News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: In Discussion on What's Wrong w/ Us

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

In Discussion on What's Wrong w/ Us

At Glenn Greenwald's blog, inconversation I posted the following:

According to JGA Pocock, the reason that the founding fathers wanted to put brakes on commercial interests is that it promotes a form of false consciousness (yes, they were familiar with this concept long before Marx, via the English Machiavellians) that occurs by way of credit and economic speculation. They hoped to counter this with the expansion of the republic westward thereby giving the people a way of holding land, a real value as opposed to the false value created by speculation.

But once the empire reached the western shores of the Pacific and land itself became a means of speculation, the corruption of false consciousness set in among the masses. We see this in the proliferation of diverse ways to create fantasy personalities and living in false worlds that populate the "post modern" world. Much of this would be considered by the founding fathers as a corrupting influence as great as or greater than the abuses of unchecked political or commercial interests.

It is the corruption of the masses that has led the neocons, for example, to promote the military and patriotic ethos--in conjunction with the imperial expansion to overseas markets and oil fields--as a countering impulse to the corruption of the masses. What's odd here is that the liberals have no counter-argument or agenda to this corruption of the masses. In the past, it may have been the populist religious movements that provided that balance but in distancing themselves from the great liberal religious traditions, the liberal left is left swinging any which way hoping that the Right will piss the masses off so much with military and imperial missteps that the masses will simply opt for the Left as a "not-them" choice.

Iraq and perhaps some economic discomfort has disturbed the false consciousness of the masses to the point that they will opt out of the Republican game plan for the short-term. In the meantime, what sort of counter-balance to the corruption of the masses can the Left come up with? All we've had so far is Clintonian neoliberalism, which is the non-militaristic version of imperial republic.

Everyone wants to get outa here doing well and leave something for the kids. As you note, that's getting harder and harder for those without. What I dislike is the way that those in power and with the cash continue to pass on not only money but power to their progeny. It is this oligarchic principle that spells ruin for the republic.

I also understand the notion of noblesse oblige. While I find it somewhat patronising, I guess it's okay as far as it goes. However, as capital solidifies its hold on the social and cultural infrastructure of the country, those who already have continue to profit and maintain their status quo while those in the middle and at the bottom get squeezed harder and harder.

Perhaps there was a notion that the rich and those in power once thought owed something to society for their success. Even Habermas notes that the founder of IBM back in the early 60s opposed the reduction from 90 percent in income taxes to 50 percent by Kennedy. He did so because he believed that the rich should not tear the social fabric of equitability that mercenary capitalism is prone to destroy.

Perhaps it is this ovearching sense that duty is towards each other and the health of the whole rather than the individual that's been lost by the rich. The founding fathers believed that they could stem the corruption that many of them (except perhaps Hamilton) foresaw would come about by leveling the playing field to include the competition of interests. The balance would be maintained because the various interests would negate each other. I do not think they foresaw the vast influence that capital could play in buying those interests and ultimately by the power of controlling the means of communication that the commercial interests can deploy.

Walter Lippmann long ago understood that the public is a fiction. It is created by and manipulated by the press whose interests ultimately lie with the ruling oligarchy.

The historian Pocock notes--following Hannah Arendt--that the founding fathers opted for the notion of representative democracy as a kind of stop-gap to the inevitable corruption that every republic is heir to. As he has also noted in a recent essay, it is these representatives who form the oligarchy--bought and sold like so many boxes of All-Bran.

You wonder why the president has gotten away with the abuses he has? Look to our representatives and the commercial interests they represent.

I've always been struck by something that former Russian strongman Boris Yeltsin said. Commenting on his meeting with US govt. officials, he noted how free and independent they seemed in their interaction with each other and their superiors. He admired them for this and said that the Russians lacked that type of freedom but that he felt he must inculcate such an attitude in Russia.

I always thought that that attitude of freedom is what money and status bring you. I certainly don't think that most people in the US exhibit such an attitude of freedom. Tied down by financial concerns, as well as the limitations of social and cultural constraints, I always wondered how many in the US ever attain that type of freedom.

I imagine that Bush feels like those men in superior positions of power and money. My question then becomes: how much does he understand that this position is a product of his own privileged background? How much does he understand that freedom in an imperial republic requires checks and balances, rather than just the exhibition of entrepreneurial initiative and freedom afforded by class?

I personally think that Bush suffers from a case of "false consciousness" that inhibits his ability to understand those varaiables that enable to experience his expanded sense of freedom.

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