The Inconvenience of Democracy… for the Elites

 

As the primary phase of choosing the next occupant for the White House trundles on, it should be obvious to us all that there is a serious, existential threat that is laying waste to the cherished idea that the United States is a paragon of rules, fair play and democracy. Stories of rampant voter suppression, disenfranchisement, media gaslighting, electoral fraud and a destructive, regressive political discourse has made it very clear that it is impossible for America to be a functioning democracy within a capitalistic economic system. Politicians no longer serve the people they “represent,” and both parties have been corrupted and compromised by the dirty, filthy money that allows them to remain protected, seemingly forever, within their cocoon of legalized graft. It has taken a quixotic Presidential run by Bernie Sanders to drop the scales from our eyes, and at last, people are beginning, at their level of understanding, to realize that it just might not be possible to have both a functioning democracy and a just economic capitalist system at the same time, without serious re-examination and reconsideration of what kind of social contract we as a nation are prepared to accept to live under.

Obviously, this realization can only lead to a single conclusion:  which should prove that capitalism is in essence, anti-democratic.

Team Democrat and Team Republican may have slightly differing ideologies, and really, these are merely comforting, self-serving myths that allow the gaslighting to have legs – until this election season when the bottom of the pail has fallen out of too many people’s lives, but the parties are united under one overarching principle: gathering and extracting more and more money from the taxpayer and giving it to the elites, the banks and stateless corporations who in turn are quietly planning God-knows-what for the hapless dupes who still believe that the problems in their lives stem from undocumented aliens, liberals and conservatives. These elites benefit from the division the media generates while ignoring the shameless corporate welfare which their lobbyists have managed to write into laws, and are ultimately planning to gift the corporations sovereignty over governments themselves with the TPP.

That President Obama is aiding and abetting this “trade deal” as a good thing for America, should be evidence enough on how easily one can be corrupted by power so completely, that all common decency and common sense evaporates, along with any moral barometer that should awaken and alert one’s conscience that something has gone terribly wrong with one’s judgment and ethics. But we’re talking about beings who clearly operate under another criteria of “ethics.” One, apparently, that doesn’t include  a consideration for what is best for everyone, but only considers those who are sitting the the seats of great wealth, power and influence.

Which brings us back to this point: capitalism has proven to be the most anti-democratic force in the world, if not in America, where it seems that every day, new and surprising ways are being invented to make voting as difficult and unpleasant as possible. This is hardly surprising, although I suspect the blatant rigged gaming of the fraudulent electoral process may have come as a dreadful shock to most who believed in the “rule of law,” and that they truly lived in “the land of the free,” but the fact of the matter is that an open, citizen-led democratic process can be very bad for “business.” The movement inspired by Bernie Sanders has awakened to this awful realization, and the anti-democratic forces; the media-industrial complex, the stateless corporations, Wall Street, the billionaire class and the establishment politicians that loyally serve them will be doing everything they can to make sure the movement – and by extension, the expression of democracy – is quashed.

Therefore, be prepared to witness a titanic barrage of forces to be unleashed to nullify, marginalize and stifle this natural, suppressed expression of democratic values where one person – one vote still has meaning and value. It will be a massive effort for the grassroots activists to overcome this inevitable onslaught, but the future is not yet written, although it appears more and more likely that the Democratic convention in Philadelphia this summer is going to make Chicago ’68 seem like a Methodist bakery sale in comparison. The genie has been let out of the bottle, and with it, the elites’ stranglehold on democracy is in peril.

 

 

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Demons of Folk Friday Tune of the Week: Social Panic #4

 

Social Panic #4

 

All over the world, the forces of casino capitalism are invoking austerity measures that produce a kind of social and civil death as they dismantle the historically guaranteed social provisions provided by the welfare state, defining profit-making as the essence of democracy, expanding the role of corporate money in politics, waging an assault on unions, augmenting the military-security state, overseeing widening social inequality, promoting the erosion of civil liberties, and undercutting public faith in the defining institutions of democracy. The script is not new, but the intensity of the assault on democratic values, civic engagement and public service has taken a dangerous turn and provides the ideological, political and cultural foundation for a society that seems unaware it is in the midst of an authoritarian stranglehold on all of its most cherished institutions, ranging from schools and health care to the very foundation of democracy. Austerity has become the weapon of choice, an economic poison designed to punish the middle and working classes while making clear that casino capitalism will administer the most severe penalties to those who challenge its authority. The police have become the new private armies of the rich, designed to keep the public in check hoping to make them fearful of being exposed to police brutality, state violence or the expanding mechanisms of the multiple surveillance apparatuses that now collect every piece of information that circulates electronically. Conformity has become the order of the day and fear the new norm, reinforced by a disimagination machine and the punishing state now mutually informing each other.

