Part 9. The Great American Illusion
No, it is not The American Dream.
The Great American Illusion is more powerful than any dream. When a dream ends, you wake up.
When an illusion begins, you are awake. You are asleep, yet awake.
What is this dream which is no dream?
A dream brings problems to the surface so that consciousness can resolve them. An illusion represses problems, thereby making them unavailable to conscious resolution.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet tossed and turned amid dreams and illusions. To be or not to be. The illusions won. Over Hamlet’s dead body, the faithful Horatio pronounced the ultimate obituary: Good night sweet prince. (Act 5, Scene 2)
Boxing announcers get the connection. They sometimes offer the good night epitaph when a fighter is knocked unconscious.
As for The Great American Illusion …
The Illusion starts with the polity, the type of government built by the Founding Fathers. Enacted in 1789, it captured the world’s imagination and respect. The polity died in 2008-9, replaced by an oligarchy.[i]
No official death notice was issued. If history is any guide, look for one in 500 years.[ii] For now, a formal obituary of the polity would crack the spell of The Great American Illusion. The announcement would instantly raise questions. And no oligarchy likes to be questioned.
No medical investigator will certify the death. All quiet on the Western front -- at Harvard and Yale, CNN, PBS. While we’re at it, forget Radio France and the BBC.
The Second American Revolution is dedicated to the proposition that the polity must be revived with a new and better balance of its oligarchic and democratic constituents. That balance requires greater weight for the democratic element. A lot more.
Revival and better balance, however, are impossible without first identifying and dismantling The Great American Illusion. It must be put to rest; it is blinding men to realities two feet in front of them.
A perfunctory introduction to the Illusion:
You have been told that America has a democracy, not a polity. Me, too -- I never heard anyone say otherwise. The American democracy may be corrupt, stupid, evil -- Marxists denounce it as “bourgeois” -- but it is still a democracy.
The universally-held mantra, America has a democracy, is the stripped-down, popular culture version of The Great American Illusion. As we shall see, the mantra is to the Illusion what checkers is to chess, pinochle to bridge, a ukulele to a guitar. Not “bad,” just simplified.
So powerful is The Great American Illusion that, apart from this author’s work, what you will see here has never been said before. The product of years of experience working with all three branches of government, this post will attempt to set the record straight. The Illusion, not the polity, is in need of an obituary.
I hope you will learn what I learned but faster and without enduring the same hardships. I want you to build on what you find here, form new insights, and surpass me. If that happens, this series on The Second American Revolution succeeded. We will say more shortly about the decisive importance of what is involved: culturally acquired traits.
To see The Great American Illusion for what it is -- an illusion -- requires an awareness of what a polity is. The reason for that necessity is best explained by analogy:
Alcoholics Anonymous has been demonstratively effective because it recognizes and puts into practice something fundamental about human beings. Anyone seeking help must stand up in an AA meeting and acknowledge he is an alcoholic. That public admission is the key to effective treatment.
AA refuses to work with alcoholics who do not acknowledge what they are.
Obviously, an admission is meaningless if the person making it does not know what alcoholism is. The greater the knowledge, the deeper the meaning of the admission, and, consequently, the greater the healing.
For the same reason, The Great American Illusion must be recognized and acknowledged -- admitted -- in public before The Second American Revolution can begin. Knowledge of what a polity is indispensable for a meaningful admission.
Do you wonder why, in schools across America, no discussion of the polity has ever taken place? Of course not. The fact such a question never occurred to you shows the uncontested supremacy of The Great American Illusion. The adjective Great is not gratuitous.
* * *
Политей. It’s Greek to you.
Oligarchy, aristocracy, democracy, tyranny, etc.: the Greeks invented that typology of governments 2,000 years ago. In the process, they made the glasses through which you view the political world. An astonishing achievement.
One Greek stands out: Aristotle. His typology and insights concerning it prevail throughout the Western world.
Aristotle wrote that neither the rich nor the poor would “tolerate a system under which either ruled in its turn: they have too little confidence in one another. A neutral arbitrator always gives the best ground for confidence; and ‘the man in the middle’ is such an arbitrator.”
What makes the man in the middle trustworthy? The middle class “forms the mean,” and “moderation and the mean are always best.” Being moderate and the best, those who occupy the middle “are the most ready to listen to reason.”[iii]
In brief, the middle class was Aristotle’s totem.[iv] America’s, too. And why not? In both worlds that class performed the indispensable role of reconciling the upper and lower classes.
History shows repeatedly what happens when the middle class reconciler role fails. A Mad Max world waits in the wings, along with Adolph Hitler and Dr. Strangelove.
