Wednesday, September 24, 2014

It is in the Ether: Have You Read Chris Hedges' New Comments on 'Inverted Totalitarianism'?

We have talked about Sheldon Wolin's concept of "inverted totalitarianism" several times here on WARN.

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 [1994] 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?


balitwilight said...

Very interesting read. In some ways, Inverted Totalitarianism calls back to Ray Bradbury, "Fahrenheit 451" and Aldous Huxley, "Brave New World". The most powerful tyranny is the one that has no name, that makes us all like frogs trying to name the invisible slowly boiling water we live in.

If there were one concept I would like Americans to understand it is Neoliberalism. It is the key to seeing beyond the silly puppet-play that "Democrats" and "Republicans" put on for our entertainment, into the deep shadows where the puppeteers do their work. Neoliberalism is the demonic synthesis of Government and Corporations - where our very laws and regulations of government are written by and for corporate profit. This is where Obama and Mitt Romney meet: Private-Profit Warfare; Criminal-Justice and Prisons; Education Policy; International Treaties; Climate Policy; Privacy; Housing Policy... all policies entirely captured for private profit, and at the expense of public good.

While too many Americans are deliberately distracted playing the silly Team Democrat/Team Republican games, inverted totalitarianism ushered in by Neo-Liberalism has joined the "two parties" and corporate interests into one single Leviathan (or vampire-squid - pick your metaphor). While all profit is sucked out of what used to be our commonwealth - OUR inheritance as Americans - we are all sold lies about how empowered we will be in this "new economy", if we just get More Educated!, Compete! -- and buy the new iPhone.

chauncey devega said...

Neoliberalism is the water the fish breathes in and the air the land dweller breathes. When I talk about it w. students they look at me like I am crazy because they cannot imagine another reality.

balitwilight said...

Good points. Maybe more focus on phenomena and less on labels. Some of the things you list are different names for the same things...

Speaking of naming, you identified "de-regulation" as one of the pillars of neo-liberalism. Actually, neo-liberalism is ALL ABOUT regulation - just the kind of regulation that enslaves citizens to corporate profits. Digital Rights/Copyright Law. Patent Law. NAFTA. Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Trade Treaty. "Obamacare". That last one regulates CITIZENS to pay PRIVATE COMPANIES ("health insurance") for the privilege of breathing in the USA. The TPP would regulate GOVERNMENTS to have to refund international corporations if their citizens pass any laws that REDUCE the corporation's profit!!(Obama was a champion for both these last two).

The "de-regulation" mantra is just a marketing buzzword to capture the dim imaginations of Nixon (racist) Democrats, paleo-conservatives, ignorant libertartians and neo-confederates.

kscoyote said...

It looks to me more like Southern Plantation politics. It needs no jargon.