Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin on Inverted Totalitarianism as a Threat to Democracy

Yves here. We’ve been featuring what we consider to be standout segments in an important Real News Network series, an extended discussion between Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin on capitalism and democracy. This offering focuses on what Wolin calls “inverted totalirianism,” or how corporations and government are working together to keep the general public in thrall. Wolin discusses how propaganda and the suppression of critical thinking serve to a promote pro-growth, pro-business ideology which sees democracy as dispensable, and potentially an obstacle to what they consider to be progress. They also discuss how America is governed by two pro-corproate parties and how nay “popular” as in populist, candidate gets stomped on.

CHRIS HEDGES, PULITZER-PRIZE WINNING JOURNALIST: Welcome back to part four of our interview with Professor Sheldon Wolin, who taught politics for many years at Berkeley and later Princeton. He is the author of several seminal works on political philosophy, including Politics and Vision and Democracy Incorporated.

I wanted just to go through and I’ve taken notes from both of your books, Politics and Vision and Democracy Incorporated, of the characteristics of what you call inverted totalitarianism, which you use to describe the political system that we currently live under. You said it’s only in part a state-centered phenomenon. What do you mean by that?

SHELDON WOLIN, PROF. EMERITUS POLITICS, PRINCETON: Well, I mean by that that one of the striking characteristics of our age is the extent to which so-called private institutions, like the media, for example, are able to work towards the same end of control, pacification, that the government is interested in, that the idea of genuine opposition is usually viewed as subversion, and so that criticism now is a category that we should really look at and examine, and to see whether it really amounts to anything more than a kind of mild rebuke at best, and at worst a way of sort of confirming the present system by showing its open-mindedness about self-criticism.

HEDGES: And you said that there’s a kind of fusion now of–and you talk a lot about the internal dynamics of corporations themselves, the way they’re completely hierarchical, even the extent to which people within corporate structures are made to identify with a corporation on a kind of personal level. Even–I mean, I speak as a former reporter for The New York Times–even we would get memos about the New York Times family, which is, of course, absurd. And you talk about how that value system or that structure of power, coupled with that type of propaganda, has just been transferred to the state, that the state now functions in exactly the same way, the same hierarchical way, that it uses the same forms of propaganda to get people at once to surrender their political rights and yet to identify themselves through nationalism, patriotism, and the lust for superpower itself, which we see now across the political landscape.

WOLIN: Yeah. No, I think that’s a very strong element, in fact decisive element in our present situation. There’s been a kind of conjuncture between the way that social and educational institutions have shaped a certain kind of mentality among students, among faculty, and so on, and the media itself, that are in lockstep with the requirements of the kind of political economic order that we have now, and that the basic question, I think, has been that we have seen the kind of absorption of politics and the political order into so many nonpolitical categories–of economics, sociology, even religion–that we sort of lost the whole, it seems to me, unique character of political institutions, which is that they’re supposed to embody the kind of substantive hopes of ordinary people, in terms of the kind of present and future that they want. And that’s what democracy is supposed to be about.

But instead we have it subordinated now to the so-called demands of economic growth, the so-called demands of a kind of economic class that’s at home with the sort of scientific and technological advances that are being applied by industry, so that the kind of political element of the ruling groups now is being shaped and to a large extent, I think, incorporated into an ideology that is fundamentally unpolitical, or political in a sort of anti-political way. What I mean by that: it’s a combination of forces that really wants to exploit the political without seeking to either strengthen it or reform it in a meaningful way or to rejuvenate it. It sees the political structure as opportunity. And the more porous it is, the better, because the dominant groups have such instrumentalities at their control now in order to do that exploitation–radio, television, newsprint, what have you–that it’s the best possible world for them.

HEDGES: You actually cite Nietzsche, saying how prescient Nietzsche was. I think you may have said he was a better prophet than Marx, I think, if I remember correctly, in Politics and Vision, but how Nietzsche understood the disintegration of liberal democracy and the liberal class, and also understood the rise of fundamentalist religion in an age of secularism and how dangerous that was.

WOLIN: Yeah. I think that’s–obviously, I think that’s true of him, and I think it was very farseeing on his part. He, of course, was not a sympathizer with those development, but he wasn’t an ordinary sympathizer, either, with the sort of historical elites, or even current elites, that were either capitalist or nationalistic, as in the case of Germany.

