NC: "There’s also a problem about the word “crisis.” Which one do we have in mind? There are numerous very severe crises. Many of them will be under discussion here in a couple of weeks at the United Nations in their conference on the world financial and economic crisis. And these crises are interwoven in very complex ways which make it—which preclude any sharp separation. But again, I’ll pretend otherwise for simplicity.
Well, one way to enter this morass was helpfully provided by a current issue of the New York Review, dated yesterday. The front cover headline reads, “How to Deal with the Crisis.” It features a symposium of specialists. And it’s worth reading, but with attention to the definite article: “the” crisis. For the West, the phrase “the crisis” has a clear enough meaning. It’s the financial crisis that hit the rich countries and therefore is of supreme importance.
But, in fact, even for the rich and privileged, that’s by no means the only crisis or even the most severe of those they face. And others see the world quite differently. For example, the newspaper New Nation in Bangladesh. There, we read, “It’s very telling that trillions have already been spent to patch up leading world financial institutions, while out of the comparatively small sum of $12 billion pledged in Rome earlier this year, to offset the food crisis, only $1 billion has been delivered. The hope that at least extreme poverty can be eradicated by the end of 2015, as stipulated in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, seems as unrealistic as ever, not due to lack of resources but to a lack of true concern for the world’s poor.” That’s—they’re talking about approximately a billion people facing starvation, severe malnutrition, even 30 or 40 million of them in the richest country in the world. That’s a real crisis, and it’s getting much worse".
"There’s a striking gap between public opinion and public policy on a host of major issues, domestic and foreign. And, at least in my judgment, public opinion is often a lot more sane. It also tends to be fairly consistent over time, which is pretty astonishing, because public concerns and aspirations, if they’re even mentioned, are marginalized and ridiculed. It’s one very significant feature of the yawning democratic deficit, as we call it in other countries. That’s the failure of formal democratic institutions to function properly. And that’s no trivial matter. Arundhati Roy has a book, soon to come out, in which she asks whether the evolution of formal democracy in India and the United States, in fact, not only there—her words—might turn out to be the “endgame of the human race.”
And that’s not an idle question. It should be recalled that the American Republic was founded on the principle that there should be a democratic deficit. James Madison, the main framer of the constitutional order, his view was that power should be in the hands of the wealth of the nation, the more responsible set of men who have sympathy for property owners and their rights. And Madison sought to construct a system of government that would, in his words, “protect the minority of the opulent from the majority.” That’s why the constitutional system that he framed did not have co-equal branches. The executive was supposed to be an administrator, and the legislature was supposed to be dominant, but not the House of Representatives, rather the Senate, where power was vested and protected from the public in many ways. That’s where the wealth of the nation would be concentrated.
This is not overlooked by historians. Gordon Wood, for example, summarizes the thoughts of the founders, saying that “The Constitution was intrinsically an aristocratic document designed to check the democratic tendencies of the period,” delivering power to a “better sort” of people and excluding “those who were not rich, well born, or prominent from exercising political power.” Well, all through American history, there’s been a constant struggle over this constrained version of democracy. And popular struggles have won a great many rights. Nevertheless, concentrated power and privilege clings to the Madisonian conception, changes form as circumstances change. By World War II, there was a significant change. Business leaders and elite intellectuals recognized that the public had won enough rights so that they can’t be controlled by force, so it would be necessary to do something else, namely to turn to control of attitudes and opinions. These were the days when the huge public relations industry emerged in the freest countries in the world, Britain and the United States, where the problem was most severe. The public relations industry was devoted to what Walter Lippmann approvingly called a “new art” in the practice of democracy, the “manufacture of consent.” It’s called the “engineering of consent” in the phrase of his contemporary Edward Bernays, one of the founders of the PR industry. Both Lippmann and Bernays had taken part in Woodrow Wilson’s state propaganda agency, which Committee on Public Information was its Orwellian term. It was created to kind of—to try to drive a pacifist population to jingoist fanaticism and hatred of all things German. And it succeeded—brilliantly, in fact. And it was hoped that the same techniques could ensure that what are called the “intelligent minorities” would rule, and that the general public, who Lippmann called “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders,” would serve their function as spectators, not participants.
These are all very highly respected progressive essays on democracy by people who—by a man who was the leading public intellectual of the twentieth century and was a Wilson-Roosevelt-Kennedy progressive, as Bernays was. And they capture the thinking of progressive opinion. So, President Wilson, he held that an elite of gentlemen with “elevated ideals” must be empowered to preserve “stability and righteousness,” essentially the perspective of the founding fathers. In more recent years, the gentlemen are transmuted into the “technocratic elite” and the “action intellectuals” of Camelot, “Straussian” neocons and other configurations, but throughout one or another variant of the doctrine prevails".
Gracias a Myrta por el enlace!