Published on Friday, April 11, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
The Real War - On American Democracy
by Thom Hartmann
In the midst of news of foreign wars, Americans are beginning to wake up to the real war being waged here at home. It is, however, a confused awakening.
For example, Americans wonder why the Bush administration seems so intent on crippling local, state, and federal governments by starving them of funds and creating huge federal debt that our children will have to repay.
Many think it's just to fund tax cuts and subsidies for the rich, that the multimillionaire CEOs who've taken over virtually all senior posts in the Bush administration are just pigs at the trough, and this is a spectacular but ordinary form of self-serving corruption. It all seems so plausible, and there's even a grain of truth to it.
But juicy deals for Bush administration insiders are just a by-product of the real and deeper war against democracy. The neoconservatives are perfectly happy for us to think they're just opportunists skirting the edges of legality and morality, but this is far more dangerous than simple government corruption.
Indeed, the neo-conservatives claim to be anti-government. As a leading spokesman for the neo-con agenda, Grover Norquist, told National Public Radio's Mara Liasson in a May 25, 2001 Morning Edition interview, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
Without a larger view, the issues of domestic spending, oil, neo-conservative power plays in both major parties, the loss of liberties, anti-government rhetoric, and war in the Middle East all seem like separate and unconnected events. They're not.
The "new conservatives" who've seized the Republican Party and, through the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) are nipping at the heels of the Democratic Party, are not our parents' conservatives. Historic conservatives like Barry Goldwater, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower would be appalled. Although their philosophical roots go back to Alexander Hamilton, who openly argued during the Constitutional Convention that royalty was the best form of government, the neocons have always been kept to the fringe, nipping at the heels of democracy.
In past times those promoting what is now called the neo-conservative agenda went by different names.
The Founders of America knew that for 6000 years "civilized" humans had always been ruled by one of three groups: kings, theocrats, or feudal lords. Kings held power by threat of violence and continual warfare; theocrats and popes held power by the people's fear of a god or gods; and feudal lords held power by wealth and the power that comes from throwing average people into poverty.
The "new" idea of our Founders in 1776 was to throw off all three of these historic tyrannies and replace them with a fourth way - people being ruled by themselves. A government that derived its legitimacy and continuing existence solely from the approval of its citizens. Government of, by, and for "We, The People." They called it a republican democracy.
What we are seeing now in the neoconservative agenda is nothing less than an attempt to overthrow republican democracy and replace it with a worldwide feudal state.
The last time this happened, the feudalists took over a monarchy and then North America. In December 1600, Queen Elizabeth I chartered the East India company, ultimately leading to a corporate takeover of the Americas that the colonists ended with the Boston Tea Party and, three years later, the American Revolution. This corporate-state partnership went on to conquer India, but eventually faded out as the British Empire faded, and the British government, along with most of Western Europe, embraced Jeffersonian forms of democracy.
But it raised its head again in the 20th Century, revived by Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini. The Italian dictator even used the word "corporatism" to describe it, and then later renamed it as "fascism" - a word that was defined in American dictionaries such as The American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Company) in 1983 as "fas-cism (fash'iz'em) n. A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."
Since the "Reagan Revolution," two centuries after we rose up and rebelled against King George III's support of corporate feudalism in Boston Harbor, this ancient enemy of democracy is again trying to seize America. Reagan ignored the Sherman Act and other restraints on corporations, and sold at fire-sale prices the airwaves once held in common by We, The People. The result was predictable: a merger and acquisitions frenzy, and the takeover of American media by a handful of mega-corporations. Bill Clinton then helped export corporatism to the industrialized world when he pushed GATT/WTO through Congress.
Thus, the war on Iraq was just one front in the larger feudal war against democracy itself. (And a particularly useful one - it gave the corporate feudal lords access to oil wealth, and was so effective at distracting the populace from Bush's outrageous domestic agenda that we can expect to see another war, somewhere, in November of 2004.)
In 1936 - years before America turned its attention to fighting fascism in Germany - Franklin D. Roosevelt was concerned about the rise of a corporate feudalism here in the United States. In a speech in Philadelphia on June 27th, he said: "Out of this modern civilization economic royalists carved new dynasties. New kingdoms were built upon concentration of control over material things. Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities, new machinery of industry and agriculture, of labor and capital - all undreamed of by the Fathers - the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service."
Roosevelt suggested that human nature may play a part in it all, but that didn't make it tolerable. "It was natural and perhaps human," he said, "that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over government itself."
It was a control the Democratic Party of 1936 found intolerable. "As a result," Roosevelt said, "the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man."
Republicans of the day lashed out in the press and on radio, charging that Roosevelt was anti-American, even communist. Without a moment's hesitation, he threw it back in their faces.
"These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America," Roosevelt thundered in that 1936 speech. "What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for."
Those of us who still believe in republican democracy would have "We, The People" make the decisions through representatives we've elected without the feudal influence of corporate money. We realize that "big government" is, indeed, a menace when it's no longer responsive to its own people, as happened in Germany and Russia in the last century - and is happening today in America under the neoconservatives.
But we also remember the vision of a free and democratic America - a sacred archetype so powerful that protestors in Tiananmen Square marched to their deaths carrying a 36-foot-tall paper mache replica of the Statue Of Liberty while quoting the words of Thomas Jefferson.
Facing the power of The East India Company's corporate feudalism in 1773, the Founders of our nation, unable to get their voices heard in the halls of the British government or even in many of the newspapers of the day, turned to two nonviolent and very effective methods to spread the new meme of democracy.
The first was pamphleteering - and the internet is today's pamphlet. Millions are using email and pointing to websites to awaken people and promote democratic change.
The second was creating "committees of correspondence," also used extensively by the Women's Suffrage movement. These were groups organized to write letters to the editors of newspapers.
People across American have already begun letter writing, faxing, and email campaigns, and you can see the results on the editorial pages of our newspapers and in the reactions of some of our politicians. Other correspondents are blogging or calling in to talk shows, modern variations on this theme.
A correspondent in York, New York, who is pamphleteering in email and encouraging committees of correspondence to write letters to newspaper editors against the new feudalism's wars on America and overseas, shared the following quote from Emerson: "One of the illusions [of life] is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive hour."
Yet this is the critical and decisive hour, and we are not without voices or tools.
Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com) is an author and talk show host. www.thomhartmann.com This article is copyright by Thom Hartmann, but permission is granted for republication in print, email, blog, or web media so long as this credit is attached.