Tea Party Radicalism Is Misunderstood: Meet the “Newest Right”

By Michael Lind, Salon.com, posted on Alternet.org,  October 6, 2013

To judge from the commentary inspired by the shutdown, most progressives and centrists, and even many non-Tea Party conservatives, do not understand the radical force that has captured the Republican Party and paralyzed the federal government. Having grown up in what is rapidly becoming a Tea Party heartland–Texas–I think I do understand it. Allow me to clear away a few misconceptions about what really should be called, not the Tea Party Right, but the Newest Right.

The first misconception that is widespread in the commentariat is that the Newest Right can be thought of as being simply a group of “extremists” who happen to be further on the same political spectrum on which leftists, liberals, centrists and moderate conservatives find their places. But reducing politics to points on a single line is more confusing than enlightening. Most political movements result from the intersection of several axes—ideology, class, occupation, religion, ethnicity and region—of which abstract ideology is seldom the most important.

The second misconception is that the Newest Right or Tea Party Right is populist. The data, however, show that Tea Party activists and leaders on average are more affluent than the average American. The white working class often votes for the Newest Right, but then the white working class has voted for Republicans ever since Nixon. For all its Jacksonian populist rhetoric, the Newest Right is no more a rebellion of the white working class than was the original faux-populist Jacksonian movement, led by rich slaveowners like Andrew Jackson and agents of New York banks like Martin Van Buren.

The third misconception is that the Newest Right is irrational. The American center-left, whose white social base is among highly-educated, credentialed individuals like professors and professionals, repeatedly has committed political suicide by assuming that anyone who disagrees with its views is an ignorant “Neanderthal.” Progressive snobs to the contrary, the leaders of the Newest Right, including Harvard-educated Ted Cruz, like the leaders of any successful political movement, tend to be highly educated and well-off. The self-described members of the Tea Party tend to be more affluent and educated [2] than the general public.

The Newest Right, then, cannot be explained in terms of abstract ideological extremism, working-class populism or ignorance and stupidity. What, then, is the Newest Right?

The Newest Right is the simply the old Jeffersonian-Jacksonian right, adopting new strategies in response to changed circumstances. While it has followers nationwide, its territorial bases are the South and the West, particularly the South, whose population dwarfs that of the Mountain and Prairie West. According to one study [3] by scholars at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas:

While less than one in five (19.4%) minority non-Southerners and about 36% of Anglo non-Southerners report supporting the movement, almost half of white Southerners (47.1%) express support….

In fact, the role that antigovernment sentiment in the South plays in Tea Party movement support is the strongest in our analysis.

The Tea Party right is not only disproportionately Southern [4] but also disproportionately upscale. Its social base consists of what, in other countries, are called the “local notables”—provincial elites whose power and privileges are threatened from above by a stronger central government they do not control and from below by the local poor and the local working class.

Even though, like the Jacksonians and Confederates of the nineteenth century, they have allies in places like Wisconsin and Massachusetts, the dominant members of the Newest Right are white Southern local notables—the Big Mules, as the Southern populist Big Jim Folsom once described the lords of the local car dealership, country club and chamber of commerce.  These are not the super-rich of Silicon Valley or Wall Street (although they have Wall Street allies). The Koch dynasty rooted in Texas notwithstanding, those who make up the backbone of the Newest Right are more likely to be millionaires than billionaires, more likely to run low-wage construction or auto supply businesses than multinational corporations. They are second-tier people on a national level but first-tier people in their states and counties and cities.

For nearly a century, from the end of Reconstruction, when white Southern terrorism drove federal troops out of the conquered South, until the Civil Rights Revolution, the South’s local notables maintained their control over a region of the U.S. larger than Western Europe by means of segregation, disenfranchisement, and bloc voting and the filibuster at the federal level. Segregation created a powerless black workforce and helped the South’s notables pit poor whites against poor blacks. The local notables also used literacy tests and other tricks to disenfranchise lower-income whites as well as blacks in the South, creating a distinctly upscale electorate. Finally, by voting as a unit in Congress and presidential elections, the “Solid South” sought to thwart any federal reforms that could undermine the power of Southern notables at the state, county and city level. When the Solid South failed, Southern senators made a specialty of the filibuster, the last defense of the embattled former Confederacy.

When the post-Civil War system broke down during the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, the South’s local notable class and its Northern and Western allies unexpectedly won a temporary three-decade reprieve, thanks to the “Reagan Democrats.” From the 1970s to the 2000s, white working-class voters alienated from the Democratic Party by civil rights and cultural liberalism made possible Republican presidential dominance from Reagan to George W. Bush and Republican dominance of Congress from 1994 to 2008. Because their politicians dominated the federal government much of the time, the conservative notables were less threatened by federal power, and some of them, like the second Bush, could even imagine a “governing conservatism” which, I have argued [5], sought to “Southernize” the entire U.S.

But then, by the 2000s, demography destroyed the temporary Nixon-to-Bush conservative majority (although conceivably it could enjoy an illusory Indian summer if Republicans pick up the Senate and retain the House in 2016). Absent ever-growing shares of the white vote, in the long run the Republican Party cannot win without attracting more black and Latino support.

That may well happen, in the long run. But right now most conservative white local notables in the South and elsewhere in the country don’t want black and Latino support. They would rather disenfranchise blacks and Latinos than compete for their votes. And they would rather dismantle the federal government than surrender their local power and privilege.

The political strategy of the Newest Right, then, is simply a new strategy for the very old, chiefly-Southern Jefferson-Jackson right. It is a perfectly rational strategy, given its goal: maximizing the political power and wealth of white local notables who find themselves living in states, and eventually a nation, with present or potential nonwhite majorities.

Although racial segregation can no longer be employed, the tool kit of the older Southern white right is pretty much the same as that of the Newest Right:

The Solid South. By means of partisan and racial gerrymandering—packing white liberal voters into conservative majority districts and ghettoizing black and Latino voters–Republicans in Texas and other Southern and Western states control the U.S. Congress, even though in the last election more Americans voted for Democrats than Republicans. The same undemocratic technique makes the South far more Republican in its political representation than it really is in terms of voters.

The Filibuster. By using a semi-filibuster to help shut down the government rather than implement Obamacare, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is acting rationally on behalf of his constituency—the surburban and exurban white local notables of Texas and other states, whom the demagogic Senator seems to confuse with “the American people.” Newt Gingrich, another Southern conservative demagogue, pioneered the modern use of government shutdowns and debt-ceiling negotiations as supplements to the classic filibuster used by embattled white provincial elites who prefer to paralyze a federal government they cannot control.

Disenfranchisement. In state after state controlled by Republican governors and legislators, a fictitious epidemic of voter fraud is being used as an excuse for onerous voter registration requirements which have the effect, and the manifest purpose, of disenfranchising disproportionately poor blacks and Latinos. The upscale leaders of the Newest Right also tend to have be more supportive of mass immigration than their downscale populist supporters—on the condition, however, that “guest workers” and amnestied illegal immigrants not be allowed to vote or become citizens any time soon. In the twenty-first century, as in the twentieth and nineteenth, the Southern ideal is a society in which local white elites lord it over a largely-nonwhite population of poor workers who can’t vote.

Localization and privatization of federal programs. It is perfectly rational for the white local notables of the South and their allies in other regions to oppose universal, federal social programs, if they expect to lose control of the federal government to a new, largely-nonwhite national electoral majority.

Turning over federal programs to the states allows Southern states controlled by local conservative elites to make those programs less generous—thereby attracting investment to their states by national and global corporations seeking low wages.

Privatizing other federal programs allows affluent whites in the South and elsewhere to turn the welfare state into a private country club for those who can afford to pay the fees, with underfunded public clinics and emergency rooms for the lower orders. In the words of Mitt Romney [6]: “We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.”

When the election of Lincoln seemed to foreshadow a future national political majority based outside of the South, the local notables of the South tried to create a smaller system they could dominate by seceding from the U.S. That effort failed, after having killed more Americans than have been killed in all our foreign wars combined. However, during Reconstruction the Southern elite snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and succeeded in turning the South into a nation-within-a-nation within U.S. borders until the 1950s and 1960s.

Today the white notables of the South increasingly live in states like Texas, which already have nonwhite majorities. They fear that Obama’s election, like Lincoln’s, foreshadows the emergence of a new national majority coalition that excludes them and will act against their interest. Having been reduced to the status of members of a minority race, they fear they will next lose their status as members of the dominant local class.

While each of the Newest Right’s proposals and policies might be defended by libertarians or conservatives on other grounds, the package as a whole—from privatizing Social Security and Medicare to disenfranchising likely Democratic voters to opposing voting rights and citizenship for illegal immigrants to chopping federal programs into 50 state programs that can be controlled by right-wing state legislatures—represents a coherent and rational strategy for maximizing the relative power of provincial white elites at a time when their numbers are in decline and history has turned against them. They are not ignoramuses, any more than Jacksonian, Confederate and Dixiecrat elites were idiots. They know what they want and they have a plan to get it—which may be more than can be said for their opponents.

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Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/tea-party-radicalism-misunderstood-meet-newest-right

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/michael-lind
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/us/politics/15poll.html?_r=0
[3] http://www.shsu.edu/~sgu001/mpsa2011.pdf
[4] http://www.salon.com/2011/08/02/lind_tea_party/
[5] http://www.amazon.com/Made-Texas-Southern-Takeover-American/dp/0465041213
[6] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/romney-let-them-go-to-emergency-rooms/2012/09/24/3ac90b0e-0680-11e2-afff-d6c7f20a83bf_blog.html
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/tea-party-0
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/radicalism
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/south-0
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/right-0
[11] http://www.alternet.org/tags/republican-party
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/editors-picks
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/white-people
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[15] http://www.alternet.org/tags/politics-news-0
[16] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Chris Hayes: Bring on the upper-middle-class revolution!

By David Daley, Salon.com, Jun 25, 2013

Twenty years ago, William Greider’s “Who Will Tell the People?” documented the betrayal of American democracy by the elites — by both political parties, by the press, by corporations and labor unions, and by a Washington regulatory complex so perfectly corrupt that it exists to serve only the monied interests.

Chris Hayes’ “Twilight of the Elites” (just published in paperback) might be the clearest story of America’s collapse since Greider’s essential telling. The story, of course, has only gotten worse. In Greider’s book, the elites were complicit in profiteering and rigging the system to their own advantage. But in Hayes’ story, the elites misled us into war, bungled the occupation, let an American city drown, and tanked the economy. Other elites in academia, athletics and religion didn’t have such a great decade, either.

