by Michael Doliner
In the long run, the existence of this intensely elitist society in the ancient Near East was of enormous importance to the history of Western civilization. As late as 1700, the prevailing European social system was still one in which vast power, the greater part of landed wealth, and the prime control of political life belonged to the hereditary landed aristocracy.
—Norman F. Cantor, The Civilization of the Middle Ages
(Swans - October 24, 2005) In the history of Western civilization democracy has prevailed for only a few slivers of time and even then only in a few places, most notably the shining example of the fifth century in Athens and the last 300 years on and off, more or less, here and there. The complacency with which most Americans assume our democracy will continue is unjustified given democracy's brief tenure in what we can see of the last 5000 years. The democracy of fifth century Athens and all its shining achievements ended with Athenian defeat in the Peloponnesian War. At the start of the war Pericles warned his fellow citizens not to try to expand their empire, but a defeat in the expansionist Sicilian Expedition destroyed the Athenian navy and led eventually to the end of the democracy.
Empire seems to be a hard temptation for democracies to resist. American history is a history of aggressive expansion and empire building. Now empire building has led to the end of our own democracy. Paul Craig Roberts has eloquently demonstrated the point in a recent article. Here is a quote.
Two and one-half years after the March 2003 invasion, the U.S. Congress and the American people still do not know the reason Iraq was invaded. The U.S. is bogged down in an expensive and deadly combat, and no one outside the small circle of neoconservatives who orchestrated the war knows the reason why. Many guesses are rendered - oil, removal of Israel's enemy - but the Bush administration has never disclosed its real agenda, which it cloaked with the WMD deception.
This itself is a powerful indication that American democracy is dead...
In the U.S. today nothing stands in the way of the arbitrary exercise of power by government. Federal courts have acquiesced in unconstitutional detention policies. There is no opposition party, and there is no media, merely huge conglomerates or collections of federal broadcasting licenses, the owners of which are afraid to displease the government.
The collapse of the institutions that confine government to law and bind it with the Constitution was sudden. (1)
For anyone who knows the plans of the Leo Strauss educated "philosophers" now in control of national policy, the end of democracy is not surprising. Their hope is to erase the Enlightenment and its subsequent history of liberal democracy and restore the Middle Ages, albeit with some modern conveniences. (2) Their hatred of liberal democracy is the impetus for their program, and their plan is to gain control of the United States and transform it from a liberal democracy into a Straussian state they and their successors can rule in perpetuity. Given the long history of elitist government in the West they have good chances.
But if we read on in Cantor's The Civilization of the Middle Ages we discover a tale of one elite after another gaining power and then losing it through arrogance or moronic incompetence. According to Cantor, when the Visigoths menaced Rome a general named Stilicho held them back until jealous Roman aristocrats, with the connivance of the emperor, murdered him. (3) The Visigoths had no interest in conquering Rome. They were just trying to escape from the Huns. But two years after Stilicho's death the Visigoths under Alaric stumbled almost unimpeded into the city. Here is another good example.
The Merovingian rulers did nothing for the people except to lead an occasional military expedition. They spent their time satisfying their gross desires and enriching their relatives and dependents. When there was more than one king, as was frequent in the century following Clovis's death, the rulers' chief interest was in fighting and killing each other, so the history of the Merovingian family in the sixth and early seventh centuries is mostly a bewildering tale of carnage and dishonor. (4)
The Merovingian power quickly waned as the Frankish and Gallo-Roman nobility coalesced to oppose them.
The incompetence of the Merovingians is not nearly as surprising as the even more stunning incompetence of the Straussian cabal in charge of the Bush administration. Iraq, Katrina, the economy, peak oil, the huge federal deficit, and looming ecological disaster all come to mind immediately when thinking of their accomplishments. They too seem preoccupied with enriching their friends, leading military expeditions, and doing nothing for the people. Apparently they count on maintaining their power through propaganda, Evangelical Christianity, and military repression. They rely on the public's mindless acceptance of free-market ideology and docile obedience to the cronies the philosophers have managed to insinuate into the husk of the structure of what was the American democracy.
