April 5, 2013

Crisis: On Johnson on Wolin on "Democracy Incorporated" - A 
"Odi profanum vulgus et arceo."
-- Horace, Odes III, 1, 1   [1]
"J'ai pour les institutions démocratiques un goût de tête, mais je suis aristocrate par instinct, c'est à dire que je méprise et crains la foule. J'aime avec passion la liberté, la légalité, le respect des droits, mais non la démocratie. Voilà le fond de l'âme."
-- Alexis de Tocqueville     [2]
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
-- Bible, Luke 23.34         [3]


1. Chalmers Johnson on Our 'Managed Democracy' (1/3)
Chalmers Johnson on Our 'Managed Democracy' (2/3)
About ME/CFS


A week ago I wrote about Sheldon Wolin's concept of inverted totalitarianism; three days ago I mentioned a review of his book "Democracy Incorporated" in which that concept got explained; and the day before yesterday I mentioned sadism as an explanation that is often missed.

Today I return to all of that, since they are connected.

1.  Chalmers Johnson on Our 'Managed Democracy' (1/3)

I mentioned my references in my introduction, and the main one in those references is the thee-part review by Chalmers Johnson I gave before and repeat here - and the (1/3) refers to the fact that this is the first of three parts:
Note that while the review is from May 2008 it has not aged and is well worth reading in toto. I will concentrate on the bits that relate to Wolin, and skip or only briefly mention the rest.

The review - part 1/3, and this will be the style of references to the sources of what I quote - starts with a good summary by Johnson of the many things that are and have been going very wrong in the United States, and then continues with
The problem is that there are too many things going wrong at the same time for anyone to have a broad understanding of the disaster that has overcome us and what, if anything, can be done to return our country to constitutional government and at least a degree of democracy (Op. cit. 1/3)
And a related problem is that while " there are hundreds of books on particular aspects of our situation" it also is the case that " few attempts at more complex analyses of how we arrived at this sorry state"Not to leave my readers more in the dark than they need be, I'll quote what Johnson cites as the exceptions (writing in 2005):
They include Naomi Klein, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” on how “private” economic power now is almost coequal with legitimate political power; John W. Dean, “Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches,” on the perversion of our main defenses against dictatorship and tyranny; Arianna Huffington, “Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe,” on the manipulation of fear in our political life and the primary role played by the media; and Naomi Wolf, “The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot,” on “Ten Steps to Fascism” and where we currently stand on this staircase. My own book, “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic,” on militarism as an inescapable accompaniment of imperialism, also belongs to this genre. (Op. cit. 1/3)
I have read none of these, but I quoted this because they may contribute to understanding how the US got into the problems they were in 2005, and still are, at least in part because Barack Obama simply continues the policies of his predecessor, rather than terminate them, restrain them, or undo them (as in "Change!" and "Yes, we can!").

Johnson continues this with the reason for his text:
His new book, “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism,” is a devastating critique of the contemporary government of the United States—including what has happened to it in recent years and what must be done if it is not to disappear into history along with its classic totalitarian predecessors: Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Bolshevik Russia. The hour is very late and the possibility that the American people might pay attention to what is wrong and take the difficult steps to avoid a national Götterdämmerung are remote, but Wolin’s is the best analysis of why the presidential election of 2008 probably will not do anything to mitigate our fate. This book demonstrates why political science, properly practiced, is the master social science. (Op. cit. 1/3)
Johnson also assures his readers
Wolin’s work is fully accessible. Understanding his argument does not depend on possessing any specialized knowledge (..)
(Op. cit. 1/3)
I have not - as yet - read Wolin's book, but am willing to believe Johnson, who a little bit later says
Wolin introduces three new concepts to help analyze what we have lost as a nation. His master idea is “inverted totalitarianism,” which is reinforced by two subordinate notions that accompany and promote it—“managed democracy” and “Superpower,” the latter always capitalized and used without a direct article. Until the reader gets used to this particular literary tic, the term Superpower can be confusing. The author uses it as if it were an independent agent, comparable to Superman or Spiderman, and one that is inherently incompatible with constitutional government and democracy. (Op. cit. 1/3)
I will return to each of these, but start with the remark that if Wolin does use the term as Johnson says he does, which I think is very likely, then I regard that as a mistake.

In fact, it bears the name of a well-known fallacy: "reification" - making (concrete) things, linguistucally referred to by nouns or names, out of entities that are not thing-like, but may be processes, relations, structures, interdependencies or what not.