-Henry A. Giroux, Reclaiming the Radical Imagination: Challenging Casino Capitalism’s Punishing Factories. 

Fear of Equality, Part 13. Money and the Death of Democracy

Margaret Thatcher: Denier of Society or denier of Democracy?
Margaret Thatcher: Denier of Society or denier of Democracy?

 

“Mankind is not an entity, an organism, or a coral bush. The entity involved in production and trade is man. It is with the study of man—not of the loose aggregate known as a “community”—that any science of the humanities has to begin.” 

Ayn Rand – “What is Capitalism”

 

“I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it: ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society.

“There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.”

 Margaret Thatcher

 

To begin with, it is fair to say that Ayn Rand was one to never allow practical common sense or intellectual honesty to get in the way of her juicy, radical individualist claims. It must be remembered that Rand’s personal experience with group and community was largely a negative one, as she blamed the community’s participation within what she viewed as the destruction of her family’s wealth and social placement in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, so such a denial of the community should be understood within that context when reading Rand’s writings or understanding her deep resentments and suspicions (and let’s be frank, hatred) towards the community and equality. She did, as we are all preprogrammed to do, live within a mental world where preciously defended ideas and mental constructs and equation carry far more weight and significance than anything in physical reality.

Obviously, any sensible definition of Mankind, or the Human Race can only refer to the collective class of human beings united by the shared quality of… well, this is going to sound a bit crazy, but, “being human.” Rand’s premise that science must forego any discussion of the community of humanity is totally connected to Rand’s overarching paranoia with the danger of collective action. Rand never received any scientific training and was largely a self – taught philosopher and writer. Her ability was in word – wrangling and constructing philosophical systems that supported her perspective. And so the key of understanding what she says and why must be in line with her negative evaluations and assertions of an inconsolable loss she felt she experienced at the hands of the community. Thus her views that equality and social responsibility cannot coexist within the confines of the freedom and liberty capitalism allegedly provides.

The similar statement by Margaret Thatcher also illustrates how master politicians are able to manipulate through words and symbols, the reality and perceptions of a nation. Thatcher was a whole-hearted supporter of the “free market” mythos and the so –called democratizing power of free market capitalism. It is a testament to her oratory skills as a politician that she was able to occlude, misapply and switch definitions of key words and have nobody call her on it.

On the face of it, the statement above from Thatcher seems to be unfocused and wobbly, and a surprisingly ironic position coming from such a hardline nationalist like Thatcher (see the Falkland Islands episode).[1]  Obviously Thatcher viewed nationalism and society in terms she could categorize and separate depending on the spin, context or the definition she wished to use to further her agenda. The problem is that the premise rests on a foundation of deceptive verbal incoherence meant to diffuse, dissemble and camouflage its subject.

Society and the Nation can be defined in various ways, and it is the politician’s job to couch these terms that will help them sell whatever ideological perspective that will keep them in power and further the agenda. The job of the politician is to present a version of reality to the voters that the voters already believe in and accepts as reality. The relentless bombardment by media has been so effective for so long in presenting a virtual reality that mirrors and reinforces the belief system of voters makes presenting social lies and sentimental narratives all the easier to shove it down the throats of the populace.

For example, one such sentimental narrative that is employed by the neoliberal and libertarian thought – machines is that decisions made by individuals are just as powerful or more powerful than decisions made by groups. This meme uncomfortably sits side by side this nagging, existential thought that the little guy, err…, I mean, the “individual” has zero influence on or access to those who sits in the seats of power. In fact, the individual doesn’t even know who sits in those chairs and how much control these mysterious Masters have over his life. All the individual knows is that if he or she can’t make it work in this life, that they will be left behind by all others, outside in the darkness, and nobody – neither society or any other individual – can be expected to be called on for help.