“Twilight of the Elites” is a story about inequality and myths: the myth of the meritocracy and the reality of the very uneven society that allows those, in the words of Ann Richards, who were born on third base to end up thinking they hit a triple — and then find themselves protected when they screw up.

As Hayes writes:

“Along with all the other rising inequalities we’ve become so familiar with — in income, in wealth, in access to politicians — we confront now a fundamental inequality of accountability. We can have a just society whose guiding ethos is accountability and punishment, where both black kids dealing weed in Harlem and investment bankers peddling fraudulent securities on Wall Street are forced to pay for their crimes, or we can have a just society whose guiding ethos is forgiveness and second chances, one in which both Wall Street banks and foreclosed households are bailed out, in which both insider traders and street felons are allowed to rejoin polite society with the full privileges of citizenship intact. But we cannot have a just society that applies the principle of accountability to the powerless and the principle of forgiveness to the powerful. This is the America in which we currently reside.”

The anchor of MSNBC’s “All In” every weeknight at 8 p.m. Eastern, Hayes has quickly become one of the country’s most essential public intellectuals. We met in his Rockefeller Center office last week before moving across the street for lunch. This is a lightly edited and condensed version of our conversation.

Is there a reason why elites have performed so particularly poorly in the last decade — whether we’re talking about the Iraq War and its aftermath; Katrina; the many failures on Wall Street and in the banking world that caused the Great Recession; right now, a security state that grants access to secrets to Edward Snowden, then appears to lose track of him. So why so much failure now? Are elites getting dumber?

Right. So why now, I think, two answers. One is that I don’t think I’m making the argument that current elite failure is the worst in American history. Clearly the antebellum slave power was –

But that’s going back 150 years.

I think around the Gilded Age, also the crash of 1896. But why now: I would just say it’s social distance and inequality. Basically, excessive social distance between elites and citizens produces excessive power for elites, and this is the result of a 30-year process in which that distance has been expanding and expanding and has introduced a governing financial class, particularly, that is incapable of not effing things up.

And yet it seems like a fairly new problem that we can no longer assume basic competence –

Yes.

– from those who at least appear to have risen on the merits of intelligence.

Yes. Because we a) have a myth we tell ourselves about how right they are for their jobs, and so we feel a greater sense of betrayal, because we’ve all constructed a national myth that’s like – of course these are the people who should be running things. And second of all, democracy, when it’s functioning, and democratic institutions, when they’re functioning, have beneficial cognitive effects, which is that they’re ways of aggregating information. And when you get very removed from that, and things become very inside baseball, inside games, people are going to make bad decisions.

So that’s a big part of it. People are embedded in these institutions, they are blinkered in these ways that means they’re making decisions outside the bounds of democratic accountability. Which can lead to corruption – like, moral transgression – but also, at the least, incompetence, because they’re literally not seeing the whole problem.

That’s the theme of a show like “The Wire,” which is essentially entirely about how all institutions rot from the inside — whether it’s egoism, whether it’s careerism, whether it’s just complete rank incompetence. That kind of institutional rot seems to me one of the most important stories of the day – the problems facing us are so serious and so large, and yet we seem completely unequipped to deal with them forthrightly and seriously – whether in Congress, in the media, in academia.

I think it’s hard to make these objective comparisons of different periods of institutional dysfunction, but the one thing you can do is at least look at polling data from the 1970s that gives you a subjective sense. The polling reflects an American populace that is more distrustful of their institutions than they have been since the polling began — and the polling began in the wake of Watergate! At a total nadir of public trust. So I think there is a level at which it is quite novel, at least in recent memory. I think, if you read the social criticism of the 1930s, there was something similar that happened there. The Great Crash did produce a kind of pervasive sense of betrayal and disillusionment society-wide in the ’30s, and that’s something that the writing today picks up on. It’s hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons, but I think in recent memory, I think the answer is a pretty resounding no.

So if these institutions are run by the smartest people, who rose through a meritocracy because they are so bright, how do they hollow out into such rank incompetence?

Well, there’s two answers. One is that the selection method – it’s not the case, that they’re the smartest people. The selection method says that it’s doing that, but the hydraulics of privilege mean that actually we’re creating an enclosed world of inbred elites, despite all our claims about the equality of opportunity and people of all races, creeds, backgrounds

You’re suggesting the American dream and the American democracy is a big lie we’re being fed!

Yes, exactly! (laughs) So there’s that. But there’s also – I talk about the cult of smartness in the book, but intelligence is a really slippery concept, and it’s a lot harder to pin down than it first looks. The cult of smartness is this very seductive but very misleading sense that smartness is an ordinal quality, like height, that could be perceived immediately and you can definitively rank people, that it’s a clear perception that can be made when it’s just not.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for intelligence, and it’s something that’s important to me, and it’s necessary, but far from sufficient. Intelligence in elites that is detached from lived experience, empathy, wisdom, judgment, compassion, self-skepticism, humility – detached from all those qualities, it can be a massively destructive trait. And I cite in the book [Dick Cheney aide] David Addington, who is the chief architect for much of what we have come to recognize as the most horrific aspects of particularly the torture regime, who is universally understood to be extremely bright. To me, he’s a kind of perfect example of what I call in the book “destructive intelligence.” People can be very bright and very destructive across the aisle. There’s Democrats, Republicans – a lot of people who are kind of “best and brightest” types. When somebody is really smart, in a palpable way, particularly when they’re competitive, or show off in a dominating way at meetings, they are cut a very wide berth.

Someone like Larry Summers, who is an intimidating guy.

Notoriously intimidating.  And that factors into who gets listened to, who gets ignored.

Your argument is post-ideological – and you’re right, there are plenty of left-leaning institutions that suffer from corruption and rot. But the major failings of this last decade — Iraq, Katrina, the housing bubble, malfeasance on Wall Street — essentially come to an end at the closing of the Bush era. Since then, we’ve been completely hamstrung during the Obama era in our ability to deal with these problems honestly. A lot of that is Congress. Some of it is because the institutional failures also breed a collapse in trust, which limits Obama’s ability to convince people that government can be an answer or a force for positive change.

But isn’t the second part of this that after showing off their own incompetence for a decade, this mistrust has been designed as a distraction for political purposes? That politics is being played with misdirected anger, fomented and ginned up and Astroturfed by the Koch brothers? How is it possible to rebuild the kind of faith we need in institutions and legitimate authority, in order to grapple with problems seriously, when so much of the debate itself is phony?

A few things. Society has to be re-democratized. I think we have an increasingly attenuated democracy. What you’re seeing with the street uprisings in Turkey and Brazil when the normal mechanisms of democratic government break down, but you have to reassert democratic accountability through these other, nonviolent means. I do think that institutional performance matters a huge amount. Obamacare is a good case study. It passed, sort of remarkably and impossibly, against tremendous mistrust and opposition. Still not popular, still seen as something kind of vaguely menacing, or confusing – but then the ultimate verdict will be if it works or not. I am a realist in that respect. I do think that institutional performance matters. If they do it right, and the institution performs, that will produce, I think, trust. Now, that can’t happen alone. I think the Obama theory of how to conquer this problem is precisely that: Pass the legislation, see if it works. Make government work for people. That’ll repair it. And that’s part of it, but the mistrust goes so much deeper than that. And then the third aspect of reasserting trust is accountability. People need to see corrupt institutions and corrupt and bankrupt police held accountable.

Which hasn’t happened.

At all.

Not Wall Street. Not the New York Times for Judy Miller.

I mean, one person pays one price. Basically, John McCain didn’t get to be president. A bunch of Republicans in the House lost their jobs over Iraq, as they should have. But that’s about it.

The system is not set up for accountability. There’s so much money and so little genuine choice that it’s almost impossible to lose your job in these districts. The only accountability comes if you lose your base and face a primary challenge. You have to really screw up.

Yeah, the accountability mechanisms – I mean the filibuster does a horrible, horrible thing. There’s a Keynes quote I love. I think it goes something like, “Nothing corrupts society more than the disconnect effort of war.” He’s writing it, I think, about the Bolsheviks at the time, but nothing corrupts a democracy more – disconnects inputs and outputs, mass opinion – and the filibuster is something that does that. It interrupts the conveyer belt. Like, right now, massive public opposition to arming the Syrian rebels.

Most of the same people, of both parties, who got us into Iraq. Speaking of no accountability.

Yeah. Just because a mass of people believe something doesn’t mean it’s right or the best policy, but the further and further away you get from that kind of basic alignment –

You write about Obama running as an insurrectionist, but governing as an institutionalist. Was that a misreading of the opportunities for genuine change? They talked about taking advantage of a crisis. Did they take advantage of a crisis, or did they miss the opportunity? He could have gone the insurrectionist route or he could attempt to build faith back in institutions, and he chose the latter. Wrong choice?

Well, I don’t know … I think he chose that because that’s who he is, in his heart of hearts. And so that was probably the right choice, because he shouldn’t have done the thing that wasn’t what he actually believed. And there was again – Obamacare is a good example. If that works, that’s a big deal, a huge deal! But I do think the biggest opportunity lost was this kind of accountability moment. No one was ever really held to account. No one was held to account for torture, or the financial crisis. That is a real kind of toxic presence in our national consciousness. That’s really problematic.

Are there reforms in the political system that would help, or is this train too far gone?

The standard lefty answer is public financing. Which I believe. It’s really an unsolved problem, though. Public financing would help, but the biggest problem is just the level of inequality. It’s just too big. In some ways, the problem is relatively simple. In a society with inequality like this, we’re just going to be in for a lot of problems.

And you have two sides that appear to be further apart, in some ways, than they ever have been. Not speaking to each other, not working off the same set of facts, even.

No, and there’s some interesting comparative political data that suggests a correlation between inequality and partisan polarization. The people who are most polarized are actually elites, particularly non-super-rich wealthy, like red state, blue state, that’s where the biggest – and they also have a disproportionate influence on politics.

And yet what’s also remarkable right now is that polarization includes folks who don’t believe in science, who would rather talk about masturbating fetuses ….

Yes.

So if one side of the debate mistrusts science, government, bureaucrats –

It’s Alex Jones … totally.

We are all truthers now. There were James Gandolfini truthers this morning.

There were Michael Hastings truthers emailing me.

There is a connection. So there are pathologies that afflict the American right that have to do with a whole bunch of things that a lot of people have written very smartly about. Race, ethnicity, demographic change, is one set of those issues. The increasingly secular/religious divide in America is another. The fact that the party is increasingly a Southern party and the South has always been different. In the history of the U.S. experiment, there’s like another country called the South. There’s a million maps you could construe on a bunch of different dimensions that show that; the South has always been a different place for a bunch of different reasons.