Nietzsche was trying to really retrieve a notion of the value, intrinsic value, of political life. And he found it, however, only comprehensible to him in terms of some kind of dichotomy between elite and mass. And that, I think, was the failing of Nietzsche, because he saw so much in terms of tendencies in our society and culture that would ruin us to democracy and needed to be reformed, but reformed in a way that would promote democracy, but which Nietzsche would inevitably try to turn into vehicles for celebrating or encouraging elite formations. And he simply could not conceive of a society that would be worthwhile in which elites were not given the most prominent and leading role. He just couldn’t conceive it. He had the kind of 19th century sort of Hegelian notion that the masses were ignorant, they were intolerant, they were against progress, and all the rest of it. He simply, like so many very good writers in the 19th century, didn’t know what to do with the, quote, people.

HEDGES: Including Marx.

WOLIN: No, no. They didn’t. They tried to either neutralize them or tried to co-opt them, but they never really tried to understand them.

I think the best–the best political movement, I think, which did try to understand them in a significant way, strangely enough, was the American progressive movement, which was very much rooted in American history, in American institutions, but saw quite clearly the dangers that it was getting into and the need for really significant reform that required democratic means, not elitist means, for their solution, and above all required America to really think carefully about its role in international relations, because he saw that that was a trap and, as an aggressive, dominant role in economic relations, was a trap because of what it required, what it required of the population in terms of their outlook and education and culture, and what it required in the way of elites who could lead those kinds of formations. And I think for that reason he was literally a pessimist about what could happen and he had nowhere to go. He had no great trust in the people, and he had come to distrust the elite. I think in the end he took a kind of view that what elites should do is to hunker down and preserve culture, preserve it in its various manifestations–literature, philosophy, poetry, so on.

HEDGES: But he certainly understood what happened when the state divorced itself from religious authority,–

WOLIN: Oh, yeah.

HEDGES: –that you would see the rise of fundamentalist religious movements in fierce opposition to the secular state, number one; and number two, you would see a frantic effort on the part of the state to sacralize itself.

WOLIN: Yeah. Yeah, now, that’s true. It did try to do that. It did that rather–far less in the United States, but it certainly did it in Germany, and to some degree Italy, but not fully.

Yeah, I think to some extent the problem that Nietzsche gets into, I think, is an overstatement of a position that assumed a kind of sustained religiosity on the part of ordinary people that I simply don’t think was true. I don’t mean to say that they became skeptics or they became agnostics or anything of the sort, but I do think there was a slackening and a lessening of religious commitments and a kind of marginalization of ecstasy groups and–.

HEDGES: Are you talking about the end of monarchy?

WOLIN: No, the end of, really, the significant role of religion in the constitution of the modern state.

HEDGES: Which would have been the end of monarchy, wouldn’t it?

WOLIN: It would have been the end of monarchy, except in a kind of symbolic role. Yeah, it would have been the end of monarchy. I do think that monarchy probably would always require some kind of sacral element. Certainly, the remnants of it in countries for a while, like Spain and Greece, indicated that. But, no, it did undermine monarchy. There’s no question about it. Most modern tendencies have undermined it, and monarchs have mostly been showpieces and not much else.

HEDGES: You also talk about inverted totalitarianism as not only signaling the political demobilization of the citizenry, but how it’s never expressed conceptually as an ideology or objectified in public policy. What do you mean by that?

WOLIN: Well, I mean by that that it hasn’t been crystallized in just those terms, that it’s operational. Its operation is really a combination of elements whose interlocking and coherence together have never been either properly appreciated or publicly debated in any sustained way. And I think that there’s been a sort of creeping quality to it, that it becomes more and more significant as the requirements of a modern economy and a modern education system become more and more apparent, but it’s never provoked the kind of crisis that has led to fundamental reexamination. There have been critics, there have been complaints, and so on, but opposition has never really been focused in a way that presented a serious challenge.

HEDGES: Because it’s never named.

WOLIN: It’s never named.

HEDGES: It never names itself.

WOLIN: No. No, you cannot use that name. I mean, it’s that simple. You cannot use capitalism in a way that’s opprobrium.

HEDGES: You said that in inverted totalitarianism, it is furthered by power holders and citizens who often seem unaware of the deeper consequences of their actions or inactions. What I find interesting about that statement is you say even the power holders don’t understand their actions.

