October 27, 2007

It's Called the Ruling Class Because It Rules

Sisters and brothers, girls and boys: I obviously do not say the ruling class "rules," using "rules" in its contemporary colloquial sense, meaning that the ruling class is the most awesome and keenest contraption since fully functional, life-sized Ken and Barbie dolls that can fulfill each and every one of your private (and hopefully wonderfully disturbing) fantasies. How much more pleasant life in Imperial America would be if I did.

No, I mean the ruling class, including those corporations of vast wealth and influence, together with the necessarily corrupt and loathsome inhabitants of the swamp which contains our national politicians along with much other nauseating detritus, determines and enforces policy both at home and abroad, it controls the terms of debate through the collusion of its willing adjunct, the major media, and it acts to satisfy the most critical goals of the ruling class's various components. The primary goal is, of course, the accumulation of still more wealth and power. (See "The Elites Who Rule Us" and "Cui Bono? -- and Bush's Monstrous, Deadly Dare" for the details.)

As we shall see in the next installments of my series concerning the recent taser incident at the University of Florida, the reaction of most people to that demonstration of potentially deadly state power included some highly disturbing elements. Several of those elements reveal a culture that is fully prepared for the final slide into dictatorship, and they include an unthinkingly enthusiastic willingness to defer to that holiest of holies, the law. Most commentators contemplated the noble spectacle of the Glorious Warriors of the State, embodied by the heroic gang of campus police, descending on that day's threat to Civilization and Order, a gangling, nonthreatening, lone student, and almost as one, they cried, progressives and conservatives alike: "We must obey the law! We must do what the police tell us! We must, we must, we must!" (The next installment of that series will provide many examples of this reaction, including examples from self-identified progressives and liberals. This problem lies far beneath political designations; it is more fundamental, and thus far worse as a sign of things to come.)

They did not mean this in a simply practical sense: that you would often be best advised to do what the police tell you whenever they begin to order you around, primarily to avoid still worse trouble. That would not be too troubling, although even that serves to underscore the fact that when the state targets you, regardless of the nature of the crime and whether you have in fact committed what ought to be a crime in the first place, you are close to entirely helpless before its power.

But that's not what most people meant about the taser incident. What they meant is troubling in a much deeper sense: they meant that the law and its enforcers are right. They meant that the state is concerned with genuine threats to public safety and "order." After all, they ominously pointed out, Andrew Meyer might have done something terrible! Never forget he kept waving that book around. He even raised his voice -- primarily to ask for help, which was not forthcoming. These commentators meant that the law and its representatives are intent only on protecting us. The state and its enforcers are Good and Virtuous. Their hearts are Pure and Noble. When you accept the general American "exceptionalist" myth, you will be ready and eager to accept its narrower manifestations. America the Good has only Good Police, and Good Soldiers. (Right. Indubitably correct.) You should do what they tell you, without question and without resistance.

If you resist -- even if you are, in fact, fully justified in resisting, since the state's agents should never have approached you in the first place -- then you are the one who makes the police take stronger measures. You pushed your way to the head of the line to ask a question no one else would ask -- the question that everyone should be asking all the time, every day -- and you saw nothing in your behavior that merited being arrested. Perhaps you might have deserved a warning from the college administration, and even a notation in your student record. But arrest? Why, in God's name? So you resisted. Therefore, said many progressives and conservatives, Andrew Meyer "deserved" what he got. He "asked for it."

Such people are ready for the yoke. They will put the chains on themselves. Many of them already have, and now they can't wait to put the chains on everyone else, especially on the "troublemakers." In the wake of another significant terrorist attack or two here in the U.S., plentiful chains will not be long in coming. But more about all that in the continuation of the "Final Descent" series.

To return to the law: this unquestioning reverence for "the law" represents a significant failure of understanding and analysis, and an appalling ignorance of history. We saw this in the midst of the sickening racism that was revealed in the recent controversies about immigration, and in the widespread condemnation of "illegal immigrants." They're "illegal"! That is bad. It's, like, an axiom. Is it?