So the way that the current conservative moment, the American right and the Republican Party, manifest themselves, the way they express themselves and the way they behave, are kind of overdetermined by a set of different factors, but the two ways that overlap, I think, in the book is the role that inequality plays in it. There’s a sort of plutocratic set – this vector of the party that is essentially just kind of procuring the heart for the 1 percent. Not to minimize the 1 percent’s influence on the Democratic Party, but Larry Bartels and Martin Gillens’ data on this …the correlation between the Republican Party and wealthy voters is much higher than Democrats…How do we create this radicalized upper middle class? It makes perfect sense that all of those people who have lost jobs or seen pension plans go away  or seen careers melt due to the collapse of entire fields would somehow become more angry. Yet it’s still almost impossible to imagine a Turkish-style protest here. The idea of people not showing up for work and protesting – we’re as difficult a country to imagine that happening in as any.

I think right now a lot depends on the precariousness of the recovery and how that kind of manifests itself. One thing I will say is that it’s difficult to predict these outbursts. The Brazilian thing is fascinating because I don’t think anyone would have thought – and that’s kind of like Turkey. Sometimes discontent catalyzes in a way that’s unexpected.

What do you think the role of the news media is in all of this division and failure? The best and brightest led us into Vietnam during the years of the phony elite Walter Cronkite/James Reston consensus, so this isn’t necessarily new. But is it any coincidence that this decade of failure coincides with the explosion of cable news on one side, of partisan cable news, and also this institutional hollowing out of the media – both the daily press corps and the alternative press world?

Well, here’s what I would say. A more centralized media with larger levels of trust in it has some costs and benefits. The costs are that the more centralized media was stultifying, monopolistic, kept outside voices out – it had all sorts of problems with it. There’s all sorts of reasons I like our current media environment more than that. But it had a benefit. It was an equal player. It was this kind of bulwark. When media was less fragmented, more concentrated, and more trusting, it had this kind of confidence about itself that meant that it could act as a real check. It could be an Archimedian point for public opinion, and I think that’s been lost a little bit. It’s very difficult to produce social consensus under the fragmentation we have now. If the New York Times – the mainstream media says, yes, climate change is real, that doesn’t have the weight that it once would have, and that is problematic. That I really worry about.

But at the same time, there are tradeoffs, and I’m quite aware of that. There was a lot of bad things about the old model.

 

http://www.salon.com/2013/06/25/chris_hayes_bring_on_the_upper_middle_cla

How Inbred Elites Are Tearing America Apart

Salon [1] / By David Daley [2] June 26, 2013

Excerpt

Chris Hayes’ “Twilight of the Elites” … is a story about inequality and myths: the myth of the meritocracy and the reality of the very uneven society that allows those…As Hayes writes: “Along with all the other rising inequalities we’ve become so familiar with — in income, in wealth, in access to politicians — we confront now a fundamental inequality of accountability… we cannot have a just society that applies the principle of accountability to the powerless and the principle of forgiveness to the powerful. This is the America in which we currently reside.”...we can no longer assume basic competence from those who at least appear to have risen on the merits of intelligence…That kind of institutional rot seems to me one of the most important stories of the day – the problems facing us are so serious and so large, and yet we seem completely unequipped to deal with them forthrightly and seriously – whether in Congress, in the media, in academia…

Full text

Twenty years ago, William Greider’s “Who Will Tell the People?” documented the betrayal of American democracy by the elites — by both political parties, by the press, by corporations and labor unions, and by a Washington regulatory complex so perfectly corrupt that it exists to serve only the monied interests.

Chris Hayes’ “Twilight of the Elites” [3] (just published in paperback) might be the clearest story of America’s collapse since Greider’s essential telling. The story, of course, has only gotten worse. In Greider’s book, the elites were complicit in profiteering and rigging the system to their own advantage. But in Hayes’ story, the elites misled us into war, bungled the occupation, let an American city drown, and tanked the economy. Other elites in academia, athletics and religion didn’t have such a great decade, either.

“Twilight of the Elites” is a story about inequality and myths: the myth of the meritocracy and the reality of the very uneven society that allows those, in the words of Ann Richards, who were born on third base to end up thinking they hit a triple — and then find themselves protected when they screw up.

As Hayes writes:

“Along with all the other rising inequalities we’ve become so familiar with — in income, in wealth, in access to politicianswe confront now a fundamental inequality of accountability. We can have a just society whose guiding ethos is accountability and punishment, where both black kids dealing weed in Harlem and investment bankers peddling fraudulent securities on Wall Street are forced to pay for their crimes, or we can have a just society whose guiding ethos is forgiveness and second chances, one in which both Wall Street banks and foreclosed households are bailed out, in which both insider traders and street felons are allowed to rejoin polite society with the full privileges of citizenship intact. But we cannot have a just society that applies the principle of accountability to the powerless and the principle of forgiveness to the powerful. This is the America in which we currently reside.”

The anchor of MSNBC’s “All In” every weeknight at 8 p.m. Eastern, Hayes has quickly become one of the country’s most essential public intellectuals. We met in his Rockefeller Center office last week before moving across the street for lunch. This is a lightly edited and condensed version of our conversation.

Is there a reason why elites have performed so particularly poorly in the last decade — whether we’re talking about the Iraq War and its aftermath; Katrina; the many failures on Wall Street and in the banking world that caused the Great Recession; right now, a security state that grants access to secrets to Edward Snowden, then appears to lose track of him. So why so much failure now? Are elites getting dumber?

Right. So why now, I think, two answers. One is that I don’t think I’m making the argument that current elite failure is the worst in American history. Clearly the antebellum slave power was –

But that’s going back 150 years.

I think around the Gilded Age, also the crash of 1896. But why now: I would just say it’s social distance and inequality. Basically, excessive social distance between elites and citizens produces excessive power for elites, and this is the result of a 30-year process in which that distance has been expanding and expanding and has introduced a governing financial class, particularly, that is incapable of not effing things up.

And yet it seems like a fairly new problem that we can no longer assume basic competence –

Yes.

– from those who at least appear to have risen on the merits of intelligence.

Yes. Because we a) have a myth we tell ourselves about how right they are for their jobs, and so we feel a greater sense of betrayal, because we’ve all constructed a national myth that’s like – of course these are the people who should be running things. And second of all, democracy, when it’s functioning, and democratic institutions, when they’re functioning, have beneficial cognitive effects, which is that they’re ways of aggregating information. And when you get very removed from that, and things become very inside baseball, inside games, people are going to make bad decisions.

So that’s a big part of it. People are embedded in these institutions, they are blinkered in these ways that means they’re making decisions outside the bounds of democratic accountability. Which can lead to corruption – like, moral transgression – but also, at the least, incompetence, because they’re literally not seeing the whole problem.

That’s the theme of a show like “The Wire,” which is essentially entirely about how all institutions rot from the inside — whether it’s egoism, whether it’s careerism, whether it’s just complete rank incompetence. That kind of institutional rot seems to me one of the most important stories of the day – the problems facing us are so serious and so large, and yet we seem completely unequipped to deal with them forthrightly and seriously – whether in Congress, in the media, in academia.

I think it’s hard to make these objective comparisons of different periods of institutional dysfunction, but the one thing you can do is at least look at polling data from the 1970s that gives you a subjective sense. The polling reflects an American populace that is more distrustful of their institutions than they have been since the polling began — and the polling began in the wake of Watergate! At a total nadir of public trust. So I think there is a level at which it is quite novel, at least in recent memory. I think, if you read the social criticism of the 1930s, there was something similar that happened there. The Great Crash did produce a kind of pervasive sense of betrayal and disillusionment society-wide in the ’30s, and that’s something that the writing today picks up on. It’s hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons, but I think in recent memory, I think the answer is a pretty resounding no.

So if these institutions are run by the smartest people, who rose through a meritocracy because they are so bright, how do they hollow out into such rank incompetence?

Well, there’s two answers. One is that the selection method – it’s not the case, that they’re the smartest people. The selection method says that it’s doing that, but the hydraulics of privilege mean that actually we’re creating an enclosed world of inbred elites, despite all our claims about the equality of opportunity and people of all races, creeds, backgrounds

You’re suggesting the American dream and the American democracy is a big lie we’re being fed!

Yes, exactly! (laughs) So there’s that. But there’s also – I talk about the cult of smartness in the book, but intelligence is a really slippery concept, and it’s a lot harder to pin down than it first looks. The cult of smartness is this very seductive but very misleading sense that smartness is an ordinal quality, like height, that could be perceived immediately and you can definitively rank people, that it’s a clear perception that can be made when it’s just not.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for intelligence, and it’s something that’s important to me, and it’s necessary, but far from sufficient. Intelligence in elites that is detached from lived experience, empathy, wisdom, judgment, compassion, self-skepticism, humility – detached from all those qualities, it can be a massively destructive trait. And I cite in the book [Dick Cheney aide] David Addington, who is the chief architect for much of what we have come to recognize as the most horrific aspects of particularly the torture regime, who is universally understood to be extremely bright. To me, he’s a kind of perfect example of what I call in the book “destructive intelligence.” People can be very bright and very destructive across the aisle. There’s Democrats, Republicans – a lot of people who are kind of “best and brightest” types. When somebody is really smart, in a palpable way, particularly when they’re competitive, or show off in a dominating way at meetings, they are cut a very wide berth.

Someone like Larry Summers, who is an intimidating guy.

Notoriously intimidating.  And that factors into who gets listened to, who gets ignored.

Your argument is post-ideological – and you’re right, there are plenty of left-leaning institutions that suffer from corruption and rot. But the major failings of this last decade — Iraq, Katrina, the housing bubble, malfeasance on Wall Street — essentially come to an end at the closing of the Bush era. Since then, we’ve been completely hamstrung during the Obama era in our ability to deal with these problems honestly. A lot of that is Congress. Some of it is because the institutional failures also breed a collapse in trust, which limits Obama’s ability to convince people that government can be an answer or a force for positive change.

But isn’t the second part of this that after showing off their own incompetence for a decade, this mistrust has been designed as a distraction for political purposes? That politics is being played with misdirected anger, fomented and ginned up and Astroturfed by the Koch brothers? How is it possible to rebuild the kind of faith we need in institutions and legitimate authority, in order to grapple with problems seriously, when so much of the debate itself is phony?

