June 21, 2015
On The Crisis: Chalmers Johnson on Our 'Managed Democracy'
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next


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

This is a Nederlog of Sunday June 21, 2015. It is the second of two files I wrote today. The first is here.

This is a crisis blog. But it is not a quite normal one:

I decided to rerun two files I wrote in 2013 about a review by the late Chalmers Johnson (<-Wikipedia) of
Sheldon Wolin's (<-Wikipedia) book "Democracy Incorporated", simply because it is interesting and because my guess is that
at most a few of my readers read them before.

Incidentally, for those who are interested in theoretical matters: Here is a link to a series of interviews that Chris Hedges did with Sheldon Wolin, and that I commented on in 2014:
Note this is the beginning of a series (that I found quite interesting), also in my treatment of it. (See the index for 2014.)

As to the three items that follow: They are mostly unchanged. I only edited out some irrelevant remarks; redid the notes; corrected a few typos; and added some boldings.
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 Chalmers Johnson's 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 it 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 [1]).

2Chalmers 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)
This is true and is quite striking, also in Holland, where the universities are state-funded for the most part, but still pay professors and directors grossly obscene amounts of money the last 10 years or so, which is also related to "the revolving door policy", that in Holland takes the form that politicians start as journalists lying for their party's leader; get promoted to lecturer and member of some town council; then get promotod to professor in a pseudoscience that is in fact mostly politics; then become member of parliament or minister; and then end as mayor, alderman or university-professor. (This is certainly the typical career of Dutch Labour careerists, who are typically Blatcherites with a personal pretense to be especially active in some "Good Work" of their own, typically styled as "Saving ...  " - "children", "environment", "nature", "health care" , etc. They all love socializing before cameras with other Saviours of Mankind like Bono and Geldof. In Holland, all these worthies seem to have gotten media training financed from tax money. This is "to better communicate with the people we serve selflessly".)

It is all thoroughly corrupt; it all consists of and is based on systematic propaganda, posturing, lying and deceiving, and to really understand the full horror and extreme deviousness and total cynical and willing corruption that are involved one should read or view items like these:
  • E. Bernays: "Propaganda": The treatise by the master of liars, on a subject presently deviously and dishonestly restyled as "public relations".
  • Adam Curtis: "The Century of the Self" - a four-part four hour documentary of 2002 that explains the relations of Bernays, Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, public relations and corporate capitalism in a very apt, revealing and informed way.
These and other items [3] - and see my series on deception, that is to be continued - will make it clear that Wolin has solid and very important point with his concept of "inverted totalitarianism", and that point, which is very well brought out by Curtis' documentary linked above, is that modern Western societies are basically run by manufactured consent, engineered by "public relations", that is, by  propaganda disguised as benevolent or amusing information, from several main sources, such as large corporations and state organs, including, in Holland at least, cities and universities: All flood citizens with the sheerest bullshit, lies, misinformation, and obfuscations, that all get paid by the customers who buy the products and pay the taxes.

It is also true that for at least 30 years, from 1980-2010, much of this
propaganda fits the term "inverted totalitarianism" in that the manipulative message was generallty totalitarian - more power to the government and the corporations - while it was dressed up as if it were "freedom", "liberty", "personal development", and/or "democratic choice".

But personally - writing in 2013, not in 2008 or 2003 - I would not be amazed at all if this
"inverted totalitarianism" gets changed fairly soon to explicit force on the lines of "who does not support our freedom loving government is our enemy" [4] - and surely, since all of this propaganda is packaging and manipulation anyway, without the least rational, fair or honest content, the only relevant parameters for those who produce this manner of propaganda are costs and effectiveness: If the population is best controlled by terror, or by the lie that whoever doubts the government must be a traitor (a line currently pushed in Holland by some Dutch Labour worthies [4]), this will be used, and the opponents of the government or its organs will get depicted as little better than sub-humans.

To turn to another of Wolin's key concepts, as presented by Johnson:

The main social sectors promoting and reinforcing this modern Shangri-La are corporate power, which is in charge of managed democracy, and the military-industrial complex, which is in charge of Superpower. The main objectives of managed democracy 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. Its primary tool is privatization. Managed democracy aims at the “selective abdication of governmental responsibility for the well-being of the citizenry” under cover of improving “efficiency” and cost-cutting.
(Op. cit. 2/3)
I have argued in the previous Nederlog that the term "Superpower" seems to me mistaken, because it evokes the wrong associations.

