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Post The Current Crisis of Democracy
Created by John Eipper on 10/04/11 7:39 AM

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The Current Crisis of Democracy (Alain de Benoist, France, 10/04/11 7:39 am)

Discussions about democracy have been frequent on WAIS.

That's why I am pleased to inform my fellow WAISers that I have published an essay entitled "The Current Crisis of Democracy" in the latest issue (156, Fall 2011) of the journal Telos (New York).

The complete issue can be ordered at: www.telospress.com/

The article can be read on the enclosed PDF file.

JE comments: The PDF file is linked below.  (Click on "The Current Crisis of Democracy.")  I trust it will download properly for those who are PDF-equipped. This professor would like to assign Alain de Benoist's dense and thought-provoking essay to all WAISers.

Alain lays out his criticism of today's democracy--a period he terms "post-democracy"--as a system which has substituted political democracy for the ideologies of the liberal marketplace and the "religion" of human rights. Despite the notion of "liberal democracy" which is uncritically accepted today as the ideal, Alain argues (following Carl Schmitt and others) that the more (classical) liberalism present in a society, the less it is democratic. Individual liberties are not the same as democracy. So, as I frequently ask, channeling Chernyshevsky, What is to be done? Alain argues for more civic participation, but I'm sure he doesn't mean it in the sense we Americans understand "citizen involvement" (volunteering for school boards and senior centers and the like).  A more robust redistributive social democracy?  For Alain that doesn't work either.  Alain's points are clearly an indictment of super-national entities such as the EU, although he doesn't address eurozone situation per se.

What connection do the protest movements on Wall Street and throughout Europe have with the central points of Alain's essay?

My gloss is no doubt an oversimplification of Alain's elegantly honed arguments, but it may serve as a springboard for an interesting conversation.

Get reading and start discussing, Dear WAISers! (And congratulations, by the way, to Alain on the publication.)

The Current Crisis of Democracy


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  • The Current Crisis of Democracy (John Heelan, UK 10/05/11 1:42 AM)
    In his well-argued essay posted on 4 October, Alain de Benoist writes, "The development of markets is, in a historical sense, the direct result of the separation of the worker from the means of production--i.e.,the autonomization of the economy--a separation that goes back to the 'enclosures' during the English industrial revolution, which led to the fact that two elements, previously regarded as non-negotiable, man and earth, began to be considered as 'economic goods,' products for sale on the market."

    By chance I am currently reading The Deserted Village by Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774). Two hundred and fifty years ago, Goldsmith commented on the same malaise caused by absentee English landlords in Ireland. He writes, "Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey/Where wealth accumulates, and men decay" (lines 51-52). Goldsmith might just as well commenting on the 21st century.


    JE comments:  Plus ça change!


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  • The Current Crisis of Democracy (Robert Whealey, USA 10/06/11 4:03 AM)
    I find Karl Marx's theories of history helpful in explaining the trends European history from 1883 to the outbreak of World War I. After the war, fascism weakened the liberals, the socialists and the believers in absolute monarchy. Orwell's theories help explain historical trends from 1948 to about 1991, when the USSR collapsed. Neither Alain de Benoist's article (4 October) nor JE's abstract encourage me to vote or participate in any lobby in 2012. Yet we must vote for somebody by November.



    I think democracy has been declining since 1973. Plutocracy has been rising since 1980. So Alain de Benoist needs to do another article on the economic aspects of problem of the West. Despite the whistling in the dark, I find the second Great Depression deepening.

    JE comments: Alain has addressed the financial crisis on other occasions, such as his presentation at the 2009 WAIS conference at Stanford. (The conference kicked off on 9 October, almost exactly two years ago.) Robert Whealey brings up an important point: if democracy is indeed a thing of the past as Alain argues, what should be done to restore it? Are the occupiers of Wall Street taking the first step? It's still unclear, however, exactly what they want.