A few things. Society has to be re-democratized. I think we have an increasingly attenuated democracy. What you’re seeing with the street uprisings in Turkey and Brazil when the normal mechanisms of democratic government break down, but you have to reassert democratic accountability through these other, nonviolent means. I do think that institutional performance matters a huge amount. Obamacare is a good case study. It passed, sort of remarkably and impossibly, against tremendous mistrust and opposition. Still not popular, still seen as something kind of vaguely menacing, or confusing – but then the ultimate verdict will be if it works or not. I am a realist in that respect. I do think that institutional performance matters. If they do it right, and the institution performs, that will produce, I think, trust. Now, that can’t happen alone. I think the Obama theory of how to conquer this problem is precisely that: Pass the legislation, see if it works. Make government work for people. That’ll repair it. And that’s part of it, but the mistrust goes so much deeper than that. And then the third aspect of reasserting trust is accountability. People need to see corrupt institutions and corrupt and bankrupt police held accountable.

Which hasn’t happened.

At all.

Not Wall Street. Not the New York Times for Judy Miller.

I mean, one person pays one price. Basically, John McCain didn’t get to be president. A bunch of Republicans in the House lost their jobs over Iraq, as they should have. But that’s about it.

The system is not set up for accountability. There’s so much money and so little genuine choice that it’s almost impossible to lose your job in these districts. The only accountability comes if you lose your base and face a primary challenge. You have to really screw up.

Yeah, the accountability mechanisms – I mean the filibuster does a horrible, horrible thing. There’s a Keynes quote I love. I think it goes something like, “Nothing corrupts society more than the disconnect effort of war.” He’s writing it, I think, about the Bolsheviks at the time, but nothing corrupts a democracy more – disconnects inputs and outputs, mass opinion – and the filibuster is something that does that. It interrupts the conveyer belt. Like, right now, massive public opposition to arming the Syrian rebels.

Most of the same people, of both parties, who got us into Iraq. Speaking of no accountability.

Yeah. Just because a mass of people believe something doesn’t mean it’s right or the best policy, but the further and further away you get from that kind of basic alignment –

You write about Obama running as an insurrectionist, but governing as an institutionalist. Was that a misreading of the opportunities for genuine change? They talked about taking advantage of a crisis. Did they take advantage of a crisis, or did they miss the opportunity? He could have gone the insurrectionist route or he could attempt to build faith back in institutions, and he chose the latter. Wrong choice?

Well, I don’t know … I think he chose that because that’s who he is, in his heart of hearts. And so that was probably the right choice, because he shouldn’t have done the thing that wasn’t what he actually believed. And there was again – Obamacare is a good example. If that works, that’s a big deal, a huge deal! But I do think the biggest opportunity lost was this kind of accountability moment. No one was ever really held to account. No one was held to account for torture, or the financial crisis. That is a real kind of toxic presence in our national consciousness. That’s really problematic.

Are there reforms in the political system that would help, or is this train too far gone?

The standard lefty answer is public financing. Which I believe. It’s really an unsolved problem, though. Public financing would help, but the biggest problem is just the level of inequality. It’s just too big. In some ways, the problem is relatively simple. In a society with inequality like this, we’re just going to be in for a lot of problems.

And you have two sides that appear to be further apart, in some ways, than they ever have been. Not speaking to each other, not working off the same set of facts, even.

No, and there’s some interesting comparative political data that suggests a correlation between inequality and partisan polarization. The people who are most polarized are actually elites, particularly non-super-rich wealthy, like red state, blue state, that’s where the biggest – and they also have a disproportionate influence on politics.

And yet what’s also remarkable right now is that polarization includes folks who don’t believe in science, who would rather talk about masturbating fetuses ….

Yes.

So if one side of the debate mistrusts science, government, bureaucrats –

It’s Alex Jones … totally.

We are all truthers now. There were James Gandolfini truthers this morning.

There were Michael Hastings truthers emailing me.

There is a connection. So there are pathologies that afflict the American right that have to do with a whole bunch of things that a lot of people have written very smartly about. Race, ethnicity, demographic change, is one set of those issues. The increasingly secular/religious divide in America is another. The fact that the party is increasingly a Southern party and the South has always been different. In the history of the U.S. experiment, there’s like another country called the South. There’s a million maps you could construe on a bunch of different dimensions that show that; the South has always been a different place for a bunch of different reasons.

So the way that the current conservative moment, the American right and the Republican Party, manifest themselves, the way they express themselves and the way they behave, are kind of overdetermined by a set of different factors, but the two ways that overlap, I think, in the book is the role that inequality plays in it. There’s a sort of plutocratic set – this vector of the party that is essentially just kind of procuring the heart for the 1 percent. Not to minimize the 1 percent’s influence on the Democratic Party, but Larry Bartels and Martin Gillens’ data on this shows the correlation between the Republican Party and wealthy voters is much higher than Democrats. But the other thing is the point you’re making, the place where there’s this overlap, and that has to do with the base idea, which is this kind of nihilistic distrust of the experts in any field — when Jack Welch wonders about the Labor Department’s jobs report. You would have this shocking moment where it’s like, “You’re Jack Welch. You had to manage this multibillion-dollar enterprise and now you’re in Alex Jones land …”

It’s hard to pull people out of that quicksand, I think. I’m not sure what the answer is for that. But there’s a market for it – there’s a strong market for that. Glenn Beck has never made more money.

It creates a real problem, especially as you talk in this book about an Occupy/ Tea Party coalition, and also about a radicalized upper middle class. If the divisions are being manufactured along these kinds of partisan lines, it gets harder and harder to bring people together along some kind of economic or class lines.

Yeah, that’s always true. It’s generally hard to build political coalitions; we have the ones we have for all sorts of reasons that actually make a fair amount of sense. But it also means that there’s, like, this fundamental disconnect in how that manifests itself in producing this kind of elite accountability writ large that you’d want to have.

How do we create this radicalized upper middle class? It makes perfect sense that all of those people who have lost jobs or seen pension plans go away  or seen careers melt due to the collapse of entire fields would somehow become more angry. Yet it’s still almost impossible to imagine a Turkish-style protest here. The idea of people not showing up for work and protesting – we’re as difficult a country to imagine that happening in as any.

I think right now a lot depends on the precariousness of the recovery and how that kind of manifests itself. One thing I will say is that it’s difficult to predict these outbursts. The Brazilian thing is fascinating because I don’t think anyone would have thought – and that’s kind of like Turkey. Sometimes discontent catalyzes in a way that’s unexpected.

What do you think the role of the news media is in all of this division and failure? The best and brightest led us into Vietnam during the years of the phony elite Walter Cronkite/James Reston consensus, so this isn’t necessarily new. But is it any coincidence that this decade of failure coincides with the explosion of cable news on one side, of partisan cable news, and also this institutional hollowing out of the media – both the daily press corps and the alternative press world?

Well, here’s what I would say. A more centralized media with larger levels of trust in it has some costs and benefits. The costs are that the more centralized media was stultifying, monopolistic, kept outside voices out – it had all sorts of problems with it. There’s all sorts of reasons I like our current media environment more than that. But it had a benefit. It was an equal player. It was this kind of bulwark. When media was less fragmented, more concentrated, and more trusting, it had this kind of confidence about itself that meant that it could act as a real check. It could be an Archimedian point for public opinion, and I think that’s been lost a little bit. It’s very difficult to produce social consensus under the fragmentation we have now. If the New York Times – the mainstream media says, yes, climate change is real, that doesn’t have the weight that it once would have, and that is problematic. That I really worry about.

But at the same time, there are tradeoffs, and I’m quite aware of that. There was a lot of bad things about the old model.

In this model you get a show at 8 p.m. every night. Are you enjoying it as much as the weekend show?

Yes. It’s extremely challenging.

How is it different?

In every way. It’s a totally different game. The biggest difference is the competition for those eyeballs is just intense. I think about, there’s someone out there who’s worked all day, helped their kid with their homework, grabbed a beer, sat down at the TV, and now they’re going to watch me. And they could watch “The Voice,” and I would not begrudge them wanting to do that! I would completely understand. So you have to be thinking in terms of what emotional effect are you producing in the viewer. What’s that thing you’re giving them that’s going to make that choice? In Saturday, Sunday morning, there wasn’t that same choice. There’s not a lot of other stuff on, people are in a different mind-set, it’s early in the morning and it’s kind of uncluttered. It’s more laid-back. You put the show on and you make coffee and you walk around the house and you – 8 p.m. is a whole other set of constraints.

You have to think about ratings more? MSNBC has had its challenges there lately.

Yeah, ratings are the measurement of what you have to think about, which is producing entertaining television. The ratings – I try not to think about the numbers, because that data can be very overwhelming or misleading. The thing I do think about is “are we producing a good show?” And the word “show” is key. You have to be a showman. It is a show. You need to put on a show every night. Which means, like, step right up, ladies and gentlemen, let me entertain you. And I think the thing that I found rewarding, that I first found really difficult, is learning how to do that better, learning how to embody that naturally. Learning how to be myself fundamentally and authentically while still entertaining. And that’s a really hard challenge. We did food stamps last night. It’s like, “How do you make food stamps entertaining?” and no one’s figured this out better than Rachel Maddow. She is just a savant in this respect, but I have to find my own route to that place, that is true to what I do best.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/media/how-inbred-elites-are-tearing-america-apart

Links:
[1] http://www.salon.com
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/david-daley
[3] http://www.amazon.com/dp/0307720462/?tag=saloncom08-20
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/msnbc
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/chris-hayes-0
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/rachel-maddow
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/larry-summers-0
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/turkey-0
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/brazil-0
[10] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Meet the Elite Business and Think-Tank Community That’s Doing Its Best to Control the World

Andrewgavinmarshall.com [1] / By Andrew Gavin Marshall posted on Alternet.org June 19, 2013

“The corporate-policy network is highly centralized, at both the level of individuals and that of organizations. Its inner circle is a tightly interwoven ensemble of politically active business leaders…” — Academics William K. Carroll and Jean Philippe Sapinski [4]

In an article [5] titled “The Global Corporate Elite” in the journal International Sociology, William K. Carroll and Jean Philippe Sapinski examined the relationship between the corporate elite and the emergence of a “transnational policy-planning network,” beginning with its formation in the decades following World War II and speeding up in the 1970s with the creation of “global policy groups” and think tanks such as the World Economic Forum, in 1971, and the Trilateral Commission, in 1973, among many others.

The function of such institutions was to help mobilize and integrate the corporate elite beyond national borders, constructing a politically “organized minority.” These policy-planning organizations came to exist as “venues for discussion, strategic planning, discourse production and consensus formation on specific issues,” as well as “places where responses to crises of legitimacy are crafted,” such as managing economic, political, or environmental crises where elite interests might be threatened. These groups also often acted as “advocates for specific projects of integration, often on a regional basis.” Perhaps most importantly, the organizations “provide bridges connecting business elites to political actors (heads of states, politicians, high-ranking public servants) and elites and organic intellectuals in other fields (international organizations, military, media, academia).”

