And the Culprit Is…(Sez Cornel West)

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…"free-market fundamentalism," which is "just as dangerous as the religious fundamentalisms of our day." Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this link to the intro to West's latest book, Democracy Matters (a follow up to his decade-old Race Matters). A snippet:

The market-driven media?fueled by our vast ideological polarization and abetted by profit-hungry monopolies?have severely narrowed our political ?dialogue.? The major problem is not the vociferous shouting from one camp to the other; rather it is that many have given up even being heard. We are losing the very value of dialogue?especially respectful communication?in the name of the sheer force of naked power. This is the classic triumph of authoritarianism over the kind of questioning, compassion, and hope requisite for any democratic experiment.

We have witnessed similar developments in our schools and universities?increasing monitoring of viewpoints, disrespecting of those with whom one disagrees, and foreclosing of the common ground upon which we can listen and learn. The major culprit here is not ?political correctness,? a term coined by those who tend to trivialize the scars of others and minimize the suffering of victims while highlighting their own wounds. Rather the challenge is mustering the courage to scrutinize all forms of dogmatic policing of dialogue and to shatter all authoritarian strategies of silencing voices. We must respect the scars and wounds of each one of us?even if we are sometimes wrong (or right!).

This sort of passage bothers me for any number of reasons, but for brevity's sake, let me sketch just one: I find it hard to believe that West, and others making similar statements, seriously believe that there has been a dimunition of free expression over the past 10, 20, or 30 years. Leave aside this magazine's analysis of the myth of media monopoly and our articualtion of cultural proliferation, and the beneficial role of markets in expanding the sphere of public debate.

Three decades ago, a guy like West would have had virtually no non-academic audience; he is now a well-known, well-feted public intellectual (published by profit-hungry Penguin books, no less). His very example undercuts his argument. (It's worth noting, too, that his work is circulating now on the Web, via the site of Logos and a couple of blogs, all of which have massively abetted precisely the discussion and dissent he says has been quashed.)

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  1. It may seem like Cornell west is smoking crack but his arguments are logically consistent with his unstated axioms. Cornell isn’t ignoring the multiplicity of voices in the contemporary world he just believes that is unfair that some have a voice at all.

    In Cornell’s model, the commercial class has disproportionate and unearned economic power. The only counter balance to economic power is political power. Political power evolves ultimately from speech. The more one’s speech dominates the discourse the more political power one has. Therefor, it is unfair that the commercial class has both economic power and unfettered speech.

    Cornell believes that a real debate can only occur if the State suppresses the speech of the commercial class or subsidizes the speech of the Left. Then the Left’s pre-dominance in speech will lead to the Left’s domination of politics and the Leftist power of the state will balance out economic power of the commercial classes.

    That is in fact, pretty much the condition that existed in the 60′ and 70’s when Leftism was at it’s zenith. For Cornell, the present capability of anybody to say anything to virtually everybody is a cruel hoax.

  2. I don’t see the problem really. If people choose to stop being heard then they have made their choice. In fact, I see a positive side to this. The people that are so easily discouraged are, in my experience, ignorant pessimists (read Democrats). Do we really want to hear from them anyway?

    Accepting his premise, then only the truly passionate are heard, thus the polarization. Here is the real upside: when liberals get passionate they get kooky (Michael Moore kooky) and that makes a well-reasoned position look all the smarter.

  3. Shannon,

    Huh?

    West’s three dogmas he rails against are free market fundamentialism, militarism, and authoritariamism. The fact that dogmas one and three cannot possibly co-exist is completely lost on him.

  4. Keith Emery,
    Congratulations on your well-reasoned position, old chap.
    Jolly good!

  5. West will also be appearing in one of the bonus documentaries on the upcoming “Matrix” DVD box set. He’ll have a platform subsidized by Time Warner. The tenured professor doth protest too much.

  6. We better get out of here. This guy is much too snart for us.

  7. I think Shannon did a brilliant job of summarizing West’s beliefs. Russ, the fact that they don’t make any sense doesn’t mean Cornell doesn’t believe them.

  8. Keith,

    He’s not saying that people are choosing not to be heard, but that they aren’t being heard regardless of their choices, and thus give up trying to make themselves heard.

  9. as much as i would scoff at selfless altruism as anything other than a close friend of the easter bunny, west’s second paragraph isn’t that fucking insane, at face value. dialogue does close down, however, i wouldn’t blame that on media. it’s called “how humans interact with each other”

  10. “Rather the challenge is mustering the courage to scrutinize all forms of dogmatic policing of dialogue and to shatter all authoritarian strategies of silencing voices.”

    I’ll start first by challenging his “dialogue”.

  11. What we need right now in order to build bridges and unite the nation is another Cornell West rap CD. Let the healing begin.

  12. joe said:

    “I don’t think Cornell West is complaining about people like HIM being unable to enter in the discourse.”

    Then what exactly *is* he complaining about? This is one of the problems with these sorts of tracts–they are overly vague and hopelessly broad. If Cornel does have a particular person or persons in mind, then he should state precisely who they are so we address the real question instead of doing a lot of hand-waving and talking past each other. The first sentence alone in the quoted passage contains four such descriptions and/or assertions that are subject to question:

    1) Who, precisely, are the “market-driven media”?

    2) What “vast ideological polarization” is he talking about? Is it more so than in the past? What evidence is there for this?

    3) Who, precisely, are these “profit-hungry monopolies” ?

    4) Have we “severely narrowed our political ‘dialogue’ “? What evidence does he cite for this?

