Managed Democracy and Superpower

Democracy Inc cover The following is an excerpt from Chalmers Johnson’s review of Sheldon Wolin’s powerful book “Democracy Incorporated. Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism”.

“We now have a new, comprehensive diagnosis of our failings as a democratic polity by one of our most seasoned and respected political philosophers. (…)

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.

Wolin’s work is fully accessible. Understanding his argument does not depend on possessing any specialized knowledge (…).

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. 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.”

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.”

Click to read Chalmers Johnson’s book review (new window)
Published on May 15, 2008 in truth dig

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