D. Harvey for similar concepts). Trying to express "totalitarianism" (which the US is not, but is rather differently threatened) and "inverted" (which is almost meaningless) derails the point.
The unacceptable. Given the slow pace but interesting topic, I wanted to skim the book. However, on three separate sittings, I found myself getting a terrible headache due to the extremely strong odor of (apparently) the Princeton printing. I have never before found a book to be offensively smelly (unless smoke-saturated), but this one is impossible to read. Because it is brand new, undamaged, and from Amazon, it seems unlikely to have been affected post-printing. So I returned it.
Overall, the book's concept is good but expressed in a mediocre package. It would make a great op-ed piece or 20 page article, but -- as far as I could tell in my attempts to read it -- the approach taken wasn't enough to sustain an entire book. Help other customers find the most helpful reviews Was this review helpful to you?
Bartleby (scrivner) "Tough critic" (Southern Pines, NC)
This is an immensely important book that all Americans should read. But they won't. They're too busy just trying to survive, lulled by a variety of diverting issues, and also sleep walking through their lives consuming things they don't need and watching meaningless TV shows. So the corporations and politicians that rule America will continue their get rich at the expense of everyone else agendas and nothing will be done and eventually this country will implode due to its own fatuousness.
What this author says is all true however the book is poorly edited and organized. Its as if what the author has to say is so important, and it is, that he has to say it over and over again. The scholarship is extensive, that's good, but the arguments get tedious because too much in depth history is explored, some would be enough, and then he repeats it all in other parts of the book.
Also some of his arguments are not convincing and the book gets hysterical at times. I can see the author tearing his hair out because what he has to say is really so important, it is, but he gets rabid about it. He thanks his editors for their help but they didn't help him enough maybe they got tired of reading all of this just like I did, although I perserverd to the last chapter, arguably the worst in the book, and ended with the opinion that the book could have easily been a couple of hundred pages shorter and better organized, and it would have been more effective, one really has to persevere to get through the whole thing as it is. So this will never be a widely read book even by those who care to know how this country has been taken over by the rich and that Democracy in this country is probably dead for good. Help other customers find the most helpful reviews Was this review helpful to you?
ewomack "ewomack" (MN USA) :
"Democracy Incorporated," a near potboiler of a title, may summon readerly expectations of endless dagger fences of exclamation points, angry, terse prose and meandering 19th century-esque rhapsodies on the rapacious evils of our sullen world. Expect none of that here. Though anger definitely appears, as well as accusatory passages and arguable finger-pointing, the text remains fairly even-keeled throughout. Rabble rousing was apparently not the intent. Instead, Princeton Professor and witness of the infamous 1968 events at Berkeley, Sheldon Wolin, invites a sober reflection on the current state of the union, particularly its democratic state.
Some very pointed and immensely controversial questions pervade these thirteen chapters. Above it all looms his semi-nebulous coinage "inverted totalitarianism." Though not explicitly defined or formulated, this phrase nonetheless glues together most of the book's disparate narrative. The concept gets applied to various topics and circumstances, dealt with on a chapter by chapter basis rather than via a gradual linear argument.
In essence, it amalgamates the conceptions of corporate power integrated with state power, the demobilization of the citizenry, and the trumping of politics by economics. "Inverted Totalitarianism" gets juxtaposed with "traditional" totalitarianism, a la Hitler and Mussolini, and Wolin claims that, though both systems utilize widely divergent methodologies, they nonetheless produce nearly identical outcomes. Before analyzing such concepts in relation to the contemporary United States, and before introducing these actual concepts, the book opens with a clarification cum proactive apology. By utilizing ideas and systems familiar with Nazism in proximity to the United States, Wolin clearly states that he does not mean to insinuate equivalency between the two.
He seems equivocal and somewhat ambivalent concerning the totalitarian nature of the United States, though he seems to think that "Superpower" and its ramifications provides an apt description. But "inverted totalitarianism" remains, as stated in the preface, "tentative" and "hypothetical," though the "Superpower" ethos seems to entice democracy away from egalitarianism and self-government while simultaneously inspiring adventures abroad.