WOLIN: Yeah, I don’t think they do. I think that’s most–I think that’s apparent not only in so-called conservative political officeholders, but liberal ones as well. And I think the reason for it isn’t far to see. The demands of contemporary political decision-making, that is, actually having to decide things in legislation or executive action in a complex political society and economic society such as ours, in a complex political, economic society such as the world is, make reflection very difficult. They make it extremely difficult. And everybody’s caught up in the demands of the moment, and understandably so. It becomes again a kind of game of preservation, of keeping the ship of state afloat, but not really trying seriously to change its direction, except maybe rhetorically.

Now, I think the demands of the world are such now and so dangerous, with the kind of weaponry and resources available to every crank and nut in the world, makes it extremely difficult for governments to relax a moment and think about social order and the welfare of the citizens in some kind of way that’s divorced from the security potential of the society.

HEDGES: We’d spoke earlier about how because corporate forces have essentially taken over not only systems of media but systems of education, they’ve effectively destroyed the capacity within these institutions for critical thinking. And what they’ve done is educate generation–now probably a couple of generations of systems managers, people whose expertise, technical expertise, revolves around keeping the system, as it’s constructed, viable and afloat, so that when there’s a–in 2008, the global financial crisis, they immediately loot the U.S. Treasury to infuse a staggering $17 trillion worth of money back into the system. And what are the consequences? We’d spoken earlier about how even the power holders themselves don’t often understand where they’re headed. What are the consequences of now lacking the ability to critique the system or even understand it? What are the consequences environmentally, economically, in terms of democracy itself, of feeding and sustaining that system of corporate capitalism or inverted totalitarianism?

WOLIN: Well, I think the only question would be what kind of time span you’re talking about. I mean, I see the kind of erosion of those institutions that you mention as so continuous that it won’t take terribly long before the substance of them is completely hollowed out and that what you will get is institutions which do no longer play the role they were intended to, either role of lawmaking in an independent way or criticism or responsiveness to an electorate, so that I think the consequences are with us already. And of course the turnoff on the part of the voters is just one indication of it, but the level of public discourse is certainly another, so that I see it as a process which now is finding fewer and fewer dissident voices that have a genuine platform and mechanism for reaching people. I don’t mean that there aren’t people who disagree, but I’m talking about do they have ways of communicating, discussing what the disagreements are about and what can be said about the contemporary situation that needs to be addressed, so that the problem, I think, right now is the problem that the instruments of revitalization are just really in very bad disrepair. And I don’t see any immediate prospect of it, because–.

HEDGES: You mean coming from within the system itself.

WOLIN: Coming from within. You know, years ago, say, in the 19th century, it was no ordinary occurrence that a new political party would be formed and that it would make maybe not a dominant effect, but it would certainly influence–as the Progressive Party did–influence affairs. That’s no more possible now than the most outlandish scheme you can think of. Political parties are so expensive that I needn’t detail the difficulties that would be faced by anyone who tried to organize one.

I think the beautiful example we have today, I just think, fraught with implications, is the Koch brothers’ purchase of the Republican Party. They literally bought it. Literally. And they had a specific amount they paid, and now they’ve got it. There hasn’t been anything like that in American history. To be sure, powerful economic interests have influenced political parties, especially the Republicans, but this kind of gross takeover, in which the party is put in the pocket of two individuals, is without precedent. And that means something serious. It means that, among other things, you no longer have a viable opposition party. And while however much many of us may disagree with the Republicans, there is still an important place for disagreement. And now it seems to me that’s all gone. It’s now become a personal vehicle of two people. And God only knows what they’re going to do with it, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if you think constructive results are going to follow.

HEDGES: Well, didn’t Clinton just turn the Democratic Party into the Republican Party and force the Republican Party to come become insane?

WOLIN: Yeah, it’s true. Yeah, I mean, it’s true that beginning with the Clinton administration, the Democratic Party has kind of lost its way too.

But I still–maybe it’s a hope more than a fact, but I still have the hope that the Democratic Party is still sufficiently loose and sufficiently uncoordinated that it’s possible for dissidents to get their voices heard.

Now, it may not last very long, because in order to compete with the Republicans, there will be every temptation for the Democrats to emulate them. And that means less internal democracy, more reliance on corporate funding.

HEDGES: Wouldn’t it be fair to say that after the nomination of George McGovern, the Democratic Party created institutional mechanisms by which no popular candidate would ever be nominated again?