Another social narrative that has misled people is that somehow conservatism presents a front against “big government.” And yet, under conservative purview the federal government has increased on a titanic scale. The “government” now is completely under control of and operated as the legislative arm of stateless corporations – which gives itself many benefits, rights and privileges – and which such gifts and handouts are not made available to the people, let alone to the community and more important, no obligations are currently required for its “entitlements.” How great is that?

In reality conservatives and liberal alike are mainly interested in protecting the elite’s concentration of power. As economic power becomes more and more concentrated, the more real – world democracy evaporates under the invasion of neoliberal economic policies that has emerged as the controlling characteristic within capitalism’s feature of economic determinism where every life and every relationship in society is ultimately based on one’s connection and access to money.

Thatcher, like most master politicians, regularly employed the word game of Deception by Substitution. Here’s how it’s played. Substitute the word “society” with “democracy” and you get what Thatcher really meant:

 “They’re casting their problem on democracy. And, you know, there is no such thing as democracy.

Obviously, Thatcher could never get away with such a remark said so nakedly, thus the reason for speaking in political code. That is, by denying the power and reality of the community – there’s a denial of the power and reality that people form within relationships, thus placing the onus on the individual person, and so there’s no reasonable opposition to the view of corporatizing and privatizing the public space that was once under the auspices of the community is what is best for the individuals that make up society. Which means that the individual should lower its expectations severely: that no real power can be trusted within their hands and no real intervention can be counted on in the improvement of people’s lives because the democratic process – which works through the people just as Thatcher admitted – no longer applies. Democracy has disappeared into the black hole which now exists as the Neoliberal State. [2]

The fact is that this Neoliberal state is currently passing away, slowly yet surely. Its death is as certain as that fate that awaits all of us when we come to the end of our own lives. What Thatcher, Reagan, Bush, Obama, et al, none of them, or to be more frank, none of us seem to realize is the bigger view that needs to be considered: this sinking ship of economic determinism cannot be rescued, improved, salvaged or maintained. It is falling as surely as there’s a moon in the sky.. The only discussion that matters is the one we should be having now from the standpoint of economic equality and true democracy:  what will we choose as a collective Human Race to replace this current political – economic system?

Perhaps the most sensible way forward can be considered within this keen observation by Bernard Poolman:

“… instead of looking for political heroes who will solve problems for us on a national or global level, we focus on our community and work with trusted others to address issues in our place. As the crumbling of governments, financial systems, and other institutions exacerbates, collapse itself will compel us to implement local solutions. Thus, even in the face of such a painful demise as the collapse of civilization, we may be able to surrender to and celebrate the opportunity for rediscovering our own humanity and that of the other individuals who inhabit our community. Perhaps what we most need to discover and experience is not heroics but transformative defeat – the defeat of the paradigm of civilization.”

 

NOTES

[1] The Falklands Island War was commenced by the UK after Argentina claimed the islands for itself after invading the islands in 1982. Thatcher sent in the British Navy and battled Argentina for ten weeks until Argentina surrendered. In the conflict, World War II-vintage Argentine light cruiser ARA General Belgrano was sunk, killing its Argentinean crew of 323 men. The British Navy lost the HMS Sheffield which sank after being struck by an Exocet missile, killing 23 naval men. The aftermath of the war saw the UK maintain their hold on the disputed areas and Thatcher’s popularity swell and on that strength the conservative government won in a landslide in the next election, while in Argentina the military’s prestige was damaged beyond repair, enabling a return to free elections and democratic governance.

[2] “The new study, with the jaw-clenching title of “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” is forthcoming in the fall 2014 edition of Perspectives on Politics. Its authors, Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, examined survey data on 1,779 national policy issues for which they could gauge the preferences of average citizens, economic elites, mass-based interest groups and business-dominated interest groups. They used statistical methods to determine the influence of each of these four groups on policy outcomes, including both policies that are adopted and rejected.

The analysts found that when controlling for the power of economic elites and organized interest groups, the influence of ordinary Americans registers at a “non-significant, near-zero level.” The analysts further discovered that rich individuals and business-dominated interest groups dominate the policymaking process. The mass-based interest groups had minimal influence compared to the business-based interest groups.

The study also debunks the notion that the policy preferences of business and the rich reflect the views of common citizens. They found to the contrary that such preferences often sharply diverge and when they do, the economic elites and business interests almost always win and the ordinary Americans lose.