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    • The Current Crisis of Democracy (Alain de Benoist, France 10/09/11 4:27 AM)
      Robert Whealey (6 October) wrote: "I think democracy has been declining since 1973. Plutocracy has been rising since 1980. So Alain de Benoist needs to do another article on the economic aspects of the problem of the West. Despite the whistling in the dark, I find the second Great Depression deepening."

      I am pleased to tell Robert that I have published more than 15 articles on the "economic aspects of the problem of the West" during recent months. Moreover, I will publish on November 15 a new book entitled: Au bord du gouffre. La faillite annoncée du système de l'argent ("On the verge of the abyss. The foretold bankruptcy of the monetary system"). Unfortunately, these pieces are not available in English--till now at least.


      Footnote. When commenting Robert's post, John Eipper wrote: "If democracy is indeed a thing of the past as Alain argues, what should be done to restore it?" I would like to stress that I do not consider democracy as "a thing of the past," in the sense that it should be replaced by something else! I think that democracy is a (necessary) thing of the present and of the future. I just observe that the essence of democracy seems today to be forgotten, as "democratic" practices has been distorted in a lot of ways. "Democracy" has mainly become a financial oligarchic system with a very weak active participation of the citizens. Restoring democracy would imply less representative parliamentary democracy and more participative basic direct democracy.


      See Benjamin R. Barber, Strong Democracy. Participatory Politics for a New Age, Berkeley: University of California Press 1984. See also, in Greece, the works about "inclusive democracy" by Takis Fotopoulos.


      JE comments:  Many of us don't read as many books in a given year as Alain de Benoist writes!  I congratulate Alain on the imminent publication of Au bord du gouffre.  Look forward to seeing it.


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      • The Current Crisis of Democracy (Robert Whealey, USA 10/10/11 1:59 AM)
        I thank Alain de Benoist (9 October) for his new information and his complementary remarks. I have one minor dissent about participatory democracy. This system worked in ancient Athens and in Switzerland. It more or less staggered along up to 1945 in the US.



        Since the Korean War, the Federal Government became more and more bureaucratic and as a result more conservative. That process was facilitated through entertainment TV, which could always fool the common folk by a popular big brother.



        The American TV industry needs to be decentralized as Teddy Roosevelt tried to decentralize Standard Oil of John D. Rockefeller in 1911. One solution might be to require the only [independent?--JE] TV news stations in each of the 50 state capitals.



        Members of Congress would have to campaign in the local newspaper and by stump speeches. Only wire services could print news from Washington and NY. The rich papers could have a real foreign correspondent in the 5-10 more important countries. The CIA and NSC could only report to President, the cabinet and the Congressional leaders through special reports. Democracy worked 1789 to 1945 through discussion. TV and the Internet are mainly interested in speed. Every day is not 7 December 1941. Sometimes speed kills.



        JE comments: The television industry has fragmented into so many niches that it's hard to imagine it being more decentralized. Even if we consider the huge media conglomerates, the competition is there.  But what about the democracy?  At our house we have something like 500 channels, but Bruce Springsteen's lament of twenty years ago remains true:  "57 channels and nothin' on."  (Update:  we should now multiply this by a factor of ten... but there's still nothin' on.)

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        • Is There an Information Deficit? Not Really (Gilbert Doctorow, Belgium 10/10/11 2:48 AM)
          In response to Robert Whealey (10 October), it is customary to blame the corporate mass media for keeping the American public in the dark about world affairs and much else, but from my experience that is a nonsense. I am convinced instead that people don't know because they don't want to know, they don't want to take the responsibility for changing things and prefer to blame anything and everything that may go wrong on others.

          One of my discoveries in reading closely the Great American Dissident was that all his works draw almost exclusively on material he picks up from the New York Times and other American newspapers of record. Indeed, with very few exceptions he does not make any use of foreign news sources.


          What Chomsky does and your average guy does not do is save all the damning material he reads in news accounts every day, collate the material and dish it back to us in condensed form...piling on the facts...and delivering mind-boggling results.


