Capitalism, Market Fundamentalism, and the Duplicitous Meanings of Democracy

Democracy is a word that is used too recklessly in western culture. Despite the prevalent belief that the meaning of democracy is universally understood, it remains an elusive idea that is not easily implemented.  As a political philosophy, democracy is more closely associated with the socialist governments of Latin America, with Venezuela and Bolivia, than with the United States.

Webster’s Online Dictionary provides seven short definitions for democracy. The fourth definition is the one that comes closest to my own understanding of the term: “Government by the people; a form of government in which supreme power is retained and directly exercised by the people.” If one accepts Webster’s definition as a starting point for dialog about democracy, there are two main points that must figure prominently in the discussion: democracy is a concept that relates strictly to human beings and that working people, who constitute upwards of 95% of the citizenry, are disempowered and unrepresented.

Judging from these criteria it is apparent that the U.S. is neither a representative democracy nor a democratic republic. For instance, the people have no say in whether or not the nation goes to war. Nor do they have a voice in deciding economic policy. If they did, we would not have troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. We would not be bankrupting the treasury to bail out a criminal banking industry, or to finance the privatization of the public domain. We would not bankroll a bloated military or the imperial wars it wages for the financial gain of defense contractors and corporate investors. Like other developed nations, we would have universal health care and publicly-subsidized higher education. Our tax dollars would provide social services rather than corporate welfare and tax cuts for the rich. There would be egalitarianism rather than neo-feudalism. People would matter more than profits.

Not only are our freedoms restricted; they are more illusory than real. We are permitted to choose between political candidates pre-selected for us by the elite. We have the freedom to choose where we will eat or shop or what kind of car we will drive. We have the freedom to migrate from one job to another, but we have no say in how the work is performed, how much it pays, or how the final product of our labor is marketed. We do not get to decide whether it will be bartered or sold. No matter where you go the workplace is a hierarchal dictatorship. The business owner does not care what you think. You are a replaceable cog in an heartless machine that is designed to profit the owner by exploiting the worker. This is the indisputable legacy of capitalism.

The U.S. political system is controlled by capital. Elections preserve the status quo rather than permit reform or complete political and social reorganization. It is corporate money, not people, that chooses who can compete for office and who will ultimately win. Americans are literally voting in the absence of choice. Most legislators sell themselves to the highest bidder. The electoral system perpetuates the illusion of democracy while actually promoting its opposite: plutocracy.

When the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people and that money is free speech, multinational corporations began outright purchasing legislators who would construct the legal framework for dismantling the social infrastructure in favor of an authoritarian corporate state. Capital replaced people in the political equation. This sleight of hand facilitated stocking the judiciary with corporate sycophants rather than justice-dispensing public servants.

By reifying corporations as omnipotent persons and by equating capital with free speech, the Supreme Court gave corporations and their CEOs enormous power. Since corporations do not have a pulse or a conscience, the courts essentially created sociopathic institutions that are driven by an insatiable lust for profit. Originally, corporations were moderately controlled by government through regulation. But as corporate influence in government waxed, corporations began to lobby for, and to win, greater deregulation. The revolving door between big business and government gave rise to the corporate state and to unfettered capitalism.

Corporate power expanded. Driven by the religion of market fundamentalism, capitalists championed the deregulation of industry and markets. Money triumphed over people. With deregulation the disparity between rich and poor reached historic proportions. Corporations that were ostensibly created to serve the public interest mutated into a malignancy that is eroding civil liberties and killing the planet.

The duplicitous meanings of democracy are used interchangeably by the plutocracy, leaving the American people ambivalent and confused. This was an engineered bait and switch that went virtually unnoticed by a naïve and somnolent public. And thus capitalism, the very antithesis of democracy, became synonymous with representative government in the public mind. Few people have bothered to question, much less challenge, the secular matrimony of capitalism with democracy.

The perversion of democracy permitted non-persons — corporations — to have representation in government by shutting out actual persons. Prostituted by corporate money, politicians put profits above the needs of the people. Capital gained primacy over human beings, and the market was deified as an omniscient, divine oracle. Now it is regarded as a primal force of nature too powerful to be controlled by mortal men and women.

Owing to the perversion of language created by the elite, Webster’s definition of democracy must be revisited and reinterpreted. Corporations have replaced people in the formula and capital has become synonymous with free speech. Webster’s definition of democracy was altered to become “Government by the corporations; a form of government in which supreme power is retained and directly exercised by the corporations.” Now capitalism is God and human beings are its subordinates.

