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The New Road to Serfdom

M. J. Parrish

A Crisis Papers Guest Essay

August 23, 2004

 

There are four distinct ideological spheres that are dominant in one or more aspects of national life right now, and their ideologies, just "coincidentally," all involve establishing a ruling elite that will rule over a docile and acquiescent populace of serfs. All have a view of the general population that's highly negative - they're either "born evil," they're weak and pleasure loving and easily led, or they're motivated solely by greed and self-interest. Most of these ideologies advocate ruling the population by a combination of deceit and religious beliefs.

1) The Neocons, followers of Leo Strauss of the University of Chicago, believers in Machiavellian politics, previously followers of Trotsky and believers in perpetual revolution, are now pushing perpetual war and world domination. They believe the world should be governed by a handful of wealthy elite using deceit to achieve their broader aims; they believe in US domination of the world, and they believe they, as the elite, are the only ones capable of determining the ultimate good of this country. They believe in using religion to control a population that's so weak and pleasure-loving that they can't be trusted with democracy, while exempting themselves and chosen leaders from any requirement that they be religious themselves - although they speak of the benefits of pretending to be so.

2) The Dominionists, represented by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and a host of other religious leaders, have been working for 20 years to establish a theocratic kingdom in this country, where secular laws would be illegitimate and only Biblical law, including stoning for a variety of offenses, is allowable. They, too, believe in an elite composed of a handful of religious leaders controlling the population through draconian law. They believe it's their religious mandate to take over the US on behalf of Dominionist Christianity, and after that, to take over the world and enforce conversion to Christianity on the world's population.

They also believe in Biblical economics. According to the Dominionists, God rewards the Godly here on earth by making them wealthy, and punishes the Ungodly by making them poor or striking them with disabilities and illness. God also believes in unfettered free markets and restricts taxation on the rich, according to this convenient version of Christianity that meshes so handily with free market ideology. This group is responsible for the myth that the US was established as a Christian nation and that it's only "liberals and atheists" who have "taken God out of the schools and public life." There's a bill in Congress now that would prevent the Supreme Court or perhaps any court, depending on how the law's interpreted, from reviewing any decision made by a judge who claims his decision was based on Biblical law. (The Constitution Restoration Act of 2004).

3) The free market fundamentalists, who have warped the theories of Adam Smith and Friedrich von Hayek, plus theories from Ricardo and Schumpeter from 150 - 200 years ago that were fatally flawed even when they were proposed, and built them into a theory of free markets that amounts to corporate libertarianism. They believe that corporations should be free of regulation and taxation, and that their sole purpose is to make profits for investors by whatever means necessary, including corporate tax avoidance and off-shoring as many jobs as possible in pursuit of the cheapest labor. In their world view, the worker is the enemy, along with government regulation, taxation, and torts. Their goal is to eliminate unions and constantly put downward pressure on wages until the American work force is desperate enough to work for third world wages.

4) The Federalist Society, whose members are the only candidates George Bush nominates to fill openings in the judiciary, also believes in free market economics, and takes the view that the government's only role is to wage war and govern interstate commerce. They see corporations as having rights under the Constitution, and individuals as having none that can, under the Constitution, be established or defended by Congress or the federal courts. (The recent Michigan decision and the Lawrence decisions were anomalies given the voting record of this U.S. Supreme Court). For the past ten years this Supreme Court and many of the federal courts have been rolling back individual rights and protections, workers' rights, and environmental protections in favor of corporate protections. Many of the Federalists also believe in eroding the wall of separation between church and state. Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are members of Opus Dei, a group that is similar to the Dominionists in the desire to turn the US into a theocracy, as are Senators Santorum and Brownback and no doubt a number of other members of Congress.

All of these dominant ideological groups, as I mentioned, tend to be funded by the same handful of wealthy industrialists, and there's considerable overlapping membership among these groups and their ideologies. All tend to believe in establishing rule by a handful of elite over a population of what are to be, essentially, serfs. This confluence of ideologies is unique in the American experience and seems to me to be more dangerous, in combination, than anything the US has faced before, particularly since so much of their wish list has already been accomplished, and since much of it seems on a course to progress inexorably until the middle class is destroyed and our fates rest in the hand of a wealthy and powerful elite who will then use whatever draconian means necessary to control a restless and increasingly desperate populace.

This wealth and power, and their ownership of most of the media, combine to make this trend nearly unstoppable by others who see this trend more clearly than the average right-winger and the religious right. I suggest that George Bush, by managing to push through his corporate/religious/ war-making agenda so quickly and thoroughly, is doing more to wake up the American public than all of the efforts of progressives combined. Yet there are steps we can take to reach some of the religious right. Beginning right after Barry Goldwater's defeat in 1964, the far right realized that they could never achieve power by speaking openly of their agenda. At that point they began going underground, establishing think tanks and convincing religious leaders that they must begin taking a role in national politics. After 40 years, their control is greater than even the most idealistic of Goldwater followers could ever have imagined.

