So, the Republicans’ motto (among themselves) is “We’re going to take our country back!” To which, of course, most Democrats respond “Backwards” to, say 1970, or 1950, or the 19th century. The Democrats are too short-sighted, I believe. The Republicans are really aiming to re-establish the basic social system under which most of humanity actually has lived throughout history, whether in ancient Egypt, classical Greece or Rome, historical Europe, India, China, in the Mayan and Incan empires, Benin, or even Polynesian Hawaii…in fact, just about everywhere in every time, with only an occasional modification, a blip lasting at most a generation or two in some small spot of geography. This system could be regarded as the Natural Condition of Man, and we all know how devoted Republican theory is to what is “natural,” read “God-given.”
I refer to the social system in which vast numbers grub out their lives at or near subsistence level, exploited and used by a thin veneer of an upper class, their “betters.” This does not mean that, on occasion, the masses may not for a few years enjoy a higher standard of living than at another time, but it does mean that the upper veneer (recently referred to as “the one percent,” but usually a much smaller percentage than that) will always, always, enjoy a far, far superior standard of living, protected from the vicissitudes of life, a veneer whose rewards so greatly exceed those of the masses as to be like life on another planet. The rewards and emoluments of the top class were assumed to be their due, and the masses were expected to, and usually did, acknowledge their own personal inferiority while accepting the superiority of their betters.
The set-up was approved, excused, explained, reinforced, and enforced by the then-current religion, not to mention the all-powerful weight of social pressure—- human beings are social animals, and there is nothing more weighty than social pressure, and nothing more brutal or resistant to change. There were ample, even glib, and always pretentious, excuses for this unequal distribution of society’s rewards. For example, Aristotle, in his famous treatise on city or polis government, (called Politics), immediately after explaining what he was about in Chapter I, spent Chapter II describing how most people were naturally slaves, and the true man needed to know how to govern his slaves:
…It is also from natural causes that some beings command and others obey, that each may obtain their mutual safety; for a being who is endowed with a mind capable of reflection and forethought is by nature the superior and governor, whereas he whose excellence is merely corporeal is formed to be a slave; whence it follows that the different state of master and slave is equally advantageous to both.”
The theorists of the Republican Party would feel right at home with that quote. True, they would probably substitute entrepreneur or corporate leader for governor; they might give an obligatory flinch (some of them, at least) at the word slave, preferring perhaps worker or laborer, but they surely would agree that there are just two types of human beings, that one type is the leader because of his natural superiority and enterprise, the other fit only to labor and serve, and that this would work to the advantage of both types (are not those corporate leaders the “job creators?”). It is, I submit, a new form of capitalism, a new form of governance, which I call corporate feudalism.
You will notice there is no “middle class” in this social construct, at least not one of any significance. None is really needed; when it comes to middle management and necessary functionaries (including entertainers), these individuals are simply exceptionally good at being slaves/servants, and are rewarded but are not to be confused with, nor admitted to, the top veneer (house slaves rather than field hands, perhaps). Under the new management of corporate feudalism, what remains of the old middle class will become the small upper level of what amounts to a caste system, serving the top elite veneer, as described by Jeff Faux in his book The Servant Economy: Where America’s Elite is Sending the Middle Class.
This new system of society is really the old historical system under new management. It even has its own justification in the secular religion called “free market capitalism,” or Friedman economics which, like all religions, ruthlessly seeks to exterminate what it regards as heresies and heretics (such as Keynesian economics and Paul Krugman). As a political economy it explains everything (or so they say), based on the natural proclivities of human beings. It claims that a totally free, unregulated market will provide absolutely everything a society requires through the operation of the profit motive; every individual will rise or fall based on their own strength of character, ending up with their just desserts. Freedom is defined as making choices in the free market based completely on self-interest; government is either not required (libertarian version of paradisiacal anarchy), or strictly limited, with the sole purpose of protecting and enhancing business (general Tea Party version); and “the market” will mysteriously produce the best possible results for everyone. In any case, you’re on your own. As Margaret Thatcher is alleged to have said, “There is no society, there are only individuals and families.”
The two-tier society (an amorphous mass under a small elite) may seem perhaps a too extreme, even cruel description, but it is pretty much how most people lived for thousands of years, except that now we have the distraction of free market jargon. That is the new rationale excusing corporate dominance. The free market capitalism religion is being used to induce a more-or-less literate working class (unlike earlier uneducated workers) to believe the system gives them each an opportunity to become a wealthy member of the elite if they are smart, innovative, and work hard enough, while also freeing them from the tyranny of “statism,” i.e., big, intrusive, tyrannical government with its regulations and taxes which redistribute wealth from hard working producers to lazy losers, according to Republicans.
Free market capitalism has been cleverly presented as a kind of game, when you think about it, with its supposed emphasis on individual talent and risk-taking combined with the “mysterious hand” of the market that supposedly produces extraordinary goodies for almost everyone willing to apply themselves—- a modern fairy tale, no less. The whole idea of a game that puts every man to the test, with huge rewards for true grit, a sort of John Wayne economy, has undeniable appeal, especially to guys who fancy they are oppressed by wimpy civilization and nanny government, when they long for macho freedom. That the entire scenario has basic flaws leading inevitably to unfreedom, economic crashes, even stagnation is glossed over. Such difficulties are passed off as “creative destruction,” necessary for future growth (“no pain, no gain”).
As practiced today by the corporatists, what it really is, is a con game.
Since the free market theory has captured not only the Republican Party but also most national Democrats, all debates on political economy are conducted entirely within its framework, resulting in what amounts to an unending stream of false choices, or false dilemmas (I will address this in a later article). Corporate feudalism has indeed made such progress that its publicity flacks are beginning agitprop to persuade the targeted middle class that the current crisis is mainly their fault, and they should realize not only their guilt, but that they are inferior to the far superior corporate elite.
The scenario runs as follows: First, the idea is that the middle and working classes have lost their original American values of industriousness and self-reliance, and, over the past 40 years have become lazy moochers, preferring entitlements to really working. Those who believe the fairy tale about the free market’s rewards for self-reliant hard workers naturally assume the corrupted middle class moochers are not themselves but someone else (minorities, perhaps? or government workers?), and join the blame game of finger pointing. Second, there is what can only be described as adulation of the wealthiest corporate and financial elites, the high priests of market capitalism—- their brilliance, ability to innovate, and make money can only be due to their superior brains and strong character; they deserve their outsized rewards and power. In fact, if you cannot emulate them you are obviously less than they are, and deserve your lower station (see Aristotle). This narrative does not preclude a certain self-righteous outrage over the fraud or other antics of some rich scoundrels like Madoff, but, wink, wink, his main sin is that he got caught. Heh.
This is where the Republican philosophy of today is taking us, fueled by the corporate resources of the elites who most benefit from the free market theory of capitalism, who are comforted by the conviction that the entire scheme is not only true to human nature, which is God-given, but it is in line with historical tradition. I happen not to agree, and will offer a more optimistic answer in another article, but, even so, it all does make one wonder sometimes if the American experiment in self-government was not just one of those little blips in history.