The excuses for doing this may be that it considerably simplifies the exposition, and is shorter than what seems, for the most part, to be intended, namely what president Eisenhower referred to as "the military-industrial complex" that, although is longer than "Superpower" and also a noun-phrase, seems to me to be the better term.

Johnson continues with part of Wolin's motive, and part of his reasons to use the phrase "inverted totalitarianism":
Wolin writes, “Our thesis ... is this: it is possible for a form of totalitarianism, different from the classical one, to evolve from a putatively ‘strong democracy’ instead of a ‘failed’ one.”
(Op. cit. 1/3)
We'll get to that below, but first there is something to clarify about Wolin's concept of democracy, which Johnson does as follows:
His understanding of democracy is classical but also populist, anti-elitist and only slightly represented in the Constitution of the United States. “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.” It depends on the existence of a demos—“a politically engaged and empowered citizenry, one that voted, deliberated, and occupied all branches of public office.” Wolin argues that to the extent the United States on occasion came close to genuine democracy, it was because its citizens struggled against and momentarily defeated the elitism that was written into the Constitution. (Op. cit. 1/3)
It is true that the Constitution of the US is not at all democratic - in fact, it was written in the name of equality by men who were slave holders, and it took until Lincoln and a Civil War to get rid of slavery, and even then there was no democracy instituted as that is understood in the modern sense, which seems to be that all sane adults have the vote, or at least have the right to vote, and that all votes count as one.

As it happens, I am like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Hume, De Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill and Nietzsche: I am no great believer in the idea of democracy, from my experience of what it produced in Holland, both as regards as what it produced as its power elite, and what it produced in the Dutch universities, that were "democratized" between 1971 and 1995: The rule of the worst rather than in the best, albeit in the name of the highest ideals, and on the pretext that these democratically elected rulers would realize these ideals, which they did not at all.

I merely register this disagreement and will not discuss this here and now, and
the link explains some of my reasons, in Dutch, and is precisely 5 years old today and should also add a little on Wolin's concepts of democracy and demos as given in the above quotation, which are not quite as one finds these concepts with others, such as Aristotle or Mosca.

For Aristotle and Mosca 'democracy' means 'the rule of the people', and on the whole they believed that a bad idea, not - perhaps - because they had Horace's feelings about the rabble, but because they held that (i) it is an illusion: it will not bring the people to power, but those who set themselves up as their leaders, who will be demagogues (both in the senses of 'speakers for the people' and of 'liars, deceivers') and (ii) the leaders who get to power by playing to the feelings of the masses will almost always be the worst rather than the best (as was shown, for example, with the rises to power of Mussolini and Hitler), who (iii) will repress, exploit and abuse the masses of the ordinary people, after deceiving them into electing them as their leaders.

Furthermore, the concept of a 'demos' is like the concept of 'Superpower' criticized above: There is a sense in which there is a people and a will of the people as there is a sense in which there is a ruling elite in each an any society, but the sense is vague, often variegated, usually not clear, and easily abused and made absolute and

As Johnson explains by quotation, Wolin was well aware of these problems, but I will not here and now discuss them, or quote more by either Johnson or Wollin on the subject, and merely note that it is quite probable that Wolin and I disagree on the topic of 'democracy', both as regards its proper meaning and as regards its desirability (and I refer the reader to the end of a note of mine to Multatuli's idea 118, in which I quote text by Machiavelli's friend
Guiccardini in English on the topic of democracy [4]).

Chalmers Johnson on Our 'Managed Democracy' (2/3)

I have arrived at part 2 of Johnson's review of Wolin's book, that you find under this link
This starts with a discussion of Wolin's concept of 'inverted totalitarianism', that is provided by Johnson as follows:
To reduce a complex argument to its bare bones, since the Depression, the twin forces of managed democracy and Superpower have opened the way for something new under the sun: “inverted totalitarianism,” a form every bit as totalistic as the classical version but one based on internalized co-optation, the appearance of freedom, political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, and relying more on “private media” than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda that reinforces the official version of events. (Op. cit. 2/3)
I will come to consider the concept of 'Superpower" later (and made a critical logical remark about it above, which does not attack its validity but its phrasing).

Wolin's concept of 'inverted totalitarianism' makes a lot of sense, but also may go subtly wrong, and that in part because, like Marcuse's 'repressive tolerance', to which it seems related, it is used to do too much work, and is inherently contradictory in its phrasing.