Ultimately, "Superpower" projects itself both externally and internally. Wolin traces developments that suggest a transmogrification from Constitutional democracy to "something else," but this "something else" remains obliquely nebulous. Mythologies and the framing of 911 as modern myth (Wolin does not entertain conspiracy theories) are evoked as founding contemporary "imaginaries" that fuel this transformation. From NSC-68 to "the war on terror" Wolin sees an indubitable shift to the right and towards "Superpower." Along the way, he spews invective for the Bush administration (this book appeared in 2008), though not melodramatically, and accuses the Republican party of attempting a "permanent shift of power." Some sections approach anti-Republican screed, but the Democrats also receive their share of complicit blame. This is no polarizing one-sided pander. Wolin even depicts the New Deal as its own "imaginary" with its own imperfect power ethos. Regardless, the book unabashedly categorizes the "Bush dynasties" (referred to as "Bush I" and Bush II" throughout) as America's unprecedented proponents of "Superpower" boosted by Utopian ideals and "dark vs. light" mythological precedents. One surprising claim concerns the impenetrability of the current situation. Wolin claims, perhaps presciently, that a Democratic majority won't change the fundamental direction put in place by this transformation.
Some have accused the Obama administration, in defiance of their campaign oratory, of change stagnation. One posited explanation lies in tensions between Constititional democracy (rule "by the people") and Republicanism (rule by "an elite") that weaves through American history. This tension allegedly develops into "managed democracy" whereby citizenship collapses into desultory indifferent voting. Without declaring the United States an outright "inverted totalitarianism," Wolin nonetheless detects its murmurings in public and private life. Clearly, he's suspicious and somewhat afraid of current developments.
Given Wolin's depiction of potential "inverted totalitarianism" in the here and now, what does he suggest "the people" - referred to as "the demos" from the Greek - do? Apparently in some respects it's too late. "The demos will never dominate politically," he claims. "[I]nstead of a demos, democratic citizenries." In other words, democracy must "go local" to act as a check on the aspirations of the elite. Wolin is no revolutionary. In an earlier interview with Bill Moyers he stated that traditional notions of revolution now seem anachronous and largely barbarous. Regardless, Wolin also sees a tangential relationship between "demotic irrationality" and "elite miscalculation."
By this interpretation, public apathy sets the stage for elite "adventures" (Wolin would call these, especially the Iraq War, "misadventures"). Such are democracy's prospects as depicted here. Overall, the book feels tentative, reflecting Wolin's description of his "inverted totalitarian" conception. It also disperses its main points to many dimensions of the topical spectrum. A does not follow B does not follow C here. The sporadic narrative mirrors the nebulous and tense uncertainty suspending Wolin's theories surrounding democracy in America circa 2008. Whether one agrees or disagrees with this book's basic assumptions and implications, no one will likely find it boring or disengaging. Help other customers find the most helpful reviews Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Report abuse | Permalink Comment Comment
Wolin has a good, detailed, and accurate grip on current American events and their historical context, and there are a lot of fascinating and worthwhile ideas buried in the book. He discusses the role of exploitation and manipulation of rapid change in reversing any democratic gains and preventing their consolidation. Job insecurity, income fears, worker fatique, and desperation do not afford the general public the independence needed to encourage active citizenship, and that's very much in the interests of some other people. Moreover, rapid and scary, deliberately-caused change can paradoxically cause a search for some source of rigid and unchanging security, causing people to take comfort in fundamentalist religious faith and in literal, originalist views of the Constitution that are antidemocratic in their thrust.
But I can't recommend the book. Wolin's much-belabored idea of "inverted totalitarianism" is too complicated and on balance unilluminating. The book is basically a tedious grind; you have to slog through the mud to unearth the jewels. There ARE jewels, but you'll have to decide for yourself if finding them is worth the tedium. It wasn't to me!
M. Clifford (Dayton)
Sheldon Wolin's "Democracy Incorporated" is the most insightful book on the state of American politics that I've read over the last several years. I read at least three or four books related to political people or issues every year, and I believe Wolin's book has the most precise and accurate insight into the morphing of our democracy into what he calls inverted totalitarianism that I've read thus far. Since reading this book, I'm beginning to hear other political chroniclers refer to the kinds of political decisions and conditions that Wolin so succinctly points out in this book.
The current hearings and discussions relating to health-care reform in the U.S. is a perfect example of how our politicians ignore the wishes of the people in order to carry out the agendas of the corporations.
For those who believe our country is lost to us, this book is the one to read to get a crystal clear discussion of how that has evolved and how it plays out without our real understanding of what is going on. But this is not an easy read--this book is for those who are able and willing to read a highly intelligent, sophisticated, and erudite discussion of the transformation of a democracy into something that we should indeed be concerned about. MFClifford
Informative from the get go. Everyone should read in order to give them more insight as the de facto of our Nation.