    Not only are these assertions vague and/or unsupported, but they are also loaded with provocative terms, which tend to have the polarizing effect that he claims to deplore. No doubt this is just an unfortunate coincidence, and is purely unintentional.

  13. Screw the commie racist bastard.

    Hope I didn`t offend him!

  14. The fact that dogmas one and three cannot possibly co-exist is completely lost on him.

    oh, actually, i think it very possible for free market fundamentalism (the “washington consensus”, as it were) to operate within an authoritarian political system — in fact i think russia, china, thailand and others are operating in just that way, and west isn’t too far off in saying we do as well.

  15. chuck,

    Far be it from me to defend Cornell West (the book sounds like a pile of crap to me), but you’re looking at 2 paragraphs from the introdction to a book. It’s quite possible that he goes into the detail you’re looking for elsewhere in the book. It’s also possible that he doesn’t.

  16. Cornell isn’t ignoring the multiplicity of voices in the contemporary world he just believes that is unfair that some have a voice at all.

    shannon, i agree largely with components of your analysis, but this conclusion probably isn’t west’s view, imo. he’s right to say that there is a class in america that is possessed of “disproportionate and unearned economic power” — theresa heinz kerry, for example, or george w. bush. but i think west’s view would be that those folks will ALWAYS have a strong voice (as they should) in government, and his demotic viewpoint is that plebian voices should be duly amplified to compare.

  17. I’ve been a long-time fan of Austrian economics. I think it accurately describes economics. However, I do find its policy prescriptions wanting.

    My questions:
    Aren’t political power and economic power two sides of the same coin? That is to ask, can they exist without each other?

    We seemed to have gone off the rails when courts in England said gold warehousers could lend more than they warehoused. Does it make sense to expect this wouldn’t happen again?

    I realize that the political class has the power of the gun, but can’t that be bought? Does it make sense to not expect that a small government will grow to a huge governement if there is enough of a status-quo/stability seeking powerful economic interest?

  18. Rich people and big companies, being in the minority, have money to help them level their playing field–democratically speaking
    Southern states at the beginning of US history had three-fifths of the non-voting slaves to level their electoral college playing field.

    Athletes have steroids and other performance enhancers…

    Memo to West: Relax. No system is perfect.

  19. gaius marius,

    Free-market fundamentalism is the idea that market forces and market forces alone govern the allocation of capital and the success or failure or an economic enterprise.

    The economies of Russia, China, Thailand et al are all examples of State-Capitalism. The State is the primary allocator for capital and the State intervenes heavily in the economy via targeted taxation, subsidies and trade barriers. Nothing major gets done without direct government approval and support. Their markets are not free to any significant degree.

    An authoritarian free-market society is conceptually impossible. How could a government control the people if it had no means controlling their access to material goods? Historically, intervention in the economy is the first step on the road to tyranny and it is the last step a government takes when it devolves power.

  20. The major problem is not the vociferous shouting from one camp to the other; rather it is that many have given up even being heard. We are losing the very value of dialogue?especially respectful communication?in the name of the sheer force of naked power. This is the classic triumph of authoritarianism over the kind of questioning, compassion, and hope requisite for any democratic experiment.

    i don’t often identify with west, but here he has a point, even if he may be misdiagnosing the cause. respectfulness and considered debate — civility — is dead (and this board is often an excellent example — and forget about chivalry entirely).

    i don’t think authoritarianism is the cause — indeed, more likely that the end of common civility and the rise of authoritarianism in the 20th c are both symptoms of a broader problem — the ascent of individualism (and its attendant unchecked ambition) to absurd extremes. our emancipation under the flag of individual consciousness from almost any social constraint allows us, essentially, to behave antisocially and be cheered for it.

    whatever the free market is (and it is a lot), i would submit that it is also antisocial. the popular modern image of the free market (what west calls fundamentalism) involves unrestricted economic warfare. this is not, repeat NOT what adam smith — a god-fearing man ensconced in class-rigid 18th c. london — had in mind. he proposed a free market with social and moral limitation. those limitations, imo, have been sacrificed to individualist ambition in the cultural mindset.

    is it wrong for west to lament that? i think not — even if he almost surely does so futilely.

  21. authoritarian free-market society is conceptually impossible

    ok, shannon, in the ideal, i suppose you’re correct. but in the reality, these countries are nascent capitalist states with few remaining capital controls and authoritarian governments. south korea was also an excellent example until recently. they can and do coexist, even if transiently. (but then, what is not transient?)

    Free-market fundamentalism is the idea that market forces and market forces alone govern the allocation of capital and the success or failure or an economic enterprise.

    imo, that is exactly it — and what is unsaid is that “inherently human social and moral concerns cannot play a productive role”. it is economics in the abstract, each man a rational machine.

    now, pragmatic experience shows us that men are not rational individually and less so in crowds — i laugh to watch fundamentalist economists strain to try to explain nasdaq 5000. but they are forced to try because the fundamentalism of the model does not allow for such data.

  22. intervention in the economy is the first step on the road to tyranny and it is the last step a government takes when it devolves power

    shannon, music to my ears — what was the birth of the fed if not for the first steps on the road to the american authoritarianism that is now so manifest?

  23. authoritarianism and the extreme individualism you decry are antithetical to each other. i don’t see how you could join the two in any reasonable way except as farce.

