America’s shrinking democracy

Prof. Peter Dale Scott is an astute observer of social and political phenomena. In his recent article, The Doomsday Project, Deep Events, and the Shrinking of American Democracy, he provides what I think is a very useful analysis of the present crisis in American government, which has serious implications for money, banking, and the shift toward a sustainable economy.

Here is an excerpt:

I would like in this essay to go further and propose a framework to analyze the on-going forces underlying all of the most important deep events, and how they have contributed to the political ascendance of what used to be called the military-industrial complex.  I hope to describe certain impersonal governing laws that determine the socio-dynamics of all large-scale societies (often called empires) that deploy their surplus of power to expand beyond their own borders and force their will on other peoples. This process of expansion generates predictable trends of behavior in the institutions of all such societies, and also in the individuals competing for advancement in those institutions. In America it has converted the military-industrial complex from a threat at the margins of the established civil order, to a pervasive force dominating that order.

With this framework I hope to persuade readers that in some respects our recent history is simpler than it appears on the surface and in the media. Our society, by its very economic successes and consequent expansion, has been breeding impersonal forces both outside and within itself that are changing it from a bottom-up elective democracy into a top-down empire. And among these forces are those that produce deep events.

I am far from alone in seeing this degradation of America’s policies and political processes. A similar pattern, reflecting the degradation of earlier empires, was described at length by the late Chalmers Johnson:

The evidence is building up that in the decade following the end of the Cold War, the United States largely abandoned a reliance on diplomacy, economic aid, international law, and multilateral institutions in carrying out its foreign policies and resorted much of the time to bluster, military force, and financial manipulation.

But my analysis goes beyond that of Johnson, Kevin Phillips, Andrew Bacevich, and other analysts, in proposing that three major deep events – Dallas, Watergate, and 9/11 – were not just part of this degradation of American democracy, but played a significant role in shaping it.

As author Michael Lind has observed, there have for a long time been two prevailing and different political cultures in America, underlying political differences in the American public, and even dividing different sectors of the American government.  One culture is predominantly egalitarian and democratic, working for the legal consolidation of human rights both at home and abroad. The other, less recognized but with deep historical roots, prioritizes and teaches the use of repressive violence against both domestic and Third World populations to maintain “order.”

To some extent these two mindsets are found in all societies. They correspond to two opposing modes of power and governance that were defined by Hannah Arendt as “persuasion through arguments” versus “coercion by force.” Arendt, following Thucydides, traced these to the common Greek way of handling domestic affairs, which was persuasion (πείθειν) as well as the common way of handling foreign affairs, which was force and violence (βία).”

Writing amid the protests and riots of the 1960s, Arendt feared that traditional authority was at risk, threatened (in her eyes) by the contemporary “loss of tradition and of religion.” A half century later, I would argue that a far greater danger to social equilibrium comes now from those on the right who invoke authority in the name of tradition and religion. With America’s huge expansion into the enterprise of covertly dominating and exploiting the rest of the world, the open processes of persuasion, which have been America’s traditional ideal for handling domestic affairs, have increasingly tilted towards top-down violence.

This tilt towards violent or repressive power is defended rhetorically as a means to preserve social stability, but in fact it threatens it. As Kevin Phillips and others have demonstrated, empires built on violent or repressive power tend to rise and then fall, often with surprising rapidity.  Underlying the discussion in this essay is the thesis that repressive power is unstable, creating dialectical forces both within and outside its system. Externally, repressive power helps create its own enemies, as happened with Britain (in India), France (in Indochina) and the Netherlands (in Indonesia).

Read the full essay here.

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2 responses to “America’s shrinking democracy

  1. Pingback: America’s Shrinking Democracy - Tom Greco at Chelsea Green

  2. In taking time to study “tradition and religion”, using such sources as legal historian Leonard Levy and Pulitzer prize winning author Jack N Rakove, the process of law seems to center around the central process of individual immunity, “nemo tenatur prodere seipsum” an ancient concept which means, loosely translated, that no man may be forced to accuse himself.

    This was later incorporated into our 5th and indirectly the 14th amendment. No man can be compelled to be a witness against himself. John Lilburne, arguing for this against Star Chamber, used the trial of Jesus as an example, and in fact, the practice does originate from ancient Talmudic law. Compelled evidence is not valid.

    It is important to understand this as part of constitutional protection, because no person may be deprived of life, liberty, or property but by due process of law, which is defined by Joseph Story as presentment and indictment according to common law, not constitutional law.

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