MAKE AMERICA DEMOCRATIC AGAIN.

NIck Orts of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania wants to MAKE AMERICA DEMOCRATIC AGAIN. I guess he thinks it has lost the justification for using that descriptor. You’d think it was a no-brainer. I mean, everybody knows America is democratic!

Click on the link above to read the article by Orts. His concluding sentence in this The Atlantic article published on January 2nd of this year is:

“If a Democratic wave continues into 2020, then who knows, a Senate Reform Act could make America a democracy again.”

How much do you know about how the Senate is elected in the United States. This article is an eye opener maybe even for Americans!

Go read the article in The Atlantic! Learn about American Democracy!

My brain is on fire!

Since I started doing research for my blog posts on democracy and capitalism I’ve done a ton of reading and I could do a ton more. I’m scouring my own bookshelves. I’ve got a fair bit of material on the topic but I’m also mining the Gutenberg Project and the Internet Archives online. At the moment I’m reading C.B. Macpherson’s The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke but I’m also glancing at many other books as I concentrate on Macpherson including another of his books, The Real World of Democracy (1965) based on the Massey Lectures. His work is superlative. What a critical mind! I have Hobbes’ The Leviathan and John Locke’s two political treatises, but I don’t have the time or inclination to wade through their work in the original, not when I’ve got Macpherson who’s done it for me already.

Macpherson’s notion of possessive individualism aims to tie together capitalism, democracy and liberalism during the 17th Century when Hobbes and Locke were active English philosophers. Capitalist industrialist production really took off in the middle of the 18th Century, but the slow breakdown of feudal social relations around reciprocity between feudal lords and their serfs started much earlier. As Macpherson notes, the possessive market society that was gaining power in the 17th Century was a model from which philosophers could derive theories and explanations of various sorts. The reality is that capitalist social relations are based on wage labour. A capitalist buys the labour power of the propertyless classes and uses it to create more capital. In order for the capitalist to be able to buy the labour power of anyone, all the anyones had to have control over themselves in order to be in a position to sell a part of themselves on the labour market. They could not sell all of themselves otherwise they would be slaves and they would not be free to enter into other relations as free individuals. Individualism is a necessary condition for participation in the capitalist market. Individual liberty is the crux of the liberal society. A worker in a capitalist society has only one thing to sell: labour power, the ability to work. That said, the freedom to enter a market must extend to everyone, capitalist and worker as well as others not necessarily bound directly by that relationship. So we’re all equal as individuals. Cool, right? Sure.

For capitalist social relations to gain ascendency in England in the 17th Century, equality was also a basic ingredient of capitalist relations because everyone had to enter the market as the owner and controller of what they had to sell. In an aristocratic or monarchical society, equality is patently unacceptable so something had to give. Seventeenth Century England saw the violent upheaval of the monarchy which was replaced by republican rule. Was Cromwell the catalyst for British democracy? Maybe. Whatever the answer to that question, it’s clear that at its most abstract, democracy is rule by the people. ‘The people’ is a highly difficult concept to pin down and the definition of who might qualify for being included in ‘The People’ has changed frequently over the centuries. In any case, democracy is not essential to capitalist society. Liberty is, however. Liberty meaning individuals free to sell themselves on the labour market is what’s important here. Once people are ‘free’ individuals, there is still the need for a sovereign to adjudicate disputes related to market behaviour and to pass laws and create mores that are required to keep society (which for Hobbes is just a collection of individuals bent on securing more power for themselves at the expense of others in the market) moving. The sovereign, in the case of liberal societies, is ‘The People’. The will of the people can be expressed representationally or directly. Note, however, that capitalist relations sit outside any definition of ‘The People’ (although business corporations have been considered legal individuals for some few decades now). So, where do contemporary countries or nation-states fit into the world of capitalist social relations? What are libertarians all about? Would they be upset if you referred to them as classical liberals? Those are questions for another blog post to answer.

For now, I need to let my brain deal with the fog that sometimes invades it making it hard for me to concentrate. Today, the symptoms of the pernicious anemia I have are a challenge. I hope tomorrow will be better.

So, where to from here?

Well, it’s January 1st, 2019. It’s late in the afternoon here. It’s broken cloud overhead and about 4˚C. This morning Carolyn and I went for a longish walk of about 5.3k on a lovely forest trail that used to be a railway bed. It runs between Cumberland and Royston. The trains that ran on the tracks mostly carried coal but there was also a passenger train that used the tracks now and again, even into the 1950s. Now, the trail is wide and flat as you would expect from a decommissioned rail bed. Ideal walking for me. Carolyn, on the other hand, walks as fast as a demon even though she’s 66 years old. I can barely keep up with her, but she indulges me and slows down, which for her is tough, I know. We miss our old walking companion, Wilco, aka Mr. Sniffy the Brittany spaniel. He died in July last year so now we can only walk with his memory. But I digress.