Technology is democracy's art, so it is only natural for a child of democracy to ask, "Will it work?" Can the philosophers hold power after they get it? The average American is going to be in hot water. Of the 207,000 jobs created in July not a single one provides a tradable good or service. (5) The United States of America is rapidly entering third-world economic status. Neo-liberal free market ideology has allowed American corporations to export most good jobs to China or to some other low labor-cost site. At the same time steadily growing oil depletion will increase prices of food, fuel, and just about everything else. Americans simply won't be able to afford their suburban lives much longer. But what better way to force the population back into serfdom or even slavery than to impoverish them. The well-educated philosophers surely know that poverty, already here for many, is just over the horizon for many more. Clearly, it is part of the plan. The architects of our new order do not fear a disillusioned population, for there is really nothing that the mass of helpless citizens can do. On the contrary, a population in reduced and perhaps desperate circumstances, will, they hope, accept a new role as servants for the band of bookworms now in control. Indeed, impoverishment of the population is, from their point of view, a good.
The picture doesn't look rosy for the America's traditional rich masters either. Industrialists and international financiers who until so recently have had everything their own way are now finding things going inexplicably wrong. Four airlines are in bankruptcy and Ford and General Motors are deadbeats, their debt reduced to junk status. (6) Leftist leanings are knocking down what were once easy pickings in Latin America. Instead of owning a gusher in Iraq, oil companies are threatened with eviction from the entire Middle East. Public exposure has stripped the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, once ideal tools for plunder, of their rhetorical altruistic cloaks. Peasants in the boonies who were supposed to give up their loot without a fight are questioning the wisdom of the free trade agreements, NAFTA and GATT. CEO's like Ken Lay have supplied big business with a criminal mug. Massive foreign debt threatens to incinerate the value of the dollar in a holocaust of hyperinflation. The philosophers have tried to help the poor rich, but have enriched only a small number of them, putting others at risk of losing fortunes. However, life is still very good and the rich are not inclined to do much about the philosophers. Although a number of the members of Bush père's entourage objected to the war on Iraq on practical grounds, Bush fils ignored them. Sure that the younger Bush is one of them, they can't bring themselves to turn against him. They don't seem to have any way to deflect the philosophers from their career before the end of the presidential term, and they really don't want to. The philosophers can count on the rich; there will just be ever fewer of them.
What about a military coup? Controlling the military poses a far greater problem. In the history of the West most of the leaders have been barbarian thugs or their progeny. Savagery was their game. What is to prevent some Colonel, annoyed at the philosophers' destruction of the military, from launching a coup d'état with a little help from his friends? Impossible in America? Why? It is unlikely that the smoke the philosophers blow intoxicates military men as it does civilians. The draft-evading philosophers must infuriate generals who have to obey their absurd orders. There have been grumblings in the military about the incredible bungling of the Iraq War that they never wanted. Surely it gave other generals pause when Rumsfeld fired General Shinseki for offering reasonable advice. When the Army, in a highly unusual move, also relieved General Kevin Byrnes of his command for adultery just before war games at his post at Fort Monroe, some thought they fired him for more political reasons. (7) Until now the democratic architecture of the United States of America has restrained the military. According to the Constitution the military is, after all, subordinate to the civilian administration. But as it becomes more and more apparent that the American democracy is ritual gesture, the restraining writ of the Constitution will pale. The philosophers might ask themselves why the generals would continue to obey them when the philosophers have no more right to power than the generals do.
Unlike in some two-bit country, the military cannot rule in the United States through fear. The Iraq war has busted the American army and what military power remains resides in its whiz-bang technology. This technology is expensive and the population has to pay for it through taxes without effective complaint. In a more primitive country the military can gather taxes through force. In such countries wealth resides in land, crops, visible things. But here you need accountants to track down wealth in its lair. Electrons shift wealth from account to account and from country to country. And if the population does not think the tax collection is legitimate it will certainly try to evade taxes. Military force will not help in collecting them and will tear the economy apart in trying.