It is imperative that we comprehend how the perversion of language serves the agenda of the elite. For instance, when President Obama speaks about bringing democracy to the world through the power of militarization and colonization, he is not talking about democracy in the classic sense that Webster defined for us. Obama is merely substituting capitalism for democracy. Let us recall, however, that In Baghdad, as elsewhere in the world, McDonalds and Burger King were preceded by carpet bombs and tanks.

We must understand that capitalism and democracy are irreconcilably opposing philosophies.  Just as two objects cannot occupy the same physical space at the same time, we can either have capitalism or democracy, but not both simultaneously. Markets either serve people or people serve markets. One has to be in control of the other, one has to be more powerful than the other.

Private ownership of the means of production and the invisible hand of the market are two key components of modern capitalism. In reality, there is no ‘invisible hand’ of the market, as the proponents of free market capitalism contend. If there were, the global banking system would have collapsed long ago. We have only to lift the cloak of secrecy for the human finger prints of manipulation to become plainly visible. A small cadre of the elite is manipulating everything.

Webster’s interpretation makes it clear that democracy can only be applied to people. To equate corporations with human beings and capital with free speech is a perversion of language that sets reality on its head. It is a thinly veiled attempt by impotent human beings to play god, to create a Frankenstein monster and unleash it upon the world and to worship it as an omniscient deity. This is the handiwork of egomaniacal jesters that must be rejected as the work of madmen.

If democracy were synonymous with capitalism, then the economic and social disparity between rich and poor, which is greater in the U.S. than anywhere on earth, would not exist. According to Thomas Stanley, author of The Millionaire Next Door, the top 1 percent of the population owns greater wealth than the bottom 90%. With the continued growth of corporate power and the adulation of free market capitalism, the gap will continue to widen.

If we permit the unpardonable sin of substituting corporations for human beings and continue to associate capitalism with democracy, we will sanction the continued evolution of a repressive corporate state with all of its Orwellian connotations. We will also seal the fate of working people to a life of servitude to the elite. This is clearly the direction we are headed.

The duplicitous meanings of democracy have particularly onerous ramifications for military personnel. Told that they are bringing democracy to the world, in reality our military is forcing capitalism upon people who have other ideas about social and economic theories of government. Those who believe they are protecting their country from external threats are actually fighting for the creation of a totalitarian corporate state run by the global elite. Generations of presidents and generals have pulled the wool over their eyes. But occasionally the truth comes out.

As used by the ruling class, ‘democracy’ and’ freedom’ are code words for capitalism and free markets. Do not be fooled by them. Making the world safe for corporate plunder does not pave the way for democracy. It opens the door to economic exploitation and subjugation.

In the 1930s, General Smedley Butler, a highly decorated four star general, wrote a treatise on militarism and capitalism called War is a Racket. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States, warned us about an emerging military-industrial complex in his farewell address on January 17, 1961. Private Bradley Manning and Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, are warning us today, and they are paying a heavy price.

As his record attests, President Obama is an ardent believer in the corporate state and in free market fundamentalism. He makes no bones about it and never has. Like his predecessors, Obama is a disciple of Milton Friedman’s Chicago School of Economics. It is only by viewing him in this context and through the lens of class consciousness that his actions make sense in a historical context. War and occupation can never be reconciled with the principles of democracy.

Obama is unabashedly representing his real constituency: the banking industry and the military industrial complex.  In the purview of the elite, anyone who opposes these ideologies is an enemy of the state or a terrorist. They are pawns in another of America’s endless wars: the one that pits the working class against the ruling class.

Charles Sullivan is a Master Naturalist, community activist, and free-lance writer residing in the Ridge and Valley Province of geopolitical West Virginia. . Read other articles by Charles.

17 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Deadbeat said on January 17th, 2011 at 9:18am #

    It is corporate money, not people, that chooses who can compete for office and who will ultimately win.

    It’s not just corporate money unless you consider Hiam Saban to be a corporation. Rich individual who promote their agenda like Saban spend even more than many corporations and his agenda is not necessarily Capitalistic. This is the myopia coming from “Socialists” these days that everything is economically motivative. Racism as a motivating factor goes unconsidered. This head-in-the-sand by “Socialists” towards Zionism is what has allowed it to flourish.

  2. Deadbeat said on January 17th, 2011 at 9:53am #

    When the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people and that money is free speech, multinational corporations began outright purchasing legislators who would construct the legal framework for dismantling the social infrastructure in favor of an authoritarian corporate state. Capital replaced people in the political equation. This sleight of hand facilitated stocking the judiciary with corporate sycophants rather than justice-dispensing public servants.

