Democracy Incorporated

Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 384
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    Democracy Incorporated
    Book Description:

    Democracy is struggling in America--by now this statement is almost cliché. But what if the country is no longer a democracy at all? InDemocracy Incorporated, Sheldon Wolin considers the unthinkable: has America unwittingly morphed into a new and strange kind of political hybrid, one where economic and state powers are conjoined and virtually unbridled? Can the nation check its descent into what the author terms "inverted totalitarianism"?

    Wolin portrays a country where citizens are politically uninterested and submissive--and where elites are eager to keep them that way. At best the nation has become a "managed democracy" where the public is shepherded, not sovereign. At worst it is a place where corporate power no longer answers to state controls. Wolin makes clear that today's America is in no way morally or politically comparable to totalitarian states like Nazi Germany, yet he warns that unchecked economic power risks verging on total power and has its own unnerving pathologies. Wolin examines the myths and mythmaking that justify today's politics, the quest for an ever-expanding economy, and the perverse attractions of an endless war on terror. He argues passionately that democracy's best hope lies in citizens themselves learning anew to exercise power at the local level.

    Democracy Incorporatedis one of the most worrying diagnoses of America's political ills to emerge in decades. It is sure to be a lightning rod for political debate for years to come.

    In a new preface, Wolin describes how the Obama administration, despite promises of change, has left the underlying dynamics of managed democracy intact.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3484-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the Paperback Edition
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xxiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
  6. Preview
    (pp. 1-3)

    The Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl’s famous (or infamous) propaganda tribute to Hitler, memorialized the 1934 rally of the Nazi Party at Nuremberg. It begins with a dramatic, revelatory moment. The camera is trained on a densely clouded sky. Magically, the clouds suddenly part and a tiny plane glides through. It swoops down, lands, and The Leader, in uniform, emerges and strides triumphantly past the salutes of admiring throngs and the party faithful. As the film draws to a close, the camera becomes riveted on a seemingly endless parade, row on row, of uniformed Nazis, shoulder to shoulder, goose-stepping...

  7. CHAPTER ONE Myth in the Making
    (pp. 4-14)

    If the burning of the German Parliament (Reichstag) in 1933 produced the symbolic event portending the destruction of parliamentary government by dictatorship, the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack upon the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, were a revelatory moment in the history of American political life.

    What did the selected targets symbolize? Unlike the Reichstag fire the attacks were not aimed at what could be characterized as the architecture of constitutional democracy and the system of power that it represented. Neither the congressional buildings nor the White House was attacked;³ nor were the symbols of democracy,...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Totalitarianism’s Inversion: Beginnings of the Imaginary of a Permanent Global War
    (pp. 15-40)

    Is an American version of totalitarianism plausible, even conceivable? Or is inverted totalitarianism merely a contemporary libel imposed on an innocent past; or, perhaps, like profane love, an identity which cannot be acknowledged by a public discourse that assumes totalitarianism is the foreign enemy?

    Underlying those questions is an important preliminary consideration: how would we go about detecting the signs of totalitarianism? how would we know what we are becoming? how, as a citizenry, would we set about separating what we are from the illusions we may have about who we are?

    One could start by scrutinizing certain actions of...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Totalitarianism’s Inversion, Democracy’s Perversion
    (pp. 41-68)

    Save for the shameful “relocation” of American citizens of Japanese ancestry, very few governmental actions during World War II could be described accurately as repressive. Perhaps that was why Corwin’sTotal War and the Constitutionhad not entertained the possibility that, in- stead of a sweeping regulation of economy and society, a rapid increase in the size of the federal bureaucracy, and a unified front to a singular outside threat, totality might take the form of a convergence: between an external threat, part real, part imaginary, part concocted, and the indirect totalizing “forces” already at work “inside.” Under that scenario...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR The New World of Terror
    (pp. 69-81)

    In Western thought the idea of a New World was typically used to support a myth of a fresh beginning, a place of promise, a new birth. As the “first new nation,” the United States was widely regarded as fulfilling that promise, even though there were several old nations already occupying the land. But today the myth of a “new world” is not superimposed on an uncharted land, a tabula rasa, or blank tablet, awaiting inscription. Rather the idea is necessarily superimposed on an existing world. To the extent that it envisions a radically changed system, a new world represents...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE The Utopian Theory of Superpower: The Official Version
    (pp. 82-94)

    Superpower is not just a system of aggrandizing power but an attempt at reconstituting the nation’s identity. A compact statement of the ideology of Superpower was set out inThe National Security Strategy of the United Statesof September 9, 2002 (hereafter NSS).³ It represented the clearest formulation of the administration’s understanding of the mission of Superpower and of its totalizing reach. The document is also the best evidence of the ideology promoting inverted totalitarianism. In the course of its claims one can clearly see the components on which a grandiose conception of power relies and the global ambitions that...

