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June 2, 2011

American Revolutionary Principles (3 of 3): Sovereignty

Filed under: American Revolution, Corporatism, Freedom, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 2:50 am

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American principles of representation and constitution were revolutionized over the fifteen years leading up to the War Of Independence. In both cases, the underlying principle was the vector toward democracy, while the practical manifestation was a more practical, empirical view of the institution; its validity was contingent upon its service to the democratic imperative. This principle of democratic practicality, in other words the fact that democracy is our only principle, while all else is to be judged only according to this measure, is the primal American mindset we must recover today if we’re to redeem our citizenship.
 
(The same democratic movement is playing out over the rest of the world, although the historical details will of course differ. As I said earlier, I think the ideals discussed in these posts about the American Revolution can be taken up and adapted to other places as well. Indeed, there was a time when liberation movements wanted to look to the ultimate revolutionary exemplar for guidance. Alas, the criminal leadership of the US chose to betray those hopes as it chose a counter-revolutionary mission. It was this abdication, betrayal, and void, more than communism’s inherent appeal, which left the path open for communism to become the most vigorous revolutionary force. Imagine if America had instead lived up to its original history and original principles?)
 
The same principle was developed in the case of sovereignty.
 
1. Sovereignty is mutable through history. Concrete institutions don’t embody it, but are only representative of it.
 
2. The American Revolution accelerated an ideological evolution of the concept, and the view of where sovereignty reposes, going back to the 16th century in Europe. The final recognition was that sovereignty reposes neither in King or Parliament, or necessarily in any governmental institution, but only in the people.
 
3. So today’s governments are to be tolerated or rejected at the people’s will, as they are nothing but servants of the people’s sovereignty. (Meanwhile, corporations and globalization cadres are non-sovereign in principle, and must be eradicated as they are invariably anti-sovereign in practice.)
 
The basic idea of sovereignty is that there’s an essential authority in the polity which is above and beyond temporal authority and law and is the source of these, the yardstick by which they are measured. Otherwise these would be purely arbitrary and autocratic. In Britain, a century of thought from the 1500s through the upheavals of the English Revolution and restoration culminated in the “final” concept as enshrined in the Glorious Revolution: Sovereignty was absolute and reposed in Parliament. Since it was universally agreed that there had to be an original arbitrary power somewhere, elites decided the safest place was in the large body of Parliament. (Being elites, they of course didn’t want to find this power in the people themselves.)
 
So this was the framework for the British view of the colonies: They were implicitly under Parliament’s absolute sovereignty. The crisis would come when the British tried to assert this absolutism in practice. The great question for America would be how to respond to this.
 
In historical practice most authority in America was localized. Except where it came to the affairs and maintenance of the empire itself, the Americans were self-sufficient in government. The implication was that their sovereignty was with them. Overseas “sovereignty” in Britain was an obsolete technicality. (So it is with us today. By definition kleptocracy can never partake of sovereignty, just as corporations, sociopaths in principle, are by definition anti-sovereign. Meanwhile we the people already work for ourselves and govern ourselves in all necessary ways. Just as the original Revolution came to reject as illegitimate any British prerogative which served no purpose but the existence of the empire, so we must keep in mind that any prerogative, job, etc. which has no necessary purpose but exists only to maintain capitalism, corporatism, the system in general, has no inherent legitimacy or right to exist. Any defense of these is necessarily circular and question-begging. Just as much as the original colonists, we who are colonized today are actually self-sufficient and can assert our own legitimate sovereignty any time we choose.)
 
So America’s position within the empire was anomalous. The British Parliament claimed absolute sovereignty in principle but hadn’t exercised it in practice. In the 1760s, Parliament now tried to assert itself in practice. The Americans knew immediately and intuitively that this was illegitimate and must be resisted, but it took time for them to come up with the ideas adequate to the struggle. James Otis again formulated the basic idea for future development, that in principle sovereignty can repose “in the whole body of the people”. But he ended up claiming that in practice Parliament was the absolute expression of this people’s sovereignty, so the practical result was the same as what the British claimed (although they rejected his theoretical claims about the people).
 
Subsequent American writers, while continuing to grant in principle that Parliamentary sovereignty was absolute, sought to set practical limits to it (that is, to place aspects of colonial life outside it). So at first just implicitly, they were actually questioning Parliamentary sovereignty itself.
 
They were feeling their way toward the basic concept of federalism, that governmental institutions can only be strictly limited manifestations of the underlying people’s sovereignty, and may have power divided amongst them. Today we know that the proper distribution of real power is that 100% or close to it must be held by the people themselves in democratic councils, with only some provisional and recallable delegation upward through confederation.
 
The first distinction colonial thinkers came up with was between powers rightly exercised by Parliament as “external” to the colonies, as opposed to the “internal” affairs of the colonies which could properly be governed only by the colonists themselves. This distinction had the virtues of adhering to the long-established practice and of using long-established terminology. Stephen Hopkins was influential in applying the distinction to the Stamp Act. Raising revenue in such a way was clearly the internal affair of the colonies, and Parliament could never legitimately impose such a tax. This led to the famous distinction between “internal”, revenue-raising taxation, and “external” regulation of trade including imposition of trade duties, which was at first conceded to lie within Parliament’s prerogative.
 
This distinction proved to be inadequate in thought and unworkable in practice, since the British could repackage the same actions within the terms of this concept of externalism. Meanwhile they continued to take it for granted that sovereignty itself was indivisible. The very idea of a divided sovereignty was considered a fallacy, the famous “solecism” of imperium in imperio, absolutism divided against itself.
 
This kind of logical scholasticism couldn’t withstand common sense. American writers began to think out concepts of divided sovereignty. John Dickinson finally broke with all the old ideas, completely jettisoned distinctions like internal vs. external, and declared that Parliament has no right to tax the colonies period. An empire was different from a nation. It could encompass multiple nations. Parliament, as executive of the empire, could regulate trade, but it had no sovereignty over the American nation. Only the king had that. In practice, this meant that the empire was really a confederation based on trade and nominal loyalty to the king, but each nation within it was de facto sovereign within itself.
 
Subsequent American writers developed this idea, while the British and their colonial flunkeys tried to combat it. Their position was clear if impolitic: Parliament is either 100% sovereign or else 0%. Eventually they’d help convince the colonists that this was correct, and that the answer must be zero.
 
By 1774, although the Continental Congress officially adopted the Dickinson formulation, most delegates already considered it to be outdated. The sense was that Parliament had no sovereign authority at all, although they still claimed publicly to believe that the king had this authority. The British and the loyalists kept calling this a solecism. (Joseph Galloway called an independent government within a principal government “a monster, a thing out of nature”. While he was wrong in applying this to America as a whole, we can consider how it applies to Madison’s later desire to set up unaccountable forces within yet outside the polity (Federalist #51), or to corporations.)
 
The Americans now moved on to the concept of a confederated empire, with multiple sovereignties under one king. James Iredell argued that the solecism concept was itself a fallacy where applied to federalism. The only thing standing in the way of a full declaration of independence was sentimental attachment to the monarchy, and George was daily diminishing this with his bullheaded words and actions. By now the Tories themselves were reduced to arguing for the Dickinson concept that Parliament is sovereign but is limited by the internal colonial powers. Too late, they were trying to salvage something out of the breakup.
 
Finally the only possible American course of action dictated the final form of the principle. Sovereignty resides only in the people, and its delegation is to be distributed on a federal basis. The only measure of the validity of this distribution of power is the evidence of practice. Today we know that delegating most of the real power upward fails to further the causes of democracy, freedom, and prosperity, but only subverts and destroys them. Following through on the original spirit and logic, we must arrive at a true federalism of the soil, all power exercised where its exercise belongs, the ground level of participatory council democracy.
 
This is toward the question I’ve been asked before, how is this stuff applicable to anarchism? The answer is that if we learn about the history of the American Revolution and its ideas on power, liberty, representation, consent, constitution, rights, and sovereignty, we find an overwhelming impetus in the direction of democratization along with a will to measure all temporal forms according to their fidelity to democracy and how effective they are in expanding it. The great implication of it all is that we must now embrace positive democracy.
 
I’ll add that these thoughts are part of the working out of the revolutionary process, including doing all we can within the contexts we find ourselves. These ideas are part of the political evolution. They’ve been potent before, at every major step. So I assume their final logical step (which I described in these posts) will be part of the final logical step of the evolution of democracy itself. 

May 31, 2011

American Revolutionary Principles (1 of 3): Representation and Consent

Filed under: American Revolution, Freedom, Globalization, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 2:55 am

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“The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations…This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”
 
That’s implicit aristocrat John Adams himself admitting that 1788 has no inherent authority, but must be judged according to the Spirit of 1776. That’s typical of how the American Revolutionaries themselves, however far they later strayed from this original spirit once power became theirs, retained enough self-awareness and integrity to recall it. In my previous posts on the Federalist papers and other constitutional subjects I’ve argued that this primal American spirit is now the authority for positive democracy; that the American Revolution was an integral part of history’s ongoing democratic movement, and that today the ideas and logic of this revolution and of this movement give us the right and the mandate to push ahead to true economic and political democracy.
 
Today I want to sketch this out further by revisiting three core aspects of democratic philosophy as they developed during the first phase of the American Revolution: representation and consent, constitution, and sovereignty. I’ll again draw on Bernard Bailyn’s great book The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. (This post is a brief introduction to my argument.) Bailyn has done a great job of assembling in one place a compendium of revolutionary thought as it quickly evolved in the course of those pivotal years. The best thing about the book is how Bailyn smugly sets out to prove that the US system he knew in the post-war era was the Best of All Possible Worlds and the End of History (his later appendix on the 1788 “Fulfillment” proves this intent), but how he really proves the opposite – that nothing established under the 1788 regime has any intrinsic legitimacy, but must be judged according to the ideals and aspirations of the 60s and 70s. If we look at these institutions, we see how far short they fall of living up to this judgement. We see how the revolution’s task was only partially fulfilled and will not be complete until we have true democracy.
 
So what does this revolutionary logic say about representative government? Summary: “Virtual representation” has no authority, and nominal representation in Parliament doesn’t necessarily have authority. So there’s no necessary reason any representative form would be authoritative and legitimate. By the American ideology, representative government has no compelling principled logic. It stands or falls according to empirical observation, how well it works in practice.
 
I’d say we have enough evidence. This form has failed in practice. If it wasn’t enough that at best representative government was a never-ending ordeal of attrition versus corruption, abuse of power, and creeping economic tyranny, we now endure the agony of full-blown kleptocracy. I’d say a system should get only one chance to prevent the cancer of kleptocracy before we judge it a failure.
 