For one thing, it is difficult to see how it can be "
as totalistic as the classical version" of totalitarianism if it is "based on internalized co-optation, the appearance of freedom, political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, and relying more on “private media” than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda".

If what Wolin calls "inverted totalitarianism" is based on propaganda, public relations, deception, artful lying, misleading, and misinforming, it is not the same as the classic kind of totalitarianism that was based mostly on force: Hitler and Stalin did a lot to propagandize the populations they ruled, and the propaganda was artful, false, and misleading, but in the end people obeyed not because they were tricked, but because they were forced, by interminable inspections, controls, surveillance and harsh punishments for whoever disobeyed, doubted or dissented.

And indeed what Wolin has in mind when writing about
'inverted totalitarianism' is the sort of propaganda aka public relations that was started on a large scale, and with the express intent to fool the people, by Edward Bernays, as described quite clearly and quite cynically in his 1928 book "Propaganda" (on my site under the last link).

Johnson explains Wolin's intent with
'inverted totalitarianism' as follows:
It is inverted because it does not require the use of coercion, police power and a messianic ideology as in the Nazi, Fascist and Stalinist versions (although note that the United States has the highest percentage of its citizens in prison—751 per 100,000 people—of any nation on Earth). According to Wolin, inverted totalitarianism has “emerged imperceptibly, unpremeditatedly, and in seeming unbroken continuity with the nation’s political traditions.”  (Op. cit. 2/3)
It may have "emerged imperceptibly", but certainly not, in Bernays' presentation of it "unpremeditatedly". Bernays knew rather precisely what he wanted, and wrote it out quite cynically in the first paragraph of "Propaganda":
THE conscious and intelligent manipulation of the
organized habits and opinions of the masses is an
important element in democratic society. Those who
manipulate this unseen mechanism of society consti-
tute an invisible government which is the true ruling
power of our country.
(E. Bernays,
What Bernays wanted was to lead such "an invisible government", albeit in the service of the corporate masters who paid him very well to do their professional lying for them, that originally was called "propaganda", and later was restyled to "public relations", after Bernays learned that Joseph Goebbels had learned a lot of him, and that the term "propaganda" had thereby gotten a more negative connotation than it had in 1928, when Bernays published "Propaganda", even though it was from the very beginning conceived of as professional conmanship, deception, lying, misinforming and the very intentional misleading and deceiving of the public into believing lies that served the owners of corporations or the leaders of governments or political parties.

In fact, as Johnson explains, using Wolin's text:

The genius of our inverted totalitarian system “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. ... A demotion in the status and stature of the ‘sovereign people’ to patient subjects is symptomatic of systemic change, from democracy as a method of ‘popularizing’ power to democracy as a brand name for a product marketable at home and marketable abroad. ... The new system, inverted totalitarianism, is one that professes the opposite of what, in fact, it is. ... The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed.”
(Op. cit. 2/3)
As I understand "inverted totalitarianism", indeed through reading Bernays'  "Propaganda" and Adam Curtis's four-part documentary "The Century of the Self", fundamentally it consists of the manipulation of publics by manipulating their self-images, desires, language, and definitions of things through artful and incessant propaganda, that often is made to look as if it were objective information from parties with some public interest, when in fact it is propaganda designed to deceive, obfuscate, mislead, or misinform, and by incessant advertisements, that is designed to manufacture and manipulate desires by linking human needs to brands of commodities, and presenting the latter as the fulfillments of the former.

As Johnson, still explaining Wolin, put it - indeed quite well, also:

Among the factors that have promoted inverted totalitarianism are the practice and psychology of advertising and the rule of “market forces” in many other contexts than markets, continuous technological advances that encourage elaborate fantasies (computer games, virtual avatars, space travel), the penetration of mass media communication and propaganda into every household in the country, and the total co-optation of the universities. Among the commonplace fables of our society are hero worship and tales of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, action measured in nanoseconds, and a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility, whose adepts are prone to fantasies because the vast majority have imagination but little scientific knowledge. Masters of this world are masters of images and their manipulation.
(Op. cit. 2/3)
Quite so - and the main points to understand is that all of this is based on artfully contrived, carefully researched and tested, manipulation and deception of the democratic majorities of the masses, and indeed also, from the 1970ies or 1980ies onwards, helped by the co-optation and collaboration of large parts of the universities and of intellectuals and journalists, who basically were bought, as indeed the majority of elected politicians were bought by lobbyists. That is, it was corruption joined to the desire to be corrupted (if the pay or perk is attractive enough).

