Post-Democracy

by Maria on May 20, 2016

I’ve been reading and re-reading Colin Crouch’s Post-Democracy on and off for about eighteen months, and just spotted a nice precis of it on OpenDemocracy in a piece by Kit de Waal about celebrity activism:

The term ‘post-democracy’ was coined by Colin Crouch to refer to the fusion of corporate power with government, generating an elite politics based on a political-financial cycle in which money buys power and power rewards money. Post-democracy is a plausible imitation of democracy. It has a popular, consultative appearance, while the real politics of power and money consists of a continuing round of inter-personal transactions among elites.”

What makes Post-Democracy hard for me to digest more than a dozen pages at a time is not, I think, its relentless rightness, which I personally find more or less inarguable, but how little there appears we can do about it. My experience of reading it is basically ‘yes, this is better researched and thought through than I’d ever manage, and I agree; we’re basically fucked.’

I get that I’m experiencing nothing more than the cognitive dissonance of a social democrat who knows capitalism is awful and probably tending towards disaster – but more the chronic debilitating disease kind of disaster of, say, a slow-boiled lobster, than the explosive, revolutionary and strangely psycho-sexual climax of sudden foment and change – but who has neither the temperament nor the constitution for either ripping it up or walking away. (Hello Rosa Luxembourg. Like my hero Virginia Woolf, you would despise me, too.) But simply knowing this doesn’t help.

About a decade ago I was at a weekend conference in New York on what was then called ‘the new philanthropy’. The impeccably well-educated and well-spoken man who’d been Angelina Jolie’s fixer in the world of Davos and the UN system was there to say how great it was that celebrities were now getting down into development issues and doing things that governments didn’t have the will for. At the Q&A, I made myself a bit awkward by asking how democratic it was that those people could re-order policy priorities on a whim, and wouldn’t it be better if they just voted and paid their taxes like the little people. The guy got a bit irate and basically said how we needed celebrities and millionaires to improve the system and should be grateful to have them. I’m being unfair to him, I’m sure – memory is pretty self-serving. The session was being chaired by a friend who unexpectedly broke with protocol and came back to me for a response to the response, but I wasn’t expecting it and flubbed. I suppose you dwell on the things you get wrong, and the whole philanthropist – corporate – state nexus has bugged me since then even more than it would otherwise.

But we’re still all basically fucked, right?

{ 147 comments }

1

Lynne 05.20.16 at 12:55 pm

I don’t know if we’re fucked. Sometimes I think so, but I hope not. One insidious thing that has happened is that the rights of citizens have started to be extended to corporations, at least in popular opinion and sometimes in law. For instance, when the Dixie Chicks were widely shunned over their reference to Bush, someone I know defended the radios not playing the Chicks’ music by saying it was their right to play what they wanted.

A few years ago during the last US election I heard of some startling cases where corporations were allowed to spend tons of money supporting their candidates, and this was okay because of a right that usually is associated with individuals. Sorry, I can’t remember the details, but this confusion is inherently dangerous, and is largely unnoticed.

We all have pessimistic moments, Maria. But it’s darkest before dawn, I’ve heard.

2

kidneystones 05.20.16 at 1:10 pm

No, we’re not. Universal suffrage was virtually unknown less than a century ago. That’s pretty much all of human history we’re talking about up to the relatively recent past. As more and more women learn to read infant mortality rates drop. Yes, in some nations basic literacy is not yet guaranteed. So, there’s plenty of work still to be done. Celebrities and the powerful should vote and pay taxes. Many do. Whatever one thinks of Angelina Jolie, she’s backed up her activism with major cash donations. There’s nothing remotely ‘wrong’ with celebrities using their influence to drive agendas and advance causes. Corporations and large institutional investors do exactly that.

Why should the celebrity rich be denied the right to spend their money to good effect?

3

Pete 05.20.16 at 1:12 pm

@Lynne that’s the “Citizens United” decision, in which it was ruled that the right to free speech cannot have a limit on the amount of money spent on its megaphone.

4

Brett Dunbar 05.20.16 at 1:20 pm

That is firstly a problem largely peculiar to the US system. The first amendment essentially makes spending restrictions impossible so you end up with very high sending as neither are willing to be outspent. Severely limiting the amount you can spend makes fundraising largely pointless and reduces donors influence as money is fungible and if a donor withdraws you can replace them without much difficulty.

In the UK this problem led to the Corrupt Practices Act 1883 which imposed draconian limits on campaign spending. Beforehand a lot of constituencies were uncontested as then cost of treating electors and other campaign expenses were crippling so a significant number of wealthy MPs were returned unopposed. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives were unhappy with this, believing that all electors should have the chance to vote so agreed to impose spending restrictions so that they were in a position of equality. It doesn’t requite that much wealth to afford to spend as much as you are allowed to spend entirely out of your own pocket.

Corporate personhood is a red herring it’s the free speech that prevents spending limits. Basically you would have to amend the first amendment.

5

Plume 05.20.16 at 1:51 pm

Brett @4,

“Corporate personhood is a red herring it’s the free speech that prevents spending limits. Basically you would have to amend the first amendment.”

No need to amend the First Amendment. We just need to read it without capitalist indoctrination distorting it. Money never equaled speech before our financial elite made it so. It’s an absurd and wildly forced “deduction” without any logic behind it.

If money equals speech, you can’t have equal protection under the law. It conflicts with several other parts of the Constitution as well, and the Commerce Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause and the twice-mentioned General Welfare clause all support a different reading and a different set of powers in response.

6

Brett 05.20.16 at 2:26 pm

Crouch’s list feels a lot more appropriate as a description of European politics (especially in the wake of austerity in Greece, Spain, France, and elsewhere) than of US politics. I mean, can you really say that there’s no significant difference in politics between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in 2016? That might have been more true in 2000, although I doubt it.

@Plume

It takes money to engage in widespread speech – to make flyers, to organize meetings, to start newsletters, mailers, newspapers, etc. “Money does not equal speech” only is true if you define “freedom of speech” in a very narrow way, like “I have the freedom to say what I want on this public sidewalk”.

7

Placeholder 05.20.16 at 2:28 pm

Oh I remember you.

“The question isn’t whether the Easter Rising accelerated Ireland’s independence or made it happen at all; it’s whether it was worth the death of one bow-legged tenement child. Of course it wasn’t.”

If you don’t have faith in the people to create democracy why do you mourn its passing?

8

Glen Tomkins 05.20.16 at 2:37 pm

We can’t make a revolution happen, even if we were willing to subject our world to the violence involved. Only the elites can do that, because ours is still a successful society, so the 99% still look on the 1% as the architects of that success, and so will remain loyal to the system.

But of course the elites not only can, but will start the revolution.

Crony capitalism makes them stupid. They no longer have to know anything, about the world or about themselves, have any self-knowledge or self-restraint, in order to succeed. The only thing they need to do well, and do the best to be the best in their class, is to be the biggest jock, the person with the least self-doubt, the biggest ego and the most need to win.

No doubt some of them are talented and insightful. The genius and work needed to build a better mousetrap is no longer necessary to success in this world in which you can buy a legislature to build an Interstate to your front door, but it is still a possible path to success. But the actual creators among the 1% aren’t the politically motivated or active members of their class, the ones who push themselves into leadership. The 1% are today, as a class, the most dissatisfied group in our society. They are convinced they are being treated unfairly, oppressed at every turn, and unlike the people who really are oppressed, they have the means to do something about it.

We can’t say exactly what form their revolution will take, so we should not jump to the conclusion that Trump is their anti-Messiah, the revolutionary who will lead them to their destruction. There are in fact some indicators that Trump is backing off the radical course his loose talk promised to lead him on, in order to become more conventional. It is even possible that Trump will stay radical, but turn into a sort of Huey Long, a dictator who will impose socialist solutions.

9

Dwight Cramer 05.20.16 at 2:44 pm

Basically, Maria, you’re right. At least within the confines of the construct we all share in our daily lives (including Crooked Timber). But, I think you’re being a little hard on yourself about your personal reluctance to fight or flee.

No one in their right mind would wish on their country the widespread suffering and upheaval or public disaster necessary as a predicate to transformational political change. And sometimes those things don’t lead to transformation (as your average Afghan villager or Georgian peasant). And sometimes the suffering and disaster does lead to political transformation, and it’s a bad one (would you rather be a subject of the German Empire under the Kaiser in 1914 or a citizen of the Reich under Hitler in 1939?).

Whatever, as a recent (as in, less than 96 hours) graduate of the local community college here in New Mexico I’m on the lookout for interesting summer reading, and I just ordered Colin Crouch’s book. Hopefully, I’ll get through it at a rate of more than dozen pages at a sitting, but if it’s that unbearably good, so much the better. Thanks for the recommendation.

10

RNB 05.20.16 at 2:55 pm

I think I would put this differently. I think that economic elites do fail in business terms, do out of ignorance fail to implement policies that favor their interests and even fail to have the policies they want implemented on rare occasions.

Perhaps the pessimism is more based in skepticism of whether there are subaltern actors ready to take transformative action. The lobster analogy remains a good way of getting at the problem of adaptive expectations. The philosopher Allen Wood recently said in 3am magazine:

“Marx is thought of as an implacable foe of capitalism. But go back and read the first section of the Communist Manifesto. Notice how it contains a paean of praise for the way capitalism and the bourgeoisie have both enriched the human powers of production and also enabled us to see with clear vision the nature of human society and human history. It has taken me a long time to realize where I most disagree with Marx. His assessment of capitalism is far too favorable. He took its instability, inhumanity and irrationality to be signs that it was a merely transitional form, which had delivered into humanity’s hands the means to a much better way of life than any that have ever existed on earth. Marx could not bring himself to believe that our species is so benighted, irrational and slavish that it would put up with such a monstrous way of life. He thought that it was inevitable that people would find a better way. We now see that this was not so. Capitalism has not proven to be a transitional form, a gateway to a higher human future. Capitalism now seems more likely a swamp, a bog, a quicksand in which humanity is presently flailing about, unable to extricate itself, perhaps doomed to perish within a few generations from the long term effects of the technology which seemed to Marx its greatest gift to humanity. Capitalism has proven to be a far more terrible system than Marx could ever bring himself to imagine. Those who are so deluded as to find something good in it, or even feel loyalty toward it, are its most pitiful victims.”

11

Dipper 05.20.16 at 2:56 pm

… and today in the UK we have this:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/20/luvvies-brexit-letter-eu-largesse

The list of people queueing up to tell me why I should vote to have my democratic right to elect who governs me taken away and replaced with a self-appointed and unaccountable technocracy just so they can continue to enjoy the good life at my expense is truly shocking.