David Schweizer "Almawood" (Kansas, USA):
Wolin's classic "Politics and Vision" has served students of political theory well. It is more than a survey of political thinking; Wolin passionately argues for the distinction between thinking politically and philosophy, locating in the greats from Plato to Marx that failure to extol the political animal first identified and defined by Aristotle. The newest edition contains several new chapters which have been broken off and published under the clever title "Democracy Inc." Wolin brings his customary intelligence. He writes clearly for someone in the social sciences. His central point is clearly well worth making, although it is not a new argument.
In fact, here perhaps more than elsewhere Wolin sounds like Adorno and other members of the Frankfurt School, who wrote so well and extensively 50 years ago on mass culture and the curtailment of political life. Wolin can be clever, witty, and also shallow. He seems to side in a typically academic way with NY Times liberalism. Sometimes you get the idea that he really believes in the difference between Newsweek and Time magazines, Gore and Bush, etc.
One can almost hear him humming if not singing along with Obama's fans, the now-famous tune "Yes, We Can," although if McCain had been elected he'd be writing a book titled grumpily, "Now, We Can't."
It is not that Wolin is optimistic but that he locates the malaise of our time firmly in the "right-wing" camp, without notice and concern for the degradation of our partisan landscape. He is, in short, naive. I also think his populism is too comfortable, that is, he misses the masses but seems unable to recognize why our best thinkers have feared them.
It is also clear that he sees terrorism as a figment of our collective imaginations or as a sign of a witch hunt on the order of McCarthyism, as though the Twin Towers fell on their own accord.
Wolin can be tough, and is very good on seeing emptiness for what it is, but when he strives to fill that void with old copies of the Nation magazine, I think we are being taken for a ride.
The daily bleeding of thousands of jobs will soon turn our economic crisis into a political crisis. The street protests, strikes and riots that have rattled France, Turkey, Greece, Ukraine, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Iceland will descend on us. It is only a matter of time. And not much time. When things start to go sour, when Barack Obama is exposed as a mortal waving a sword at a tidal wave, the United States could plunge into a long period of precarious social instability.
At no period in American history has our democracy been in such peril or has the possibility of totalitarianism been as real. Our way of life is over. Our profligate consumption is finished. Our children will never have the standard of living we had. And poverty and despair will sweep across the landscape like a plague. This is the bleak future. There is nothing President Obama can do to stop it. It has been decades in the making. It cannot be undone with a trillion or two trillion dollars in bailout money. Our empire is dying. Our economy has collapsed.
How will we cope with our decline? Will we cling to the absurd dreams of a superpower and a glorious tomorrow or will we responsibly face our stark new limitations? Will we heed those who are sober and rational, those who speak of a new simplicity and humility, or will we follow the demagogues and charlatans who rise up out of the slime in moments of crisis to offer fantastic visions? Will we radically transform our system to one that protects the ordinary citizen and fosters the common good, that defies the corporate state, or will we employ the brutality and technology of our internal security and surveillance apparatus to crush all dissent? We won't have to wait long to find out.
There are a few isolated individuals who saw it coming. The political philosophers Sheldon S. Wolin, John Ralston Saul and Andrew Bacevich, as well as writers such as Noam Chomsky, Chalmers Johnson, David Korten and Naomi Klein, along with activists such as Bill McKibben and Ralph Nader, rang the alarm bells. They were largely ignored or ridiculed. Our corporate media and corporate universities proved, when we needed them most, intellectually and morally useless.
Wolin, who taught political philosophy at the University of California in Berkeley and at Princeton, in his book "Democracy Incorporated" uses the phrase "inverted totalitarianism" to describe our system of power. Inverted totalitarianism, unlike classical totalitarianism, does not revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader. It finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. It purports to cherish democracy, patriotism and the Constitution while cynically manipulating internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic institutions. Political candidates are elected in popular votes by citizens, but they must raise staggering amounts of corporate funds to compete. They are beholden to armies of corporate lobbyists in Washington or state capitals who write the legislation. A corporate media controls nearly everything we read, watch or hear and imposes a bland uniformity of opinion or diverts us with trivia and celebrity gossip. In classical totalitarian regimes, such as Nazi fascism or Soviet communism, economics was subordinate to politics. "Under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true," Wolin writes. "Economics dominates politics-and with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness."
