No 1173 Posted by fw, October 25, 2014
“This devolution of the economic system has been accompanied by corporations’ seizure of nearly all forms of political and social power. The corporate elite, through a puppet political class and compliant intellectuals, pundits and press, still employs the language of a capitalist democracy. But what has arisen is a new kind of control, inverted totalitarianism…”—Chris Hedges
Don’t miss the short related video at the end of this post — Chris explains the meaning of Sheldon Wolin’s key concept, “inverted totalitarianism”
To read Hedges’ original piece, click on the following linked title. Or, below, is a re-posting with added subheadings, bulleted passages and highlighted text to facilitate skimming a post of almost 3.000 words.
If incremental reform is no longer possible in a powerful corporatocracy, how will change occur?
TORONTO—I met with Sheldon S. Wolin in Salem, Ore., and John Ralston Saul in Toronto and asked the two political philosophers the same question. If, as Saul has written, we have undergone a corporate coup d’état and now live under a species of corporate dictatorship that Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism,” if the internal mechanisms that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible remain ineffective, if corporate power retains its chokehold on our economy and governance, including our legislative bodies, judiciary and systems of information, and if these corporate forces are able to use the security and surveillance apparatus and militarized police forces to criminalize dissent, how will change occur and what will it look like?
Sheldon and Saul call for “mass movements” and repeated acts of “civil disobedience”
Wolin, who wrote the books Politics and Vision and Democracy Incorporated, and Saul, who wrote Voltaire’s Bastards and The Unconscious Civilization, see democratic rituals and institutions, especially in the United States, as largely a facade for unchecked global corporate power. Wolin and Saul excoriate academics, intellectuals and journalists, charging they have abrogated their calling to expose abuses of power and give voice to social criticism; they instead function as echo chambers for elites, courtiers and corporate systems managers. Neither believes the current economic system is sustainable. And each calls for mass movements willing to carry out repeated acts of civil disobedience to disrupt and delegitimize corporate power.
“If you continue to go down the wrong road, at a certain point something happens,” Saul said during our meeting Wednesday in Toronto, where he lives. “At a certain point when the financial system is wrong it falls apart. And it did. And it will fall apart again.”
As social safety nets are successively stripped away, a tipping point of citizen tolerance will be reached and social collapse will follow
“The collapse started in 1973,” Saul continued. “There were a series of sequential collapses afterwards. The fascinating thing is that between 1850 and 1970 we put in place all sorts of mechanisms to stop collapses which we can call liberalism, social democracy or Red Toryism. It was an understanding that we can’t have boom-and-bust cycles. We can’t have poverty-stricken people. We can’t have starvation. The reason today’s collapses are not leading to what happened in the 18th century and the 19th century is because all these safety nets, although under attack, are still in place. But each time we have a collapse we come out of it stripping more of the protection away. At a certain point we will find ourselves back in the pre-protection period. At that point we will get a collapse that will be incredibly dramatic. I have no idea what it will look like. A revolution from the left? A revolution from the right? Is it violence followed by state violence? Is it the collapse of the last meaningful edges of democracy? Is it a sudden decision by a critical mass of people that they are not going to take it anymore?”
The rise of a new kind of corporate control – “inverted totalitarianism”
This devolution of the economic system has been accompanied by corporations’ seizure of nearly all forms of political and social power. The corporate elite, through a puppet political class and compliant intellectuals, pundits and press, still employs the language of a capitalist democracy. But what has arisen is a new kind of control, inverted totalitarianism, which Wolin brilliantly dissects in his book Democracy Incorporated.
Once capitalism is deregulated, corporatocracies see democracy as “an impediment to maximizing profits
Wolin and Saul, echoing Karl Marx, view unfettered and unregulated capitalism as a revolutionary force that has within it the seeds of its own self-annihilation. It is and always has been deeply antagonistic to participatory democracy, they said. Democratic states must heavily regulate and control capitalism, for once capitalism is freed from outside restraint it seeks to snuff out democratic institutions and abolish democratic rights that are seen—often correctly—as an impediment to maximizing profit. The more ruthless and pronounced global corporate capitalism becomes, the greater the loss of democratic space.
