REPLACING ELITIST POWER STRUCTURE WITH DEMOCRATIC INVOLVED CITIZENS
Hedges & Wolin: Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? on The Real News Network
Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize Winning journalist, publishes Mondays on Truthdig — Two decades as a foreign correspondent in 50+ countries and has written nine books, including “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2008) and “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009)
Interview with Professor Sheldon Wolin, Professor of Politics at Berkeley and Princeton, Author of seminal works on political philosophy, including Politics and Vision and Democracy Incorporated.
HEDGES: Professor Wolin and I talk about revolution in a system of inverted totalitarianism that has effectively fragmented and destroyed the notion of the “PUBLIC.” In USA institutions define themselves as democratic and yet have abandoned civic virtue and the common good.
HEDGES: In USA elitists have harnessed their power to meet the interests of corporations whom prefer neo-feudalism, a security and surveillance state, enriching a small group of oligarchic elitists, want to demilitarize the people, while increasing the corporate-military prowess.
HEDGES: Are we at a point we should begin to discuss revolution?
SHELDON WOLIN, PROF. EMERITUS POLITICS, PRINCETON: Yes, but we must discuss it carefully, not timidly, but carefully in the sense that we have to be breaking new ground to meet this challenge in our modern society. We must not act prematurely and avoid doing more damage than is justifiable. Revolution is a word with too much baggage so we should find a synonym that better captures our goals and discards the physical notions of overthrow and violence — This will minimize having to do all sorts of rearguard (defensive) explanations of what we really mean — Avoid having to overcome the overtones and implications that revolution conveys.
We need a new kind of vocabulary to help us express what we mean by radical change without simply seeming to tie ourselves to the kind of previous notions of revolution.
FACT: USA conditions are without precedent in terms of the concentration of capitalist power and of the relationship between capitalism and the state.
FACT: USA Elitists-Corporate aggregation of power is unlike any the world has ever seen, and now we see a world in the throes of being integrated and controlled by these Elitist-Corporate Powers.
WOLIN: We really need our own language and rethink in a different direction what we mean by radical change or revolution.
HEDGES: The old meaning of Revolution is “Cycle” or “Coming Back” to participatory democracy that we’ve lost.
HEDGES: The current popular notion of revolution does not match “Coming Back” or “Cycle”, but instead involves great violence, but most revolutions are nonviolent and without armed forces. Examples include the Cossacks going to Petrograd and the Paris commune of 1871, and the downfall of the Shah of Iran where the national army refuses to turns their arms on the people.
HEDGES: We must converting intellectually, morally, ethically, those within the power structure who realize its decay, its corruption, its repression and no longer are willing to sacrifice for it.
WOLIN: Your formulation would rely more than I would on trying to persuade the powers that be to change course and modify their behavior and beliefs, and I don’t think that’s possible — it’s clearly not possible on a large-scale.
WOLIN: Major Change has to be generated and shaped outside the power structure, because it’s nearly impossible to enlist and educate groups and individuals who have NO political education or experience of any kind — That task is compounding and very unlikely.
WOLIN: Some think the basic problem is just seizing power over a population that’s not educated and basically unchanged — Then they face the cruel choice of forcing them to change so that they can support your structure. The really difficult challenge is to gain power by an equally challenging emphasis on strong public education to create a responsible repository of that power in the people.
HEDGES: I totally agree that the movement must be formed outside of power. But can a force for massive change contest power by (what Václav Havel called) “living in truth” penetrate the lower levels of power like the police and even foot soldiers tasked with protecting Elitists, they may view is Evil?
HEDGES: Can a movement create enough paralysis within the structures of power that it can be replaced? It happened in the fall of East Germany in 1989 when Eric Honecker, a dictator for 19 years, sent an elite paratroop division to Leipzig to shut down 70,000 people massing in the streets — But the paratroopers refused to fire on the crowd and the whole military apparatus of the Stasi state crumbled at a dizzying speed — so fast we could not keep track of it — Honecker was out of power within a week.