On this general point, in "The Triumph of Racism" while analyzing an especially repugnant example of racist condescension from a nominal liberal, Eric Alterman, I wrote:
Alterman echoes all the mindless, contentless screams of the racist conservatives who railed against this bill: "But they're illegal immigrants! They broke the law, our law!" Neither Alterman nor the conservatives choose to acknowledge, let alone address, how those laws are written, whose interests they serve, or how arbitrarily they are enforced. Not for Alterman or for the conservatives, any recognition of one of the most fundamental of human rights, the right to move, which [Sheldon] Richman mentions in his column but almost no one else does. They shout, "The law! The law!," like any barbarian, not even beginning to understand that is only the first step of the inquiry, not anywhere near the last.


[Liberals like Alterman] still believe, like not very bright children who believe in Santa Claus past the age of six or seven, that calling something "government" or appealing to "a society of laws" purifies it of self-interest and corrupted and corruptible motives and concerns. They seem to be incapable of understanding that, from the first historic forms of the State, the State has always formed and will always form alliances with certain individuals and segments of society -- to which the government bureaucrats will provide favors and special dispensations, and to the severe disadvantage of those individuals and groups that are not so favored. I will return to this issue and many related ones in my upcoming series on tribalism in politics; for now, I note that our contemporary tribalists believe, without any history or evidence whatsoever to support the claim, that if only members of their tribe were in charge, they would act in saintly and disinterested ways, and they would be uniformly non-venal, non-self-seeking, and non-human. Good luck with that. It has never happened and it never will, barring a fundamental transformation of what it means to be human.
The law is not some Platonic Form plucked from the skies by the Pure in Heart. Laws are written by men, men who have particular interests, particular constituencies, particular donors, and particular friends. (The same is now true of women as well, of course. But for most of our history, it was men and only men. Straight, white men, to be precise; see here and here.) Laws are the particular means by which the state implements and executes its vast powers. When an increasingly authoritarian state passes a certain critical point in its development, the law is no longer the protector of individual rights and individual liberty. The law becomes the weapon of the state itself -- to protect, not you, but the state from threats to its own powers. We passed that critical point some decades ago. The law is the means by which the state corrals its subjects, keeps them under control, and forbids them from acting in ways that the overlords might perceive as threatening. In brief, today, in these glorious United States, the law is not your friend.

In "The Triumph of Racism," I included this genuinely awful passage from Alterman:
Personally, I support a fence. The current system encourages the horrific abuses that take place against immigrants attempting to sneak in. Naturally, I support allowing generous numbers of immigrants into this country, but I support doing so legally, first and foremost. I also think it encourages contempt for the law, which is a net negative in any society. (I also support the legalization of pot for the same reason.)
The earlier post considers the elitist racism of Alterman's perspective with regard to the immigration question. Previously, I didn't focus on Alterman's comment about "the legalization of pot," but let's consider it briefly in this context. Alterman says nothing about individual rights, including a person's right to his own body. No, he speaks about laws that are frequently broken and disregarded, and how this failure of obedience "encourages contempt for the law."

How pathetically sickening. This perspective reveals a cramped and crabbed spirit, and an impoverished intellect. Given the ravages of the Drug War, an entirely phony war that has destroyed numerous lives, including the lives of a huge proportion of several generations of young African-Americans, to speak of "contempt for the law" -- when the vast majority of the laws in question are entirely invalid and indefensible -- is obscene. I thought self-identified liberals had somewhat loftier concerns. At least, that's what they keep telling us. Live and learn.

In an authoritarian state, the law is not designed to protect the ordinary citizen and his or her rights. The law's purpose is to control you, to limit your choices in every area of your life and, when necessary, to imprison and destroy you. I repeat: the law is not your friend.

And the law is the tool of the ruling class -- which brings us to the latest FISA obscenity. When the law might prove to be troublesome to a significant component of the ruling class -- say, the hugely powerful and wealthy telecom industry -- change it! Retroactive immunity! Now, in this sense, the law is certainly the coolest thing ever! It rocks!