If the middle class is the best class, it follows that “first, the best form of political society is one where power is vested in the middle class, and secondly that good government is attainable in those states where there is a large middle class….”[v]
Aristotle named that best political system a политей or polity. It is a “mixture of democracy and oligarchy…incline[d] more towards democracy…”[vi]
Finally, not only is the polity the best political system, it is also inherently stable:
“ There is no risk, in such a case, of the rich uniting with the poor to oppose the middle class: neither will ever be willing to be the subject to the other; and if they try to find a constitution which is more in their common interest than the ‘polity’ is, they will fail to find one.”[vii]
To sum up: the polity is the middle class-moderated, oligarchy/democracy hybrid inclined toward democracy. You saw the polity in action, experienced it in person.
Until 2008-2009, the American polity[viii] was the arena in which the middle class reconciled the rich and the poor. That reconciliation is the political essence of the middle class.
Or rather, used to be.
* * *
With a basic understanding of the polity, The Second American Revolution steps into the political ring with a powerful insight:
In Western societies, power expands only to the extent it is shared.[ix]
That recognition of a simple but basic truth: is the foundation for what we need -- not a second Renaissance, but a re-evolution of the previous Renaissance that gave birth to, among other things, the American Revolution, the Constitution, and the American polity.
It was that Renaissance that replaced the ageless motto Nec Plus Ultra (“There Is Nothing Beyond”) with Plus Ultra (“There Is More Beyond”).
Plus Ultra. Although never verbalized and only seldom actualized, the insight that power expands by sharing it was the heart of the Renaissance.
Before proceeding, the term re-evolution is easily misunderstood.
(1) The word evolution is not used here in a biological sense. The paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould:
“[A]lthough Darwinism surely explains many universal features of human form and behavior, we cannot invoke natural selection as the controlling cause of our cultural changes since the dawn of agriculture -- if only because such a limited time of some ten thousand years provides so little scope for any general biological evolution at all. Moreover, and most importantly, human cultural change operates in a manner that precludes a controlling role for natural selection. To mention the two most obvious differences: first, biological evolution proceeds by continuous division of species into independent lineages that must remain forever separated on the branching tree of life. Human cultural change works by the opposite process of borrowing and amalgamation. One good look at another culture’s wheel or alphabet may alter the course of a civilization forever.…
Second, human cultural change runs by the powerful mechanism of Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characters. Anything useful (or alas, destructive) that our generation invents can be passed directly to our offspring by direct education. Change in this rapid Lamarckian mode easily overwhelms the much slower process of Darwinian natural selection, which requires a Mendelian form of inheritance based on small-scale and undirected variation that can then be sifted and sorted through a struggle for existence.”[x]
In short, Gould saw not a separation but a unity of biology and culture. For humans, culture is a biological necessity. How can that be?
To survive, humans must predict. That necessity is the result of limited genetic inheritance for coping with the outside world. Antelopes are ready to run within hours of birth; humans take years to walk. Culture fills the genetic gap by providing bases for prediction. Paraphrasing Montesquieu, man was made genetically to be in society.
The issue, then, is how to evolve culturally in a way that is useful, not alas destructive. That way makes true, accurate predictions -- not false, fantasy ones as The Great American Illusion offers. Gould nailed it: at bottom are culturally acquired traits that can be passed on in a single generation.
(2) The word re-evolution does not mean necessarily the prevailing notions of “novelty, beginning, and violence”; not an irresistible, “mighty undercurrent”; not an evolution in reverse as in a restoration or “swinging back into a preordained order” of some early time before things supposedly went wrong,[xi] but literally “re”evolving -- that is, evolving once more, over again, culturally, into a non-preordained order.
The re-evolution offered by The Second American Revolution builds on Kant’s sapere aude[xii] of the Renaissance by creating the political and economic values necessary to actualize another motto: Noli imitari alios at contra te ipsum rege[xiii] On a practical level, that actualization implies a sharing of power in the daily world where we live and work, an expansion preferably outside history.[xiv]
The sharing of power constitutes the strengthening of the democratic component of the polity. As indicated, that strengthening is the sine qua non of the rescue of the polity from the oligarchy.
The art of creating new institutions and customs to share power would be to our epoch what the first American Revolution was to its era.[xv] The Second American Revolution is exactly that -- not something else.
The urgency for that art is visible daily in the reckless stewardship of human and natural resources displayed by governments and businesses around the world. If the present degradation continues, within decades Live Free or Die will be more than a state motto.
To share power, however, is not to give power. In reality, power cannot be given. The very act of giving power to somebody reinforces the power of the giver.[xvi] That is the timeless secret of how men in power have remained in a position to give, hence, to take.
