Bingo! Simplicity Itself; Oligarchy

by Milo Clark

October 15, 2001


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Ten years ago now, Mortimer J. Adler published Haves Without Have-nots, Essays for the 21st Century on Democracy and Socialism. I was so taken with this book that I went out and bought up all the copies I could find. I wanted to do courses built around it. I wanted to organize seminars, workshops, colloquia, forums, chat rooms -- you name it. At the time, I could generate little, actually no interest in working with this book I consider so important. Gradually, I moved on and now and then pick it with a sense of puzzlement and wonder.

Having some ideas about how book publishing works, I was surprised that a very prominent author's book very quickly went into remainder, that is, out of print. With some effort I managed to find maybe ten copies but no reviews, no discussion in major newspapers, or even minor ones for that matter, no blurbs on the dust jacket. When was the last book you saw without blurbs on the dust jacket?

The core of Adler's insight is contained in a phrase: ". . . political haves who are not also economic haves cannot discharge their duties as citizens." The first part of this sentence reads, "Communism is antithetical to democracy, but socialism is indispensable to it, . . ." The rest of the paragraph: "At the end of the ninth decade of this century, the same countries that began to move toward political democracy also renounced the economic errors of communism and adopted in its place other means to socialism."

What happened? In short, with the fall of communism as modeled by the Soviet Union, we saw hope of liberal democracy and a peace dividend dashed, smashed and crashed! Private-property capitalism has been replaced with Savage Capitalism, economic brutality has been unleashed. The Microsoft model has taken over as world operating system.

The key word revived by Adler is oligarchy. The Connecticut Cowboy in the White House embodies no other single value than oligarch. In the rush of present events, he says and means one very clear message: "You are either with us or you are against us." No negotiation allowed. No ifs, ands or buts.

Back in July 1977, the once illustrious Aspen Institute held one of its prestigious gatherings. This one featured a younger Bill Moyers, already bubbling up from his stint as Press Secretary to Lyndon Johnson, as moderator. The Panel was Mortimer J. Adler, taking for his title, President, Institute for Philosophical Research and Maurice Cranston, Professor of Political Philosophy, London School of Economics and Anthony Quinton, President, Trinity College, Oxford. The gathering was entitled "A Disputation on the Future of Democracy."

Prophetically, Moyers opened the disputation with a nod to John Adams who has been catapulted into present awareness through a most curious biography receiving quite amazing adulation given its distortions of history as actuality. As Moyers notes, John Adams ". . . had considerable doubts about the longevity of the experience of which he was a founding father."

Not long after the Revolution of 1776, John Adams in a letter had ominous things to say about the future of democracy. "No democracy ever lasts very long," he said; "democracies soon commit suicide."

You may remember from previous commentary my references to historian John Lukacs's 1984 book, Outgrowing Democracy. Lukacs describes the processes by which mutations of minds and morals led from a quasi-democratic republic to a bureaucratic state which would culminate in an elective monarchy.

I have also cited George Orwell's Animal Farm many times. Orwell's very short novel shows that change is almost always muted and reshaped into the essential forms in place before the change. The history of political reform demonstrates again and again, reform is short lived.

Adler clarifies the constant which has prevailed throughout modern history: oligarchy.

There are many apparently different governmental forms around the world. They appear to represent differences in political perspectives, which, to a superficial degree, they do. Yet, whether China or Brazil, Indonesia or Russia, the constants remain similar. Whoever is in control at any given time persists in certain quite patterned behaviors. The forests fall, the rivers choke, minerals are extracted, machinery of brutality is always given preference over people. Circuses divert those for whom repression is obsolete.

In his seminal analysis on the transition from Weimar Germany to National Socialist, Nazi Germany, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Wilhelm Reich identifies the character flaws which underlie such social processes. As does Lukacs, as does Adler as does Orwell. Oligarchy survives. You are either with or you are against oligarchy.

It may be instructive to remember that Wilhelm Reich died in a prison in the United States of America. Also, still in effect, although no longer implemented, his works remain banned. Before his death in that prison, in 1956 after the Second World War, in the United States of America, Reich's books were burned by officials of the United States government. This after the United States of America expended so much to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Nazi Germany is demonized, not without reason, also for the burning of books.

Wilhelm Reich's crime? He was judged against the oligarchy, first in Germany, then in Denmark, then in Norway and finally in the United States of America.

Remember, if you will, that few words in the English language have ever been as demonized as socialism.

To quote Adler, "No man who is subservient to the arbitrary will of another man for his economic livelihood can act as the other's equal politically. This is just as true of wage slaves under unsocialized capitalism as it was so obviously true of chattel slaves or serfs under feudalism."

Consider this comment as preface.


[Ed. Note: This is the first part of a four-part essay: » Next]


       Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, had it all: Harvard MBA, big house, three-car garage, top management... Yet, once he had seemingly achieved the famed American dream he felt something was missing somewhere. As any good executive he decided to investigate. Since then, he has become a curmudgeon and, after living in Berkeley, California, where he was growing bamboos, making water gardens, listening to muses, writing, cogitating and pondering, he has moved on to the Big Island in Hawaii where he creates thought forms about sunshine. Milo can be reached at Swans.

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Milo G. Clark 2001. All rights reserved.

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Milo Clark's Commentaries on Swans

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Published October 15, 2001
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