The authors also say that given limitations to tapping into the full power elite in America and their policy preferences, “the real world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater” than their findings indicate. Who Rules America?  By Allan J. Lichtman,  August 12, 2014

 

 

 

Fear of Equality, Part 12: The Swindle of Fulfillment

Henry A. Giroux on Zombie Politics, November 22, 2013

A Dangerous Idea: Economic Determinism

The American Dream. Perhaps best exemplified within the immortal trope of, “all men are created equal and that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” The Classical Liberal conceits of freedom, liberty, equality and opportunity have been erected, transmitted and successfully absorbed into the mass consciousness of Americans for centuries now, and even though upward social mobility has never been more impossible to attain than it is currently, many Americans still hold on to this patriotic and sentimental idea –  even in the face of an undeniable economic determinism that dictates every facet of a person’s life.

What do I mean by, “economic determinism?” Well, economic determinism is the doctrine that states all cultural, social, political and intellectual activities are a product of economic organization of society. Originally, the term was coined by Karl Marx (1818-1893) to describe what he saw as a process of social phenomena having its roots within the relations of production.

In the social production which men carry on, they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society–the real foundation, on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.

            A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Kerr, 1904), Preface, pp. 11-12.

The elephant in the room is this clause;

they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will;

The relations of production can easily be understood as the relationships of the platform of capital that connects with all the various segments of society. Marx attempted to explain capitalism as he understood it – as the systems of relationships with the members of society. However, many of Marx’s contemporaries sneered at the theory of economic determinism, thinking it as a clumsy, intellectually suspect social model. Marx and Engels were seemingly embarrassed and frustrated by the acceptance of the theory by certain Marxist factions, although Engels conceded there was a place for discussing the concept more in – depth that had been possible. [1]

The critical theorist brain trust (Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse and many others) was set up in Germany during the 1920s as a Marxist research institute to study and examination of various social issues from a Marxist perspective, also rejected ED as too plain and vulgar an explanation of the increasingly unfolding complexity of the relationships with the various systems at play in society. 

The mind loves complexity, you see. That’s why we have lawyers. But don’t follow the diversion.

I have a sneaking suspicion that when such a concept like economic determinism is laid so plainly, so bare, there is a visceral, instinctive, reactive desire to enter a state of cognitive dissonance. To deny the truth. To hold on what one believed in the face of overwhelming evidence that such beliefs no longer serve their purpose. That may explain an element of the resistance shown by the intelligentsia to give the concept of economic determinism full consideration. However, as a workable social theory economic determinism may have been resisted because of its loaded potential as a dangerous idea.

Perhaps the most dangerous point within the theory of economic determinism is that it leaves no room for the operation of Free Will, one of the most cherished of all Classical Liberal ideals. It is believed that all are born with Free Will, but in the real word, only a few possess enough wealth to afford to use it. If Free Will can be invalidated by economic determinism, Capitalism loses its greatest theoretical weapon in justifying the ethic of enlightened Individual self-interest. Such an idea may lead to questioning the fundamental point of why such a system where one has to pay others money for the right (or is it privilege?) to survive, is preferable to any other system that isn’t based on competition and power over others. Maybe questioning the system could lead to considering another system where the answer presented is yet another dangerous idea, and one just as simple.

That answer exists on the other side of fear, that answer is as simple as the question. The answer is economic equality. Only the lack of collective will make it such a seemingly impossible feat to attain.

But what about issues of culture, the markets, the ecology, politics, psychology, economic hegemony and ownership of resources? Surely all these factors can’t be reduced to a simple explanation that all relationships in capitalism is based on the social platform of consumers and consumption? Economic determinism still is a useful tool in explaining to others the Matrix – like, camouflaged system of enslavement and exploitation that people have accepted as “the norm.” And not only as the norm, but a normalcy that one feels an explicable loyalty towards an abusive, economic authoritarian system.

Professor Henry A. Giroux calls this phenomena, “the swindle of fulfillment,” So what is the swindle? That society has been given a set of quaint, romantic values to identify itself with as the overarching self – definition its members must embody and transmit to all others, which is the principal role of the individual to exists as consumer and the commoditized. All relationships are based on one aspect: one’s relationship and access to money. The social elite has successfully hijacked and redefined these terms, and has employed them to further entrench and consolidate its power over all others, and in doing so, robbed democracy, liberty and freedom of their meanings and replaced it with fraudulent and abusive, pathological ideals, all the while overseeing the erosion of expectations, common sense and the obliteration of the social safety net in order to hand that common institution over to the privateers.

