Sunday, May 18, 2008

Is Our Democracy in Danger?

Have we become a Corporate State?
by Charlie Leck

Over the last several decades, there have been a number of outstanding historians, political scientists and sociologists, whose works I have read, who have expressed warnings about our democracy. They have cautioned us that a democratic state is a fragile, delicate object and always in danger of becoming what it did not intend.

How so?

A democracy is a government of the people, controlled by them and their choices at the ballot box. What happens if they choose very unwisely?

Let me use as a very simple analogy as an actual case in point that I had premonitions about as a small boy. I became fascinated, as a child, with the polity of the church as an institution. How could a boy become obsessed with such a subject? It's simply explained. I was attending a Protestant Sunday School program in my home town Congregational Church. My sister, with whom I was very close, was a Roman Catholic. She wanted to save me and I wanted to save her. I began comparing the two systems of church jurisdiction and administration. I observed how incredibly democratic the Congregational system was (is) and began thinking about how easy it would be to take over and control a local church in such a democratic system if the local entity was not ever vigilant against such a takeover.

A local Congregational Church controls its own facility and its own religious or faith perspective. It establishes its own credo and no outside force can object to what it does. In a small church, like the one I attended as a boy, it would be very easy to take control of everything that happens there. The members of the congregation vote on every matter and establish the administrative control of the church and could also vote on questions of faith. Move 100 new members into such a situation – let's say very conservative, evangelical and fundamentalist members – and they could wrest control from the liberal members who had previously established all policy matters. Suddenly the physical and spiritual church, with all its assets and holdings, would be controlled by the new group.

In fact, as I feared as small boy, such an event actually occurred at this small Congregational Church in Chester, New Jersey. It was not an instant transformation, but it happened over a number of years. On a recent, quiet visit to the church, sitting in worship, I was struck by the fact that the wonderful church of my childhood – a liberal, intellectual, conversant and dialectical group of people – had utterly disappeared. It had been replaced by a group who spouted verses of the Bible from memory without understanding anything about their historic context or their roots in mythology. It was a bland, empty-headed sense of faith that had totally replaced the extraordinary community of thought that I remembered as a boy. The congregation, on a very democratic basis, had simply been taken over by people with other and very simple viewpoints. The grand history of an important church has disappeared.

This is the danger that a democracy must also face. An entire democratic system – an entire nation – can be transformed if its people do not remain diligent, disciplined and wise in their voting practices.

There is no one I admire more than Bill Moyers. I pay attention to him and I learn from him. I read everything by him. He has a new book, Moyers on Democracy, and it contains the warning I have expressed above.

"We have fallen under the spell of money, faction, and fear, and the great American experience in creating a different future together has been subjugated to individual cunning in the pursuit of wealth and power -and to the claims of empire, with its ravenous demands and stuporous distractions." (Moyers, Bill: Moyers on Democracy [Doubleday, New York, 2008])

An enormous group of Americans have fallen under the spell of Corporate America and have bought into the idea that our hope for the future is intrinsically bound to the future of the corporate and wealthy class. The group listens intently to the babble of the corporate class and buys into their dream.

The following two, long sentences serve as a warning call to us about where America seems to be going – and, it is frightening.

"When the state becomes the guardian of power and privilege to the neglect of justice for the people as a whole, it mocks the very concept of government as proclaimed in the preamble to our Constitution; mocks Lincoln's sacred belief in "government of the people, by the people, and for the people"; mocks the democratic notion of government as 'a voluntary union for the common good' embodied in the great wave of reform that produced the Progressive Era and the two Roosevelts. In contrast, the philosophy popularized in the last quarter century that 'freedom' simply means freedom to choose among competing brands of consumer goods, that taxes are an unfair theft from the pockets of the successful to reward the incompetent, and that the market will meet all human needs while government itself becomes the enabler of privilege -- the philosophy of an earlier social Darwinism and laissez-faire capitalism dressed in new togs -- is as subversive as Benedict Arnold's betrayal of the Revolution he had once served."

It is time to reclaim America and reestablish it as a government of, by and for the people. Corporate American may not have America. The small ultra-wealthy class may not run the show here. Their enormous incomes shall not be sheltered from the same taxes paid by the rest of the American people.

There is a ray of hope and those of you who are thinking that I am unduly pessimistic, please know that I believe Americans will understand wherein that hope lies.

Go to the library and, for my sake, your sake and the sake of our nation and its hard-working people, get Bill Moyers book into your hands and read it cover to cover. Then tell you friends to get it. America must hear this clarion call that Moyers is issuing.

We must make sure America votes wisely this November. You must do your part in that.

I will write more about Moyers' warnings in the coming days. Next: the gaping hole in contemporary America journalism.

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