Last week I decided that I would continue blogging on any number of topics including the ones Jack Minard suggested: capitalism, democracy, liberalism, etc. However, I’ve also decided to write a sketch of how my intellectual development unfolded from as far back as I can remember. I spent a lot of time in universities and colleges during my lifetime and my ideas and viewpoints changed significantly and frequently as I read and had to incorporate my readings into what I had already read and studied. Teaching had a huge impact on how I approached subjects of study, what attracted my attention intellectually and practically in terms of pedagogy. One reason is that when I started teaching at SFU and Douglas College in the mid -70s the colleges in BC were quite new and begging for instructors. At SFU I was a teaching assistant and worked for a number of profs. At Douglas I was the instructor for introductory sociology courses but I also got to teach a History of Québec course. I had no experience teaching history, so it was a steep learning curve for me, but well worth it. I learned so much. That drew me into a greater interest in Canadian history and the study of indigenous cultures, although at SFU I worked with Noel Dyck and he was instrumental in getting me interested in colonialism and what he calls coercive tutelage. But enough of that for now. The ‘sketch’ may become a kind of autobiography, but for now, I’m not calling it that.

In terms of the topics Jack suggested I’ve got a 5000 word blog post sitting here in draft form that I need to finish up but I may also break it up into smaller, more accessible chunks. In working on this post I’ve done a lot of reading, pulling books off of my shelves but also from the shelves of the internet archives and the Gutenberg project. I seem to be a little out of control. The post seems to want to grow exponentially. Well, I’ve got a lot to say…ask any of my former students. That means I have a lot to write about too.

Here’s a taste of where I’m going with democracy. It’s a quotation from a nondescript political science monograph that I have called Democracy in the United States, Second Edition, by William H. Riker (1965): …”democracy” is frequently used in the contemporary world without justification either in logic or in observation. It has, that is, become a stock and abused slogan in the vocabulary of propagandists for almost every system of government.’

Yes, indeed. In the next few weeks I’ll try to tease out some of the real from the propaganda, some of the essential from the silly.

A Series of Blog Posts or a Book?

So, after I asked in a recent post for ideas of what I should write about, Jack Minard sent me this:

Write about the difference between political or social organization and economic organization. I.e. do democracy and capitalism have any hope of co-existing well? Always seemed like a bad marriage to me! Doesn’t capitalism depend on inequality while democracy would do best with complete equality of opportunity? Of course there are differences in people. Some “cream” will always rise to the top… your thoughts?

Well, I started writing a post in respond to Jack’s comment a few days ago and before long I was up to 5000 words and I felt that I had barely touched the subject. A friend suggested a series of blog posts and I’m leaning in that direction although others have suggested that I should write a book. At 72, a book seems a little daunting although I surely have enough material to write one. Blog posts seem more manageable. I don’t know. I’m still making up my mind. However, Jack opened up a porthole to my memory of the countless books and articles I’ve read over the decades as well as the uncountable number of hours I’ve spent in thinking about these things and in teaching about them. Ask Carolyn how often she’s caught me in a virtual altered state as I explored in my mind all the threads of evidence and connection I’ve collected over the decades of thought and contemplation. She’d be talking to me and I’d be off somewhere in my mind wondering about a sentence in Marx or Veblen, Innis, Nietzsche, Elias, or Becker. I have been known to be ‘into myself’ for hours if not days and weeks on end, lost in thought. It’s been my adult life, but I can recall that even in my early teens I had an insatiable curiosity about things as my father discovered over and over again as I would dissect clocks, motors, engines and whatever else was at hand in an effort to learn about their workings and their essences. I still do that with words.

So, what about democracy and capitalism? To be sure, there’s a lot to be said and a lot has already been said about ‘them’. Of course, the word is not the thing as Plato and others have remarked nor is the map the territory (Korzybski), and both democracy and capitalism have to be explored as concepts as well as more or less real worldly phenomena. When I was still teaching, I pointed out to my students that dictionaries are closed systems. Try this: take a word like map. Go to its dictionary definition and then go to the definitions of each word that’s used to define it. You’ll soon discover that you end up in a rabbit hole with no exit: The map is a representation, the representation is a map, and so on. Democracy is a fine concept, then, but what is its reality? Rule by the people? What does rule mean? And who are The People? Does democracy imply that each individual participates in the exercise of power? If the leaders of a country tout it as the greatest democracy ever on the planet are we to just take their word for it? How do we decide if a country is REALLY a democracy? These are all questions I will attempt to answer in subsequent blog posts.