No one can seriously argue that this government is any more responsive or accountable than virtual representation was in the 1760s. Indeed, things are far worse now. As small as the pro-American opposition in Parliament was, it was still a recognizable, vocal group which forced its ideas into the mainstream British consciousness. Today, is there even a single discernable voice in Congress or anywhere in government on behalf of the people? Let alone a group which has to be reckoned with? On the contrary, this “representative” government presents a united front against the people. When we still see reformists, it boggles the mind how they propose to even start getting “better representatives”. It’s representation itself which has proven to be flawed. And as it turns out we also have the testimony of the 1788ers themselves on how they conceived the republican form as a subtle bulwark against the people and in favor of parasite rule. So if you don’t believe me on the inherent anti-democratic nature of representation, will you believe James Madison?
 
So that’s the summary of how representative government is not an American principle but only a practice; and how this practice is empirically observed to fail. Let’s go over the history.
 
In America, the transformation in thought occurred very quickly, over the course of two years in the mid-60s during the Stamp Act crisis. (We can look to this example with optimism, as we see how quickly these changes in thought can take place.) Historically the representatives to Parliament were originally delegates sent by localities to petition the King. These delegates, called “attorneys”, were tightly bound to represent only their specific constituencies, which placed restrictions on their authority.
 
By the 17th century the House of Commons underwent an ideological shift. It now claimed to represent the general interest, with each member representing the empire as a whole. The intent of this was to abrogate accountability and disenfranchise ever greater numbers of people. As democratic ideas spread and the population of the empire increased, Parliament wanted a way to prevent the interests of people and their ideas from getting access to the legislative body. One answer was to deny that representatives actually represent anyone in particular. Speaker Onslow’s proclamation that “Instructions, therefore, from particular constituents to their own Members are or can be only of information, advice, and recommendation…but not absolutely binding upon the votes and actings and conscience in Parliament” was typical of the Parliamentary thought of the era. This was soon elaborated into the ideology of virtual representation. Now even the act of nominally voting for a representative who nominally came from a constituency became incidental. Since each member of Parliament “represented” the entire empire, no one in particular needed to even have a nominal representative. This justified the lack of nominal representation for subjects beyond the home island such as the American colonists.
 
This shift to unaccountable government in Britain was one of the wellsprings of the American Revolution, as the colonists reacted to this travesty. The colonists “drifted backward” (Bailyn) to more responsive concepts, toward political localization. They considered “virtual representation” top be philosophically offensive. They also developed a rationalistic theory for how closer, more tightly bound representation is better than a far-flung, centralized system. They saw how a faraway central government was more likely to be a taker from than a giver to what was logically an autonomous region. There we have precedents for our own rational assessment of the Washington system (let alone bodies like the WTO to which Washington wants to abdicate). A typical response was the way the Boston town meeting would write detailed instructions for Boston’s delegates to the colonial assembly and demand that these delegates adhere to these instructions.
 
So the colonists always rejected virtual representation as absurd. A typical reaction was Daniel Dulany’s judgement that it was “of facts not true and conclusions inadmissible.” Their contrary rallying call was, “No Taxation Without Representation.” But this slogan quickly became a bluff, because as soon as the colonists became embroiled in the Stamp Act crisis, they also rejected the prospect of receiving nominal representation in Parliament. They rejected this on the grounds that England was too far away for constituencies to remain in effectual communication with delegates, and because the colonial delegation would always be heavily outvoted. So nominal colonial representation would merely give the British a propaganda victory but change none of the substantive political facts. When Grenville interrogated Franklin and the other colonial agents on whether or not the colonists really wanted Parliamentary representation, the agents admitted that this was a slogan but not a practical demand.
 
So according to the American Revolution, not only is virtual representation unacceptable, but nominal voting rights and representation also isn’t sufficient to legitimize government. If there’s anything which renders representative government legitimate, it’s not the act of voting. (BTW, let’s remember that the 1788 Constitution doesn’t guarantee any right to vote at all. It only says that to the extent states grant the privilege of voting, they can’t discriminate on the basis of race, gender, and a few other categories.)
 
In fact, the Americans had no principle of representation, but a purely practical view: Does it protect freedom against the encroachments of power or not. They asked practical questions like, Is there an identity of interests between representatives and people? Some colonists started out conceding that even virtual representation may make sense within Britain itself but could make not sense given the interposition of an ocean. But the consensus quickly moved to calling this absurd, and that representative accountability ought to be the practice everywhere including in Britain.
 
Arthur Lee called British theories of representation “witchcraft” and scoffed, “Our privileges are all virtual, our sufferings are real.” We should therefore offer up only “virtual obedience”. This sounds topical today. The American position was summed up well by John Joachim Zubly:
 

every representative in Parliament is not a representative for the whole nation, but only for the particular place for which he hath been chosen. If any are chosen for a plurality of places, they can make their election only for one of them…no member can represent any but those by whom he hath been elected; if not elected, he cannot represent them, and of course not consent to anything on their behalf…representation arises entirely from the free election of the people.

 
[So how do all our representatives end up representing corporations? And what does this imply about “elections” with extremely low turnout? These both refute the alleged legitimacy of our “representatives”.]
 
This refutes today’s Senate, at the least. Given the facts of class conflict, it refutes the House and all other centralized legislatures as well. Here we can again consider how well any representative system has worked in practice. We’ve seen little but the endless war of attrition as economic rackets gather power, encroach on liberty and democracy, cause economic chaos, reform wins some victories, and then the racketeers creep back. Reformists and diehard believers in representation want to doom us forever to this permanent war of attrition. Can we call this worthy of human beings? On the contrary, it’s demeaning beyond tolerability. And when we consider that the reformists advocate this endless suffering solely out of solicitude for the continued existence of these criminal rackets, we can see the fundamental evil of it. The historically proven attrition, the Rule of Rackets, examples like Madison’s admission of the structural scam: This all sends us back to the revolutionary principle of concentrated power as the existential enemy of liberty. According to this principle, and according to the historical record, we have the proof that representative government is at least a failure, and usually a scam.
 
The power/liberty dichotomy itself contained a half-baked notion which was superseded by the development of the revolutionary consciousness. This was the theory of separation, that power was the concern of elected representatives, liberty that of the represented. This was contradicted even then by the consensus demand for representatives to be tightly bound by their constituencies. Today we know that this separation is unnecessary and illegitimate. It’s neither logical nor practical. The people can and must exercise both power and liberty. There’s no longer to be a distinction between the “representative” and the “represented”.
 
Similarly, the theory of the “balance of powers” had its basis in the allegedly god-given roles of monarchy and aristocracy, their right to exist and the natural balance between them. The American Revolution definitively rejected king and nobility (the French Revolution went on to call being a king a capital crime), but 1788 retained the Constitutional derivatives of these. President and Congress are the residue of king and nobility. This is really an anachronism. This secularized version of king and nobility has no greater validity, legitimacy, or necessity than the religiously-based king and nobility.
 
Getting back to our chronology, the colonists moved rapidly from uncertainty over binding their representatives with instructions to assertive affirmation. Arthur Lee declared that only “corruption” denies that representatives are to be bound and must be “trustees for their constituents”. William Wyndham found that this close binding of delegate to community “must have begun with the [primal sovereign] constitution…an ancient and unalienable right of the people”. Constituents have “an inherent right to give instructions to their representatives”. Even future hardcore 1788er and “Federalist” James Wilson said in 1774 that representatives are mere “creatures” who must be held “accountable”.
 
If we accept this, then logically we have to accept more tightly bound and recallable delegates, if the empirical evidence is that these will be more accountable, while “representatives” are unaccountable. Just as the Americans rejected king and aristocracy, so we must reject their 1788 derivatives and move on to the final stage of democratic evolution, positive democracy. Meanwhile, we have to see a kleptocracy controlled by corporations and the rich as only the most threadbare nominal “representation”. In reality, it might as well be the resurrection of virtual representation as doctrine and practice.
 
[I’ll add an idea here but leave the development for some other time. As a creature, a representative is an artificial, contingent thing just like a corporation. The responsibility (not right), accountability (not independence) of each is the same and must be enforced, or else the artificial program must be discontinued.]
 
So it followed that the assembly must reflect those who voted for it, and must change as they change, for example as population rose. Here’s another example of the anti-democratic design of the Senate and bad faith of the 1788ers. In drawing up the scheme for the Senate they were repeating the King’s old refusal to increase the size of the colonial assemblies with population growth. Jefferson and others had considered this a major grievance.
 
Through all this the American Revolution arrived at a new theory of consent. Locke had said consent only needed to be given on election day (Rousseau scoffed at this), and at the supreme crisis moments of rebellion. But the Americans were working toward a more direct, participatory democracy on a permanent basis. The implicit principle is that direct consent is needed at all times, not just special times. This dovetails well with the power/liberty tension, since the necessary citizen vigilance against power can be maintained only through everyday democratic participation.
 
The first phase of the Revolution didn’t follow through on these implications, but settled on a concept of representation more accountable than the British concept, but still maintaining it as a “substitute for legislation by direct action of the people”. This implicitly admitted that direct democracy is the ideal, and merely claimed that accountable representation could function better in practice. Therefore representative government is legitimate only if it truly and effectively provides such a substitute. If it is unable or unwilling to do this, it dissolves itself, and we must move on to true, direct council democracy.
 
Representation was never anything more than democracy’s regent, meant to nurture ever-expanding democracy until this could fully flourish on its own. Today we the people are ready to take the full democratic responsibility upon ourselves, while the regent has abdicated and degenerated into a usurper. For both these reasons, we have and want no other choice but to walk the path of positive freedom and democracy.

March 18, 2011

Corporations Are Extensions of Government

Filed under: American Revolution, Corporatism, Law, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 3:51 am

 

The nuclear disaster in Japan has once again highlighted the basic insanity of this technology. Allegedly failsafe systems readily failed, and aggravating the catastrophe has been the failure of spent rod storage, which again reminds us that no one has come up with a solution for what to do with nuclear waste because there is no solution.
 
We all know what the solution will be. It will be directly dumped in the ghettos of the poor, overseas and probably domestically as well. Any nuke supporters out there – you know it. That’s what’s going to be done.
 
I’m not going to rehash the whole argument here. Instead, I’ll just mention how nuclear energy is one of the most egregious examples of corporate welfare. The entire structure from uranium extraction to electricity delivery is a massive, bloated corporate/government nexus. Nukes = Big Government, Big Corporatism. In fact, as many objections as I have to nuclear energy, my main objection is that it represents the further centralization of political and economic power, the further concentration and intensification of corporate and government power. It’s a further step in the opposite direction from where we need to be heading.
 
As for the idea that nukes are somehow a substitute for fossil fuel extraction and burning, and that when we choose nukes we’re choosing not to blow up mountains for coal or drill offshore, that was never anything but a fantasy. The US has deployed nuclear reactors for forty years now, and there’s been no slackening in the pace of fossil fuel extraction or imports. It’s clear that the corporatist nuke complex is built only in addition to the exploitation of fossil fuels, not in place of it.
 
Indeed, the fact of the corporate/government nexus means that the economy couldn’t work that way anyway. There are no substitutes for existing rackets, only new members of the gang. There’s no established sector where supply has anything to do with what would be demanded in a truly free market. On the contrary, the goal in every sector is simply to produce, with the government guaranteeing the rent extractions wherever there’s insufficient demand.
 