Chris Dodd is attempting to stop, or at least slow down, this monstrous attack on truth, justice and (insert laugh track) the American way. Good for him. That the protection of fundamental principles of fairness -- to say nothing of some of the foundations of the original conception of American government -- should depend on such parliamentary strategems reflects only how frayed the imitation of a democratic republic that serves as the U.S. government has become. It is now so delicate that the entire edifice could be collapsed overnight. One more significant terrorist attack will certainly do it.

And, dear reader, let me ask you this. Do you honestly believe -- honestly, take a few moments to consider the matter in the privacy of your own mind, and we promise not to ask you to give the game away publicly -- that even if Dodd manages to stop this bill, the telecoms will ever suffer a penalty of any significance for what they have done? The telecoms and their full partner, the federal government, will avail themselves of endless evidentiary challenges and obstacles, they will delay any outcome through years of appeals, and they will dilute, postpone and otherwise render any judgment close to meaningless via numerous other routes. And what about the criminals who designed and ordered the surveillance in the first place? What about impeachment of at least one of the numerous criminals in this administration? If you're serious at all about "accountability," justice and similar notions -- all of which today have been ground into dust by the rampaging leviathan state -- impeachment proceedings would begin tomorrow. Oh, but that's "off the table." Of course. Thus does the ruling class protect itself.

And do you genuinely believe that anything will roll back the government's surveillance powers? Only a few months ago, the Democratic Congress significantly expanded those powers. Do you truly believe Dodd's tactics will alter our course in any way that matters? Do you think the suffocating agglomeration of vast and growing government power will be turned aside so easily?

For God's sake, grow up. As sincerely as I laud Dodd for the attempt -- at least he seems to give a damn, which is more than can be said about almost anyone else in Washington -- Dodd's effort will ultimately be a blip of no importance at all. The steamroller of government, and of the desire for power on the part of every Republican and Democrat in Congress, two or three people excepted, will crush him easily enough. Look at the big picture. Consider the unrelenting, unstoppable developments of the last century -- and note how they tend to only one result: a corporatist, authoritarian state, which feasts on oppression, war and death, both here and abroad.

Speaking of history, we will now consider an entry from Glenn Greenwald, only one from his infinite series on How to Restore America's Nobility and Reclaim Our Indispensable Role in the Vast Cosmos, in Just One or Two Easy Lessons! The lesson in this instance is Dodd's resistance to retroactive immunity and how, if private lawsuits against the telecoms are able to continue, we may eventually discover the truth of what happened here and return government to a more properly limited role, the sun will shine more brightly than ever before, and each one of you gets a puppy.

(A brief tangent about my perspective: this essay is written with an admittedly sardonic, bitter and sarcastic tone. I have explained many of the issues that follow on numerous earlier occasions, although using different specific examples. I've been over this general ground many times. For the last several years, I have tried to reach readers more "gently" and "politely," slowly leading them through the mounds of evidence, trying to encourage them to draw the indicated conclusions. My efforts proved entirely useless. Perhaps the literary equivalent of several very heavy two by fours over the head will do the job more effectively. In addition, as this and certain upcoming essays will demonstrate in detail, I have realized several critical facts about the online liberal-progressive community in the last half-year or so. One of those facts is that the majority of online liberals are considerably more stupid than I had thought, and hoped. My evidence follows, in part here and in part in coming weeks, and you are encouraged to make your own judgment on this matter. And while I realize that, for most blog readers, nothing can possibly matter if it wasn't written in the last 15 minutes, many of my earlier essays also provide copious evidence supporting my judgment.)

In describing the close cooperation between the Bush administration and certain telecom companies, Greenwald writes:
The private/public distinction here has eroded almost completely. There is no governmental oversight or regulation of these companies. Quite the contrary, they work in secret and in tandem -- as one consortium -- with no oversight at all.


