Saturday, October 01, 2011

Democracy for the Few - Michael Parenti

Democracy for the Few

By Michael Parenti

Book Review

By Richard E. Noble

On page 295 of Democracy for the Few the author, Michael Parenti, political scientist and historian, states: “More than half a century ago the great sociologist Max Weber wrote: ‘The question is: How are freedom and democracy in the long run at all possible under the domination of highly developed capitalism.’ That question is still with us. And the answer suggested in this book is that freedom and democracy have at best a highly tenuous and marginal existence in capitalist society.

“In a democratic socialist social system the factories, mills, mines, offices, educational institutions, newspapers, hospitals, etc. will not be privately owned for private gain but will be controlled by and for their clients and workers. That is the goal towards which our efforts should be directed ... This commitment is, or should be, towards communal, collective and responsible decision making …”

Okeydokey! Now where have I read that before? I think it was in a book called Das Capital by some obscure writer whose name slips my mind at the moment.

But this does not bother me. The greatest champions for the rights of the working class in American history have come from the American Communist and Socialist Party. This fact has been credited by famous labor leaders from the AFL, CIO and documented by labor historians. It is an historical fact.

But regardless of the author’s conclusions, remedies and recommendations, I think this book is an invaluable read for anyone interested in the problems that face both capitalism and democracy.

This book was published in 1974 and the author’s analyses of the problems of our democratic system are as prevalent in today’s American democratic system as they were back in the 70s. Not much has changed. In fact, any changes that have taken place have only served to enhance Mr. Parenti’s analysis.

This same book could have the publication date 2010 and with a few name changes and an update here and there it would be on time and on the money. It is amazing to me how Mr. Parenti was able to achieve this. Few social critics have mastered this talent. Most political analyses become obsolete after months. Very few hang around for years and only the greatest for decades. The superstars are the ones we are still reading centuries later.

Democracy for the Few is packed with rather shocking facts and comparisons. For example on page 282 we have this interesting juxtaposition of random information: “… by the end of the 1960s upper income Americans were spending 2 billion a year on jewelry – more than was spent on housing for the poor – and no less than $3 billion on pleasure boating – half a billion more than what the fifty states spend on welfare. Over the years greater sums have been budgeted by the government for the development of the Navy’s submarine rescue vehicle than for occupational safety, public libraries and daycare centers combined.

“The total expenses of the entire legislative branch and the judiciary branch and all the regulatory commissions combined constitute a little more than one half of 1 percent of the Pentagon’s budget.”

This book is filled with such information.

As the title, Democracy for the Few, implies, we have a contradiction in terms with regards to our understanding of American democracy says Michael Parenti, college professor and educator. The gap between the democracy that most of us think we have and the democracy that is our national reality is Grand Canyon-like.

In light of the author’s detailed critical analysis can we seriously claim that we have a democracy – even a representative one, or a democratic republic for that matter?

The author points out every scam, every trick, and every deception. He explains why our democracy isn’t a democracy – with footnotes and easily understood facts and figures.

He tells us why our legislature isn’t working; how our executive and judicial branches have failed us; how our free press has turned news into propaganda; how our freedoms and constitutional rights have been undermined; how our legal system and our prisons have been diverted from the cause of true justice to protective institutions for the criminal wealthy; how our military has been twisted from defensive to aggressive – boarding on the fascist … Well, actually he doesn’t explain how the “system” has been diverted; he explains how it was designed that way from the very beginning. He shows us the Forefathers’ intentions and how our government of the rich, for the rich and by the rich has evolved according to plan.
Mr. Parenti does not think that “the system” can be tweaked. He sees our problems as endemic to our capitalist, corporate state. The old solution of switching corporate controlled Democrats for corporate controlled Republicans will not bring viable change nor will it institute true representative democracy.

This does seem to be the case, but Mr. Parenti, as with others who espouse his solution to these “endemic” problems, seems to be of the opinion that only the wealthy, elitist, current ruling class is capable of deceit and corruption. My question to Mr. Parenti would be, Are these problems endemic to capitalism and its ruling class or endemic to human nature. If capitalists, rich and poor alike, could be injected with a strong dose of the good old, Christian Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – could this not be a more apt and suitable solution? I would even support laws being enacted along the Golden Rule line of thinking. The Golden Rule solution may be na├»ve but I find it more acceptable than bombs, bullets and a blood stained revolution in the streets of the U.S.A. Revolutions don’t seem to be working all that well either. Look at what ours has wrought, Mr. Parenti – reed your own book!

Republicans and Democrats alike should read this book. I doubt that either group will benefit from it.

This book by itself could easily serve as the text for a two semester college graduate course in American Democratic Government.

Buy it. Read it and weep.

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