|Previous segment |Next segment | Contents | Overview | Archive | ZNet|
With these dire consequences in mind, the Western invasion of the Soviet Union was justified on defensive grounds, against "the Revolution's challenge ... to the very survival of the capitalist order" (John Lewis Gaddis). And it was only natural that the defense of the United States should extend from invasion of the Soviet Union to Wilson's Red Scare at home. As Lansing explained, force must be used to prevent "the leaders of Bolshevism and anarchy" from proceeding to "organize or preach against government in the United States"; the government must not permit "these fanatics to enjoy the liberty which they now seek to destroy." The repression launched by the Wilson administration successfully undermined democratic politics, unions, freedom of the press, and independent thought, in the interests of corporate power and the state authorities who represented its interests, all with the general approval of the media and elites generally, all in self-defense against the "ignorant and mentally deficient" majority. Much the same story was re-enacted after World War II, again under the pretext of a Soviet threat, in reality, to restore submission to the rulers.25
It is often not appreciated how profound and deeply-rooted is the contempt for democracy in the elite culture, and the fear it arouses.
When political life and independent thought revived in the 1960s, the problem arose again, and the reaction was the same. The Trilateral Commission, bringing together liberal elites from Europe, Japan, and the United States, warned of an impending "crisis of democracy" as segments of the public sought to enter the political arena. This "excess of democracy" was posing a threat to the unhampered rule of privileged elites -- what is called "democracy" in political theology. The problem was the usual one: the rabble were trying to arrange their own affairs, gaining control over their communities and pressing their political demands. There were organizing efforts among young people, ethnic minorities, women, social activists, and others, encouraged by the struggles of benighted masses elsewhere for freedom and independence. More "moderation in democracy" would be required, the Commission concluded, perhaps a return to the days when "Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers," as the American rapporteur commented.26
Irving Kristol adds that "insignificant nations, like insignificant people, can quickly experience delusions of significance." But as a leading neoconservative, he has no time for the softer means of manufacture of consent, which are, in any event, not warranted for insignificant people outside the domains of Western civilization. Hence the delusions of significance must be driven from their tiny minds by force: "In truth, the days of `gunboat diplomacy' are never over... Gunboats are as necessary for international order as police cars are for domestic order."27
These ideas bring us to the Reagan administration, which established a state propaganda agency (the Office of Public Diplomacy) that was by far the most elaborate in American history, much to the delight of the advocates of a powerful and interventionist state who are called "conservatives" in one of the current corruptions of political discourse. When the program was exposed, a high official described it as the kind of operation carried out in "enemy territory" -- an apt phrase, expressing standard elite attitudes towards the public. In this case, the enemy was not completely subdued. Popular movements deepened their roots and spread into new sectors of the population, and were able to drive the state underground to clandestine terror instead of the more efficient forms of overt violence that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson could undertake before the public had been aroused.
The fears expressed by the men of best quality in the 17th century have become a major theme of intellectual discourse, corporate practice, and the academic social sciences. They were expressed by the influential moralist and foreign affairs adviser Reinhold Niebuhr, who was revered by George Kennan, the Kennedy intellectuals, and many others. He wrote that "rationality belongs to the cool observers" while the common person follows not reason but faith. The cool observers, he explained, must recognize "the stupidity of the average man," and must provide the "necessary illusion" and the "emotionally potent oversimplifications" that will keep the naive simpletons on course. As in 1650, it remains necessary to protect the "lunatic or distracted person," the ignorant rabble, from their own "depraved and corrupt" judgments, just as one does not allow a child to cross the street without supervision.28
In accordance with the prevailing conceptions, there is no infringement of democracy if a few corporations control the information system: in fact, that is the essence of democracy. The leading figure of the public relations industry, Edward Bernays, explained that "the very essence of the democratic process" is "the freedom to persuade and suggest," what he calls "the engineering of consent." If the freedom to persuade happens to be concentrated in a few hands, we must recognize that such is the nature of a free society. From the early 20th century, the public relations industry has devoted huge resources to "educating the American people about the economic facts of life" to ensure a favorable climate for business. Its task is to control "the public mind," which is "the only serious danger confronting the company," an AT&T executive observed eighty years ago. And today, the Wall Street Journal describes with enthusiasm the "concerted efforts" of corporate America "to change the attitudes and values of workers" on a vast scale with "New Age workshops" and other contemporary devices of indoctrination and stupefaction designed to convert "worker apathy into corporate allegiance."29 The agents of Reverend Moon and Christian evangelicals employ similar devices to bar the threat of peasant organizing and to undermine a church that serves the poor in Latin America, aided by intelligence agencies and the closely-linked international organizations of the ultra-right.
Bernays expressed the basic point in a public relations manual of 1928: "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society... It is the intelligent minorities which need to make use of propaganda continuously and systematically." Given its enormous and decisive power, the highly class conscious business community of the United States has been able to put these lessons to effective use. Bernays' advocacy of propaganda is cited by Thomas McCann, head of public relations for the United Fruit Company, for which Bernays provided signal service in preparing the ground for the overthrow of Guatemalan democracy in 1954, a major triumph of business propaganda with the willing compliance of the media.30
|Go to the next segment.|
25 For references here and below, where not otherwise cited, see Turning the Tide; Necessary Illusions. For Lansing and Wilson, Lloyd Gardner, Safe for Democracy (Oxford, 1987), 157, 161, 261, 242. Gaddis, p. 14f., above.
26 Samuel Huntington, in Crozier, Huntington and Watanuki, Crisis of Democracy (see introduction, note 1).
27 Wall Street Journal, Dec. 13, 1973.
28 See my review/article in Grand Street, Winter 1987.
29 Cited by Herbert Schiller, The Corporate Takeover of Public Expression (Oxford, 1989).
30 McCann, An American Company (Crown, 1976), 45. On the ludicrous performance of the media, see also Turning the Tide, 164f. Also William Preston and Ellen Ray, "Disinformation and mass deception: democracy as a cover story," in Richard O. Curry, ed., Freedom at Risk (Temple, 1988).