"The basic systems are going to stay in place; they are too powerful to be challenged," Wolin told me when I asked him about the new Obama administration. "This is shown by the financial bailout. It does not bother with the structure at all. I don't think Obama can take on the kind of military establishment we have developed. This is not to say that I do not admire him. He is probably the most intelligent president we have had in decades. I think he is well meaning, but he inherits a system of constraints that make it very difficult to take on these major power configurations. I do not think he has the appetite for it in any ideological sense. The corporate structure is not going to be challenged. There has not been a word from him that would suggest an attempt to rethink the American imperium."
Wolin argues that a failure to dismantle our vast and overextended imperial projects, coupled with the economic collapse, is likely to result in "inverted totalitarianism." He said that without "radical and drastic remedies" the response to mounting discontent and social unrest will probably lead to greater state control and repression. There will be, he warned, a huge "expansion of government power."
"Our political culture has remained unhelpful in fostering a democratic consciousness,The political system and its operatives will not be constrained by popular discontent or uprisings."
Wolin writes that in inverted totalitarianism consumer goods and a comfortable standard of living, along with a vast entertainment industry that provides spectacles and diversions, keep the citizenry politically passive. I asked if the economic collapse and the steady decline in our standard of living might not, in fact, trigger classical totalitarianism. Could widespread frustration and poverty lead the working and middle classes to place their faith in demagogues, especially those from the Christian right?
"I think that's perfectly possible, That was the experience of the 1930s. There wasn't just FDR. There was Huey Long and Father Coughlin. There were even more extreme movements including the Klan. The extent to which those forces can be fed by the downturn and bleakness is a very real danger. It could become classical totalitarianism."
He said the widespread political passivity is dangerous. It is often exploited by demagogues who pose as saviors and offer dreams of glory and salvation. He warned that "the apoliticalness, even anti-politicalness, will be very powerful elements in taking us towards a radically dictatorial direction. It testifies to how thin the commitment to democracy is in the present circumstances. Democracy is not ascendant. It is not dominant. It is beleaguered. The extent to which young people have been drawn away from public concerns and given this extraordinary range of diversions makes it very likely they could then rally to a demagogue."
Wolin lamented that the corporate state has successfully blocked any real debate about alternative forms of power. Corporations determine who gets heard and who does not, he said. And those who critique corporate power are given no place in the national dialogue.
"In the 1930s there were all kinds of alternative understandings, from socialism to more extensive governmental involvement, There was a range of different approaches. But what I am struck by now is the narrow range within which palliatives are being modeled. We are supposed to work with the financial system. So the people who helped create this system are put in charge of the solution. There has to be some major effort to think outside the box."
"The puzzle to me is the lack of social unrest," Wolin said when I asked why we have not yet seen rioting or protests. He said he worried that popular protests will be dismissed and ignored by the corporate media. This, he said, is what happened when tens of thousands protested the war in Iraq. This will permit the state to ruthlessly suppress local protests, as happened during the Democratic and Republic conventions. Anti-war protests in the 1960s gained momentum from their ability to spread across the country, he noted. This, he said, may not happen this time. "The ways they can isolate protests and prevent it from [becoming] a contagion are formidable."
"My greatest fear is that the Obama administration will achieve relatively little in terms of structural change," he added. "They may at best keep the system going. But there is a growing pessimism. Every day we hear how much longer the recession will continue. They are already talking about beyond next year. The economic difficulties are more profound than we had guessed and because of globalization more difficult to deal with. I wish the political establishment, the parties and leadership, would become more aware of the depths of the problem. They can't keep throwing money at this. They have to begin structural changes that involve a very different approach from a market economy. I don't think this will happen. I keep asking why and how and when this country became so conservative? This country once prided itself on its experimentation and flexibility. It has become rigid. It is probably the most conservative of all the advanced countries."
"The American left has crumbled. It sold out to a bankrupt Democratic Party, abandoned the working class and has no ability to organize. Unions are a spent force. The universities are mills for corporate employees. The press churns out info-entertainment or fatuous pundits. The left, he said, no longer has the capacity to be a counterweight to the corporate state. He said that if an extreme right gains momentum there will probably be very little organized resistance. The left is amorphous. I despair over the left. Left parties may be small in number in Europe but they are a coherent organization that keeps going. Here, except for Nader's efforts, we don't have that. We have a few voices here, a magazine there, and that's about it. It goes nowhere."