The oil and coal companies have no purpose or responsibility but to produce and sell oil and coal. They bear no market risks or responsibilities, for example to “compete” with nuclear energy, because the government guarantees their rents with however many subsidies are necessary. There’s indirect subsidies like policy which favors increased energy consumption, military spending, and allowing externalizations of costs and risks on society and the environment. But there’s also things like alienation of public property through absurdly lenient royalty and mining laws. This is simple embezzlement, like all other privatization. Then there’s examples the way the government simply refuses to enforce the Clean Water Act where it comes to mountaintop removal mining. This is another example of how corporatism is legalized organized crime. There are also direct subsidies, tax breaks, and so on ad nauseum. The government will extend this hospitality however far is necessary to guarantee the sector’s accustomed level of rents.
 
So nukes do nothing to mitigate this corporate welfare sector. They merely become another, gratuitous one. Big Government doesn’t get more intrusive on the “free market” than this. The health racket bailout is merely an extreme example of the way the government creates forced markets for corporate rackets. This is the nature of the command economy.
 
Add the government’s imperial, police state, contract enforcement, and imprisonment functions, all on behalf of its corporate owners, and we have the bagman/goon theory of government. There are several different versions of the Big Lie to pretend that the government is not simply an extension of corporations, and vice versa. Conservative lie about being against Big Government when they really just want all government resources to go to the bagman/goon functions. But they don’t want it to get smaller, only bigger. Similarly, liberals lie about the government being a counterweight to the corporations. But they also want the corporations themselves to exist. In the end, liberals also want the government to keep getting bigger, but only as bagman and goon. By now they’re indistinguishable from conservatives on policy. Then there’s the more honest and childish “libertarians” who admit the existence of the command economy and claim to want to get rid of the bagman/goon completely, in favor of a direct corporate dictatorship. The corporations themselves are more intelligent than this and want to try to maintain the facade of government. Libertarians as well usually end up supporting the Big Government bagman/goon functions.
 
What is a corporation, really? It’s clearly nothing but an artificial extension of government. Even in Dartmouth vs. Woodward, the original SCOTUS case which first invented the concept of a corporate “right” under the Constitution, John Marshall called the corporation “an artificial entity…existing only in contemplation of law.” This, what Ted Nace still calls the artificial entity theory, is actually the definition of a corporation. Subsequent “theories”: the transparent veil, the organic/natural entity, the “corporate personality”, were simply exercises in absurdity intended to Constitutionally justify jurisprudence and legislation which empowered this particular government branch over other branches of government and over the people themselves. In chapter 14 of his Gangs of America, Nace describes how even corporatist jurisprudence found these theories ultimately unusable (as explicit doctrine, though not as implicit guiding ideology) and discarded them in favor of ad hoc rationales.
 
Nace writes, “A business can exist without the blessing of government. A corporation, by definition, cannot.” As he says, this isn’t a theory, but a definition. From there it’s axiomatic that it cannot have Constitutional rights, any more than any other government body.  Here’s the extent of the rights of a corporation according to the artificial entity theory:
 

The artificial entity theory does not deny that corporations can
have some rights, but it limits those rights to the functional ones necessary
for the corporate entity to participate in the legal arena: the right to
own property, the right to enter into contracts, and the right to defend its
property and enforce its contracts in court.

Implicit in the artificial entity theory is the philosophy that legitimate
power can only emanate from democratic institutions. The theory
reflects the wariness toward corporations inherited from the colonial
period, a belief that corporations will inevitably seek power over their
legislative masters. Such fears have even older roots in traditional English
law. For example, mortmain (“dead hand”) clauses in church charters
limited the amount of land that the congregation could own, in
order to prevent the accumulation of real property in immobile corporate
hands. (p. 192-3)

 
Anything beyond this, for example the notion of a corporation having Constitutional rights, is an example of the solecism of sovereignty, a sovereign over sovereigns, a self-contradiction of the concept of sovereignty itself. We see how the exile of corporations from the text of the Constitution was indicative of how the framers recognized the corporation as too dangerous a concentration of anti-democratic power. They would not have been surprised to see the evolution of organicism, originally a liberal theory intended to create counterweights to the state, to the natural entity theory of the corporation, i.e. an extension of state power through the profit-seeking corporation, to its ultimate manifestation in fascist theories of the “corporate state”. The line of descent here is logical and, given the inherent fact of power’s encroachments on liberty wherever it possibly can so encroach, inevitable. Once again we see the inner affinity of liberalism and all other authoritarian corporatism.
 
The correct view of sovereignty is as follows:
 
1. The people and only the people are sovereign.
 
2. The people can constitute a body to incarnate this sovereignty, whatever they choose to call this body. Government is the most common term, but it can also be called other things.
 
3. Whatever its form and name, this sovereign entity cannot then create a new sovereign form which it then places prior to itself. This is a conceptual absurdity, a constitutional abdication, and a political usurpation. Yet that’s precisely what the “natural entity” theory of corporations claims: That even though a corporation is an artificial creation of government, it is also prior to the government in its rights and prerogatives.
 
We see how it’s impossible for the government to charter a corporation, thereby creating an extension of itself, and then declare this extension not only outside itself but prior to itself. Yet that’s exactly what government claims when it confers Constitutional rights on corporations.
 
We can analyze this absurdity another way if we look at the Bill of Rights, most of which have been hijacked for this fraudulent corporatist purpose. The purpose of the Bill of Rights was to restrain the tyrannical actions of government against the people. So by definition these rights are the rights of the people vs. the government. How can they also be the rights of government vs. government, which is the way we have to view such notions as “corporate free speech”?
 
In practice, such “rights” are in fact still meant to be the same government vs. the people, but with the tables turned. In its corporate form, the government is now represented as the victim of the people, which needs to have its rights protected against the people. It’s actually the criminal minority which needs protection of its “rights” against the democratic majority. Once again we see the fundamental malevolence of the ideas contained in Madison’s Federalist 10 and 51. That’s what’s really going on with the campaign to invent corporate rights under the Constitution.
 
What’s the real relationship of rights and corporations? What’s the answer when a corporatist demands to know, “Can the police search corporate premises without a warrant?”, as Greenwald and others did in defending Citizens United and the concept of corporate speech? The answer is that a corporation is in the same position as any other government entity. Does the IRS or the FDA have “rights”? What happens if the FBI wants to conduct a search of another government premises? Whatever the procedure, no one claims it must recognize a Constitutional “right” of that government agency. The procedure with the corporate/government agency must be the same.
 
I’ll conclude with a reprise of the conclusions of two earlier posts, the first on the identity of corporations and government, the other on how to limit government and corporate assaults by limiting the government’s pro-corporate power:
 

Let’s get rid of ALL government regulation. That means all government assaults on our rights as citizens and human beings. And it means eradicating big corporations and all the regulations and taxes those corporations impose upon us.

1. Corporations are artificial creatures of the government. So by definition they are extensions of the government, and all corporate power is laundered government power. Every regulation and tax a big corporation inflicts upon us is really a government regulation and tax.

2. Corporations directly write or implicitly dictate all government laws, regulations, and taxes anyway. So any direct government regulation or tax is being imposed upon us by the big corporations.

So however you look at it, whether you approach it from the “left” or the “right”, whether one’s preferred mode of thought and expression is anti-corporate or anti-government, either way it comes down to the same thing.

This is one tyrannical nexus of regulation and taxation, corporate and government, all of it purely predatory and parasitic. The only answer, the only way forward, is to rid ourselves of this evil nexus in all its manifestations…..

The radical extension of government’s contract power as well as the radical extension of its initial arrogation in empowering corporations in the first place are expressions of Big Government at its most aggressive. How ironic that it’s the self-named “libertarians” who have been the most fervent ideologues of this radical, aggressive Big Government, and all these aggressive interferences in the market. (There’s no such thing as a “free” market, but there are certainly more or less free markets. A market where government interferes to create corporations is a market greatly distorted by Big Government action.)

So there’s a basic principle and practical outline for policy advocacy.

1. Limit corporations by limiting government, and limit government by limiting corporations.

2. The most simple and far-reaching solution: Abolish the government power to create corporations in the first place.

3. Short of that, the basic concept is to limit the contract recognition and enforcement power to the kinds and magnitudes of contracts which are in the public interest.

March 10, 2011

Corporations Are Anti-Sovereign

 

The real civil war began during what we call the Civil War, which was only a part of the vastly bigger whole. The real winners of the Civil War were those who used it to win their first big victories in the more ponderous civil war which is only today reaching its climax. These winners were the corporations, and their victories included the mutually reinforcing and procyclical arrogation of pseudo-constitutional “rights” (through rogue courts), unlimited powers, and absolution from practically all responsibility (through courts and state legislatures).
 
This corporatist onslaught has been, since its beginning, anti-sovereign. What is sovereignty? It is the inherent right and prerogative of a civilized people to rule itself, and dictate all the forms and conditions of the institutions it sets up to carry out this rule. This right is postulated, since we know all other derivations of right are fraudulent. One must, in principle, either accept democratic sovereignty or oppose civilization itself. It follows that legitimate power can exist only insofar as it’s deployed through a sovereign form. Any power exercised by any other entity is simply brute state-of-nature force. Such an entity is nothing but a bandit gang operating out of a cave in a swamp, no matter how much it embellishes itself with fraudulent ideology and the trappings of pseudo-authority.
 
In principle, a profit-seeking corporation – sociopathic and anti-democratic by definition and in practice – is an affront to sovereignty. A government which fails to restrain such corporations, which on the contrary sees its role as to empower and aggrandize them, is not bestowing sovereign legitimacy upon them. On the contrary, it’s abdicating any sovereign legitimacy it may have had itself. So the crisis of corporate legitimacy always forces a crisis of government legitimacy as well. (This is in addition to all the other reasons we have to reject this kleptocracy’s legitimacy.)
 
Corporate ideologues have tried to turn this order upside down. They used 19th century theories of organicism and the Natural Entity, along with intentionally sowed confusion between corporate personhood (a technical legal/constitutional status) and corporate personality, the broader ideology regarding who or what juridically exists in the first place. Using these they tried to assert that corporate sovereignty was actually prior to government sovereignty, which would not only forestall government’s right to limit the essence and actions of corporations, but would justify the corporatist bagman-and-goon theory of government.
 
This is absurd on its face and really just calls into question the legitimacy of the state as well, rather than conjuring legitimacy for the corporation. Since sovereignty reposes in the people, only the state could possibly be the legitimate form of this sovereignty. (I’m not saying it ever is legitimate in practice; I’m saying only it could ever be legitimate in principle.) By definition an institution which embodies sovereignty must encompass all the people within the sovereign body (which we can take to mean, a logical area defined by geography, nationality, or some such elemental measure; for now it often also means the existing technical boundaries of countries, however arbitrary these usually are) as citizens, and it must do so toward the goal of their human well-being.
 