In unfettered capitalist societies the political order is rendered subservient to the economy
“Capitalism is destructive because it has to eliminate customs, mores, political values, even institutions that present any kind of credible threat to the autonomy of the economy,” Wolin said. “That is where the battle lies. Capitalism wants an autonomous economy. It wants a political order subservient to the needs of the economy. The [capitalist’s] notion of an economy, while broadly based in the sense of a relatively free entrance and property that is relatively widely dispersed, is as elitist as any aristocratic system.”
In an age of terminal economic decline, expect the state to resort to violent and draconian methods to keep control
Wolin and Saul said they expect the state, especially in an age of terminal economic decline, to employ more violent and draconian forms of control to keep restive populations in check. This coercion, they said, will fuel discontent and unrest, which will further increase state repression.
“People with power use the tools they have,” Saul said. “As the West has gradually lost its economic tool it has turned to what remains, which are military tools and violence. The West still has the most weaponry. Even if they are doing very badly economically in a global sense, they can use the weaponry to replace the economics or replace competition.”
“They decided that capitalism and the market was about the right to have the cheapest possible goods,” Saul said. “That is what competition meant. This is a lie. No capitalist philosopher ever said that. As you bring the prices down below the capacity to produce them in a middle-class country you commit suicide. As you commit suicide you have to ask, ‘How do we run this place?’ And you have to run it using these other methods—bread and circuses, armies, police and prisons.”
With the shrivelling of the liberal class by the corporate onslaught, there is no effective organized opposition to a tiny corporate oligarchy
The liberal class*—which has shriveled under the corporate onslaught and a Cold War ideology that held up national security as the highest good—once found a home in the Democratic Party, the press, labor unions and universities. It made reform possible. Now, because it is merely decorative, it compounds the political and economic crisis. There is no effective organized opposition to the rise of a neofeudalism dominated a tiny corporate oligarchy that exploits workers and the poor. [*The Daily Kos takes a shot at explaining what Hedges means by “liberal class” in this 2010 article, Meetup book review: Chris Hedges, “Death of the Liberal Class”]
The path to effective resistance
“Richard Rorty talked about how you take power,” Saul said. “You go out and win the school board elections. You hold the school board. You reform the schools. Then you win the towns. And you stay there. And you hold it for 30 to 40 years. And gradually you bring in reforms that improve things. It isn’t about three years in Washington on a contract. There has to be a critical mass of leaders willing to ruin their lives as part of a large group that figures out how to get power and hold power at all of these levels, gradually putting reforms in place.”
“It is extremely important that people are willing to go into the streets,” Saul said. “Democracy has always been about the willingness of people to go into the streets. When the Occupy movement started I was pessimistic. I felt it could only go a certain distance. But the fact that a critical mass of people was willing to go into the streets and stay there, without being organized by a political party or a union, was a real statement. If you look at that, at what is happening in Canada, at the movements in Europe, the hundreds of thousands of people in Spain in the streets, you are seeing for the first time since the 19th century or early 20th century people coming into the streets in large numbers without a real political structure. These movements aren’t going to take power. But they are a sign that power and the respect for power is falling apart. What happens next? It could be dribbled away. But I think there is the possibility of a new generation coming in and saying we won’t accept this. That is how you get change. A new generation comes along and says no, no, no. They build their lives on the basis of that no.”
“Anarchy is a beautiful idea, but someone has to run the stuff,” Saul said. “It has to be run over a long period of time. Look at the rise and fall of the Chinese empires. For thousands of years it has been about the rise and fall of the water systems. Somebody has to run the water system. Somebody [in modern times] has to keep the electricity going. Somebody has to make the hospitals work.”
“You need a professional or elite class devoted to profound change,” Saul said. “If you want to get power you have to be able to hold it. And you have to be able to hold it long enough to change the direction. The neoconservatives understood this. They have always been Bolsheviks. They are the Bolsheviks of the right. Their methodology is the methodology of the Bolsheviks. They took over political parties by internal coups d’état. They worked out, scientifically, what things they needed to do and in what order to change the structures of power. They have done it stage by stage. And we are living the result of that. The liberals sat around writing incomprehensible laws and boring policy papers. They were unwilling to engage in the real fight that was won by a minute group of extremists.”
Chris Hedges INVERTED TOTALITARIANISM (6:51-minutes) Published July 11, 2013 – This video clip supplements the above article.
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