12

Daragh 05.20.16 at 3:02 pm

I think ‘fucked’ is overstating it fairly heavily. For all the problems being experienced in the industrialised democracies at present, liberal-democratic states with free market economies (subject to varying degrees of control and regulation) are probably the most responsive and accountable form of governance humanity has instituted since we developed beyond bands of hunter-gatherers. Even in the blighted hell-scape that is Cameron’s Britain income inequality has <a href="http://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/incomeandwealth/bulletins/householddisposableincomeandinequality/financialyearending2015"fallen slightly, along with poverty.

Perhaps I’m biased – I spend most of my time studying and working on a country that combines authoritarian politics with a high level of state interference in the economy (often geared towards shaking down oligarchs to fund social projects, subsidise unprofitable plants that nonetheless support one-industry towns etc.) The result is inequality on such a scale that for the elite money has become virtually irrelevant, while the poor live in such deprivation they’ve turned to injecting home-brew desomorphine that literally rots the flesh from their bones. On slightly higher rungs at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder heroin addiction is also rife, while the government’s tough guy populism means that harm reduction measures are verboten, and the country is – unlike virtually everywhere else in Europe – experiencing an increase in HIV/AIDS diagnoses to the point that an estimate 1% of the population is now infected.

This isn’t meant to be a ‘if you don’t like it, move to Russia’ response. Just a reminder that, while flawed, liberal democratic capitalist states have achieved far higher standards of living for their citizens than any of the alternatives, as well as mechanisms for iterating upon and improving structures of governance and economic distribution. So no – not fucked, though we do need to challenge our shibboleths more often (as Maria rightly did by pointing out that ‘celebrities pay for the causes they choose’ is a rather sub-optimal social policy).

13

Plume 05.20.16 at 3:20 pm

Brett @6,

Yes, it takes money to do those things. Which is why equating money with speech guarantees that folks with a lot of it will have a lot more “free speech” than anyone else. It guarantees massive inequality when it comes to access to the right of “free speech,” with the resultant massive inequality in power. All of this is too obvious, really, to even require debate, or should be.

Apparently it’s not obvious to all too many Americans.

14

Plume 05.20.16 at 3:27 pm

RNB @10,

Good quote. I, too, think Marx was too complimentary of the capitalist system, though this was probably a form of “good sportsmanship,” because he assumed it would be overcome and replaced. Just guessing, but if he were around today, and saw its complete conquest of the entire planet — which had not happened (yet) while he was alive — I think he would have radically changed his tune.

And he would have been appalled at the (bastardized, distorted, perverse) attempts at nationalized alternatives, like the Soviet system. Disgusted, appalled and adamantly opposed to them.

15

Marc 05.20.16 at 3:28 pm

The US had limits on political spending. The decision to equate money and speech, like the decision to reinterpret the second amendment and cripple gun control, was a political one pushed by radical right-wing judges. So there is no particular reason why a different supreme court couldn’t reverse these precedent-shattering rulings.

I actually think that a lot of what is currently wrong in US politics can be traced to the extraordinary role that money from wealthy donors plays.

16

Anarcissie 05.20.16 at 3:35 pm

It seems to me democracy has had a fairly good outing in the last year, in the US, anyway, at least in regard to electoral politics. In one party, a populist candidate despised by the party elite and the media seems to be assured of nomination. In the other, an obscure, marginal legislator with no considerable financial or organizational backing, while he has not won, has certainly given the party’s machine a run for its money. We do live in a national community where power, connections, wealth, and fame are worshipped by most of the people, and that is paradoxically an impediment to the development of real democracy, but it does seem as if the rough beast is slouching forward.

17

David 05.20.16 at 3:41 pm

I think it’s wrong to focus on the US. Neoliberalism is the house ideology of a politico-economic elite that aspires to be international, if not universal, as a way of increasing its power. Its aim is a totally frictionless world where profits, capital and workers can be effortlessly shifted to where they can be most profitable. Democracy is a nuisance and a hindrance (though elections as theatre can be tolerated) as are all forms of nationalism, cultures, languages and anything which distinguishes one human being from another.

18

Plume 05.20.16 at 3:45 pm

Marc @15,

Exactly.

Anarcissie @16,

The main thing preventing the actualization of democracy in any nation is that we don’t allow it within the economic sphere. As long as our workplaces, boardrooms and all aspects of our economic system (and its connections) block democracy, keep it outside, on the other side of the river, it doesn’t really exist. In the modern world, the economic sphere is so incredibly dominant, closing the doors on democracy means it really has no power elsewhere, either. It’s basically symbolic, if not an outright sham.

Open those doors and then we have a chance.

19

robotslave 05.20.16 at 3:46 pm

Absent any workable, self-sustaining alternative to democratically regulated capitalism, with all its flaws, we are indeed doomed to a future of democratically regulated capitalism, with all its flaws.

Whether or not “democratically regulated capitalism, with all its flaws” is a synonym for “we’re all fucked” seems to be the point of contention.

20

Sandwichman 05.20.16 at 3:51 pm

There is no going back. What the future holds, though, is uncertain. Trends tend to continue until they don’t. The political financial cycle is a kind of parasitism that requires a host. Eventually, it will fatally weaken the host.

The host is not abstract society but an historically-specific institutionalization. The question is whether people can collectively conceive of a new set of institutions that are resistant to the political financial cycle parasite.

The key to all of this is the double-entry bookkeeping that constitutes the backbone and central nervous system of the host institutions.

21

Brett Dunbar 05.20.16 at 3:54 pm

Limiting spending on speech is limiting speech. The US has developed a tradition where the first amendment is treated as an absolute. As Pete put it the right to free speech cannot limit the amount spent on the megaphone.

The question of whether this kind of unrestricted political speech is a good thing is different. The ECHR allows for the restriction of speech under certain circumstances. Bowman v United Kingdom 24839/94 [1998] ECHR 4 (19 February 1998) the majority found that the restriction of third party spending favouring a specific candidate during the electoral campaign to £5 was effectively a total ban. The limit was raised to £500 which is still well within the personal means of almost everyone. The ECHR has generally been sympathetic to arguments for permitting restrictions in order to defend the integrity of the democratic process. That does not involve denying that you are restricting speech.

22

Brett Dunbar 05.20.16 at 4:07 pm

The way that the first amendment has been interpreted seems to be correct based on the actual wording on the law. It doesn’t include any restrictive clauses so gives few grounds for allowing a restriction and a very high standard of scrutiny is applied to restrictions on free speech. It is something of a sacred cow so a ruling based on it is very hard to0 campaign against. With citizens united it is notable how critics attacked the corporate personhood thing, which admittedly sounds weird to the uninformed but all it actually is is that a class of legal constructs (known as corporations) have the ability to be party to a contract in their own right. When the actual problem was that restricting spending is restricting speech and doing that has to meet a very high constitutional test. Reversing the actually objectionable part would need an amendment.

23

Plume 05.20.16 at 4:08 pm

No, Brett. Spending isn’t speech. It has absolutely nothing to do with speech. Money doesn’t equal speech in any sane society. Again, because if it does, those with more money have more free speech than anyone else, and the ability to take away that right from others — to silence them. Those with massive amounts have massive power to silence others.

It’s like letting the person who can afford the most powerful sound system in a building crank up the volume so high, others without those means can’t be heard above the din. Scale that up nationally. Scale that up for political campaigns.

And America used to have those limits, per our “tradition.” It used to cap political spending — locally, state-wide and nationally. And it still has some. Montana, for instance, was only recently prevented from doing what it had previously done for more than a century, putting restrictions on that spending. Prevented by a rabidly pro-corporate, pro-financial-elite Supreme Court majority.

And if we weren’t limited to justices chosen by the duopoly, which only considers lovers and supporters of capitalism, we might well escape from the stranglehold on our politics by the rich and by corporate America. We desperately need to break that stranglehold.

24

Sandwichman 05.20.16 at 4:23 pm

“Limiting spending on speech is limiting speech.”

If Congress takes $100 each from a thousand employees and gives the total $100,000 to the employer to spend on anti-union propaganda, it has limited the speech of those thousand employees. If the political consequence of the employer’s propaganda is to redirect another $1000 each from the employees to the employer, then their speech is even further limited.

Some “self-evident truths” are transparent lies.

25

Brett Dunbar 05.20.16 at 4:29 pm

Spending is speech and the supreme court is pretty much correct about that. Restricting spending can effectively amount to a prohibition on speech the £5 spending limit prior to Bowman v United Kingdom was effectively a prohibition.

The reason that you cannot have restrictions on spending is the first amendment. The issue of whether they are legal is separate from the issue of whether they are desirable.

26

gatherdust 05.20.16 at 4:34 pm

ADD could be a wonderful thing if it also involved selective short-term memory loss. The “we’re fucked” because elites on display here is met with the equally “we’re fucked” (so long as you’re in the UK) by Chris Bertram just a bit below my screen. It’s like a Tina-Tina world.

27

Cervantes 05.20.16 at 4:52 pm

Ralph Nader thinks we’re basically fucked, which is why he’s been reduced to calling for a better class of billionaires. That seems a sad last resort. Of course there’s more you could say about him but that seems to be what’s on topic.

28

Garrulous 05.20.16 at 5:00 pm

Well, I can see how Rosa L. might dislike any kind of tepid meliorism, but why would Virginia Woolf despise you?

29

js. 05.20.16 at 5:19 pm

robotslave @19 — Not sure if you’ve read the Crouch, but his contention is precisely that what we’ve got now, in Europe and the West more generally, isn’t really democratically regulated capitalism at all—that, more specifically, there is no meaningful *democratic* regulation. It’s a short book, but it’s a powerful argument.

So, to Maria’s question, I’m inclined to say—yes, we’re basically fucked. Tho one hopes that the state of being fucked is not a terminal condition.

30

Marc 05.20.16 at 5:25 pm

@26: And yet the rules in the US absolutely permitted strict limits on contributions to political campaigns. For many years, in fact, the Fairness Doctrine required that broadcasters give equal time to opposing views when they aired opinion pieces. The First Amendment is not static and its interpretation is not absolute.

31

SamChevre 05.20.16 at 5:27 pm

How much of “post-democracy” is driven by money in politics vs other causes

(Defining democracy as “popular votes change outcomes the voters care about”)

Other major causes of post-democracy:

1) The world has changed (no amount of voting will make oil as relatively abundant as it was in 1950)
2) A more-expansive set of substantive rights, so that decisions are made by courts rather than voters (ECHR, the US Supreme Court)
3) Delegation of decisions to large, civil-service organizations (the EU, the US administrative organizations)

I tend to think all three of these are much higher-impact than changes in US campaign finance law.

