The US Supreme Court's 2010 "Citizens' Alliance" decision, authored by Sacramento's own legal gift to the finance, insurance and real estate special interest, Justice Anthony Kennedy, ushered in the occasional use of the word "plutocracy" to describe our actual form of government. Plutocracy means rule by the rich. The Court's "McCutcheon" decision yesterday, in light of the babblocracy's recent demonization of Eastern European "oligarchs," has issued in a new favorite work to describe our system of government, "oligarchy," rule of the few.
(In Greek, 'plutos" means "wealth", "oligos" means "few", in and "arche" means "rule".) But for the means through which rule of the rich few is achieved, we have to look at a word that came into English from Old French and into Old French from Gaullish (a Celtic language): BRIBE.
The US Supreme Court has just about completed the destruction of all campaign-finance reform legislation (Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for exactly that) and the full, legal institutionalization of political bribery. This is the point at which the hallowed if shadowy tradition of wholesale corruption of the government, which any activist for any decent cause in the nation or any historian quickly observes when trying understand legislatures, Congress and state and federal bureaucracies, becomes enshrined in the holy writs of "the nation of laws, not of men."
The Nation magazine cries, "Plutocracy!" US Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, cries "Oligarchy!"The cries are correct, the words send a frisson down the backs of a few educated elders not yet dead, but it the means -- BRIBERY -- that ordinary people understand.
One glaring example from Merced: Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, received over a million dollars for his first run for office in 2012. The bulk of it came from lobbyists for finance, insurance, real estate (including agriculture) and unions. His opponent, Republican Jack Mobley received $172,000. The Republican Party matched his own $20,000 contribution and agriculture kicked in an additional $13,500. The rest was from scattered sources. Gray worked for three years for state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, now under indictment for corruption; and was a close associate of state Sen. Leland Yee, D-SF, also under indictment for corruption as well as weapons trafficking. We're not implying any guilt-by-association (even with members of his own family), but we are suggesting that Gray actually may not know any other way of doing (political) business, i.e. have no concept of the amount of bribery involved in his entire public life. Because, of course, so much of it is legal and obviously the law is tending in Justice Thomas's direction. The younger generation of politicians are facing a political climate similar to the Tammany Hall of George Washington Plunkitt, Democratic Leader of the 15th Assembly District of New York City, c. 1905. In fact, a cornerstone of Plunkitt's political philosophy, "honest graft," became the title of a political biography of former Merced Congressman Tony Coelho, who resigned under pressure due to his financial arrangements with Michael Milken, later convicted and sentenced for felony violations of federal security laws. However, the US did not regard itself as a "superpower" or an empire in 1905.
In the 21st-century maestrom that a growing number of people are calling "the empire of chaos," there are few moral, spiritual or intellectual rocks to cling to. The work of Dr. Sheldon Wolin, political theorist, is one. His 2003 essay below introduces the theory of "inverted totalitarianism" fully developed in his 2010 book, Democracy Inc.: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Wolin has been that rarest of American academics: someone fully prepared to comprehend and explain what has happened to us since 9/11. -- blj
Under Nazi rule there was never any doubt about "big business" being subordinated to the political regime. 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, and so dominant in its influence over policy, as to suggest a role inversion the exact opposite of the Nazis'. 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 that, under the Nazis, was supplied by ideological notions such as Lebensraum. -- Sheldon Wolin, The Nation, May 1, 2003
Jesse’s Crossroads Café
By Sheldon Wolin
The war on Iraq has so monopolized public attention as to obscure the regime change taking place in the Homeland. We may have invaded Iraq to bring in democracy and bring down a totalitarian regime, but in the process our own system may be moving closer to the latter and further weakening the former.
The change has been intimated by the sudden popularity of two political terms rarely applied earlier to the American political system. "Empire" and "superpower" both suggest that a new system of power, concentrated and expansive, has come into existence and supplanted the old terms. "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. The Republicans have emerged as a unique phenomenon in American history of a fervently doctrinal party, zealous, ruthless, antidemocratic and boasting a near majority. As Republicans have become more ideologically intolerant, the Democrats have shrugged off the liberal label and their critical reform-minded constituencies to embrace centrism and footnote the end of ideology.
In ceasing to be a genuine opposition party the Democrats have smoothed the road to power of a party more than eager to use it to promote empire abroad and corporate power at home. Bear in mind that a ruthless, ideologically driven party with a mass base was a crucial element in all of the twentieth-century regimes seeking total power.
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.
No doubt these remarks will be dismissed by some as alarmist, but I want to go further and name the emergent political system "inverted totalitarianism." By inverted I mean that while the current system and its operatives share with Nazism the aspiration toward unlimited power and aggressive expansionism, their methods and actions seem upside down. For example, in Weimar Germany, before the Nazis took power, the "streets" were dominated by totalitarian-oriented gangs of toughs, and whatever there was of democracy was confined to the government. In the United States, however, it is the streets where democracy is most alive--while the real danger lies with an increasingly unbridled government.
Or another example of the inversion: Under Nazi rule there was never any doubt about "big business" being subordinated to the political regime. 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, and so dominant in its influence over policy, as to suggest a role inversion the exact opposite of the Nazis'. 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 that, under the Nazis, was supplied by ideological notions such as Lebensraum.
In rebuttal it will be said that there is no domestic equivalent to the Nazi regime of torture, concentration camps or other instruments of terror. But we should remember that for the most part, Nazi terror was not applied to the population generally; rather, the aim was to promote a certain type of shadowy fear--rumors of torture--that would aid in managing and manipulating the populace. Stated positively, the Nazis wanted a mobilized society eager to support endless warfare, expansion and sacrifice for the nation.
While the Nazi totalitarianism strove to give the masses a sense of collective power and strength, Kraft durch Freude ("Strength through joy"), inverted totalitarianism promotes a sense of weakness, of collective futility. While the Nazis wanted a continuously mobilized society that would not only support the regime without complaint and enthusiastically vote "yes" at the periodic plebiscites, inverted totalitarianism wants a politically demobilized society that hardly votes at all. Recall the President's words immediately after the horrendous events of September 11: "Unite, consume and fly," he told the anxious citizenry. Having assimilated terrorism to a "war," he avoided doing what democratic leaders customarily do during wartime: mobilize the citizenry, warn it of impending sacrifices and exhort all citizens to join the "war effort."
Instead, inverted totalitarianism has its own means of promoting generalized fear; not only by sudden "alerts" and periodic announcements about recently discovered terrorist cells or the arrest of shadowy figures or the publicized heavy-handed treatment of aliens and the Devil's Island that is Guantánamo Bay or the sudden fascination with interrogation methods that employ or border on torture, but by 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 is the author of Alexis de Tocqueville: Man Between Two Worlds and Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism
Inverted Totalitarianism: A New Way of Understanding How the U.S. Is Controlled
Review of Democracy Incorporated by Sheldon S. Wolin
By Chalmers Johnson
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.