          As regards television, the situation is rather different, and not only all American channels but many foreign state or official broadcasters are making it difficult to see any genuine news. I wager that this is the result of self-censorship, to stay on the right side of the licensors and advertisers. There is clearly dumbing down of reportage, shift of emphasis to "human interest" and other trivial events, or exclusive focus on one or two "breaking stories" to the exclusion of the great many political and economic events of the day worthy of attention at home and abroad.


          I used to hold up the BBC as a beacon of responsibility, but since it was broken by Tony Blair, it is largely propagandistic and self-indulgent with the presenters chatting up one another in the news programs and delivering very little hard coverage between the ever bigger segments of advertising. And Europe's own answer to CNN, Euronews, has followed the American electronic media down the Fox hole: a lot of phoney baloney or, simply put, propaganda on behalf of the EU's role in bringing democracy to Libya and similar drivel.


          So where do you go to get beyond the drivel? I don't know how you chaps and gals are doing in the satellite dish category, but here in Europe we are spoiled for choice by the free services available on Hotbird and other free use satellites. We get the Chinese perspective, the Russian perspective, the Arabic news services, Iran... you name it. It cannot overcome the intrinsic limitations and distortions of the medium, but it does help broaden the mind and complement the printed news very nicely.


          JE comments: And then there's WAIS!

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          • Is There an Information Deficit? (Brian Blodgett, USA 10/11/11 4:00 AM)
            Gibert Doctorow (10 October) made a sound statement--We get the Chinese perspective, the Russian perspective, the Arabic news services, Iran... you name it. It cannot overcome the intrinsic limitations and distortions of the medium, but it does help broaden the mind and complement the printed news very nicely.

            The ability to view yourself from the perspective of both your friends and your enemies is one that all should strive for, because when you look if a mirror, the reflection back is what you see each and every day and often is what you want to see, the warts and beauty marks are ignored. For a military to truly be able to defeat an enemy, it must not only understand the weakness of the enemy, but what the enemy perceives as the weakness of the other. In this way, you become aware of flaws otherwise overlooked.


            In my 10 October post I commented on the posting of Robert Whealey and independent news. Now let me add the need for the presence of foreign viewpoints. I used to read BBC to see what was going on in America, but alas, no more. Al Jazeera as well. When in the service of the nation, I used to read the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, now the Open Source Center for some interesting tidbits of news as it was from foreign countries and translated into English, but since it was run by the CIA, I doubt it was unbiased. This morning I checked the site (it has been a few years) but it seems that as a US citizen and taxpayer that I do not have the qualifications for reading this information--for who is allowed, see:


            https://www.opensource.gov/public/registration/RegistrationAffiliation.jsp


            So, in retrospect to my response to Robert Whealey and after reading Gilbert Doctorow's posting, I must ask myself just where would a person who wants to be informed by an unbiased source, or at least by competing sources that I can attempt to analyze for the truth, turn to these days--that is until we have an independent news source free of political influence that provides us with real news, not government propaganda?


            JE comments: This is a question Prof. Hilton used to ask. His answer would be to get as many international perspectives as possible and form one's own judgment--such is the ideal and the raison d'etre of WAIS.

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        • The Current Crisis of Democracy and the Media (Brian Blodgett, USA 10/10/11 5:35 AM)
          In response to Robert Whealey (10 October), the media, it seems to me, is unfortunately inherently useless in informing Americans about what is occurring in the nation. Large newspapers are biased. Local news station focus exactly on that, local news. Even outside Washington DC, the DC nightly news does not not reflect the news of the nation, but local news (as "worse" it can when covering the District and northern Virginia and Maryland). Real news, news that reflects what is occurring in the nation, is absent, replaced by who was recently eliminated from popularity shows instead (i.e., American Idol). Fox News, CNN, etc., are biased as well, as we already know. So where do Americans turn for their real news, to the Washington Post and New York Times, not really good even-keeled sources either. Of course, to the Internet where the "truth shall set you free"--insert laughter here.