A profit-seeking corporation, on the contrary, is dedicated only to profit and property, and recognizes as its equivalent of “citizen” only those who own property and/or are engaged in profit-seeking behavior. Therefore, by definition it cannot be sovereign, only anti-sovereign.
 
The corporation also runs afoul of what was classically called the solecism of sovereignty. This was also called the fallacy of imperium in imperio, “sovereignty over sovereigns”. What it means is that sovereignty can never be divided against itself; this is a conceptual absurdity and can only bring chaos in practice. During the American Revolution the British and their loyalists accused the colonists of this fallacy, when the colonists tried to claim that the King but not Parliament was sovereign over them. (That was prior to declaring complete independence.)
 
It’s easy to see that the British were wrong, since there was no logical reason King or Parliament could be sovereign or should exercise any power at all over people on the other side of the world who were economically self-sufficient. (The colonists were therefore wrong as well so long as they tried to figure out concepts which could justify flouting Parliamentary authority but still recognize British sovereignty at all. Finally they accepted the absurdity of this and declared independence.)
 
But it certainly is true that a corporation asserting rights against its creator (the government, and indeed the people themselves) is a logical impossibility. (It’s the same if government claims “rights” against the people. We can see how backwards most of the language and concept of the Constitution are.) In the original SCOTUS case which first claimed to discover corporate Constitutional rights, Dartmouth vs. Woodward, John Marshall still admitted that a corporation was “an artificial being…existing only in contemplation of law”, but he proceeded to find that a 1769 dictate from King George himself had sovereign authority, and that a corporation could now argue this sovereign right against the government. This is a clear example of the solecism. But thanks to that case the corporation could now claim incorporation itself as a “property right”. (Too bad nobody had ever put through a revolution to purge the notion that George had sovereignty to dictate to us. Oh, wait….)
 
(Before proceeding, I’ll mention that in Federalist 20, in the course of arguing for a strong federal government which would act directly upon individuals without any mediation of the states (this was argued by the “anti-federalists” to be a usurpation of state authority), Madison declared that the real violation of state sovereignty would be if the federal government were to undertake “a legislation for communities as contradistinguished from individuals”, that is if it held states collectively responsible for individual violations of federal law. He said this would constitute the real solecism, the real “sovereignty over sovereigns”.
 
But transposing this to corporate charters, since the state government generates this alien corporation and this corporate form of “sovereignty”, formally enshrines it as a collective sociopath, isn’t this “legislation for communities”? Technically the government places the corporation outside of sovereignty and then invites it to treat the sovereign people as a prey.)
 
The inadequacy of recognizing corporations as being artificial, created by government and dependent upon it, while still trying to argue their “right” was obvious, and ideologues were soon looking for new rationales. The theory of a corporation as a transparent veil between the government and society on one hand, and management and shareholders on the other, held that the corporation is really nothing more than these persons themselves, with a mere veil subtly obscuring their countenance. This had practical use for trying to justify the doubling of rights and shedding of responsibilities for corporate cadres, since the corporation was then held to be indistinguishable from the actual persons making it up. Yet because they were corporatists they were also supposed to get double the rights and license to run risks and commit crimes with personal impunity.
 
But this theory as well could give no reason why these groups of people, transparently veiled or not, should be able to claim special rights and privileges at the expense of government and society. Indeed, by highlighting how a corporation is nothing but a gang of flesh-and-blood criminals who have unaccountably received a special charter to assault the society and the body politic, the theory called attention to questions like: Why should we allow corporations to exist at all? And it underlined the fact of their anti-sovereign nature.
 
How can anything other than the people themselves and any government they constitute be considered to have an unlimited lifespan? And how can any individual be officially placed above/outside the law by being granted the special license of limited liability? (This is most characteristic of corporations, but it’s spread to government officials as well, who are now granted all sorts of immunities beyond the most basic ones listed in the Constitution. I think it’s obvious that any immunity not strictly written into the Constitution is invalid.) The very concept of corporate chartering is a basic democratic government function, so any government relinquishment of this power by granting general incorporation, “for any purpose” incorporation, infinite lifespan, removing restrictions on activities, ownership, mobility, size, etc., are abdications of sovereignty.
 
Given the conceptual problems with this “transparent veil”, how it cannot justify anything but only tendentiously describe it, ideology moved on to the Natural Entity theory, derived from the “organicism” of German liberal* theory, which I mentioned above. This upside down mirror image of the real nature of corporations could be convincing to those who wanted to be convinced. In practice, it was grafted to Social Darwinism and used to justify the most barbarous notions of Might Makes Right. As enshrined in the Lochner case, the theory simply asserted that corporations had a prior sovereignty claim vs. government in principle, so that government action to restrict corporate contracts was by definition invalid. With its interfusion of Social Darwinism it asserted that profiteering was by definition the highest human activity. Putting them together, ideologues and supportive judges found that government, and by extension democratic society, had no authority to restrict profit-seeking activity, however destructive of society or democracy.
 
[* How cute that the same conservatives who are so quick to pounce on any suggestion that American constitutional law should ever pay attention to the laws and theories of “foreigners” derived one of their most cherished ideological tropes from 19th century European liberals, of all things.]
 
The main problem with this as a theory of Constitutional jurisprudence is that it was obviously unconstitutional. If the Constitution had intended any of these radical propositions, it would have said so. But on the contrary, it implicitly denigrates corporations as such and rejects organicism by recognizing only the federal government, states, and the people. (If we really wanted to enshrine corporatism we’d have to rewrite the Constitution including a new Bill of Rights defining the rights of corporations and the rights of people vis corporations. The fact that no corporatist wants to do this proves their bad faith and tyrannical intent. They know democracy would never embrace such a plan, so they stick with their anti-constitutional coup. But the facts remain facts: Under this Constitution, corporatism is illegitimate. If democracy really wanted to constitutionally meld government and corporations into this quasi-command economy, that economy would have to be Constitutionalized.)
 
(Again, where’s our stalwart Constitutional “originalists” on this one? Out to lunch with their corporate pals, where else?)
 
Eventually jurisprudence would reject proclamations of any particular theory of corporate sovereignty or rights, and simply proceed in an ad hoc manner, justifying pro-corporate findings in any convenient way. But the underlying anti-sovereign ideology remained. The main trend of 20th century legal personhood theory continued to define a legal person as anything which seeks profit and owns property. (A more recent manifestation is law and economics, which without any further fuss would simply perform an economic cost-benefit analysis and then apply the law based upon how it maximizes the benefit for the propertarian. This is also the basis of the “reasonable person” standard which denies the existence of coercive capitalism and from there finds any victim of it to have been “unreasonable” and therefore actually his own victim, from the law’s point of view. A typical example is if your boss orders you to do something unsafe, and you’ll be fired if you refuse. If under that duress you comply and are injured and file suit, a Law and Economics judge would deny the existence of the economic coercion, decree that a “reasonable person” would have refused the order, and find you the victim of your own reckless unreasonability. This is nothing but a resurrection of Lochner but with a new spin.) 
 
Today we confront the ultimate totalitarian manifestation of this ideology and the institutions based upon it, globalization. The “free trade” treaties like NAFTA, “the law of the land” according to the Constitution, comprise a global anti-constitution. Their only content enshrines corporate license and prerogative at a level far above national governments and laws. Democracy and civil society have no place at all in this system. The “treaties”, written by multinational corporations, peddled by corrupted bagman/goon governments, and forced upon all other countries, are nothing but laundry lists of anti-sovereign usurpation and incitements to governments to set up administrative “free trade zones”, designed after the Nazi General Government of Poland, whose secession from law and civil society are then to be extended to encompass the entire “country”. At that point sovereignty would be completely obliterated and replaced by direct corporate rule.
 
The provisions are set up to encourage corporations or their goon government proxies to file lawsuits against any manifestation of sovereignty or democracy anywhere which could hinder the profit-seeking imperative, which is the only one recognized by the globalization structure. (The same imperative which is the only one recognized by the “legal personality” regime.) The suits are heard by unelected, unaccountable secret tribunals staffed, as are the globalization cadres themselves, by corporatists who come in through the revolving door. Suits have been filed against the US, Canada, Mexico, and many other governments. The very threat of such suits has a stifling effect on democracy.
 
While the WTO is relatively backward in having governments sue other governments on behalf of corporations, lateral agreements like NAFTA are more advanced in having the corporation directly sue the offending democracy. If it was deranged to allow domestic corporations to sue for rights against the government that created them, how anti-sovereign is it to allow alien corporations to sue a government? Perhaps the most telling fact is that under NAFTA and similar “treaties”, an alien corporation actually has more rights against a sovereign people than a purely domestic one not involved in global commerce and therefore not eligible for the powers of the Treaty.
 
This perversion of sovereignty is the terminal manifestation of how so-called foreign policy has always been the mechanism by which anti-democratic and anti-federalist subversion has been innovated “elsewhere” and then brought home to subvert domestic democracy. In the next post I’ll discuss the corporate assault on democracy and politics itself more thoroughly.

December 10, 2010

Wikileaks, Secrecy, Federalism, and Globalization (1 of 2)

 

The question of what the American Revolution was primarily about – ideals or governmental forms, politics or economics – was temporarily settled by the framers themselves in 1788 when they imposed it as a fact that the revolution had been fought to establish a strong central government which embodied in many details the exact details the revolution had claimed to find odious, and flouted in many ideals the exact ideals the revolution had claimed to embody.
 
Here at least there’s no question – the emphasis was on a form of government, a republic. They called it (and themselves) “federalist”, but even then that was clearly just a successful Orwellian terminological inversion. It was actually the framers and adherents of the new Constitution who were anti-federalist in normal terms, according to the standard usage of the time, while their opponents whom they successfully smeared as “anti-federalist” were at least arguing on behalf of something closer to true federalism, power much closer to its true source in the people. (I won’t claim they were all sincere.)
 
I think it’s moot to ponder how sincere the “federalists” were as champions of this central government. If the rise of the fossil fuel age and the industrial revolution really necessitated strong central governments, then perhaps this Constitution was one of the better (I don’t say “good”) attempts to harmonize that need with protecting the people’s rights and freedoms. At the same time, Hamilton and others seemed ardent to maximize power for its own sake, and displayed the standard elitist contempt right from the start. It’s beyond dispute that a major purpose for this power concentration was to use it aggressively for continental imperialism. The Federalist repeatedly cites this goal as a reason to concentrate federal power. What later came to be called “Manifest Destiny” was already a core element of the Founders’ ideology.
 
So what’s the specific link between imperialism and the republic form of government? In On Revolution (chapter 2, section 4) Hannah Arendt emphasizes how Founders of various stripes agreed that a desired goal was to encourage faction among the people in domestic matters while seeking a united front where it comes to foreign policy. She quotes Jefferson as wanting “to make us one nation as to foreign concerns, and keep us distinct in domestic ones”, and cites Madison’s Federalist #10, with its celebration of “the spirit of party and faction”, which of course was to be kept within the limits of representative government.
 