    “our emancipation under the flag of individual consciousness from almost any social constraint allows us, essentially, to behave antisocially and be cheered for it.”

    you say this like it’s a bad thing.

    in all seriousness, i am completely unable to see where people cheer for antisocial behavior, unless this is one of those “look at all these rappers with their backwards hats” type things, in which case i can only plead to not having a tv.

  24. i think it very possible for free market fundamentalism (the “washington consensus”, as it were) to operate within an authoritarian political system

    It is not surprising that you believe that. It’s just really funny.

  25. you say this like it’s a bad thing.

    dhex, it is not bad at all in moderation. but it is not in moderation anymore, and hasn’t been for a while.

    authoritarianism and the extreme individualism you decry are antithetical to each other.

    It is not surprising that you believe that. It’s just really funny.

    folks, are you capable of seeing things in a manner other than the absolute, the reductive, the theoretical and the abstract? i submit that, if you are (and i’m sure you are), these two concepts are completely compatible — and operate together all the time.

    take the united states. federal reserve, fomc, freddie mac, fannie mae, gnma, managed currency, sec, ssa, tariffs, trade agreements — surely you don’t contrive that these things are “free market” devices? markets — in any sense EXCEPT the abstract theoretical — are authoritarian constructs! there’s nothing independent of government about them, and government is constantly meddling in them. any difference between us and, say, thailand in this respect is one of degrees.

    this seems to me a plain and obvious truth to any honest observer. the decisions of authority are constantly comingled with the decisions of independent private operators.

  26. in all seriousness, i am completely unable to see where people cheer for antisocial behavior, unless this is one of those “look at all these rappers with their backwards hats” type things, in which case i can only plead to not having a tv

    lol — good visual.

    ok, here’s a fundamental example: marriage. it is commonplace today to divorce your mate and children. (i know this can be a sensitive topic for some, so i apologize if i offend.) in a traditional society — one that subjugates individual will for tradition or common good — that simply does not happen, and did not happen here for hundreds of years. often marriages were arranged by elders for the good of the family or the society. even though the personal misery of the participants was recognized, it was understood through experience that easy divorce presented difficulties to the collective that could not be justified by individualism.

    today, however, just the opposite is true — frequently, almost any modest inconvenience to the individual is pretext for jumping ship, often to get married to (and divorced from) someone else. it presents massive social and human problems, as we all recognize. but the idealism of individuality — the idea, as opposed to tradtion — takes precedence now. that is a big change.

    is it for the better? many say yes. but it is inarguably antisocial and anticivilizational, if we understand western civilization to be a society based on traditional institutions.

  27. gaius,

    No one’s arguing that those aren’t authoritarian government constructs (though the SEC was a bad example).

    If you could possibly give examples of how as a group we’re becoming more idividualistic you might have a point, but you aren’t doing that. Ironically, all the examples you give are on the authoritarian side and you seem be arguing that those are counter-measures to increasing individualism (“it is not in moderation anymore”). Call me thick, but that individualism you’re trying to expose isn’t self-evident.

  28. gaius marius,

    I think the point of disagreement here is that you believe that all capitalist countries are automatically strongly free-market whereas I argue that they are not. This is an argument were adjectives are important. Authoritarianism and capitalism are not antithetical per se but the degree that the state intervenes in the economy varies widely over the range of all systems we group under the heading of capitalism. It’s a spectrum and the closer a system is to the free-market end the less the chance for abuse of power.

    Cornell West is essentially arguing for the existence of an Authoritarian Anarchy which is an oxymoron. A person living in a anarchy might have many problems but being crush under the heel of the state is not one of them.

  29. you seem be arguing that those are counter-measures to increasing individualism

    no no — actually, i would argue that increasing authoritarianism in our society is a result of increasing democracy, and that democracy is the result of increasing individualism. individualism has not only helped to put power in the hands of masses that are incapable of or can’t be bothered to understand politics and government, but it has also made acceptable individual Ambition — long the enemy of traditional society. i don’t imagine that the mechanism is much different than operated in germany in the 1930s — indeed, the united states experienced its own bout of authoritarianism under fdr at that time that left government here irrevocably changed.

    examples of how as a group we’re becoming more idividualistic

    beyond marriage, how about religion? most americans now are not nearly as indentured to their religion as they were 200 years ago, and do not fear the social repercussions of acting against their church’s wishes.

    the american churches themselves condone such behavior — there was a story last week of a roman catholic with some aversion to the wheat that, by church doctrine, must be part of the communion wafer. her first communion rite was nullified when it was revealed she had taken a wheat-free wafer. the girl’s mom could not understand why her church would not make an exception for her — “it isn’t the word of god, it’s just their dumb rule” was her piece — and got her priest to agree with her and conspire to break the church’s law.

    that a roman catholic would publicly say that “it’s just their dumb rule” — not only in ignorance of the basic tenets of the catholic faith but with no fear of repercussion — is individualism run roughshod over a traditional institution.

    even the reborn cultists commit themselves by individual choice — almost always, it is a choice made in opposition, as a statement of *separation* from perceived society.

  30. For most of the people on this list, I can see how this snippet seems intellectually (sp?) flawed. I don’t know if you have noticed, but I’m pretty certain that a majority of Americans get their news from major media corporations if at all. It costs a lot of money to reach someone who tries not to pay attention or tries to do as little as possible to pay attention. Whether this is right or wrong or worse or better than before does not make it not so. We may have more choices but if these choices are not leading to any change, then I think we have a problem.

