Saturday, November 21, 2009


When given the opportunity humans have a strong tendency to cooperate, and so elites have always attempted to monopolize and co-opt this aspect of human nature to serve their ideological purposes. Thus in the seventeenth century, in spite of the widespread occurrence of slavery, it was the case that "where whites and blacks found themselves with common problems, common work, common enemy in their master, they behaved toward one another as equals." (1) Such a state of affairs was problematic for those ruling elites profiting from slavery so laws were passed to prevent, or at least limit, such cooperation. Moreover, by playing different groups within society (classes) against one another, elites consolidated class loyalty to their regime of injustice by making limited concessions to selected constituencies (i.e., the middle class).

Consequently, by appropriating the "language of liberty and equality" elites succeeded in "unit[ing] just enough whites to fight a Revolution against England, without ending either slavery or inequality."

seems that the rebellion against British rule allowed a certain group of the colonial elite to replace those loyal to England, give some benefits to small landholders, and leave poor white working people and tenant farmers in very much their old situation. (6)

The American Constitution itself provides another illustration of how the interests of the wealthy minority were protected by offering enough concessions "for small property owners, for middle-income mechanics and farmers, to build a broad base of support." (Not so for "the blacks, the Indians, [and] the very poor whites.")

On top of this, the chaotic nature of the economic system meant that...

... only the very rich were secure. It was a system of periodic crisis -- 1837, 1857, 1873 (and later: 1893, 1907, 1919, 1929) -- that wiped out small businesses and brought cold, hunger, and death to working people while the fortunes of the Astors, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Morgans, kept growing through war and peace, crisis and recovery. During the 1873 crisis, Carnegie was capturing the steel market, Rockefeller was wiping out his competitors in oil. (p.237)

And so it went, in industry after industry -- shrewd, efficient businessmen building empires, choking out competition, maintaining high prices, keeping wages low, using government subsidies. These industries were the first beneficiaries of the "welfare state." By the turn of the century, American Telephone and Telegraph had a monopoly of the nation's telephone system, International Harvester made 85 percent of all farm machinery, and in every other industry resources became concentrated, controlled. The banks had interests in so many of these monopolies as to create an interlocking network of powerful corporation directors, each of whom sat on the boards of many other corporations. According to a Senate report of the early twentieth century, Morgan at his peak sat on the board of forty-eight corporations; Rockefeller, thirty-seven corporations. (pp.251-2)

... in modern times, when social control rests on "the consent of the governed," force is kept in abeyance for emergencies, and every-day control is exercised by a set of rules, a fabric of values passed on from one generation to another by the priests and the teachers of the society. What we call the rise of democracy in the world means that force is replaced by deception (a blunt way of saying "education") as the chief method for keeping society as it is. (11)

Only when one recognizes the manner by which capitalist elites proactively manipulate civil society and co-opt agents of progressive social change can progressive citizens present an effective challenge to elite domination. This challenge will involve undermining the legitimacy of all aspects of elite power, most especially in those areas which are least understood, like that of liberal philanthropy.

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