Within the past two weeks, this exchange occurred between Morley and me on another thread. I think it a good discussion, and so I’m presenting it as a thread of its own – actually, two threads, as I will be presenting it in two installments.
A powerstate or a ruling class is not a monolith; this is not only not my view it is not the marxist view. The members of a ruling class, who own or control major shares of corporations , compete with each other, and cooperate against their common economic enemy, the working class. And their are fractions within the ruling class that are more progressive and less so, but their common aim is to maintain and increase their economic position and power. And their are exceptions as well; Engels was a wealthy textile manufacturer.
Similarly a power system has many currents in it, but the actions of the powerstate reflect the ruling power structure, who support these actions. Only 5 justices voted for this action that I attributed to the powerstate; but how did they get in this position? they were voted there by both the Gops and Dems.
Why is there not mass outrage by the mass media? Why is this one editoral rather than hundreds. Becuase the media is owned by the ruling class and has been centralized. It supports actions that decrease the power of population.
Why does the professional class not object to this depowering of the population? Because they, in general, support the ruling class either actively or passively.
The professional class is a middle class economically placed between the ruling class and the population, but in power terms it is an UPPER class, although dependent on the ruling class. It has money assets, truth assets and expertise not availble to the general person of the population.
The professional class, under the guidence of the truth managers of the ruling class, staft the truth organs of the powerstate. Professonals compete among themselves but in general support the rule of the ruling class against the power interests of the population. They are elitist. By this I do not mean that they are stuck up or snooty, but that they tend to support the ruling class over the general population. The truth Elite, the teachers, jounalists, priests, artists and social scientists form a truth consenus formulated from the perspective of power, notably class power, rather than from the perspective of the population. Consequently the ruling ideas of a society are the ideas of its ruling classes.
And the population is disoriented, distracted and our consciousness deranged by the transmission of these ideas of the class-based power structure.
So you can, if you wish, consider each act by the powerful as isolated and not part of a power system; just the act of five reactionaries. And this is the prevailing liberal idea in which we are indoctrianted in the schools and mass media. It is why the conceptual language of people and power, political and social reality, is so fragmented, restricted and complicated; to prevent the population from perceiving political reality as a overall Whole. This evolves historically largely without the conscious awareness of most people, and when outlined briefly , is attacked as a conspiracy theory.
But it is mostly excluded from the mainstream truth tradition because it gives people the Wrong ideas. So people are not exposed to the simple truth which subverts the mainstream truth of mindless political seditives and cliches.
The alternative is to consider a power system as a Whole and ask whose interests does it serve; the workers, consumers and residents of the population, or that of the ruling and professional classes?
Asking the latter question is part of my black and white presuppositions; but this question is not asked in liberal social science because it is unscientific by the liberal standards of scientism. Just as modern scientific conceptual structures in the natural sciences were repressed by the learned of agrarian powerstates, simplifying conceptions and preconceptions are currently ideologically repressed in social science.
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I actually substantially agree with you here, Morley. These are indeed the tendencies of power systems, including the power system of the United States, and not just under the Bushites.
That they are TENDENCIES rather than rules is nonetheless a significant caveat.
Saying that “The truth Elite, the teachers, jounalists, priests, artists and social scientists form a truth consenus formulated from the perspective of power, notably class power, rather than from the perspective of the population,” would not prepare one for the enormous strength of radical ideology in American academia. (The kind of question you declare here “is not asked in liberal social science because it is unscientific by the liberal standards of scientism” is asked a very great deal in many political science and sociology departments in American universities.)
These days, too, it is easy to forget how politically powerful American labor unions once were, within my lifetime.
Just as I wish that the people I used to live with in the Shenandoah Valley understood just how much truth there is in what you say here, so also I would wish for you to see the important limits to how far those truths go to explain the American reality.
Just one more particular, about this statement: “Only 5 justices voted for this action that I attributed to the powerstate; but how did they get in this position? they were voted there by both the Gops and Dems.”
I’ve watched the battle over Court appointments very closely –especially since Reagan’s time, but a fair amount going back to the end of LBJ’s term, when Abe Fortas got knocked out and the Republicans prevented LBJ from appointing the next Chief Justice until after Nixon was elected.
One can point to the various votes to approve nominees to the Supreme Court. But to interpret those votes as meaning that everyone who did not vote No “approved” of the nominee, wanted that nominee on the Court, weren’t eager to find a way to block that appointment – such an interpretation is a simple misreading of the situation.
Some of the broad brushes of your ideology expose basic truths of society. Some of the heart of the system is also obscured by those same brush strokes.
am not saying that we shouldn’t hold our noses and vote for Dems, Linda Jean and Andy; but we should do so with the understanding that whatever they are saying now, and whatever they sincerely think, will change when they get in office. As political sicentists put it, the discourse of candidicy diverges from the discourse of governance.
What that means in practicie is that they are going to sell you out. This is not because they are bad people or do not possess enough Goodness. As May West said when asked by a fan how the goodness she got so many diamands, goodness has nothing to do with it. The problem is the way power systems are developed in class societies.
