July 07, 2008

The Problem, in Brief

Earlier today, someone linked to an essay of mine from February of this year. I hadn't looked at it in quite a while. That piece concerned a program called InfraGard, which ought to scare the crap out of you. It's described in this post: "'Partnership for Protection' -- and for the Destruction of Liberty and, Possibly, of You."

In the course of my discussion, I offered some excerpts from Gabriel Kolko's pathbreaking book, The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916. Kolko's thesis challenged the "conventional wisdom" about the Progressive era, and replaced the then commonly held view with a much more accurate one, one which is now widely accepted (at least, by those who spend any substantial time studying this era). Unfortunately, far too many Americans still are largely ignorant about what actually happened during this critical period. It was not a time when "the people" claimed greater power or when "populism" triumphed; to the contrary, it saw the consolidation of control by the ruling class, through an intricate and ever-expanding series of complicated interrelationships between key, nominally private business interests and government -- or, if you will, the amalgamation of wealthy, influential private interests and the power of the state. As a result, it was, as Kolko styled it, "The Triumph of Conservatism." Not the story your mother told you. (A lengthier discussion of Kolko with further excerpts from his invaluable book will be found in, "It's Called the Ruling Class Because It Rules.")

After the Kolko excerpts, I wrote the following. I offer it again here, because I think this summarizes the fundamental problem quite well:
Over the last century, these dynamics have become the foundation of every aspect of American society and culture. The entanglements of the public and private sectors have grown increasingly byzantine and almost impossible to decipher much of the time, but the major theme is unaltered. Let's keep the primary lesson simple: The most wealthy and powerful private interests align with government -- and this partnership between the most powerful private interests and the state gets what it wants. You -- the "ordinary" citizen -- are of no importance whatsoever in these calculations, except insofar as your labor, and occasionally your life, are required so that the ruling elites are assured of getting what they want. You -- your life, your work, your family, your friendships, your happiness -- are entirely dispensable.

Try to understand this. This intricate and ornate series of interrelationships between and among various private and public powers has grown and metastasized over more than one hundred years. It will not be dislodged overnight. It will not be altered except by a deliberate and painful process of de-linking, which would require several decades at the very least. But history tells us that, once a corporatist system has reached an advanced stage such as that which now prevails in the United States, it will only be changed by a major disruption and, more probably, by a series of disruptions: financial weakening and possibly collapse, and/or a major war or series of wars, and/or natural catastrophe, and/or...use your imagination to fill in other possible factors. But, like children who still believe in Santa Claus, and like those who desperately hope for salvation in foreign affairs, many liberals and progressives now look for a miracle to save them on the domestic front. Call the miracle Obama if you wish; the name you give it doesn't matter a damn. And try to understand this: miracles do not happen. It was not a miracle that brought us here. It is only an understanding of the full nature of the problem we face and a determination to alter our course that will save us, if anything can. History, it must be noted, is not encouraging on this point.

None of this is a reason for terminal despair, although I keep reading comments about my essays to the effect that they are "too depressing," that they make people "suicidal" or "bitter," and the like. People who react in these ways may have some understanding, but not nearly enough. And they may have everything -- except vision and courage. I will discuss these particular issues in a future essay. For the moment, I will say this: I will not tell you, as people often tell me, that you need a "thicker skin," since I consider the views underlying such prescriptions to be uniformly destructive. But what you do need is more understanding, and much, much more courage.
The earlier essays discuss these subjects in more detail.

And I hope that within the next week, I will complete at least one further article analyzing more specifically the nature of many Americans' desperate search for a miracle, and how that misguided and sometimes very dangerous search intersects with the Obama candidacy.