node created 2019/09/29
In the United States, the political system is a very marginal affair. There are two parties, so-called, but they're really factions of the same party, the Business Party. Both represent some range of business interests. In fact, they can change their positions 180 degrees, and nobody even notices.
Interview by Adam Jones, February 20 (1990)
My own opinion is that Snowden should be honored. He was doing what every citizen ought to do, telling. He was telling Americans what the government was doing. That’s what’s supposed to happen.

Governments as I mentioned before always plead security no matter what’s going on. The reflexive defense is security. But anyone who’s looked at– first of all, you take a look at what he exposed. At least anything that’s been published, it’s not any kind of threat to security, with one exception, the security of the government from its own population. And in fact if you look at anyone who’s spent any time poring through declassified records– I have, I’m sure many of you have– you find that overwhelmingly the security is the security of the state from its own population and that’s why things have to be kept secret.
There are perfectly obvious processes of centralization of control taking place in both the political and the industrial system. As far as the political system is concerned in every parliamentary democracy, not only ours, the role of parliament in policy formation has been declining in the years since WWII as everyone knows and political commentators repeatedly point out. The executive, in other words, become increasingly powerful as the planning functions of the state become more significant. The house Armed Services Commitee a couple of years ago described the role of Congress as that of a sometimes querulous but essentially kindly uncle, who complains while furiously puffing on his pipe, but who finally, as everyone expects, gives in and hands over the allowance. And careful studies of civil military decisions since WWII show that this is quite an accurate perception. Senator Vandenberg 20 years ago expressed his fear that the American chief executive would become "the number one warlord of the earth". That has since occurred. The clearest decision is the decision to escalate in Vietnam in February 1965 in cynical disregard of the expressed will of the electorate. This incident reveals I think with perfect clarity the role of the public in decisions about peace and war. The role of the public in decisions about the main lines about public policy in general, and it also suggests the irrelevance of electoral politics to major decisions of national policy.

Unfortunately you can't vote the rascals out, because you never voted them in, in the first place.

The corporate executives and the corporation lawyers and so on who overwhelmingly staff the executive, assisted increasingly by a university based mandarin class, these people remain in power no matter whom you elect and furthermore it is interesting to note that this ruling elite is pretty clear about its social role.
I think the argument is clear. A few people in the West have found ways to abuse the political system in a few marginal ways and get away with it for limited periods until independent journalism, public opinion and the courts stop them.

However they get away with it for a while. Therefore it's ok to have an entire political system in China, constructed entirely out of the abuse or elimination of the rights of it's people, with no way to challenge their leaders or hold them accountable.

I make no claims for the validity of the argument.
The idea that a majority of gun owners are going to rise up and then support human rights is a fantasy of right-wing Americans who currently don't support human rights.

Functioning democracies are not propped up by guns. They are propped up by institutions heavily supported by the public. Institutions such as independent government agencies, independent courts, and free media outlets.
Tagsdemocracy
Secrecy has nothing to do with democracy. It kills it. (And that seems to be the goal, lately.)
Those who really have power in this society tolerate democracy only so long as it doesn't infringe on their power. If, through the parliamentary system, we ever began to expropriate industry, then the people who have wealth and power would destroy the parliamentary system. In this respect there probably wouldn't be any way within the system. But any revolutionary I've ever heard of must prefer peaceful non-violent means if these are possible. But it's rarely been possible because of the resistance by those who want to preserve their privileges.
No less insidious is the cry for 'revolution,' at a time when not even the germs of new institutions exist, let alone the moral and political consciousness that could lead to a basic modification of social life. If there will be a 'revolution' in America today, it will no doubt be a move towards some variety of fascism. We must guard against the kind of revolutionary rhetoric that would have had Karl Marx burn down the British Museum because it was merely part of a repressive society. It would be criminal to overlook the serious flaws and inadequacies in our institutions, or to fail to utilize the substantial degree of freedom that most of us enjoy, within the framework of these flawed institutions, to modify them or even replace them by a better social order. One who pays some attention to history will not be surprised if those who cry most loudly that we must smash and destroy are later found among the administrators of some new system of repression.
"American Power and the New Mandarins" (1969)
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."
Column in Newsweek (21 January 1980)
Even if it were possible to design a provably correct, impossible to tamper with, anonymous electronic voting system (which seems unlikely to me) it still should NOT be used. Why?

Everyone understands paper in ballot boxes, and how they can be cheated, what to look for. Everyone can assess an argument as to whether this happened based on the evidence presented.

Basically nobody would understand what to even look for in cheating the electronic system. It would be totally my expert says your expert is wrong and so it is/isn't fraud. Having even the possibility of that argument for electoral fraud is completely insane.

It doesn't just have to be fair, it has to be seen to be fair. Really it does. We need to have reason to have faith in our democratic processes most especially when the people you want to win, don't and the result surprises you.