This formula would allegedly generate the maximum political freedom within the country compatible with a sufficiently strong projection in foreign policy. While this was already dubious in the 18th century, in modern times it appears in a sinister light. We see what it means today: The elites encourage and foment discord among the non-elites, while we must all submit to the astroturfed united front for whatever foreign policy our betters assure us is necessary, no matter how wasteful, deranged, and destructive to the very domestic freedom and prosperity for which the policy allegedly exists in the first place.
 
This puts in a different light Arendt’s contention, no doubt literally true, that ” the direction of the American Revolution remained committed to the foundation of freedom and the establishment of lasting institutions.” The question is begged more starkly than ever, Freedom for whom? To do what?
 
But this question was already being begged when Madison wrote numbers 10 and 51. It’s here that he notoriously posited that the greatest threat to social stability would be the rancor of the people, who to him were inherently a kind of proto-mob ready to realize their full mob potential at any moment, against the elites. It was explicit in Madison’s concept that political elites need to exist at all (only they, as elected representatives, know how to organize power and run a government). Implicit were such propositions as that economic elites need to exist at all; that their wealth and property concentrations are justified; that their own aggressive actions, which from the outside and from the receiving end look like depredations, are the natural way of the world and can’t be held accountable in any way (therefore if the people react with anger it’s really they who are the aggressors); that a foreign policy designed and dictated by those elites is to the benefit of “the country” as a whole. All this, so viciously and tiresomely familiar to us today, adds up to compel the strong presumption that another implication of Madison’s scheme was that the very “faction” celebrated by Madison and Hamilton and even Jefferson was always intended to be a tool of divide and rule.
 
However it was with the original intent, we now know it represents the essence of misdirection. For America, the rule has long been (if it wasn’t always) aggression against others and hijacking of public resources, which is always for the benefit of the elites only, and could only ever accidentally coincide with the interests of the people. The misdirection is meant to distract from this and help trump up the tawdry “united front”.
 
It’s this fraudulent pretension to a unified America in its foreign policy which Wikileaks has directly attacked with this latest document delivery. The leaks demonstrate in the clearest detail how the specially designated foreign policy elites are the same petty, incompetent crooks we’re so familiar with everywhere else, and how their concerns are the exact same combination of crime and meanness as we see everywhere else. But most importantly in assaulting their pseudo-monarchical secrecy prerogative, a key trapping in their very claim to authority and power, Wikileaks has dealt a blow to their ability to pseudo-legitimately maintain this prerogative. Once the people understand once and for all what a sham “foreign policy” is, in the same way they’ve come to understand the central “federal” government as a fraud and a parasite in domestic policy, we’ll finally be ready to relinquish it completely, all at once or in stages.
 
Here’s just a few things the leaks have proven:
 
Each leak is something which should never have been classified in the first place. It proves how promiscuously they’ve abused the classification privilege, as a matter of normal practice. We citizens already knew under Bush that this privilege needed to be rescinded. (Of course, we now know that most of the liberals were lying when they said that at the time.)
 
Each leak is proof that there’s no real “national security” at stake. Each proves further that the only secrets regard the power and crimes of the elites.
 
Every document is further proof they have no valid secrets. Each act of secrecy is an affront to democracy and a violation of the social contract.
 
As has already been proven with previous deliveries, the leaks don’t endanger the American people or our interests. On the contrary, to whatever extent the leaks hinder the corporate agenda, they serve the American interest. The empire itself, and the stateless corporations themselves, are contrary to the American interest, as history has proven over and over, every time. Empire serves no one but imperial elites, and harms everyone else. In 2008 that became brazen here in America.
 
We saw the NYT and the WaPo suppress leaked information which lessens the case for war with Iran, at the request of the administration. (We got it through the Guardian.) So there we see the scurrying cockroaches exposed in broad daylight – your leaders, your elites, your government, and your media, suppressing evidence against war.
 
Wikileaks has proven that elite secrecy has no right or reason to exist at all, and that transparency is a citizen right and imperative. With the evidence of the leaks, no one can any longer argue for secrecy other than as a brazen celebrant of domination for its own sake. No one can any longer cite “reasons of state”, or that the elites know pertinent facts at all, let alone pertinent facts which can’t safely be shared with the public. No one can any longer argue with a straight face that foreign policy has anything to do with “American interests”, or anything other than the same ugly, paltry elite interests.
 
We’ve now seen it all, and we know there’s no there there. From here on, we know secrecy is nothing but an anti-democratic ritual. We must be all the more relentless in asserting sunlight as a democratic ritual. No one can see the American flag when its hidden away in the dank and dark. Only the sun shining upon it renders it visible at all. So there’s the real essence of the symbol. Not the mere dyed fabric, but the light upon it. Darkness, secrecy, is the true mortal insult to the symbol, and to the essence.
 
We should also recognize how this bogus “foreign policy” astroturf, which we can trace to the original framing of the system, is by now completely entwined and indistinguishable from globalization. The slow but steady progress of over two hundred years has been for these elites, and their government, to extract the wealth of the land they did nothing to work for, abscond upward in power and “law” with it, and eventually detach government and law themselves from the land. The anti-sovereign globalization entities and agreements represent the full logic of the entire process. The WTO is a kind of one world super-constitution. All of this is rule by pure administrative decree, intended to extract all wealth and power from the land but leave behind the dead husk of government, law, and civil society. This husk is now meant to be just a weapon against the people, but nothing in itself. It’s a world-historical secession of the elites.
 
The neoliberal franchise is a sick joke. It’s the symbol and ritual of nothingness. And then this stateless, anti-sovereign body is to rule the disenfranchised people by direct bureaucratic tyranny, as the direct private agent of the corporations. That’s the goal of globalization.
 
When “federalism” was redefined and centralized upward in 1888, and organized to be focused on a false unified foreign policy, this secession process was set in motion. From there it’s been the same vector and the same logic which have advanced through every trial. Since the end of the Cold War, in the face of imminent Peak Oil, this false federalism is attempting its final upward redefinition. But this depends upon keeping the people gazing spellbound up into the fog, instead of seeing clearly how every truth is right there in front of us, easy to understand, and always at our own level, except where it’s actually below us.
 
There’s no reason at all for wealth and power to concentrate upward. The people are understanding this intuitively. We’ve always known to be suspicious of globalization, and now we know to reject it completely. This means we must also reject the globalizing elites. We should see their “foreignness” for what it is and reject it. They chose to abstract themselves from our land and wage war upon it and us. So while we reject their foreign policy front, we can accept that framing against themselves.
 
A good place to start is to actually see them for what they are, and insist upon this clarity at all times. We know they mean us nothing but harm. If we didn’t know before that every secret is kept not on our behalf but against us, we know it for a fact now. We can thank Wikileaks for the documentary proof of the illegitimacy of the elites’ foreign policy pretensions and alleged prerogatives.
 
And since the false federalism which has led us so far astray was already based upon this false foreign policy emphasis in its inception, we must take our hard-won knowledge and apply it back as we reconceive our democracy. This has been a case study in the falseness of representative pseudo-democracy itself, and proof of the need for and unique legitimacy of positive democracy.

November 3, 2010

The Vector of Today

 

As was widely predicted, the Democrats lost the House and barely hung on to the Senate. I stress that the Dems lost the House; the Reps did not win it. The people know who the Reps are and rejected them once and for all in 2006 and 2008. That they’re creeping back to temporary power is a function of the Dems’ complete abdication of the mandate they received in 2008. The people have now rejected both kleptocratic parties once and for all, and it’ll be merely the inertia of acculturation and the structure of the system that keep them in power during these upcoming shadowy transitional years. What kind of shapes will eventually cohere in what kind of light is mostly up to us.
 
To recap a few facts about our present vector.
 
1. We’re descending into the Second Great Depression. It was directly, intentionally inflicted upon us by the banksters. They set out to destroy all good American jobs, public amenities, economic security, and social stability. They robbed us of trillions and destroyed the real economy in the process. All of this was intentional. (And they never served any productive purpose in the first place.)
 
2. This is not a democratic society, even in principle. In principle it’s a representative democracy. By now it’s proven that this form is really just manipulative pseudo-democracy. It failed at everything it claimed it would accomplish – that it would bring economic prosperity to all even as everyone had the opportunity to get rich; that it would provide meaningful political participation to all citizens who wanted to participate; that it would safeguard liberty; that it would proved a stable, secure society. It even failed in its core goal of safeguarding “property rights”, since these too have been placed at the mercy of the power of malevolent concentrated wealth, at the mercy of wealth’s brute force and the disaster capitalist chaos it intentionally generates.
 
If you read Madison’s Federalist #51, among other documents, you’ll see how it was intended to fail right from the start.
 

It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil: the one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority — that is, of the society itself; the other, by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable.

 
There’s the basic divide-and-conquer strategy consciously articulated right from the inception.
 
3. Neoliberalism, as ideology and class war battle plan, represents the climax of the corporatist seizure of power. Some other terms for this are “soft fascism” and “inverted totalitarianism”. Terms like this capture the way pseudo-democracy, in the form of rigged elections and corrupt “representation”, all of it slathered in the gauzy nimbus of MSM sham-civics propaganda, tries to put a human mask over the hideous face of corporate greed and power.
 
Neoliberalism is the full, logical end state of representative democracy, once corporations have become sufficiently powerful as to capture the entire system.
 
And now neoliberalism’s transformation into Bailout America and the “austerity” regimes represents the end stage of pseudo-democracy, which is really a transition back to feudalism.
 
4. The two Washington gangs are nothing but worthless mechanical flunkeys of this historical process. Most Americans, even those still mired in voting for them, know this by now. Neither party can be reformed or redeemed. They are both incorrigibly criminal, rotted beyond reclaim to the very core, in both principle and practice. They must both perish. The same goes for representative pseudo-democracy itself. It’s often said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others, and that Americans can be counted on to do the right thing once they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.
 
These are true, but we must clarify the term democracy. By this juncture of history we know it can only mean true democracy, which is the only form of government proven to deliver on its promises, and which retains any sovereign legitimacy and moral authority. But “representative” pseudo-democracy is one of the discredited “others” which must be rejected and tossed onto the trash heap of history with the rest of the shams and tyrannies. The only alternative is for America itself to wither and die once and for all.
 
So we face the great citizen responsibility to organize the resistance against kleptocracy, and to do it mostly through economic and political guerrilla warfare and passive resistance. There may be a few battlegrounds where we can make forays back into the system. In particular, where it comes to food issues there is a recent history of citizen activism improving the situation. Namely, the Senate version of the pending Food Tyranny bill was significantly improved by citizen pressure over the course of the year (though it’s still not sufficient). So I do encourage readers to do the submit-a-comment and even call-your-representative on that particular issue. There’s some evidence that the same is true on net neutrality.
 