Capitalism is easier to define in some ways than democracy although there is some disagreement as to the effective use of the concept. I personally don’t use it, but because jack brought it up, I’ll explain. Fernand Braudel, one of my favourite social historians, wrote that Marx never used the term. Re-reading Marx’s work with the specific intention of proving Braudel wrong, I had to conclude that, no, he was correct. I haven’t found the term anywhere in Marx and if there’s anyone who would have used it, it would be Marx. But he didn’t. The reason is fairly simple. Whenever an ism is added to a word, it refers to a system, a movement, something like that. Wikipedia notes: Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Marx defined his work as the materialist conception of history and he was not impressed with other theorists who tended to see structures and systems independently of them as a process. Marx uses the notion of the capitalist historical mode of production to describe the focus of his analysis. This may seem like just semantics, but it’s not. Capitalism as a word describes a set of relationships frozen in time and place. Marx was more interested in the historical development of capitalist relations of production born in feudal relations and still with us. Marx wrote in the Introduction to Capital, Volume 1 (I paraphrase): “All I have wanted to do is the same for political economy that Darwin did for biology.” Engels repeated this same sentiment in his eulogy to Marx in 1883. That doesn’t mean that Marx was looking for a mechanism like natural selection in political economy. I’ll explore this further in another blog post. Why do I spend so much time here on what Marx had to say? Because his work, not entirely original but still seminal, is not to be denied in any discussion of the capitalist mode of production and its special place in history. Marx understood that the capitalist mode of production would inevitably go global and he was correct. Needless to say, capital is high on my list of fun things to think about along with labour.

What is the relationship historically between the capitalist mode of production and political systems like democracy? Neither depend on each other, that’s certain, not theoretically, nor in practice. This is one very important theme I will explore in the coming weeks.

So, I guess I’ve decided to go with blog posts rather than a book. I suppose blog posts can be pasted together to make a book in any case. So it probably doesn’t matter. That said, I have lots to say about capitalism and democracy and their surrogates, business and representative government. I’ll do that in the next many posts I write. I’ll use Canada as a subject in most cases but the United States is also in my crosshairs. I’ll roam around European history and literature. I’ll return to my dissertation and comment on Harold Innis’ notions on nationalism. I’ll throw in some Veblen. Marx will appear here and there as will a slew of other writers. I don’t want to get bogged down in semantics, but clarification of terms is essential. The first chapter in Bertell Ollman’s book Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society is called: With words that appear like bats. It’s worth it, I think, to take a bit of a stroll through Ollman’s book, something you can do for free by clicking on the title of his book above. I say this not only as a reference to Marx and his critics, but to the use of words in general. So many words appear like bats, flitting in and out of the dusk so fast it’s hard to get a good look at them. Democracy and capitalism are those kinds of words. Batty they are, but maybe with the right camera we can at least get a good approximation of what they represent and how they relate to one another. Stay tuned.

See what you’ve done, Jack Minard!

Tyranny Springs from Democracy.

The long quote below is by Benjamin Jowett, one of the many translator’s of Plato’s Republic (1973). This is an ebook available free from Gutenberg: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1497/1497-h/1497-h.htm

I won’t comment on this quote here. It speaks for itself and is cannily prescient. Read on.