And I agree with the analysis, but would refer to the polygamous marriage of corporate power, the military-industrial power and also - in my estimate - of public relations firms, conservative "think tanks", boards of directors of academic institutions, corrupt parliamentarians and ministers, and parts of the media (Fox News, Murdoch's imperium)
[5] rather as "corporate fascism" or some similar term, as indeed Wolin may agree (for which see my Crisis: Wolin on fascism + Greenwald on the Surveillance State).

And I also agree with the identification of what are called "the main objectives" of what I have called corporate fascism - though I should like to add that in Holland and Great Britain the social democratic Labour parties have been changed since the Blair years, already in the 1990ies, into
Blatcherist parties of careerists, liars and posturers.

The following also seems to me mostly correct, and has happened also, and succeeded for the most part, in Holland:

Wolin argues, “The privatization of public services and functions manifests the steady evolution of corporate power into a political form, into an integral, even dominant partner with the state. It marks the transformation of American politics and its political culture from a system in which democratic practices and values were, if not defining, at least major contributing elements, to one where the remaining democratic elements of the state and its populist programs are being systematically dismantled.” This campaign has largely succeeded. “Democracy represented a challenge to the status quo, today it has become adjusted to the status quo.” (Op. cit. 2/3)
As before, my understanding of the term "democracy" is not the same as Wolin's, and I would write "welfare", "fair", "just" or "civilized" where he - in Johnson's summary - writes grammatical variants of "democracy" (and I also really believe the moral terms are better than the political one).

And it seems true to me that in the US this is well expressed by a sustained and in large part by now succesful atteempt to "r
oll back the social and political ideals of the New Deal", indeed both under Bush Jr. and under Obama.

Next, we arrive at the role of the media, that I included above as, presently, for the most part the very willing executioners of the policies of corporate fascism.

One other subordinate task of managed democracy is to keep the citizenry preoccupied with peripheral and/or private conditions of human life so that they fail to focus on the widespread corruption and betrayal of the public trust. In Wolin’s words, “The point about disputes on such topics as the value of sexual abstinence, the role of religious charities in state-funded activities, the question of gay marriage, and the like, is that they are not framed to be resolved. Their political function is to divide the citizenry while obscuring class differences and diverting the voters’ attention from the social and economic concerns of the general populace.”m (Op. cit. 2/3)
What I agree is that the media have been corrupted, and for the most part, with some (partial) exceptions, such as The Guardian and The New York Times, eagerly serve the government or the corporations rather than the people or the people's real interest in a fair and open and free society, that is not controlled and surveilled by the state and its anonymous bureaucratic executioners with secret powers and practices.

What forms that precisely takes I do not know, except that three of the techniques or tactics the media currently use are: (1) to look away from - to ignore, to stonewall - any and all opposition to the government, the military, the corporations, or the accepted ways of doing and thinking: sycophantic conformism is the main moral value of many media and many journalists; (2) to ridicule, trivialize, or misrepresent anyone who may be an effective opponent; and (3) to preferably treat irrelevancies, non-issues and the doings and sayings of inane media-celebs as the core of All The News Fit For Stupefied Citizens.

A further modern media technique is this - and note the text that follows was published in May 2008, before Obama got elected, and before it had turned out that he gave the lie to many of the promises that brought him the victory in the presidential elections:

Another elite tactic of managed democracy is to bore the electorate to such an extent that it gradually fails to pay any attention to politics. Wolin perceives, “One method of assuring control is to make electioneering continuous, year-round, saturated with party propaganda, punctuated with the wisdom of kept pundits, bringing a result boring rather than energizing, the kind of civic lassitude on which managed democracy thrives.” The classic example is certainly the nominating contests of the two main American political parties during 2007 and 2008, but the dynastic “competition” between the Bush and Clinton families from 1988 to 2008 is equally relevant. It should be noted that between a half and two-thirds of qualified voters have recently failed to vote, thus making the management of the active electorate far easier. Wolin comments, “Every apathetic citizen is a silent enlistee in the cause of inverted totalitarianism.” It remains to be seen whether an Obama candidacy can reawaken these apathetic voters, but I suspect that Wolin would predict a barrage of corporate media character assassination that would end this possibility. (Op. cit. 2/3)
I will not here discuss the merits of (non-)voting in the USA, except for asking: What is there left to vote for if modern elections are basically bought by millions or billions of campaign money from corporations, and if almost all politicians are bought by lobbyists? And whatever the answers to those questions: It seems quite clear considerably more than mere voting is needed on the part of many citizens if the rising tides of corporate state power are to be tamed and ousted - voting alone will not provide a solution.
3. Chalmers Johnson on Our 'Managed Democracy' (3/3)