    This is the line of thinking that justifies Right-wing and pseudo-Left rhetoric of blaming the “corporations” as if people didn’t matter before the Supreme Court perverted the 14th Amendment. The Constitution did that by considering African-Americans 3/5 of a human being in order to preserve their inhumanly exploitative economic status as slaves. Even before “corporations” the political system was undemocratic and corrupted by Capitalism. Capitalism was fundamentally built into the U.S. starting with the Declaration of Independence when Jefferson initially wrote that government is suppose to protect life, liberty, and [private] property. Because Capitalism must “grow” it stands to reason that Capitalism will seize the government in order to sustain its “growth”. This has nothing to do with “corporations” but everything to do with the fundamental nature of the Capitalist system.

    What is slightly different starting with the 21st Century is the rise of Zionism and Zionism working in tandem with Capitalism. The motivating forces of Zionism are slightly different from the motivating forces of Capitalism.

    By reifying corporations as omnipotent persons and by equating capital with free speech, the Supreme Court gave corporations and their CEOs enormous power. Since corporations do not have a pulse or a conscience, the courts essentially created sociopathic institutions that are driven by an insatiable lust for profit. Originally, corporations were moderately controlled by government through regulation. But as corporate influence in government waxed, corporations began to lobby for, and to win, greater deregulation. The revolving door between big business and government gave rise to the corporate state and to unfettered capitalism.

    This is such hogwash. So for example corporations like Atena who insured slaves and Lehman Brothers who financed the purchasing and transport of slaves were, as inferred from the author’s comments, benign prior to the 14th Amendment and the resent SC ruling. “Corporations” as bogieman. Yet another simplistic narrative of the pseudo-Left — and the Left has the nerve to condemn the Right’s narrative as “conspiracy”.

    Private ownership of the means of production and the invisible hand of the market are two key components of modern capitalism. In reality, there is no ‘invisible hand’ of the market, as the proponents of free market capitalism contend. If there were, the global banking system would have collapsed long ago. We have only to lift the cloak of secrecy for the human finger prints of manipulation to become plainly visible. A small cadre of the elite is manipulating everything.

    This is NOT a new feature of “modern” capitalism. Private property and profits defines Capitalism. Slaves were property. It was this practice of human beings as commodities that defined the slave relationship under Capitalism which differed from ancient slavery. As well as Wage Slavery.

    I’m glad the author fundamentally understands that Capitalism is anathema to Democracy but his understanding of the historical aspects of Capitalism and his confusion about corporations which existed and developed right along with Capitalism will confuse most readers. His confusion unfortunately well help to perpetuate the Right’s narrative that will ultimately result in reforms rather than a complete rejection of both Capitalism and Zionism.

  3. bozh said on January 17th, 2011 at 4:05pm #

    i haven’t read d.v. for a while. thus no posting by me, either.

    in a classful society, with vast gap in earnings, education among its several classes of people, a democratic form of governance, such as the one in u.s., is an ideal system of rule for maintaining and/or augmenting inequality and all kinds of injustices.

    a govt governing a people [and u.s 1k1 and 1 ethnicities] is easy if the govt is not self governed.
    that’s the key problem: who governs a govt? governing class? yes, i think so. or about, say, 1% of people.
    btw, i stopped reading and posting on d.v. solely because some my of my posts disappear. tnx

  4. lizburbank said on January 17th, 2011 at 9:41pm #

    thanks for raising this critical issue. only in america have people been conditioned to believe that Politics is reducible to electoral politics, a deadly deception to keep us working within and for – not against – the enemy, capitalism.
    treating democracy as an abstraction defined by capitalism, outside the class context of this political-economic system, enables the dictatorship of capital to treat everything opposed to its state terror as ‘terrorism’ .
    as that carefully crafted phrase warned: “if you aren’t with US, you’re with the terrorists”.

    liz
    http://www.burbankdigest.com/

  5. John Andrews said on January 18th, 2011 at 5:26am #

    Mostly this is a good piece; but there are a couple of points I would take issue with.

    Mr Sullivan writes: “The duplicitous meanings of democracy are used interchangeably by the plutocracy, leaving the American people ambivalent and confused. This was an engineered bait and switch that went virtually unnoticed by a naïve and somnolent public.”

    There’s an unfortunate trend to sneer at the general public – even if it’s not particularly intentional. For example, here we see that if the American people are not ‘naïve and somnolent’ they are ‘ambivalent and confused’.