That is why The Second American Revolution asks nothing from the president, congress, the Supreme Court, Bill Gates, George Soros. They literally have nothing to offer.
To date, the sharing of power -- small, incremental -- has been the result of wars. Those who fought with gun and knife in hand demand more citizenship for risking their lives. Are there nonviolent ways to achieve the same result? New institutions? New customs? The Second American Revolution, alone, asks that question.
Look out the window. The alternative to the Second Revolution is already here. It is always easier to despair than to answer, and instead of searching for answers, Western oligarchs are taking the easy way out and sticking with what they know: fear. Under the cover of The Great American Illusion, the federal government’s nonsensical subordination of policy to war[xvii] finally met its fate: rule by the lowest Uncommon denominator. Look at Bush and Obama on TV.
The acid test of the sharing of power was aptly presented by Tocqueville:
“The remedy is above all else, outside constitutions. In order for democracy to govern, there must be citizens, i.e., people who are interested in public affairs, who have the capacity and the desire to participate in them. One must always return to this fundamental point.”[xviii]
The remedy . An increase in the (i) capacity and (ii) desire to participate on the part of the populace: may any president and other public official, political candidate, policy, law, or regulation be judged accordingly. The Second American Revolution, too.
If you are ever with an American oligarch, ask him about more public participation. Step back; you’ll see an audible shrug. He is anemic, without ideas. Under the spell of The Great American Illusion, he wears the same button everywhere: So?
* * *
A strong people does not need a strong man :[xix] John Steinbeck, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Mexico’s Zapatistas at the turn of the 20th century recognized that fundamental truth. The Second American Revolution is based on it.
A strong people implies a sharing of power. Today, in America that sharing passed a crossroad. Tocqueville foresaw it.
Aristotle quantified it: “…where the number of the members of the middle class outweighs that of both the other classes -- and even where it only outweighs that of one of the others -- a ‘polity’ can be permanently established.”[xx]
Official data show unequivocally that in America, sometime between 1980 and 1990, the first barrier fell.[xxi]
Was that moment the middle class slipped below 50% of American households the beginning of a fate that is only too well known?
Immediately after noting the crucial importance of the “man in the middle” as a neutral arbitrator, Aristotle concluded: “The better, and the more equitable the mixture in a ‘polity,’ the more durable it will be.”
What, then, ruins the mixture and kills a polity?
Aristotle warned that the major threat is posed not by outside enemies, not by the poor, not by the middle class, but by the wealthy:
“[Forgetting the claims of equity], they not only give more power to the well-to-do, but they also deceive the people [by fobbing them off with sham rights]. Illusory benefits must always produce real evils in the long run; and the encroachments made by the rich [under cover of such devices] are more destructive to a constitution than those of the people.”[xxii]
It is exactly that avarice and illusory benefits -- fairytales about “unity,” “rights” given as gifts and hence not accompanied by power -- which characterize America today. All over the nation, Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand is only too visible. It destroyed the polity by generating the economic decline of the middle class. Its reconciler role was thereby weakened.
That decline and weakening are behind the crisis of legitimacy plaguing not only the American government but also families, businesses, schools, neighborhoods. Megabucks piling up in Switzerland, stoned kid home from prep school telling daddy to go to hell; gorgeous yacht moored in Monaco, drunken wife took off with her analyst: no oligarch yet has made the connection.
There is another side. Paradoxically, the ruin of the polity and the middle class decline underlie why The Great American Illusion is starting to unravel after more than 200 years of existence. The overarching legitimacy crisis caused by that unraveling is forcing upon us the rare and precarious opportunity to identify and discard the Illusion, and subsequently to reintroduce and re-evolve the polity, starting at its roots:
From the very beginning, The Great American Illusion was never spoken aloud. The Founding Fathers knew the word polity; Alexander Hamilton and James Madison used it.[xxiii] However, they employed the term only in its generic sense meaning political system.
That omission is all the more curious given the following connection:
The Founding Fathers designated Montesquieu as the “oracle” that guided them in writing the United States Constitution, so that the “legislative, executive, and judiciary departments ought to be separate and distinct.”[xxiv] Well, according to Montesquieu, the ancient Greeks “called that type of constitution a police.” He then noted, “See Aristotle, Politics, Book IV, Chapter VIII.”[xxv] In that chapter, Aristotle analyzed the polity, i.e., the oligarchy/democracy hybrid. There’s the link. Don tell me the Founding Fathers didn’t know about Aristotle’s writings on the polity. They did -- case closed.