As Wolin puts it, in Johnson's selection, and as is also true as regards the intellectuals and the universities in Holland, I can add, and as far as I know also in Great Britain, as in the United States:

On inverted totalitarianism’s “self-pacifying” university campuses compared with the usual intellectual turmoil surrounding independent centers of learning, Wolin writes, “Through a combination of governmental contracts, corporate and foundation funds, joint projects involving university and corporate researchers, and wealthy individual donors, universities (especially so-called research universities), intellectuals, scholars, and researchers have been seamlessly integrated into the system. No books burned, no refugee Einsteins. For the first time in the history of American higher education top professors are made wealthy by the system, commanding salaries and perks that a budding CEO might envy.”
(Op. cit. 2/3)
At this point, I have gone through about half of Johnson's text, and to protect my eyes and not to do things in great haste, you will have to wait till later, probably tomorrow, to get the rest of my treatment.

Next -Next

P.S. Apr 6, 2013: Corrected some typos and straightened out a link and added one.


[1] As my link also explains, the Latin means (in my translation) "I hate the ordinary people, and ward them off" - which seems to be a common if not a universal sentiment of aristocrats, rulers, CEOs, and very rich persons. It also occurs in the next quotation I provided from De Tocqueville, albeit it a bit hidden, as I explain in my next note:

[2] If you have not read De Tocqueville's "Democracy in America", and especially volume 2 of it, you should, for it is very perceptive, both of America (in the early 1830ies, but also in a wider sense), and of democracy and democratic institutions.

The quotation may be translated as follows - and note that De Tocqueville's own background was in the French aristocracy:
"I have a kind of intellectual preference for democratic institutions, but by instinct I am an aristocrat, which is to say that I detest and fear the rabble. I passionately love liberry, equality, respect for the law, but not democracy. Thus behold the foundation of my soul."
Horace's sentiments - undoubtedly well known to De Tocqueville, as they were to John Stuart Mill, who agreed, and who admired De Tocqueville - are in and behind the words "I detest and fear the rabble".

[3] In case you do not know or do not recall: This is Jesus briefly before his crucifixion, forgiving the people who had three times cried out loud for his crucifixion. (See Luke 23.) It may also be applied to the people, or the rabble, as referred to and feared by Horace and De Tocqueville in the previous two notes, as deceived by the propaganda of the public relations conmen hired by their corporate, political or religioys rulers: "
forgive them; for they know not what they do."

[4] Here it is, for your benefit, from the year 1495, as quoted by Guiccardini, in his Storia Italia (History of Italy) of 1540:

"Guidantonio Vespucci, a famous lawyer and a man of remarkable intelligence and skill, spoke as follows:

'If, most worthy citizens, a government organized in the manner proposed (..) produced the desired results as easily as they are described, it would certainly be perverse of anyone to wish for any other form of government for our country. It would be a wicked civilian who did not passionately love a form of republic in which the virtues, merits and abilities of men were organized above all else.

But I do not understand how one can hope that a system placed entirely in the hands of the people  can be full of such benefits.

For I know that reason teaches, experience shows and the authority of wise men confirms that in so great a multitude there is not to be found such prudence, such experience and such discipline as to lead us to expect that the wise will be preferred to the ignorant, the good to the bad, and the experienced to those who have never handled any affairs whatever.

For as one cannot hope for sound judgement from an unlearned and unexperienced judge, so from a people full of confusion and ignorance one cannot except - except by chance - a prudent and reasonable election or decision.

Are we to believe that an inexpert, untrained multitude made up of such a variety of minds, conditions and customs, and entirely absorbed in their own personal affairs, can distinguish and understand what in public government wise men, thinking of nothing else, find difficult to understand?

Quite apart from the fact that each person's self-conceit will lead them all to desire honors - and it will not be enough for men to in the popular government to enjoy the honest fruits of liberty - they will all aspire to the highest posts and to take part in the decisions on the most diffciult and important matters.

In us less than in any other city there rules the modesty of giving way to the man who knows best or who has the most merit.

But if we persuade ourselves that we must be by right all equal in all things, the proper positions of virtue and ability will be confused when it rests with the judgments of the multitude.

And this greed spreading to the majority will ensure that the most powerful will be those who know and deserve least; for as they are more numerous, they will have more power in a state organized in such a way that opinions are merely numbered and not weighed.'"

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate
search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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