    Not enough allowance is made, in my view, for the fact that we are all misled and brainwashed, almost from the day we are born. If people are naïve or confused, it’s hardly surprising. Given the relentless conditioning we receive from birth to death, it takes a considerable effort (and a fair degree of good luck) for anyone to see through the lies and deception that permanently surround all of us 24/7.

    The second point I would like to take issue with is where Mr Sullivan writes: “We must understand that capitalism and democracy are irreconcilably opposing philosophies. ”

    In my view it’s not that they “oppose” each other, but that they are completely different. Capitalism is an economic philosophy and democracy is a political philosophy. You might say that capitalism and socialism oppose each other, or that democracy opposes monarchy, but to say democracy opposes capitalism is a bit like saying the theory of evolution opposes the theory of gravity. Having said that, I think it’s absolutely true that our leaders do try to conflate in our minds the view democracy and capitalism are synonymous. They’re not. This is quite an important point, because just as its incorrect to assume that capitalism and democracy are the same, it’s equally incorrect to say that socialism and democracy are the same. They are quite different. You can have a democracy with a socialist economic policy (such as Venezuela), or you can have a democracy with a capitalist economic policy (such as Switzerland) – both equally capable of providing just and humane government.

  6. Don Hawkins said on January 18th, 2011 at 4:07pm #

    Watched the House a little today and the repeal and replace and it look’s like the toned down didn’t make it even two day’s maybe two minutes. Those new Republicans are a tuff bunch with a big C on there forehead. Health care and about half the older folk’s in America with preexisting conditions heck sell the house if you have a house and these elected leaders any reflecting with that elephant in the room, no. You would think as we finish off the planet we live on at least the older folk’s could have health care but Cold hearted orb
    That rules the night
    Removes the colours
    From our sight
    Red is gray and
    Yellow white
    But we decide
    Which is right
    And
    Which is an Illusion

    Did these elected leaders in the House say Obama is a one term President sort of and red is gray and yellow white. Say one term President like Billy Bob in Sling Blade, Obama is a one term President, Obama is a one term President. Of course that’s giving these people credit with the big C on there forehead,” jump”, how high.

  7. Don Hawkins said on January 18th, 2011 at 4:45pm #

    I forgot one thing Glenn Beck said today. He said he normal doesn’t talk about environmental issues but was going to make an exception today and talked about a tree with a message. That was so big of him to do make that exception for the viewers of the fair and balanced channel. Wonders will never cease?

  8. Don Hawkins said on January 18th, 2011 at 5:52pm #

    {http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2011/01/17/the-real-domestic-extremists/}

    Oh Brother and the duplicitious meanings of Democracy and crony Capitalism shape shifting possibly into a new form.

  9. Don Hawkins said on January 18th, 2011 at 6:12pm #

    Not looking to good for the home team and note the word crop’s in the article’s below. More on the way yes much more on the way and above article from Monbiot look how well people are working together.

    Portions of southern Australia kept a close eye Wednesday on rising rivers that threatened to add to the mounting destruction from a month of flooding that has killed at least 21 people, inundated homes and devastated thousands of acres of crops across the country.

    Potential for more major flooding in the state remains strong. CNN

    South African farmers may have incurred losses of about 1 billion rand ($145 million) as a result of flooding that damaged grape, corn and sunflower crops, according to Agri SA, a farmers’ organization.

    “That’s a very rough estimate for all farmers,” Agri SA economist Dawie Maree said by telephone from Pretoria today. “You can’t do a full assessment before the water level has subsided.”

    Floods have hit seven of South Africa’s nine provinces since mid-December, claiming at least 40 lives and displacing more than 6,000 people. The government yesterday declared 28 municipalities disaster areas, saying damages totaling 356 million rand have been recorded so far in three provinces.

    In December, most of the country had more than double the normal volume of rain for the month, according to data on the South African Weather Service website. It forecast a 60 percent chance of more rain in Johannesburg tomorrow and an 80 percent chance of further showers the day after. Bloomberg

  10. Don Hawkins said on January 19th, 2011 at 4:13am #

    Aides tell NBC News “After many thoughtful conversations with family and friends over the last several months, Senator Lieberman made a decision about his future over the holidays, which he plans to announce on Wednesday.”

    Does this mean they will not shutdown the Worldwide web although very soon we will not need the web just open the front door. Hal open the pod bay doors open the door. Sorry Dave I can’t do that my mission is to important and Obama is a one term President Obama is a one term President. Hal you seem to be stuck on stupid. Dave that wasn’t very nice am going to take all the air out of the room now. Hal am sorry I meant you are repeating the obvious. That’s better Dave but am still not going to open the door.

