Democracy Inc.

I’ve talked before how neoliberalism is leading inexorably to new type of power relationship that I’ve labeled neofeudalism. The evidence of this new relationship is all around us: record unemployment, outrageous student loans, dangerous chemical spills, and rampant inequality.

Americans also are starting to recognize the outlines of this new order. And they aren’t happy.

According to a new poll, 65% of American citizens are dissatisfied with how our system of government works. These people know something is wrong. They can look around and see with their own eyes that the goods and services they use are more expensive and that their salaries and wages are flat or sinking. They wonder if they will still have a job next month. And, increasingly, they worry that their children will face an even worse future.

I hear a variation of this story every day from my friends and co-workers.

Princeton political science professor Sheldon Wolin’s book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, examines our present predicament. 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.”

Wolin claims that the closest America came to achieving this state of affairs was during the New Deal, under FDR. Since then wealthy elite and the corporations they control have waged a vicious counterattack. Using public relations, advertising, and the dire threat of a foreign enemy under the construct of the cold war and now a war on terror, they have created an “inverted totalitarianism,” based on internalized co-optation, the appearance of freedom, political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, and relying on corporate media rather than on government to disseminate propaganda that reinforces the official version of events.

Wolin describes this as a form of “managed democracy” that provides a veneer of participation with a series of never ending campaigns, where American’s get to vote for different personalities rather than real changes in policies.

Ask yourself, why do Obama’s economic and foreign policies feel largely the same as W’s? (The President’s recent speech where he compared NSA spying with Paul Revere was a new low.)

The genius of our All-American inverted totalitarian system, according to Dr. Wolin, “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… The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed.”

I’ve been writing about economic doctrines and actors that have led to our neoliberal world order. But government collaboration has been essential for the advancement of the neoliberal project. Contra to the idea that neoliberalism thrives in an environment of laissez faire, neoliberalism actually requires a strong government to enforce their version of market fundamentalism.

This is where Professor Wolin’s analysis is so relevant. Our very own red, white and blue managed democracy is the perfect cover for an activist state that represents corporate interests. TPP anyone?

The main objectives of managed democracy,” writes Dr.Wolin, “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.”

Mission accomplished.

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