Why might this be true of food and the Internet but not of finance and health “reform”? The simplest and most plausible answer is that citizens feel food and Internet access issues more viscerally and will oppose assaults with greater ferocity, while those anti-citizen rackets aren’t as powerful and mysterious as the FIRE sector rackets. Picture the gun rights movement as opposed to the finance reform movement. It’s stark viscerality and a clear goal as opposed to an intense feeling but diffused aim. And in the former case the opponent is no racket at all, just some confused liberals, as opposed to the most virulent and concentrated power center on the planet. So we can see why the NRA succeeds while finance reform failed. If those are two extremes, the movements for Food Freedom and Net Neutrality are, the evidence shows, somewhere in between.
 
What can we expect from the lame ducks and then the new Congress? Reid has said he plans to seek cloture on the Food Tyranny bill which was being held up by one Republican. If he succeeds in that, the bill will probably pass and go into conference with the far worse House version. If the lame duck Congress doesn’t move on this, I don’t know if a new Senate will take it up at all. Although plenty of Republicans voted for these nasty bills, they weren’t sponsors of them and don’t usually initiate this kind of Big-Government-at-its-worst legislation.
 
There’s no (anti-)net neutrality currently far along the pipeline, though both Dems and Reps have made noises about seeking to legislatively gut it. Since FCC commissioner Genachowski has no backbone at all and evidently wants to punt the ball to Congress completely, there’s a good chance the next Congress will try to enact an anti-Internet bill.
 
We can take it for granted that Congress will try to legalize the mortgage disaster. In fact we should see pretty quickly whether the cynics were right and they rush to override Obama’s phony veto of the notarization gutting bill. That bill would just be minor tinkering with the problem, however. If they really intend to try to legalize this monumental abdication of the rule of law and enshrined title and security pooling procedures, they’ll need far more sweeping legislation than this.
 
Finally, there’s the health racket Stamp mandate. The Reps have talked a good game for a while now, and the tea partiers have been howling for a long time. Now they have their chance. Now we’ll see how the Republicans really feel about the Stamp Act. If they were telling the truth about opposing it, they’ll move expeditiously to repeal the mandate. They obviously have enough votes in the House, and there’s no doubt they could get enough Dems to join them in the Senate. So just as Obama and the Dems had total power to do whatever they wanted in Congress, so the Reps will now have, for the next two years, not total power but certainly power to repeal the worst aspects of Obamacare. Should I hold my breath?
 
So there’s our present vector. From here on I’m mostly going to follow those four issues and continue the brainstorming on alternative activism. The system itself is doomed and beyond redemption in every way. 

August 3, 2010

We Need A New American Energy (Madison’s Federalist #37)

 

IN REVIEWING the defects of the existing Confederation, and showing that they cannot be supplied by a government of less energy than that before the public, several of the most important principles of the latter fell of course under consideration.

 
Madison opens Federalist #37 pronouncing how in his estimation the Confederacy lacked the energy necessary for an effective government. Here he begs the question of what he thinks government should be doing, but we know from his and Hamilton’s other numbers that he’s writing of Empire. Today we who know how the American Empire turned out are bound to read this with a different eye. But we can agree that a new energy is needed. Today’s kleptocracy has all too much energy where it comes to the aggrandizement of the corporations, including using hijacked public resources (the military) to launch private wars to further this looting. Meanwhile the citizenry must deplore the complete enervation of the public power where it comes to moderating the ravages of corporate psychopaths and gangsters. Here there is no government to speak of. We see only the void left behind by the abdication of the public realm. As Hobbes would say we are cast back into the state of nature, and it is now our right and prerogative to defend ourselves.
 
So some of us write and think, trying to figure out what to do. We are resuming the position and mission of the Americans of Madison’s time, and his words in justification can help with ours today. Madison salutes the convention and describes the mission of those seeking a new energy for a freedom-loving community.
 

It is but just to remark in favor of the latter description, that as our situation is universally admitted to be peculiarly critical, and to require indispensably that something should be done for our relief, the predetermined patron of what has been actually done may have taken his bias from the weight of these considerations, as well as from considerations of a sinister nature. The predetermined adversary, on the other hand, can have been governed by no venial motive whatever. The intentions of the first may be upright, as they may on the contrary be culpable. The views of the last cannot be upright, and must be culpable. But the truth is, that these papers are not addressed to persons falling under either of these characters. They solicit the attention of those only, who add to a sincere zeal for the happiness of their country, a temper favorable to a just estimate of the means of promoting it.

 
That’s the way it is today. We have reached such a critical time. Madison’s warning here is reminiscent of that in Hamilton’s #1. He acknowledges the potential moral and spiritual pitfalls besetting the intrepid path. It’s an admonition for the ages. But even more clear is the malevolence of those who oppose what history and the spirit decree as necessary. Out of greed, out of sadism, out of cowardice, from wherever their will to crush the human soul springs, they “cannot be upright, and must be culpable”, as Madison says.
 
Who is the fated audience?
 

Persons of this character will proceed to an examination of the plan submitted by the convention, not only without a disposition to find or to magnify faults; but will see the propriety of reflecting, that a faultless plan was not to be expected. Nor will they barely make allowances for the errors which may be chargeable on the fallibility to which the convention, as a body of men, were liable; but will keep in mind, that they themselves also are but men, and ought not to assume an infallibility in rejudging the fallible opinions of others.

With equal readiness will it be perceived, that besides these inducements to candor, many allowances ought to be made for the difficulties inherent in the very nature of the undertaking referred to the convention.

 
Just as the original convention’s job was difficult and often obscure to the masses at first, so must ours be.
 

The novelty of the undertaking immediately strikes us. It has been shown in the course of these papers, that the existing [consolidated] Confederation is founded on principles which are fallacious; that we must consequently change this first foundation, and with it the superstructure resting upon it. It has been shown, that the other confederacies which could be consulted as precedents have been vitiated by the same erroneous principles [The European citizenry is being liquidated even more quickly than we in America; how long can Scandinavia hold out?], and can therefore furnish no other light than that of beacons, which give warning of the course to be shunned, without pointing out that which ought to be pursued [Ireland, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, now Greece, Germany, the UK, soon Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium]. The most that the convention could do in such a situation, was to avoid the errors suggested by the past experience of other countries, as well as of our own; and to provide a convenient mode of rectifying their own errors, as future experiences may unfold them.

 
What are we to avoid? Exactly what our anti-federalist forerunners warned us against: consolidation of power at the top, concentration of wealth, the imperial impulse, the deliverance of the economy into the hands of banksters and corporations. All this must be swept away in the ethical whirlwind.
 
Having exalted the potential energy of a federalist government, Madison contemplates the difficulty of harmonizing energy with stability and liberty. These comprise an inescapable trilemma. Even where the people agree as one general will, the three can never be simultaneously maximized. There must always be trade-offs. But as Madison and Hamilton have demonstrated so elaborately in these pieces, there are also harmonies which blend at different levels of government. I advocate maximizing liberty and stability by investing the vast majority of government energy at the community level. I expect that as more people realize how the oil-driven debt kleptocracy has reached its dead end, more will come back around to this wholesome primal view of community.
 
This could be the answer to the original sin of all consolidated, centralized politics and economy, a sour note Madison and Hamilton fail to elaborate, how the depredation of greed and wealth must always upend the trilemma. It’s a law of history that where elites monopolize society’s wealth, and hijack and maximize the energy of government to wage class war from above, there can exist neither liberty nor stability. In that case all these words and concepts are turned upside down, shaken and rent apart.
 
Now the beleaguered fugitive citizen cries out, “Liberty? For whom! I’m whipped and riven and enclosed. What hideous Satan has hijacked justice to tell me that because I had the misfortune to be born too late and not be born rich, that I must bow before another? That I must “work for” another, when my human right calls out for the wholesome work of the land? The homestead! Who says I must perish in my soul in order not to perish of sickness and hunger, and that I must live sick and hungry anyway, that I must die of disease and starvation anyway? Is that the “liberty” you dangle before me? It’s a mirage and a fraud, and I renounce it. Where liberty has been raped and killed, I’ll seek the vengeance of justice…..
 
“Whose stability? Do I rampage across the countryside as a vandal, kicking down towns, scattering polities, pimping laws, prostituting education, corrupting truth, smothering all of freedom’s space for action and movement, all peace and time for thought? I wanted nothing but to live in peace but have been chased and nettled as by a swarm of hornets. So if I cannot have peace, if I’m doomed to eternal war. I’ll wage it back at those who have so relentlessly assaulted me, with all the hate and viciousness they first mustered against us…..
 
“So there’s the only energy left in this world of war. There’s no specific energy of government; there’s only the kinetic rage of feudal war. For the moment in most places its physical violence is at a lull, while it rages all the more ferociously in every sublimated realm, of politics, of administration, the media, academia, the law, the culture. If there’s ever again to be a community of energy, stability, liberty, the people will have to recreate and win these out of their own feral power, for we are once again naked men scrabbling over the primeval rocks. The enemies of humanity have dragged us back to that barbarism. To once again rise to civilization, we must smash the barbarians of post-civilization. That’s the energy the peril of the time must summon.”
 
One way or another, the energy is now completely outside the law. All its visible manifestations are on the side of the criminals who have exiled all stability and liberty to the death zone of commodification, where all human values go to be strangled.
 
Would Madison recognize this world? I hope not. I hope he’d recoil in horror and say, “That’s not what I had in mind at all.” At any rate, we who know this horror must take all necessary action. So we tread the path, resume the lost American Revolution, find our way to resume the Convention.

July 28, 2010

Madison’s Federalist #51: Corporate Power vs. the Naked Citizen

Filed under: American Revolution, Corporatism, Freedom, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 2:30 am

 

In his Federalist #51 James Madison writes of how the government of the temporally strong is merely a form of chaos.
 

Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger.

 
This is true, as we know from the corporate statist chaos (where all state action only disintegrates and assaults according to the dictates of corporate power) we now endure as the great terminal scourge of the previous stage of American history. As we’re now undergoing the transition to the next stage of history, a transition being forced by Peak Oil, by the terminal collapse of the exponential debt economy, and by the vicious forces of neoliberalism itself, we must make the most pivotal choice we’ve had to make since the 18th century.
 
If Madison’s proclaimed desire,
 

[I]n the latter state, even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced, by a like motive, to wish for a government which will protect all parties…

 
was ever honored in practice, has long since been overthrown. I suppose the kind of cretin who sincerely worships “the strong” as defined by the souldead corporate system, which exalts only the lowest kind of thugs – belligerent, grasping, obnoxious, free-loading, unproductive, lazy about everything except stealing, anti-intellectual, anti-cultural, ugly, loutish, basically stupid except for some level of animal cunning – I suppose the type (like Bush or Obama) who worships this subhuman cohort can be content with this state of affairs.
 
But freedom-loving human beings must deplore and revile it from the core of our souls.
 
So we must seek to reconstitute a “government”, by which I mean human communities, which will in fact as well as in words nurture and protect all productive, freedom-loving parties, while smashing all criminals.
 