We have arrived at part 3, that you can find under the following link
Part 3 shifts back from the role of the media to that of what Wolin calls "Superpower" and starts as follows:
Managed democracy is a powerful solvent for any vestiges of democracy left in the American political system, but its powers are weak in comparison with those of Superpower. Superpower is the sponsor, defender and manager of American imperialism and militarism, aspects of American government that have always been dominated by elites, enveloped in executive-branch secrecy, and allegedly beyond the ken of ordinary citizens to understand or oversee. Superpower is preoccupied with weapons of mass destruction, clandestine manipulation of foreign policy (sometimes domestic policy, too), military operations, and the fantastic sums of money demanded from the public by the military-industrial complex. (The U.S. military spends more than all other militaries on Earth combined. The official U.S. defense budget for fiscal year 2008 is $623 billion; the next closest national military budget is China’s at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.) (Op. cit. 3/3)
If this is what "Superpower" means, "the military-industrial complex" seems the better term, though I agree more seems involved, notably (secret) governmental institutions like the CIA and the FBI.

The quoted numbers are quite amazing, and it should perhaps be added that part of the reason is "the war on terror", which is real enough as war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but which seems to function in the US and Europe mostly as a pretext to strangle a free and open society, with many independent and freely expressed opinions on all conceivable subjects, and in its stead to see to it that all powers, including the powers to decide which opinions and behaviors are to be politically correct, will fall to the government, whose anonymous surveillants will,  if not now then real soon now, take care that any ordinary citizen will behave as his or her government demands, or else will get major trouble, or simply be made to disappear without a trace.

The following seems a sensible description of what is and/or will be involved:
Foreign military operations literally force democracy to change its nature: “In order to cope with the imperial contingencies of foreign war and occupation,” according to Wolin, “democracy will alter its character, not only by assuming new behaviors abroad (e.g., ruthlessness, indifference to suffering, disregard of local norms, the inequalities in ruling a subject population) but also by operating on revised, power-expansive assumptions at home. It will, more often than not, try to manipulate the public rather than engage its members in deliberation. It will demand greater powers and broader discretion in their use (‘state secrets’), a tighter control over society’s resources, more summary methods of justice, and less patience for legalities, opposition, and clamor for socioeconomic reforms.” (Op. cit. 3/3)
Note that this is what has happened: The President of the United States - "the land of the free and the home of the brave" - every Tuesday inspects his kill lists, and decides who (perhaps anonymous) he will let be killed by a drone attack, because some anonymous source of information has said these presidentially dronable folks are not politically correct, all on the basis of laws and rules this president refuses to publish or publicly discuss. (See "Nacht und Nebel", that also applies to the presidential support for and interest in the secret detainment of his own citizens, without trial, merely on the basis of anonymous accusations.)

I arrive at a topic and form of words I disagree with:
Imperialism and democracy are, in Wolin’s terms, literally incompatible, and the ever greater resources devoted to imperialism mean that democracy will inevitably wither and die. He writes, “Imperial politics represents the conquest of domestic politics and the latter’s conversion into a crucial element of inverted totalitarianism. It makes no sense to ask how the democratic citizen could ‘participate’ substantively in imperial politics; hence it is not surprising that the subject of empire is taboo in electoral debates. No major politician or party has so much as publicly remarked on the existence of an American empire.” (Op. cit. 3/3)
I do not believe "imperialism" is a very useful or much enlightening concept, and as I said before, my understanding of the term "democracy" seems to differ from that of Wolin.

What is true, though, is that the US and its government have been militarized, whether to wage "the war on terror", or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or whether as a pretext and start of an authoritarian regime and an effective police state.