  31. you believe that all capitalist countries are automatically strongly free-market whereas I argue that they are not.

    no, shannon, i fully agree with you — the united states, among many others, is only marginally a free-market economy today. what i’m saying is that the abstracted ideals — the Free Market Economy and the Authoritarian Government — never exist in reality. every “washington consensus” government exists in the shades of gray between the two. where the line is drawn in the spectrum between “free-market” and “authoritarian”, it seems to me, is somewhat a matter of marketing and point-of-view. so what is the point of arguing the immiscibility of the two when they plainly coexist in shades?

    How could a government control the people if it had no means controlling their access to material goods?

    i think some of the difference between us is that your viewpoint sees, as this statement illustrates, people as primarily economic entities. i say they are more — they are animals. they can and are driven by ideas and emotions, and material goods are only a part of that.

  32. gaius,

    The marriage example only holds for the aristocracy and fuedal society. And you’re ignoring the other tradition that went along with arranged marriages: cheating on your spouse and killing your spouse. The church often looked the other way on such matters depending on rank. Such hypocrisies caused the numerous breaks from the church centuries ago, denounced each time as individualism run roughshod, the typical institutional defense mechanism for being caught with two sets of rule books.

    Perhaps you’re referring to the arranged marriages in feudal villages, the traditional society as it were. The social repercussions were really economic repercussions, the higher your station the more likely an unarranged marriage was akin to gambling. City dwellers generally did not operate with the same traditions. Merchants and artisans rarely married out of their class, but familial obligations rarely dictated spousal arrangements.

  33. what i’m saying is that the abstracted ideals — the Free Market Economy and the Authoritarian Government — never exist in reality.

    Neither do the traditional societies you claim as examples. That’s why I can’t figure out what point you’re trying to make.

  34. I hate the whole ‘free market fundamentalism’ concept. It isn’t necessary to have a religious belief in markets to note that central authority is not good at aggregating information of any kind, not even the non economic parts.

    Calls like West’s for mitigation of market results always act as though the alternative is correspondent to whatever values ‘the people’ really have. Usually, you hear some garbage about increased democracy being the answer. Has he never seen CSPAN? THAT is the process that will maximize social value?

    Markets at least incorporate each person’s social preferences in every action to some degree. If people really don’t like the social implications of Wal Mart, they can by golly choose not to take advantage of the lower prices offered. You can buy underwear there on Monday, read an article on Tuesday that convinces you cheap underwear is evil, and never shop there again. You can convince local people of the same, and Walmart will leave. You can also choose to move somewhere else if it bothers you that much.

    The Democracy hits the minority view holder like a brick. If you aren’t in the ruling coalition, you are screwed. You can’t leave, you can’t opt for cheap underwear, you have no voice after the law has been made or the regulation issued. Democracy is a crappy proxy for anything held as important by 49%, and it should be restricted to only those areas where absolutely nothing voluntary is possible as a result.

  35. take the united states. federal reserve, fomc, freddie mac, fannie mae, gnma, managed currency, sec, ssa, tariffs, trade agreements — surely you don’t contrive that these things are “free market” devices? markets — in any sense EXCEPT the abstract theoretical — are authoritarian constructs!

    If you knew anything at all about economics, you’d realize how silly it is to suggest that those things might even “theoretically” be free market devices. All you’re demonstrating here is that the government interferes in the free market. The obvious response to that observation is “duh”.

    West is claiming that the SAME people are both authoritarian AND free-market. This is a laughably stupid thing to believe. Authoritarians and free-market folks are diamtrically opposed.

    You are attempting to show that it is possible to be both authoritarian and a “free market fundamentalist” by demonstrating that neither faction completely dominates our society. That’s like taking the fact that the world contains both free men and slaves and using that fact to argue that freedom and slavery are compatable with each other.

  36. Anybody want to take a crack at the questions I posted above?

  37. Neither do the traditional societies you claim as examples

    and this is how far down this road we’ve come — we deny that traditional society even existed. it’s always been Ideas. i mean no offense, jc, but thanks for so clearly illustrating the break that our modern society has made with its past.

  38. The church often looked the other way on such matters depending on rank.

    absolutely — but it was never for the masses until quite recently, and the masses comprise the scope of the civilization and its institutions. surely kings and nobles usually got their way. so it will always be — but the civilization itself doesn’t come unglued until *everyone* finds antisocial behavior desirable and the destruction of ancient institutions good.

  39. West is claiming that the SAME people are both authoritarian AND free-market. This is a laughably stupid thing to believe. Authoritarians and free-market folks are diamtrically opposed.

    what are neoconservatives if they aren’t dictatorial free-marketers?

    That’s like taking the fact that the world contains both free men and slaves and using that fact to argue that freedom and slavery are compatable with each other.

    jay-sus — they are, sir, they are.

    i know it’s difficult in this world where supersimplified, reductive bipolar thinking is all the rage (you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists, you know — just ask the kings of reductivism) — and especially hard in a blogosphere that rewards simplicity — but the depth and complexity of society is far, Far, FAR greater than you seem to be arguing, dan.

  40. and this is how far down this road we’ve come — we deny that traditional society even existed

    Well, here is an example you gave of “traditional society”:

    it is commonplace today to divorce your mate and children. […] in a traditional society — one that subjugates individual will for tradition or common good — that simply does not happen, and did not happen here for hundreds of years

    The dichotomy you describe in those two sentences is imaginary. The “traditional society” you describe never existed. Some form of divorce has been legal and recognized in virtually every human society, including our own, in all of recorded history. The notion that divorce “simply did not happen” in American society for hundreds of years is simply wrong. All that changed was the extent to which divorce was restricted.

    it’s always been Ideas

    What’s amusing is that you are attacking the idea of thinking of the world as Ideas by referring to something by appealing to an Idea of your own — the Idea that human society used to be strictly traditional.