Why, then, were the Founding Fathers unwilling to use the word police/polity, either in its sense of the separation of powers (Montesquieu) or as a hybrid of oligarchy/democracy (Aristotle)? Why did they not simply declare what they were doing: creating a polity? That is to say, create what Madison so succinctly characterized in a note to himself: “The most difficult of all political arrangements is that of so adjusting the claims of the two classes [i.e., “the class with, and the class without property”] as to give security to each, and to promote the welfare of all.”[xxvi]
The reason why the Founding Fathers could not openly acknowledge they were building a polity has two parts.
(1) On the one hand, such a declaration would have openly admitted that the system they were building had an oligarchic constituent. That admission would have been unacceptable to the majority of the American people who had just fought a war of independence and were extremely divided over whether to accept or reject the Constitution proposed by the Founding Fathers.
The risk was not merely hypothetical. The opponents of the Constitution were vociferously arguing it would establish an oligarchy.[xxvii]
Faced with that damning charge, Madison used an expedient and effective defense: he, too, vigorously attacked any “pretended oligarchy.”[xxviii] And what, according to Madison, would stop the proposed constitution from favoring not just the oligarchy but indeed any particular class?
“I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and, above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America -- a spirit which nourished freedom, and in return is nourished by it.” [xxix]
(2) Madison’s genius remark gives the impression he was a fervent supporter of democracy. However, that definitely was not the case. The confidence Madison placed in the vigilant and manly spirit of Americans was totally contrary to what he stated earlier: “In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”[xxx]
On the other hand, then, Madison did not favor a democracy -- a mob -- which was unacceptable to the American oligarchy.
Neither an oligarchy nor a democracy, then. But that leaves unanswered the all-important question: what type of government were the Founding Fathers creating?
A masterpiece of political positioning appears in Madison’s explanation of the system he and his colleagues were building -- a republic, the word they substituted for polity.
On more than one occasion Madison criticized a “confusion of names,” e.g., the
“confounding of a republic with a democracy, and applying to the former reasonings drawn from the nature of the latter. The true distinction between these forms…is that in a democracy the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, must be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.”[xxxi]
Thus, by attacking both an oligarchy and a democracy, Madison gave the impression that a republic was neither of them. But the Founding Fathers could not stop there: Madison’s definition of a republic cited above closely resembles the definition of oligarchy given by Aristotle, i.e., “that some of the citizens should deliberate on all matters. This is characteristic of oligarchy.”[xxxii] Once again, it is clear that in the 1780s, an outright stamp of approval on an oligarchy was politically inadmissible.
An impasse, if there ever was one. Was there no way out?
To give legitimacy to the Constitution they were proposing, the Founding Fathers resorted to what Madison had criticized: a confusion of names. That confusion was performed by none other than … Madison. He erased his own distinction between democracy and republic cited above: “In the most pure democracies of Greece, many of the executive functions were performed, not by the people themselves, but by officers elected by the people ...”[xxxiii]
The most pure democracies governed by representatives: this confounding, this oxymoron, was it made deliberately? I think so. The confusion of polity with democracy, as well as of polity with oligarchy, existed in Aristotle’s time. He held that those confusions were good, that
“it is a good criterion of a proper mixture of democracy and oligarchy that a mixed constitution should be able to be described indifferently as either. When this can be said, it must obviously be due to the excellence of the mixture. It is a thing which can generally be said of the mean between two extremes: both of the extremes can be traced in the mean, [and it can thus be described by the name of either].…
A properly mixed ‘polity’ should look as if it contained both democratic and oligarchic elements -- and as if it contained neither.”[xxxiv]
Both, yet neither: only one system fills the bill. Madison read Aristotle’s writings on the polity; he learned from them. We should too.
In reality, Madison’s equation Republic = Democracy was the cover version of another equation: Polity = Democracy. The latter is The Great American Illusion.
On its surface, the Illusion contains Madison’s arbitrary erasure of the confusion of names (republic = democracy). On a deeper level, that confusion has become an unexpressed official dogma and a cultural given. It is taboo to call a polity a polity; nobody does it. One must call a polity a “democracy.”
As a consequence, the real life American polity became an as-if democracy. People behaved as if America had a democracy -- but it didn’t. The confusion of polity with democracy was converted into an illusion. Its scale was massive, global.
Given its unquestioning acceptance around the world, The Great American Illusion is the greatest, political ideology exercise ever performed. Why it captured millions of hearts and minds is not difficult to discern. Polity = Democracy is one of the greatest poetic works of all times, i.e., you wish it were true. But it isn’t.
