Dominance and Plutocracy are –and have long been–the real form of American governance. And history shows representative democracy almost always degenerates into plutocracy. So how do we discard once and for all the myth of elections delivering democratic power in tune with the needs and demands of the majority?
By Roger D Rothenberger / Chapter 2 of Beyond Plutocracy -Direct Democracy in America
Editor’s Note: The posting of this material is part of our effort to present all manner of good-will ideas, analyses, and theories being advanced to cope with the capitalist crisis. The author of this document –a gifted analyst, is no doubt a perceptive critic of “bourgeois democracy” (aka “formal democracy”), describing with eloquence its shortcomings and hypocrisies, but his ambitious effort, in our view, fails at the end of the day because he remains precisely bourgeois in his historical analysis, and, all things being equal, remains, as well, a captive of the self-congratulatory myths about America that sustain the status quo. We wished he had availed himself of the technical tools afforded by materialist dialectics and class analysis. As it is, his description of the problems are far more formidable than his suggested cures, which end up classifying him as something of an utopian socialist. Notwithstanding this cursory critique, Rothenberger packs plenty of provocative notions in his vision, and we are happy to introduce him to our audience.
America is not a democracy but a plutocracy that is dominated and ruled by a wealthy minority.
America’s current form of government is based on a constitution written a little over 200 years ago by a small group of men that many today affectionately, some even worshipfully, call “our Forefathers.” In this work, a more distant or neutral term, the founders, is used.
While claiming to have created a government that did not unduly favor any particular faction of people, the founders, a small group of privileged white men, aristocrats of their time, created a government that in fact, both by its inclusions and its exclusions, favored themselves, others of their class, their heirs, and similar others through the generations. The constitution that they wrote protects private property, private contract, and other interests that were of particular concern to the American aristocracy while ignoring or minimizing the interests of principal concern to everyone else. For good measure, this privileged few made it nearly impossible to alter its constitution and then only by the privileged elites that overwhelmingly populate the seats of government holding an unending hegemony of power.
It is not that there is anything wrong with the protection of private property and private contract. Indeed, they should be protected. However, the Constitution was not written in a vacuum but in the midst of a society already in existence. At the time of the writing of the Constitution the distribution of power and wealth in America was already profoundly unjust and inequitable, and the founders were already among the beneficiaries of that injustice. It was rather duplicitous of them to protect that which they and others of their class already held in undue measure while excluding protections of primary interest to others. The founders even deliberately excluded a bill of rights from the Constitution. That which the founders protected benefited mostly those who least needed protection, the powerful and wealthy, while offering minimal protection to those who most needed protection, the weak and the poor.
Among the interests excluded from the Constitution that concerned non-wealthy people were that they be fairly included politically and economically. Most importantly, the founders’ Constitution did not include an electoral system and democratic process that results in the honest representation of the entire populace within the government. The lack of an honest electoral system and true democracy plagues our nation to this day.
To avoid our slipping into monarchy, the founders wisely created three branches of government—the legislative, the judicial, and the executive—with divided, counterchecking powers. But our dishonest electoral process, which is dominated by and overwhelmingly favors the wealthy, has always resulted in all three branches being populated by self-serving, wealth-serving elites that hold an unending hegemony of power.
Our supposedly democratic, two-party political system is entirely a farce. While haggling endlessly about how to best manage it, both parties ultimately serve the same plutocracy. A political cartoon comes to mind that illustrates our true situation: A giant wealthy fat cat complete with a top hat, a big cigar, and a cynical smile is standing legs apart and arms spread outward above the many tiny people below, the electorate. He laughingly exclaims, “You may take my Right hand or my Left hand, but you always get me!”
Our elections are and always have been merely a show, a slight of hand, the exercise of form without any real power for the vast majority of the electorate to elect truly representative officeholders. To the extent that our government feigns democracy, it is intended to be just something to placate the majority, the common people, while the elite avoid the sharing of any real power.