I skip some on the same theme and arrive at the following, that I also do not quite agree with, since I have seen the rise of what I think is fairly called corporate fascism as a form of pseudo-democratic government of a heavily propagandized citizenry, all instituted on the pretext of "the war on terror", but I do not quite see the following:
It has taken a long time, but under George W. Bush’s administration the United States has finally achieved an official ideology of imperial expansion comparable to those of Nazi and Soviet totalitarianisms. In accordance with the National Security Strategy of the United States (allegedly drafted by Condoleezza Rice and proclaimed on Sept. 9, 2002), the United States is now committed to what it calls “preemptive war.” Wolin explains: “Preemptive war entails the projection of power abroad, usually against a far weaker country, comparable say, to the Nazi invasion of Belgium and Holland in 1940. It declares that the United States is justified in striking at another country because of a perceived threat that U.S. power will be weakened, severely damaged, unless it reacts to eliminate the danger before it materializes. Preemptive war is Lebensraum [Hitler’s claim that his imperialism was justified by Germany’s need for “living room”] for the age of terrorism.” This was, of course, the official excuse for the American aggression against Iraq that began in 2003.
(Op. cit. 3/3)
To articulate part of my disagreements:

While preemptive strikes, and drone attacks on civilians, and torture, and renditions, and concentration camps, and indefinite confinement without public trial, seem to me to be all inconsistent with my understanding of the Charter of the United Nations and strongly reeking of dictatorial powers, this is not (yet) "
an official ideology of imperial expansion comparable to those of Nazi and Soviet totalitarianisms", though indeed it may eventually, and not in a far away future, end up there.

And while preemptive war seems to me to be inconsistent with international law and quite undesirable, it is not the same as Hitler's demand for

We have arrived at a disagreement between Wolin and his expounder and pupil Johnson - and here I agree more with Wolin than Johnson:
Many analysts, myself included, would conclude that Wolin has made a close to airtight case that the American republic’s days are numbered, but Wolin himself does not agree. Toward the end of his study he produces a wish list of things that should be done to ward off the disaster of inverted totalitarianism: “rolling back the empire, rolling back the practices of managed democracy; returning to the idea and practices of international cooperation rather than the dogmas of globalization and preemptive strikes; restoring and strengthening environmental protections; reinvigorating populist politics; undoing the damage to our system of individual rights; restoring the institutions of an independent judiciary, separation of powers, and checks and balances; reinstating the integrity of the independent regulatory agencies and of scientific advisory processes; reviving representative systems responsive to popular needs for health care, education, guaranteed pensions, and an honorable minimum wage; restoring governmental regulatory authority over the economy; and rolling back the distortions of a tax code that toadies to the wealthy and corporate power.” (Op. cit. 3/3)
As I have argued, I agree more than not with Wolin, but I have definite disagreements with him about democracy, imperialism, how to call and analyze what he calls "Superpower", and more.

I find the list of things that need doing "
to ward off the disaster of inverted totalitarianism" quite good, and I have several reasons to disagree with Johnson's conclusion that "Wolin has made a close to airtight case that the American republic’s days are numbered".

They may be, but that remains to be seen. Besides, as Edmund Burke had it
Never despair; but if you do, work on in despair.
To which may be added the following points:
  • There still are freedoms one can exercise, such as free speech, notably on the internet.
  • There still is no dictatorial government active in the US.
  • There still is no end or resolution of the crisis.
  • While the corporate powers are strong and have undone or are in the process of undoing much that was good about Western societies -  good public - non-privatized - health care, good public education, guaranteed pensions, decent minimum wages; governmental regulation of the economy and the banks; non-corrupt politicians; truly independent courts; the rule of law; habeas corpus, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, freedom of association - not all has been lost.
  • While the corporate powers are strong, they are far from infallible, very probably internally divided, and certainly not capable of themselves solving the problems of the global crisis and the global climate problems, both of which need much better governments than authoritarian governments tend to be to have a ghost of a chance of being managed and resolved.
  • The corporate powers - bankers, media moguls, corrupt politicians, "think tank" "research scientists" [5] - may be clever and certainly often are without any conscience, but they also are fundamentally uncivilized, not properly educated, mostly ignorant, and are ruled by a totally irrealistic ideology of greed, profit-taking, and "free markets": They can sell their rot to a considerable part of the people, because the people are not educated and can be deceived, but not because the corporate exploiters and deceivers are intellectually or morally right, nor because the people cannot be seen to have been grossly and meanly deceived if all can be explained well.
See here for an excellent example of good counter-propaganda also mentioned below as an option:

We have arrived at Johnson's final paragraph, which is quite pessimistic:
Unfortunately, this is more a guide to what has gone wrong than a statement of how to fix it, particularly since Wolin believes that our political system is “shot through with corruption and awash in contributions primarily from wealthy and corporate donors.” It is extremely unlikely that our party apparatus will work to bring the military-industrial complex and the 16 secret intelligence agencies under democratic control. Nonetheless, once the United States has followed the classical totalitarianisms into the dustbin of history, Wolin’s analysis will stand as one of the best discourses on where we went wrong. (Op. cit. 3/3)
Johnson may be right in his pessimism - time will tell, though I probably won't be there to interpet it - and he is right that what he quoted, though good, was "more a guide to what has gone wrong than a statement of how to fix it".