The sooner we get to "Any electronic voting must be used to mark a standard paper ballot which becomes the entire source of truth." The better. Everything else in electronic voting is dangerous, sinister and flat out evil. Oppose it. Loudly. At every opportunity. Especially if you're known as someone who understands computers on some level.
Behind the technological veil, behind the political veil of democracy reality shows itself: the universal servitude, the loss of human dignity with prefabricated freedom of choice. And the power structure does not appear 'sublimated' anymore in the style of a liberalist culture, not even hypocritical (so that it at least retains the 'formality', the husk of dignity), but brutal, in that it abandons all claim to truth and justice.
"Konterrevolution & Revolte" (1973)
Mass education was designed to turn independent farmers into docile, passive tools of production. That was its primary purpose. And don't think people didn't know it. They knew it and they fought against it. There was a lot of resistance to mass education for exactly that reason. It was also understood by the elites. Emerson once said something about how we're educating them to keep them from our throats. If you don't educate them, what we call "education," they're going to take control - "they" being what Alexander Hamilton called the "great beast," namely the people. The anti-democratic thrust of opinion in what are called democratic societies is really ferocious. And for good reason. Because the freer the society gets, the more dangerous the great beast becomes and the more you have to be careful to cage it somehow.
Take, say, the Bernie Sanders campaign. Which I think is important, impressive, he is doing good and courageous things, he is organizing a lot of people. That campaign ought to be directed to sustaining a popular movement which will use the election as kind of an incentive, but then go on. And unfortunately it's not. When the election's over, the movement's gonna die. And that's a serious error.

The only thing that's gonna ever bring about any meaningful change is ongoing, dedicated popular movements which don't pay attention to the election cycle. It's an extravaganza every four years; you have to be involved in it, so fine, we'll be involved in it. But then we go on. If that were done you could get major changes.
At this point we find ourselves confronted by a very disquieting question: Do we really wish to act upon our knowledge? Does a majority of the population think it worth while to take a good deal of trouble, in order to halt and, if possible, reverse the current drift toward totalitarian control of everything?

In the United States and America is the prophetic image of the rest of the urban-industrial world as it will be a few years from now -- recent public opinion polls have revealed that an actual majority of young people in their teens, the voters of tomorrow, have no faith in democratic institutions, see no objection to the censor­ship of unpopular ideas, do not believe that govern­ment of the people by the people is possible and would be perfectly content, if they can continue to live in the style to which the boom has accustomed them, to be ruled, from above, by an oligarchy of assorted experts. That so many of the well-fed young television-watchers in the world's most powerful democracy should be so completely indifferent to the idea of self-government, so blankly uninterested in freedom of thought and the right to dissent, is distressing, but not too surprising.

"Free as a bird," we say, and envy the winged creatures for their power of unrestricted movement in all the three dimensions. But, alas, we forget the dodo. Any bird that has learned how to grub up a good living without being compelled to use its wings will soon renounce the privilege of flight and remain forever grounded. Something analogous is true of human beings. If the bread is supplied regularly and copiously three times a day, many of them will be perfectly content to live by bread alone -- or at least by bread and circuses alone.

[..]

Considering how little they knew and how poorly they were equipped, the Grand Inquisitors of earlier times did remarkably well. But their successors, the well-in­formed, thoroughly scientific dictators of the future will undoubtedly be able to do a great deal better. The Grand Inquisitor reproaches Christ with having called upon men to be free and tells Him that "we have cor­rected Thy work and founded it upon miracle, mystery and authority."

But miracle, mystery and authority are not enough to guarantee the indefinite survival of a dictatorship. In my fable of Brave New World, the dictators had added science to the list and thus were able to enforce their authority by manipulating the bodies of embryos, the reflexes of infants and the minds of children and adults. And, instead of merely talking about miracles and hinting symbolically at mysteries, they were able, by means of drugs, to give their subjects the direct experience of mysteries and miracles -- to transform mere faith into ecstatic knowl­edge.

The older dictators fell because they could never supply their subjects with enough bread, enough cir­cuses, enough miracles and mysteries. Nor did they possess a really effective system of mind-manipulation. In the past, free-thinkers and revolutionaries were often the products of the most piously orthodox educa­tion. This is not surprising. The methods employed by orthodox educators were and still are extremely inefficient. Under a scientific dictator education will really work -- with the result that most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution. There seems to be no good reason why a thoroughly scientific dictatorship should ever be overthrown.

Meanwhile there is still some freedom left in the world. Many young people, it is true, do not seem to value freedom. But some of us still believe that, with­out freedom, human beings cannot become fully hu­man and that freedom is therefore supremely valuable. Perhaps the forces that now menace freedom are too strong to be resisted for very long. It is still our duty to do whatever we can to resist them.
A totalitarian state simply enunciates official doctrine -- clearly, explicitly. Internally, one can think what one likes, but one can only express opposition at one's peril. In a democratic system of propaganda no one is punished (in theory) for objecting to official dogma. In fact, dissidence is encouraged. What this system attempts to do is to fix the limits of possible thought: supporters of official doctrine at one end, and the critics -- vigorous, courageous, and much admired for their independence of judgment -- at the other. The hawks and the doves. But we discover that all share certain tacit assumptions, and that it is these assumptions that are really crucial. No doubt a propaganda system is more effective when its doctrines are insinuated rather than asserted, when it sets the bounds for possible thought rather than simply imposing a clear and easily identifiable doctrine that one must parrot -- or suffer the consequences. The more vigorous the debate, the more effectively the basic doctrines of the propaganda system, tacitly assumed on all sides, are instilled. Hence the elaborate pretense that the press is a critical dissenting force -- maybe even too critical for the health of democracy -- when in fact it is almost entirely subservient to the basic principles of the ideological system: in this case, the principle of the right of intervention, the unique right of the United States to serve as global judge and executioner. It is quite a marvelous system of indoctrination.