The Tyranny of an Idea: The Validity of the Middle Class

In an earlier blog I noted Kenneth Rexroth’s observation for the necessity of a nationalist “social lie” that advances the vested interests of the elites at the cost of everyone else. If, as a nation, people start questioning the lie, then perhaps the truth may emerge and make itself known. However, the ruling elites have done their job of social conditioning so extremely well, it is all too easy to understand how they have been able to deploy their ideological weaponry to convince an economically vulnerable and gullible public to not only vote against their chief public interests, but to support such measures out of a theological – like commitment to self-defeating ideologies, values, beliefs religious and political principles that are managed, manipulated and controlled through patriotic or religious sentimentality and cultural media conditioning.

In order for such a morally and ethically twisted system to retain its validity among the members of society, the ideology must be successfully sold to the populace. Part of that conditioning is generally accepted understanding by everyone that each one of us occupies a specific placement within this system, or Heaven help you, outside of it (And woe to those who are outside the system or fails to wear the signature of the Beast. Weeping and gnashing of teeth awaits).

One of the most successful of these ideologies that has benefited the social elites is the myth of the existence, sanctity and value of the American Middle Class, which exists as a metaphysically charged utopia within the minds of those who identify with its values, achievements and aspirations. As Howard Zinn points out, the Middle Class exists as an economic buffer or wedge between the elites and the impoverished. It also serves as a sentimental cultural set piece for the members of society to identify with, aspire to and maintain its place with American society.

Of course, there are various layers within this mythic class structure.  Somewhere between what I call the “safe” Middle Class, or those that have a dependable, secure access to income – and the working poor who mainly consist of the service sector is the layer of those that may live in the same neighborhoods as the safe Middle Class, but are desperately treading water. The anxiety of the Middle Class is broadcasted daily in the media with endless stories projecting the fears and doubts about its “shrinking.” This fear is massaged, nourished and broadcasted via the media to keep the populace anxious, for it is a well – known principle in advertising to “turn up the pain” to get the required response from those who are being sold. All advertising aims at maximizing discontent and demoralizing the individual/consumer with visions of social conflict amid reduced expectations and fear of losing out.

How skillful to tax the middle class to pay for the relief of the poor, building resentment on top of humiliation! How adroit to bus poor black youngsters into poor white neighborhoods, in a violent exchange of impoverished schools, while the schools of the rich remain untouched and the wealth of the nation, doled out carefully where children need free milk, is drained for billion-dollar aircraft carriers. How ingenious to meet the demands of blacks and women for equality by giving them small special benefits, and setting them in competition with everyone else for jobs made scares by an irrational, wasteful system. How wise to turn the fear and anger of the majority toward a class of criminals bred – by economic inequity – faster than they can be put away, deflecting attention from the huge thefts of national resources carried out within the law by men in executive offices.”

― Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492 – Present

Isn’t it funny how the politicians always talk about how great the middle class is, and yet the Middle Class is understood by everyone in America to be an endangered species? Isn’t it hilarious that the politicians sell so skillfully the bit about how ardent they are in pursuing the “national interests” as if all American Citizens held the same value as those who sit in the seats of real power in this country? Obviously, the anxiety that is palpable within the Middle Class exists as an unspoken, existential fear that as a group, there is no access or influence it can muster against those sitting in the seats of power. There can only be a grudging, resentful hope that the Middle Class won’t be sacrificed upon the crucible of neoliberal agenda. For the Middle Class there can only be the unrelenting churn of helplessness as they are chained to the deck chairs of a slowly sinking economic state of affairs.

It will never occur to them, until they are in danger of losing everything, to ask why should there even BE a “Middle Class,” never mind whether it should be something worth aspiring to or keep it around while ignoring its own certain and approaching death as it encounters the mother of all economic icebergs. It will never occur to them that the illusion of attaining the American Dream keeps the social and economic injustices firmly in place. As the neoliberal agenda marches onwards to total economic domination over every aspect of life, fear of equality will continued to milked for all its worth by the masters of deception and given to masses to drink, enabling the terrible truth to continue to be hidden in plain sight.

