Wednesday 19 February 2003

War-makers, Bribees, And Poodles Versus Democracy

One of the most dramatic features of the Bush-Blair drive to war--actually, "massacre" given the imbalance of forces-- has been the split and struggle between governments and their citizenry. It might be argued that this ongoing struggle demonstrates that democracy works. But such struggles occur even in authoritarian systems, where there are frequent protests and strikes.

In democracies governments are supposed to represent the people, so that there shouldn't be a need for massive protests to get the government to do what the public wants done. We shouldn't see "democratic" governments trying furiously to drag their country into actions that people oppose--and that many oppose passionately- -even after being subjected to intense propaganda and disinformation.

The same split was evident in this country at the time the North American Free Trade Agreement was being debated (1993-1994). The Clinton administration fought hard and invested huge political capital to gain passage of this agreement, although a majority of the public and an even larger majority of Democratic voters opposed it (as consistently shown by polls).

The Republicans are the extreme and undisguised business party; but the Democrats have in the past shown flashes of representing a broader constituency from which they derive most of their votes. But in this important case (and it is not unique) Clinton worked very hard on behalf of the business community, with the almost unanimous support of the mainstream media.

Even with the media propagandizing furiously on behalf of NAFTA, polls continued to show hostile majorities. But in this plutocratic democracy, the corporate interest prevailed and the elite-class-money basis of U.S. democracy was made crystal clear.

War is extremely useful to elites, not only for carving out opportunities for business abroad, but for its internal effects. As Thorstein Veblen explained 99 years ago, war provides "the largest and most promising factor of cultural discipline....It makes for a conservative animus on the part of the populace. During war time, and within the military organization at all times...civil rights are in abeyance; and the more warfare and armament the more abeyance."

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