32

Anarcissie 05.20.16 at 5:27 pm

Plume 05.20.16 at 3:45 pm @ 18 —
‘The main thing preventing the actualization of democracy in any nation is that we don’t allow it within the economic sphere.’

That isn’t so. In the US and many other countries, cooperatives, unions, and the like are legal modes of ownership and influence over the management of investment and production. When one tries to organize such things, however, one finds that most people aren’t interested. The paternalistic, authoritarian configuration of corporations and the state in general follows.

33

Aardvark Cheeselog 05.20.16 at 6:48 pm

Anarcissie @33:

When one tries to organize such things, however, one finds that most people aren’t interested.

When one tries to organize such thing, however, one finds that legal obstacles favoring the owners are typically insurmountable.

FTFY.

34

Maria 05.20.16 at 6:50 pm

Garrulous @29, Woolf wasn’t big on middle class strivers.

35

Plume 05.20.16 at 6:57 pm

Anarcissie,

I’m thinking more in terms of something every worker could count on. Not just those lucky enough to work in co-ops, and to a lesser degree, union shops. The latter, of course, are disappearing at an alarming rate. I think the percentage for unionized businesses is something like 7% in America now.

What I’m talking about is democracy as the legal form, including the economy. That instead of the rare instances of its appearance, in a sea of anti-democratic, autocratic business forms, it would be the legal structure of our economy, and it should have been from the start. Leaving it out has led to the highest levels of inequality in human history, the steepest hierarchies, the most unequal dynamics of employed and employer possible. None of that is really possible if the foundation, the legal structure, the social relations and assumptions — going in — are democratized.

And that should have been the “revolution.” Not just the casting off of the king. But the casting off of even the concept that the few could ever own or control the production of the many. We still have our kings and queens, because we don’t have a democratized workplace.

36

MPAVictoria 05.20.16 at 6:59 pm

“But we’re still all basically fucked, right?”

Yeah pretty much. If the plutocrats don’t get us then climate change will.

/On the upside I have 3 pets and a partner who I love. Going to try and enjoy it while I can.

37

Garrulous 05.20.16 at 7:03 pm

@35
Aha. Well, I’m sure they both would have made an exception.

38

Anarcissie 05.20.16 at 7:06 pm

Aardvark Cheeselog 05.20.16 at 6:48 pm @ 34 —
The fact that some people do successfully organize such things shows that the existing legal obstacles are not insurmountable.

39

Plume 05.20.16 at 7:19 pm

“The fact that some people do successfully organize such things shows that the existing legal obstacles are not insurmountable.”

Or, it could just show that the powers that be are smart enough to allow things that don’t effect their bottom line, their power, their privileges, their dominance. It may just be that they allow just enough token alternatives to create the illusion of “choice,” and for some, the illusion that we do have “democracy” in America.

Is it really enough to matter if it’s such a tiny fraction of all workplaces, and so few Americans enjoy these choices? It’s not that different from conservatives I talk to who say all workers are “free” under the capitalist system, because they can always quit and find another job, if they don’t like their present circumstances. Basically, workers are “free” to find endless reproductions of the same employer/employee, master/slave dynamic, with very few exceptions. I don’t see that as “freedom” for anyone but employers, etc.

Far better if the legal framework and foundation is already democratic, from the get go. That brings “choice” and “freedom” to all workers, not just the lucky few.

40

Scott P. 05.20.16 at 7:22 pm

Post-democracy is a plausible imitation of democracy. It has a popular, consultative appearance, while the real politics of power and money consists of a continuing round of inter-personal transactions among elites.”

I am curious what sort of democracy this is supposed to be ‘post’. Unless you want to engage in No True Scotsman reasoning and say that Periclean Athens, the Dutch Republic, the ante-bellum US, Switzerland, etc. etc. were not democracies.

41

Peter Dorman 05.20.16 at 7:31 pm

I think Crouch has identified the problem more or less correctly, but his analysis (from what I remember—it’s been a while) is thin.

First, it’s important to see this in an international context. De-democratization is occurring among all high income countries, so it can’t have a national explanation, like the peculiarity of US campaign finance. National features explain how the process unfolds locally but not the commonality of it.

Second, the historical perspective is crucial. We have never experienced ideal, Dewey-Habermas style democracies, and that’s not the issue at the moment. Rather, there has been a deterioration in the ability of non-elite citizens to express and defend their interests over the past 30-40 years. Why was there more scope in the past and less now?

Third, globalization is part of the story, not as an exogenous force as some apologetics have it, but as a changed context that allows new levers for elite control. There is nothing inevitable in this, and it’s not difficult to map an “alter-globalization” in which democratization could resume, but we are in a chicken-and-egg conundrum. Trade competition and international institutions without any meaningful democratic accountability are used to tamp down democracy at a national level, which undermines the ability of democratic movements to redefine how globalization happens.

I’m always looking for long-form analysis of these developments, but I don’t see much. I truly hope I’m wrong and that CT people can give me some useful references.

As for the fucked part, my working hypothesis is that the world we’re seeing now is one in which the shock of the 1930s and 40s has finally been cast off. (This is similar in some ways to Piketty, although the details differ.) In the wake of this global catastrophe class compromises were assembled in all advanced countries—different in important ways, but all compromises. By the 1980s the shadow of the past had been lifted, the Soviet Union was revealed as moribund and communism defanged (again in the advanced countries), and the gloves came off. The question is whether it takes another catastrophe to dislodge this order. Sure hope not.

42

Neville Morley 05.20.16 at 7:32 pm

I’m with you on pretty well all of this, Maria: the terrifying, unavoidable rightness of too much of Crouch’s analysis, the desire simply to hide under the duvet, and the extent to which celebrity philanthropists are simply the light side of Trump et al – the same belief that what we need now are heroic individuals who aren’t constrained by The System.

43

Brett Dunbar 05.20.16 at 8:02 pm

The US system tends to disregard the interests of the poor as the poor mostly don’t vote.

http://www.demos.org/data-byte/voter-turnout-income-2008-us-presidential-election

According to the US Census Board in the 2008 presidential election the overall turnout was 59.7% this was not evenly distributed across all income groups.

Turnout relative to annual income:

less than $10,000: 41.3%
$10,000-$14,999: 41.2%
$15,000-$19,999: 44.3%
$20,000-$29,999: 48.0%
$30,000-$39,999: 54.4%
$40,000-$49,999: 58.2%
$50,000-$74,999: 65.9%
$75,000-$99,999: 72.6%
$1000,000-$149,999: 74.9%
$150,000 or more: 78.1%

As you would expect in a democracy the political class are far more solicitous of the interests of the active electorate.

44

bob mcmanus 05.20.16 at 8:04 pm

Sad to see so many agree that we are fucked and descend into passivity.

Guess that means that most still think they something more to lose than their chains.

Revolution is not a savings account or investment portfolio.

Crouch is on my TBR.

45

Brett Dunbar 05.20.16 at 8:26 pm

The point is the US is a functioning democracy. It isn’t the best functioning but it is a democracy. In a democracy political power goes to the voters. If the poor want to be listened to they need to use their vote.

Claiming that the US isn’t a democracy doesn’t help and could ultimately be a self fulfilling prophesy.

A possible method of limiting the influence of money which might avoid first amendment issues might be to require television stations to provide free broadcasting time to all candidates. You probably cannot prohibit political advertising the way the UK does but you might be able to require some free coverage be provided. That isn’t a restriction on speech in the way a spending limit would be.

46

engels 05.20.16 at 8:29 pm

As you would expect in a democracy the political class are far more solicitous of the interests of the active electorate.

That isn’t what you’d expect in a democracy; it might be what you’d expect in a political-class-ocracy.

47

Cranky Observer 05.20.16 at 8:33 pm

= = = If the poor want to be listened to they need to use their vote = = =

Right! Fortunately their are no structural impediments (e.g. rigid hourly worker schedules) or active voter suppression movements aimed at disenfranchising masses of poor people on the USofA.

48

The Temporary Name 05.20.16 at 8:33 pm

In the US and many other countries, cooperatives, unions, and the like are legal modes of ownership and influence over the management of investment and production. When one tries to organize such things, however, one finds that most people aren’t interested.

I’m on the board of a co-op, and my rent helps subsidize the rent of people who have less cash than I do. We just last night got told by city authorities (in a very rich city that needn’t give a shit) that we’d get our city land lease renewed when it comes up. A big deal for me personally and obviously for the other families/residents who don’t have other places to go.

We can’t pretend to represent “most people” but we’re doing a small good thing and people who could profit by crushing us have given support. We didn’t have to compete, be sociopathic, be crazy, what have you.

49

Brett Dunbar 05.20.16 at 9:02 pm

engels @ 48

It is exactly what you expect in a democracy. Your influence on who gets elected requires that you actually vote. So politicians about the people who vote as their job depends on people voting for them. If you don’t use your vote then your support is pretty useless so you get ignored. Political power you don’t use might as well not exist.

Cranky Observer @ 49

The polls tend to be open for a reasonably long time. And that doesn’t really explain why turnout for the unemployed is so low. Voting when you are employed is somewhat inconvenient, oddly the better off seem able to manage it. Exaggerating the obstacles to voting really doesn’t help. They are real, they aren’t the main problem. Failing to even try is a bigger problem.

50

Bill Murray 05.20.16 at 9:35 pm

In a democracy political power goes to the voters. If the poor want to be listened to they need to use their vote.

In the US political power goes to the funders, not the voters

51

Zamfir 05.20.16 at 9:37 pm

Kudos for Peter Dorman’s comment.

Asking as someone too young to know first hand: did non-elites really have more influence 40 years ago? Or are we ever lamenting a loss of power that we never had at all?

52

Cranky Observer 05.20.16 at 10:01 pm

= = = Voting when you are employed is somewhat inconvenient, oddly the better off seem able to manage it. = = =

The better off “tend” to be exempt employees who by law, definition, and custom cannot be docked or fired for taking 2 hours to vote. The working poor “tend” to be hourly non-exempt who can be and are. Add in deliberate under-resourcing of polling places in poor areas (e.g. Ohio) resulting in 12-hour lines and there “tends” to be fewer votes from those areas.

People sitting in nice air-conditioned Heritage Foundation offices in suburban Virginia tend to ignore how difficult basic life tasks can be when one’s time is not one’s own.

