September 10, 2007
by Stephen Lendman
This the first of an eight-part series analyzing Michael Parenti's book, Democracy for the Few (8th Edition).
Michael Parenti is an internationally known speaker and award winning author of 20 books and hundreds of articles. He's also a noted academic having taught at a number of colleges and universities in the US and abroad.
Parenti is also one of the nation's leading progressive political analysts and social critics. He strongly opposes US imperialism, the shredding of our civil liberties, decline of our social state, and the Bush Doctrine of preventive wars on the world for predatory capitalism's need for new markets, resources and cheap exploitable labor.
Parenti's latest book, and subject of this review, is the newly updated eighth edition of one of his most noted and popular earlier ones - Democracy For the Few. In it, he shows how democracy in the nation really works. It dispels the fiction Americans are practically weaned on from birth, taught in school to the highest levels, and get daily from the dominant media.
Parenti's view is quite different from the mainstream's suppression of the "shadier sides of US political life." He explains "proponents of the existing social order have tried to transform practically every deficiency in the US political system into a strength." They want us to believe "millions of nonvoters are content with present social conditions, (and) the growing concentration of executive power is a good thing because the president is democratically responsive to broad national interests (ones affecting the public)." They tell us "exclusion of third parties" makes our system work better, and all state vices are, in fact, virtues. Those popularly presented views turn reality on it head in a nation dedicated to wealth and power interests since inception. It only ever yields a little (and grudgingly) when forced to by grassroots activism or in periods of social crisis like The Great Depression to save what elitists value most - the soul and substance corporate capitalist America.
Parenti addresses the nature of American capitalism that's the beating heart of our politico-economic system. He covers our political institutions, the "foundations and historical development of American political politics....Who governs....Who gets what, when, how and why." Central to ask is cui bono? Who benefits and who doesn't is key to his core theme showing how power, wealth and class dominate America and the notion of real democracy is pure illusion. Today, America the beautiful only exists for the privileged few and no one else. But it's always been that way in a nation ruled by rich white, predominantly Christian elitist men from birth. Parenti deconstructs our system, from its roots, in 19 incisive, thought provoking chapters, encyclopedic in depth, and up to date to the current age of George Bush neocon rule.
This review covers them all briefly to convey a full flavor of his important book, all of which needs to be digested and understood. It's must reading and should be kept as an essential reference guide for future examination and reflection. Knowing its contents is key to arousing enough public concern for change in our own self-interest. In the age of George Bush's America, and his coterie of extremist rogues, the issue is now survival at a time a reckless leadership threatens everyone with potential nuclear or ecological Armageddon because of their lust for wealth, power and empire.
Without public awareness, angst and plain determination not to take it any more, this agenda will continue with potential consequences too disturbing to ignore. It doesn't have to happen if enough people know the danger, collectively act to defuse it in self-defense, and decide to make the country work for everyone. Parenti dedicates his book to them - "To all those who struggle for peace, social justice, and real democracy. May their numbers continue to grow."
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Partisan Politics Favoring the Privileged
Privilege always counted most from the time the nation was founded. The prevailing fiction then and now is an egalitarian country "free from the extremes of want and wealth that characterized (18th century) Europe" and most parts of the world today. It was as untrue then as now with wealthy 18th century colonialists having vast disproportional land holdings and control of banking, commerce and industry, such as it was back then.
These "wealthy and powerful 'gentlemen,' our founding fathers," gathered in 1787 in the same Philadelphia State House where the Declaration of Independence was signed 11 years earlier. They came to draft a Constitution intended to last into "remote futurity" for their interests alone. Democracy for the many was not on the table in 1787.
Yet, they nominally managed to include unimaginable freedoms, up to that time, in the Bill of Rights ratified in 1791. They gave people the rights of free expression, religion, peaceable assembly, protection from illegal searches and seizures, due process and more even though it only got done through compromise after these ideas were twice rejected earlier. The delegates finally agreed out of necessity to get their document ratified and avoid a second convention some states wanted. To do it, they had to win over dissenting state representatives who wanted Bill of Rights protections for their own propertied interests.
They weren't added to the Constitution as a democratic gesture to "the people" who were nowhere in sight then or henceforth. As history later showed repeatedly, the entire Constitution was flawed from the start as governments, then and later, freely and willfully ignored and set aside these less than inviolate freedoms as Presidents Adams, Lincoln, Wilson, Johnson, Nixon, George W. Bush, and many others easily were able to do and often did.
Overall, "the Constitution was consciously designed as a conservative document" the way the framers wanted it to be. They achieved their aims with provisions in it, or omitted by intent, to "resist the pressure of popular tides" and protect "a rising bourgeoisie('s)" freedom to "invest, speculate, trade, and accumulate wealth" the way things work for capital interests today. It was to codify the law to let the country be run the way politician, jurist and nation's first Chief Supreme Court justice, John Jay, said it should be - for "The people who own the country....to run it (for their benefit alone)."
Benjamin Franklin was reportedly asked at the end of the Constitutional Convention whether the 55 attending delegates created a monarchy or republic. He responded "A republic, if you can keep it" without acknowledging notions of an egalitarian nation were stillborn at its birth. It was true then and now in spite of all the pretense contrived to portray an idealized society, in fact, always out of reach for most in it.
This is Parenti's dominant theme - of a government, since inception, serving the privileged few at the expense of the neglected or exploited many. That's hardly a textbook definition of democracy, yet it's the model one we're taught to believe we have serving everyone equally. Parenti says his book is intended to show how vital it is for everyone to critically examine our society as a step toward improving it. He stresses a nation's greatness is measured by its freedom from "poverty, racism, sexism, exploitation, imperialism....environmental devastation," and a fundamental opposition to war and pursuit of peace everywhere. Benjamin Franklin also said "There never was a good war or bad peace," a notion unimaginable to our leaders today.
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Stephen Lendman [send him email] lives in Chicago, and maintains a blog at http://sjlendman.blogspot.com. He also hosts "The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour" online at www.themicroeffect.com.