WOLIN: Oh, I think that’s true. The McGovern thing was a nightmare to the party, to the party officials. And I’m sure they vowed that there would never be anything like it again possible. And, of course, there never has been. And it also means that you lost with that the one thing that McGovern had done, which was to revitalize popular interest in government. And so the Democrats not only killed McGovern; they killed what he stood for, which was more important.

HEDGES: And you saw an echo of that in 2000 when Ralph Nader ran and engendered the same kind of grassroots enthusiasm.

WOLIN: Yeah, he did. He did.

HEDGES: And just as it was the Democratic establishment that virtually, during the presidential campaign, the Connolly Democrats conspired with the Republican Party to destroy, in essence, their own candidate, you saw it was the Democratic Party that destroyed the viability of Nader.

WOLIN: Yeah. Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. The Democrats–I mean, it’s not surprising, because as we’ve said many times, the Democrats are playing the same game as the Republicans and have a nuance and some historical baggage that compels them to be a little more to the left. But it seems to me that the conditions now in which political parties have to operate, conditions which involve large amounts of money, which involve huge stakes because of the character of the American economy now, which has to be very carefully dealt with, and very cautiously, and given the declining role of America in world affairs, I think that there’s every reason to believe that the cautionary attitude of the Democratic Party is emblematic of a new kind of politics where the room for maneuver and the room for staking out significant different positions is shrinking, shrinking very, very much.

Thank you very much. Stay tuned for part five coming up of our interview with Professor Sheldon Wolin.

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  1. bmeisen

    Many thanks for sharing this. Regarding the “people” and the project to create sustainable representative democracy free of elite subversion: while the progressive movement has failed in the US it has succeeded elsewhere as social democracy. Its key elements are educational, cultural and political institutions that are free to their users and inlcusive: free public education from kindergarten to post-graduate programs, thoroughly financed and strongly defended from elite incursions; publicly subsidized cultural programs in the arts and humanities, areas in which an elite can fulfil its social function, defined by Wollin as the preservation of culture, without explicitly excerising political control; and proportional democracy constitutionally established by a system of publicly financed political parties and a 5% legislative threshold. The economic activity takes place within a heavily subsidized infrastructure that includes mandated participation for all residents in a public health insurance system. Nader’s platform included these planks in one form or another.

    1. James

      True, but using the word fascism usually results in one getting put in time out in “serious, mainstream” discussions. Although the phrase inverted totalitarianism isn’t likely to win you any friends in such discussions either.

      But excellent piece either way. Wolin hits all the notes here pretty much perfectly. A little optimistic in thinking the Ds are still amenable to meaningful change of any sort in my opinion, but I think he was just trying to put as good a face on it as possible. Cause once you conclude that both parties are fully in the pocket of corporate America (and they are), there’s really not much to talk about anymore, other than the fact that we’re all screwed.

      1. Ulysses

        I think the usefulness of the “inverted totalitarianism” description is that it emphasizes how, unlike classical fascism, today’s corporate fascists don’t want to mobilize and energize the masses to march behind il Duce. They want the masses disoriented, atomized, and fighting amongst themselves– so they won’t notice the systematic way in which they’re being fleeced.

        Today’s non-charismatic fascists also want the managerial classes insecure enough as to never dare to challenge kleptocratic rule. They are glad to see a safety valve, here or there, which allows bourgeois people, intelligent enough to realize the system is unjust, to confine their “rebellion” to watching the Daily Show and signing online petitions that are completely ignored.

        1. Oliver Budde

          And let’s not forget commenting on articles, which I do as much as anyone. Makes us feel great; gets us nowhere. We must act. How, I’m not sure.

        2. Tenn

          Business friendly fascism, East Tennessee style. Ask the Industrial Development
          Board to speak up and get arrested. Never mind Nietzsche, try US Nitrogen on for size. Ammonium Nitrate plant, corruption and deceit, conflicts of interest. Environment vs jobs false arguments. Tennessee is the most corrupt state in the union?….so some polls/surveys/studies say. Well study it to death while it happens in front of your face. Land deals for the boys, jobs for the boys, and US Nitrogen contracting with the sheriff’s dept. for protection, at $50 an hour, with the deputies in uniform while off duty. That’s even against Tenn. law, but what the hey.

          1. Lambert Strether

            Thanks. That’s a very good link; the on-going crapification of public meetings is a virtually unreported story; we experience the same up in Maine — though not always!