Once The Great American Illusion, Polity = Democracy, is recognized for what it is -- an illusion -- the issue before us becomes clear: more democracy or less democracy in a polity? There is no third way. The polity never mentioned but insinuated to be a democracy was the third way. That way – government by allusion -- is now extinct in America. Drop by drop, the bottle was emptied until the time came in 2008-2009 when even the most bright-eyed optimist no longer believed the bottle was half full. At that point, support for the existing polity that no longer existed became support for an oligarchy (Aristotle, it must be remembered, observed that a polity is “inclined” toward democracy). The capability of the oligarchy to step out from behind the curtain in 2008-2009 and receive billions of public dollars was the turning point. Tocqueville foresaw it, dreaded it. Aristotle warned about it.
Today, nobody in Western governments knows how to increase power. Until they recognize and admit they do not have a democracy, they will sink ever deeper into the quicksand that is power without power.
The cause of that sinking is that power is not created mechanically by elections or laws, by organization charts or military force. Power must be exercised -- that is to say, shared -- in order to exist.[xxxv]
Which bring us back to the key: admission.
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. I am an alcoholic; Alcoholics Anonymous[xxxvi] shows the transformative power that begins with a simple, honest admission. AA also knows that without it no constructive outcome is possible.
Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening. America never had a democracy. We had a polity. A polity is not a democracy. A polity is an oligarchy/democracy hybrid. Today, the polity is gone. An oligarchy replaced it.
AA hears an alcoholic’s admission countless times daily throughout the world. In America, the equivalent political admission has never been made. Not once, by anyone, anywhere.
That admission is nothing less than the opening words of The Second American Revolution.
France, Canada, Brazil, England -- all Western nations are under the spell of The Great American Illusion. They are unable to admit they do not have democracies, much less recognize that power is increased by sharing it. As long as that admission and recognition do not exist, a re-evolution of political values -- and of economic values inextricably tied to them[xxxvii] -- is impossible.
No re-evolution = no Second American Revolution.
Take out your binoculars: no Revolution is on the horizon.
So, get ready. Paraphrasing Madison, because the American oligarchy cannot promote the welfare of all, it cannot give security to each, i.e., to those with and without property. It is a mistake to reduce the cause to ill will. Even if they want to, the oligarchs who seized control of America cannot promote the general welfare. They don’t have the power.
Where their power without power leaves us:
The Second American Revolution is the only entity which can create true power. Unless that Revolution occurs, gradually but inevitably the middle class will be forced economically to give up its place on the quiet side of the fire.
[i] In the 1820s, Alexis de Tocqueville foresaw the turning point: “Is it possible that, after having destroyed feudalism and defeated kings, that democracy will retreat before the bourgeoisie and the rich? Will democracy stop now that it has become so strong and its adversaries so weak?” (« Pense-t-on qu’après avoir détruit la féodalité et vaincu les rois, la démocratie reculera devant les bourgeois et les riches ? S’arrêtera-t-elle maintenant qu’elle est devenue si forte et ses adversaires si faibles ? ») Alexis de Tocqueville, De La Démocratie en Amérique I, in Œuvres, Volume II, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris, 1992, pp. 6, 7. (« Introduction »).
180 years later, we have the answer. Or rather, one answer.
[ii] Don’t hold your breath waiting for one.
The Roman consulship was officially extinguished in 541 A.D. by the Emperor Justinian. Edward Gibbon observed the many
"revolutions of the consular office, which may be viewed in the successive lights of a substance, a shadow and a name...The first magistrates of the republic had been chosen by the people, to exercise, in the senate and in the camp, the powers of peace and war, which were afterwards translated to the emperors…[T]he succession of consuls finally ceased in the thirteenth year of Justinian, whose despotic temper might be gratified by the silent extinction of a title which admonished the Romans of their ancient freedom. Yet the annual consulship still lived in the minds of the people; they fondly expected its speedy restoration…"
Edward Gibbon, The History of The Decline And Fall of The Roman Empire, Chapter XL. http://www.ccel.org/g/gibbon/decline/volume2/chap40.htm#reign.
The historian Lucien Jerphagnon noted that, 500 years earlier, one man had dared to say that the emperor had no republican clothes. That man was the emperor himself.
“Julius Caesar did not even try to save appearances. He did not hesitate to say (if one believes Suetonius) that ‘the res publica was only a vain word, without substance or reality’ -- which was certainly true, but not to be spoken aloud.”
