Is Democracy An Illusion?

Karl MarxJohn Stoehr writes on Al Jazeera:

In the US, the dominant political discourse consists of ideas put forth by the ruling class.

Karl Marx never visited the United States, but he nevertheless understood the country, because he understood capitalism. As you know, there’s no American ideology that’s mightier than capitalism. Equality, justice and the rule of law are nice and all, but money talks.

In their 1846 book The German Ideology, Marx and co-author Frederick Engels took a look at human history and made a plain but controversial observation. In any given historical period, the ideas that people generally think are the best and most important ideas are usually the ideas of the people in charge. If you have a lot of money and own a lot of property, then you have the power to propagandise your worldview and you have incentive to avoid appearing as if you’re propagandising your worldview. Or, as Marx and Engels would put it: The ruling ideas of every epoch are the ideas of the ruling class …

Continued here

26 Comments on "Is Democracy An Illusion?"

  1. Intergarlictic | Mar 18, 2012 at 5:30 pm |

    Oh Fie, Mr. Marx. What you say is logical, but it does not take into account the unseen powers of the very small and seemingly insignificant. The modest thought and feeling held in forest glen, under rock and behind dumpster. Collective consciousness, if allowed to cohoot with one another, grows in strength from within. May it even invade the unconscious dreams of the illuminatti and release them from illusion of compassion to the realm of it. (ashay ashay ashay)

    • Touche.  Stockholm syndrome?  Nah.  I feel totally left alone in the United States.  I can be a hermit if I want to and nobody will give a shit.  Capitalism is an elaborate way to trade.  Unfair trade has always existed and always will.  You give me this and I’ll give you that. I’ll cheat…snicker snicker.   The cheating will reap and harvest karma as the cosmos dictates.  Socialism is naive and does not give anarchy its earned respect.  This doesn’t change the fact that I want the government to take care of, educate, and nurture the poor.  But, if they don’t, I won’t be surprised, will do my best to contribute, and carry on with my seemingly insignificant life.  

  2. Hadrian999 | Mar 18, 2012 at 5:45 pm |

    I would say it is basically an illusion. access to democracy is controlled by money. running for office is very expensive which requires support of political parties, media outlets, and financiers . this ensures that only people with acceptable ideas are allowed to enter the upper tier. this arrangement is basically a less obvious version the the guardian council in Iran. the common citizen has really no say in anything, they have the option to ratify choices made by people in a sphere far above their own, since everyone in that sphere has to be allowed in by the capitalist upper tier ratifying one or the other is a false choice because all options are fundamentally the same but disguised in different wrappers.

    • Monkey See Monkey Do | Mar 19, 2012 at 10:27 am |

      Alot of truth wrapped up in that little paragraph, you have a very good grasp on why everything in society is up shit creek. It always brings me back to something though, what should we do about it? or what can we do about it?

    • Liam_McGonagle | Mar 19, 2012 at 12:10 pm |

      All very good points.

      But maybe, if we wanted to get down deep, and figure out why this strange and perverted model of public institutions is so popular and persistent, we should consider whether it has any positively functional aspects?  Not that we have to ultimately buy into or accept them as a “less of two evils” or whatever, but to get a feel for what more viable, socially responsive models might look like?

      The patronage theory definitely seems to be a part of it, but certainly not the whole story.  Yes, it neatly explains why unimaginitive people with low horizons might find accepting patronage in exchange for their votes a satisfying bargain.  What about the committed partisan activist, though?  We all know at least 1 highly intelligent person who’s worked tirelessly for a candidate or party with no realistic hope for material compensation.  Something else has to be afoot, and it’s probably a biggy.  Maybe even a game changer.

      Tribal identification?  Maybe, but that’s a model with a definite shelf life.  A fellow just can’t have an IQ above his shoe size without eventually realizing that not a one of these ersatz messiah’s don’t regularly commit greivous strategic gaffes that permanently forfeit their claim to divinity.

      Personally, I’m kind of at a loss here.  Got no single convincing theories.  The only image this situation conjures for me is that of a dog frantically chasing its own tale, not in hope of actually catching it, but for fear of what might happen if it stopped.

      • Mr Willow | Mar 19, 2012 at 1:08 pm |

        I’ve always attributed it to a misplaced sense of altruism. 

        The partisan activist, by giving their time and energy, not to mention money in the form of contributions, freely, without thought to themselves, considers their sacrifice meaningful, because they see whomever they grovel before to be ‘The one and only hope to change things’. 

