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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

“Democracy” as tool of Empire

Left-Center-Right acquiesce “obstructing democracy in the name of democracy”
Apropos the moment — Ellen Meiksins Wood’s “Democracy as Ideology of Empire”
Excepting, editing by Carolyn Bennett

“In the wake of 9/11, at the time of the war in Afghanistan, sixty U.S. academics issued a statement called ‘What We’re Fighting For: A Letter from America.’

“The signatories included some of the usual suspects, like Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama, but also others whom we do not automatically think of as right-wing ideologues – such as the social democrat Michael Walzer.

“It is probably fair to say that their statement represented the views of a reasonably wide intellectual and political spectrum – at least by U.S. standards – from mildly left liberal to more-or-less respectable conservatism; and it is probably as civilized a defense of U.S. military intervention as we are likely to find.”

‘VALUES’ listed in that letter —

·       “‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
·       ‘The basic subject of society is the human person, and the legitimate role of government is to protect and help to foster the conditions for human flourishing.
·       ‘Human beings naturally desire to seek the truth about life’s purposes and ultimate ends.
·       ‘Freedom of conscience and religious freedom are inviolable rights of the human person.
·       ‘Killing in the name of God is contrary to faith in God’”

Ellen Meiksins Wood continues, commenting on those ‘values’ and their root

“…We might find it hard to understand how these values could be grounds for an essentially imperialist war, especially the first principle about the freedom and equality of human beings. It is especially puzzling when considered against the background of actual U.S. foreign policy, which has generally shown little inclination to support democratic regimes in its dependencies, to say nothing of the Bush regime’s assaults on democracy in its own backyard and at home.…

“The essence of democracy as conceived in the U.S.A. is the coupling of formal democracy with substantive class rule, the class rule of capital. This involves a delicate conceptual balancing act between an assertion of popular sovereignty — government of, by, and for the people — and the dominance of capital, the subordination of politics to capitalist markets, and the imperatives of profit. “

What founds this easy acceptance, this acquiescence?

“… We are well prepared to view class power as having nothing to do with either power or class,” Wood writes. “We are educated to see property as the most fundamental human right and the market as the true realm of freedom. We are taught to view the state as just a necessary evil to sustain the right of property and the free market. We are taught to accept that most social conditions are determined in an economic sphere outside the reach of democracy. We learn to think of ‘the people’ not in social terms, as the common people, the working class, or anything to do with popular power, but as a purely political category; and we confine democracy to a limited, formal political sphere.

“As the founders intended, we think of political rights as essentially passive, and citizenship as a passive, individual, even private identity, which may express itself by voting from time to time but which has no active, collective or social meaning. So there is nothing immediately implausible to most Americans about applying this idea of democracy to imperialism.…”

Manifest in U.S. Foreign Policy, Foreign Relations — perpetual intervention, war

“… For all its democratic rhetoric, the U.S.A. has generally tended to prop up friendly autocratic regimes … by military and other means, to prevent the accession of a democratic regime or to overturn a democratic election; [and since] that is not always possible, another “important option” taken in recent years has been “obstructing democracy in the name of democracy.”

The United States’ “particularly useful” brand of democracy, Wood says, finds electoral processes and institutions that will in one way or another thwart the majority; and, most important, [this brand of democracy empties] democracy of as much social content as possible.”

The U.S. occupation of Iraq, for example, “has meant much more direct interference with a truly democratic transformation, as the occupying power has limited the field of candidates as narrowly as possible and made every effort to ensure the continuation of the U.S.-regime….

“… [W]hen all is said and done, de-socialization [emptied social content] of democracy is the crucial anti-democratic strategy — more important in the end than any electoral devices. The whole point of this strategy is to put formal political rights in place of any social rights, and to put as much of social life as possible out of reach of democratic accountability.”

Manifest globally, in ‘war on terror’

“If globalization is preparing the ground for democracy throughout the world, as leaders of the advanced capitalist states would have us believe,” Wood says, “it is doing so by ensuring that much of economic and social life will be beyond the reach of democratic power, while becoming ever more vulnerable to the power of capital.…

“[George W] Bush’s [now Barack Obama’s (?)] mission to spread democracy means, at best, trying to ensure compliant regimes and to prevent genuinely democratic transformations. At worst, it means war.

“… In a state of perpetual war, even the formal democracy of capitalist societies is under threat.”

As that was true in the Cold War, “it is true in the so-called ‘war on terror.’ There already have been assaults on liberal democracy, attacks on civil liberties in the United States and elsewhere.…”

Sources and notes

“DEMOCRACY AS IDEOLOGY OF EMPIRE”(Ellen Meiksins Wood), http://www.oneworld-publications.com/pdfs/New_Imps.pdf

Ellen Meiksins Wood is an international author and educator. Among her books are
Mind and Politics: An Approach to the Meaning of Liberal and Socialist Individualism (1972); The Retreat from Class: A New ‘True’ Socialism (1986); The Pristine Culture of Capitalism (1992);
Democracy against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism (1995); Peasant-Citizen and Slave: The Foundations of Athenian Democracy (1997); The Origin of Capitalism (1999); The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View (2002); Empire of Capital (2003); Citizens to Lords: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (2008). She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of California (at Berkeley and at Los Angeles), was inducted into the Royal Society of Canada, and has taught political science at Glendon College, York University, Toronto, Canada, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellen_Meiksins_Wood


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