(« César ne cherchait même pas à sauver les apparences. Il se gênait pas pour dire, si l’on en croit Suétone, que ‘la res publica n’était qu’un vain mot, sans consistance ni réalité’ -- ce qui était bien vrai, mais qui n’était pas à dire. ») Lucien Jerphagnon, Histoire de la Rome antique, Hachette, Paris, 2002, p. 181. Jerphagnon translates res publica not as democracy in the modern sense but as the thing of everyone [la chose de tous]. Ibid., p. 198.
[iii] Aristotle, The Politics of Aristotle, translated and edited by Ernest Barker, Oxford University Press, New York, 1962, pp. 181, 186. (Book IV, Chapters XI, XII). Tocqueville expressed the same view of the rich and the poor as implacable rivals if not enemies:
“If you put aside the secondary causes of great human disturbances, you will almost always find inequality. It is the poor who wanted to despoil the rich of their goods, or the rich who tried to enslave the poor….”
(« Écartez les causes secondaires qui ont produit les grandes agitations des hommes ; vous en arriverez presque toujours à l’inégalité. Ce sont les pauvres qui ont voulu ravir les biens des riches, ou les riches qui ont essayé d’enchaîner les pauvres. […] ») Alexis de Tocqueville, De La Démocratie en Amérique II, in Œuvres, op.cit., p. 769. (III, XXI).
[iv] The word totem is obscure and disputed. Rather than enter the debate, as a rudimentary introduction to the subject, I cite the following definition: a totem
"is as a rule an animal (whether edible and harmless or dangerous and feared) and more rarely a plant or a natural phenomenon (such as rain or water), which stands in a peculiar relation to the whole clan. In the first place, the totem is the common ancestor of the clan; at the same time it is their guardian spirit and helper, which sends them oracles and, if dangerous to others, recognizes and spares its own children. Conversely, the clansmen are under a sacred obligation…not to kill or destroy their totem...The totemic character is inherent, not in some individual animal or entity, but in all the individuals of a given class."
Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, edited and translated by James Strachey, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, undated, p. 5. In Western culture the most prominent and pale manifestation of totems is the names of sports teams: the Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat.
The totem of The Golden Mean -- and by extension the socio-economic middle class -- is so revered and engrained in Western societies that criticism of it is extremely rare. Here is Victor Hugo’s negative assessment:
"There is for everything a theory that proclaims itself to be common sense...it offers mediation between the true and the false; an explanation; a warning, and a somewhat conceited attenuation which, because it is a mixture of blame and excuse, believes itself to be wisdom and which is usually only pedantry. An entire political school, called the golden mean, came out of it. Between cold water and hot water, it is warm water. This avaricious school, which is all surface, sits on the throne of a demi-science, and with its false profundity and without going into causes, dissects the effects of the movements of public affairs."
[Il y a pour toute chose un théorie qui se proclame elle-même « le bon sens »; […] médiation offerte entre le vrai et le faux; explication, admonition, atténuation un peu hautaine qui, parce qu’elle est mélangée de blâme et d’excuse, se croit la sagesse et n’est souvent que la pédanterie. Toute une école politique, appelée juste milieu, est sortie de là. Entre l’eau froide et l’eau chaude, c’est le parti de l’eau tiède. Cette école, avec sa fausse profondeur, toute de surface, qui dissèque les effets sans remonter aux causes, gourmande, du haut d’une demi-science, les agitations de la place publique.]
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables II, Edition of Yves Gohin, Gallimard, Paris, 2003, pp. 396-7.
[v] Aristotle, op.cit., p. 182. (Book IV, Chapter XI).
[vi] Ibid., p. 174. (Book IV, Chapter VIII).
[vii] Ibid., p. 185. (Book IV, Chapter XII).
[viii] For reasons to be explained, in our times it is taboo to call a polity a polity, except in the generic sense of polity as a synonym of political system. Rather, the democracy/oligarchy hybrid must be called a democracy, representative democracy, or a republic. To my knowledge, that taboo has never been broken. The source of its power: The Great American Illusion.
[ix] Tocqueville: “Europeans believe that in order to achieve liberty it is necessary to diminish the power of he who has it, and they thereby arrive at disorder. Americans do not diminish power but share it.” (« Les Européens croient que pour arriver à la liberté il faut diminuer le pouvoir dans les mains de celui qui le tient et ils arrivent au désordre. Les Américains ne diminuent pas le pouvoir mais le partagent. ») Alexis de Tocqueville, Notes et variantes, in Œuvres, op.cit., p. 961. He concluded elsewhere that “in sharing power, one renders, it is true, its action less irresistible and less dangerous, but one does not in any manner destroy it..” (« partageant ainsi l’autorité, on rend, il est vrai, son action moins irrésistible et moins dangereuse, mais on ne la détruit point.) Alexis de Tocqueville, De La Démocratie en Amérique I, op.cit., pp. 77-8. (I, V).