  12. CHAPTER SIX The Dynamics of Transformation
    (pp. 95-113)

    One of the oldest political platitudes teaches that political systems can experience changes of such magnitude and velocity that their identity is altered, literally trans-formed. The city-states of ancient Greece underwent frequent and often dizzying transformations, from cities governed by aristocracies to ones run by those characterized as democrats; Athenian democracy transformed itself into an empire and the Roman republic did the same; eventually both Athenian democracy and the Roman republic disappeared, eviscerated by their own expansionism. Seventeenth-century England went full cycle in little more than two decades, from monarchy to rule by Parliament to the dictatorship of Cromwell to...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN The Dynamics of the Archaic
    (pp. 114-130)

    Not long ago, as Americans were poised to welcome the third millennium, there was much speculation about future discoveries, inventions, and economic progress, and about the rewards due a society devoted to science, technology, and capitalism. The anticipation reflected the kind of national identity to which the society was seemingly dedicated: to forms of knowledge, their organization, their application, and supporting culture that were worldly, materialistic, ever-changing, and firmly fixed upon the here and now.

    However, in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential campaign and of the memorializing of 9/11, Americans were confronted with a very different notion of who...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT The Politics of Superpower: Managed Democracy
    (pp. 131-158)

    Superpower is the union of state and corporation in an age of waning democracy and political illiteracy. This chapter inquires into some of the political changes that are making Superpower and inverted totalitarianism possible and demoting democracy from a formative principle to a largely rhetorical function within an increasingly corrupt political system. The crux of these changes is that corporate power and its culture are no longer external forces that occasionally influence policies and legislation. As these have become integral, so the citizenry has become marginal and democracy more manageable. What follows is an account of these developments.

    Superpower has...

  15. CHAPTER NINE Intellectual Elites against Democracy
    (pp. 159-183)

    As we saw in the preceding chapter, historically the idea of elite rule conceived democracy as its antithesis and natural enemy. With the emergence of the modern state, postmodern technologies, and post Cold War complexities elitism’s claims, that governance demands a special order of skills lacking in ordinary citizens and should be entrusted to the Few who possess them, would seem irrefutable, especially when democracy is seen as increasingly anachronistic. Today, when the appeal of democracy is being touted by ruling elites and exploited as an instrument of American power, elite contempt is prudently camouflaged, or perhaps sublimated, as managed...

  16. CHAPTER TEN Domestic Politics in the Era of Superpower and Empire
    (pp. 184-210)

    Before attaining power and even afterwards, totalitarian parties all characterized politics as an epical “struggle” or a “war” in which the very fate of society was declared to be at stake. A party was conceived as a “fighting organization” designed for gaining a total monopoly over politics and eventually establishing a one-party state in which opposition parties and contested politics were declared illegal and suppressed. Within the party and its auxiliaries (youth and women’s organizations, veterans’ groups, business and farm organizations) power was ordered by hierarchical principles of command—and subordination: leadership, loyalty, discipline, and rigid observance of “the party...

  17. CHAPTER ELEVEN Inverted Totalitarianism: Antecedents and Precedents
    (pp. 211-237)

    In late November and early December 2004, a million citizens of Kiev and from other parts of Ukraine assembled in the public square of Kiev to protest the results of a national election, claiming that it had been deeply flawed by fraud and that the true winner was the candidate of the opposition party. Foreign observers largely agreed that the election had been marred by widespread irregularities. The protesters demanded a recount and held firm for several days until an agreement was reached that set a date for a new election. This in a society that had no strong tradition...

  18. CHAPTER TWELVE Demotic Moments
    (pp. 238-258)

    Any prospect of revitalizing democracy in America should not assume that we can start afresh. It is not morning in America. The first step should be to reflect on the changes of the past half century that have distorted the cultural supports of democracy and eroded its political practices while preparing the way for a politics and political culture favorable to inverted totalitarianism.

    Inverted totalitarianism marks a political moment when corporate power finally sheds its identification as a purely economic phenomenon, confined primarily to a domestic domain of “private enterprise,” and evolves into a globalizing copartnership with the state: a...

  19. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Democracy’s Prospects: Looking Backwards
    (pp. 259-292)

    At the critical moment when a volatile economy and widening class disparities require a government responsive to popular needs, government has become increasingly unresponsive; and, conversely, when an aggressive state stands most in need of being restrained, democracy proved an ineffectual check. A public fearful of terrorist attacks and bewildered by a war based on deceit is unable to function as the rational conscience of the American state, capable of checking the impulse to adventurism and the systematic evasion of constitutional constraints. A politics of dumbed-down public discourse and low voter turnout combines with a dynamic economy of stubborn inequalities...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 293-337)
  21. Index
    (pp. 338-356)