One important industry association, according to researchers Carroll and Carson in the journal Global Networks (Vol. 3, No. 1, 2003), is the International Chamber of Commerce. Launched by investment bankers in 1919, immediately following WWI, the Paris-based Chamber groups roughly 7,000 member corporations together across 130 countries, adhering to largely conservative, “free market” ideology. The “primary function” of the ICC, write Carroll and Carson, “is to institutionalize an international business perspective by providing a forum where capitalists and related professionals… can assemble and forge a common international policy framework.”

Another policy group with outsized global influence is the Bilderberg group, founded between 1952 and 1954, which provided “a context for more comprehensive international capitalist coordination and planning.” Bringing together roughly 130 elites from Western Europe and North America at annual closed meetings, “Bilderberg conferences have furnished a confidential platform for corporate, political, intellectual, military and even trade-union elites from the North Atlantic heartland to reach mutual understanding.”

As Valerie Aubourg examined in an article for the journal Intelligence and National Security (Vol. 18, No. 2, 2003), the Bilderberg meetings were organized largely at the initiative of a handful of European elites, with heavy financial backing from select American institutions including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the CIA. The meetings incorporate leadership from the most prominent national think tanks, such as the Council on Foreign Relations, Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment and others from across the North Atlantic ‘community.’

Hugh Wilford, writing in the journal Diplomacy & Statecraft (Vol. 14, No. 3, 2003), identified major philanthropic foundations such as the Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie foundations as not only major sources of funding but also providers for much of the leadership of the Bilderberg meetings, which saw the participation of major industrial and financial firms in line with those foundations (David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan is a good example). Bilderberg was a major force in helping to create the political, economic and strategic consensus behind constructing a common European market.

With the support of these major foundations and their leadership, the Bilderberg meetings became a powerful global tool of the elites, not only in creating the European Union but in designing the process of globalization itself. Will Hutton, a former Bilderberg member, once referred to the group as “the high priests of globalization,” and a former Bilderberg steering committee member, Denis Healey,once noted [6]: “To say we were striving for a one-world government is exaggerated, but not wholly unfair…we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing.”

The large industrial foundations have played a truly profound – and largely overlooked – role in the shaping of modern society. The ‘Robber Baron’ industrial fortunes of the late 19th century – those of Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Harriman, Vanderbilt, etc. – sought to shape a new order in which they would maintain a dominant influence throughout society. They founded major American universities (often named after themselves) such as Vanderbilt, or the University of Chicago which was founded by John D. Rockefeller.

It was through their institutions that they sought to produce new elites to manage a new society, atop of which they sat. These universities became the harbingers of modern social sciences, seeking to “reform” society to fit the needs of those who dominated it; to engage in social engineering with the purpose of social control. It was in this context that the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and later the Ford Foundation and others were founded: as engines of social engineering. One of their principal aims was to shape the development of the social sciences – and their exportation around the world to other industrial and imperial powers like Great Britain, and beyond. The social sciences were to facilitate the “scientific management” of society, and the foundations were the patrons of “social control [7].”

The Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford foundations were instrumental in providing funding, organization and personnel for the development of major American and international think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations, which became essential to the emergence of a dominant and entrenched U.S. business class linking academia, political, strategic, corporate and financial elites. The Rockefeller and Ford foundations in particular constructed the field of modern political science and “Area Studies” with a view to educating a class of people [8] who would be prepared to help manage a global empire.

They were also prominent in developing the educational system for black Americans designed to keep them relegated to labor and “vocational” training. They helped found many prominent universities in Africa, Asia and Latin America to train indigenous elites with a “Western” education in the social sciences, to ensure continuity [9] between a domestic and international elite, between core and periphery, empire and protectorate.

Another major policy planning group is the Trilateral Commission, created out of the Bilderberg meetings as a separate transnational think tank and founded by Chase Manhattan CEO (and Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations) David Rockefeller along with academic-turned-policymaker Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1973. The Trilateral Commission linked the elites from Western Europe, North America and Japan (hence “trilateral”), and it now also includes members from China, India and a range of other Pacific-East Asian countries.

Consisting of a membership of roughly 350 individuals from finance, corporations, media, think tanks, foundations, academia and political circles, the Trilateral Commission (TC) has been immensely influential as a forum facilitating the development and integration of a “transnational elite.” The aim of the TC was “to foster closer cooperation [10] among these core industrialized areas of the world with shared leadership responsibilities in the wider international system.”

The most famous report issued by the Trilateral Commission in the mid-1970s suggested that due to the popular activism of the 1960s, there was a “crisis of democracy” that it defined as an “excess of democracy [11],” which needed to be reduced in order for “democracy to function effectively.” According to the Trilateral Commission, what was needed was increased “apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups” to counter the “crisis” being caused by “a highly educated, mobilized, and participant society.”

Moving elsewhere, the World Economic Forum, founded in 1971, convenes annually in Davos, Switzerland and was originally designed “to secure the patronage of the Commission of European Communities, as well as the encouragement of Europe’s industry associations” and “to discuss European strategy in an international marketplace.” The WEF has since expanded its membership and mandate, as Carroll and Carson noted, “organized around a highly elite core of transnational capitalists (the ‘Foundation Membership’) – which it currently limits to ’1000 of the foremost global enterprises’.” The meetings include prominent individuals from the scientific community, academics, the media, NGOs and many other policy groups.

Another major policy planning group emerged in the mid-1990s with an increased focus on environmental issues, called the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), which “instantly became the pre-eminent business voice on the environment” with a 1997 membership of 123 top corporate executives, tasked with bringing the “voice” of big business to the process of international efforts to address environmental concerns (and thus, to secure their own interests).

Among other prominent think tanks and policy-planning boards helping to facilitate and integrate a transnational network of elites are many nation-based organizations, particularly in the United States, such as with the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), among many others. The advisory boards to these organizations provide an important forum through which transnational elites may help to influence the policies of many separate nations, and most importantly, the world’s most powerful nation: the United States.

The Council on Foreign Relations, founded in 1921, refers to itself as “an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher,” with roughly 4,700 members. It is largely based in New York with affiliate offices in Washington D.C. and elsewhere. The CFR is, and has been, at the heart of the American foreign policy establishment, bringing together elites from academia, government, the media, intelligence, military, financial and corporate institutions.

The CFR worked in close cooperation with the U.S. government during World War II to design the post-War world over which America would reign supreme. The Council was active in establishing the “Grand Areas [12]” of the American Empire, and in maintaining extensive influence [13] over the foreign policy of the United States.

As Carroll and Carson noted, there is a prominent relationship between those individuals who sit on multiple corporate boards and those who sit on the boards of prominent national and transnational policy-planning groups, “suggesting a highly centralized corporate-policy network.”

Studying 622 corporate directors and 302 organizations (five of which were the major policy-planning groups: ICC, Bilderberg, Trilateral Commission, World Economic Forum and World Business Council for Sustainable Development), Carroll and Carson assessed this network of transnational elites with data leading up to 1996, and concluded: “The international network is primarily a configuration of national corporate networks, integrated for the most part through the affiliations of a few dozen individuals who either hold transnational corporate directorships or serve on two or more policy boards.”

Out of the sample of 622 individuals, they found roughly 105 individuals (94 “transnational corporate linkers” and 11 others “whose corporate affiliations are not transnational but who sit on multiple global policy boards”) making up “the most immediate structural contributions to transnational class formation.” At the “core” of this network were 17 corporate directors, primarily European and North American, largely linked by the transnational policy groups, with the Trilateral Commission as “the most centrally positioned.” This network, they noted, “is highly centralized in terms of the individuals and organizations that participate in it.”

In undertaking a follow-up study of data between 1996 and 2006, published in the journal International Sociology (Vol. 25, No. 4, 2010), Carroll and Sapinski expanded the number of policy-planning groups from five to 11, including the original five (ICC, Bilderberg, TC, WEF, and WBCSD), but adding to them the Council on Foreign Relations (through its International Advisory Board), the UN Global Compact (through its advisory board), the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT), founded in 1983, the EU-Japan Business Round Table, the Transatlantic Business Dialogue, and the North American Competitiveness Council.

The results of their research found that among the corporate directors, “policy-board membership has shifted towards the transnationalists, who come to comprise a larger segment of the global corporate elite,” and that there was a growing group of elites “made up of individuals with one or more transnational policy-board affiliations.” As Carroll and Sapinski concluded:

“The corporate-policy network is highly centralized, at both the level of individuals and that of organizations. Its inner circle is a tightly interwoven ensemble of politically active business leaders; its organizational core includes the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Conference, the European Round Table of Industrialists and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, surrounded by other policy boards and by the directorates of leading industrial corporations and financial institutions based in capitalism’s core regions.”

Organizations like the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) are not think tanks, but rather, industry organizations (exclusively representing the interests and individuals of major corporations), wielding significant influence over political and social elites. As Bastiaan van Apeldoorn wrote in the journal New Political Economy (Vol. 5, No. 2, 2000), the ERT “developed into an elite platform for an emergent European transnational capitalist class from which it can formulate a common strategy and – on the basis of that strategy – seek to shape European socioeconomic governance through its privileged access to the European institutions.”

In 1983, the ERT was formed as an organization of 17 major European industrialists (which has since expanded to several dozen members), with the proclaimed objective being “to revitalize European industry and make it competitive again, and to speed up the process of unification of the European common market.” Wisse Dekker, former Chairman of the ERT, once stated: “I would consider the Round Table to be more than a lobby group as it helps to shape policies. The Round Table’s relationship with Brussels [the EU] is one of strong co-operation. It is a dialogue which often begins at a very early stage in the development of policies and directives.”

The ERT was a central institution in the re-launching of European integration from the 1980s onward, and as former European Commissioner (and former ERT member) Peter Sutherland stated, “one can argue that the whole completion of the internal market project was initiated not by governments but by the Round Table, and by members of it… And I think it played a fairly consistent role subsequently in dialoguing with the Commission on practical steps to implement market liberalization.” Sutherland also explained that the ERT and its members “have to be at the highest levels of companies and virtually all of them have unimpeded access to government leaders because of the position of their companies… So, by definition, each member of the ERT has access at the highest level to government.”

Other notable industry associations include the Canadian Council of Chief Executives [14] (CCCE), formerly called the Business Council on National Issues (BCNI), a group comprised of Canada’s top 150 CEOs who were a major force for the promotion and implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The CCCE remains one of the most influential “interest groups” in Canada.