We are now living at a time in history when liberal powerstates are decaying historically. There is a power disconnect between the capitalist power structure and the the population. The challenge is to find a way to bridge this disconnect. Voting for Dems isn’t going to do it. They are NOT MAGNIFICENT (dammit).
To which I responded:
I agree that the Dems are not MAGNIFICENT. As I wrote some months ago, heroes are rare in every realm, and they are plenty scarce enough among the Dems as well.
More important, I agree with you about “the way power systems are developed in class societies.” Except I would take the problem and extend it more universally: because the tendencies toward corruption (the undermining of justice by the play of power) characterize ALL civilized societies with which I am familiar.
So those societies that trumpted their Marxist ideologies also functioned as “class societies,” for all their talk of being “classless.”
And the State did not, of course, “wither away.” (Robert Tucker wrote a great article about the Stalinist state, entitled “Fat State, Lean Society.”) The people living in Marxist states like the Soviet Union, and Mao’s China, did not escape the corrupt workings of power. They just had to suffer them without the benefit of the kinds of protections that are enjoyed by the citizens of liberal democracies.
You “accused” me the other day of being a conservative who thinks he’s a progressive. But I doubt my goals and values are any less progressive than yours. For example, I want a society in which every citizen has EQUAL SAY IN THE POLITICAL REALM, a society in which there is not a division between one class of people who get a strong voice and another class of people who get a weak voice. One of the phrases I use most frequently to epitomize what I OPPOSE is that from the Athenians quoted by Thucydides: “the strong do what they can while the weak suffer what they must.”
Where you and I differ is in our understanding of what kinds of solutions are possible to the perennial downhill tendencies of societies to be corrupted.
It seems to me that you make vague gestures toward “the people,” as if they can somehow be counted on to create an uncorrupted society –dispensing with our current structures, and acting without leaders, as I recall – while I think that is an absolutely baseless and insubstantial notion of a solution, the equivalent of waving a feather to stop the wind.
Power’s corrupting influence can be controlled only by a combination of good structures (like the US Constitution) along with a vigilant and aware citizenry.
In my lifetime –more particularly, since the 1970s – the distribution of power in America has become increasingly skewed in a corrupt direction. To some extent, that is because of the imperfections of the structure: the campaign finance system, for example, has provided a large entry way for money to buy the political system.
But had the American people not been so fat and complacent and ignorant while the theft of our democracy was going on, the better aspects of our system’s structure would have been plenty sufficient to defeat the corrupting forces.
Think about how the American public reacted when Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers. They thought his strength was admirable. They rewarded him politically for that. BUt it was one more step in the reactionary forces’ warring on the power of labor generally, and labor unions in particular. Earlier generations understood the need for union power, but the affluent America of the post-war era forgot about all that, and gradually allowed the reactionary forces of American capitalism to dismantle the protections and the power so hard-won by American workers over the course of nearly a century.
Before the wave of reaction set in, the American political system had imposed on the broadcast media a “Fairness Doctrine” that protected points of view that did not command huge financial resources. It helped level the playing field in terms of the access of competing ideas to shape the public consciousness. The Reaganites got rid of that one, too, and the American people did not object.
Again and again, the American people have slept through the tilting of the playing field at their expense. They have never rewarded the people who have tried to clean up the political finance system, nor punished those who foster “highest bidder” government.
One can “blame” the media, and the propaganda, for manipulating and deceiving the people, but ultimately when the people in a liberal democracy get manipulated they have to bear the responsibility. For it is ONLY THROUGH THE PEOPLE PROTECTING THEMSELVES THAT CORRUPTION IS PREVENTED. I believe you’ve said much the same thing, but then you always blame our system –and the ruling class – for everything, as if the system could make itself work.
With the American people sleeping through the theft of their democratic system and rights and powers, they’ve allowed a corrupt political system to develop in which even good people who want to participate as office holders have to participate in the corruption. If you want to be a member of the Senate, you have to raise $X million. To do that, you have to be like Willie Sutton and his bank robbing – i.e. you’ve got to go to where the money is. Those who don’t simply don’t show up in the Senate.
Had the American people defended their system, it wouldn’t smell so bad. It was never perfect, but it used to be better: unions had power, there was a Fairness Doctrine, and laws were passed and enforced by the Court to protect the little guy against the big guy rather than the opposite as we see in this Court decision. Even people who WANT to protect the little guy have to play ball with the big power brokers, if the little guy isn’t enough.
Eternal vigilance will ALWAYS be required. In ANY kind of society.
If the American liberal powerstate is decaying, I would suggest, it is because the complacency and laziness and lack of moral and intellectual discipline of affluent America has rendered its citizenry incapable of defending itself against that downhill slide. But “liberal” powerstates remain the best vehicles history has seen for combatting such corruption, because it is they who put into people’s hands the tools to do the job without having to resort to armed revolt to do it.
If there were some approach that one had reason to believe could better achieve the “progressive” goals of justice than the approach of democracy with limited government and checks and balances and constitutionally protected political and human rights, I would support it. But as far as I can tell, there isn’t.
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