I for my part do not think the game has finished, even though the corporate interests dominate far more than they should and than they have done for many decades:

For one thing, the corporate machines have not been able to get McCain or Romney elected, even if they have succeeded in making Obama dance to their tune rather than to his own pre-election promises; and besides, as I said, I cannot see how the global economic crisis and climate problems can be solved by propaganda and delusions, while I can see that either may easily inspire governmental crises, revolutions, revolts, or sudden radical changes.

Also, following an idea from Monbiot, who asked "what's the next big idea?", I can discern at least five things individuals or groups of individuals may do, who are forced out of jobs, pensions, welfare and help by their governments, that  simultaneously increases their taxes or fleeces their bankaccounts to pay off the debts the bank managers made, or to fund a "war on terror" that is in fact a pretext to introduce a regime of state terrorism:
  • Start cooperative movenments, to create jobs, help, income, opportunities outside the spheres of either the government or the corporations (and refuse any and all "collaboration" or "support" from existing politcal parties and politicians: They are all corrupt corporate servants).
  • Create an independent currency that is not banked, such as the bitcoin, and position it ("brand mark it") as "the people's money" - while forbidding or strongly limiting interest on it.
  • Organize effective counter-propaganda, if possible with Big Names, (actors, musicians, writers, real intellectuals) and a free press, e.g. on the lines of truthdig, The Real News, consortiumnews and others, and take care this is well-funded and remains completely independent of any and all corporations, political parties, or government subsidies.
  • Use Linux - it is safer, better, cheaper, and without governmental spy holes (far more probably so than MS Windows or Apple), and comes with good encryption tools.
  • Avoid Facebook and Google as spying corporations, that track far too much for a tolerable free society

P.S. Jun 22, 2015: I deleted a paragraph I copied twice. Also, note [2] below (that applies today) I left standing, though it got linked by a redundant and removed paragraph, because it is true (also for this file) - and yes, clearly I make mistakes, like everyone, but mine are a bit more difficult to correct on the day I make them, because I am normally tired, especially after writing an NL.
(But this has been always the case, and generally it goes fairly well.)


[1] 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.'"

[2] Here is a general note on Nederlog:

I write Nederlog while I am ill with ME/CFS, and usually feel more or less exhausted, as it quite common with that disease. Also, since nearly a year now I have sore eyes and also worsened vision.

For these and some other reasons, such as the deplorable bugged quality of the html-editors I am forced to use on Linux since there isn't any better, alas, plus the fact that it is difficult to spellcheck in these editors (without nuisances I generally want to avoid) it is generally safe for my readers to assume that a Nederlog that got published on a certain date (1) was close to the limit of what I could do that day, and (2) is likely to contain at least some typos, that indeed quite often will get corrected the next day.

Hence if you like a Nederlog and want to keep it, it makes sense to save the version of the next day or even later. I often make small corrections, that generally do not upset the general sense of my argument or my intended meaning, but may be needed to be clear about what I did have in mind.

For more see my On Deception - 4: More about propaganda and the following items, all quite interesting and revealing about the subject, role, genesis, development and ends of modern propaganda:
[4] Some Dutch Labour politicians definitely take that tack, and I get their Leninist faces in my Amsterdam city propaganda with Nazist headings attributed to them next to their horrific faces, to this effect: "Whoever does not report crimes to the police is a traitor!".

We are analyzing what may be involved in "Superpower" here. In the end, these must be definite individuals, with definite beliefs, desires, and plans, at work (mostly) in specific institutions, and these institutions certainly should comprise: major banks, major corporations (especially in energy, resources and the military), major media (owners and editors), leading politicians, prominent "think tanks", leaders of secret services of various kinds, and directors or researchers in some universities. Those who want theoretical backgrounds, I refer to C. Wright Mills "The Power Elite" and "Power, Politics and People"; James Burnham's "The Machiavellians"; Gaetano Mosca's "The Ruling Class"; Max Weber's  "Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft"; Bertrand Russell's "Power"; Bertrand de Jouvenel's "On Power"; Aristotle's "Politics" and Machiavelli's "Discourses".

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