The American population has great affection for the Constitution even though it is mostly empty rigmarole that recalls an already supplanted regime. "Democracy" is a handy totalitarian ideology. Whereas most ideologies are complex structures of ideas that obscure reality behind a utopian veil, Americans, who like to cut to the chase, need only this one word. For this reason an American military coup will only endure in the United States if the population is ready to abandon this nostalgic attachment. The American military cannot rule the country by force for any length of time. It is public affection for this Constitutional paper ship of state that the military, and the Bush regime, still must respect.
How long can propaganda blow wind into the sails of this craft? Who knows, but if propaganda fails perhaps religion will succeed. Religion is more effective in hard times, just when propaganda isn't. Evangelical Christianity might bind minds even more tightly in extremis. Perhaps the philosophers hope to jump from the sinking ship of American liberal democracy onto the ark of Evangelical Christianity? Liberal democracy holds no allure for believers now, and they seem more than ready to sail off from American democracy into a glowing sunset of rapture. The Faithful's loyalty to Pat Robertson and his brethren rather than to American liberalism is likely to remain through any deprivation. If the philosophers, through support within the government for fundamentalism can expand the powers of the Evangelicals, and the Evangelicals can expand their already substantial flock so that it can dominate American cultural life, then perhaps the philosophers can maintain control even in the face of peak oil, monetary collapse, and environmental degradation leading to food scarcity. Strauss encouraged state Religion (almost any religion will do) to control the masses down below while the philosophers steer on the bridge. Perhaps the union of Evangelical Christianity and Straussian political science can land the ship on a new Plymouth rock and, like lichen, which is an obligate symbiotic relationship between green algae and certain fungal species, (8) the philosophers joined with the Evangelicals can grow there.
To recapitulate, with the end of the American democracy the philosophers can continue to rule only as long as they can maintain the public's support for the now illusory democracy or for a substitute based upon Evangelical Christianity. The philosophers hope to sail off to another state of their own making, even though they know that their paper ship is not on a wide sea, but in a tub of soup over a fire of greed. In the tub the American consumer, like a frog slowly heated in this soup they call "the economy," will remain, they hope, until cooked. If instead they heat him too quickly he might jump out, capsizing the boat. Then power would be out in the streets, and who would pick it up nobody can say. Only at that point is a military coup, like the one that transformed Rome from a Republic to an Empire, possible. But at that point the military will also likely be in the soup.
To maintain power the philosophers will try to prevent such sudden overheating. The somnambulant American must remain asleep at the wheel, in front of the TV, and in Wal*Mart. The philosophers will run the economy on debt, hide all bad news, manipulate equity markets, and offer false hopes for circumventing looming disasters. They will offer bread and circuses. They will deflect blame onto shadowy enemies. They will concoct pseudo-sciences to deny ecological decay. They will launch wars for "Democracy." They will do anything to try to hide the real disastrous state of affairs behind their own faith-based fantasy. Their illusion weaving will make it almost impossible for them to actually address real problems, and the availability of resources the military needs will diminish. As long as they can extract these resources from the ever more desiccated population, all will be well. When it no longer can, something will have to give.
The generals will not be happy with that situation, but, in spite of having military power, they will be unable to use it in a coup d'état so long as the philosophers can cloth themselves in the trappings of legitimacy. The generals, philosophers, super-rich, and Evangelicals are stuck with each other in a kind of farcical death dance on the poop of the paper ship. The philosophers need the generals, and like them, but want them to be different. The generals dislike the philosophers but need them and cannot free themselves from them. While they Charleston, the Evangelicals and the super-rich, like debutantes along for the ride, bask in the moonlight on deck chairs expecting their every whim to be satisfied. The rest of us swim as best we can as the soup bubbles. So sails the paper ship, but the superstructure is soggy with debt and moldy with ecological degradation, and the ship is sinking.