Few men in the revolutionary group incarnated more vehemently the general anxiety and dislike for democracy than the protean Alexander Hamilton, ironically one of the purest meritocrats. Hamilton’s notion of a strong national government did err on the side of oppression at times. This is best evidenced by his warm support for the final form of the Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798. Hamilton did not agree with Jefferson that the general public should control government. “Men,” he said, “are reasoning rather than reasonable animals.” His last letter on politics, written two days before his death, illustrates the two sides of his thinking already emphasized; in this letter he warns his New England friends against dismemberment of the union as “a clear sacrifice of great positive advantages, without any counterbalancing good; administering no relief to our real disease, which is democracy, the poison of which, by a subdivision, will only be more concentrated in each part, and consequently the more virulent.”
Superficial political and social issues may be somewhat affected by the electorate, but the fundamental essence and structure created by the founders—the plutocratic form, governance by the wealthy—always remains in place. As a result the electorate or society as a whole is always powerless to affect any fundamental result or real change.
The result is an unjust society in which, despite the whining and moaning of the economic upper half to the contrary, the lives of the economic upper half are permanently subsidized by the lives of the bottom half. The upper half uses the bottom half as a beast of burden.
Almost all governments, including the most authoritarian, pretend toward democracy, often even possessing constitutions which provide for elections. The former Soviet Union and its several eastern European satellite countries often held elections in which 90% or more of their electorates voted. The Catch-22 was that all of the candidates were preselected by the officials of the state. And in the authoritarian state, who are the officials of the state that preselect the candidates? They are the powerful and the wealthy.
In America and in all of today’s so-called democracies the process is the same: In those parts of the government where the general electorate is even allowed to vote for officeholders, a powerful, wealthy few preselects and finances the short list of candidates for whom the electorate will later vote. Theoretically, any person who constitutionally qualifies for an office may enter the race. But few ever do who do not possess sufficient wealth or know beforehand that they have the blessings and financial support of the powerful and wealthy. Few who try without the blessing of Big Money manage to win elections. And all who win office owe Big Money big time. Thus, the wealthy always maintain an overwhelming hegemony of power, and our nation always gets stuck with the best government that money can buy.
The few who end up in elective office theoretically serve all of us. The sorry truth is that our government is effectively owned and populated by wealthy and wealth-serving elites that serve themselves first and best. The result of our ‘representative’1form of government, our ‘republic,’ is a perpetual plutocracy in which wealth and power become ever more concentrated in the hands of the few while the needs of the many and the nation as a whole go unmet.
By our actions toward each other and through the institutions we create, we may make our world a more humane, loving, and beautiful place or magnify life’s difficulties manyfold. While producing a significant measure of material comfort for the wealthy, plutocracy also creates abject poverty and magnifies many of life’s inherent difficulties creating an unmanageable avalanche of problems.
America has a host of social ills: poverty; crime and violence; overcrowded prisons; millions lacking healthcare; unemployment and homelessness; a stressed-out, overworked populace; fragmented, dysfunctional families with a high rate of failure and divorce; a host of addictions; alienation and loneliness; corruption in government and business; and the loss of its moral compass.
As profound as some of our many ills may seem, almost all of them are merely symptoms of our deepest ill. These symptoms cannot be cured until this deepest ill is cured. To continue the medical analogy, our nation suffers from a life-threatening congenital birth defect. Treating superficial cuts and bruises is merely a waste of time, effort, and resources. Such actions distract from and delay the only treatment that can save the patient’s life and make that life worth living.
Our deepest ill is, of course, that America is not a democracy but a plutocracy owned and governed by the wealthy. The cure, the only possible cure, is to reorganize the powers of our government by sufficiently and correctly altering the constitution that the aristocratic founders created.
The status quo is the existing state or conditions of a society, that is, the current political-economic relationship among the members of the society, the current distributions of power and wealth, the current way of conducting government and business, and the current laws, rules, and actions that produce the current state. Any attempt to critically examine the status quo or to alter it in a way perceived to be not in the interests of those who most benefit from it is crushed by any means, however ruthless, illegal, or immoral.
The principal political strategy of America’s dominant class is to perpetually maintain the status quo by avoiding any fundamental alteration of the system which so abundantly benefits it. The principal political failure of everyone else is their not organizing themselves into a focused power sufficient to the task of fundamentally altering the system.