53

Plume 05.20.16 at 10:39 pm

It’s nonsense to try to say the poor aren’t listened to because they don’t vote. They aren’t listened to because they don’t have any money. In America, money is power. And to influence politicians, you have to have a ton of it, cuz they need it, desperately, and spend most of their day begging for it. They need it, desperately, in large part thanks to the sheer insanity of the concept that money equals speech, and those who protect the financial elite with this despicable equation.

The only people our politicians listen to are the 1%, even though they hold the fewest votes, obviously. Voting is largely a sham in capitalist countries, and has nothing to do with who has a “voice.”

Most here have likely read the Princeton Study about oligarchy or about the study:

US Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy, says Scientific Study

54

Plume 05.20.16 at 10:50 pm

And, of course, it’s not just about campaign finance. That’s really just the beginning of the round. The real reason the poor and most everyone else BUT the rich have no say, is because the folks who hold power won’t let them have it. That would be destructive of their own wealth, power and privilege. The rich can’t allow policies that would even spread a little sunshine on the non-rich, because that would curtail their own dominance, and they certainly will never allow any situation wherein workers are paid value for value upfront. It wouldn’t be capitalism if that were the case. So, throw them some crumbs here and there, fool them into believing this is the best we get, and continue the sham.

So we appear to be stuck in a situation where the rich rule all, and craft legislation decideldy in their own self-interest, which will pretty much always go against the best interests of everyone else. And they can keep this farce in place for a host of reasons, including “money equals speech”, so the richest get to decide who campaigns for elected office and generally who wins. And once in office, those whom the rich have put in office are gonna have to pay back their benefactors, which means more and better ways of rigging the system in favor of the 1% and above. Rinse and repeat. Capitalism guarantees plutocracy and oligarchy, and in “liberal democracies,” with just enough illusion to prevent all too many from throwing off their chains.

55

bob mcmanus 05.20.16 at 10:59 pm

Asking as someone too young to know first hand: did non-elites really have more influence 40 years ago? Or are we ever lamenting a loss of power that we never had at all?

Sorta. 1st, I am not with the 1% have all power crew, a hierarchy is a chain of affiliations, generals need colonels colonels need captains, and at the bottom soldiers fight. The top 1% is not as interesting as the next 20% that work for them.

Having said that for a distance of fifty years, you can look at Mayor Daley 1968 and Rahm Emmanuel, look at their constituencies and followers etc to see the difference.
In some sense, even at lower income levels a union steward or neighborhood organizer was elite.

The elites have changed, they are now professional, and ethnically and gender diverse. Recommend Thomas Frank.

56

Christopher London 05.20.16 at 11:28 pm

Yes, we’re fucked. That we can go down fighting is a solace though. This particular line of thinking always brings to mind a line from The Two Towers (movie) that I modify slightly: “Look to your friends, but do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands.”

57

Brett Dunbar 05.20.16 at 11:29 pm

That doesn’t explain the unemployed failing to vote for example. Actually having influence depends on you actually participating in the election. The US is democratic and one consequence of that is that the political system largely ignores interest groups who don’t vote. Basically the wealthy and middle income groups mostly vote and are pretty well served the poor don’t vote and aren’t well served.

The idea that the US is functionally a plutocracy was given some intellectual support by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page’s 2014 paper Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. This has come in for some criticism.

http://www.vox.com/2016/5/9/11502464/gilens-page-oligarchy-study

Gilens and Page used a database of 1,779 policy issues — which included data on the opinions of median-income Americans, the rich, business interests, and non-business interest groups like unions or the National Rifle Association — to determine whose opinions correlated most closely with actual government policy.

But the researchers critiquing the paper found that middle-income Americans and rich Americans actually agree on an overwhelming majority of topics. Out of the 1,779 bills in the Gilens/Page data set, majorities of the rich and middle class agree on 1,594; there are 616 bills both groups oppose and 978 bills both groups favor. That means the groups agree on 89.6 percent of bills.

That leaves only 185 bills on which the rich and the middle class disagree, and even there the disagreements are small. On average, the groups’ opinion gaps on the 185 bills is 10.9 percentage points; so, say, 45 percent of the middle class might support a bill while 55.9 percent of the rich support it.

Bashir and Branham/Soroka/Wlezien find that on these 185 bills, the rich got their preferred outcome 53 percent of the time and the middle class got what they wanted 47 percent of the time. The difference between the two is not statistically significant. And there are some funny examples in the list of middle-class victories. For instance, the middle class got what they wanted on public financing of elections: in all three 1990s surveys included in the Gilens data, they opposed it, while the rich favor it. That matches up with more recent research showing that wealthy people are more supportive of public election funding.

So it’s hard to say definitively, based on this data, that the rich are getting what they want more than the middle class. And it’s hard to claim, as Gilens and Page do, that “ordinary citizens get what they want from government only when they happen to agree with elites or interest groups that are really calling the shots.” Even when they disagree with elites, ordinary citizens get what they want about half the time.

Basically the middle income and rich have roughly equal power. Rich in the Gilens and Page paper was defined as the 90th percentile (household income $160,000+).

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Brett Dunbar 05.20.16 at 11:58 pm

Basically on almost 90% of issues the rich and middle agree. On the remaining 10% the split on who gets their way is fairly even. On campaign financing reform for example the middle won, they opposed it while the rich favoured it.

If Plume were right about the political tendency of capitalism you would see moves towards overt actual plutocracy for example a vote might become an alienable item of property you might see the end of the secret ballot, so if you sold your vote the buyer could verify that you actually voted the way that you were asked rather than taking the money and voting however you damn well liked. You might see something like the Prussian three class franchise become more widespread or property qualifications for the vote or for additional votes (as in Belgium 1894-1919). None of this actually occurs.

59

SamChevre 05.21.16 at 12:19 am

Asking as someone too young to know first hand: did non-elites really have more influence 40 years ago? Or are we ever lamenting a loss of power that we never had at all?

It really depends on which non-elites, in what context, and whether we are talking 40, 60, or 80 years ago.

Power is hard to measure, so these are impressions, not demonstrable facts.

Non-elites whites had much more power locally 60 years ago, but probably not 40; they could, for example, exclude non-whites from their schools, or influence who was hired to teach and what curriculum was used.

Non-elite private-sector workers had more power 40 or 60 years ago–they were much more likely to be able to seriously harm their employer’s interests by going on strike, and much more likely to belong to a union.

On the other hand, gay men have substantially more power as employees than they did 60 years ago, and vastly more political power.

In general, the more centralized something is, the less power non-elites have. The whole tendency of the US, from the 1930’s through the 1980’s, was to centralized decision-making, especially in the public sector.

60

js. 05.21.16 at 12:26 am

Seconding Zamfir — Peter Dorman’s comment is quite excellent. I am also on the lookout for long-form analyses of these developments (tho Tom Frank type stuff, which I obviously know about).

61

kidneystones 05.21.16 at 12:45 am

@42 “De-democratization is occurring among all high income countries, so it can’t have a national explanation, like the peculiarity of US campaign finance. National features explain how the process unfolds locally but not the commonality of it.”

This is very sound. I’m not an economist, but it strikes me that historically we’re seeing an expansion of democratic rights in precisely the same nations where ‘de-democratization’ is supposedly taking place. My own simplistic explanation is that we mistake declines in incomes and skills for declines in democracies. I don’t spend much time researching the 20th century, but my guess is that the decline in incomes maps fairly closely to specific developments, such as the influx of mass-produced goods from second and third world nations and the export of jobs from first-world economies. These agreements were enacted by choice, by the electorate.

My view is that what we’re seeing now is, in fact, a robust expression of democratic rights expressed as populism/patriotism and nativism. This ties into independence movements in Scotland and elsewhere. How effective these movements will be to overturning the impact of globalization is very much open to question, but there seems to me little evidence that people in first-world nations are being prevented from organizing and resisting.

Who could have imagined 48 months ago that the entire GOP establishment would be shown the door, an independent socialist would be giving the Dem establishment candidate a run for Wall St’s money, and that Corbyn would be the elected leader of Labour?

62

RNB 05.21.16 at 12:47 am

One other way that the power of the poorer member of societies can be undermined is through restrictions on rights for class action lawsuits. As Peter Dorman points out, this may be true across many countries. So one question is whether the legal system is showing an increasing bias towards corporate power. We got a window into this when a major chemical company (as it Dow?) settled a a close to $1 bn lawsuit after Scalia died because it could not bet on S.Ct. protection.

63

ZM 05.21.16 at 1:22 am

Maria,

“About a decade ago I was at a weekend conference in New York on what was then called ‘the new philanthropy’. The impeccably well-educated and well-spoken man who’d been Angelina Jolie’s fixer in the world of Davos and the UN system was there to say how great it was that celebrities were now getting down into development issues and doing things that governments didn’t have the will for. At the Q&A, I made myself a bit awkward by asking how democratic it was that those people could re-order policy priorities on a whim, and wouldn’t it be better if they just voted and paid their taxes like the little people.

I suppose you dwell on the things you get wrong, and the whole philanthropist – corporate – state nexus has bugged me since then even more than it would otherwise.

But we’re still all basically fucked, right?”

I think where you ask “wouldn’t it be better if celebrities just voted and paid their taxes like the little people” is a bit around the wrong way — it would be better for everyday people to have more opportunities to engage in ways other than just voting and paying their taxes.

There are positive celebrity interventions, like recently Leonardo di Caprio instagrammed a photo on climate change affecting Lake Urmia in Iran, this was very popular and drew more attention to the lake. I had never heard about this lake before then.

Also I think one thing here that is shifted since the talk you went to a decade ago is the UN seems to try to be engaging people more in their campaigns. Maybe a decade ago the digital infrastructure that now is commonplace wasn’t so easy for them to do this.

The World Humanitarian Summit coming up on the 23-24 May has various things people can do on its website, including tweeting to world leaders to act, or signing up to become a digital advocate for the summit, or doing a Choose Your Own Adventure sort of thing about becoming a refugee fleeing for your life ( I couldn’t actually bring myself to do more than about 2 of the questions).

I went to a talk last night on justice and global dislocation, and someone said that they thought this period was reminiscent of the pre WW2 period, but that hopefully a better way would be found through this period.

I still think there is reason to be hopeful as long as we are not having another world war, there is still time to act on climate change, hopefully global refugee policy will improve so people are resettled, and the world will learn a lesson from the current high number of conflicts and be able to settle conflict more quickly and peacefully in the future.

I felt worse about things a few years ago. I think quite a few people in volunteer groups I go to felt this way too, and then once they bounced back from feeling hopeless they started to be more active, as I have heard this from quite a few people.