In the United States there are prominent industry associations like the Business Council, the Business Roundtable, and the Financial Services Forum. The Business Council describes itself as “a voluntary association of business leaders whose members meet several times a year for the free exchange of ideas both among themselves and with thought leaders from

http://www.alternet.org/print/occupy-wall-street/elite-business-and-think-tank-attempts-control-world

The Tragic Story of Christianity: How a Pacifist Religion Was Hijacked by Rabid Warmongering Elites By Gary G. Kohls

Consortium News, January 30, 2012

From time to time, I read about condemnations of religion coming from non-religious groups, especially concerning the all-too-common violence perpetrated in the name of religious gods. Indeed there is plenty to condemn.

Altogether too many religions sects of both major and minor religions, despite verbally professing a desire for peace and justice in the world, are actually pro-war, pro-homicide and pro-violence in practice (or they may be silent on the subject, which is, according to moral theology, the same as being pro-violence).

Obvious examples include those portions of the three major war-justifying religions of the world: fundamentalist Islam, fundamentalist Judaism and fundamentalist Christianity.

I use the term fundamentalist in the sense that the religious person, who ascribes to a fundamentalist point of view, believes, among other dogmatic belief, that their scriptures are inerrant and thus they can find passages in their holy books that justify homicidal violence against their perceived or fingered enemies, while simultaneously ignoring the numerous contradictory passages that forbid violence and homicide and instead prescribe love, hospitality, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Behind the scenes, of course, there are hidden elites — amoral, politically and financially motivated operatives who are embedded in these religious organizations — who, through the strength of their political power, can easily manipulate the followers into clamoring for war, not against their enemies, but rather against the enemies of the ruling elites: the politicians, the financiers and the other exploiters of natural resources. 

And so nonviolent portions of the various religions – and they are there, albeit often hidden and censored – can be erroneously painted with the same brush that justifiably condemns the hypocrisy and the violence.

It is certainly true that the Catholic Church endorsed and/or orchestrated the genocide of the Crusades, the Inquisition and many wars of colonization and exploitation — with the origins of these atrocities in fundamentalist interpretations of “holy” scripture.

But I do have to take exception to the blanket condemnation of the entirety of the religion by pointing out one reality — that the original form of Christianity, the church of the first generation after Jesus and even most of the first three centuries was a religion of pacifists, oppressed women, orphans, those forced into prostitution, despised people of all stripes and others of those called “the least.”

Though this history has long since been forgotten or ignored, the earliest followers of Jesus rejected violence, tried to return good for evil, fed the hungry, did acts of mercy and unconditional love and tried to make friends out of their enemies (by caring for them, feeding them, praying for them and certainly refusing to kill them or pay for somebody else to kill them).

Practicality of Nonviolence

It was a hugely successful ethical stance to take. It could be described as an act of divine genius. And it made tremendous practical sense. One bit of evidence of the practicality of gospel nonviolence is the fact that in the first couple of centuries, no early Christian male ever acquired combat-induced PTSD or the soul-destruction that always accompanies that reality.

And no early Christian ever felt depressed, ashamed, guilty or suicidal about killing, plundering or raping innocent unarmed women and children in wartime. The earliest Christians took seriously Jesus’s clear command to love and befriend their enemies, and – despite brutal Roman persecutions – the religion survived; indeed, it thrived.

In fact, by 300 CE, it had grown into one of the largest religions in the empire, at which point the emperor Constantine (who was a worshipper of the Sun god until his deathbed baptism into the “faith”) co-opted the church by stopping the persecutions and granting it power, property and prestige, thus seducing it into becoming the obedient and increasingly dependent state church whose master was the brutal, often satanic Roman Empire and its army generals.

Eventually – and logically – church leaders who were now dependent on the largesse and protection of the empire felt obliged to support it and its troops, pay homage to the emperor and send its young Christian men to violently defend the empire’s borders against the fingered enemy. Or homicidally enlarge the empire if it was profitable for Romeor the Papal State to do so.

Just War Theory

St. Augustine wrote the first Christian Just War Theory (CJWT) in the late Fourth Century, making legitimate, in certain rare circumstances, killing by Christians in wartime, which had been long forbidden to the followers of Jesus.

Soon thereafter, Christianity became a religion of justified violence, contrary to the teachings and modeling of Jesus, and it remains that way until this very hour.

However, it is generally agreed among Just War scholars that no war in the past 1,700 years has been conducted according to the principles of the Christian Just War Theory; that if the actual principles were applied to an impending war, they would lead Christians back to its original pacifist stance. And so the principles of the CJWT are not taught to the vast majority of Christians.

So, the blanket condemnation of homicidal religions, especially Christianity, is justified up to the point of acknowledging that the bulk of the Christian church, over the past 17 centuries, has ignored – or become apathetic to – the nonviolent teachings of Jesus (forgiveness 70 X 7, unending mercy, ministering to “the least of these” and the unconditional love of friend and enemy).

Among the realities that keep the churches silent, of course, are the fear of losing the largesse of state-granted tax-exempt status and the threat that their pro-war, dues-paying members might object or leave if church leaders were to speak out prophetically about the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount and the incompatibility of nationalistic militarism with the life and teachings of Jesus.

But the Christianity of the first few centuries, when Christians refused to take up the sword, should not be condemned. Rather, critics of Christianity should start challenging the churches to go back to their roots where evil was not allowed to run rampant, but rather was aggressively and courageously resisted using the nonviolent methods of Jesus and his inspired disciples like Tolstoy, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, A. J. Muste, Martin Luther King, the Berrigan brothers, John Dear, Kathy Kelly and a multitude of other courageous prophetic voices.

The major motivation for the legendary civil disobedience of those modern-day prophets was their commitment to Jesus and the way he lived his life as pacifist (not passive) active resistor to evil.

The followers of that very real Jesus should be courageously “going to the streets” and saying “NO” wherever and whenever fear and hatred raise their ugly heads and try to provoke violence — no matter if it is coming from the US Congress or the Parliament in London, the Oval Office or # 10 Downing Street, in the Knesset or in the headquarters of Hamas, whether in Tehran or in Baghdad or in the Vatican or in Colorado Springs or in the bowels of the 700 Club – or from within the local parish.

Jesus, a Nonviolent Leftist

Jesus of the Gospels was an outspoken, nonviolent leftist who tried to reform his authoritarian conservative, dogmatic church but also refused to shut up with his call for justice for the down-trodden — even when his superiors threatened him with serious consequences if he didn’t.

The economic model of Jesus’s early church was socialist, where the resources of the group were shared with the widow and orphans and others who didn’t have enough. He would have stood, like the prophet he was, in solidarity with pacifists, socialists, antiwar activists and feminists and surely would have marched in nonviolent antiwar rallies.

Jesus was definitely NOT a punitive, pro-death penalty, pro-militarism conservative. His power came not from the sword but from the power of love.

Jesus would surely have condemned his church’s complicity in the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, the enslavement of black Africans and the segregationist, apartheid policies that were designed by various ruling elites to destroy ethnic or religious minorities.

And if the leadership of his church had been found guilty of or just complicit with such acts, especially genocide, Jesus would surely have insisted on the formation of an independent truth and reconciliation commission to respectfully hear the testimony of the victims, the survivors and the families of the survivors and allow those victims to face their victimizers. And then Jesus would have insisted upon his church repenting of the sins, whether committed by them or their forefathers.

The power that Jesus utilized was epitomized by the willingness to do the right thing in the crisis situations even if it involved risks to life or liberty. Fear had no power over him or the martyrs of the early church. His power came out of the holy spirit of love, goodness, mercy and forgiveness and his certainty that, by refusing to do acts of violence, he was doing the will of God.

The practicality of that radical stance resulted in the healing power that Jesus’ disciples and apostles exhibited when they started implementing what Jesus had taught and modeled for them.

War and violence emanates from an entirely different spirit than the spirit shown by the early church. That spirit is the spirit of the unholy, the spirit of the satanic, the spirit of Cain. The willingness to kill was the spirit that was strongly present in such historic figures as Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, Eichmann, Stalin, Mussolini (all baptized into pro-war, Constantinian Christian churches).

That evil spirit was also present in many saber-rattling militarists throughout history – the most ruthless presidents, Secretaries of Defense, generals, dictators, legislators, gun-running businessmen and trained assassins that have ever lived – from the ancient low-tech, PTSD-afflicted Achilles, who killed up close and personal, looking into the eyes of his victims, to the ultra-modern, high-tech Air Force, Navy, Army and Marines that orchestrate, usually from safe distances, such atrocities as were perpetrated by Christian soldiers against innocent unarmed civilians at Nagasaki, Dresden, My Lai, Baghdad and Fallujah, to name just a few.

A Challenge to the Church

It seems to me that the Christian church must start teaching what Jesus taught about violence – that it is forbidden for those who wish to follow him – or our so-called “Christian” nation won’t be able to stop the deadly suicidal/homicidal cycle of war that has been bankrupting America, both financially and morally, for decades.

Jesus was absolutely right about the satanic nature of killing. The Golden Rule and his warning about the consequences of living by the sword speaks profound truth. According to just those two teachings, we can say that theologically and spiritually, the high-profile pro-war “Christians” that dominate the news are dead wrong.

That brand of Christianity definitely deserves condemnation. What has been criticized by Christianity’s detractors as the norm for Christianity is not the Sermon-on-the-Mount Christianity of Jesus but rather the aberrant “Constantinian Christianity,” a religion that espouses an anti-Christic, punitive theology that justifies killing fellow children of God in the name of the one who forbade it 2,000 years ago.

Church leaders need to repent of their support for (or their silence about) their nation’s state-sponsored terrorism and start acting ethically, as if the Sermon on the Mount mattered.

The Christian church in America MUST take the lead in this or it is doomed — as doomed as was Germany’s dominant Constantinian Christianity of the first half of the 20th century, whose pro-military, nationalist, racist, xenophobic, domination theology permitted torture, genocide and two brutal world wars that ultimately resulted in the suicide of German Christianity, not to mention the complete destruction of the nation by its provoked enemies.

One wonders what would have happened if every German and Russian and American church had been a real peace church, as the founder envisioned? The real question is, will we learn the lessons of history, or is it already too late?