Here is still another example along the same lines. Look at this quotation from the Washington Post, a paper that is often regarded as the most consistent critic of the war among the national media. This is from an editorial of April 30, 1975, entitled "Deliverance":

For if much of the actual conduct of Vietnam policy over the years was wrong and misguided - even tragic - it cannot be denied that some part of the purpose of that policy was right and defensible. Specifically, it was right to hope that the people of South Vietnam would be able to decide on their own form of government and social order. The American public is entitled, indeed obligated, to explore how good impulses came to be transmuted into bad policy, but we cannot afford to cast out all remembrance of that earlier impulse.

What were the "good impulses"? When precisely did the United States try to help the South Vietnamese choose their own form of government and social order? As soon as such questions are posed, the absurdity becomes evident. From the moment that the American-backed French effort to destroy the major nationalist movement in Vietnam collapsed, the United States was consciously and knowingly opposed to the organized political forces within South Vietnam, and resorted to increasing violence when these political forces could not be crushed. But these facts, easily documented, must be suppressed. The liberal press cannot question the basic doctrine of the state religion, that the United States is benevolent, even though often misguided in its innocence, that it labors to permit free choice, even though at times some mistakes are committed in the exuberance of its programs of international goodwill. We must believe that we "Americans" are always good, though, to be sure, fallible:

For the fundamental "lesson" of Vietnam surely is not that we as a people are intrinsically bad, but rather that we are capable of error - and on a gigantic scale....

Note the rhetoric: "we as a people" are not intrinsically bad, even if we are capable of error. Was it "we as a people" who decided to conduct the war in Vietnam? Or was it something that had rather more to do with our political leaders and the social institutions they serve? To pose such a question is of course illegitimate, according to the dogmas of the state religion, because that raises the question of the institutional sources of power, and such questions are only considered by irrational extremists who must be excluded from debate (we can raise such questions with regard to other societies, of course, but not the United States).
What has been created by this half century of massive corporate propaganda is what's called "anti-politics". So that anything that goes wrong, you blame the government. Well okay, there's plenty to blame the government about, but the government is the one institution that people can change... the one institution that you can affect without institutional change. That's exactly why all the anger and fear has been directed at the government. The government has a defect - it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect - they're pure tyrannies. So therefore you want to keep corporations invisible, and focus all anger on the government. So if you don't like something, you know, your wages are going down, you blame the government. Not blame the guys in the Fortune 500, because you don't read the Fortune 500. You just read what they tell you in the newspapers... so you don't read about the dazzling profits and the stupendous dizz, and the wages going down and so on, all you know is that the bad government is doing something, so let's get mad at the government.
Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows.
Before the US invaded Iraq, when the President was talking about mushroom clouds and the Secretary of State delivered a PowerPoint about bio-weapons to the United Nations, I gave our leaders the benefit of the doubt.

Surely the military, the CIA, the NSA, the NRO, and the President must have secret information they cannot share with the public to justify the horrors of war.

Turns out I was wrong. It was a pack of lies, half-truths and poorly-substantiated rumors to justify a predetermined agenda.

After the 2007-2008 financial meltdown, when the President and the Secretary of the Treasury threatened the end of the world as we know it if the richest corporations aren't given direct cash infusions, I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

Surely our elected officials would never directly transfer hundreds of billions of dollars to the richest of the rich unless the alternative was truly grave.

Turns out I was wrong. It was a pack of lies, half-truths and poorly-substantiated rumors to transfer wealth from working people to the ownership class on an unprecedented scale.

So when the President stands before us today and speaks for 45 minutes without saying anything of consequence, without providing any evidence that the threat is so dire, so imminent, so cataclysmic that we must relinquish our freedoms to preserve our freedoms, I can no longer give him the benefit of the doubt.

No more vague threats. No more fear. No more intimidation. No more secrecy. These are fatal to a political system that relies on an informed citizenry.
Personally, I'm in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions of society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism, we can't have democracy by definition. Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control. Thus, a corporation or an industry is, if we were to think of it in political terms, fascist; that is, it has tight control at the top and strict obedience has to be established at every level - there's little bargaining, a little give and take, but the line of authority is perfectly straightforward. Just as I'm opposed to political fascism, I'm opposed to economic fascism. I think that until the major institutions of society are under the popular control of participants and communities, it's pointless to talk about democracy.
Hold the people around you accountable. It's not your Democracy, it's all of ours. We all have to want change, or change will never come. It's frustrating, and there are countless minority groups who can attest to that. But it's the only legitimate way forward in a Democracy. Anything else is no more than a mob, or worst, terrorist.