      2. Nomas

        Why do liberals have such a hard time with “fascism”.
        Here’s a fine working definition for you . “fascism = the regime of finance capital”

        And here it is formally:
        “Fascism is an open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, the most chauvinistic, the most imperialistic elements of the financial capital… Fascism is neither the government beyond classes nor the government of the petty bourgeois or the lumpen-proletariat over the financial capital. Fascism is the government of the financial capital itself. It is an organized massacre of the working class and the revolutionary slice of peasantry and intelligentsia. Fascism in its foreign policy is the most brutal kind of chauvinism, which cultivates zoological (bestial) hatred against other peoples.”

        -Georgi Dimitrov-

    2. bmeisen

      fascism doesn’t work if it’s national socialism. we would probably agree that the usa is far away from any kind of socialism, national or otherwise. fascism may be a form of totalitarianism in which an ultimately elite group obtain absolute power via a mixture of terror and appeals to a classless national identity embodied by a leader. i have ‘t read wolin’s inverted totalitarianism but the group that currently wields virtually absolute power in the usa used a mixture of terror and appeals to a classless individual authenticity to get it, a delusion of a happy autocracy.

    3. TedWa

      It differs from fascism – on Wolin from wikilpedia :
      Whereas in Nazi Germany the state dominated economic actors, in inverted totalitarianism, corporations through political contributions and lobbying, dominate the United States, with the government acting as the servant of large corporations. This is considered “normal” rather than corrupt.[7]
      While the Nazi regime aimed at the constant political mobilization of the population, with its Nuremberg rallies, Hitler Youth, and so on, inverted totalitarianism aims for the mass of the population to be in a persistent state of political apathy. The only type of political activity expected or desired from the citizenry is voting. Low electoral turnouts are favorably received as an indication that the bulk of the population has given up hope that the government will ever help them.[8]
      While the Nazis openly mocked democracy, the United States maintains the conceit that it is the model of democracy for the whole world.[9] Wolin writes:

      Inverted totalitarianism reverses things. It is all politics all of the time but a politics largely untempered by the political. Party squabbles are occasionally on public display, and there is a frantic and continuous politics among factions of the party, interest groups, competing corporate powers, and rival media concerns. And there is, of course, the culminating moment of national elections when the attention of the nation is required to make a choice of personalities rather than a choice between alternatives. What is absent is the political, the commitment to finding where the common good lies amidst the welter of well-financed, highly organized, single-minded interests rabidly seeking governmental favors and overwhelming the practices of representative government and public administration by a sea of cash.[10]

      1. wbgonne

        Fascism is the combination of tbe two power centers: government and concentrated wealth. The mix and the relationship varies depending upon the specific characteristics of tbe society. We have American-style fascism, where concentrated wealth predominates and uses the goverment to extract wealth from the population. That, in turn, requires a certain type of mindset in the people: docile, stupid, consuming machines (like cows). I have no quarrel with the term “inverted totalitarianism” except that it is unwieldy and unnecessary because “fascism” works just fine, IMHO. Why run from a term guaranteed to get attention? That is the point, after all.

          1. wbgonne

            Good question. I’m not sure monarchies are amenable to a fascist description because monarchies — like caliphates and outright dictatorships — do not require the consent of the people and fascism generally does (up to a breaking-point, at least). The role of the people is central and popular consent can be enthusiastic and active, as in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, or it can be passive and dull, as in the U.S. today. It seems to me that monarchies, caliphates and dictatorships are a different paradigm, one where the power institutions do not rely upon the consent of the people. I do not believe these categories are perfectly neat and tidy but they are fair approximations. Good enough, IMHO, to qualify America as fascist.

        1. TedWa

          Godwin’s law (or Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies)[1][2] is an Internet adage asserting that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1″[2][3]—​ that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism.

          And then there’s this correlation : Reductio ad Hitlerum is sometimes called “playing the Nazi card.” According to its critics and proponents, it is a tactic often used to derail arguments, because such comparisons tend to distract and anger the opponent.[2]

          Using the term “fascist” to describe our current state will only lead to dissipation and losing the cogent point of the statements of facts. It detracts from the message. It’s truly not fascism, it’s more like a mirror image of it.

          1. wbgonne

            1. The article we are both responding to concerns “inverted totalitarianism,” which is either a species of fascism (my view), or its cousin (your view). Godwin’s Law, whatever its merits elsewhere, is silly when the discussion involves totalitarianism and fascism.

