Recently by Butler Shaffer: The Remnant Meets the White Rose
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
~ H.L. Mencken
A staunchly-defended article of faith in Western political rhetoric is the belief that democratic governments do not engage in wars with one another. This belief has been promoted for the purpose of generating trust in the state. If political systems are democratically constituted, it is contended, the public need not fear government officials whose powers could be taken away by the same electoral process that put them in office. The American Civil War, wherein the democratically-established federal and confederate states warred with one another would seem to put this doctrine in doubt. As would a couple of 20th century skirmishes that pitted democratic states such as Great Britain and the United States and others against a democratic Germany.
Beyond this simplistic faith in a "social contract" theory of the state lies the reality that such systems have always been under the control of small groups of persons who are answerable to no one, particularly those they presume the authority to rule. "Democracy" is just one abstraction that the state owners have employed to distract the attention of their victims; to create in the minds of their subjects the illusion that they, not the owners, are running the system.
Believing that the state represents their interests, and that — through "democratic" processes – they control its direction and energies, most men and women identify themselves with that state. In this way, people and the state share the same "ego boundaries." When millions of people come together in this manner, it becomes easy for each to lose his or her individuality — and, hence, responsibility – in a collective identity. By engendering fear of others who share different ego-boundary identities, the state is able to mobilize "dark side" forces of the collective unconscious into a critical mass that allows the state to aggrandize its powers through violent, destructive means. Adolf Hitler used such methods to organize Germans against those he called non-Aryans. In the same way has the United States employed the specters of "communism," "drug-dealers," and "terrorism" to bamboozle its ego-boundary adherents into participating in its continuing war against life itself.
To anyone who makes a sincere effort to understand the nature of a supposedly democratic state, it is apparent that such a system rests on the flimsiest of foundations. People must be given the impression that, by voting, they are the show; they are steering the ship-of-state. But the corporate-state interests — the political establishment — that actually own the system, are not burdened by such delusions. The entire institutional order — including the state, major corporations, schools and universities, organized religions, and the mainstream media — share a common interest in keeping people subservient to their authority and control. At its most basic level — and as more of us have been learning of late — there are too many trillions of dollars of despoiled wealth, and too much power over the direction of human energy, to permit the establishment to allow preferences or even whims of ordinary people to upset institutional interests. In the words of Emma Goldman, "if voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal."
There is a growing awareness that the so-called "two-party" system in America is nothing more than a one-party system (the "establishment party") with two subsidiaries pursuing the same policies and purposes. This singularity is so widely accepted that the notion of "bipartisanship" is trumpeted as a civic virtue! Politicians are praised when they "come together," from "both sides of the aisle," to support the same governmental programs. For such reasons is Ron Paul labeled a "kook" for being the sole dissenter in a 434-1 congressional vote on some measure. How dare he reveal to the public that the political establishment depends upon the maintenance of a group-think mindset; that Republicans and Democrats — and even liberals and conservatives — are simply two wings of the same bird of prey. Far better that men and women not trouble their minds with the kinds of questions best left to the philosopher-kings whose judgments are to be trusted.
Our world is becoming increasingly decentralized, meaning that top-down social systems are becoming less and less relevant to how people live. Unrestrained violence, and the capacity and willingness to exercise it against any who inconvenience their interests, has become the hallmark of modern political systems. The perverted notion that bombing cities in foreign countries; destroying their cultures; and slaughtering hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in the process, is done in the name of advancing "democracy," is a further illustration of the symbiotic relationship between democracy and violence. The Iraqi mother who was quoted as warning her children against "the democracy men" tells us so much more than did our high school civics class teacher.
