"Money and power, in the service of money and power", has become the template upon which our human experience is built.
This is at once both obvious, and, in need of some clarification.
What is obvious today is that the multi-national corporations, and the politicians who serve them (along with the mainstream media, think-tanks and a host of unelected advisory and regulatory entities) together form the power structure that, virtually unopposed, shapes our lives.
It is further obvious that this corporatist structure is the source of the vast sums of money -- the enabling mechanism -- that now powers the policies and politics of our so-called democracy.
It should be obvious that the corporatist ethos now dominates every facet of our society and culture.
And it might be obvious that today's pay-for-play politics is, in reality, a self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing feedback loop, the negative outcomes of which we seem unable to escape.
Less clear, though, is how this situation came about, and what might be done to change it.
The history of mankind is the struggle for power -- the power to rule and to dominate -- by emperors and kings, and despots and tyrants. The great events of history have arisen out of this struggle, in which chaos and upheaval gave way to a productive equilibrium.
And recently, as we began to imagine ourselves as more civilized, having learned the lessons of distant history, we re-discovered the philosophies of the ancients. It is from them that the liberal revolutions of the Enlightenment shaped the early traditions of democracy, and the notion of "consent of the governed".
And today, kings have been replaced by prime ministers, dictators by presidents. But the struggle for power remains, and our consent is now mostly manufactured. The great liberal traditions that infused our founding documents in North America are being rapidly swept away. The age-old desire to dominate still persists, and more than just natural resources are at stake -- after all, the minds and will of the people are the greatest prize, are they not?
This struggle for power simply reflects the tension that has always existed between the rich few and the poor many. It is a tension that has been played out throughout the history of mankind, one that is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
Between the polar opposites -- government for the benefit of the rich, and government for the benefit of the poor -- is the middle way with which we are most familiar, a liberal democracy supported by a strong middle class. However, as is increasingly clear from all manner of reports, the middle class in Canada and the US is under grave assault, and the gap between rich and poor unprecedented.
In his book Death of the Liberal Class, Chris Hedges describes how the central institutions of our liberal democracy have been co-opted as part of this assault on the middle class. This diminution of the moderating force between rich and poor has positioned the elites to retake much of the hard-won gains of the liberal revolutions. As Hedges says,
"With its reformist and collaborative ethos, the liberal class lacks the capacity or the imagination to respond to this discontent. It has no ideas. Revolt, because of this, will come from the right, as it did in other areas of bankrupt liberalism in Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and Tsarist Russia. That this revolt will be funded, organized, and manipulated by the corporate forces that caused the collapse is one of the tragic ironies of history. But the blame lies with the liberals. Liberals, by standing for nothing, made possible the rise of inverted and perhaps soon classical totalitarianism."The institutions that comprise the liberal class, and the strong middle class necessary to sustain it, perform a very specific function in the liberal democracy in that it provides a safety valve through which reform is possible. But when, as Hedges suggests, that safety valve is removed, discontent cannot be adequately expressed, and incremental reforms become impossible. In the absence of change mechanisms that offer even the faintest of hope for greater equality, radical social movements can arise.
The dramatic shift away from liberal democracy in North America is generally attributed to the rise of right-wing forces inside the Republican Party in America and, more recently, the new Conservative Party in Canada. The potent mix of neoliberal, neoconservative, corporatist and Christian Right ideologies has served very well the interests of the wealthy few over the needs of the many poor.
How has this been accomplished? By what sorcery has the great liberal revolution been turned back? It is a never-ending source of amazement that the great mass of citizens have no idea how completely they are manipulated to endorse policies through the "democratic process" that are in direct opposition to their own best interests.
To understand how consent is manufactured both here in Canada and the US, I am delighted to share an article from a recent volume of Humanist Perspectives, written by Professor Shadia B. Drury of the University of Regina. Fake Populism describes how our naive conception of democracy, purposefully cultivated by the now dominant elites, provides the necessary conditions to enact five key strategies that manipulate the public into voting against its own self interest.
Our political culture is characterized by a radically democratic or populist rhetoric that belies the fact that we live in an unprecedented global oligarch -- which is to say, rule of the rich on a global scale. Our political culture exudes so much populist rhetoric that one would think we lived in a radical (ie, populist) democracy that caters to the needs of the many, not the privileges of the few. Even though oligarch reigns supreme, democracy is so revered in our society that it has become a new god. People are willing to die for it, launch wars in its name, and bomb others in the hope of converting them to the true faith. Unfortunately, our faith in democracy is as naive as our faith in God. In my view, the prevalence of this naive conception of democracy allows us to be hoodwinked by our ruling elites into supporting an agenda that serves the interest of the global oligarchy while pretending to be radically democratic or populist. To loosen the grip of the fake populism on our collective psyche, it is necessary to subject our view of democracy to rational scrutiny.
"In truth, the prevalence of policies that continue to favor the rich at the expense of all others invites class conflict."
"But liberals and conservatives have been replaced with neoliberals and neoconservatives. These new elites serve the rich, impoverish the middle class, and ignore the needs of the poor."
Postscript. The insights of Hedges and Drury are clearly important. But they offer only a framework for our understanding. The details and the nuances of their writings are certainly open to interpretation and debate, and we need not know or care about Aristotle or Plato, or Mill or Strauss. But we can't be blind to the facts on the ground. And the reality is this; the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the moderating middle class has very effectively been impoverished. And the politicians who serve the new breed of wealthy elite are utterly disdainful of the majority they supposedly represent because they know there's not a damn thing we can do about it. And maybe that's why they hold us in such contempt -- because we gave up so easily.
Update. You can't make this stuff up! I noted in the Postcript above that the politicians who serve the monied class are utterly disdainful of us, and hold us in apparent disregard. And I suggested that I could populate this blog with nothing more than examples that prove the point. This morning (Friday) we find two more of the many, one from the Washington Post, and one from the New York Times.
"The extraordinary effort required to pass such a basic bill suggests even bigger battles later in the fall on potential blockbuster deficit-reduction plans."
"do the wealthy look to like victims of class warfare?"
"Republicans claim to be deeply worried by budget deficits. Indeed, Mr Ryan called the deficit an existential threat to America. Yet they are insisting that the wealthy -- who presumably have much of a stake as everyone else in the nation's future -- should not be called upon to play any role in warding off that existential threat. Well, that amounts to a demand that a small number of very lucky people be exempted from the social contract that applies to everyone else. And that, in case you're wondering, is what real class warfare looks like."Krugman's summary statement to his article serves well to close this post on fake populism.
Well, almost the last word. In a post at Truthout, an article says that Conservatives hate democracy. Well of course they do! And for all the reasons discussed above and in detail. Go to this article if you need further proof of the crisis we face -- and of the need to hold our elites fully accountable.
Your musical accompaniment for the day: Mozart, Piano Concerto #19 in F, K459; Alfred Brendel, Neville Marriner, Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields. Enjoy.