  41. gaius marius,

    “i think some of the difference between us is that your viewpoint sees, as this statement illustrates, people as primarily economic entities”

    Actually I am making an argument based practical physicality. I argue you can control individuals, especially a large group of them, if you could not control their access to material goods. The physical mechanisms of control would be absent. You could not use any economic carrot and stick to try to control people non-violently nor could you stop them from defending themselves if you wanted to use direct violence.

    As a matter of history, the more free the economy from government interferences the more freedom the people have in every other sphere. Where commerce dominates as in Phonicia, Carthage, Renaissance Venice and Florence, 16th Century Holland, late 17th and early 18th Century England and America throughout it’s history you find higher degrees of freedom of conscience, religion and speech.

    A State must control the economy before it physically control people.

  42. what are neoconservatives if they aren’t dictatorial free-marketers?

    That’s like saying “what are they if they aren’t right-wing left-wingers”. The only possible answer is “beats me, but that sure is one dumb fuckin’ question”.

    “That’s like taking the fact that the world contains both free men and slaves and using that fact to argue that freedom and slavery are compatable with each other.”

    jay-sus — they are, sir, they are

    I give up. You’re an idiot.

  43. “The Democracy hits the minority view holder like a brick. If you aren’t in the ruling coalition, you are screwed.”

    But Jason, the Market does the same thing. I want crab flavored soda, but you know what, I’m screwed, because of my minority view.

    I also want children’s programing that won’t turn my daughter’s brain to mush. Thank God for PBS, because the media market fails utterly to provide it.

  44. Whereas in a properly functioning democracy, a minority faction gets a minority voice. Our particular brand of democracy isn’t very good at this, but others (such as in Europe) do better.

    The LP represents the political views of what, 10% of the electorate? It should have roughly a 10% share of the decision making ability.

  45. joe,

    I’m not sure what programming would not “turn your daughter’s brain to mush,” but last time I walked into a video store, there were plenty of titles, from historical dramas, to National Geographic specials, to religious programs, to DIY home project shows. So when you say, “the media market fails utterly to provide it,” (emphasis mine) I’m not sure which “media market” you refer to. Now, hyperbole is ok for dramatic effect, but I wouldn’t expect it to convince someone who doesn’t already agree with me.

  46. Michael,

    “Aren’t political power and economic power two sides of the same coin? That is to ask, can they exist without each other?”

    No, in fact, I would argue that they are antithetical.

    Power is one of those concepts that everybody thinks is well defined but is often just a symbol attached to radically different ideas. (after Sowell)

    The definition favored by the Left is that power means the ability to get what you want. If you can influence another then you have power over them. In this view, if want to sell a doughnut to another person at a particular price and they accept, you have exerted power over that person.

    In the definition favored by the Right, power is the ability to reduce another’s pre-existing choices. If a person has fewer options than before you arrived on the scene then you have exerted power over that person. In this view, offering a person a doughnut is not exerting power but taking their doughnut away is.

    Using the Rightist definition, it’s clear that it is very difficult to exercise economic “power” One gains economic benefit by trading and shorn of political coercion you can’t compel someone to make a trade they don’t want to make. All exertion of economic “power” increase the choices available to others.

    Political power by contrast evolves ultimately out of violence. Laws are just rules for determining when it is okay to use violence against an individual. Violence can only reduce an individual’s pre-existing choices. All exertion of political power reduces the choices available to others.

    It is because political power and economic power are polar opposites that a state must control the economy before it can control the people. Controlling people means reducing their choices and that means restricting their economic activity.

  47. OK, Shawn, “the broadcast media market…”

    Happy?

    And where the hell is my crab soda?

  48. joe, like Homer Simpson, needs to visit New York.

    Homer: “Now what do you have to wash that awful taste out of my mouth?”

    Street Vendor: “Mountain Dew or crab juice.”

    Homer: “Blecch! Eww! Sheesh! [meh!] I’ll take a crab juice.”

    Just blend some crab juice with some syrup, combine it with some fountain seltzer, and voila! – crab soda! (If you added a bit of milk before pouring the seltzer and stirred, you’ve got a crab egg creme.)

    MMMmmmmm Gooooodddd!

    Kevin
    (former clamdiggin’ lawn islander)

  49. “This glorification of the market has led to a callous corporate-dominated political economy in which business leaders (their wealth and power) are to be worshipped?even despite the recent scandals?and the most powerful corporations are delegated magical powers of salvation rather than relegated to democratic scrutiny concerning both the ethics of their business practices and their treatment of workers. This largely unexamined and unquestioned dogma that supports the policies of both Democrats and Republicans in the United States?and those of most political parties in other parts of the world?is a major threat to the quality of democratic life and the well-being of most peoples across the globe.”

    I think West’s complaints have less to do with any reality of a diminuation of free expression then that he must find some excuse as to why his side of the debate is losing. If free market “dogma” remains largely unquestioned but Cornel West exists, then it must be that West and his allies are being repressed, not that most people think West is dead wrong.

  50. “Has not every major empire pursued quixotic dreams of global domination?of shaping the world in its image and for its interest?that resulted in internal decay and doom?”

