Citizen Action Monitor

Crisis in American democracy: Part 1 – Introduction

No 333 Posted by fw, November 10, 2011

This is Part 1 of an 11-part transcription of a documentary film based on an academic publication in political science. Now how sexy does that sound? Seriously, the book’s thesis is singularly important at this pivotal time in American democracy. The film is a serious attempt to bring to a general audience the book’s key ideas. Anyone who wants to understand the origins and evolution of the crisis in American democracy should watch this important video and read the accompanying transcription. (Note: An embedded video of the complete film will be included in Part 2 and all subsequent parts of this series of posts).

The Book

“Thomas Ferguson has worked for fifteen years to make two claims about democracy in the United States. First, “rule by the people” is a sham, and always has been. Second, the social “sciences” have badly botched the job of finding out why“Golden Rule” is a collection of some highlights of this work, and anyone who wants to understand politics in America ought to read it.”Michael C Munger

The above teaser excerpt is from the opening paragraph of Munger’s review of professor Thomas Ferguson’s book, Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems, published by the University of Chicago Press in 1995. Ferguson’s introduction to his theoretical treatise is ‘tart’ notes Munger –

“. . . because I was convinced that modern students of politics resemble adherents of Ptolemy in a Copernican world and the now fashionable “rational choice” approaches to analyzing electoral systems produced not rigor but mortis. It was high time, I thought, to spell out precisely what was wrong with the celebrated “median voter” approach to electoral democracy and to put forward a clear alternative, in which . . . competition between blocs of major investors drives the system.”

The idea that it is possible to translate concentrations of economic power into political power is venerable. Adam Smith, in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776, vol. 1, bk. 1, chap. 10), cautions: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

Munger concludes his review with high praise –

“Minor shortcomings aside, Golden Rule works well as a collection, and represents an important challenge to orthodox conceptions of politics and public-choice theory.

The Film

Jonathan Shockley

Some 15 years after the publication of Ferguson’s influential book, YouTuber, Jonathan Shockley, and two of his friends, released a 77-minute documentary film based on the UMass professor’s theory, under an almost identical title: Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Politics. Commenting on his film, director Jonathan Shockley, explains:

“This film is based on Thomas Ferguson’s book. Many people appear in it, but it is based primarily on a 5-hour interview I conducted with Ferguson and on numerous appearances and interviews with Noam Chomsky. The film offers an in-depth look at the influence of money in politics — analyzing social forces and events that the mainstream media and scholarship have largely distorted or kept hidden. It also analyzes the meaning of ‘democracy’.”

In a May 3, 2010 review of the film, Overlooked Movie Monday: Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Politics, Phil Fava writes –

Noam Chomsky’s statement that “propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state” (apart from being the crux of Manufacturing Consent) has never been more lucidly conveyed for me than in this film when we see an excerpt of an old Looney Toons short with an ugly, overt anti-labor sentiment.

There’s nothing quite as scary as channeling mild-mannered fascism through children’s entertainment, and what it speaks to, ultimately, is the degree to which we’re indoctrinated by these self-defeating sociopolitical principles. Whether we know it or not, we’re bred to weed out dissenters and vest all of our political power in elites who can’t possibly have shared interests with us.

And that’s the clincher, I think. These grotesque corruptions of our core values and noblest democratic aspirations occur frequently and openly, and our expressions of adversarial rage in their midst are few and far between. While individual answers to these systemic problems may vary, democracy in its most poetic rendering is universal.

The film concludes with some frightening images underscored by clips of Noam Chomsky discussing the desirability, functionality, and necessity of democracy for human survival, accompanied by the sullen murmurings of a faint piano. The final shot of the sun rising above amorphous clouds takes what is potentially pedantic and abstruse material and places its origins in the essence of the human spirit.

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This entry was posted on November 10, 2011 by in counterpower of one, creative protest and tagged , , , , .
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