        They sincerely believe that they are powerless, however, and that is where the otherwise intelligent person becomes a slobbering imbecile, content to have their lives directed. 

        It’s not only a ‘I can’t do anything about it, but if this guy gets to be a leader, then everything will be alright, because they’ll fix everything’ mentality, though. They have fallen for the whole ‘Those guys at the top are corrupt, crony, shills for special interests. . . but this guy will be different’ dupe that one can regularly see watching any of our newsmen, politicians, or corporation owners. 

        ‘This candidate/reporter/company is a “real American enterprise” that cares about you. Yes, I know you’ve been systematically disappointed by just about everything in the vein from which this one is ushering, but look at their face/logo. Doesn’t it make you feel all warm and fuzzy? Vote for/buy our product.’

        They also consider themselves to be part of something larger ‘those people running things got their because of support from people like me’, they simply don’t realise that that means they are enabling the continued enrichment of the same interests—usually pertaining to the preservation of their power (or exercise of it, simply for its own sake), rather than turning around and helping the people who helped them attain them the power in the first place. 

        The whole thing is compounded by the fact people have been trained to look at potential leaders’ artificial character, or feigned values—family, freedom, ’Merica—instead of the subtext of what they’re actually saying, or the actions they take. 

        ‘What [insert name] has done—or is going to do—about the environment/your rights/education/etc. might be unfortunate. . . but they smile(d) nice when they’re doing it. They exude pleasantness. Don’t you just want to have a beer with them?’ 

        • Liam_McGonagle | Mar 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm |

          I guess there are several different strands, like the ones you discuss, that contribute to the whole thing.

          But it is kind of hard to be paying actual attention to the show without losing your lunch from time to time.  Yes, selective focus is useful in suppressing the gag reflex, but how many times can a guy lean on that reed before it breaks?

          I have a very good friend who plans on campaigning for Obama although he knows better.  In fact, he’s the one who clued me in to the fact that he’s not the messiah, long before I was ready to accept it.

          But he’s getting on in years and just wants to make it to retirement before Santorum or Romney set up gulags for union reps or siphon money from SS to pay for Lloyd Blankfein’s place on the Riviera.  So he just bites down hard and follows the script in public, even though he clearly knows better.

          I don’t have it in me to pursue that line of discussion with him.  It feels like asking too much of an old friend.

          I guess I myself just stopped caring.

      • emperorreagan | Mar 19, 2012 at 1:55 pm |

        One of the arguments that Martin Berman makes in the book that was reviewed here last week is that Americans are generally unable to accept criticism.  It’s something he makes a point of highlighting that Alexis de Tocqueville noted back in his major work.  

        Any suggestion to change the model is inherently a criticism of the current model.  Take healthcare, for instance.  It doesn’t even qualify as a criticism of the current model – it’s more a plan to keep the current model afloat, in spite of its excesses.  People are up in arms over it anyway.

        Anyone putting forward a more viable model is immediately marginalized.  Only models that are in-tune with the dominant neo-liberal ideology are considered.  Jimmy Carter is a laughingstock and Reagan is a national hero is the example Berman uses. 

        The dominant ideology creates the illusion of endless possibility for material gain.  Even in the face of its clear failures, people are unable and unwilling to let go of that ideology.    Unless you can convince people to examine their personal philosophical positions, how our society and communities are structured, and the dominant ideological positions, there’s no way to compete with that model.  And with a faltering education system combined with a consolidated media, the sources challenging people to consider such issues are fewer and more difficult to find.

        I’ve never met anyone who worked for a campaign with one of the two big parties that didn’t have an agenda.  I suspect that a person who works for a campaign for completely altruistic and progressive reasons does so by applying their own ideological framework over the vague positions a politician espouses…then finds themselves horribly disappointed with they realize their mistake.  

        • Liam_McGonagle | Mar 19, 2012 at 2:48 pm |

          I’ve worked a couple of campaigns.  Though I’d never work for a national politician again, I still think there’s a little too much accessibility at the local and state level to prevent the erection of a completely impermiable media bubble.  I’d work for any of the Wisconsin 14 again. 

          These fellows are mostly for-real downhome types.  In the back of my mind I worry that they may be among the last of a dying breed, though.  Not that they aren’t presentable, but none of them have the type of plastecine Reaganesque bryll-creme ‘dos that make media consultants swoon.  More liver spots than active follicles, if you catch my drift.