          I believe that there needs to be an independent news source, available to all Americans (and for those in other countries I believe, but am not certain most of the above applies as well). State news and national news, in order to really be informative to the people, must be independent. Funding for these independent sources is, however, a problem since their owners might have political agendas as well. It would make more sense if the news sources of the state had to contribute a percentage of their income to the funding of an independent news. I would hesitate to have the large news stations in Washington and New York, for example, be the ones that have the correspondents. The Washington Post, based on some readings, is mainly kept afloat not by subscription or advertisements, but by their ownership of a for-profit university. Their number of reporters is increasingly diminishing. Let these papers, and other who report international news pay, by means of percentage of gross income, for a national independent news source(s) with foreign correspondents. National news funded likewise.


          JE comments:  An interesting proposal.  Is there a precedent in any industry for requiring a business to subsidize its competition?


          For those who were wondering, the Washington Post owns Kaplan University.  I've heard of Kaplan, but didn't know who was behind it until now.  Because of this relationship, I don't think we'll ever see an exposé in the WT about the for-profits deceiving students to take on absurd amounts of debt, high-pressure recruiting among US service personnel, and other hardball practices.
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          • The Current Crisis of Democracy and the Media (Robert Whealey, USA 10/11/11 5:06 AM)

            Brian Blodgett (10 October) is exactly right about the NYT and the Washington Post. The newspaper publishers sold advertising from 1890s, when the paper was edited by Hearst, Scripps, or Pulitzer. In those days up to 1945, the reader at least had three or five independent editors.



            George Orwell added the impact of TV. The term "Hate Week" came from Madison Avenue weekly radio campaigns, "National Chicken Week," "School Milk Fund," March of Dimes," etc. As predicted, the State Department expanded the weekly campaign into bi-annual election campaigns. "Cold War," "Free World," "The Personality Cult of Moscow." It made little difference whether the public relations firm collected a fee from those who coined "Wheaties--Breakfast of Champions" or "I like Ike, You like Ike."



            The voters of 2010 have still never gotten over the "war on terrorism" jointly pushed by the State of Israel and the neo-conservativs, after 2000. Now PBS has David Brooks and Mark Shields plugging "bi-partisanship." I listen to them for laughs rather than news.



            The best solution is to read independent books published by real independent editors and university presses.


            JE comments:  Skeptics might argue that University Presses aren't that independent either--they are increasingly dependent on the marketplace, and limit themselves to trendy yet "safe" topics.  Moreover, changes in technology have probably doomed the UP model to extinction in the medium term:  why print a book run of 500 at $100 + per copy when library budgets are shrinking and you can publish electronically for nearly free?

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            • Media Bias, Objectivity and "Triangulation" (Gilbert Doctorow, Belgium 10/11/11 6:49 AM)
              I humbly submit that there is a fallacy at the root of the comments by Robert Whealey (11 October) and others in this discussion of the media:

              The notion that some ideally objective source of information exists or can be made to exist is wrong in and of itself. It is the task of each educated person to "triangulate," meaning to identify the likely bias of each source of information with which s/he comes into contact, to try to determine what the interests of the source may be; to assemble a variety of such biased sources and by applying wisdom and experience try to arrive at one's own take on the material being presented by others.


              It would be just too easy to hope someone will do that for us: it means ignoring the elemental fact that each of us has his/her own interests which (should) color our views. It all goes back to Shakespeare: know thyself....


              JE comments: There is no neutral or objective narrative; this is the first thing you learn in graduate school. Yet when reading news or history, we still hope that someone will do the "pre-triangulating"!


               



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              • Media Bias, Objectivity and "Triangulation" (Tor Guimaraes, USA 10/12/11 1:22 AM)
                I completely agree with Gilbert Doctorow's assertion (11 October) that there is a universal need for everyone "to identify the likely bias of each source of information with which s/he comes into contact, to try to determine what the interests of the source may be; to assemble a variety of such biased sources and by applying wisdom and experience try to arrive at one's own take on the material being presented by others."