            2. As for “marketing,” I don’t think “inverted totalitarianism” is a very catchy phrase: it is too long, wonky and complicated. Facism is direct. Maybe you’re right and I’m wrong but the phrase “inverted totalitarianism” has been out there for some time and does not appear to be getting traction anywhere outside its most sympathetic listeners, those already converted. I say try something else: a sledgehammer.

            1. TedWa

              I think it most closely resembles totalitarianism then. That not too unwieldy is it? The differences have been pointed out, the main difference is that the government is a mere appendage to the corporate state. That hardly inspires national pride whereas in fascism Government and Religion are intertwined, with a powerful nationalism. See the 14 Defining Characteristics Of Fascism. By Dr. Lawrence Britt.

              But, to each their own.

          2. Jess

            One reason that Hitler and the Nazis can be so easily invoked in political discussions is simply because Hitler & Co pioneered so many of the tactics and techniques widely used in today’s politics and affairs of state. Hitler (with an assist from Goebbels) gave rise to the “big lie” tactic. Whenever the term “false flag” is used, the most oft-cited example is the Reichstag fire. Germany’s establishment of Vichy France gave birth to the use of Vichy-this and Vichy-that as shorthand for a puppet pretend state or entity. (As in Vichy Dems.) His demonizing of opponents by casting them as sub-human is mirrored by today’s vilification of Muslims, Arabs, and just about anybody with brown skin.

            Compare Hitler’s use of spectacle and mass rallies with the modern stagecraft of our Presidential conventions, nomination acceptance speeches, and campaign rallies. Remember Obama’s “Wow!” comment looking out over that big 2008 rally in St. Louis? Or his 2012 speech in Bank of America stadium? The only things missing from either one were torches and stormtroopers.

            What’s the material difference between Hitler claiming attacks on German Poles as a pretext to invade Poland and Bush’s using phony WMDs and a phony connection to Al Queda as a pretext to invade Iraq?

          3. Fiver

            So whenever Power turns on a word, eg. ‘liberal’ you advocate accepting Power’s verdict rather than challenging Power by emphatically reasserting the real meaning and values connoted by that word? Seems to me that backing away from the words and language that an individual or group holds as accurate, true, apt etc., is exactly the wrong thing to do – as has been demonstrated in jurisdictions all over the world where ‘liberal’ or ‘left’ or ‘socialist’ political parties now find themselves empty vessels for change, having slowly backed themselves up well over the real centre line until they take up positions well right of centre, but considered ‘left’ only by virtue of not being, well, Dick Cheney.

            1. TedWa

              It’s just that any conversation that is about fascism always devolves to the basic Nazi Germany and Hitler references with the conversation and the points being made discarded as off-the wall or some other fantasy. Call it fascism if you want, but you’re going to lose that conversation to ridicule because it isn’t fascism.
              As you say, labeling matters.

  2. Milind Sohoni

    This is really amazing. Do earlier parts talk about educational institutions, the universities, and their role. I am a professor and to me this problem of creeping anti-critical thinking is all pervasive and this seems to me more in the elite institutions.

  3. hemeantwell

    Their attempt to draw insight from Nietzsche is fairly strained. And this is very mistaken:

    WOLIN: …. [Nietzsche] simply, like so many very good writers in the 19th century, didn’t know what to do with the, quote, people.
    HEDGES: Including Marx [I assume he’s including Marx in the vg writers category].
    WOLIN: No, no. They didn’t. They tried to either neutralize them or tried to co-opt them, but they never really tried to understand them.

    Marx, a strong social determinist, saw capitalism as dehumanizing and argued that it contained tendencies to generate its own overthrow. Post-capitalist social relations would foster rehumanization, an restoration of human potential blocked under capitalism.
    Very differently, Nietzsche assumed an extra-socially determined distribution of talent. Social reform would not distribute it more broadly, and he loathed social arrangements that threatened to burden and corrupt the talented.

    It appears that they both are reading Marx through the well-worn reading of Lenin as an elitist (a reading which Lars Lih, in Rediscovering Lenin, has interestingly challenged). Sloppy stuff.

  4. wbgonne

    Perhaps I am mistaken but Prof. Wolin appears to suffer the same ailment as Prof. Krugman. Both are blind in tbeir left eye and can’t see that the plutocrats have purchased both parties and the Democratic Party is as corrupt as the GOP.