          That said, I REALLY know what you mean about the self-serving agendas of the pros.  During a local recall election I met a couple of operatives the national Dem party sent over to help on an intern program.  Local labor unions provided most of the infrastructure and ground troops, but these college kids had received all this training on working the media and conducting opposition research.

          They didn’t come on with an overt display of phoniness, but it was clear they didn’t have the deep local knowledge or relationships that even the most peripherally involved union drone did.  That was made really clear to me when our candidate (to NOBODY’s surpise) handily beat the carpet-bagging Koch minion.

          I had a hand in a series of semi-satirical letters-to-the editor highlighting the competitor’s gross unsuitability.  Judging from the overwhelmingly positive response it received from locals, it seems to have had some impact.

          But did I get invited to the victory party?  Nope.  My main contact, one of these interns appeared to enjoy himself quite a bit according to all reports, though, if you know what I mean.  It was one of the great successes that point to a shiny future in the party hierarchy for an ambitious young man, after all.

          I’m not sure I really give a sh*t about that incident, in and of itself.  I hate public gatherings and the phoniness that goes along with charting a course of “relationship development” anyways.  The particular candidate in question always was and remains a thoroughly approachable stand-up guy.  I’ve run into him and his wife on several subsequent occassions and am still deeply impressed with his approachability and devotion to public service, so that’s not an issue either.

          But I sometimes wonder if I’d been complicit, even just a little bit, in feeding the voracious ego of a monsterous national machine.

          • emperorreagan | Mar 19, 2012 at 4:11 pm |

            I guess one only needs to watch the Wire to get a glimpse of the ugliness and corruption of politics in the Baltimore area.  Local politics in Maryland in general seem to be extremely corrupt.  

            Everyone I’ve known who was active in politics here was angling to get a position, get on to the state central committee, or otherwise build support and relationships for their own political aspirations.  And the people I knew who went to campaign nationally…well.  It wasn’t building relationships, unless hooking up with other 20-somethings in a strange place counts as building relationships.

          • Liam_McGonagle | Mar 19, 2012 at 6:51 pm |

            I still think elections are won or lost by the unpaid volunteers.  There’s no substitute for ground-level enthusiasm.

            But I’m slowly coming around to your point about the role of ambition in politics at the professional level.  In one sense, it does seem a little naive to expect The Charge of the Boddhisattva Brigade here–everybody’s got to eat.  Yet there’s no denying that a transactional approach to politics turns everybody into a whore or a john.

            A little hypocrisy on the part of outsiders, don’t you think?  Even I wouldn’t have bothered to spend any time on politics until I’d achieved my personal career goals, as idiocyncratic as they were.

            Maybe what we need is a total realignment of social incentives that recognizes a much more vast array of alternate ambitions as legitimate and worthy of respect as the attainment of any fortune or title.  I personally am disturbed by our society’s growing wealth inequalities, but maybe its even more damaging to view our participation in its various institutions as a gladatorial competition fought to the bitters.

          • emperorreagan | Mar 20, 2012 at 10:49 am |

            Well, the shift will inevitably come one way or another.  No one who follows world affairs (or even just the open publications of the CIA), can ignore that the US is in an across-the-board decline.  Which way it ultimately tips is up in the air, but I’m not very hopeful.

            My biggest problem of the day with politicians is this:
            They’re predominantly drawn from three fields – career politicians, lawyers, and “business.”  This of course becomes more extreme as you ascend from the local to the state to the national level.

            You basically have all politicians drawn from a few fields  which are extremely capable of maintaining the status quo, but are incapable of doing the systems level problem solving to address the issues facing the country.  Perhaps that’s an inevitable outcome of increasing specialization. So beyond that, you have to trust these guys to pick capable advisers rather than a bunch of incompetent sycophants…and that hasn’t worked out at all.

            I go through cycles where I’ll listen to 2 or 3 hours of debate or hearings on cspan…until my fury makes me turn it off for a few months.  The failure of American politicians to grasp even simple concepts drives me nuts.  Listening to the Prime Minister’s questions on the BBC and comparing that to cspan makes me suspect that we have some of the least capable and competent politicians on the face of the planet.

          • Liam_McGonagle | Mar 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm |

            I get your point. 

