[Marxism] Interesting -- clearly non-Marxist and social-democratic -- article on US election outcome
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Dec 1 21:55:53 MST 2008
November 28-30, 2008
Obama, American Hierarchic Democracy, Humanity
What is the Meaning of Obama's Election?
By TED HONDERICH
It is still said, maybe believed in Texas and Alaska, that in the American
democracy the people are approximately equal and they are free in choosing
and influencing those who govern them and deal with the rest of the world.
In fact American democracy is hierarchic democracy. The American people, of
course, like any other, is for general purposes rightly thought about in
terms of classes somehow understood -- as Americans themselves have lately
been saying. The fundamental classes surely are neither equal nor free in
choosing and influencing their government. They are instead a hierarchy,
ranked from top to bottom.
So it has confidently been said. But patently the Obama election was
unprecedented. More than that, it overjoyed most of the human race in
America and in touch with America. It overjoyed me, along with others, to
the point of tears. Next day no voice was heard against this fine thing at
the common table of a London gentleman's club in which I found myself, a
table whose conservatism until then was impervious to the outside world.
There are questions we still don't hear about the election and questions we
Is it now too simple to say that American democracy, like the English
democracy that superimposes on itself crown, prince and little princelings,
is hierarchic? If you make a judgement about this democracy, for or against,
by what means do you do so, by what principle or whatever? There is also the
commoner question of what will come of the Obama presidency, and the
question of what ought to come of it, and the little question of whether
some of us must now repent error about America.
2. Hierarchic Democracy
Certainly until the election anyone capable of detaching from conventions of
vagueness, and capable of registering some simple numbers and their
consequences, could come to contemplate a certain proposition. This
proposition is that the top 10th of the American population in terms of
wealth and income, that class, has about 1,000 times the political influence
and power of the bottom 10th.
The first of the simple numbers in support of the proposition is that the
top 10th of Americans in terms of wealth and income has about 70% of the
wealth of the society. The bottom tenth has none -- it owns nothing
significant and probably owes more money than it has. In income, the top
10th has about 30%. The bottom tenth has about 2%.
There used to be Marxists. Whatever Marx's percipience as moralist, denied
by himself in favour of his view of himself as scientist, we did not need
and do not need his metaphysical, historical, economic and political theory
to know the connection of the wealth and income inequality with political
influence and power.
What is needed is only escaping from self-admiring lesser intelligence,
think-tank intelligence. What is needed is actually taking in what has been
reported at least implicitly in decent newspapers about poverty, as against
the profits of the finance houses and the stinking bonuses. What is
reported, say, of the parents who only have time for trying to get for
themselves and their unhealthy, ignorant and ill-fated children half a life.
Do you say that the actual proposition on American hierarchic democracy,
that the top tenth has about 1,000 times the political influence and power
of the bottom tenth, is plucked out of the air? Yes it is, in a way. It
rests on fact, of which you have heard a little, but it certainly is not the
result of quantification by known economists and political scientists. That
is their failing, not mine. It is a failing of the known members of whole
professions. Whether the estimate of about 1,000 to 1 is a little overdone
or not, we are right not to be intimidated into hesitancy by their weakness
in academic will and the pursuit of relevant truth.
Do you say Americans have been unequal in political power and inflence, all
right, maybe just 500 to 1, but they have still been free? Do you have the
idea, murmured by liberals for their own purposes for decades, that equality
and freedom or liberty are two different things? And that they conflict --
as taxes for universal healthcare conflict with the rights of money? Do you
say that inequality in missiles does not affect freedom of action, affect it
long before they are launched?
There has never been a greater social and political nonsense. Suffice it to
say, to the perceptive reader, or even a Pentecostal, that if you and I are
in competition or conflict, and you become more and more unequal to me, in
cash and maybe in the end in my having a gun, your voluntariness reduces at
every stage, in the end to zero. Equality and freedom, where they matter
most, are one thing. They are one thing in hierarchic democracy.
3. The Election
Did the Obama election refute, modify or anyway re-open the proposition that
in America the top economic class has had and will have 1,000 or 500 times
more political influence and power than the bottom class? Is there more to
this democracy's nature? Is it changing? Do some of us have to think now
that the future obligation of Americans may not be the same as their
obligation until now, which has been mass civil disobedience against their
One part of work towards an answer will have to do with a fact rightly
remarked on. The campaign of Obama and] the Democratic Party raised
unprecedented funds, about $640 million. McCain and the Republican Party had
about $360 million, partly as a result of accepting public financing, which
had some effect on their private donations. The totals are important, but
less important than the source of the Obama donations. Somewhere on the way
to half the $640 million was raised from small donations. It was raised from
people giving less than $200. It was raised, you might risk saying, from
It has to be allowed, I think, that the victory showed that American
hierarchic democracy has had in it certain possibilities. It had in itself
the possibility, in particular, that in an extraordinary circumstance it
could rise above its grotesque inequality and subjection.
The circumstance, however, was not in itself the new ideas of raising money
on the part of the Obama campaign, partly by means of the internet, or the
military campaign of voter registration and the like. Causal explanation of
anything interesting is rarely simple. Those several things can be said to
have succeeded, but succeeded because of something more fundamental. They
succeeded, in brief, because of two other more significant necessary
conditions. One was a nearly unique national circumstance. The other was an
absolutely unique candidate.
The national circumstance consisted first in two wars, inane and grisly to
many, at least doubtful and self-hurting to many more. There was climate
change in it too, and the denial of it refuted by hurricanes. There was the
dimwit President. The circumstance came to consist more dramatically in what
came out of nowhere at the right time, the collapsing of the money-system,
until then supposed to be a natural edifice and defended and extolled as
such by the Republicans.
There was something else that also came out of nowhere, a little earlier,
the other significant necessary condition. That was Obama, the human drama
of Obama. Because he was black, he was rightly perceived as having some
humanity unknown or uncertain in previous presidential candidates. He was
perceived as being bound by his own existence to humanity. He did not have
to be more than black for it to be true. But he had, too, the freedom and
audacity of intelligence, demonstrated where it always must be, by language.
The election might turn out to be the most consequential in American
history. But, to come to what you do not need telling, it did not change the
simple numbers with respect to wealth and income or the resulting inequality
and subjection in political influence and power. Those things are with us.
Nothing has changed, for example, with respect to what may be not only a
financial but an otherwise politically valuable fact in the next
presidential election, an answer to this one. That would be many more small
donations than had by Barack Obama, gathered by wealth on behalf of a
reactionary Republican candidate.
[snip -- complete article at URL above]
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