There is obviously nothing inherently wrong with corporations competing for lucrative government contracts. But the work they were to perform here -- in providing unfettered data and other information regarding the communications of Americans -- was illegal under multiple federal laws enacted precisely to prohibit telecoms from providing access without warrants to the data and content of their customers's calls.
Ponder the critical sentence: "There is obviously nothing inherently wrong with corporations competing for lucrative government contracts." The "obviously" is a nice touch, and a revealing one -- revealing of massive historical ignorance, of a profound inability to understand either political theory or political reality, and of Greenwald's constant desire to reassure his readers that he's not proposing anything too radical or too upsetting. "Obviously," there is nothing wrong with the fundamental principle that began to undermine the original design of American government in the late nineteenth century, the principle that gathered full power in the twentieth century, and the principle that has led to the catastrophe that confronts us today. "Obviously" we can fix this, if only our hearts and minds are pure in intent and purpose: some oversight here and there, add a little accountability, and the blazing sun and the puppy dog are yours for keeps. We'll even throw in a few rainbows, just to make it all, you know, pretty.

Note, too, the unquestioning reverence for "the law." What the government and the telecoms did here was illegal, as Greenwald bolds the word in his original text just so we realize how truly terrible this is. What's the implication? If they had gotten warrants and made the spying legal, everything would be peachy keen? Must I remind you that the very purpose of the secret FISA court from its inception was to largely strip the Fourth Amendment of all meaning and force? (And see Jonathan Turley here on the same point.) Must I remind you that FISA grants virtually every warrant that is requested? Must I remind you that every dictatorship has laws? The question is not whether a given activity conforms to the law. The question is whether the law protects individual rights, and whether the law is defensible.

The Military Commissions Act is the law. It happens to be a law that destroys the foundation of liberty, habeas corpus, and that makes it legal for the government to torture anyone it chooses, and then to use "evidence" obtained through torture in proceedings against anyone it chooses. But it's the law. As I said in "The Triumph of Racism," examining the law in question "is only the first step in the inquiry, not anywhere near the last."

In "Dominion Over the World," I am discussing certain failures of analysis and of historical understanding on both the right and the left. Near the beginning of Part IV, I wrote:
The other error occurs on the liberal side of the political spectrum. It consists of the view that an increasingly centralized and more powerful federal government can be pursued for allegedly "positive" ends domestically, without having serious implications for foreign policy. We shall see that this view is also factually false. In its most critical respects, the Progressive movement (from 1900 up to World War I) was a nationalist movement, and that nationalism fed directly into overseas expansionism and militarism. These are not separate issues, but the same issue, as we shall explore. Moreover, contrary to many people's views (including many of today's liberals and progressives, who appear to be woefully ignorant of this period in our history, which allows them to bestow undeserved praise upon its achievements, that is, praise from the perspective of their own policy preferences), the Progressive movement in many ways culminated in the triumph of already-vested big business interests. It was, as Gabriel Kolko titled his pathbreaking book, The Triumph of Conservatism, not "progressivism."
Despite Greenwald and his "obviously," these intricate, complex interminglings of government and nominally private business are the problem, and it is a monumental one. Must I remind you that this kind of partnership is one of the cardinal characteristics of fascism? But "obviously," there's nothing wrong with that.

The following might more properly be designated as the next installment of the "Dominion" series, for these excerpts from Kolko's book throw into high relief Greenwald's failure, a failure which is typical of the progressive community. Indeed, as I discussed in the earlier pieces excerpted above, today's progressives seem to know nothing about the actual program and history of the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century, an ignorance that Hillary Clinton now seeks to capitalize on. (See another installment of my "Dominion" series for a discussion of some of the Progressive movement's roots and goals: "Unwelcome History -- Religion, the Progressives, Empire and the Drug War.")

The title of Kolko's book, a book which is now widely and deservedly regarded as a modern classic, is The Triumph of Conservatism. The subtitle is, A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916. Kolko's work hit the world of historians and of historical analysis with tremendous force. He performed significant original research -- and the results of his research upended what had come to be accepted as the conventional narrative of the Progressive era. Much additional research since the publication of Kolko's book has confirmed the accuracy of his analysis. At one time, it would have been somewhat understandable for progressives to regard the opening decades of the twentieth century as a testament to the "benevolent" powers of government, operating to constrain rapacious business practices on behalf of "the common man" and "the common good." Today, nearly half a century after Kolko's book was first published in 1963, there is no excuse whatsoever for people who are politically active and who regard themselves as at all knowledgeable about political history to be so profoundly in error about this critical period. Yet today's liberals and progressives appear to understand next to nothing about what actually happened during those years.