    1. Ulysses

      I don’t see Prof. Wolin as anywhere near Prof. Krugman on that issue. He seems merely to want to hold open the theoretical possibility that a non-corporatist (perhaps someone with the independence given by inherited wealth?) might possibly win office as a Democrat and attempt to truly serve the interests of the people.

      He certainly doesn’t think this has happened for nearly half a century, and he’s certainly not optimistic it will happen in his lifetime:

      “The Democrats–I mean, it’s not surprising, because as we’ve said many times, the Democrats are playing the same game as the Republicans and have a nuance and some historical baggage that compels them to be a little more to the left. But it seems to me that the conditions now in which political parties have to operate, conditions which involve large amounts of money, which involve huge stakes because of the character of the American economy now, which has to be very carefully dealt with, and very cautiously, and given the declining role of America in world affairs, I think that there’s every reason to believe that the cautionary attitude of the Democratic Party is emblematic of a new kind of politics where the room for maneuver and the room for staking out significant different positions is shrinking, shrinking very, very much.”

    2. Vatch

      In the final quarter of the interview transcript, Wolin reluctantly agrees that the Democratic Party is pretty bad. But will he bounce back to his hope that the Democrats can be salvaged? He said this:

      “But I still–maybe it’s a hope more than a fact, but I still have the hope that the Democratic Party is still sufficiently loose and sufficiently uncoordinated that it’s possible for dissidents to get their voices heard.

      Now, it may not last very long, because in order to compete with the Republicans, there will be every temptation for the Democrats to emulate them. And that means less internal democracy, more reliance on corporate funding.”

      Democrats in America need to stop voting for Democratic candidates. Continually voting for Democrats is like enabling an alcoholic. It’s time for people to insist that enough is enough. Vote for these people:

      1. wbgonne

        I agree with you. I have given this some thought and have decided that the best chance of meaningful political reform is replacing the Democratic Party with a true Progressive Party. As a general rule, I intend to vote Green Party from now on. I know it’s juvenile but I wish the Greens would find a charismatic, well-known figure to lead the party, ideally a Democratic Party refugee. I think this is necessary for a real break-through. If, as Prof. Wolin and commenter Ulysses suggest, the Democratic Party can still be reformed, that will not happen until it is desperate and defeated and that will only happen when Democratic partisans desert in droves.

        1. Ulysses

          This makes a lot of sense. The Democrats are too comfortable in their role as the “good cop” in today’s phony politics. They and the Republicans need to be thoroughly rejected in their present state. I don’t know if a lot more than two parties would be better, but certainly our two-party system is presently a complete failure at the national level, and often at the state and local levels as well.

          I will vote for the Green candidate for Governor, Howie Hawkins, here in NYS next Tuesday.

          I think one useful tactic, at least at the local level, would be for more candidates to make the decision to run without support from either of the two legacy parties. Very few voters have any enthusiasm left for the elephant and donkey show– renouncing all ties to the legacy parties could be a real strong selling point for anyone running for office.

          1. Fiver

            What I think those who question the efficacy of a 3rd party miss completely is the crucial role an alternative party can play in shaping the parameters of the debate. Third parties are perhaps most effective when they eschew power as the goal, instead aiming to place ideas, and the arguments supporting those ideas, on the table in a way they have not been discussed in decades, if ever. Self-styled ‘progressives’ now play that role to some extent, but have no voice inside the Democratic Party, let alone Government. A 3rd party that was liberal/progressive/left/green that captured the votes of everyone sharing those views would garner from 15% to 20% of the votes and send some very good people Congress. The Dems would be shell-shocked. Suddenly they’d have to start thinking again. Republicans would suddenly face thinking people willing to shred their idiocy, not embrace it. I cannot for the life of me understand why the people who actually believe in doing what’s best for people could even contemplate an H Clinton after the unmitigated disaster of B Obama.

  5. docg

    With respect to the critical thinking issue, I completely agree. Something has been happening in our society for some time that’s been eroding society’s ability to think critically, especially when confronted with “certainties” emanating from vast fortunes and/or centers of power. I’ve been blogging on this issue recently, beginning with a post entitled: “21st Century Pipe-Dreams and the Decline of Critical Thinking”:

  6. TheraP

    This post fits with some thoughts I’ve had about Ebola “Panic” lately and the over-use of quarantines as a way to “save us all”.