Nowhere is the imaginary nature of "democracy" made more evident than in the effort of people who, seeking alternative avenues of political expression, try to organize a third-party as a means of electing candidates to office who are not part of the plutocratic establishment. Republicans and Democrats — who want to monopolize how the political game is to be played — have legislated all sorts of hurdles and barricades to make it extremely difficult for third-party advocates to get on the ballot. When third parties do manage to get ballot access, those who run the presidential debate circus make certain these alternative candidates are not allowed to participate. The establishment media cooperates by consigning third-party candidates to debates with one another, to be shown at 3 a.m. on Sunday, or at equally dead times.
As a Republican running in the presidential primaries, Ron Paul created a dilemma for the establishment. How could he be left out of the debates when candidates with less popular support — but whose umbilical cords were firmly connected to the establishment — were allowed to participate? The solution was threefold: (1) keep Ron at the far end of the stage, (2) don't let him speak very much or at the same length of time as the others, and (3) have the media questioners ask Ron to respond to various non sequiturs and moronic inquiries. Each approach was designed for one purpose: to marginalize both his physical presence and his thinking.
An unintended consequence of such tactics is this: in insisting upon marginalizing Ron Paul, the Republican Party has ended up marginalizing itself. The Democrats can — at least when the Republicans are in power — make a pretense of being opposed to wars, spying upon Americans, regulating private behavior, and police state practices. But the Republicans — whether in or out of power — have shown a commitment to no principles or values that transcend politics. Their sole purpose is to capture and retain power as an end in itself. The GOP can now be characterized in the words that Gertrude Stein used to describe Oakland, California: "there's no there there."
A belief in the alleged "virtues" of democracy disguises another hidden contribution to violence in our world. "Majority rule" is not only a mindset that helps to define "democracy," but necessarily promotes social conflict because of its inherent tendency to set groups against one another (e.g., 51% overwhelming the 49%). The idea that group action could take place based upon a consensus [i.e.,100% agreement] of its members is so foreign to our institutionalized conditioning that we dismiss it as utopian. But there are societies (see, e.g., the Somalis) and communities in which groups will act only if all who are affected by the action agree. Political systems cannot act consensually, as their modus operandi depends upon creating — and then managing — conflicts among people.
The principle of "majority rule" tends to immobilize individual action. Once we get into the pattern of thinking that change cannot occur until at least 51% can be persuaded to accept it, our behavior becomes neutralized. We become discouraged by the thought of having to convince tens of millions of persons with whom we have no contact. Perhaps the most common response I get to my articles or talks takes the form of "I completely agree with you, but what can I do to change things?"
At this point, I often ask such persons if they have ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, Dante, Newton, Darwin, et al. Did these men have to rely on convincing 51% of their neighbors before their contributions were recognized? And what about a man named Albert Einstein who, in his youth, rode fast moving trains that seemed to compress the images of buildings, and which later led him to develop relativity theory? What public opinion poll had to certify the worthiness of his ideas? More recently, individuals such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ayn Rand, Mark Zuckerberg, Julian Assange, and many others have used their individual, creative talents to influence and benefit hundreds of millions in ways that did not depend upon mass persuasion.
The frustrations that accompany the democratic mindset that change cannot occur until 51% are ready for it lead many to want to resort to violence as a shortcut to such change. The democratic process has proven itself to be a force for maintaining a status quo that serves the interests of established power, and if "working within the system" cannot effectively challenge such entrenched authority, many have taken to the streets in angry — but largely unfocused — reactions. But if the state is defined as an institution that enjoys a monopoly on the use of violence; and if the state can act only through violent means and, thus, becomes the principal vehicle for social conflict; how can moving away from organized violence be brought about by violent methods? The state wars against peace and liberty: how can these values be fostered by emulating the violent practices upon which all political systems rest?
As all political systems are grounded in the violent disrespect for individuals and their property interests, each of us is well-advised to keep peering behind the curtains with which the state hides its machinations. This is as true for democratic systems as for all other forms of forceful exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few. Perhaps the kindest assessment of democracy offered for thoughtful minds comes from H.L. Mencken, who observed that "Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance."
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918–1938 and of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival. His latest book is Boundaries of Order.