    “If we are to stabilize the world and enrich democracy in the world, we must confront the anti-Semitic hostility of oil-rich autocratic Arab regimes to Israel?s very existence, as well as Israelis? occupation and subjugation of Palestinian lands and people.”

    Er, which is it? Does attempting to shape the world in one’s own image result in doom, or are we to stabilize the world? I cannot imagine a more quixotic conceit than that the USA can and must find a mutually satisfactory solution the Israeli-Arab conflict. The minor solution we particpated in between Israel and Egypt has been blamed in some circles for the current Middle Eastern hatred of the USA, as it is the cause of most of American material support for Israel (and Egypt as well). I guess no good deed goes unpunished in the Arab-Muslim world.

    I get the distinct impression that West actually does not mind an “imperial” policy, just not the one we are following now.

  51. Thank you Shannon.

    Good argument that ‘power’ is a general word that has multiple meanings. When I said power, I was infact speaking of restrictive power. Both meanings are implied. Those that restrict positve options and negative options.

    So now I’ll get to the meat of my concern.

    If we enjoy a small government, how do we prevent wealthy interests from stripping our rights away through legal means?

    Now a smart person might ask, “Why would wealthy interests be interested in stripping away rights? Oh and take off that tin foil hat while you answer my question.”

    (Everybody is alway trying to get me to remove my protection. 😉 )

    Ok. Lets say some commercial interests have a concern. And lets say that concern centers around cognitive liberty. Now if, for a moment, they thought they could maintain an ever escalating GNP if they could insure that people didn’t get high, had kids, had credit, and had decent medical care.
    Then wouldn’t the big picture in fact be engineered?

    And that would require certain rights here, certain prohibitions there.

    While I can appreciate the libertarian ideal, it seems to me that we are in this position now because there are many that benefit from the libertarian ideal not manifest.

    The competitive consumer model might help with much of the now-wealthy losing some of their wealth but how is banking and insurance held in check?

    I think Cornell West hits a real problem but is clueless as the rest of us to answer those little details that smash our utopias.

  52. Do you think anyone will read this?

  53. “Free market fundamentalism” is well displayed by the comments on this post. Part of it is the equating of freedom with free markets.

    Free markets are not neutral, and are not “free,” except in the tautological sense of the late Arthur Leff’s Some Realism about Nominalism. They have a powerful negative impact, all that is solid melts in the air, creative destruciton, limiting the power of democratic government, yadda yadda. People who value the things destroyed by free markets are rendered mute by the conventional equivalence of freedom and free markets.

    Not only that, but the typical libertarian denigration of democracy betrays authoritarian sentiment. Having the option of a democratic or collective response to an issue is essential for freedom. Democracy is capable of producing authoritarianism, but not having democracy is authoritarian. Ontological defenders of free markets are allying themselves with dictatorship.

    I don’t consider Hayekian libertarians to be free-market fundamentalists. They are merely unscientific radical skeptics.

    raymond m, I responded to your slavery/taxation analogy here.

  54. Michael,

    “If we enjoy a small government, how do we prevent wealthy interests from stripping our rights away through legal means?”

    Small government itself is the protection against powerful interest stripping away our rights. The economically powerful can only bend the government to their will if the people first grant the power to the government in the first place.

    We have freedom of religion not because our political leadership is so enlightened and open minded but because we have made religion a non-political issue. We actively prevent the government from having a say in the individuals political choices. Different groups, from fundamentalist to atheist, keep trying to hijack the government to advance their religious agendas but they fail because their is a consensus that their is a void of power for the government where religion is concerned.

    We need to strive towards that same standard in regards the economy. If the consensus is that the government cannot interfere with the economy then, no how “powerful” an economic interest might be, it will not be able to manipulate the government to it’s own ends.

  55. “We actively prevent the government from having a say in the individuals political choices.”

    Sorry that should read:

    “We actively prevent the government from having a say in the individuals religious choices.”

  56. West seems to be describing a Bizarro Hit and Run.
    It may exist on the Planet Blypton?

  57. Maybe he’s still trapped in the Matrix sequels.

  58. Cornell West once cut me off at a traffic light in Atlantic City. He was making a beeling for the Sands Hotel and Casino.

  59. I don’t think Cornell West is complaining about people like HIM being unable to enter in the discourse. There are these people out there who actually worry about things other than themselves.

  60. ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

    altruism!

    ha ha ha ha ha.

  61. eloquently and honestly said, dhex. and i would agree with you when you say

    “tradition” is… a code-word for slavery to the mores of others, deep down.

    indeed, tradition is subservience to the decisions of a collective aggregate memory — “slavery” of a kind.

    what i’m trying (perhaps not well) to express is that such slavery may not be a bad thing — and in fact may be desirable to what we have.

    allow that to sink in for a sec… as antithetical as that is to much of what modern society stands for, it’s hard for almost everyone i talk to about this to comprehend that i might consider being bound to tradition better than what we have now — which is, actively annihilating any limitation on the ambition of the self.

    i think traditional society got to be that way by being forged in prior incarnations of individualism run amok and is the result of the human search for peace and prosperity. i don’t think it a coincidence that enduring institutions across all important risen civilizations — perhaps most easily seen in religion — make a point of discouraging pride and ambition and individual desire, and instead ennoble humility, service and obedience.

    in our age of indivdualism, we typically view this cynically as a ploy to subjugate the masses for exploitation, part of some master conspiracy. but what if it wasn’t? what if the experience and remembrance of eons cultivated a profound distrust of indiviualism precisely because its ultimate consequences have proved so painful and destructive?

    i would submit that medieval society was the way it was because it emerged from the aftermath of the last great bout of individualism and ambition run wild — the decline and fall of the roman empire. medieval society was the social solution to that problem, the repair of that trauma.

    i should say here that i have no inclination to “fix” our current condition — indeed, it can’t be “fixed”. i’m simply calling for a broader understanding of what our society is up to and where it might be going.