From that point of view, we have to look back at #51 with great suspicion. Whatever Madison’s intent for it, today it presents sinister aspects.
 
The subject matter is federalism, how to achieve the necessary checks and balances to both augment government power but also keep it in harness, and maintain the reins in the right relation to one another. Along with #10, #51 is viewed as Madison’s great epitome of this federal ideal which both increases and harmonizes power.
 
His two main points are:
 
1. The United States will have a double federalism, that of the federal government vis the states, and that of the divisions into branches within the governments at both levels.
 
2. The question of how to prevent predatory factions from overtaking the government. That’s our main concern today.
 
Here Madison offers two ways of constraining faction.
 

It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. There are but two methods of providing against this evil: the one by creating a will in the community independent of the majority — that is, of the society itself; the other, by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable.

 
So we can have either an asocial power center like an hereditary aristocracy which stands outside politics itself, or politics can be somehow forcibly fragmented and splintered. Society must be divided into so many fragments and possible combinations that no tyrannical faction is likely to arise. Madison is cryptic about how this splintering is supposed to occur.
 
Indeed, this and subsequent passages, when we compare them to the history which has ensued, cry out to be read in a Machiavellian way. Madison broaches the possibility of an “independent will” among yet outside the community? In his telling this will would be majestically asocial yet somehow would operate for the community’s benefit. Since Madison immediately disposes of the idea, one could try to argue it’s unfair to him to subject it to close scrutiny.
 
But this would be wrong, because what has US history since produced, as by now its overwhelming feature? Precisely this independent will: But in the form of corporations, this will is not at all impartially “next to” yet outside the community. It’s not asocial, but aggressively anti-social. It’s not impartial and apolitical, but radically destructive of all politics.
 
And needless to say, it has not operated to the community’s benefit, but to our harrowing detriment as the corporate assault has ravaged our communities, our economy, our social stability, our happiness and peace of mind, our freedom and humanity. These are all the charred corpses strewn about on the scorched earth of corporatism. That’s where the real manifestation of what Madison called the “will independent…of society itself” has gotten us.
 
And what about this community fragmentation, which Madison himself calls his desired policy? Why would atomizing the citizenry be so important if the people truly agreed on social and economic basics? Because in everything he and Hamilton and the other federalists write, they’re anxious to obfuscate the facts of class war and set up a system where the rich can dominate.
 

….creating a will in the community independent of the majority — that is, of the society itself.

 
This is a recipe for disaster, as they should’ve known even in 1787-8. A clue to the federalist pathology is how they’re constantly saying it’s the peasant majority who threatens the minority of their economic and alleged social betters; how the real threat of tyranny is from the bottom up. But even then it was the fact that throughout history tyranny had almost always come from the top down, the power elites oppressing the majority.
 
And so it has been though American history. Whatever Madison’s intent, we can read this only one way today. Since at least the latter 19th century, the whole trend of US history, radically accelerating over the last 40 years, has been a double assault according to Madison’s prescription in #51, but inverting his proclaimed intent.
 
1. The elites have constructed the corporate will outside society, as a predator against it, as the vehicle of class war upon it.
 
2. At the same time they’ve sought to atomize the people, to dissolve all social, economic, and political bonds so that each individual stands naked, confused, demoralized, and alone before the awesome corporate power.
 
This puts the “anarchy” passage in perspective. Here Madison drops the misdirection of playing off the terms “majority” and “minority” against one another and substitutes the more ecumenical “stronger” vs. “weaker”. Now when we read this it becomes clear that the predator minority is “the strong”, while the vast majority of the people are expected to be the weak.
 
Toward the end Madison reintroduces the concept of the “independent will”, this time with an unmistakable tone of menace:
 

…whilst there being thus less danger to a minor from the will of a major party, there must be less pretext, also, to provide for the security of the former, by introducing into the government a will not dependent on the latter, or, in other words, a will independent of the society itself.

 
Today I can’t help reading that as written in totalitarian code: Since the numerical majority is likely to resist the tyranny of the elite minority, the minority will have to construct an aggressive shock force outside society and politics to assault both society and politics. This shock force will be the corporation

July 16, 2010

Critique of Federalism (Madison’s Federalist #14)

 

In Federalist #14 James Madison continues his defense of the federalist idea by rebutting the claim that the physical extent of the proposed country would be too large for effective and equitable governance. Today, Oil Age transportation and communication technology have made this a moot point, though how long it will remain so as we pass beyond the oil Peak is an open question. At any rate, physical logistics in themselves have thus far not seemed to play much of a role, and on that point at least Madison appears vindicated so far.
 
But in the course of his argument he takes the opportunity for some peculiar asides regarding democracy which I’ll examine in this piece.
 
Before proceeding I’ll describe again where I’m coming from, and what I think is politically needful today.
 
As aspiring relocalizers we’re of course skeptical on its face of any alleged timelessness of Madison’s pro-federalist argument. We now believe in positive democracy. It’s a normative value in itself, a moral imperative, and, as a matter of practicality, the only form of government which is not a proven failure (unlike representative “democracy”). Meanwhile, we know the decentralized economy can also be run by the people. This has been proven, for example, in the Spanish cooperatives of the 1930s. So all forms of economic paternalism, from Madison to Lenin, have been proven false. We’ve long since come of age and must no longer let thugs convince us that we can’t run our own affairs. We can do for ourselves. It’s precisely those parasites who have no right to exist, morally or as a practical matter.
 
So here’s the call:
 
1. Participatory democracy and economy, as a positive good.
 
2. Political and economic relocalization as a political imperative vs. tyranny.
 
3. Political and economic relocalization as a physical imperative in the face of Peak Oil.
 
It’s in the sunshine of this framework that we unfold the critique of federalism and call for the devolution of federalism, levering the real center of power’s gravity close to the soil from which it grows in the first place.
 
In what follows, it’s always the case that much of Madison’s argument becomes both obsolete, since energy descent’s enforced relocalization renders the federalists’ imperial aspirations moot; and beside the point, since we’ve recognized the political failure of the “republic” form, and democracy remains our only option, unless we wish to submit to slavery once and for all. So in both cases, the decision is determined by circumstances and argument is moot.
 
But let’s proceed. Madison opens up with the question of whether the proposed country is too big and the claim that only a republic can be politically capacious enough to encompass ever-greater geographical scales.
 

The error which limits republican government to a narrow district has been unfolded and refuted in preceding papers. I remark here only that it seems to owe its rise and prevalence chiefly to the confounding of a republic with a democracy, applying to the former reasonings drawn from the nature of the latter. The true distinction between these forms was also adverted to on a former occasion. It is, that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.

 
This is quite presumptuous, since he starts with the dogma that the union has to become a great empire, then acts as if this is self-evident truth as he goes on to “prove” that we can’t have democracy because it can’t scale up, and then accuses opponents, at least many of whom oppose the imperial assumption in the first place, of being confused about the different capacities of democracy and republic to sustain empire. (Madison and Hamilton both consistently take the desirability of this centralized empire-seeking republic for granted, then argue as if they’ve proven it’s the best system and that all they have to do is dispose of some technical arguments. It’s begging the question throughout.)
 
Well, that’s also a moot argument. America’s imperial days are over. It’s clear today that the only purpose of the empire is to enable corporate looting of taxpayer money, and at the same time only the most larcenous extractions enable the propping up of this empire at all. It’s a monstrous rathole from any point of view. The imperialist strivings of federalism are utterly discredited, and we can declare those arguments dead and buried. Today reality and our political desires are trending in the opposite direction from Madison’s day. We have the bloated tyrannical empire and want to guide its inevitable unwind in such a way as to be as beneficial to the people as possible.
 
Madison then goes on to describe in detail the geography of the states in order to prove transportation problems aren’t insuperable. It’s interesting that he cites Britain as one of the examples with which the size of the union was comparable, since the US had just won independence in part by exploiting the British empire’s physical extension, which under those economic and military conditions became overextension. (And did he recall how the patriots quickly dropped in their own counsels any serious demand for parliamentary representation, since any effective logistics for that were clearly impossible?) This is so obvious it’s hard to believe Madison was unaware of it as he wrote. At any rate, it reminds us again of the modern US’s extreme military and economic overextension. Hundreds of bases, hundreds of thousands of troops, a dozen aircraft carrier groups to patrol tens of thousands of miles of sea lanes, and all of it to prop up a wealth-destroying system.
 
That geographical lunacy highlights how, during the Oil Age at any rate, geographical power concentration, the way Madison and Hamilton emphasize, is a misdirectional concept.  For geographical centers we have to substitute power concentrations, as wielded by disembodied corporations*, and the disempowered people for regional extremities.
 
Having satisfied himself on the geography, Madison goes on to make some political points.
 
He claims a version of the idea later to be encoded in the 10th Amendment.
 

In the first place it is to be remembered that the general government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws. Its jurisdiction is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the separate provisions of any. The subordinate governments, which can extend their care to all those other subjects which can be separately provided for, will retain their due authority and activity. Were it proposed by the plan of the convention to abolish the governments of the particular States, its adversaries would have some ground for their objection; though it would not be difficult to show that if they were abolished the general government would be compelled, by the principle of self-preservation, to reinstate them in their proper jurisdiction.

 
The fact that the federalists furiously resisted the enshrining of a Bill of Rights is already suspicious, and we know how the 10th Amendment turned out in practice: A demagogic political meme at most, something always to be cited and deployed in a purely cynical, hypocritical manner. (Once Bush came in, every Republican suddenly forgot where he put his little pocket Constitution.)
 
What’s most interesting to me about that Madison quote is how, even though it seems to concede a real federalist spirit, it does so only from the point of view of the interests of the central government. The guarantor of the integrity of state governments is to be how useful and necessary they are for the weal of the federal government. But we true democrats don’t care about the efficacy of government as a value in itself, but only insofar as a more effective government is more effective at promoting our democratic endeavor, the vibrancy of our freedom, and our economic opportunity and prosperity. As James Otis said of the English constitution, “its end, its use, its designation, drift, and scope” must be liberty above all. This was universally agreed among the rebels, who saw how the British government’s actions were abrogating this imperative. So we today recognize the same obligation of our constitution, and measure a system of government by how well it embodies this responsibility, or with what depravity it derogates it. 
 
Therefore it’s good that Madison moves next to conceding in advance the integrity of our endeavor.
 

A second observation to be made is that the immediate object of the federal Constitution is to secure the union of the thirteen primitive States, which we know to be practicable; and to add to them such other States as may arise in their own bosoms, or in their neighborhoods, which we cannot doubt to be equally practicable. The arrangements that may be necessary for those angles and fractions of our territory which lie on our northwestern frontier, must be left to those whom further discoveries and experience will render more equal to the task.

 
Therefore the project is to be considered always in flux, in accordance with the needs of the age. That includes geographical features and it implicitly includes political forms. (As proven by the radical morphological action, for which it had no explicit authority, of the late Convention of whose work Madison and Hamilton were now acting as champions.)
 
