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Food Security and Managed Democracy

August 9, 2010

Author of Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy

Wolin writes, “Our thesis is this: it is possible for a form of totalitarianism, different from the classical one, to evolve from a putatively ‘strong democracy’ instead of a ‘failed’ one.” His understanding of democracy is classical but also populist, anti-elitist and only slightly represented in the Constitution of the United States. “Democracy,” he writes, “is about the conditions that make it possible for ordinary people to better their lives by becoming political beings and by making power responsive to their hopes and needs.” It depends on the existence of a demos — “a politically engaged and empowered citizenry, one that voted, deliberated, and occupied all branches of public office.” Wolin argues that to the extent the United States on occasion came close to genuine democracy, it was because its citizens struggled against and momentarily defeated the elitism that was written into the Constitution.”
“To reduce a complex argument to its bare bones, since the Depression, the twin forces of managed democracy and Superpower have opened the way for something new under the sun: “inverted totalitarianism,” a form every bit as totalistic as the classical version but one based on internalized co-optation, the appearance of freedom, political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, and relying more on “private media” than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda that reinforces the official version of events. It is inverted because it does not require the use of coercion, police power and a messianic ideology as in the Nazi, Fascist and Stalinist versions (although note that the United States has the highest percentage of its citizens in prison — 751 per 100,000 people — of any nation on Earth). According to Wolin, inverted totalitarianism has “emerged imperceptibly, unpremeditatedly, and in seeming unbroken continuity with the nation’s political traditions.”

Inverted totalitarianism or manged democracy in Europe and North America has resulted in environmental degradation, an emergent spectre of total warfare, and unprecedented food insecurity to name just a few destructive results.

* Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought, Expanded Ed. (1960; Princeton University Press, 2004).
* The Berkeley Student Revolt: Facts and Interpretations, edited with Seymour Martin Lipset (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1965).
* The Berkeley Rebellion and Beyond: Essays on Politics & Education in the Technological Society, with John H. Schaar (New York Review Book, 1970).
* Presence of the Past: Essays on the State and the Constitution (1989)
* Tocqueville Between Two Worlds: The Making of a Political and Theoretical Life (Princeton University Press, 2001).
* Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Princeton University Press, 2008). This book received the Lannan Foundation’s annual notable book award in 2008. Reviewed by Chalmers Johnson. Reviewed by Paul Street.


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