-Chris Hedges, ( Excerpt: "It's Not Going To Be OK," truthdig.com, 2.2.09. Image: - James E. Westcott, Official U.S. Photographer for the Manhattan Project. Control panels and female operators for calutrons at the Y-12 Nuclear Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. During the Manhattan Project, the female operators worked in shifts covering 24 hours a day. Gladys Owens, the woman seated at right closest to the camera, was unaware of the purpose and consequence of her work until seeing the photo of herself while taking a public tour of the facility nearly 60 years later, American Museum Of Science & Energy, 1940s ).
To reduce a complex argument to its bare bones, since the Depression, the twin forces of managed democracy and Superpower have opened the way for something new under the sun: "inverted totalitarianism," a form every bit as totalistic as the classical version but one based on internalized co-optation, the appearance of freedom, political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, and relying more on "private media" than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda that reinforces the official version of events.
It is inverted because it does not require the use of coercion, police power and a messianic ideology as in the Nazi, Fascist and Stalinist versions (although note that the United States has the highest percentage of its citizens in prison -- 751 per 100,000 people -- of any nation on Earth). According to Wolin, inverted totalitarianism has "emerged imperceptibly, unpremeditatedly, and in seeming unbroken continuity with the nation's political traditions."
Among the factors that have promoted inverted totalitarianism are:
- the practice and psychology of advertising and the rule of "market forces" in many other contexts than markets,
- continuous technological advances that encourage elaborate fantasies (computer games, virtual avatars, space travel),
- the penetration of mass media communication and propaganda into every household in the country,
- and the total co-optation of the universities.
Among the commonplace fables of our society are hero worship and tales of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, action measured in nanoseconds, and a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility, whose adepts are prone to fantasies because the vast majority have imagination but little scientific knowledge. Masters of this world are masters of images and their manipulation.
Wolin reminds us that the image of Adolf Hitler flying to Nuremberg in 1934 that opens Leni Riefenstahl's classic film "Triumph of the Will" was repeated on May 1, 2003, with President George Bush's apparent landing of a Navy warplane on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to proclaim "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.
On inverted totalitarianism's "self-pacifying" university campuses compared with the usual intellectual turmoil surrounding independent centers of learning, Wolin writes, "Through a combination of governmental contracts, corporate and foundation funds, joint projects involving university and corporate researchers, and wealthy individual donors, universities (especially so-called research universities), intellectuals, scholars, and researchers have been seamlessly integrated into the system. No books burned, no refugee Einsteins. For the first time in the history of American higher education top professors are made wealthy by the system, commanding salaries and perks that a budding CEO might envy."
NEWS JUNKIE POST
In his recent article, "Democracy in America is a Useful Fiction", Hedges defines "inverted totalitarianism":
"Inverted totalitarianism represents "the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry [...]
Inverted totalitarianism differs from classical forms of totalitarianism, which revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader, and finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state.
The corporate forces behind inverted totalitarianism do not, as classical totalitarian movements do, boast of replacing decaying structures with a new, revolutionary structure. They purport to honor electoral politics, freedom and the Constitution. But they so corrupt and manipulate the levers of power as to make democracy impossible."
I lived in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship-I can spot a fascist police-state when I see one.
The United States is a fascist police-state.
Harsh words-incendiary, even. And none too clever of me, to use such language: Time was, the crazies and reactionaries wearing tin-foil hats who flung around such a characterization of the United States were disqualified by sensible people as being hysterical nutters-rightfully so.
But with yesterday's Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project decision (No. 08-1498, also 09-89) of the Supreme Court, coupled with last week's Arar v. Ashcroft denial of certiorari (No. 09-923), the case for claiming that the U.S. is a fascist police-state just got a whole lot stronger.
First of all, what is a "fascist police-state"?A police-state uses the law as a mechanism to control any challenges to its power by the citizenry, rather than as a mechanism to insure a civil society among the individuals. The state decides the laws, is the sole arbiter of the law, and can selectively (and capriciously) decide to enforce the law to the benefit or detriment of one individual or group or another.
In a police-state, the citizens are "free" only so long as their actions remain within the confines of the law as dictated by the state. If the individual's claims of rights or freedoms conflict with the state, or if the individual acts in ways deemed detrimental to the state, then the state will repress the citizenry, by force if necessary. (And in the end, it's always necessary.)