Finally he reiterates the idea of how the benefits of unions as well as the power lines can run directly or inversely with geographical extremity.
 

[A]lmost every State will, on one side or other, be a frontier, and will thus find, in regard to its safety, an inducement to make some sacrifices for the sake of the general protection; so the States which lie at the greatest distance from the heart of the Union, and which, of course, may partake least of the ordinary circulation of its benefits, will be at the same time immediately contiguous to foreign nations, and will consequently stand, on particular occasions, in greatest need of its strength and resources. It may be inconvenient for Georgia, or the States forming our western or northeastern borders, to send their representatives to the seat of government; but they would find it more so to struggle alone against an invading enemy, or even to support alone the whole expense of those precautions which may be dictated by the neighborhood of continual danger. If they should derive less benefit, therefore, from the Union in some respects than the less distant States, they will derive greater benefit from it in other respects, and thus the proper equilibrium will be maintained throughout.

 
But as we discussed, we know today benefits, responsibilities, power, have no necessary connection with mere geographical extent. The most far-flung geographical tentacles can nevertheless leverage their influence to extract the most absurd and tyrannical subsidies from the center, or conversely anyplace can become a quarry and a mine and a dump. Just look at what’s happening in Madison’s very core with the Marcellus Shale.
 
At the end Madison gives his great peroration, calling upon the people to reject the naysayers and heed the call to union. It’s moving indeed, except that today we know much of what the anti-federalist writers prophecied has come true, while much of what the federalists promised has been betrayed.
 
Madison asks an excellent question: “Why is the experiment of an extended republic to be rejected merely because it may comprise what is new?” He asked that in the day of a failing system which needed to be replaced.
 
And we today must and may ask the same question, and demand the same willingness to experiment toward something new.
 
 
 
[* Just to chuck this in at the bottom here, that’s a conceptual parallel with how the Oil Age brought the advent of the rather disembodied quantum physics as an “advance” beyond the more down-to-earth classical physics. And just as these disembodied corporate power centers are phenomena of the Oil Age which must perish post-oil, so quantum theory looks like it’ll return to the realm of mysticism from whence it arose as the oil surplus will no longer be there to enable such extravagant experiments as those of the CERN particle collider.] 

July 14, 2010

Federalism and the Corporate Gangs (Madison’s Federalist #10)

Filed under: American Revolution, Corporatism, Freedom, Reformism Can't Work — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 2:02 am

 

AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.

 
So James Madison kicks off Federalist #10, one of the core statements of federalism. Specifically, what’s the best form of government to forestall the danger of tyrannical faction.
 
As I discuss this I’ll be guided by the following concepts.
 
1. The number one problem we face today is the existence and depredations of the corporate faction.
 
2. Madison tends to emphasize the notion of a tyrannical “democratic majority” faction. But today the corporate gangsters are this rioting, looting faction.
 
So in a sense I read and rewrite from the point of view that just as the original federalist writers sought a replacement for the faltering Articles of Confederation and wrote The Federalist and other papers to champion a new union concept as this replacement, so now this system had failed, has fallen terminally into faction, under tyranny of the corporate faction, and has failed the way the Articles did. So today we too seek a new way. (I won’t speculate on the intentions of Hamilton and Madison, although they’re often accused of having desired exactly this end. I’m content to say that by now their recommendations are proven wrong. The point is what’s useful today.)
 

The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice. He will not fail, therefore, to set a due value on any plan which, without violating the principles to which he is attached, provides a proper cure for it.

 
That’s our mission.
 

Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

 
Throughout it’ll often be Madison’s (and Hamilton’s) tic that the threat is most likely to come from a numerical majority, but whether or not that was sensible at the time, we know by now the opposite proved to be the case.
 
Madison asks, how much is government at fault, versus its subversion by faction?
 

[I]t will be found, at the same time, that other causes will not alone account for many of our heaviest misfortunes; and, particularly, for that prevailing and increasing distrust of public engagements, and alarm for private rights, which are echoed from one end of the continent to the other. These must be chiefly, if not wholly, effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations.

 
To put it in today’s terms, the government was corruptible and became corrupted. Madison says the Articles allowed a mob-like faction to run wild. Today we deal with a different sort of mob, but the result is the same. By his own logic Madison would have to endorse ours: This union has ended up no longer “well-constructed”, but so neglected, stripped, and gutted to the point of dilapidation and infestation, that the “dangerous vices” of faction has proven to be its propensity, this government is in such a way unstable, the public good is disregarded as he described, and measures are always decided not by justice “but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing”, not majority, but a small gangster minority of such concentrated wealth and power as to be able to make the bid for tyranny. These are our legitimate complaints, and Madison would agree that we must seek “a proper cure for it.”
 
Madison defines faction.
 

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

 
What can be done about it? Madison says there are two possibilities; remove the cause of the faction, or mitigate its effects. He sees two ways to remove the cause: “destroy liberty”, which he calls a cure worse than the disease, or indoctrinate everyone such that factionalism will wither. This is really just a slower version of the former.
 
Since where it comes to political liberty he sees the removal cure as worse than the disease, Madison rejects the removal of causes as a valid solution. Phrased that way, we certainly agree with him.
 
But here we’ll have to modify Madison’s analysis, since his mindset remains focused on primarily political (or at least politicized) factions, fighting it out in the political arena. He seems not to have anticipated purely economic, anti-political gangs which would seek as their mode of “expression” to purge all politics, to destroy all public spaces. Since the Constitution is not a suicide pact, we have no obligation to honor the rules of political engagement where dealing with those who seek to destroy all politics. Therefore in our case Madison’s belief that the first method of removing the cause, “destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence”, is unacceptable, is superceded. To keep going Madison’s way lies the logic of Citizens United, of “corporate personhood”, that corporations have “rights” to free speech and such. Freedom-loving Americans reject such a slander of our Constitution and of our humanity. We can indeed go right to removing the cause of this faction.
 
Therefore we can dispense, morally and conceptually, with Madison’s development of his point that faction is latent in human nature and that its cause cannot be removed, since however true that may be of human nature, here we’re not dealing with human nature. Nevertheless we have to discuss it for a moment, since Madison does seem to give a surface account of what we’re up against.
 

But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.

 
But this is part of how, right from the start, Madison assumed that a particular faction is a law of nature. He’s claiming the divisions and discords indicated are inherent to civilization. So he wants us to consider them facts of nature (and of “human nature”), and from there the only question is domesticating them.
 
In the wider passage Madison portrays a potentially attractive world of positive democracy and the Greek agon, the contest; but he also depicts it as frivolous and wanton. Either way, he implicitly suppresses the fact of systematic tyrannical faction, the same thing they just went through a Revolution to destroy.
 
In the course of the American Revolution, where the colonists battled the king’s power faction, did they wrongly “destroy its liberty” as Madison describes? No – they eradicated the faction completely by the act of declaring and winning independence.
 
So we’re already at the point of seeking removal of the cause of faction. But let’s move on to Madison’s second discussion – controlling the effects of faction. He starts with a good description of the problem, asking whop can impartially judge among the factions?
 

No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. With equal, nay with greater reason, a body of men are unfit to be both judges and parties at the same time; yet what are many of the most important acts of legislation, but so many judicial determinations, not indeed concerning the rights of single persons, but concerning the rights of large bodies of citizens? And what are the different classes of legislators but advocates and parties to the causes which they determine? Is a law proposed concerning private debts? It is a question to which the creditors are parties on one side and the debtors on the other. Justice ought to hold the balance between them. Yet the parties are, and must be, themselves the judges; and the most numerous party, or, in other words, the most powerful faction must be expected to prevail. Shall domestic manufactures be encouraged, and in what degree, by restrictions on foreign manufactures? are questions which would be differently decided by the landed and the manufacturing classes, and probably by neither with a sole regard to justice and the public good.

 
Madison himself implicitly admits the government itself is potentially to be captured once and for all by faction. But he concludes, as we already saw, that we cannot remove the causes of faction but only ameliorate the effects. But as we said, he only implicitly smuggled in as an unproven assertion the proposition that the corporate faction would have to exist at all.
 
Now we get to the part where we must dispense with Madison’s terms “majority” and “minority”, and instead substitute “corporate gangs” and “the people”. (By the people I include all the political agonism Madison describes in the piece and to which his analysis remains applicable. But our concern transcends this given the anti-political enemy we face. Madison’s world of politics couldn’t even begin until we purge the corporate poison.)
 
He blithely disposes of what’s supposed to happen if the troublemaker is a numerical minority.
 

If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution.

 
This prognostication has obviously proven false, as the corporate coup is well advanced, and in plain sight. Meanwhile Madison again postulates the populist majority as the real threat, and disparages pure democracy as an untenable political form.
 

From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

 
Based on this assertion, he endorses a republic as the best form of government.
 

A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. Let us examine the points in which it varies from pure democracy, and we shall comprehend both the nature of the cure and the efficacy which it must derive from the Union.

The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.

 
Today, is his recommendation holding up?
 
Madison claims a republic works this way. Elected representatives are expected to be wiser, more prudent, morally better than those who elect them. In case they’re not, the larger the electorate the allegedly better, and only a republic (not a democracy) affords great geographical extension. He asserts that the more citizens there are, the less likely any faction can take over. From there he argues for a bigger republic rather than a smaller.
 

The other point of difference is, the greater number of citizens and extent of territory which may be brought within the compass of republican than of democratic government; and it is this circumstance principally which renders factious combinations less to be dreaded in the former than in the latter. The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.

 
He claims that the smaller and more homogeneous the electorate, the more likely for tyrannical faction to take hold. But the truth is that the less ferocious the class struggle, the less scope there is for tyranny. Madison has described exactly how a party system can become tyrannical, yet he says that’s more characteristic of small, economically more equitable communities, than of big, brutal, clamorous economic machines. It seems that he reverses the truth because he ideologically denies the class war. Therefore he thinks what’s more likely to foster tyranny is actually less likely, and vice versa.
 
From all of the foregoing, from his perception of the failure of the Articles and his hopes for centralization, Madison comes to champion the federalist system. In the same spirit, we who ponder the wreckage of the American promise must perceive the terminal failure of this system. Perhaps it had a good run, maybe Madison was right for awhile, but it’s reached the end.
 
To recap, the flaws in Madison’s scheme going forward are that he implicitly calls the empire of rentiers and gangland creditors a law of nature, when it’s just a politically entrenched monstrosity; and he systematically elides the creeping kleptocratic faction, precisely the kind of creeping tyranny the American revolutionaries had fought so hard to overcome.
 
Today the question is: What kind of political and economic life will empower us to destroy this faction and prevent it from ever arising to rob and terrorize us again.
 
I think the key, in any future constitutional convention actions, must be to compel defederalization along with the explicit purging of the corporate monster. The Republicans had the idea of starving the beast, although they wanted to do so in order to open up the field of fire for the corporate criminals. We instead must seek to starve the corporate parasite by starving the highest level of federalism, the central kleptocratic rogue government.