Sunday, August 21, 2011


The democratic ideal that emerged with the Enlightenment has been hijacked.  It is worthwhile looking at how that happened in anticipation of the next world experiment in modernity, hoping to avoid generating just another royal structure.  To this end we ask, who precisely hijacked the original ideals of the Enlightenment, how can we regenerate those ideals in principle, and, finally, how can we avoid a future hijacking.
            The first principle was formally completed in 2010 in the USA, with the Supreme Court finalizing what had been a long struggle by advocates of corporate power.  The Court recognized the free-speech rights of corporations.  The notion that a corporation was a person, long advocated by the US version of corporate control was now complete.  All the individual rights inscribed in the US constitution, essentially the rights enshrined in Enlightenment ideals, now became rights for corporations also.
            Leading up to this formalization was the slow but sure entrance of corporate interests into the political and judicial system.  Through the vehicles of lobbying and lawsuits, Corporations have been able to construct legal systems in their favor, place advocates in any regulatory positions remaining, and file lawsuits against individuals (or, rather, other individuals).  The use of lobbying to “influence” legislation is not new, but in the past 20 years has become so dominant that any legislation that disfavors the corporate system simply cannot be placed on the table for consideration.  Legislators are vastly outnumbered by lobbyists and it is well known that most legislation is dramatically influenced by or even simply written by those lobbyists.
            The well-known revolving door approach to regulation has also become standard operating policy.  Government regulating positions are filled with industry representatives, mainly representatives of those industries that are supposed to be regulated.  Subsequently, after a time in the government position, regulators either return to, or gain entry positions in the industries they had been “regulating.” 
            The final nail in the coffin is provided by armies of lawyers who jump to the cause of filing lawsuits at anyone, or any institution that dares to challenge corporate authority.  The actual lawsuit itself is largely irrelevant.  It is the cost of litigation that allows the agency with the deepest pockets to prevail.  Criticism of corporations has thus been effectively limited to private conversations, much as serfs who may have hated the lord would never criticize him in public. 
            So, the basic idea of individual rights, where individuals are real flesh and blood people, is largely an idea of the past.  There are some individuals, corporations, who have the rights, and, like monarchs of the past, exert supreme authority.  Their claim to absolute authority is structurally identical to the more traditional monarchs, an unquestioned ideology that says so.  In the past it was the authority of an omniscient being.  Today it is the authority of an omniscient economic philosophy.  The monarchs of the past didn’t say it in precisely this way, but Margaret Thatcher’s famous remark that “there is no other alternative” is, from a policy perspective, equivalent to “God willed it.”
            Given that the world has decided to live under a monarchy once again, it is worthwhile to ask what kind of a king or queen do we actually have.  This question has already been asked in the context of a corporation as an individual in the book and movie “The Corporation.”  What sort of an individual is our king?  Taking the formalities of modern psychiatry seriously, a rigorous diagnosis is evident.  With their disregard for human welfare, for environmental sustainability, and inability to see the negative consequences of their actions on others, the new king would clearly be diagnosed formally as a psychopath.
            So, in the end, our brave new world resembles the pre-Enlightenment world in that we have a monarchy, but this time, by its very nature, our monarch is a psychopath.  History is filled with other examples of monarchs who were arguably psychopaths, but never before have we been able to see so deeply into the psyche of an individual.  The corporate individual is open to examination by his/her own actions and especially his/her intentions, which are written down for all to see and examine. And those actions and intentions without doubt place our new king/queen well-within the medical definition of psychopath.
            As in the 17th century, today we also have a whole corpus of thinking that challenges the legitimacy of this arrangement.  And much as in the early days of the European Enlightenment, we have the radicals who say we need to construct ideals such as freedom, equality and democracy.  But similarly, we also have the revisionists who say such utopias are not reasonable and we need something to replace royal authority or “chaos” will reign.  Let us remember that it was the revisionists of the past who set up the system such that monarchy could return in another guise, whether the English Revolution of 1640 or the French Revolution or the Bolshevik Revolution.  If we give in to the revisionists today, we set the world up for yet another discouraging experiment.  If we learn anything from history it is that “radical Enlightenment” thinkers had it right from the start, from Spinoza to Payne, and the revisionists from Voltaire to Hamilton were the culprits who set us up for failure.  Freedom, equality and democracy are not relative terms.  Pursuing them as absolute principles demands a radical departure from the monarchies of the past, whether the traditional monarchies of real kings and queens or the modern monarchies created by the international corporation.  The struggle takes on many forms, from philosophical reflections and debates to the storming of the Bastille.  All concerned serfs have a place.  Acting together we can move back to the “radical” ideals of real Enlightenment thought and get it right this time.


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