Aside from their ability to influence Congress, they've also adopted the increasingly sophisticated techniques of the advertising industry to convince the general public that the far right represents the "good" and progressives {"liberals") are responsible for all the ills of society. They've done so by rewriting the English language so completely that opponents have no language left with which to challenge these very dangerous ideas. We can work to take back the language, in a sense, by reframing the issues.

Family values are important to almost all Americans, yet the far right has seized the term and claims ownership. Liberals need to reframe the issue to point out that it's a family value for parents to have a job that pays a living wage so they can support their families and still have time to parent their children. It's also a family value for parents and children to have access to affordable health care; explained by the right candidates and civic leaders, this can be understood by some of the religious right, although anyone looking for a logical thinking among the religious right is looking in vain. The power of brainwashing is so strong, and any claims of "liberals" so equated with "evil," that at least 20% will never be moved.

The 20% figure I cite comes from Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," written in 1964 following Barry Goldwater's defeat. This book is still a "must read" today for anyone wanting to understand the far right. According to Hofstadter, approximately 20% of any population will be most comfortable on the far right. They're characterized by a seemingly innate need to feel themselves surrounded by enemies and constantly at war. They demand that public policy and laws conform exactly with their beliefs, and any departure from an exact parallel between the two makes them feel devalued, disrespected, and under attack. We see evidence of this when those on the right claim that any dissent or disagreement with the administration's policies is "hate America" speech or outright treason.

If Hofstadter is correct about there being 20% who tend toward the far right and paranoia, the 40% of the American public claiming to be fundamentalist Christians is evidence of the power of propaganda on that additional 20%. Perhaps a significant proportion of that extra 20% is reachable by reframing the issues, "taking back" the language, and focusing on the values the vast majority of Americans support - generally those values include help for the poor and elderly, support for the schools and for education, and in general policies that recognize the bind middle income (and lower middle income) families find themselves in and attempt to ameliorate the situation.

A new wrinkle in US politics now is the "fear factor," brought about by 9/11, the administration's constant "terror alerts" and focus on the supposed great danger posed by militant Islamists to the American people. For the presumably 20% of the population, or perhaps more, who are eagerly awaiting Armageddon and envisioning themselves raptured to heaven while the rest of us suffer the plagues of the damned before being whisked to the nether regions, there'll be little chance of offsetting their gleeful anticipation of our demise and their elevation, as portrayed for them in Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" series. Yet presumably there are others who can be reached by a more rational discussion.

John Kerry is waging a clever campaign, given the time and the circumstances, by attempting to assure the average American that he can keep us safer than George Bush can. In another year and another time, he'd lose much of his base by sounding so militant, but in this time, he can safely ignore his base, knowing that we're so frightened of another GWB term that we'll vote for him no matter what he says.

The campaign that must be waged after what I hope is a Kerry win is one that I don't see even our most liberal leaders pursuing, and therefore one that others of us must take up. We need to discuss calmly and rationally the perceived dangers posed by terrorists and cite experts who will calmly and rationally talk us through the perceived risks, the actual likelihood of such an event coming to pass, and the difficulty any terrorist or "rogue government" would have in accomplishing such things as obtaining a nuclear weapon and the even greater difficulty (the near impossibility) of actually delivering one. Even obtaining and delivering a biological or chemical agent in such as way as to harm large number of Americans makes these overblown fears seem highly unlikely. Once Americans realize that the greatest dangers come from small truck bombs and other small-impact devices, perhaps we can hold a more rational discussion, even with a certain percentage of those who consider themselves fundamentalist Christians. It will be still later, I'm afraid, before we can begin a serious national dialogue about our foreign policy and how every danger we face today comes as a result of blowback from previous foreign policy decisions, many of them covert. I hope, but am not sanguine, that someday this will be a topic we can discuss in detail.

Finally, although I believe we have only ten weeks to reach enough people to save this country from another Bush administration and sheer disaster for all of us and for the world, we must continue to work patiently, just as the far right has done for 30 years, at the local, state and national level to reshape the national dialogue and take back our various levels of government from the far right, never forgetting that the wealth, power, and propaganda organs are in the hands of those who wish to establish in perpetuity a world ruled by a handful of wealth and powerful elite and reduce the rest of us to helpless serfdom - with our own complicity if possible, and if necessary, without it. None of us have all the answers as to how to do this, but I believe we have a two-fold effort ahead of us: to educate people, a few at a time, about what we're up against, and to involve ourselves in the political process at the grassroots level to promote and fund progressive candidates until we can replicate the takeover achieved by the far right. Working together, we can do it if we understand that the battle has just begun and that our work won't be completed for the rest of our lifetimes.


Crisis Papers editors, Partridge & Weiner, are available for public speaking appearances