64

Joshua Holmes 05.21.16 at 1:41 am

Two posts ago, a fair number of folks here expressed a preference for the EU over the UK, despite everyone agreeing (however begrudgingly) that the EU is less democratic than the UK. The previous post was about the value of consistency. This post laments the supposed decline of democracy. This is fun.

65

root_e 05.21.16 at 2:34 am

I wish progressives/leftists would take a good hard look at their nostalgia problem, because it’s pretty nutty.

66

js. 05.21.16 at 2:41 am

@67 — Tell us more! Not being snarky, I’m totally serious. I think the Crouch is excellent but I also am v sympathetic to the idea that the liberal-left, at least in the US, has a major nostalgia problem.

67

root_e 05.21.16 at 3:47 am

The idea that our era is significantly less democratic and more dominated by the wealthy than prior eras seems to me to be only tenable if you are extremely vague about the previous era you have in mind. Consider postwar USA: the beginning of the era is the period described by e.g. The Power Elite, it featured massive repression via Jim Crow and the rule of Cold War Bureaucrats. Let’s not even mention the rights enjoyed by women or gay people. When exactly was the good old days? And what was so good about it?

68

Omega Centauri 05.21.16 at 4:22 am

One reason that many still think we have a functioning democracy, is that the degree of power, and the probability of wielding influence are not governed by binary (yes/no) rules, but are more of a continuum. But the thinking of many is binary, they see that even a poor person has some chance of economic/political success, therefore we have “equal” opportunity. Anecdotal examples can be dredged up that show that it is so. Actual numbers/probabilities don’t figure in the perception.

Another issue is that many of the levers of power are soft and easily overlooked. Most voters exposure to issues and candidates comes via a combination of watercooler talk, and nightly news. The later is largely in service of the elites -especially of a system where aspiring politicians need to spend megabucks on media advertising. So naturally the frame which is set by these elites is very limited. And that leads to the ability to lead/mislead enough voters to keep elite-serving politicians largely in power.

Also a lot of important decisions in our political system are made off the popular radar screen, where highly paid lobbyists have sway, and the boilerplate by which they can advantage for their clients is so eyeball glazingly boring, that no-one but the directly effected corporations bother to be informed about it.

69

robotslave 05.21.16 at 5:11 am

@30

Ah, OK.

And the alternative presented is…?

70

JeffreyG 05.21.16 at 5:35 am

“When exactly was the good old days? And what was so good about it?”

The historical point is less that we should ‘go back’ to some specific moment in history, and more of a proof of concept. Unless you regard racial, gender, and/or anti-gay discrimination as essential to the various democratic projects yearned for (which is arguable but not something I accept), I don’t see this as a major sticking point. That being said, I’m on the younger end so we might not be tracking each other here.

71

js. 05.21.16 at 5:45 am

robotslave @71 — Crouch doesn’t really present a viable alternative (if that’s what you’re asking). I tend to think it’s valuable to clearly and compellingly identify a genuine problem even if you don’t have a solution at hand, but I understand that a lot of people find that unsatisfactory—it is natural to, I think.

72

js. 05.21.16 at 5:59 am

root_e @69 — I get this. But without e.g. regurgitating Hacker & Pierson’s _Winner Take All Politics_ (e.g.), there are certain obvious points to be made about union strength in mid-century US (or effective tax rates for that matter) etc., that led to certain countervailing pressures on people in power. Which in turn led to a more equitable distribution of social goods than what we have now, at least arguably and broadly speaking.

I don’t _at all_ want to dispute the gains that have been made by women, minorities, LGBT people, etc., and I fully understand the importance of these. (I mean, I’m brown myself, so there’s also that.) At the same time, it’s hard to ignore the seemingly-inexorably-rising rates of inequality, here in the US and elsewhere. And if nothing else, the felt lack of political agency on the part of people making less than 7-figure salaries. And looking at all of that, it’s hard not to worry. At least a bit.

73

J-D 05.21.16 at 6:45 am

‘But we’re still all basically fucked, right?’

Anne Steele: … We got a bunch of furniture donated. Gotta move this stuff to the new shelter.
Charles Gunn: Still fighting the good fight, huh?
Anne Steele: That’s the drill. How are things uptown?
Charles Gunn: More fight, less good. …
(Anne Steele: .., We’re pretty safe. It gives me time to concentrate on the little things. Crack, runaways, abuse victims, psychotics. The old gang.
Charles Gunn: Yeah, I remember.
Anne Steele: It’s not so bad. We’ve had some really decent donations, and it’s helping. We actually have a part-time paid psychiatric staff.
Charles Gunn: What if I told you it doesn’t help? What would you do if you found out that none of it matters? That it’s all controlled by forces more powerful and uncaring than we can conceive, and they will never let it get better down here. What would you do?
Anne Steele: I’d get this truck packed before the new stuff gets here. Wanna give me a hand?
Charles Gunn: I do. …

74

Timothy Scriven 05.21.16 at 7:19 am

The big problem I have with the term post democracy is that it harkens back to an alleged golden age where there was democracy.

75

root_e 05.21.16 at 2:47 pm

” At the same time, it’s hard to ignore the seemingly-inexorably-rising rates of inequality, here in the US and elsewhere.”

World-wide, inequality is down. The anomalous prosperity of white working class men in America in the 1950s was in a period where e.g. US ruthlessly kept Latin America in a state of feudalism. Do we really want to go back to an era where there were so many unionized white guy workers employed e.g. building Trident submarines?

” And if nothing else, the felt lack of political agency on the part of people making less than 7-figure salaries. “

Mills, Power Elite, is an essential guide. People may have “felt” anything, but elite power was not actually challenged.

76

root_e 05.21.16 at 2:55 pm

One of the problems with left-nostalgia is that it apparently makes it impossible to understand existing political dynamic. For example consider this:

A: ““I think the Republican destruction of unions just kills the middle class,” he said. “And as people start sinking and earning less and less, they’ll be more open to that.” Expanding union membership, he added, “is gaining more currency” as a policy solution, “because the statistics are becoming clear and overwhelming about the middle-income decline.”

B: ” “Measures that facilitate collective bargaining can result in a broader participation in the benefits of productivity and growth.”

A is from Chuck Schumer. B is from Robert Rubin. But nobody in “left” America knows that. What they know is that the Democrats are neoliberals who want to crush labor unlike Harry Truman. And they don’t know that Truman presided over Jim Crow America and was unable to stop the passage of Taft-Hartley. So they have a nostalgia story that is politically suited only to the “we are so fucked” program that actually does facilitate right wing power.

77

JeffreyG 05.21.16 at 5:57 pm

root_e @77

The “e.g. s” in your comment do most, if not all, of the work in making this set-up appear objectionable. Your comment uses leading questions, but does not actually make an argument. I would encourage you to actually state your views in a set of positive claims, and not merely imply them.

As I read it, “Do we really want to go back to an era where there were so many unionized white guy workers employed e.g. building Trident submarines?” is only answered ‘No’ when ‘Trident submarines’ is the object being built.

Try this: ‘Do we really want to go back to an era where there were so many unionized white guy workers employed e.g. retooling American infrastructure for a solar power?’

regarding your next comment: please elaborate on how not knowing the origin of two specific statements by Schumer and Rubin ‘facilitates right wing power’. I just do not see the argument here.

78

RNB 05.21.16 at 6:03 pm

Here’s the argument that the Happy Days of the 60s are not coming back. It’s an argument, and it could well be wrong.
http://glineq.blogspot.com/2016/05/why-make-america-denmark-again-will-not.html

79

Anderson 05.21.16 at 6:11 pm

We are always already basically fucked.

80

bruce wilder 05.21.16 at 6:17 pm

Anderson @ 81

Buddha!

81

root_e 05.21.16 at 6:27 pm

#79

The phrase “post-democracy” implies that previously there was democracy and, in the context, that things were actually better in this prior era. But that’s nostalgic and reactionary crap. The era of unchallenged US domination, cold war Military Keynsianism, and unchallenged subordination of women and african americans created a privileged white male working class that participated in the spoils. White working men got high wages, not because the USA was an egalitarian wonderland but because racial and gender discrimination improved labor market conditions and US economic/military domination of the world captured so much of world revenue that $50/hour machinists at Electric Boat were compatible with high profits.

So when you ask: “Try this: ‘Do we really want to go back to an era where there were so many unionized white guy workers employed e.g. retooling American infrastructure for a solar power?’” – it’s like asking if we want to go back to an era when 2+2=5. There is no “back” to go to that is not a racist cold war disaster. Why not toss aside this reactionary nostalgia and ask: How do we go forward to an era where workers have more power over conditions and capture more of the profits and investment goes to projects compatible with prosperity and human survival? That’s a really different question.

82

RNB 05.21.16 at 6:33 pm

There is the possibility however of going back to some of the rights to unionize and strike that workers had before Taft-Hartley and the present refusal to enforce labor protections, such as the illegality of hiring “permanent” replacement workers or threatening to relocate during a strike; changes like this would benefit the striking workers at Verizon for example.
See https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/05/verizon-strike-fios-cwa-union-replacements/

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JeffreyG 05.21.16 at 6:34 pm

“How do we go forward to an era where workers have more power over conditions and capture more of the profits and investment goes to projects compatible with prosperity and human survival?”

So how – by your estimation – do we do this?

Now prove that your answer is viable. And no using history to make that case, you have already ruled that out.

84

root_e 05.21.16 at 7:00 pm

I’m not sure I have an answer, I only argue that nostalgia is not it.

85

LFC 05.21.16 at 7:39 pm

root_e @77

World-wide, inequality is down.

Per-capita GDP gaps between countries are down somewhat, but inequality within most countries (w the exception of some L. American ones) is up in recent decades.

Moreover, the distribution of global household income between 1988 and 2008 went very disproportionately to (1) the top one percent of the global distribution, and (2) a slice in the lower-middle corresponding to the emergent middle class in e.g. China. The slice corresponding to the middle class in the rich countries lost. See Milanovic’s so-called ‘elephant curve’ at the beginning of his new bk, reproduced in a recent review of same in The American Prospect.

Lastly, extreme deprivation, in the form of (inter alia) chronic malnutrition, lack of access to clean water and basic medicines, remains the lot of hundreds of millions of people. See T. Pogge on how unaccountable int’l institutions contribute to this. Pogge points out that between c. 1990 and now, roughly 400 million people have died of poverty-related causes, roughly twice the number of people killed by wars/violence during the twentieth cent.