Montesquieu held that “only men, because they were made to live in society, do not lose anything they share.” (« Les hommes seuls, faits pour vivre en société, ne perdent rien de ce qu’ils partagent. ») Charles de Montesquieu, Dossier de l’esprit des lois, in Œuvres complètes II, Bibliothéque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris, 1994, p. 1,094.
That Renaissance viewpoint goes directly against the Roman Empire formula, which has dominated the Western world for over 2,000 years: Romulus killed his brother, Remus, thereby ridding himself of a troublesome competitor. Tacite formulated the event this way: insociabile regnum -- “Power Is Not Shared.” Lucien Jerphagnon, Histoire de la Rome antique, Hachette, Paris, 2002, p. 23. See also pp. 241-2, 279, 364, 395, 502.
The axiom that power expands only to the extent it is shared, then, is no eternal truth; rather, it is a recent development that owes its existence to certain cultural assumptions and values about power and legitimacy, order and justice. To the extent that axiom questions its own assumptions and values, it is non-ideological in nature.
[x] Stephen Jay Gould, “A Tale of Two Work Sites,” in Stephen Jay Gould, The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould, W. W. Norton and Company, New York, 2007, pp. 551-2.
[xi] Hannah Arendt, On Revolution, The Viking Press, New York, 1965, pp. 40, 42, 18, 36, 38.
[xii] “Have the courage to use your own intelligence.”
[xiii] “Be your own role model.”
[xiv] A concrete example is a phenomenon that, if it continues, could be decisive for the world’s future. It involves, perhaps, the very origin of power, viz., the power over one’s own body:
United Nations, New York: For decades, experts assumed that the largest developing countries, the home of hundreds of millions in big families, would push the global population to a precarious 10 billion people by the end of this century.
Now, there are indications that women in rural villages and the teeming cities of Brazil, Egypt, India and Mexico are proving those predictions wrong. This week, demographers from around the world will meet at the United Nations to reassess the outlook and possibly lower the estimate by about a billion people this century. In India alone, by 2100 there may be 600 million people fewer than predicted.
The decline in birthrates in these nations defies almost all conventional wisdom. Planners once said -- and some still argue -- that birthrates would not slow until poverty and illiteracy gave way to higher living standards and better educational opportunities. It now seems that women are not waiting. Furthermore, a few demographers are venturing to say that neither government policies nor foreign aid in family planning was a critical factor….
In India, Gita Sen, professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, said there were important cultural factors at work.
“Fertility in India is declining, and it is declining faster than many people had expected,” she said. One reason is “that with increasing awareness on the part of women, they are being able to control their own fertility much better.”
“It seems to start in one village and then spread to other place around that areas,” she said. “Attitudes are changing, and people are watching what their neighbors are doing.”…
With declining infant mortality, mothers become more confident that their babies will survive, she added, and so they can have fewer children. She and other experts say that urbanization also eases some familial controls on women, and makes contraceptive pills or devices easier to find.…
In Brazil, women have reduced fertility levels without a national family planning policy, Ana Maria Goldani of the department of sociology and Latin American studies at UCLA wrote in a paper for the conference this week. Brazil’s fertility rate has tumbled, to 2.27 from 6.15 in the last half-century, and it continues to fall for reasons that Goldani says are only now being analyzed.
Barbara Crossette, “Birthrates declining in developing countries,” International Herald Tribune, March 11, 2002.
The Second American Revolution, like the first, is not limited to America.
[xv] This series presented numerous specific examples, e.g., see Part 2 on a Constitutional amendment to provide for national referenda.
[xvi] Montesquieu identified the underlying dynamic: “Peace cannot be purchased, because he who sold it is only thereby rendered even more in a position to make it be purchased again.” (« la paix ne peut point s’acheter, parce que celui qui l’a vendue n’en est que plus en état de la faire acheter encore. ») Charles de Montesquieu, Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence, in Œuvres complètes II, p. 171. (Chapitre XVIII).
But how is the giver, by giving, rendered even more powerful?
The answer lies in the nature of the gift:
The ethnologist and sociologist Marcel Mauss wrote in a pioneering study that a gift establishes between the giver and the receiver a fundamental hierarchy. “To give is show superiority, to be more, higher, magister; to accept without giving or not giving more than one received, is to become a client and servant, to become small, to fall to a lower station (minister).” (« Donner, c’est manifester sa supériorité, être plus, plus haut, magister ; accepter sans rendre ou sans rendre plus, c’est se subordonner, devenir client et serviteur, devenir petit, choir plus bas (minister). ») Marcel Mauss, Essai sur le don (1925), in Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 2004, pp. 269-70.