The following is from my essay, "The Elites Who Rule Us," and it may be useful as background to the excerpts below:
The major narrative to which I have devoted a number of essays -- a narrative which is profoundly false both in its general outlines and in every detail, and one which has been and continues to be literally lethal in its effects -- is the tale of "American exceptionalism." Assuming that one knows even a minimal amount of history (which, I grant, is far too often a completely unjustified assumption today, even and especially with regard to the "best educated" Americans and the members of our ruling class), and if one considers this mythology with any degree of honesty, its inconsistencies, outright contradictions, and numerous points of incoherence quickly become apparent. Yet the overwhelming majority of Americans continue to believe this fable, and the regular invocation of America's "unique" characteristics, which make us "better" than any other people who have ever lived and which, for reasons that are never explained, entitle us to direct events across the globe, is nothing less than a religious ritual.

At the opening of the last installment, I summarized certain common errors regarding American history committed by many liberals and conservatives. In large part, those errors arise and continue to find new life because of many people's adherence to this American mythology. People with views across the political spectrum are unable to recognize the realities of American political and social history because those realities would fundamentally challenge the fable to which they are so devoted: conservatives cling to the notion that American progress and superiority are the result of free and unfettered capitalism, that is, the result of the operations of private business in an essentially laissez-faire environment, while liberals see the steady advance of America as due in significant part to the growing influence of the interests and wisdom of "the common people." As one result, both groups have the identical blind spot: both appear unable to fully appreciate the joining together of government power with certain influential (and usually exceedingly wealthy) private citizens and businesses. This combination, which began in the late nineteenth century, gathered force in the two decades following 1900, and was firmly cemented in place by World War I and then the New Deal, resulted in the creation of a class made up of the American elites. It is in these elites that almost all power is concentrated, both the power of the state and the power of the dominant private interests.
The following excerpts are from Kolko's final chapter, and they follow almost 300 pages of evidence documenting his thesis. The title of this chapter is, "Conclusion: The Lost Democracy." Kolko writes:
The American political experience during the Progressive Era was conservative, and this conservatism profoundly influenced American society's response to the problems of industrialization. The nature of the economic process in the United States, and the peculiar cast within which industrialism was molded, can only be understood by examining the political structure. Progressive politics is complex when studied in all of its aspects, but its dominant tendency on the federal level was to functionally create, in a piecemeal and haphazard way that was later made more comprehensive, the synthesis of politics and economics I have labeled "political capitalism." [This is the phenomenon with which Greenwald "obviously" finds "nothing inherently wrong."]

The varieties of rhetoric associated with progressivism were as diverse as its followers, and one form of this rhetoric involved attacks on businessmen -- attacks that were often framed in a fashion that has been misunderstood by historians as being radical. But at no point did any major political tendency dealing with the problem of big business in modern society ever try to go beyond the level of high generalization and translate theory into concrete economic programs that would conflict in a fundamental way with business supremacy over the control of wealth. It was not a coincidence that the results of progressivism were precisely what many major business interests desired.

Ultimately businessmen defined the limits of political intervention, and specified its major form and thrust. They were able to do so not merely because they were among the major initiators of federal intervention in the economy, but primarily because no politically significant group during the Progressive Era really challenged their conception of political intervention. The basic fact of the Progressive Era was the large area of consensus and unity among key business leaders and most political factions on the role of the federal government in the economy. There were disagreements, of course, but not on fundamentals. The overwhelming majorities on votes for basic progressive legislation is testimony to the near unanimity in Congress on basic issues.


The Presidents considered -- as they must be -- as actors rather than ideologists, hardly threatened to undermine the existing controllers of economic power.


This essential unanimity extended to the area of ideologies and values, where differences between the Presidents were largely of the sort contrived by politicians in search of votes, or seeking to create useful images. None of the Presidents had a distinct consciousness of any fundamental conflict between their political goals and those of business. Roosevelt and Wilson especially appreciated the significant support business gave to their reforms, but it was left to Wilson to culminate the decade or more of agitation by providing precise direction to the administration of political capitalism's most important consequences in the Progressive Era.


