Desirable Limits to Democracy

(part 2 of a series of columns i wrote in the early days of the 21st century for Street Roots)

some of the problems of governance in the United States today stem from an excess of democracy…(what’s) needed…is a greater degree of moderation in democracy…We have come to recognize that there are potentially desirable limits to the indefinite extension of political democracy.” – Samuel Harrington, The Crisis of Democracy.

It’s rather fitting that as I started to prepare my notes to write this, the Sunday Oregonian (7/23/99) has a special feature by elitist mouthpiece Robert Eisenger, blasting the ballot initiative system here in Oregon as a threat to our representative democracy, and for being un-American. This is a perfect example of the “desirable limits…of political democracy” referred to in Harrington’s above quoted report to the Trilateral Commission in the early ’70s.

Elected officials are the public champions of the ruling elite, who should not be bothered by the petty needs of the taxpayers. After all, where would the country be if the voting public could over-rule corporate-friendly legislatures at their whim? One shudders to think about an America where auto, electronics, and other manufacturing facilities were never closed down, throwing millions of working class U.S. citizens out of their accustomed income brackets. Such is the potential danger of democracy, in the eyes of Harrington and Eisenger. We’ll return to this subject later.

For now, it’s worth asking how America – the world’s first democratic republic – degenerated so quickly into a country where democracy is a reviled concept.

As I’ve mentioned previously, fascism grew out of the turmoil of the worldwide great depression, after WWI. In part, it was a response by the wealthy to protect their positions of privilege from the Red Menace – state socialism as practiced by the Soviet Union.

As a social experiment to create an ideal authoritarian political state, fascism failed due to its reliance on megalomaniacal zealots – psychotic, twisted individuals with extreme control issues – to create and lead the fascist parties. Also, once in power, the wealthy elites found the fascists to be quite serious in their demand for complete devotion from every subject of their states. This made them dangerous and formidable rivals. What the ruling class needed was subtlety rather than zealotry.

queen lizzie the 2nd as a little princess, giving the
queen lizzie the 2nd as a little princess, giving the “seig heil” salute, prior to WWII.

Fortunately for them, the fascists in the US had done little but propagate an isolationist foreign policy in regards to involvement in WWII. And unlike Britain, where fascists in open sympathy with Nazi Germany were scorned by the overwhelming majority of the population once their own cities were being heavily bombed, US propaganda in favor of entering the war was directed against German aggression, rather than the more politicized view of the war from the European perspective (i.e.; WWII was a.k.a. “The War Against Fascism” there).

Furthermore, US corporations such as Standard Oil, IT&T, and Pan-Am continued to sell materials to Germany throughout the war – actions which were upheld in several courts – unless unionized workers refused to load them onto ships. Already, the rights of corporations to pursue profits was being given priority over national security concerns and in direct opposition to American workers, who had family, friends, and other loved ones dying as a result of US industries supplying materials to our opponents.

Upon the end of the war, the U.S. economy had grown to heights simply unimaginable to the industrialists and bankers. The U.S. was manufacturing a remarkable 50% of all industrial output in the world. In post-war assessments, thinktanks generally acknowledged that it was not possible to expect this economic domination to last. However, there were two things which could be done to make the most possible advantage of this situation: 1) keep the flow of war materials going as close to wartime levels as possible, and 2) use our economic and military superiority to control the development of foreign resources and economies.


To further aid this golden age of the American Century, two institutions were created to achieve these goals; the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. Operating behind a facade of international benevolence, these institutions had a hidden agenda – to maintain the supremacy of the US and European nations; industrially, economically, and militarily. Of particular concern to the Western nations were the developing nations of Latin America, whose industrial infrastructures were left unscathed by the war, unlike Europe – Germany in particular.

As the former enemies of the European countries stood in ruins, there was fear of economic and industrial development in Arabic, Asian, and African nations as well. The danger this posed to the West was that developing countries would hold their resources “hostage,” while creating infrastructures to provide their citizens medical, educational, and industrial products and services, as opposed to focusing on the pillaging of their countries’ natural resources by the West. This had to be prevented at all cost!

Centuries of European colonialism had enriched the European nations so much that their former colonies were left with little or no money for such development. Therefore, IMF/WB policies were easily implemented by buying off military strongmen and politicians. This was beneficial to the foreign capitalists in a couple of ways. It gave them a compliant government leader with no reservations about slaughtering or otherwise throwing away the lives of his fellow countryfolk in order to enforce IMF/WB-imposed development plans. Also, if a politician in the developing countries were ever foolish enough to wrest power away from the military, the nation would inherit the debts left behind by the dictatorship, due to its plundering of the country’s banks and the massive loans it used to buy the American (usually) military supplies needed to enforce their rule.

see also:

part 1 – Fascism, in the 20th Century

part 3 – The Bloody, Awful American Century

part 4 – The New World Order



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