Guest Article on Rediscovering Democracy
How to Play Robin Hood to the New Feudalism
This interesting essay uses a lot of big words, and we're not even sure whether we agree with the author, but it is excellent food for thought. Give it a try.
by Ben G. PriceWhen Robin Hood left the cover of Sherwood Forest to do battle with the sheriff of Nottingham, it was because he was fed-up with overtaxation and the dehumanization of society that the powerful justified with one very defendable argument: the weight and influence of tradition. Without actually saying so, it was to be understood by common people that they didn't deserve to have what their "betters" had.
The presumptions and condescension of privilege have nowhere been more blatantly advocated than in Matthew Arnold's century old book "Culture and Anarchy." Arnold was on the side of "culture", aristocracy, and that sense of values that imagines rights and dignity can only be inherited from wealthy or influential progenitors.
Tradition is the central premise of every argument in favor of the ideology of conservatism. With tradition favoring the favored, a socially engineered hierarchy and expedient pecking order has long constituted the core reality of inherited social expectations, the "affirmative action" of wealth. The "haves" are always in a better position to define the "have-nots" in whatever terms they like. Defining the criminal element in a nation is left to the traditionally preferred rulers of the land, who select the "highest values" based on "scientific" research of civil behavior that promotes their class interests. It is the science of self-interest that rules elite preceptions more surely than the laws of thermodynamics define classical physics. Today, greed is silently adopted as the basis for moral judgement; an ersatz morality is culled from the presupposition that traditional values are without question superior to modern demands for the notions of equality and individual rights.
Whenever the genius of the controlling aristocracy fails to produce favorable economic results robust enough to trickle down to the marginally powerful middle class who, unlike their underlings, are in a position to raise a rhetorical stink strong enough to make the elite hand out some rose water, someone other than the wealthy decision makers in positions of responsibility must be held responsible.
That government becomes the focus of complaints is misdirected misery. Government is only a valve in the soldered plumbing of the conduits of power. Modern representative governments represent anything but the reality of citizen's needs and desires. The rhetoric of democracy has been purchased and is now for sale, like Coca Cola, without the original kick. No cocaine in Coke and no democracy in democratic government. Too strong in both cases for stupid and easily led citizens.
When things do go wrong; when the forcibly corralled and ghettoized labor pool find their subsistence level existence slipping away, their value to the doling elite eroded, another, more spontaneous despair can erupt into violent social revulsion.
How does an entrenched and isolated hierarchal elite react to the outrage of an underclass? The words of Matthew Arnold, written in desperate defense of his kindred aristocrats, are a good example. They sound like the 1992 Republican response to the rioting in Los Angeles after the absurd verdict acquitting those involved in an officially sanctioned (given the official judgement of the courts) beating of Rodney King by the moneyied people's hired security guards, the LAPD: "As for rioting, the old Roman way of dealing with that is always the right one; flog the rank and file, and fling the ring leaders from the Tarpeian Rock! And this opinion we can never forsake, however our Liberal friends may think a little rioting, and what they call popular demonstrations, useful sometimes to their own interests... and however they may preach the right of an Englishman to be left to do as far as possible what he likes, and the duty of his government to indulge him and connive as much as possible and abstain from all harshness of repression... still we say no, and that monster processions in the streets and forcible irruptions into the parks, even in professed support of this good design, ought to be unflinchingly forbidden and repressed." (pp. 203-204)
But if tradition is to be invoked as the premise for harsh retribution, commoners are better armed with the required liturgy than are their "betters", who hide themselves and their wealth behind a litany of property law erected for the sole purpose of creating for themselves, in the image of their assets, an unassailable idol of prosperity that attains deific proportions in the uncommonly unassailable advantage that corporate law assumes in Western civil courts.
If citizens, now redefined as consumers are not property, not slaves in this free society, then why do the assets of contractually bound entrepeneurs entitle them to legal immunities unavailable to us individually?
By legally defining incorporated property as equivalent to one living citizen in the ephemeral form of a corporation, civil law without further incidence destroys individual constitutional liberty. By creating a fiction, a chimera of individuality, corporate law mocks constitutionally guaranteed liberties for real, incarnate individuals.
The new Feudalism is born in and flourishes from the legal notion and institution of the corporation. All this has been accomplished in the interest of mythologizing corporate power in the public psyche. Corporations relegitimize feudalism, but camouflage it in a barely palpable legalese. The whole fiction of incorporation, in fact, must be exposed for being the publicly subsidized religious exercise that it is.
What dogmatic materialists treat as a eucharistic transubstantiation of wealth into THE icon of national worth is really a profession of faith in the dollar as deity, money as God. The cultural icon status of the corporation is immaculate in its conception only by virtue of an unaccountable shadow government, bought and paid for through bribes made legal by calling them campaign contributions. The trilateral blitz of the Judiciary, the Legislative, and the Executive branches of national government AGAINST American Democracy is virtually unstoppable by ordinary citizens. Hence the deep frustration of the most passive and pacifist of citizens, the "home-bodies" who usually mind their own business.
The corporation itself, with legal standing equivalent to a human individual, is supposed to be responsible for the collective actions of those real people who oversee its activities, but since no personal risk or stress can be brought to bear on an incorporeal "person", in fact a corporation is but a shield to enforce unaccountability in favor of the wealthy elite who own them.
The overthrow of the liberal triumph begun and executed in the era of the Enlightenment and embodied in the Renaissance, the escape from arbitrary aristocratic dictation of the parameters of experience, truth, and individual liberty has been followed by the unrecorded and camouflaged stomping out of the political revolution which enshrined individual rights in the U.S. Constitution.
This is the sad history of the re-establishment of conservatism in the American government in this century. But it is not a recent tragedy. The story of the wealthy overthrow of American democracy begins early in the aspirations to global empire that revealed to the world the power of the expanding state. A plutocratic coup has intermittenly usurped control, yielded to temporary pluralistic challenges, but has triumphed in these latter days of American Empire as a species of friendly Fascism ("compassionate conservatism").
Liberty as a national keystone has been replaced with the concept of opportunity. Opportunity used to be a gift of chance or providence. Liberty has traditionally been a gift of well-being granted on the premise of birth, as encoded in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Granting our "betters" the right to dictate opportunity, as a counterfeit liberty, has historically led to their eager doling-out of rights to favored opportunists, investors, entreprenuers. None of which are mentioned in the Constitution.
Robin Hood's legend secretes adrenalin into the blood of every lower-class kid's veins: not because the poor are easily swayed, but because they partake of a tradition as legitimate as that of the one claimed by the cultural nobility. Not that Robin Hood's is the only legend of liberty. In fact, the legend of Robin Hood leaves much to be desired as a model for overthrowing a socially entrenched repressive system of governance.
After all the glorious exploits to overcome the wickedness of Nottingham, Robin Hood rested on his laurels and welcomed "good" King Richard back to England to reclaim his crown and to reinstate the already active institution of arbitrary taxation and class-based "justice". We need to become what we beg of legend: our own saviors. That is what democracy is about.
Tyranny will not allow self-government. It won't let you imagine, much less exercise choice until you choose DESPITE tyranny. You do not defeat tyrants: you make them obsolete and irrelevant by acting outside and beyond their boundaries of permitted action. Tyrants thrive on imagined and invented "legitimacy". Without followers and yes-men, they shrivel away.
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