Critical and higher-level thinking

A Society with Poor Critical Thinking Skills: The Case for ‘Argument’ in Education by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, HuffingtonPost.com, 08/15/2013

Devaluing the Think Tank by TEVI TROY, National Affairs, Winter 2012

Why We Need New Ways of Thinking by Barry Boyce from the Shambhala Sun, September 2008The same old thing doesn’t work… because when it comes to complex, tough problems…we have to go beyond the approaches that got us there in the first place… a loose but growing collection of thinkers, activists, academics, and social entrepreneurs who are searching for the “unthinkable”—the new ways that we can’t see because of our old ways of looking… they all firmly believe that the good old world we’ve come to know and love is coming apart at the seams. Systems of all kinds are breaking down and will continue to do so. In response, they champion ways of seeing and acting that acknowledge that the world is a chaotic, deeply interdependent place, a place that won’t yield to attempts to overpower it. We must come to understand, they argue, the nature of complexity, chaos, and interconnectedness—and to train ourselves in ways of acting that embrace this unmistakable reality. full text

Wisdom: The Forgotten Dimension?  by Mary Jaksch…Wis­dom means hav­ing the moral will to do right by other peo­ple, and to have the moral skill to fig­ure out what doing right means. This is not a new idea; it is some­thing that Aris­to­tle taught in ancient Greece…A wise per­son takes the overview…Com­pas­sion­ate action – the out­flow of wis­dom – hap­pens when we stop being the cen­ter of our concern. Then we can open up to a wider view of real­ity that includes the suf­fer­ing of oth­ers, as well as our own – and  respond with compassion.  full text

Salons: A New Intellectual Culture is Taking Shape Throughout the Country By David Rosen, AlterNet, May 9, 2011 – …a salon…a social venue where people gather to consider pressing social issues or compelling ideas…a new intellectual culture is taking shape throughout the country…an unprecedented flowering of intellectual life is underway. It signals a rebirth of ideas in America.
This new intellectual environment takes two principal forms, online and public…The Internet is home to a new intellectual culture….Less discussed are the efforts by people to reclaim public space for discussion and social engagement over ideas…. America is in the midst of the gravest economic and social crisis since the Great Depression and a growing number of people recognize that the nation’s future is at stake. They increasingly reject the politician’s bought-and-paid-for words of reassurance and the swill promulgated by media blowviators. The tempo of political debate is intensifying and people are seeking new, more intimate and engaging forums for discussion, debate and action….They speak to the great desire to not simply seriously intellectually reflect on important issue and meet similar like-minded people, but to fashion a political outlook and activism that truly is personally meaningful and makes a difference. Welcome to the 21st century…

Why Teaching People to Think for Themselves Is Repugnant to Religious Zealots and Rick Santorum by Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed, February 22, 2012

Religious Freedom” and the Conservative Quest for Absolute Truth By Ira Chernus, Religion Dispatches, February 21, 2012

A Crisis from the Top: The Unwisdom of Elites by Paul Krugman, New York Times,

Thinking in More Sophisticated Ways by James R. Flynn, February 27, 2012

A brainpower revolution By Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, December 26, 2011 - This is a moment when policymakers should be thinking big, not small….The complex and difficult questions we’re avoiding, however, may haunt us through the century…It’s crazy to have spent so much brainpower and energy on a skirmish that was purely tactical, while blithely ignoring the enormous challenges we face…The central issue is the prospect of decline. For much of the 20th century, theUnited Statesboasted the biggest, most vibrant economy in the world and its citizens enjoyed the best quality of life. The former is still obviously true; the latter, arguably still the case. But there is a sense that we’re fading — that tomorrow might not be as bright as today. Our systems seem to have become sclerotic…. colleges and universities…medical care…economic mobility…manufacturing sector…rich countries can only excel at high-end manufacturing that requires more brains than brawn. Our future lies in knowledge and information. So let’s go there…The solution that conservatives advocate — let free markets do it — isn’t enough….It’s important to remember that markets are supposed to serve the nation, not the other way around. And it’s important to recognize that while long-term debt isn’t the most urgent problem facing the nation, it has to be addressed. Transformation, after all, isn’t cheap…Is the political system broken? Yes, but this can’t be an excuse. The system didn’t break itself. Our elected officials put in place the rules that create dysfunction — campaign finance regulations that allow money to corrupt the political process, redistricting procedures that ensconce our representatives in districts where they couldn’t lose if they tried. The rules can be changed. But our leaders, beginning with Obama, can’t settle for playing small ball. As he campaigns for reelection, the president’s task is to explain why this is a time to think big — and why we have no choice.

The Value Of Dissent by William G. Bowen, Forbes, September, 2010

President Obama’s Remarks to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, New York Times, March 10, 2009 March 10, 2009

Texas Republicans express ‘regret’ for officially opposing critical thinking skills by Laura Clawson, Daily Kos, June 29, 2012

In Defense of the Generalist by Carter Phipps, huffingtonpost.com, April 26, 2012

The Death of Liberal Arts by Nancy Cook, Newsweek Web Exclusive, April 5, 2010

Conservative Southern Values Revived: How a Brutal Strain of American Aristocrats Have Come to Rule America By Sara Robinson

AlterNet, June 28, 2012

Excerpt

It’s been said that the rich are different than you and me. What most Americans don’t know is that they’re also quite different from each other, and that which faction is currently running the show ultimately makes a vast difference in the kind of country we are.

Right now, a lot of our problems stem directly from the fact that the wrong sort has finally gotten the upper hand; a particularly brutal and anti-democratic strain of American aristocrat that the other elites have mostly managed to keep away from the levers of power since the Revolution. Worse: this bunch has set a very ugly tone that’s corrupted how people with power and money behave in every corner of our culture. Here’s what happened, and how it happened, and what it means for America now.

North versus South: Two Definitions of Liberty

Michael Lind first called out the existence of this conflict in his 2006 book, Made In Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics. He argued that much of American history has been characterized by a struggle between two historical factions among the American elite — and that the election of George W. Bush was a definitive sign that the wrong side was winning.

For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society). While they’ve done their share of damage to the notion of democracy in the name of profit (as all financial elites inevitably do), this group has, for the most part, tempered its predatory instincts with a code that valued mass education and human rights; held up public service as both a duty and an honor; and imbued them with the belief that once you made your nut, you had a moral duty to do something positive with it for the betterment of mankind. Your own legacy depended on this.

Among the presidents, this strain gave us both Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, and Poppy Bush — nerdy, wonky intellectuals who, for all their faults, at least took the business of good government seriously. Among financial elites, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet still both partake strongly of this traditional view of wealth as power to be used for good. Even if we don’t like their specific choices, the core impulse to improve the world is a good one — and one that’s been conspicuously absent in other aristocratic cultures.

Which brings us to that other great historical American nobility — the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God…these elites have always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press…perhaps the most destructive piece of the Southern elites’ worldview is the extremely anti-democratic way it defined the very idea of liberty. In Yankee Puritan culture, both liberty and authority resided mostly with the community, and not so much with individuals. Communities had both the freedom and the duty to govern themselves as they wished (through town meetings and so on), to invest in their collective good, and to favor or punish individuals whose behavior enhanced or threatened the whole (historically, through community rewards such as elevation to positions of public authority and trust; or community punishments like shaming, shunning or banishing).

Individuals were expected to balance their personal needs and desires against the greater good of the collective — and, occasionally, to make sacrifices for the betterment of everyone. (This is why the Puritan wealthy tended to dutifully pay their taxes, tithe in their churches and donate generously to create hospitals, parks and universities.) In return, the community had a solemn and inescapable moral duty to care for its sick, educate its young and provide for its needy — the kind of support that maximizes each person’s liberty to live in dignity and achieve his or her potential. A Yankee community that failed to provide such support brought shame upon itself. To this day, our progressive politics are deeply informed by this Puritan view of ordered liberty.

In the old South, on the other hand, the degree of liberty you enjoyed was a direct function of your God-given place in the social hierarchy. When a Southern conservative talks about “losing his liberty,” the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control — and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from — is what he’s really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can’t help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they’re willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule.

Once we understand the two different definitions of “liberty” at work here, a lot of other things suddenly make much more sense. We can understand the traditional Southern antipathy to education, progress, public investment, unionization, equal opportunity, and civil rights

The Civil War was, at its core, a military battle between these two elites for the soul of the country. It pitted the more communalist, democratic and industrialized Northern vision of the American future against the hierarchical, aristocratic, agrarian Southern one. Though the Union won the war, the fundamental conflict at its root still hasn’t been resolved to this day. (The current conservative culture war is the Civil War still being re-fought by other means.)…

post-war Southerners and Westerners drew their power from the new wealth provided by the defense, energy, real estate, and other economic booms in their regions. They also had a profound evangelical conviction, brought with them out of the South, that God wanted them to take America back from the Yankee liberals — a conviction that expressed itself simultaneously in both the formation of the vast post-war evangelical churches (which were major disseminators of Southern culture around the country); and in their takeover of the GOP, starting with Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 and culminating with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.

They countered Yankee hegemony by building their own universities, grooming their own leaders and creating their own media. By the 1990s, they were staging the RINO hunts that drove the last Republican moderates (almost all of them Yankees, by either geography or cultural background) and the meritocratic order they represented to total extinction within the GOP. A decade later, the Tea Party became the voice of the unleashed id of the old Southern order, bringing it forward into the 21st century with its full measure of selfishness, racism, superstition, and brutality intact.

…Buttressed by the arguments of Ayn Rand — who updated the ancient slaveholder ethic for the modern age… — it has been exported to every corner of the culture, infected most of our other elite communities and killed off all but the very last vestiges of noblesse oblige…

 

We are withdrawing government investments in public education, libraries, infrastructure, health care, and technological innovation — in many areas, to the point where we are falling behind the standards that prevail in every other developed country.

Elites who dare to argue for increased investment in the common good, and believe that we should lay the groundwork for a better future, are regarded as not just silly and soft-headed, but also inviting underclass revolt. The Yankees thought that government’s job was to better the lot of the lower classes. The Southern aristocrats know that its real purpose is to deprive them of all possible means of rising up against their betters.

The rich are different now because the elites who spent four centuries sucking the South dry and turning it into an economic and political backwater have now vanquished the more forward-thinking, democratic Northern elites. Their attitudes towards freedom, authority, community, government, and the social contract aren’t just confined to the country clubs of the Gulf Coast; they can now be found on the ground from Hollywood and Silicon Valley to Wall Street. And because of that quiet coup, the entire US is now turning into the global equivalent of a Deep South state.

As long as America runs according to the rules of Southern politics, economics and culture, we’re no longer free citizens exercising our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we’ve always understood them. Instead, we’re being treated like serfs on Massa’s plantation — and increasingly, we’re being granted our liberties only at Massa’s pleasure. Welcome to Plantation America.

Full text

It’s been said that the rich are different than you and me. What most Americans don’t know is that they’re also quite different from each other, and that which faction is currently running the show ultimately makes a vast difference in the kind of country we are.

Right now, a lot of our problems stem directly from the fact that the wrong sort has finally gotten the upper hand; a particularly brutal and anti-democratic strain of American aristocrat that the other elites have mostly managed to keep away from the levers of power since the Revolution. Worse: this bunch has set a very ugly tone that’s corrupted how people with power and money behave in every corner of our culture. Here’s what happened, and how it happened, and what it means for America now.