It is a fact that the current economic system in America is causing a growing crisis in democracy. As the Middle Class evaporates into the steam of cultural amnesia, so follows democracy, or what passes for democracy, with it. In its place awaits total economic domination of the neoliberal program. It doesn’t take much to overcome the fear of equality. It only takes the will to do so.

 

Fear of Equality, Part 13. Money and the Death of Democracy

 

NOTE

[1] “Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that the younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it. We had to theoretical the main principle vis-a-vis our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to give their due to the other elements involved in the interaction. But when it came to presenting a section of history, that is, to making a practical application, it was a different matter and there no error was permissible. Unfortunately, however, it happens only too often that people think they have fully understood a new theory and can apply it without more ado from the moment they have assimilated its main principles, and even those not always correctly. And I cannot exempt many of the more recent “Marxists” from this reproach, for the most amazing rubbish has been produced in this quarter, too. (Engels) Letter to J. Bloch, 21 September 1890

 

FEAR OF EQUALITY, PART 11. Our Enemy, the State

Alfred Jay Nock: Equality is an “utterly untenable popular perversion”
Alfred Jay Nock: Equality is an “utterly untenable popular perversion.”

The modern conservative movement, specifically its libertarianneoliberal wing, has its modern-day pop stars, grand masters and philosophical pillars who have formed and provided clear direction and shape to its doctrines and beliefs. Some of them are more wellknown than others. William F. Buckley, Jr., Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell, Ron Paul, Hayek and von Mises, et cetera. Some of these libertarian pillars originate from the more obscure past, yet still casts an influential shadow well into the 21st century. Alfred Jay Nock may not be as well-known today as he was during the middle of the 20th century, but his influence was profound during his lifetime as an author, social critic, educational theorist and anarcho-capitalist, and his thought has become embedded into the philosophical DNA of the modern libertarian-neoliberal movement.

While I find the collective brain trust of conservatism and neoliberalism (let’s dispense with the term “libertarian,” since its aims, definition and direction have been absorbed completely and successfully by the neoliberal project) somewhat wearisome and intellectually dishonest, one is bound to find points that are interesting and worthy of discussion. And that can be said of Nock’s views, of which many points are debatable, are at least coherent and soberminded. In particular, his biting critique of the academic system as it existed during his lifetime deserves to be considered here.

 Nock’s Theory of Education

Nock published his book A Theory of Education in the United States because he was troubled by the inadequacies of the educational system he observed as it existed in the 1930s. Nock had problems with the premise that the educational system presented to society. “Bring your children,” he claimed the system promised, “and we will put them through this process under the sanction of an egalitarian and democratic theory. It did not work.”

For Nock, there were very striking reasons why he considered the educational system to be a failure. (Remember, the era when he made his observations occurred in the 1920s1940s). The major fails appeared on the fault line of unsupported and illconceived premises based on sentimentality and poorly defined and confusing terms of art (more on this later). Nock identified three points of failure.

 The first point was the theory of equality. “All children,” the system told society,should be able to be educated equally.” Nock claimed this theory failed because reality suggests otherwise. [1]

Depending on class, environment and quality of teaching and parenting, it is inconceivable that a child in the impoverished Deep South (for instance) could acquire the same quality of education as a child blessed to be born into the moneyed coastal elite. Obviously, there are differences between academic achievements between schools, let alone within a room of students, as some of them will learn at a greater rate than others. Nock says that this inequality among the populace did not go unnoticed by the Founding Fathers. In fact, Nock, who studied the life of Thomas Jefferson, claimed that according to Jefferson’s written letters, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence was very concerned how to manage the educational talent in the several states and came up with an academic scheme that today sounds fantastical and a bit demented by today’s standards. [2]

Nock says that educational equality was obviously never taken seriously, least of all by the elites that owned the country. Thus, the theory that all children are able to be educated equally is based on a false definition of egalitarianism that is based on a mythic and cultural sentimentality. When class and money are concerned, the myth of educational equality is further decimated. Nock correctly observed that education was clearly a class prerogativea privilege afforded by class and wealth.

The second point of failure that Nock observed was the myth of Democracy. To begin with, Nock had serious problems with democracy, period. In an article entitled, The Criminality of the State published in 1939, Nock cried,

““Democratic State practice is nothing more or less than State practice. It does not differ from Marxist State practice, Fascist State practice, or any other. Here is the Golden Rule of sound citizenship, the first and greatest lesson in the study of politics: you get the same order of criminality from any State to which you give power to exercise it; and whatever power you give the State to do things for you carries with it the equivalent power to do things to you.”