                However, there must be some easily available forums where one can get an intelligent set of opinions where knowledgeable people, with honest and well-justified differences of opinion, can express themselves. What we have today is totally unacceptable for the average citizen whose business is not to engage in such time-consuming information search/processing exercises. We now have widespread corporate-controlled media outlets spewing mostly entertainment garbage, deliberately controlling and biasing information, to shape the opinion of increasingly uneducated citizens: a formula for disaster in a democracy. The media outlets for the masses feature too many empty-headed people whose opinion is based on the party line decided from above. We need more fact-based information, honest diversity of opinion from competent people about specific issues. There is too much centralization of corporate control over media outlets, too much baseless opinion and deliberate misinformation. This must be questioned and controlled for a healthier democracy.


                JE comments: Tor, my friend, doesn't the beginning of your second paragraph describe WAIS?



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                • Media Bias, Objectivity and "Triangulation" (John Heelan, UK 10/12/11 1:00 PM)
                  Tor Guimaraes wrote on 12 October: "We now have widespread corporate-controlled media outlets spewing mostly entertainment garbage, deliberately controlling and biasing information, to shape the opinion of increasingly uneducated citizens: a formula for disaster in a democracy."

                  I could not agree more, and have written many times in WAIS about the importance of checking the provenance of both information and opinions presented. Basic communications theory posits a transmitter, a means of communication and a receiver, each of which can inject intentional or unintentional aberrations into the message. So to arrive at a true message between transmitter and receiver one need to inspect each stage of the process. Not only do we need to check the possible biases of the transmitters, we also need to check our own biases as receivers to understand if we ourselves are interpreting the transmissions correctly, or adding our own flavours. Heuristics can ameliorate the potential problems but generally need a closed system.


                  JE commented that WAIS reflected Tor's definition of a need for "more fact-based information, honest diversity of opinion from competent people about specific issues." Further with regular contributors, WAISers can usually readily identify the underlying biases of others and calibrate the information accordingly--more difficult is identifying and calibrating our own biases. Thus WAIS can be a heuristic transmission system, imperfect but probably better than the alternatives.


                  JE comments: A heuristic transmission system--John Heelan gets my vote for composing the new WAIS mission statement. Not unlike the "lux et veritas" of our age-old motto, but it's up to readers to construct their own veritas. Where's the pax, you ask? Unfortunately these days it's in short supply. I miss it. Pax.



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              • "Know Thyself": Shakespeare or Sophocles? (David Duggan, USA 10/12/11 1:36 AM)
                In response to Gilbert Doctorow (11 October), wasn't it Sophocles who said: "Know thyself"? And Shakespeare (through Polonius): "To thine own self be true"?

                JE comments: Same idea, but the eagle-eyed David Duggan is right. (Two of my weakest subjects on Jeopardy! have always Greek tragedy and Shakespeare, as well as mythology of all types.)



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                • "Know Thyself" (Alain de Benoist, France 10/13/11 3:47 AM)
                  I don't think the words "Know thyself" have ever been attributed to Sophocles (See David Duggan, 12 October).

                  Did David confuse Sophocles with Socrates? In several of his dialogues (Charmides, Phaedrus, Protagoras, etc.), Plato put this maxim in Socrates's mouth--but he also makes it clear that Socrates is referring to a "long-established wisdom."


                  Actually, the aphorism "Know thyself" (Greek: "Gnôthi seauton") was one of the three maxims inscribed in the pronaos of the Temple of Apollo at the ancient Greek sanctuary of Delphi, according to the testimony of Pausanias (10.24.1).


                  In 1831, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote also a poem entitled "Gnôthi seauton."


                  JE comments:  Know thyself, know thy quotes!  Alan Levine and David Westbrook also wrote to point out the Delphic origins of the quote.  My thanks to Alain, Alan and David for correcting the error.


                   



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