  62. Shannon,
    What andy said gets to my question. I agree, A small government seems preferable. How does one keep the government from growing too big?

    I believe we need to answer that question with some history. The United States did have a small government, an excellent constitution, a small military, and a citizenry that believed this state of affairs was a good thing. What happened?

    All of this couldn’t prevent the government from growing – most likely at the behest of wealthy interests.

  63. gaius – while i think your argument is both coherent and almost poetic…there’s always an interesting point to be made about the example you hold up.

    nothing “traditional” stopped the borgia popes from being what they were, outside of another force. nothing has ever stopped the rulers of various lands from behaving outside of the mores and laws they were supposed to uphold, except violence and force. because that is the tradition inside the tradition.

    it’s not a conspiracy, but rather a bloodily practical way to look at population management. it’s something that’s never stopped, but mutated. many will make the chickenhawk argument against various u.s. leaders, and those that don’t like that argument will readily embrace it when applied to leaders of hamas. BOTH ARE PLAINLY TRUE. that’s because no one wants to believe that “the good guys” are as crass and coyly political as “the enemy.”

    maybe because they’re making a larger point that doesn’t require such niceties, or are comfortable walking around with hands over their eyes. who knows?

    that to me is the longest tradition of all, the ability to subjegate yourself to others based on superstition and myth. good riddence to bad rubbish, and a pox on all their houses.

    at some point i hope this hyperindividualism will mature and reach the notion that being yourself doesn’t have to mean being a self-centered pain in the ass.

  64. The market does not deprive joe of crab soda. The market is a concept, not an actor. No individual is willing to risk producing crab soda. If joe was willing to pay enough, someone would fulfill his desire for carbonated crustacean. That bid-offer process between entities is called “the market”.

    Perhaps, to satisfy his minority interest, joe would have the state mandate crab soda production, for sale at a subsidized price he could afford.

  65. “…in the name of the sheer force of naked power.” Sounds like West’s imitiation of Marx’s passionate criticism of free trade.

  66. “We must respect the scars and wounds of each one of us?even if we are sometimes wrong (or right!).”

    60 + posts and nobody gets around to mocking this ? The swift boat storyline must be a real distraction !

  67. thanks for the ad hominems, dan. lol… control yourself and i’ll engage you.

    Gosh, and I was really hoping to be “engaged” by some Internet moron who writes in Orwellian newspeak.

  68. Shannon,

    “We need to strive towards that same standard in regards the economy. If the consensus is that the government cannot interfere with the economy then, no how “powerful” an economic interest might be, it will not be able to manipulate the government to it’s own ends.”

    True, but he didn’t ask how we could prevent the GOVERNMENT from taking advantage of us, rather wealthy interests instead. You’ll recall that it was indeed the government that helped to break up Microsoft’s monopoly on the computer market. Without government, I fear, large businesses would be free to run amok, turning our country into a really polluted plutocracy!

  69. “People who value the things destroyed by free markets are rendered mute by the conventional equivalence of freedom and free markets.”-Dave

    What “things”? All I see here is a black box whose contents Dave says some people like. I guess one has to take his word for it, but it does not tell me what the nature of these “things” are or why I should care about them. Since I don’t know the nature of them I cannot judge how the free market manages to destroy them. I can see how the market might not place a value on them the people who like them think is appropriate, but if Dave’s people do value them they should be able to save them in some way.

    The “market” is the people interacting with each other in economic matters. A “free” market is one in which the people operate with no or minimal interference from a governing authority. It is difficult to see how limiting the freedom of the market is not limiting the freedom of the people. So perhaps the ones “rendered mute” by the “equivalence of freedom and free markets”, are so because they have no good argument against that. It must be so, because the market in itself has no ability to silence anyone, they are free to use their power of persuasion to convince anyone to value the same things they do, that they do not is not a lack of ability to speak but an inability to force others to value the things they do. They are not rendered mute, they are simply impotent.

    “…the typical libertarian denigration of democracy betrays authoritarian sentiment.”-Dave

    No, unless you define “authoritarian” as anything that is not unfettered democracy, which would make you a fool. I have little patience with people like West who make a fetish of democracy and demand everyone worship it. Democracy is a means, not an ends. The only proper ends is “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. I believe a limited democracy bound by the rule of law is the best means of protecting and nurturing that ends, but democracy must give way when confronted by liberty.

  70. thanks for the ad hominems, dan. lol… control yourself and i’ll engage you.

    It is because political power and economic power are polar opposites that a state must control the economy before it can control the people. Controlling people means reducing their choices and that means restricting their economic activity.

    shannon, i would note that this is an abstraction — it views the human society in a simplified, mechanistic way, and thereby reduces it.

    one can say that commerce opposes government, and that trade and authority fight a battle that determines the outcome of states — and that reduction is useful in comprehending aspects of the human condition.

    but to say so also misses the complexity and potential of human social situations. people can be driven by propaganda. people herd. people can be panicked. enduring popular delusion can and is often experienced in the midst of the open exchange of ideas — and indeed may even be *enabled* by such exchange.

    i would submit that if extraordinary commercial states — take 17th c holland — fall victim to dementias like the tulip bubble, room exists for manufactured manias to put people in control despite their exposure to many points of view.

    one might even go so far as to say that the american people today are controlled by a fear-driven mania that is propagated by government in the midst of what is ostensibly an economy of wide choices and vast exposure to information.