Furthermore, Nock added these disdainful words, “Democracy is animated by a hatred of elitist authority.” In regard to the previous point about educational equality, Nock incorrectly surmises that democracy “it must aim at no ideas above those of the average man.” I am tempted to consider this quote a bit of a rhetorical flourish, but Nock isn’t usually taken to make statements he doesn’t wholeheartedly believe. Nock believed that the democratic state was at war with itself and against the individual.

Nock refers to and holds the view that has been shared by the elite from the beginning that the masses are merely self-serving idiots in need of guidance from the more intellectually advanced minority. Greek intellectual tradition of Western civilization has this ruling class template embedded in its core logicso embedded it is ubiquitous and taken for granted.[3], The result is a society at war with itself, engaging within a dynamic struggle between opposing currents of an internal conflict and anxiety within society.

The middle class anxietywhich is always fearful of sinking into poverty, mistrust, loathes and actively hates the ruling elites that offer the masses sustenance. This guidance more often than not metamorphosed into outright enslavement and exploitation of the masses.

This failure of democracy is linked to the previous point of educational equalityfor Nock, it is a false premise that education can be applied democraticallyin other wordsin equality. Democracy is a fiction, according to Nock, and does not in fact, exist on any level except through a cultural narrative based on sentimentality and confused language, which results in counterfeit versions of equality, democracy and literacy.

Nock stresses that this confusion of terms has also been laden with sentimental notions and specious logic, producing imitation (and devalued) definitions of equality, democracy and literacy. The masses become victimized by a predatory monetary system that is linked to a tyranny of ideas about equality and democracywhile remaining perversely loyal to the inequitable system that has enslaved and disempowered them. This misplaced cultural loyalty ironically closes down any attempt to adjust and abolish the current system. In this way, Nock feared democratic states were destined to authoritarianism.

The third point of failure was that it was assumed that what was considered best for the child was best for the country, and that a literate society was the goal for a highly functional state. However, the mass of society over time became more illiterate and less able to process information.

It is telling that thiscritique Nock made in the 1940s is still applicable today, as literacy rates continue to fall well into the 21st century. The promise of creating an informed literate class failed. Obviously, the educational system failed to create a literate citizenry. Nock observed that the crucial distinction between education and training had evaporated, and the assumption that all children could be educated equally was a mistaken one, as Nock considered the mass of humanity as “barbarians” unworthy and incapable of bettering their intellectual powers. Nock referred to the elite capable of superior mental ability as the “Remnant,” and Nock placed his faith in that small group since it was his opinion that this elite was largely responsible for the advancements made in any society. What could one really expect from a barbarian?

Nock concluded at the end of A Theory of Education, that although he was stridently opposed to statecontrolled compulsory education, he allowed that most people are able to be trained to perform various vocational tasks, but like his hero, Thomas Jefferson, only a few could be of real service for the country due to their superior intellect and power of thought. It was in this intellectual elite that Nock placed his hopes, as it was his view that the course of the country’s destiny was shaped and directed not by the barbarian masses, but by this superior intellectual elite.

Society’s Lies

Within the arena of human relationships, humanity has devised two strategies to address the human being’s need for survival: that is labor in exchange for labor, and appropriating the labor from others through force or exploitation.

One of the major influences on Nock’s world view was the social critic and anarchist, Franz Oppenheimer, who was of the opinion that the State engaged in wholesale robbery. Nock wholeheartedly shared this view as well [4]. It is unclear whether Nock shared Oppenheimer’s view that Capitalism’s exercise in exploitation was the key for generating the State’s wealth, but it is known that Nock held a generally favorable view of capitalism.

