In this episode, I sit down with myself and talk about the work of the late-great political philosopher Sheldon Wolin. I dabble in his definition of inverted totalitarianism. In his book, he states that in inverted totalitarianism, economics trumps politics. Our system is a kind of faux politics that is debated all the time, but this conceals that the real power is decided within corporate boardrooms. Wedge issues such as gay rights and abortion headline the day when the heart of the debates should reflect on concentration of wealth to inflict class warfare.
Our government need not pursue a policy of stamping out dissidence — the uniformity imposed on opinion by the “private” media conglomerates performs that job efficiently. This apparent “restraint” points to a crucial difference between classical and inverted totalitarianism: in the former economics was subordinate to politics. Under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true: economics dominates politics — and with that domination come different forms of ruthlessness. It is possible for the government to punish by withholding appropriated funds, failing to honor entitlements, or purposely allowing regulations (e.g. environmental safeguards, minimum wage standards) to remain unenforced or waived. What seem like reductions in state power are actually increases. Withholding appropriated money is an expression of power that is not lost on those adversely affected; waiving minimum wage standards is an act of power not lost on those who benefit and those who suffer.
Wolin also writes that all totalitarian regimes are image based cultures stating. I also go on a tirade about this in my podcast:
Cinema and television share a common quality of being tyrannical in a specific sense. They are able to block out, eliminate whatever might introduce qualification, ambiguity, or dialogue, anything that might weaken or complicate the holistic force of their creation, of its total impression.
Wolin writes that classical totalitarianism unites the populus, while inverted totalitarianism fractures and sub divides the citizens to render them impotent.
In a one - party state politics is, in effect, “privatized,” dissociated from the practices of citizenship and confined within the party, where it takes the form of intramural rivalries for the privileges of power and status. It is a politics that never goes public except to orchestrate unanimity. Inverted totalitarianism follows a different route. Instead of pursuing unanimity, it encourages divisiveness; instead of rule by a single master race, it promotes predomination — that is, rule by diverse powers which have found it in their interests to combine while retaining their separate identities. The key components are corporate capital, the very rich, small business associations large media organizations, evangelical Protestant leaders, and the Catholic hierarchy.
I could not have put it any better myself! Wolin states:
The American political system was not born a democracy, but born with a bias against democracy. It was constructed by those who were either skeptical about democracy or hostile to it. Democratic advance proved to be slow, uphill, forever incomplete. The republic existed for three - quarters of a century before formal slavery was ended; another hundred years before black Americans were assured of their voting rights. Only in the twentieth century were women guaranteed the vote and trade unions the right to bargain collectively. In none of these instances has victory been complete: women still lack full equality, racism persists, and the destruction of the remnants of trade unions remains a goal of corporate strategies. Far from being innate, democracy in America has gone against the grain, against the very forms by which the political and economic power of the country has been and continues to be ordered.