            But have you really been following British politics lately?  In the face of a 3% GDP contraction, they’ve decided to double down on austerity, cut the top marginal tax bracket AND throw in a new regressive tax to sock the middling sort.

            Yes, there have been some encouraging signs, like major labor unions withdrawing support from Labour, and rumours of coups within the Lib Dems for their capitulation to the Conservatives.  But in some very big, obvious ways, they’re worse off than we are.

            I’d be very interested in hearing the competing theories about why Britain is so F*’d Up.  I’m sure some of it has to do with Blair/Brown’s suicidal clearance of Lefties from the party while charting their “Third Way” course, but I really need to know why no new parties or coups have emerged.

          • emperorreagan | Mar 20, 2012 at 1:30 pm |

            I wasn’t really referring to the content of their policy – more that their politicians seem capable of asking relevant questions or making on-topic statements. I think some American politicians are only in office to get hand jobs from their interns while lounging in their private tanning bed, before moving on to some sleazy lobbying gig.

  3. The American idea of Democracy is a quasi-religious ideology.
    In Amerikan Democracy,
    democracy is an all-knowing but loving  God.
    Like most religions, there is a lot of hypocrisy.
    The ministers tend to be corrupt, greedy and sexual predators.
    The true believers tend to be dull witted and gullible.
    The heretics are persecuted and imprisoned.
    All of this is labeled salvation and freedom.

    It’s not an illusion; it’s a Psyop.
    God Bless Amerika.!

    • There is so much anti Christianity in the mainstream media right now it’s ridiculous to refer to some as a heretic.  The ones being driven down are the ones who are publically religous ala Tim Tebow.    You my friend are living in the past.

  4. Liam_McGonagle | Mar 19, 2012 at 11:23 am |

    Look out, America!  He’s reaching for a gun!  Marx’s packin’ heat!!!

    Ha ha ha.  Just kidding, America.  But I had you going for a bit, didn’t I?  Admit it, you wet yourself there, didn’t you?  Just a little bit?

    • Disinfo_censors_dissent | Mar 19, 2012 at 8:40 pm |

       >Marx’s packin’ heat!!!

      Oh, the irony…

      >We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror. ~~ Karl Marx, 1849

  5. Disinfo_censors_dissent | Mar 19, 2012 at 8:38 pm |

    >but [Marx] nevertheless understood the country, because he understood capitalism.

    How colossally incorrect. Marx was wrong on almost everything. All of his major ideas were repeatedly falsified. To quote the economist Thomas Sowell from page 186 of his 2006 book On Classical Economics (Yale University Press)

    >…what did Marx contribute to economics? Contributions depend not only on what was offered but also on what was accepted, and there is no major premise, doctrine, or tool of analysis in economics today that derived from the writings of Karl Marx. There is no need to deny that Marx was in many ways a major historic figure of the nineteenth century, whose long shadow still falls across the world of the twenty-first century. Yet, jarring as the phrase may be, from the standpoint of the economics profession Marx was, as Professor Paul Samuelson called him, “a minor post-Ricardian.”

    Sowell is a libertarian/free market proponent. Samuelson was a neo-Keynsian. Both these men, from very different schools of thought, agree that Marx’s ideas have had no real influence on modern economics, and that Marx was a blip after David Ricardo.

    Given that Mr. Stoeher makes such a dreadfully false statement in his second paragraph, why should I read the remainder of the article and give his ideas any credence whatsoever?

    • Jin The Ninja | Mar 19, 2012 at 8:59 pm |

      don’t. so you can remain as dumb as ever.

    • Thomas Sowell is colossally incorrect, and most of his theories have been falsified.

    • Mr Willow | Mar 20, 2012 at 3:23 am |

      Sowell is a libertarian/free market proponent. Samuelson was a neo-Keynsian. Both these men, from very different schools of thought, agree that Marx’s ideas have had no real influence on modern economics 

      Right, and so. . . you can’t possibly blame the current dismal state of the world’s economy on Marxism. If you’re trying to dissuade people from liking Marx and his ideas, it is in poor form to assert they played no role in creating contemporary economic woes.

  6. I can not believe there are people out there who think democracy is real. Pull your head out of your ass. Take back your power. Give it away and you end up with “democracy”. There is no authority and never was.

  7. Kafkablitz69 | May 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm |

    We’re living in a pseudo-democracy. It’s a facade.  Tyrannical, corrupt system that makes the rich richer and enslaves the poor.

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