Nock’s radical individualism necessarily made him a staunch anti-collectivist. In his view, the common man was too finite, flawed and stupid to create a utopia. Besides, the State was dedicated to subverting the individual’s will in service of the State, thus making the State the poorest vehicle imaginable for addressing and providing solutions for the problems in society. The State held all the cards, and revolution only offered a change of a system of oppression. Nock saw that the State manipulating public opinion through slippery, sentimental and confusing language, especially more so with the media’s power to make any statement mean anything. Others have noticed this feature in governance, although the perspectives and conclusions may pull apart different dimensions and analysis. Kenneth Rexroth claimed:

 “Since all society is organized in the interest of exploiting classes and since if men knew this they would cease to work, and society would fall apart; it has always been necessary, at least since the urban revolutions, for societies to be governed ideologically by a system of fraud.”[5]

 

Rexroth called this system of fraud, thesocial lie.” According to the Classical Liberal narrative, the “social contract” born of the period of European Enlightenment had replaced the previous world order commonly known as the “divine right of kings.” Oppenheimer (and Rexroth, for that matter) considered the social contract little more than a myth, or in Rexroth’s words, “an eighteenth-century piece of verbalism.” The status quo is maintained by the anxiety produced within these internal conflicts we mentioned earlier (the resentment, fear and loathing directed towards the elite by the masses, and the perverse loyalty felt by the populace towards the ideological narratives justifying the exploitation).

Conclusion

What Nock didn’t realize or want to realize was that his critique equally applied to capitalism as well Anti-democratic crypto-authoritarianism. One wonders how Nock would view today’s corporate welfare state and how those commercial interests have essentially become “the government,” what with the 1% controlling the levels of power in Washington D.C.

In all of his criticisms about the adversarial nature of the State, Nock failed to comment on the incursion of corporate interests into the roles of government. Perhaps the intrusion of corporatism wasn’t as widely prevalent as it appears in modern times. On one hand as a staunch defender of free-market capitalism, Nock would be quite at home with the evolution of libertarian philosophy as it reaches into the 21st century and the neoliberal agenda of privatizing the social and natural resources. However, one can make a case that Nock would be greatly dismayed at the neoliberal program of empire-building and constant military involvement into the affairs of other countries. The free market ideals that Nock held so dear have morphed into crass casino capitalism where the free market has been replaced by a stateless, global economic cryptoauthoritarianism which owes its allegiance to no one and exploits for profit entire nations and peoples. Even the privatization of the world’s water supply has been targeted as fair game.

Nock may have been a harsh critic of equality and democratic values, but in all honesty, democracy had never allowed to organize itself in a way that would benefit everyone. Allow me to speak plainly: the foundation of the American State was organized by an elite of white men who saw themselves as the owners of the country, and was not above enslaving or destroying other cultures, races and women in order to build its unimaginable wealth for itself. Since colonial times, the evolution of capitalism has resulted in the corporate interests, and the governing State becoming oneit seems incredible that Nock, with all his intellectual powers and insight, couldn’t predict this. Maybe he had an inkling. Nevertheless, he chose not to acknowledge it out of a curious case cognitive dissonance.

The State doesn’t have to be our enemy but it could be is a Living Community based on the principle of mutual consent, mutual benefit, mutual prosperity bound together by acknowledgment that all of us have an equal share in the bounty this world has to offer.

 

Fear of Equality, Part 12: The Swinde of Fulfillment

 

NOTES

[1] “They did not pretend to believe that everyone is educable, for they knew, on the contrary, that very few are educable, very few indeed. They saw this as a fact of nature, like the fact that few are six feet tall. […] They accepted the fact that there are practicable ranges of intellectual and spiritual experience which nature has opened to some and closed to others.” Nock, Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, pg. 34 (1943)

[2] Jefferson’s ideal scholastic model consisted of a group of students passing through a series of institutional gauntlets, where students are culled at specific points: those that fail to reach the highest levels of accomplishments are sent home, while the top “geniuses” are selected to move into higher classes until only a few of the top scholars remain. Sounds like a colonial academic version of American Idol, doesn’t it? According to Jefferson, “by this means, 20 of the best geniuses (in each State, mind you), shall be raked from the rubbish annually.” Yes, the Father of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas “All men are created Equal” Jefferson considered his fellow countrymen to be nothing more than human trash, at least intellectually.

[3] Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were all held anti-democratic views, and insisted that the model society would require ruling by an intellectual elite, rigid social stratification, hierarchies and various divisions of labor.

[4]There are two methods, or means, and only two, whereby man’s needs and desires can be satisfied. One is the production and exchange of wealth; this is the economic means. The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others; this is the political means . . . the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation.  Nock, Our Enemy, The State 1935

[5] Interview with Kenneth Rexroth, from Lawrence Lipton’s The Holy Barbarians (Messner, 1959).