  71. sorry — “put authority, state or non-state, in control despite the people’s exposure to many points of view” would be clearer.

  72. People who value the things destroyed by free markets are rendered mute by the conventional equivalence of freedom and free markets.

    indeed, dave, well said.

  73. It really irritates the shit out of me to see people like West misuse the term “free market”–or rather, take the neoliberals’ use of it at face value. Big corporations and their political lackeys like to repeat the words “free market” a lot, but if they were ever threatened with the real thing there’d be a coup d’etat.

  74. “is it for the better? many say yes. but it is inarguably antisocial and anticivilizational, if we understand western civilization to be a society based on traditional institutions.”

    and i would argue that most of those traditional institutions were deeply hostile to the rights of individuals, much less to their desires.

    i just don’t think that “divorce at will” or on demand or whatever the term is is a terrible thing. it would be nice if people were more careful with their relationships, perhaps, especially when children are involved; but to think of one’s past is to see the many landmines we stepped on in the course of getting to where we are…not being able to see the future is part and parcel of making mistakes.

    i would rather live in a world where people are free to join whatever nutball religions they want, political affilliations, marry who they want (2, 3, 4, 5, men, women and those in between gender states, etc) and all that jazz than stand up for “traditional institutions.” everything changes, collapses and is reborn. the beginning of democracy was the end of the world for those raised in a place where class determined destiny and lifespan. i say the end of what we knew of 19th and 20th century interpersonal relationships is another version of that.

    plus, more importantly and simply, i have no right nor ability to make any real inferences into the private lives of others, especially since it affects my life imperceptibly or not at all. i have no desire to change how others behave except when it impacts my life – not being god, nor omniscient, nor conservative enough to believe that “tradition” is much more than a code-word for slavery to the mores of others, deep down.

  75. “You obviously didn’t read my entire comment. See: “Democracy is capable of producing authoritarianism, but not having democracy is authoritarian.” Free market fundamentalists have no concern for democratic input about the nature of the economic system. Ergo, authoritarian. There are positions that can be properly withdrawn from conventional democratic deliberation, but the economic system is not one of them (outside the Lochner era).”

    Blech. Democracy is inappropriately placed as a remedy to authoritarianism throughout Dave’s comments. It isn’t the case that democracy can lead to authoritarianism. Democracy IS authoritarianism of the majority. The goal of placing a majority of decisions within the market is that the market diffuses central authority. It is an iterative system that rewrites the rules constantly and prohibits little. The choice to use property rights and free exchange as a mechanism for distribution is the choice to limit central mandates on outcomes.

    The market of course employs force in its structure. There is force to prevent theft, there is force to enforce contract, to prevent fraud, and so on. Market supporters argue that these are a minimum set of rules that allow a system to function. There is a huge difference in the force that allows aggregated bargains to result in an outcome and the force that allows politcians to specify outcomes.

    Consider a single aspect of the market – property. Property is a fundamental hedge against tryanny. It is what keeps us from being slaves for all of our productive lives. It doesn’t predate society or any such thing, but it is a damn fine principle. To prevent the allocation of resource from being arbitrary, SOME sort of principle of allocation must be established. Holding votes on who deserves what property every fifteen minutes is a sure path to poverty for all, and such glorious democracy incents political clout over productive action. Time spent on production becomes a sucker’s bet, when those with coalition building skills simply take what production they want. Theft is wrong morally because we intuit that we have ownership in things, but it is also wrong because it raises the cost of being productive for each victim while is lowers the cost of being unproductive for the taker. Democratic redistribution is no different from theft in AT LEAST the second regard.

    If we are appealing to so-called ‘economic justice’, to the idea of who deserves what, we can’t divorce the democratic process from the notion of justice it would produce any more than we can divorce the market from the notion of justice IT produces. In the democratic process, the majority, irrespective of any other factor, ‘deserves’ what it gets. An appeal to democracy as a value is completely bizarre to me on those grounds. There are no values in democracy other than those held by the majority. A market of production and exchange specifies that you have to convince someone to choose to give you something or produce it yourself. The value reflected is voluntary action by market participants. That is what freedom is.

    Assertions of positive liberties are logically inconsistent, as they depend on forcing other people to supply you with some good or service. You can’t have the freedom to a retirement at any arbitrary cost to me, because I theoretically could assert the same obligation on you. Then who owes whom a retirement?

  76. “Which choice would be the most selected for? Given the voting patterns of Americans, it’s safe to say that a mixed economy is preferred by most voters. To impose your choice (assuming its for completely free markets) on them is authoritarian.”

    Lets just imagine that there is a vote for who should be able to vote, or for what religion people should have. Most Americans are Christian, so I hope you won’t be so authoritarian as to renounce a perfectly democratic result.

    This just means that any choice for a method of allocation is authoritarian. To impose the will of 51% on 49% is authoritarian. Me getting a coalition together and voting ourselves equal shares of your income and the contents of your fridge is authoritarian. Markets have a way of balancing the self interest of players – they have to bear costs. Democracy has no such check, so if you frame the question about who wants what, of course we will vote for a system that gives us much and takes nothing.

  77. dave, that was lucid — particularly your analogy of a market of economic systems. thank you.

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