North versus South: Two Definitions of Liberty

Michael Lind first called out the existence of this conflict in his 2006 book, Made In Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics. He argued that much of American history has been characterized by a struggle between two historical factions among the American elite — and that the election of George W. Bush was a definitive sign that the wrong side was winning.

For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society). While they’ve done their share of damage to the notion of democracy in the name of profit (as all financial elites inevitably do), this group has, for the most part, tempered its predatory instincts with a code that valued mass education and human rights; held up public service as both a duty and an honor; and imbued them with the belief that once you made your nut, you had a moral duty to do something positive with it for the betterment of mankind. Your own legacy depended on this.

Among the presidents, this strain gave us both Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, and Poppy Bush — nerdy, wonky intellectuals who, for all their faults, at least took the business of good government seriously. Among financial elites, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet still both partake strongly of this traditional view of wealth as power to be used for good. Even if we don’t like their specific choices, the core impulse to improve the world is a good one — and one that’s been conspicuously absent in other aristocratic cultures.

Which brings us to that other great historical American nobility — the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.

As described by Colin Woodard in American Nations: The Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, the elites of the Deep South are descended mainly from the owners of sugar, rum and cotton plantations from Barbados — the younger sons of the British nobility who’d farmed up the Caribbean islands, and then came ashore to the southern coasts seeking more land. Woodward described the culture they created in the crescent stretching from Charleston, SC around to New Orleans this way:

It was a near-carbon copy of the West Indian slave state these Barbadians had left behind, a place notorious even then for its inhumanity….From the outset, Deep Southern culture was based on radical disparities in wealth and power, with a tiny elite commanding total obedience and enforcing it with state-sponsored terror. Its expansionist ambitions would put it on a collision course with its Yankee rivals, triggering military, social, and political conflicts that continue to plague the United States to this day.

David Hackett Fischer, whose Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways In America informs both Lind’s and Woodard’s work, described just how deeply undemocratic the Southern aristocracy was, and still is. He documents how these elites have always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press. (Lind adds that they have historically been profoundly anti-technology as well, far preferring solutions that involve finding more serfs and throwing them at a problem whenever possible. Why buy a bulldozer when 150 convicts on a chain gang can grade your road instead?) Unlike the Puritan elites, who wore their wealth modestly and dedicated themselves to the common good, Southern elites sank their money into ostentatious homes and clothing and the pursuit of pleasure — including lavish parties, games of fortune, predatory sexual conquests, and blood sports involving ritualized animal abuse spectacles.

But perhaps the most destructive piece of the Southern elites’ worldview is the extremely anti-democratic way it defined the very idea of liberty. In Yankee Puritan culture, both liberty and authority resided mostly with the community, and not so much with individuals. Communities had both the freedom and the duty to govern themselves as they wished (through town meetings and so on), to invest in their collective good, and to favor or punish individuals whose behavior enhanced or threatened the whole (historically, through community rewards such as elevation to positions of public authority and trust; or community punishments like shaming, shunning or banishing).

Individuals were expected to balance their personal needs and desires against the greater good of the collective — and, occasionally, to make sacrifices for the betterment of everyone. (This is why the Puritan wealthy tended to dutifully pay their taxes, tithe in their churches and donate generously to create hospitals, parks and universities.) In return, the community had a solemn and inescapable moral duty to care for its sick, educate its young and provide for its needy — the kind of support that maximizes each person’s liberty to live in dignity and achieve his or her potential. A Yankee community that failed to provide such support brought shame upon itself. To this day, our progressive politics are deeply informed by this Puritan view of ordered liberty.

In the old South, on the other hand, the degree of liberty you enjoyed was a direct function of your God-given place in the social hierarchy. The higher your status, the more authority you had, and the more “liberty” you could exercise — which meant, in practical terms, that you had the right to take more “liberties” with the lives, rights and property of other people. Like an English lord unfettered from the Magna Carta, nobody had the authority to tell a Southern gentleman what to do with resources under his control. In this model, that’s what liberty is. If you don’t have the freedom to rape, beat, torture, kill, enslave, or exploit your underlings (including your wife and children) with impunity — or abuse the land, or enforce rules on others that you will never have to answer to yourself — then you can’t really call yourself a free man.

When a Southern conservative talks about “losing his liberty,” the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control — and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from — is what he’s really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can’t help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they’re willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule.

Once we understand the two different definitions of “liberty” at work here, a lot of other things suddenly make much more sense. We can understand the traditional Southern antipathy to education, progress, public investment, unionization, equal opportunity, and civil rights. The fervent belief among these elites that they should completely escape any legal or social accountability for any harm they cause. Their obsessive attention to where they fall in the status hierarchies. And, most of all — the unremitting and unapologetic brutality with which they’ve defended these “liberties” across the length of their history.

When Southerners quote Patrick Henry — “Give me liberty or give me death” — what they’re really demanding is the unquestioned, unrestrained right to turn their fellow citizens into supplicants and subjects. The Yankee elites have always known this — and feared what would happen if that kind of aristocracy took control of the country. And that tension between these two very different views of what it means to be “elite” has inflected our history for over 400 years.

The Battle Between the Elites

Since shortly after the Revolution, the Yankee elites have worked hard to keep the upper hand on America’s culture, economy and politics — and much of our success as a nation rests on their success at keeping plantation culture sequestered in the South, and its scions largely away from the levers of power. If we have to have an elite — and there’s never been a society as complex as ours that didn’t have some kind of upper class maintaining social order — we’re far better off in the hands of one that’s essentially meritocratic, civic-minded and generally believes that it will do better when everybody else does better, too.

The Civil War was, at its core, a military battle between these two elites for the soul of the country. It pitted the more communalist, democratic and industrialized Northern vision of the American future against the hierarchical, aristocratic, agrarian Southern one. Though the Union won the war, the fundamental conflict at its root still hasn’t been resolved to this day. (The current conservative culture war is the Civil War still being re-fought by other means.) After the war, the rise of Northern industrialists and the dominance of Northern universities and media ensured that subsequent generations of the American power elite continued to subscribe to the Northern worldview — even when the individual leaders came from other parts of the country.

Ironically, though: it was that old Yankee commitment to national betterment that ultimately gave the Southern aristocracy its big chance to break out and go national. According to Lind, it was easy for the Northeast to hold onto cultural, political and economic power as long as all the country’s major banks, businesses, universities, and industries were headquartered there. But the New Deal — and, especially, the post-war interstate highways, dams, power grids, and other infrastructure investments that gave rise to the Sun Belt — fatally loosened the Yankees’ stranglehold on national power. The gleaming new cities of the South and West shifted the American population centers westward, unleashing new political and economic forces with real power to challenge the Yankee consensus. And because a vast number of these westward migrants came out of the South, the elites that rose along with these cities tended to hew to the old Southern code, and either tacitly or openly resist the moral imperatives of the Yankee canon. The soaring postwar fortunes of cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta fed that ancient Barbadian slaveholder model of power with plenty of room and resources to launch a fresh and unexpected 20th-century revival.

According to historian Darren Dochuk, the author of From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism, these post-war Southerners and Westerners drew their power from the new wealth provided by the defense, energy, real estate, and other economic booms in their regions. They also had a profound evangelical conviction, brought with them out of the South, that God wanted them to take America back from the Yankee liberals — a conviction that expressed itself simultaneously in both the formation of the vast post-war evangelical churches (which were major disseminators of Southern culture around the country); and in their takeover of the GOP, starting with Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 and culminating with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.

They countered Yankee hegemony by building their own universities, grooming their own leaders and creating their own media. By the 1990s, they were staging the RINO hunts that drove the last Republican moderates (almost all of them Yankees, by either geography or cultural background) and the meritocratic order they represented to total extinction within the GOP. A decade later, the Tea Party became the voice of the unleashed id of the old Southern order, bringing it forward into the 21st century with its full measure of selfishness, racism, superstition, and brutality intact.

Plantation America

From its origins in the fever swamps of the lowland south, the worldview of the old Southern aristocracy can now be found nationwide. Buttressed by the arguments of Ayn Rand — who updated the ancient slaveholder ethic for the modern age — it has been exported to every corner of the culture, infected most of our other elite communities and killed off all but the very last vestiges of noblesse oblige.

It’s not an overstatement to say that we’re now living in Plantation America. As Lind points out: to the horror of his Yankee father, George W. Bush proceeded to run the country exactly like Woodard’s description of a Barbadian slavelord. And Barack Obama has done almost nothing to roll this victory back. We’re now living in an America where rampant inequality is accepted, and even celebrated.

Torture and extrajudicial killing have been reinstated, with no due process required.

The wealthy and powerful are free to abuse employees, break laws, destroy the commons, and crash the economy — without ever being held to account.

The rich flaunt their ostentatious wealth without even the pretense of humility, modesty, generosity, or gratitude.

The military — always a Southern-dominated institution — sucks down 60% of our federal discretionary spending, and is undergoing a rapid evangelical takeover as well.

Our police are being given paramilitary training and powers that are completely out of line with their duty to serve and protect, but much more in keeping with a mission to subdue and suppress. Even liberal cities like Seattle are now home to the kind of local justice that used to be the hallmark of small-town Alabama sheriffs.

Segregation is increasing everywhere. The rights of women and people of color are under assault. Violence against leaders who agitate for progressive change is up. Racist organizations are undergoing a renaissance nationwide.

We are withdrawing government investments in public education, libraries, infrastructure, health care, and technological innovation — in many areas, to the point where we are falling behind the standards that prevail in every other developed country.

Elites who dare to argue for increased investment in the common good, and believe that we should lay the groundwork for a better future, are regarded as not just silly and soft-headed, but also inviting underclass revolt. The Yankees thought that government’s job was to better the lot of the lower classes. The Southern aristocrats know that its real purpose is to deprive them of all possible means of rising up against their betters.

The rich are different now because the elites who spent four centuries sucking the South dry and turning it into an economic and political backwater have now vanquished the more forward-thinking, democratic Northern elites. Their attitudes towards freedom, authority, community, government, and the social contract aren’t just confined to the country clubs of the Gulf Coast; they can now be found on the ground from Hollywood and Silicon Valley to Wall Street. And because of that quiet coup, the entire US is now turning into the global equivalent of a Deep South state.

As long as America runs according to the rules of Southern politics, economics and culture, we’re no longer free citizens exercising our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we’ve always understood them. Instead, we’re being treated like serfs on Massa’s plantation — and increasingly, we’re being granted our liberties only at Massa’s pleasure. Welcome to Plantation America.
Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet’s Vision page. Follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to AlterNet’s Vision newsletter for weekly updates.

http://www.alternet.org/story/156071/