It is an immensely important and insightful framework for understanding American politics in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. When Wolin's book "Democracy Incorporated" is read in tandem with Kevin Phillip's "American Theocracy" a painful clarity is achieved about the present and future health of American civic life.
If one wants to be made truly ill, add Richard Perlstein's book on Ronald Reagan to the mix as a culminating assignment. Wolin, Phillips, and Perlstein constitute a trifecta of harsh truths about American politics in an age of spectacle, austerity, and "irreality". In total, they are political Ipecac.
During a recent panel discussion in New York, political essayist and author Chris Hedges made the following observations about inverted totalitarianism and its relationship to the rightward shift in American politics:
We are governed, rather, by a species of corporate totalitarianism, or what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin describes as “inverted totalitarianism.” By this Wolin means a system where corporate power, while it purports to pay fealty to electoral politics, the Constitution, the three branches of government and a free press, along with the iconography and language of American patriotism, has in fact seized all the important levers of power to render the citizen impotent.
The old liberal class, the safety valve that addressed grievances and injustices in times of economic or political distress, has been neutered. There are self-identified liberals, including Barack Obama, who continue to speak in the old language of liberalism but serve corporate power. This has been true since the Clinton administration. Bill Clinton found that by doing corporate bidding he could get corporate money—thus NAFTA, the destruction of our welfare system, the explosion of mass incarceration under the  omnibus bill, the deregulation of the FCC, turning the airwaves over to a half dozen corporations, and the revoking of FDR’s 1933 Glass-Steagall reform that had protected our banking system from speculators. Clinton, in exchange for corporate money, transformed the Democratic Party into the Republican Party. This was diabolically brilliant. It forced the Republican Party to shift so far to the right it became insane.He continued:
If we appeal to self-identified liberals in the establishment who have no capacity or desire to carry out the radical reforms, we will pour energy into a black hole. And this is what the corporate state seeks. It seeks to perpetuate the facade of democracy. It seeks to make us believe what is no longer real, that if we work within the system we can reform it. And it has put in place a terrifying superstructure to silence all who step outside the narrow parameters it defines as acceptable.
The Democratic Party speaks to us “rationally.” The party says it seeks to protect civil liberties, regulate Wall Street, is concerned about the plight of the working class and wants to institute reforms to address climate change. But in all these areas, and many more, it has, like its Republican counterpart, repeatedly sold out the citizenry for corporate power and corporate profits—in much the same manner that Big Green environmental groups such as the Climate Group and the Environmental Defense Fund have sold out the environmental movement.Inverted totalitarianism is a concept which has not received much attention among the general public.
In much the same way that neoliberalism has infiltrated day-to-day life as a type of taken for granted common sense, inverted totalitarianism--and the assumption that capitalism, the corporation, and democracy are all mutually dependent if not interchangeable--is neither discussed or understood by the general public.
This is not a surprise. It is also expected given how the corporate mass media, the educational system, and other agents of political socialization would not openly reveal how American democracy has been subverted and undermined by the corporate-surveillance state as such an admission would implicate them in the process.
However, one would think that the concept of inverted totalitarianism would be embraced as an essential part of the conceptual (and rhetorical toolbox) by ostensibly "liberal" or "moderate" websites such as the Daily Kos.
Apparently this is not the case. In response to my use of the phrase inverted totalitarianism at the Daily Kos several days ago, commenter bobswern replied with this helpful observation:
I've been writing about Wolin's "inverted totalitarianism" at Daily Kos for more than a couple of years; and you probably would not be shocked by some of the comments and insults directed towards me for mentioning it in this community. (It's that "T-word" that gets people upset, because they don't bother actually learning about the the definition of the term; they just see "red," and respond accordingly.)
Most that get upset by this term in this online community do so: a.) in part out of ignorance about the actual meaning of the term; b.) or, due to cognitive dissonance, and/or the basic concept that anyone who uses the "T-word" must be an "Obama-hater," a "conspiracy theorist," or both; or, c.) a combination of the previous two statements...Hell! There are at least a couple of DOZEN people in this community that have made a point of calling me a "conspiracy theorist" (and others) just for using the word, "Orwellian," come to think of it!
So, I guess--based upon her own statements just a week ago--that means that Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor must be a "conspiracy theorist," too?!?Supposed liberals and progressives are hamstrung by a fear of being seen as caricatures from their enemies on the Right. Conservatives have no fear of the converse. Consequently, mainstream and centrist liberals and progressives operate within a very narrow space of the approved public discourse and script. In essence, the polite and moderate Left is fighting on the terrain of their enemy, inside a proverbial phone booth, as the issue space is moved farther and farther to the Right.
Who wins? The White Right, the plutocrats, and the Republican Party.
George Lakoff has written extensively about how the American Left lost the language wars to conservatives. In an effort to counter that pattern, how can important concepts such as inverted totalitarianism be filtered down to the general public?
[As a bonus, here is a great interview with former Black Panther, Eddie Conway, where he discusses American fascism and its specific cultural and historic traits.]
Are there any other concepts or ideas that you believe should be more widely understood by the American people, but to this point they have not been so enlightened or informed about?