86

JeffreyG 05.21.16 at 7:40 pm

87

LFC 05.21.16 at 7:41 pm

Link to the review of Milanovic:
http://prospect.org/article/worlds-inequality

88

root_e 05.21.16 at 7:54 pm

The political commissar vibe is strong with that Jacobin article. All about how to say things. And ” the holy place that the New Deal once had in Democratic discourse.” Jesus take the wheel. Reactionary nostalgia at its most pathetic. Imagine African-Americans being ungrateful enough to bring up the effect of the Dixiecrats on the New Deal. Well, I never!

89

Brett Dunbar 05.21.16 at 8:09 pm

The global Gini coefficient has been falling while within country Gini has increased. Basically in poor countries everyone has got richer with the rich getting richer a little faster. In rich countries the rich have got a bit richer while the poor have stayed still. The poor in poor countries have got richer faster than the rich in rich countries compressing the global range even while the in country range has increased. The rich in poor countries are poorer than the poor in rich countries.

90

kent 05.21.16 at 8:13 pm

So how do we reconcile the unremitting pessimism about the present and future with things like …

https://ourworldindata.org/VisualHistoryOf/Poverty.html#/title-slide

?

IMO, “We are fucked” as a conclusion needs to at least grapple with the basic reality that, as a percentage of population, fewer people than ever are truly fucked – at least for values of “fucked” that include starving, dying in wars, or just generally dying from any cause before age 40.

Shorter me: strongly agree with root_e (@77) .

91

LFC 05.21.16 at 8:22 pm

Brett Dunbar
In rich countries the rich have got a bit richer

No, if you take even a cursory glance at the figures, the very rich in rich countries have gotten *considerably* richer. (It’s a generalization, obvs., but I think more accurate than yours.)

92

LFC 05.21.16 at 8:27 pm

From my link @89, emphasis added:

Clearly evident [in the figures for 1988 – 2008] are the rise of a global middle class, in some important measure reflecting the great march out of poverty in China, and the equally amazing rise in the incomes of the top 1 percent globally. The winners of globalization were many people who three decades ago were dirt-poor, and though a big percentage increase in a very low income still amounts to a rather low income by the standards of the average person in the rich countries, it is a major movement in the right direction. But the great winners of globalization were also a relatively few people in the already-rich countries, a global plutocracy who also experienced income gains of over 50 percent, but from a much higher starting point. Both of these changes are without precedent in the history of humanity.

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JeffreyG 05.21.16 at 9:04 pm

” fewer people than ever are truly fucked – at least for values of “fucked” that include starving, dying in wars, or just generally dying from any cause before age 40.”

most of this is explained by technological progress. And that same technological progress promises to bring many of those problems back with a vengeance if we do not do something about the ecology.

The thesis is that we have had regress in our socio-political institutions, shown in the concentration of wealth that LFC is demonstrating here, simultaneous with technological progress, which explains growth of living standards in general. But if we require those same institutions to properly manage the long-term side-effects of that technical progress, then it would seem that we truly are fucked.

94

Brett Dunbar 05.21.16 at 9:06 pm

I was discussing rich and poor as the top and bottom 10% rather than the tiny number of ultra rich. The range overall has been compressed as the poor in poor countries have made gains faster than the rich in rich countries.

What I was giving was a simplified explanation of how the global Gini has fallen while the in country Gini has risen.

95

JeffreyG 05.21.16 at 9:17 pm

root_e:
do you think that racial discrimination is essential to building a political coalition against the power of corporations and elite business interests in the US? do you think that racial discrimination is essential to the union as an institution? Can we talk about past successes without lapsing into ‘reactionary nostalgia’? If so, how? Or maybe there are no past successes? do you think that Henwood secretly yearns for the days of Jim Crow?

Please clarify: I don’t understand what you are arguing.

96

RNB 05.21.16 at 9:38 pm

@89 Let’s leave Thomas Pogge aside for now…I actually don’t like Milanovic’s new elephant chart as much as his old charts that showed that top ventiles of many poor countries had lower PPP incomes than the lowest ventiles in the wealthiest ones. The elephant chart is misleading to the extent that people don’t understand those middle class incomes are growing from a lowest initial number, so that higher growth rates in Asia than in Euro-America does not mean the mean international gaps in per capita income in absolute terms has fallen much. In fact it even rose in some cases over two decades’ time. I think that Milanovic’s elephant graph coming to be the better known one reveal a kind of Western hegemony in that its problem of low growth becomes the problem rather than the huge international gaps that are not going away any time soon.

97

urban legend 05.21.16 at 9:40 pm

We’ve been effed because Republicans have been in charge of either the Congress or the Presidency for 32 out the last 36 years — and, therefore, in a position to obstruct anything good that might come out of the Democratic Party. This is in stark contrast to the 48-year period before 1981, when Democrats controlled both the Presidency and Congress in 32 of those years, and even had the filibuster-beating super-majority for 22 of those years. Virtually everything good has come from Democratic control in those periods.

How we get out of it is to change voting practices and get 80% turnouts instead of 35% or 40% turnouts. If we go back to control by the Democratic Party because of the quantum change in the culture of voting, we will get significant changes — not only because even the most “DINO” Democrats will vote for many things no Republican will vote for, but because turnouts like that, with minority populations voting at more or less the same rates as older white adults, will force the party to be more progressive.

Every system has an elite. Despairing over that is pointless. The whole point of our system is that there is a mechanism for making sure the non-elite can have some say. But that is going to have to come from the ground up.

98

RNB 05.21.16 at 9:52 pm

@98 not to be cryptic. Pogge is facing serious sexual harassment charges. and it seems that philosophers such as Martha Nussbaum have long known of the problem.

99

root_e 05.21.16 at 10:26 pm

It’s one thing to say we need a revitalized union movement and strong unions historically brought many benefits, it is something very different to say we live in “post-democracy” and “we’re fucked” because now, as opposed to in some fantasy prior world, rich people have so much power.

100

RNB 05.21.16 at 10:27 pm

@88 Henwood argues that New Deal was a partial program that should be defended and universalized. And that may be true, but to the extent that it widened the racial inequality in life chances by affording protections mostly to whites, it also did positive harm to the fabric of our society in some ways as well, and it’s my impression that Henwood does not allowed himself to be detained long enough to consider these problems.

FHA policies obviously widened ownership but they also contributed to the obscene racial wealth gap in this country and the degraded relative status of blacks in the US today.

I understand Henwood’s important point that these exclusions and even harms from large-scale programs should not be used to cast suspicion on future large-scale programs from which minorities may stand to benefit most of all.

I also think this is too glib: “When you have nothing positive to sell voters, you have to get creative.” That line is not going to convince people who think Clinton’s paid leave policies, introduction of the public option, stricter gun control, early childhood education policies are a lot more than nothing. I think he’s preaching to the choir here.

101

guthrie 05.21.16 at 10:40 pm

Isn’t this analogous to the state of affairs back in the pre-democratic times, i.e. 18th and early 19th centuries?

Yet our ancestors managed to gain the freedom and privileges of their social superiors, over time, by fighting for them. So it clearly isn’t impossible, but at the moment we’re lacking useful theories to help ties things together in the way that worked in the 19th and ealry 20th centuries.

102

LFC 05.21.16 at 10:57 pm

RNB @100
Pogge is facing serious sexual harassment charges

This is the first time I’m hearing about this. I don’t read Inside Higher Ed or the Chronicle etc., except on rare-ish occasion, and I’m not in a setting where I receive academic scuttlebut/news, etc.

Since I’ve heard nothing about this until now and know nothing about the details, obviously I can’t say anything about it (except that I’m opposed to sexual harassment, obvs.). On the whole I like Pogge’s work, the parts of it I’m familiar with, that is. I’ll leave it at that.

103

J-D 05.21.16 at 11:09 pm

Individually and collectively, the experiences of our lives are partly the product of choices we make ourselves and partly the product of factors clearly beyond our control (and this has always been true).

If what you mean by ‘we’re still all basically fucked’ is ‘the options available to us are severely restricted by the actions of powerful people, and many if not most of the outcomes we would prefer have effectively been closed off to us’, then that’s true (and it’s been true for all of recorded history).

But if what you mean by ‘we’re still all basically fucked’ is ‘there’s actually no chance at all that anything we do can result in any significant improvements’, then that’s not true.

104

JeffreyG 05.21.16 at 11:34 pm

@101
“It’s one thing to say we need a revitalized union movement and strong unions historically brought many benefits, it is something very different to say we live in ‘post-democracy’ “

I am still having trouble seeing the substance of the distinction you are trying to draw. It still seems mostly semantic to me. Are you arguing against Crouch’s basic thesis? or just the chosen title?

105

JeffreyG 05.22.16 at 12:10 am

106

kent 05.22.16 at 12:39 am

When I was a high schooler during the 1980’s, it was fashionable among our group (liberal, middle-class, intellectuals, mostly children of University faculty) to assert that everything was going to go to hell. There was going to be not enough food to feed the world b/c the population of Africa was going to be, I don’t remember, some insanely high number. Diseases were going to get out of control because I don’t remember why. A nuclear war was of course likely to start any day … you could literally find zero people who thought that BOTH the Soviets AND Reagan had the common sense to avoid it. Oh, and of course if we somehow lived to 65 Social Security would be dead as well, because obviously. Most of the worst of it was supposed to happen by about 2010 or 2020. And there was nothing anyone could do about it.

I also remember that, if there was a hope, it was some form of socialism or communism. The Russians were going to prove to us that capitalism was a failure. Our way of life was built on a foundation of lies and exploitation that was bound to go down the drain.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, predicated the amazing improvements in welfare around the world between then and now. In my group, at least, nobody predicted the complete failure of communism in every country where it was tried. Of course were just dumb kids talking out of our hats. But we had absorbed the zeitgeist. We knew what ‘everyone’ ‘knew.’

I’m not saying that the “we’re fucked” prediction being wrong once means it has to be wrong again! Who knows? But I do wonder whether “We’re fucked!” is analogous to “The kids today!” It’s a line with timeless appeal and evidence can always be found to support it. (Maybe?)

107

Layman 05.22.16 at 1:15 am

Breaking News! RNB likes Clinton. Film at eleven.

108

LFC 05.22.16 at 2:47 am

@RNB
A quick p.s. to say that your remark about Pogge has caused me to spend more time online this evening than I had planned to. I am glad you mentioned it however, b.c though I prob would have read about it at a philosophy site sooner or later (as I occasionally look at them), I would just as soon have been clued in to it sooner. That’s all I’m going to say on it for now.

