Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Republican Party's Unspeakable Pig-Sty Of Terrible Ideas


John Calhoun came from a southern colonial family that opposed the federal constitution. He was elected to Congress from South Carolina in 1810 and immediately joined the ranks of the most hawkish, pro-war elements and he was instrumental in dragging the U.S. into the War of 1812. He was named Secretary of War-- the 5th choice-- by James Monroe in 1817. In 1824 he ran for president but found no support but was chosen vice president to John Quincy Adams by the Electoral College. in 1828 he betrayed Adams and ran as vice president on Andrew Jackson' ticket, which won.

What Calhoun is most famous for is his nullification doctrine, which he created as a way of countering what he considered central government tyranny. He saw himself a great defender of minority rights-- minorities being the wealthy white slave-owners. His doctrine, of course, was the philosophical undermining of secession. When he talked about using even the most extreme measures to protect "liberty and sovereignty," he was only talking about the liberty and sovereignty of the very wealthy. in 1832 Jackson sent naval warships to Charleston over nullification and threatened to hang Calhoun, who resigned as vice president as was selected by the South Carolina legislature to be a senator. He quit the Senate in 1843 to run for president in 1844 but found no support and quit the race before started. He was selected by the state legislature as senator again and served in that position until he died in 1850, basically Congress' most outspoken advocate of slavery and of secession over slavery.

This week, in his fascinating Guardian review of Nancy MacLean’s new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, George Monbiot brings Calhoun's villainy to the fore again. He writes about how MacLean accidentally stumbled upon the literary legacy of obscure right-wing nut, James McGill Buchanan-- largely a creation of the Koch brothers-- soon after he died. She discovered that Buchanan and the Kochs had been working on a secret plan for suppressing democracy on behalf of the very rich. That plan now dominates the Republican Party and is reshaping politics.
Buchanan was strongly influenced by both the neoliberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and the property supremacism of John C Calhoun, who argued in the first half of the 19th century that freedom consists of the absolute right to use your property (including your slaves) however you may wish; any institution that impinges on this right is an agent of oppression, exploiting men of property on behalf of the undeserving masses.

James Buchanan brought these influences together to create what he called public choice theory. He argued that a society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare. Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes were forms of “differential or discriminatory legislation” against the owners of capital.

Any clash between “freedom” (allowing the rich to do as they wish) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that “despotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe.” Despotism in defence of freedom.

His prescription was a “constitutional revolution”: creating irrevocable restraints to limit democratic choice. Sponsored throughout his working life by wealthy foundations, billionaires and corporations, he developed a theoretical account of what this constitutional revolution would look like, and a strategy for implementing it.

He explained how attempts to desegregate schooling in the American south could be frustrated by setting up a network of state-sponsored private schools. It was he who first proposed privatising universities, and imposing full tuition fees on students: his original purpose was to crush student activism. He urged privatisation of social security and many other functions of the state. He sought to break the links between people and government, and demolish trust in public institutions. He aimed, in short, to save capitalism from democracy.

In 1980, he was able to put the programme into action. He was invited to Chile, where he helped the Pinochet dictatorship write a new constitution, which, partly through the clever devices Buchanan proposed, has proved impossible to reverse entirely. Amid the torture and killings, he advised the government to extend programmes of privatisation, austerity, monetary restraint, deregulation and the destruction of trade unions: a package that helped trigger economic collapse in 1982.

None of this troubled the Swedish Academy, which through his devotee at Stockholm University Assar Lindbeck in 1986 awarded James Buchanan the Nobel memorial prize for economics. It is one of several decisions that have turned this prize toxic.

But his power really began to be felt when Koch, currently the seventh richest man in the US, decided that Buchanan held the key to the transformation he sought. Koch saw even such ideologues as Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan as “sellouts,” as they sought to improve the efficiency of government rather than destroy it altogether. But Buchanan took it all the way.

MacLean says that Charles Koch poured millions into Buchanan’s work at George Mason University, whose law and economics departments look as much like corporate-funded thinktanks as they do academic faculties. He employed the economist to select the revolutionary “cadre” that would implement his programme (Murray Rothbard, at the Cato Institute that Koch founded, had urged the billionaire to study Lenin’s techniques and apply them to the libertarian cause). Between them, they began to develop a programme for changing the rules.

The papers Nancy MacLean discovered show that Buchanan saw stealth as crucial. He told his collaborators that “conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential.” Instead of revealing their ultimate destination, they would proceed by incremental steps. For example, in seeking to destroy the social security system, they would claim to be saving it, arguing that it would fail without a series of radical “reforms.” (The same argument is used by those attacking the NHS). Gradually they would build a “counter-intelligentsia,” allied to a “vast network of political power” that would become the new establishment.

Through the network of thinktanks that Koch and other billionaires have sponsored, through their transformation of the Republican party, and the hundreds of millions they have poured into state congressional and judicial races, through the mass colonisation of Trump’s administration by members of this network and lethally effective campaigns against everything from public health to action on climate change, it would be fair to say that Buchanan’s vision is maturing in the US.

...In one respect, Buchanan was right: there is an inherent conflict between what he called “economic freedom” and political liberty. Complete freedom for billionaires means poverty, insecurity, pollution and collapsing public services for everyone else. Because we will not vote for this, it can be delivered only through deception and authoritarian control. The choice we face is between unfettered capitalism and democracy. You cannot have both.

Buchanan’s programme is a prescription for totalitarian capitalism. And his disciples have only begun to implement it. But at least, thanks to MacLean’s discoveries, we can now apprehend the agenda. One of the first rules of politics is, know your enemy. We’re getting there.

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At 9:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other side of that coin is to make sure the remnant democracy consists of voters far too stupid to understand what you're doing, even if they have the recipe to read right in front of them.

Part of that, also, is to do what Hitler did (and don't forget to mention him as a role model here) and find a scapegoat or two for the purpose of distraction with rage.

They've succeeded on both fronts spectacularly.

The cultivation of hate among southern whites that they began in '68 has been expanded to stupid whites everywhere today. These are one-issue voters and have supported racist, misogynist, homophobic and, now, anti-islam candidates regardless of what else they do.

And their corruption of the entirety of the political spectrum (both colours in the rainbow) had the convenient help of the democraps, who decided in 1980 that they needed to compete for the same corporate money, so THEY sold policy and advocacy to the same ones who paid the Rs for it.

And the voters on the left STILL don't get it.

Like I said. Stupid voters make it all a LOT easier for them.

At 3:38 AM, Blogger Steve Adams said...

> the philosophical undermining of secession

I think you meant "underpinning".

At 7:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The sad thing about your expressions of truth is that the vast majority of those helping to bring about the demise of small-d democracy in the USA will be the ones complaining the loudest when reality finally hits home.

At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

7:32, that would be small solace. However, I doubt anything *CAN* hit home. The ruling plut-archy can and will just throw more boogeymen at them to keep their heads up their asses as they scream that the (insert hated demo) are to blame.

Remember Nazi Germany? They were so animated in their hate of Jews that they ignored their own descent into the abyss. As long as their leadershit properly shared their own hatred (which was fomented by their leadershit), their society's degradation and their aggressive wars were of no consequence to them.

And we're dumber than germans in the '30s. We're dumber than just about everyone in the first world.


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