What's key to the definition of a police-state is the lack of redress: If there is no justice system which can compel the state to cede to the citizenry, then there is a police-state. If there exists apro forma justice system, but which in practice is unavailable to the ordinary citizen because of systemic obstacles (for instance, cost or bureaucratic hindrance), or which against all logic or reason consistently finds in favor of the state-even in the most egregious and obviously contradictory cases-then that pro forma judiciary system is nothing but a sham: A tool of the state's repression against its citizens. Consider the Soviet court system the classic example.
A police-state is not necessarily a dictatorship. On the contrary, it can even take the form of a representative democracy. A police-state is not defined by its leadership structure, but rather, by its self-protection against the individual.
A definition of "fascism" is tougher to come by-it's almost as tough to come up with as a definition of "pornography".
The sloppy definition is simply totalitarianism of the Right, "communism" being the sloppy definition of totalitarianism of the Left. But that doesn't help much.
For our purposes, I think we should use the syndicalist-corporatist definition as practiced by Mussolini: Society as a collection of corporate and union interests, where the state is one more competing interest among many, albeit the most powerful of them all, and thus as a virtue of its size and power, taking precedence over all other factions. In other words, society is a "street-gang" model that I discussed before. The individual has power only as derived from his belonging to a particular faction or group-individuals do not have inherent worth, value or standing.
Now then! Having gotten that out of the way, where were we?
Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project: The Humanitarian Law Project was advising groups deemed "terrorists" on how to negotiate non-violently with various political agencies, including the UN. In this 6-3 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court ruled that that speech constituted "aiding and abetting" a terrorist organization, as the Court determined that speech was "material support". Therefore, the Executive and/or Congress had the right to prohibit anyone from speaking to any terrorist organization if that speech embodied "material support" to the terrorist organization.
The decision is being noted by the New York Times as a Freedom of Speech issue; other commentators seem to be viewing it in those terms as well.
My own take is, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project is not about limiting free speech-it's about the state expanding it power to repress. The decision limits free speech in passing, because what it is really doing is expanding the state's power to repress whomever it unilaterally determines is a terrorist.
In the decision, the Court explicitly ruled that "Congress and the Executive are uniquely positioned to make principled distinctions between activities that will further terrorist conduct and undermine United States foreign policy, and those that will not." In other words, the Court makes it clear that Congress and/or the Executive can solely and unilaterally determine who is a "terrorist threat", and who is not-without recourse to judicial review of this decision. And if the Executive and/or Congress determines that this group here or that group there is a "terrorist organization", then their free speech is curtailed-as is the free speech of anyone associating with them, no matter how demonstrably peaceful that speech or interaction is.
For example, if the Executive-in the form of the Secretary of State-decides that, say, WikiLeaks or Amnesty International is a terrorist organization, well then by golly, it is a terrorist organization. It no longer has any right to free speech-nor can anyone else speak to them or associate with them, for risk of being charged with providing "material support" to this heinous terrorist organization known as Amnesty International.
But furthermore, as per Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, anyone associating with WikiLeaks-including, presumably, those who read it, and most certainly those who give it information about government abuses-would be guilty of aiding and abetting terrorism. In other words, giving WikiLeaks "material support" by providing primary evidence of government abuse would render one a terrorist.
This form of repression does seem to fit the above definition of a police-state. The state determines-unilaterally-who is detrimental to its interests. The state then represses that person or group.
By a 6-3 majority, the Supreme Court has explicitly stated that Congress and/or the Executive is "uniquely positioned" to determine who is a terrorist and who is not-and therefore has the right to silence not just the terrorist organization, but anyone trying to speak to them, or hear them.
And let's just say that, after jumping through years of judicial hoops, one finally manages to prove that one wasn't then and isn't now a terrorist, the Arar denial of certiorari makes it irrelevant. Even if it turns out that a person is definitely and unequivocally not a terrorist, he cannot get legal redress for this mistake by the state.
So! To sum up: The U.S. government can decide unilaterally who is a terrorist organization and who is not. Anyone speaking to such a designated terrorist group is "providing material support" to the terrorists-and is therefore subject to prosecution at the discretion of the U.S. government. And if, in the end, it turns out that one definitely was not involved in terrorist activities, there is no way to receive redress by the state.
Sounds like a fascist police-state to me.
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