109

Meredith 05.22.16 at 4:34 am

I, too, am offended somehow by celebrity politics, even when I trust the good intentions (and often good effects) of the work of, say, a Jolie. Can we hope this strange mix of corporatism and celebrity will produce something good? We can hope, but that’s not where my hope lies.

I am flush with joy as a first-time grandmother, and with nostalgia as I read papers and exams for not the last time yet, but soon to be, the last time (these tender dears, my students — well, a few are not so tenderly dear, but most are). We worry whether we will keep living here in retirement or move nearer children and grandchild(ren?). Friends are here, familiar trees and mountains, streets, streams and rivers. Only the mountains are not likely to move much over time to come. (A final game of scissors and paper? Mountains trump rivers? For a long while, at least.)

My hope more and more lies in the little things that people do for one another, whether in joy or travail, and that will persist and prevail. At least, so I hope.

110

Frederick 05.22.16 at 9:32 am

Please find something completely different by a unique Philosopher and Artist (his art is featured on the website). It provides a very sobering assessment of the human, and planetary situation. An assessment that points out that we are, and will be fucked, if the current patterns that control everything get to play out their current trajectories.
http://www.dabase.org/not2p1.htm

111

Maria 05.22.16 at 10:43 am

Meredith, you are just the best, the best, the best.

112

Peter T 05.22.16 at 11:21 am

How to control the elites is an age-old problem. My feel is that elites in most western countries were more constrained from say 1950 to 1980 than they are today. Constrained not just in how much they took but in how much control they felt they could exercise – in work discipline, bureaucratic regulation, official and private hectoring. Details would vary from country to country, and I’m not claiming that blacks in the US or women everywhere had it great.

The issue I see is that most of the the issues before us demand local control (I’m thinking of environmental problems – species loss, water use, pesticide and fertiliser over-use, soil loss and so on), but attempts at local control are resisted at the national and global level, as they see, rightly, that conservation or restoration will cut their incomes (if beaches and mangroves are off-limits, hotel developers suffer, and on up the chain to the Hiltons).

A second, related point is that GDP per capita does not measure loss of control, nor loss of public amenity. It correlated fairly well with human welfare for a time, but the environmental issues suggest that a proper accounting would show us in deficit for the last several decades.

113

Lynne 05.22.16 at 1:00 pm

Ah, Meredith,

“My hope more and more lies in the little things that people do for one another, whether in joy or travail, and that will persist and prevail. At least, so I hope.”

Me, too. And in my garden, full of fragrance just now from the mountain phlox.

114

engels 05.22.16 at 2:53 pm

I take hope from my Mercedes, and my cellar of vintage Bordeaux.

115

jake the antisoshul soshulist 05.22.16 at 3:49 pm

@Plume #13. That is a feature not a bug.

116

jake the antisoshul soshulist 05.22.16 at 4:03 pm

Also, too: Brett B. knows his audience. Otherwise he would have reminded us that in the US we have a Republic, not a Democracy. I debate regularly with someone who callshimself a “classic liberal”, which mean he is a cranky sort of libertarian, though he would be insulted if you called him one. He continually reminds me that we are a Republic, usually adding the alleged quote from Franklin that “democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” I respond that a Republic is a pack of wolves choosing which sheep to have for dinner.

117

Root_e 05.22.16 at 4:50 pm

#109 breaking: Hillary Clinton is to the left of Doug henwood. That is unless you think promoting Doug is more important to the working class than CHIP and free community college.

118

LFC 05.22.16 at 6:58 pm

@engels
I take hope from my Mercedes, and my cellar of vintage Bordeaux.

That’s pretty good. You should let your sense of humour (Br. spelling intentional, of course) show here a bit more often, imho.

119

Maria 05.22.16 at 7:37 pm

engels, I get that you dislike me. You’ve made that abundantly clear on several threads, now.

Don’t be nasty to other people because of it.

Actually, please don’t comment on my threads any more.

120

Bernard Yomtov 05.22.16 at 11:41 pm

I agree with those, like root_e, who wonder what idyllic democracy the current situation is “post.”

Does the simple existence of much more powerful unions than we have in the US today mean the country was more democratic 50-60 years ago? I don’t think it was.

121

js. 05.22.16 at 11:57 pm

I am genuinely wondering if any of the people complaining about nostalgia/idyllic conceptions of the past/etc. have actually read the Crouch or whether what we’re seeing are simply knee-jerk reactions to a title people seem not to like.

122

bob mcmanus 05.23.16 at 12:14 am

Paolo Virno, in Radical Thought in Italy, is relatively readable. He’s arguing with Arendt’s Human Condition here. Just a small excerpt.

“The excess cooperation of Intellect, however, rather than eliminating the coercions of capitalist production, figures as capital’s most eminent resource. Its heterogeneity has neither voice nor visibility. Rather, because the exteriority of Intellect, the fact that it appears, becomes a technical prerequisite of Work, the acting-in-concert outside of labor that it engenders in its turn becomes subjected to the kinds of criteria and hierarchies that characterize the factory regime.

The principal consequences of this paradoxical situation are two-fold. The first relates to the form and nature of political power. The peculiar publicness of Intellect, deprived of any expression of its own by that labor that nonetheless claims it as a productive force, manifests itself indirectly within the realm of the State through the hypertrophic growth of administrative apparatuses. Administration has come to replace the political, parliamentary system at the heart of the State, but it has done this precisely because it represents an authoritarian concretion of general intellect, the point of fusion between knowledge and command, thee reverse image of excess cooperation. It is true that for decades there have been indications of a growing and determining weight of the bureaucracy within the “body politic,” the predominance of decree over law. Now, however, we face a situation that is qualitatively new. What we have here is no longer the familiar process of rationalization of the State, but rather a Statization of Intellect. The old expression raison d’Etat for the first time acquires a nonmetaphorical meaning.”

Although the top elites are skimming the cream, I don’t see them as actually powerful. The problem is that the rational administration of the political economy by bureaucrats and scientists with the overarching goal of avoiding social disorder will inevitably cause the concentration of capital at the top and monopolization of power. As we saw 2007-2009, actual elites will gamble til they wreck the place, and it is the reality based community that knows little else but to protect them.

Question: why such an explosion of administration at universities?

123

root_e 05.23.16 at 12:43 am

#123
“The term ‘post-democracy’ was coined by Colin Crouch to refer to the fusion of corporate power with government, generating an elite politics based on a political-financial cycle in which money buys power and power rewards money. Post-democracy is a plausible imitation of democracy. It has a popular, consultative appearance, while the real politics of power and money consists of a continuing round of inter-personal transactions among elites.”

As opposed to what? This “precis” is hard to reconcile with actual history.

124

engels 05.23.16 at 1:02 am

engels, I get that you dislike me. You’ve made that abundantly clear on several threads, now

??? Which threads are you talking about? I can’t see any personal animosity on my part in the last few I can find (supposing that to be grounds for banning). Disagreement, yes (in two out of three). Nothing I wrote on this thread was even addressed to you.

http://crookedtimber.org/2016/03/08/are-we-there-yet-sexual-harassment-at-icann/
http://crookedtimber.org/2016/02/16/cash-and-freedom/
http://crookedtimber.org/2016/03/25/national-hero/

125

LFC 05.23.16 at 1:15 am

Hey js., looks like you’re having such a good time on Twitter i cant understand why you’re even bothering w those of us in the blogosphere. #justsayin ;)

126

LFC 05.23.16 at 1:19 am

p.s. I haven’t read Crouch. But then I haven’t been complaining about nostalgic images of the past either.

(Speaking of post this and that, there was a pol scientist a while back who wrote about ‘post-imperialism’. I can imagine how that wd go down here.)

127

JimV 05.23.16 at 1:46 am

“Limiting spending on speech is limiting speech.”

So? Freedom of speech in the USA has always had limits: shouting “fire” when there is none; slander; divulging classified information; saying whatever you want to on a blog without being banned; et cetera.

As Bush v. Gore taught me, whatever SC judges want to rule, they will find a way to rationalize. We just happen to have had too many dark-siders on the court for too long.

128

js. 05.23.16 at 2:23 am

root_e @126 — Look, the book’s out there and easily acquirable; I’m not going to try to recreate the arguments from something I read 2-3 years ago because I most certainly would not do them justice. For what it’s worth, I think it’s pretty clear that Crouch is not engaging in nostalgia.

——

LFC — Yes, Twitter’s more fun, but that’s probably only because I try to keep politics at about 50% or less on it. (I’m not always successful.)

129

J-D 05.23.16 at 2:24 am

bob mcmanus @124

If that’s the sort of thing you consider relatively readable, what sort of thing do you consider relatively unreadable?

130

bob mcmanus 05.23.16 at 3:21 am

124: Augusto Illuminati, same book.

“What is thus excluded as a humanistic falsehood is the idea that it is possible
to direct action toward the Good following the Aristotelian or utilitarian tradition.
The end toward which actions are directed or, better yet, the end around which sub-
jects revolve, is the Thing, the emptiness of Being to which every desire is referred.
An opposition of natural desire, which would be positive, to the interdictive nega-
tivity of the law is thus not possible—we would still be dealing with a supreme
Good that is transferred from the place of the final cause to that of the efficient
cause, no longer a point of arrival but unconscious derivation, a psychoanalytic
transcription of originary innocence.

“Conversely, withdrawing from politics, the secular equivalent of
gnostic estrangement from worldly evil, is the limit of a series of partial defections,
which in principle can be reintegrated by way of flexible strategies of subjectiviza-
tion and by the identification of diversities on the part of civil liberties. The apolit-
ical is caught in the dilemma between the reabsorption of its potentialities within
the overarching power and the resistance of its singularities against the representa-
tive alienation.”

131

bob mcmanus 05.23.16 at 3:25 am

132 to 131. Not unreadable, just more challenging. Slower.

132

J-D 05.23.16 at 4:11 am

bob mcmanus

You quoted some text which you described as ‘relatively readable’. So, for the sake of comparison, I asked you for an example of something you would describe as ‘relatively unreadable’. Now you’ve given another quotation, but you say it’s not unreadable. So that still leaves me with my original question: what sort of thing would you describe as relatively unreadable? I mean, is there anything you would consider unreadable?

133

robotslave 05.23.16 at 4:29 am

@73

It is indeed valuable to identify a problem without offering a solution in, say, epidemiology or literary theory.

But public policy is rather different. There will *always* be people who think the way society is structured is disagreeable, but if the complainant does not offer or stand behind any suggestion about how the structure of society ought to be different, then that objector simply isn’t participating.

The structuring of society, unlike other philosophical endeavors, is *defined* by participation; in a very real sense, the only valid criticism of political process is the attempt to enact some other process.