This identification of political and key business leaders with the same set of social values -- ultimately class values -- was hardly accidental, for had such a consensus not existed the creation of political capitalism would have been most unlikely. Political capitalism was based on the functional utility of major political and business leaders. The business and political elites knew each other, went to the same schools, belonged to the same clubs, married into the same families, shared the same values -- in reality, formed that phenomenon which has lately been dubbed The Establishment.
Kolko goes on to note that "[p]olitical capitalism in America redirected the radical potential of mass grievances and aspirations -- of genuine progressivism..." Virtually every significant voice during the Progressive Era held "a naive, axiomatic view that government economic regulation, per se, was desirable"; everyone believed in the "fetish of government regulation of the economy as a positive social good" -- and they neglected to notice that the programs enacted conformed precisely to what the business leaders themselves wanted, and ensured the favored and protected status of the wealth-controlling class into the foreseeable future. As I wrote in the earlier essay, it was by these means that the already vested interests ensured that their particular goals would not be threatened -- and the federal government was their preferred means of protection.

And yet today, many progressives and liberals herald Roosevelt and Wilson as special "progressive" heroes -- when it was these two (and others), but Wilson in particular who killed what Kolko terms "genuine progressivism" for good. And it was killed not because these programs failed, but precisely because they succeeded. This brings us once again to the great evil represented by war, for it is war that provides the opportunity for government to consolidate and expand its powers. Under the alleged threat to "national security" -- even if, as was certainly the case in World War I, no such threat existed as far as the United States was concerned -- the public can be steamrolled into accepting almost anything. In addition to the century of war and destruction that the U.S. entrance into World War I set in motion, the Great War also provided Wilson with the means to set political capitalism and the partnership between government and business in stone.

Thus, Kolko writes: "Progressive goals, on the concrete, legislative level, were articulated by various business interests. These goals were, for the most part, achieved..." He goes on:
Yet a synthesis of business and politics on the federal level was created during the war, in various administrative and emergency agencies, that continued throughout the following decade. Indeed, the war period represents the triumph of business in the most emphatic manner possible. With the exception of a brief interlude in the history of the Federal Trade Commission, big business gained total support from the various regulatory agencies and the Executive. It was during the war that effective, working oligopoly and price and market agreements became operational in the dominant sectors of the American economy.
In yesterday's post, I referred to many progressives' "idiotic belief in the stupid, childish vision of America, an America that is still noble if flawed, still capable of being fully redeemed." A great many conservatives share the same fundamental vision, for most Americans subscribe to the identical mythology. Reading Kolko, and understanding the mechanisms by which government and business band together for their common goal -- the protection of the interests of the most wealthy and powerful for, they hope, perpetuity, and the use of the unanswerable power of the state as their enforcer -- reveal that my characterization was hardly too severe. Various online liberals regularly indulge in notably treacly, self-flattering, vacuous sentimentality -- "the American public," indeed (which, to the extent it can be identified, is an ignorant and frequently violent ass) -- but as I discussed in "The Elites Who Rule Us" (and here as well, on a narrower issue), the American government does not exist to serve "the people," whoever the hell they are. It serves the ruling class: it provides them with untold weath and power, it coddles them, it nurtures them, and it makes them still richer and still more powerful. There is no conflict between the aims of business and of government; their aims are identical on every point of importance. You, "the people," do not figure in their calculations. Their nods to "serving the people" are, as I regularly note, the propaganda used to drug you into unthinking acceptance, and into the willingness to grant them still more power.

Contemplate how successful they've been. Today, most progressives bemoan the federal behemoth, at least insofar as its attacks on civil liberties are concerned, and yet their prescription is that we ingest more of the poison that has already almost killed us: still more government control and regulation. They have never understood that state power is always coopted by the most powerful vested interests for their own ends, and they still fail to grasp it today.

Given an increasingly corporatist-authoritarian government, the law is not your friend. The state is not your friend. Read Kolko, study history, and try to buy a clue. I'm sure the oligopolists will be more than happy to sell you one, for all the good it will do you now.