Contemporary researchers have analyzed the hierarchy created by a gift:
(1) The sociologist Jacques Godbout enunciated a basic tenet: “The gift is horrified by equality. It searches an alternating inequality.” (« Le don a horreur de l’égalité. Il recherche l’inégalité alternée. ») He noted:
"The debt created by a gift is never “paid off”; the debt is diminished or inverted by a bigger gift than the debt. If nature is horrified by a vacuum, the gift is horrified by equilibrium.…In other words, equivalency is the death of a gift. Equivalency is a way of “fixing a limit” to a chain of gifts, to take from a gift the tension that makes it dynamic. Conversely, the absence of equilibrium terminates a relationship based on commodities.…
Equality introduces a rivalry that the gift, on the contrary, evacuates in making alternately partners who are superior and inferior. "
[[Une] dette de don n’est jamais « réglée » ; elle est diminuée ou renversée (inversée) par un don plus grand que la dette. Si la nature a horreur du vide, le don a horreur de l’équilibre […]. Or, l’équivalence, c’est la mort du don. C’est une façon de « mettre un terme » à une chaîne de don, d’enlever au don la tension qui le dynamise. Inversement l’absence d’équilibre met fin à un rapport marchand.
[…] L’égalité introduit la rivalité que le don, au contraire, évacue en faisant alternativement des partenaires des « supérieurs » et des « inférieurs ».]
Jacques T. Godbout, L’Esprit du don, La Découverte, Paris, 2000, pp. 51, 252-3.
(2) The anthropologist Maurice Godelier emphasized
"the fact that to give obliges others without having a need of resorting to violence. The gift…creates solidarity between the two partners and at the same time causes one of them (the receiver) to be obligated to the other (the giver), placing the receiver in a socially inferior and dependent condition until he gives, in his turn, more than he received."
[[Le] fait que donner oblige les autres sans qu’il soit besoin de recourir à la violence. Le don […] rend solidaires les deux partenaires et en même temps fait de l’un d’eux (le donataire) l’obligé de l’autre (le donateur), l’installe dans une position socialement inférieure et dépendante tant qu’il ne pourra donner à son tour plus qu’il n’a reçu.]
Maurice Godelier, L’Enigme du don, Librairie Arthème Fayard, Paris, 2004, p. 207.
(3) The ethnologist Henri Courau: “to give creates an obligation by creating a lack of equilibrium between the giver and receiver.” (« donner oblige en créant un déséquilibre entre donateur et donataire. ») The practical consequences are sometimes as tragic as they are avoidable.
"In emergency humanitarian aide, the two-sided relationship of the gift, formed by the international employees and the receivers of the aid -- receivers determined by the employees -- does not build the essential space for a dignified reception and an honorary counter-gift. The receiver ends up losing his self-respect. In giving without receiving, the givers deprive themselves of the creation of a connection and also deprive the receivers of a social and cultural self-construction…
The giver conserves the possibility of taking advantage of his gift and of the debt contracted to him by the receiver. The latter enters into a tie of dependency with regard to the giver; he signs an alliance of obligation. One is close here to important political and economic stakes."
[Dans l’aide humanitaire d’urgence, la dyade du don, formée par les employés internationaux et par les récipiendaires -- déterminés par ces employés --, ne construit pas l’espace essentiel à une réception digne et à un contre-don honorifique. Le donataire finit par perdre l’estime de soi. En donnant sans recevoir, les donateurs se privent de la création du lien et privent les récipiendaires d’une auto-reconstruction sociale et culturelle.
[…] Le donateur conserve la possibilité de se prévaloir de son don et de la dette contractée à son égard par le bénéficiaire. Celui-ci entrera dans un lien de dépendance à l’égard de son bienfaiteur ; il signe une alliance d’obligation. On est proche ici d’enjeux politiques et économiques importants.]
Henri Courau, « Un Ethnologue à Sangatte », in « Lévi-Strauss et la pensée sauvage », Le Nouvel observateur, Hors série numéro 51, Le Nouvel Observateur du Monde, Paris, juillet/août 2003, pp. 74, 76, 77.
[xvii] “The subordination of the political point of view to the military would be contrary to common sense, for policy has declared the War; it is the intelligent faculty, War only the instrument, and not the reverse.” Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, Penguin Books, London, England, 1982, p. 405.
[xviii] « Le remède est surtout en dehors des constitutions. Pour que la démocratie puisse gouverner il faut des citoyens,<