Is there anyone among us who has not thought of a solution to this or that problem? Campaign finance reform, term limits, more oversight, more prisons, alms for the poor…? Such measures are only band aids for scratches.
In this work, we do not apply band aids to scratches. We go right to the heart of the matter, and we repair the heart.
We pay no attention whatever to the “horse races,” which political party is winning or won this or that race over the last few years or decades and why. Political parties are scarcely mentioned because they scarcely matter. Given the true nature of our most fundamental problem, election politics is totally irrelevant, a circus for the masses. What is wrong is not merely which people currently happen to populate our government but the structure of the government, the distribution of its powers.
In a Las Vegas gambling house, the house prospers simply by setting the gambling odds slightly in its own favor, just slightly over fifty percent. Given these slight odds in its favor, in the long run the house wins more than half of the time and prospers.
Using the mechanisms of business and government, America’s wealthy elites set odds in their own favor much higher than just slightly over fifty percent. They do not win all of the time. They are not and need not be an absolute power. (In fact, it is best for them not to have absolute power, which would dissolve the illusion of freedom and democracy behind which they now hide.) The wealthy need only hold a hegemony of power to win enough of the time generation after generation to amass in their hands a fabulous mountain of our nation’s wealth, the fruit of everyone else’s labor.
The American constitution and the resulting political-economic system are in intent and result one giant scam perpetrated and perpetuated against the many by the few.
The Constitution, the supporting body of law, the resulting public and private social, political, and economic institutions, and the current elite class (the American aristocracy) all work together to keep the current system in place. Rather than correcting the real cause of America’s many social ills by moving America away from plutocracy, the elite class and our elected ‘representatives’ actively sustain the status quo while appearing to attempt repair by eternally applying deliberately insufficient and ineffective patches to our unjust social system.
They then cynically point accusing fingers at those who seriously attempt reform calling them liberals, leftists, socialists, communists, radicals, and activists (as if the many actions taken by the elite and those that serve them to maintain the status quo and their positions of privilege were not an activist position). Any loaded, inflammatory, or discrediting terms will do. The goal is not truth or real change but only and always to win.
We tend to associate tyranny with a government ruled by one person as in a dictatorship. And we associate freedom with a government ruled by many people as in a republic or, even better, as in a democracy. While something can be said for this line of argument, the principal sources of tyranny are the intent of those who rule and the systems and methods they use to achieve their ends. With wrong intent, systems, and methods even the most high-sounding and well-argued system of governance may be used by the few to physically and economically imprison and exploit the rest of the populace.
We have had no shortage of technological change. America is a technological marvel. But one should not allow technological change to mask the fact that we have the same unjust political structure and relationship with each other that existed at the time of the founders.
Whatever we may think about the founders as a group or as individuals or think about their methods of achieving their goals, the founders got a good deal right. America has a long list of blessings resulting from their effort. But what the founders got wrong they got profoundly wrong. What they got wrong holds us firmly in the choke hold of our biological past and bars the way to our transcendence into a more functional and beautiful society and a more perfect union.
Our political system and the economic system that it manages are a set of loaded dice that permanently concentrate the lion’s share of our nation’s power and wealth in the hands of an elite minority creating in effect an enduring untitled, heritable aristocracy, just as the founders intended. Informed and motivated by new, honest, democratic intentions we must change the system by correctly and sufficiently altering the founders’ constitution.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The author is not a scholar, nor a writer, but simply a concerned citizen who has pondered issues of governance for a lifetime and come to some conclusions.
© Copyright 2001-2009 Roger D Rothenberger All rights reserved.
1 Single quotation marks are used to enclose terms which are thrown into question. The single quotation marks indicate that the enclosed term is considered to be not really true. Depending on context, the term may be used sarcastically or even with scorn. For example, in the sentence The result of our ‘representative’ form of government, our ‘republic’, is a perpetual plutocracy. the single quotation marks indicate that our so-called representatives do not really represent and our so-called republic is not truly a republic. 1