On 'Private Tyrannies'

If you have ever read much of the political philosophy and commentary of renowned anarchosyndicalist intellectual Noam Chomsky, then you are probably familiar with his view that large private business organizations are "private tyrannies" – oversized and antidemocratic institutions that function according to that most hated of organizational principles, the hierarchy! According to Chomsky,

As state capitalism developed into the modern era, economic, political and ideological systems have increasingly been taken over by vast institutions of private tyranny that are about as close to the totalitarian ideal as any that humans have so far constructed.

Chomsky goes on to cite with approval the work of political economist Robert Brady who states,

Within the corporation all policies emanate from the control above. In the union of this power to determine policy with the execution thereof, all authority necessarily proceeds from the top to the bottom and all responsibility from the bottom to the top. This is, of course, the inverse of "democratic" control; it follows the structural conditions of dictatorial power.

But what are the "structural conditions" for dictatorial power? And are corporations really "about as close to the totalitarian ideal as any [institution] that humans have so far constructed," as Chomsky contends? Is Starbucks as close to the totalitarian ideal as, say, the National Socialist regime of Adolf Hitler? Is Wal-Mart as totalitarian an institution as the Bolshevik state of Vladimir Lenin? Even to ask these questions is to see their patent absurdity. For, while a dictatorship is certainly structured as a hierarchy, this is most clearly not a sufficient condition. Rather, the most basic and essential condition for dictatorial power, which stands out unmistakably in truly totalitarian regimes, is the ability of the dictator to initiate physical force to compel others to do as they are told.

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January 26, 2009