Aside from these sea creatures there is no political organization within the United States. The winner-take-all provisions of the Constitution have guaranteed a two party system, and the importance of money within the political process has made this two party system into a single party with two money-grubbing heads. All other political organizations have disintegrated, leaving the United States as a scattering of atomized individuals. We cannot expect a revolution even from an awakened populace. Soon Mother Nature will kick out the plug on the tub and the soup will drain. The draining soup will douse the fire and the boat, all soppy and moldy, will lie like a used napkin on the ground. If anyone is left alive she might then build something new.
If not, not. In one, at most two, hundred million years all will be well. The planet will heal the damage, new species will evolve to replace those we exterminated, and even new warm seas will breed algae whose remains will mix with sand and, over time, supply fossil fuels. As Kafka put it, "There is plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope -- but not for us."
Being Americans, we can not leave it at that. "Surely, something can be done!" "It's a crisis, but..." As Americans, we know that any problem has a solution. In fantasy, the United States of America can be saved if the Constitution again becomes a legal document. Since no one has noticed its absence, perhaps someone could slip it back into place without anyone being the wiser. Someone would have to prosecute those who violated it, including the president, the philosophers, and their cronies. Someone would have to reprimand Congress for unconstitutionally relinquishing its war-making powers. Those who voted to do so should be forced to resign. Laws such as the Patriot Act would have to be repealed. Treaties such as the UN Charter would have to be respected. Those in the Supreme Court who abetted Bush's unconstitutional installation after the first pseudo-election should also be invited to resign.
If we can revive the Constitution as a real legal document we need to modify it with a constitutional convention. Such a convention is extremely perilous for the United States of America. Unlike France, Germany, and most other countries, the United States has a founding moment and a founding document. Without the Constitution it has no existence because the Constitution created it. The Soviet Union was similar to the USA in this respect. It was born in a founding event and did not survive the end of the government created in that founding. But the Constitution as it stands is just too flawed to support the kind of government we need now. The political problems we face are largely institutional even if the Bush administration is a true monstrosity. If left as it is, the Constitution will simply revive the rigid two-party one-party system controlled by the very rich. Our present government is institutionally delusional. It will not be able to solve any of the real problems.
We have about two weeks to get all this done, and get a new real leader in place, for we need real leadership before winter begins. Katrina and Rita have done far more damage than the spinmeisters are letting on. Oil and gas supplies were very tight before the hurricanes and the damage was enormous. Repairs are moving slowly or not at all. Natural gas price spikes and shortages are certain this winter. We need gas to make electricity. Months of rolling blackouts would destabilize the country and cause panic. Running out of gas (not completely impossible) would be a disaster. A real leader would have to have the power to inaugurate radical policies to conserve energy, policies that somnambulant Americans will not willingly accept.
Much of the grain harvest came through the port of New Orleans, now closed. As things stand, a lot of the harvest of corn and soybeans simply won't get to market. (9) Both farmers and consumers will be hurt badly. The leader will have to figure out a way to get this harvest in or prepare for rapidly rising food prices.
In March, Iran promises to launch its oil bourse, which will sell oil priced in Euros and might encourage countries that have loaned us billions to call the loans by selling dollars. If so, you can use those dollars to stuff your shoes. The United States must find some way to begin paying down this debt. Drastic cuts in the military budget would be a start.
The war...who needs to say more about the war.
This is the beginning of what James Kunstler calls "the long emergency." Once hard facts finally tear the veil of illusion to reveal the ominous situation and hysteria clouds minds we won't be able to set policy rationally. Demagoguery is likely to prevail. Because this is a world problem we need a leader who can persuade both Americans and foreigners. That leaves out two classes of people, Republicans and Democrats.
And that is just the beginning. Smooth sailing fellow citizens!