    Reading Atlas Shrugged and Beck’s new book am on the road to recovery.

  11. Luis Cayetano said on January 19th, 2011 at 9:40am #

    ”What is slightly different starting with the 21st Century is the rise of Zionism and Zionism working in tandem with Capitalism. The motivating forces of Zionism are slightly different from the motivating forces of Capitalism.”

    While the motivating forces behind capitalism and Zionism are slightly different, they are largely congruent, as are the motivating forces behind capitalism and Wahhabism (a force that the White House has always been deferential towards, for obvious reasons. Certainly not because they had any personal love for these creeps). Thus the ”remarkable” success of both these religious doctrinal systems against the backdrop of capitalism, which is more ”basic” than either of them. Zionism can get its way most of the time because the powerful state-capitalist configuration it operates within already has much the same prerogatives; it finds common grounds with it more often than not. Key Zionists are often important capitalist players in their own right (operating through the most important manifestation of capitalist accumulation dynamics, the corporation), and will naturally see their broader goals as synonymous with their economic designs (and will certainly seek to sell them as such). The most powerful bloc within the state-capitalist configuration isn’t the Zionist one, though, influential as it is. Lockheed-Martin by itself wields more influence. The industrial, financial, and auto lobbies also come to mind. The have had not only more time and resources to co-opt the state, but they have much more of an influence on the dad-to-day social fabric of the country, how work is carried out, decisions about distribution and production, etc. The Zionists have been as successful as they are largely because they have emulated and flattered or otherwise made themselves useful to (or engineered one or another fait accompli to virtually make themselves indispensable to) the existing capitalists and state players, not the other way around (as though there was something qualitatively so different about the Zionists that somehow give them seemingly magical power to utterly transcend the logic of the system and impose their own designs while the other groupings sit helplessly by). It is sheer lunacy to suppose that if we cripple the Zionists, that the rest of the rotten edifice is going to become more amenable to the needs of the people. What reason is there to think that, for example, the financial sector is going to let go of its stranglehold on health care policy just because Zionists have been defeated? Their reasons for having a stranglehold on the health care sector are to do with their own imperatives about what’s best for their interests. And imperialism is something that the capitalists do by necessity, not by choice, and this follows directly from the accumulation dynamics of capitalism. We get rid of capitalism, and the Zionist bloc will lose its foothold, because it won’t have the institutional convergence with the broader structure within which it is able to operate and parasitise (and the same goes for the other blocs). They won’t have anyone to make themselves indispensable to, no imperialist schemes to offer their services to, no institutional prerogatives to find common ground with (that is, unless the socialism we replace capitalism with is itself a rigidly hierarchical, swaggering juggernaut that is little different to what it replaces, in which case it isn’t really socialism). Of course we should fight and resist Zionism, but that goes for everything else mentioned above.

  12. 3bancan said on January 19th, 2011 at 10:20am #

    Luis Cayetano said on January 19th, 2011 at 9:40am #

    LC singing his old beloved tune “Don’t touch the Jews!”…

  13. mary said on January 19th, 2011 at 10:34am #

    Yes and contained within a boring inches-long paragraph probably copied from some Hasbara tract like the Israel Project.

  14. hayate said on January 19th, 2011 at 12:50pm #

    Yup, that’s how it works.

  15. Luis Cayetano said on January 20th, 2011 at 5:54am #

    ”LC singing his old beloved tune “Don’t touch the Jews!”…

    I was talking about Zionism, not Jews, and I didn’t say that we should leave it alone, unless you think ”Of course we should fight and resist Zionism…” is the same as ”Don’t touch!”

    But thanks for revealing what this is really all about to you.

    ”Yes and contained within a boring inches-long paragraph probably copied from some Hasbara tract like the Israel Project.”

    Translation: you can’t refute anything I said. Hasbara tracts don’t contain sharp criticisms of Zionist collusion with state-capitalism. If they do, let me know.

    ”Yup, that’s how it works. ”

    Not an argument.

    That exhausts all your charges.

  16. 3bancan said on January 20th, 2011 at 6:45am #

    Luis Cayetano said on January 20th, 2011 at 5:54am #

    A beautiful proof that what a hubristic zionazi blatherer can produce is only hubristic zionazi blather…

  17. Luis Cayetano said on January 20th, 2011 at 7:34am #

    ”A beautiful proof that what a hubristic zionazi blatherer can produce is only hubristic zionazi blather… ”

    Not an argument.

    I await refutation of my claims (I don’t want to have to report you for trolling, but if I have to, I will).