HEDGES: So you’re right that all major change forces have to be formed outside of the structures of power, but can the conscience of POLICE AND SOLDIERS ordered by the ELITISTS to quell the masses, instead join the crowds? Is that kind of fundamental moment possible today to replace the power structure?
WOLIN: That is a positive idea as long as it avoids apocalyptic events. Today we’re still dealing with a democratic (small d) state and a population that desperately needs political education addressing those future lower echelons of power (future police and soldiers) and get them to think clearly about their constitutional role. That is a very touchy subject, because of accusations of promoting disloyalty of the police or soldiers — But we must try to reinstitute the constitution, but those powers in society will NOT likely come to grips with that – It will be an arduous difficult task, and even a little dangerous in our present age.
HEDGES: Ancient philosophers like Plato talk about the creation of an elite, what Lenin would call a revolutionary vanguard and Machiavelli called co-conspirators, Calvin call his saints. Is that Elitists for CHANGE relevant?
WOLIN: I would avoid words like elitists, but because most people become exhausted by the simple task of living, working, and trying to sustain families and neighborhoods takes all of their energy, it does call for some kind of group who would continuously do the political work of educating, criticizing, pressuring, and working towards a revamping of political institutions. — That necessary political group must stay INTIMATELY connected to the people with open lines of communication — Contact, Meetings — To avoid any sense of estrangement or alienation between that leading groups and the good of the masses.
HEDGES: Sometimes political leader groups turn on the people once they take power. Like the Bolsheviks and the very well intentioned Trotsky once in power became Lenin’s iron fist. So is creating an elitist political group a very dangerous move?
WOLIN: It is, but our situation is different from what Trotsky and the others faced — There are openings in our system of governance for public discourse that provide an opportunity to work hard to get dissident voices out into the public realm — Minimizing the need for force, violence, and so on. As long as we have constitutional guarantees for free forms of communication, I think we’re obligated to play by those rules, that allow us to disseminate a new kind of message. As long as we have that freedom to disseminate new ideas, the use of subversion is self-defeating.
HEDGES: Climate change has created an urgency of a narrowing window of opportunity for survival of species. Our unfettered, unregulated corporate capitalism, which commodifies even human beings and the natural world. We know that without constraints capitalists will exploit to exhaustion or collapse. We have an ecosystem teetering on collapse.
WOLIN: That is true. I don’t see any other solution but to bet on an enlightened public taking a stand. There are enlightened publics in this country, but there’s no concerted general movement which can profess to represent a large body of opinion that’s opposed to these kind of developments you’ve just described. There’s a lack of organization. We must find new methods to empower ordinary people to deter and dissuade those who make decisions, because time is running out, and if we continue the same course we face not simply an environmental disaster but will feed an outcry for really forceful government, and not in a necessarily democratic way.
HEDGES: And yet, if we don’t respond, it is in essence collective suicide.
HEDGES: This age of bureaucracy banishes mystery and the sacred so nothing has an Real Intrinsic Value; Everything only has a monetary value as a capitalist financial class has assumed power under our noses. The end result is we live in a world without the necessary passion to carry out the common good — against this massive monolith of corporate bureaucracy.
HEDGES: Some are calling for those who care about the common good and civic virtue to stand up in the face of a very bleak reality. The question is: how do you retain your own moral integrity in the face of these horrifically destructive forces? NOT: Can we succeed? But you must resist anyway.
WOLIN: The truly important civic virtues must be asserted at any time basic institutional values and human values are at stake — EVEN if you don’t win or win rarely — If you win, it’s often for a very short time, so politics must become a vocation for Americans — NOT an occasional undertaking assumed every two or four years when there’s an election; it’s a constant occupation and preoccupation.
WOLIN: Politics is NOT a partisan one party kind of education, but the broad understanding of what political life should be and what is required to make it sustainable — A Political Understanding (NOT how we vote) that steps back and says what kind of political order and values are we willing to really give a lot for, including sacrifice. That distinction between the un-empowered temporary transient voting every couple of years versus truly enduring empowered continuous involvement.
HEDGES: Your calling us to a life of meaning. Which you have exemplified.
This Ends 8 Part Interview of Sheldon Wolin.