    First of all, corporate forces have also taken over health care. So, what to do about Ebola? Of course some will make money via Ebola suits and so on. But even the so-called non-profit hospitals are really ways to funnel money to the high-paid executives. So which among them really wants to lose money when the poor get Ebola? Etc. I don’t need to go into all of this. (But the absence of an integrated healthcare system where public health, govt health service like the VA, even training of health care workers, into a single payer system would lead in better directions.)

    In any case it seems to me that due to our crazy quilt “health care non-system” any care of Ebola would be pushed (by the corporations) off onto the govt (public health, etc) and follow that with the outsourcing of what insurances don’t want to pay for and hospitals don’t once the poor are infected. So… Quarantines! Let’s stop Ebola in its tracks by quarantining anyone and everyone via Govt Fiat. Utilizing FEAR!!!! And just like after 9/11, emphasize that any state or federal executive’s primary responsibility is “to keep everyone safe” (God forbid they FIRST and foremost uphold the constitution, which is in the oath of office). So let’s institute martial law if necessary and outsource all that’s necessary for the quarantines. Quarantines protect the Corporations! (Why use health insurance money?) And new businesses will step up to feed the quarantine business! Those who protest for civil rights… why, probably they’re in league with the already quarantined (and thus should be quarantined as well – easily done if politics has taken over the quarantine process, together with business, which wants to profit from more and more quarantines).

    Now this of course is getting pretty paranoid. But a version of this certainly happened after 9/11, fear of a deadly virus is even more powerful than fear of terrorism, and I’d add that our militarized society has certainly taken on religious overtones. So all of this could become “sacrosanct” – and before we know it we’ve freely given over even more of our civil rights. And who in the govt or in healthcare is thinking through how all of this is potentially leading to some very dark places?

  7. susan the other

    It doesn’t know what it is. That’s the funny part, but funny only insofar as we are well intentioned. And extra funny is that our dear leaders don’t know what to do with all us pesky people. Well, roll over Nietsche, here’s an idea: Let us consider Markets and People to be the same thing. So that when markets and populations grow too fast it upsets the divine balance of All Things. “Corporatism” is just another dead word. We need Practicalism. Grassroots practicalism. Once we reach the “good society” we have to reassess: Do we really need more corporations chasing higher returns by producing frivolous stuff? So the problem is, as always, defining the good society. It is us.

  8. kevinearick

    “Hysteresis is the dependence of the output of a system not only on its current input, but also on its history of past inputs…”

    1. Fiver

      Agree, as in, for example, what’s going to happen to the US economy and financial markets once the ‘memory’ of QE dissipates – along with the post-over-deflated-Q1-then-pumped-up, election-year economic data releases.

  9. TedWa

    From wikipedia : According to Wolin, the United States has two main totalizing dynamics:

    The first, directed outward, finds its expression in the Global War on Terror and in the Bush Doctrine that the United States has the right to launch preemptive wars. This amounts to the United States seeing as illegitimate the attempt by any state to resist its domination.[4][15][16]
    The second dynamic, directed inward, involves the subjection of the mass of the population to economic “rationalization”, with continual “downsizing” and “outsourcing” of jobs abroad and dismantling of what remains of the welfare state created by U.S. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. Thus, neoliberalism is an integral component of inverted totalitarianism. The state of insecurity in which this places the public serves the useful function of making people feel helpless, thus making it less likely that they will become politically active, and thus helping to maintain the first dynamic.[4][15][17][18]

    1. Fiver

      But how to account for wars in/against Korea, Vietnam, Central/South America, Angola, Afghanistan 1979-1990, First Gulf War, all of Israel’s wars and so on – all of those instances wherein the US sought to impose the structure of a US-dominant, intolerable of alternatives, global, capitalist, MICorporate Empire? Or how should US actions in the Philipines during the bogus Spanish-American War, or even the taking of the Continent in the first place be construed other than something imbued with an inherent tendency towards domination?

  10. not_me

    Inverted totalitarianism is to be expected when government subsidizes private credit creation since it benefits creditors and the so-called “creditworthy”, leading to extreme wealth inequality.

  11. Fiver

    “Now, I think the demands of the world are such now and so dangerous, with the kind of weaponry and resources available to every crank and nut in the world, makes it extremely difficult for governments to relax a moment and think about social order and the welfare of the citizens in some kind of way that’s divorced from the security potential of the society.”

    I just about lost my coffee over that one. This for me says Wolin has no idea what’s really going on (or pretending he doesn’t) or why. I only read the transcript – was Hedges asleep when Wolin said this?

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