‘Corporatism’ and its Roots
April 18, 2013 § Leave a comment
I’ve often noticed that many Americans, especially those who consider themselves “left” of center, are very pessimistic about the state of democracy in the United States. The United States is often held up as an example of everything that is wrong, and many European countries are provided as an example of everything that is ‘right’ about modern democracy. It isn’t hard to understand why. Record amounts of corporate lobbying are shifting the outcome of American politics. Furthermore, one almost gets the sense that many Americans (no doubt Europeans as well) blame American citizens for the sorry state of American democracy.
Ignoring the problems that Europe’s democracies are currently experiencing, it seems clear to me that this last accusation is entirely wrong. The blame does not lie on the American citizens. To the contrary, American citizens had little to do with the inevitable state in which American politics currently finds itself. Well, put more precisely, Americans had everything and nothing to do with it.
I would argue that, in fact, the main issue with American politics is not the alleged stupidity of its voters, but rather, American government was the victim of historical circumstance. Indeed, I see no reason to believe that most Europeans are more educated than their average American counterpart. In fact, there are likely a number of areas within the United States with much higher levels of educated citizens than many entire European nations. This brings me to my first explanation for the demise of American political process: size.
The American federal government has control of a land mass approximately equivalent to all of continental Europe, including most of European Russia. The population figures are also relatively similar. There’s only one way to describe this situation: The United States if fucking huge. Indeed, how ludicrous would it seem to most Europeans if it were suggested that all of their nation-states combine into one European nation with a capital in, say, London? Although, sadly, there are many proponents for such a thing, I highly doubt most European citizens would see this as a realistic power structure. How fair would it be if decision makers in London made decisions which dictated the lives of Spaniards, for example? Well, this is the system we currently have in the U.S. As power continues to centralize in DC, more decisions are made about individuals living in such places as Iowa, California, and Wyoming. Democracy has been proven to fail time and time again, but there is no question that it’s most effective on a smaller nation. The larger the nation, the more likely that your vote won’t even matter. There’s no question that the enormous size of the United States creates a gigantic power vacuum within the 68 square miles in Washington DC. This power vacuum, of course, did not remain unoccupied for long.
Just as important in the demise of American democracy as the large power vacuum created in DC is the large private industry in the United States. Throughout its early history, the United States was a hotbed of private enterprise. Low to no taxes, a libertarian spirit, and the resulting industrial revolution led to the most significant advancement of living standards human society had ever seen. There is no question that early on, the American government was largely restricted from growing due to a population which distinctly remembers shaking off the shackles of the leviathan. The unprecedented growth in American industry led to a number of rather large firms. To make a long story short, the growth of the state from Lincoln through the New Deal created a new bond between American private interests and the American government. This bond, no doubt, is what eventually ‘sealed the deal’ on the death of American democracy. The unification of interests between the government and the private elite, or the “corporate state” was the culmination of a century of government planning and corporate weaseling.
No one denies that the American government is in bed with corporate interests. They may, however, be in denial as to how it happened. Either way, the historical route to today’s corporate leviathan is not the most important point. Regardless of how the U.S. got here, it’s essential to understand whether or not this situation could have been avoided.
The sad truth is that the current state of American politics was all but inevitable. Although the founders drafted the most radical and unprecedented attempt to reign in the power of the state, it must be pointed out that they failed miserably. Sadly, the American founders undertook an impossible task: designing a government which will limit itself. The state machinery is, by its very nature, monopolistic. It should be no surprise that the limited minarchist state of the founders has devolved into the leviathan American empire in the span of a coupe hundred years. Such is the nature of the state. When provided with the opportunity to increase its power, the state almost always takes it.
Let the failure of the American republic be a warning to all Americans: the ‘limited’ state is a misnomer. There is no such thing as a limited state. In the long run, menacing forces will grab hold of the state machinery and manipulate it for their own benefit. They will come in the form of corporatist CEO’s, politicians, and bureaucrats. After all, government cannot remove the self-interested nature of human beings. European socialist nations will meet their own demise, but at least they didn’t have the misfortune of being deluded by the notion of ‘limited’ government.