134

bob mcmanus 05.23.16 at 4:46 am

134: Oh, FFS. My unspeakable error, maybe I meant relatively “clear.” Maybe easier to understand. Whatever. Sumimasen gozaimasu.

What the f are you doing and why am I bothering to respond?

Voynich Manuscript

135

J-D 05.23.16 at 5:28 am

bob mcmanus @136

What am I doing? I’m trying to find out what sort of text would seem unreadable to somebody who describes the text you quoted as relatively readable, because that might help me to understand what you mean by ‘relatively readable’. If the Voynich manuscript is a typical example of a text you consider unreadable, it appears that what you mean by ‘relatively readable’ is something like ‘constructed using the vocabulary and syntax of a known language’. The text you quoted meets that standard, but that’s a low bar.

136

Brett Dunbar 05.23.16 at 8:42 am

JimV @ 129

I wasn’t saying that limiting speech in this case was a bad thing, just that if you are imposing spending restrictions you are limiting speech. The spending limits in the UK are pretty draconian to the point that is is fairly easy to raise all of the money that you are permitted to spend so fundraising is not a major concern to most politicians.

The ECHR tends to be fairly tolerant of restrictions on the article ten right to freedom of expression while the US Supreme Court has tended to be extremely hostile to restrictions. The language of the first amendment naturally supports a fairly absolutist interpretation and doesn’t give much support for restrictions.

137

LFC 05.23.16 at 12:07 pm

mcmanus @124 — first part of what he quoted:

The excess cooperation of Intellect, however, rather than eliminating the coercions of capitalist production, figures as capital’s most eminent resource. Its heterogeneity has neither voice nor visibility. Rather, because the exteriority of Intellect, the fact that it appears, becomes a technical prerequisite of Work, the acting-in-concert outside of labor that it engenders in its turn becomes subjected to the kinds of criteria and hierarchies that characterize the factory regime.

mcm. tells us this is responding to Arendt’s The Human Condition. Not much help unless one has read the latter, which I haven’t (though a glance shows her main categories in THC are Labor, Work, and Action). Unless one knows how Arendt is using Work in THC, Virno’s “the exteriority of Intellect…becomes a technical prerequisite of Work” remains opaque.

I’m not sure, but knowing something about Gramsci (among others) might help here too. (The book, mcm tells us, is called Radical Thought in Italy.)

However, shorn of context and plopped onto the screen, the passage is less than illuminating. You wd prob have to do what C. Wright Mills did in The Sociological Imagination w/ that passage from Parsons, i.e. translate it into straightforward English. The difference being that the Parsons passage is somewhat clearer than this Virno (which presumably is trans. from the Italian).

But J-D, there is not much pt quarreling w mcm along lines of “what do you consider relatively readable?” He likes what he likes, and some of it is no doubt good if one has the background and taste for it (and some of it is, no doubt, not good). And that’s pretty much the long and short of it.

138

GK 05.23.16 at 2:31 pm

“its relentless rightness, which I personally find more or less inarguable”

Crouch’s argument won’t leave me alone either, but I would like to offer a caveat to that phrase of Maria’s, a caveat that might hint at some grounds for hope. The caveat is not so much about what Crouch says as about what he omits (or says little about). Briefly put, he’s too much the sociologist. There’s a great deal in his book about economic institutions and social class but very little about political institutions — parties, in particular. Sure, you can explain the current travails of the democratic left by telling a story about neoliberalism and the rise of new kinds of corporate power — but you can also tell a pretty good explanatory story by attending to changes in the structure of political parties and political movements: as membership-based parties have been replaced by networks of political professionals who assemble their election-day voter sets using the latest marketing techniques, the possibility of anything worth calling social democratic politics (at the national level) erodes.

Political organizations can be built; there’s an art or science to organizing that can be practiced even under unfavorable conditions. That’s what I think Crouch’s argument is missing. So perhaps we should worry less about what corporations can do and think more about the sorts of political organizing methods and organizational forms that could be built amidst the rubble of older-style political parties. (To get specific: I think the model to look at here, at least in the U.S., is the Working Families Party.)

That’s not consolation, exactly, but it’s not despair, either.

139

bianca steele 05.23.16 at 2:35 pm

There’s been a lot of talk about Crouch’s book on CT and I’m frankly with those who find it unappealing (for a bunch of reasons, some of which have already been mentioned). Maybe some of the criticism is directed at the difference between those who find it appealing and those who do not, and as such isn’t necessarily intended as personal criticism of either group.

140

bianca steele 05.23.16 at 2:36 pm

That said, as someone who finds the ideas underlying Maria’s post unappealing for myself, what I do is . . . undermine her? No, what I do is . . . . not comment on her post.

141

Bernard Yomtov 05.23.16 at 5:16 pm

js @123

I have not read Crouch.

I relied on Maria’s precis, and also on my no doubt simple-minded understanding of the prefix “post.”

If someone writes about the “post-war situation,” for example, I tend to assume that there was an actual war preceding the situation being discussed.

It’s not a matter of a title I don’t like, but rather of a title I understand to be written in ordinary English.

142

bob mcmanus 05.23.16 at 11:26 pm

Okay, believe it or not, I would not have posted 124 it if I did not consider it on its own accessible, comprehensible, and usefully on topic. I am assuming a general level of knowledge around here, and do not aim at the least informed reader. This does not mean the passage is easy or quick reading, but I dislike easy and quick reading. Whether the passage is worth your time, or the book and school it leads to is worth your time, depends on factors like my reputation and your willingness to google the authors etc.

No, you should not need Arendt, or knowing that here “Intellect” refers to Marx’s concept of the General Intellect etc to understand the piece.

The excess cooperation of Intellect, however, rather than eliminating the coercions of capitalist production, figures as capital’s most eminent resource. Its heterogeneity has neither voice nor visibility. Rather, because the exteriority of Intellect, the fact that it appears, becomes a technical prerequisite of Work, the acting-in-concert outside of labor that it engenders in its turn becomes subjected to the kinds of criteria and hierarchies that characterize the factory regime.

Sentence 1: The premise of much revolutionary Marxism was that the cooperation and socialization of the factory floor would lead to unions, and through the cooperation of unions, a worker’s political party, and then proletarian revolution.

Here Virno is making the common point that as factory work has become intellectualized and socialized, and much service work industrialized, the social cooperation and offsite intellectual activity has become a resource, a factor of production for capital and accumulation, and no longer a site or structure for resistance.

Sentence 2: Unlike labor, social intellect (which includes CT comment threads and twitter) has no and can have no unitary representation. It’s differentiation and diversity is exactly what makes it creative and productive. But much “Work” on and offsite is not social and intellectual.

Sentence 3: But now we are, or are becoming, alienated from our intellectual activities just as labour was alienated from its manual activity. Our coffee machine conversations are about maintaining productive work relationships more than establishing off site friendships, for example. Our creativity is a factor of production, not a subversion.

And as we have become accustomed to our intellectual and social selves being disciplined by and for our employers (Breunig when tweeting needs to keep his job in mind) that self-discipline and restraint, techniques and skills of socialization, bleeds into our “private” selves and off site social activity.

The overall point is the argument against elitism as viewed from the bottom that is a large part of autonomism, in that “Administration” (bolded in 124) is something we all do, we all most administer and manage ourselves under the regime of late capitalism/neoliberalism in order to serve accumulation, from the Phd getting her MBA to the Foxconn worker keeping the dorm tidy and peaceful.

Now I need to eat some healthy food, lift some weights, and watch a feminist movie.

143

bob mcmanus 05.23.16 at 11:44 pm

Oh, and Virno does have answers to getting unfucked, which are detailed in the chapter. (Yes, “Action” refers to Arendt, and while Arendt wanted to keep Labour, Work and [political] Action separate, Virno argues that they are now fused.)

Action consists, in the final analysis, in the articulation of general intellect as a non-State public sphere, as the realm of common affairs, as Republic. The Exodus, in the course of which the new alliance between Intellect and Action is forged, has a number of fixed stars in its own heaven: radical Disobedience, Intemperance, Multitude, Soviet, Example, Right of Resistance. These categories allude to a political theory of the future, a theory perhaps capable of facing up to the political crises of the late twentieth century and outlining a solution that is radically anti-Hobbesian.

144

J-D 05.24.16 at 1:00 am

If you tell me that you prefer texts which are difficult to understand to texts which are easy to understand (‘I dislike easy and quick reading’), I think your meaning is clear, and all I can say is that our preferences differ; but if you tell me that you prefer texts which are difficult to understand and at the same time tell me that the text you prefer for its difficulty is in fact easy to understand (‘relatively readable’, ‘accessible’), I’m going to suggest that you’re trying to have it both ways, which is bound to be confusing.

145

ZM 05.24.16 at 4:07 am

In another reason for hope about climate change, The New York Times yesterday had 4 opinion pieces on Can Citizens Sue the Government Over Climate Change? which shows the court cases in the federal court in the USA, Washington, and Massachusetts are making an impact.

3 of the 4 writers voiced support for the the plaintiffs and the general concept that the judicial branch of government can intervene when asked by citizens to order the government to protect natural resources for the young and future generations.

The Dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, who is well regarded as a Constitutional and Supreme Court legal expert, Erwin Chemerinsky wrote:

“I believe Judge Coffin is clearly correct…United States officials have a duty to
protect [essential public resources] for the sake of successive generations.”

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/05/23/can-citizens-sue-the-government-over-climate-change

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ZM 05.24.16 at 4:11 am

J-D,

it’s nice to see you commenting here after reading your comments at John Quiggin’s Australian blog :-)

js,

your tweets do look like fun, i just followed you :-)

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F. Foundling 05.24.16 at 9:39 pm

@Daragh 12

‘Russia’s woes are due to too much state interference in the economy, too many social projects and not enough people being fired. Therefore, be grateful that we don’t have too much state interference in our economies, because that would result in authoritarianism, as well as causing the flesh to melt off your bones!!!’

@bianca steele 142

‘People should never disagree with blog posts when commenting on them, lest they undermine the blogger – it should be either agreement or silence. The results w r t truth-seeking will be excellent.’

@111,113,115,116,120,121

The purpose of a conversation may be either deliberative or therapeutic. Different assumptions about this may lead to somewhat different reactions to the same comment. While I can see some value in both mindsets and perspectives, if I absolutely have to take a side, I have to admit that the hope that I, personally, take from *phlox* is rather limited. That’s a species of salamander, I believe?…

Re the original question, I kinda like that old formula about ‘pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will’.

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