Tyranny springs from democracy much as democracy springs from oligarchy. Both arise from excess; the one from excess of wealth, the other from excess of freedom. ‘The great natural good of life,’ says the democrat, ‘is freedom.’ And this exclusive love of freedom and regardlessness of everything else, is the cause of the change from democracy to tyranny. The State demands the strong wine of freedom, and unless her rulers give her a plentiful draught, punishes and insults them; equality and fraternity of governors and governed is the approved principle. Anarchy is the law, not of the State only, but of private houses, and extends even to the animals. Father and son, citizen and foreigner, teacher and pupil, old and young, are all on a level; fathers and teachers fear their sons and pupils, and the wisdom of the young man is a match for the elder, and the old imitate the jaunty manners of the young because they are afraid of being thought morose. Slaves are on a level with their masters and mistresses, and there is no difference between men and women. Nay, the very animals in a democratic State have a freedom which is unknown in other places. The she-dogs are as good as their she-mistresses, and horses and asses march along with dignity and run their noses against anybody who comes in their way. ‘That has often been my experience.’ At last the citizens become so sensitive that they cannot endure the yoke of laws, written or unwritten; they would have no man call himself their master. Such is the glorious beginning of things out of which tyranny springs. ‘Glorious, indeed; but what is to follow?’ The ruin of oligarchy is the ruin of democracy; for there is a law of contraries; the excess of freedom passes into the excess of slavery, and the greater the freedom the greater the slavery. You will remember that in the oligarchy were found two classes—rogues and paupers, whom we compared to drones with and without stings. These two classes are to the State what phlegm and bile are to the human body; and the State-physician, or legislator, must get rid of them, just as the bee-master keeps the drones out of the hive. Now in a democracy, too, there are drones, but they are more numerous and more dangerous than in the oligarchy; there they are inert and unpractised, here they are full of life and animation; and the keener sort speak and act, while the others buzz about the bema and prevent their opponents from being heard. And there is another class in democratic States, of respectable, thriving individuals, who can be squeezed when the drones have need of their possessions; there is moreover a third class, who are the labourers and the artisans, and they make up the mass of the people. When the people meet, they are omnipotent, but they cannot be brought together unless they are attracted by a little honey; and the rich are made to supply the honey, of which the demagogues keep the greater part themselves, giving a taste only to the mob. Their victims attempt to resist; they are driven mad by the stings of the drones, and so become downright oligarchs in self-defence. Then follow informations and convictions for treason. The people have some protector whom they nurse into greatness, and from this root the tree of tyranny springs. The nature of the change is indicated in the old fable of the temple of Zeus Lycaeus, which tells how he who tastes human flesh mixed up with the flesh of other victims will turn into a wolf. Even so the protector, who tastes human blood, and slays some and exiles others with or without law, who hints at abolition of debts and division of lands, must either perish or become a wolf—that is, a tyrant. Perhaps he is driven out, but he soon comes back from exile; and then if his enemies cannot get rid of him by lawful means, they plot his assassination. Thereupon the friend of the people makes his well-known request to them for a body-guard, which they readily grant, thinking only of his danger and not of their own. Now let the rich man make to himself wings, for he will never run away again if he does not do so then. And the Great Protector, having crushed all his rivals, stands proudly erect in the chariot of State, a full-blown tyrant: Let us enquire into the nature of his happiness.

In the early days of his tyranny he smiles and beams upon everybody; he is not a ‘dominus,’ no, not he: he has only come to put an end to debt and the monopoly of land. Having got rid of foreign enemies, he makes himself necessary to the State by always going to war. He is thus enabled to depress the poor by heavy taxes, and so keep them at work; and he can get rid of bolder spirits by handing them over to the enemy. Then comes unpopularity; some of his old associates have the courage to oppose him. The consequence is, that he has to make a purgation of the State; but, unlike the physician who purges away the bad, he must get rid of the high-spirited, the wise and the wealthy; for he has no choice between death and a life of shame and dishonour. And the more hated he is, the more he will require trusty guards; but how will he obtain them? ‘They will come flocking like birds—for pay.’ Will he not rather obtain them on the spot? He will take the slaves from their owners and make them his body-guard; these are his trusted friends, who admire and look up to him. Are not the tragic poets wise who magnify and exalt the tyrant, and say that he is wise by association with the wise? And are not their praises of tyranny alone a sufficient reason why we should exclude them from our State? They may go to other cities, and gather the mob about them with fine words, and change commonwealths into tyrannies and democracies, receiving honours and rewards for their services; but the higher they and their friends ascend constitution hill, the more their honour will fail and become ‘too asthmatic to mount.’ To return to the tyrant—How will he support that rare army of his? First, by robbing the temples of their treasures, which will enable him to lighten the taxes; then he will take all his father’s property, and spend it on his companions, male or female. Now his father is the demus, and if the demus gets angry, and says that a great hulking son ought not to be a burden on his parents, and bids him and his riotous crew begone, then will the parent know what a monster he has been nurturing, and that the son whom he would fain expel is too strong for him. ‘You do not mean to say that he will beat his father?’ Yes, he will, after having taken away his arms. ‘Then he is a parricide and a cruel, unnatural son.’ And the people have jumped from the fear of slavery into slavery, out of the smoke into the fire. Thus liberty, when out of all order and reason, passes into the worst form of servitude…

This lengthly quote is from the translator’s introduction to Plato’s Republic. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1497/1497-h/1497-h.htm

Roger Albert: Always a Sociologist?

So, I’m thinking of changing the name of my blog from Roger Albert: Always a Sociologist to Let’s See What Happens

The fact is that I’m off on all kinds of tangents all the time and I deal with art as well as politics and I comment on a lot of things not sociological. What do you think? Does it make sense? Any other blog names you might suggest? This is probably the shortest post I’ve ever sent out or will ever send out. Whatever. 

I’m out of control.

I’m working on a post about capitalism and democracy, a topic suggested to me by Jack Minard. It’s a great topic, but my post is growing beyond all bounds of reasonableness. I must be thinking  I’m writing a book or something. I’m up to +5000 words and I’m not done. Nowhere near done. So I’m not sure what to do now. I may just carry on with the post and finish it up as best I can. Problem is, for virtually every sentence I write, I’m left with the unsatisfying feeling that I’ve only scratched the surface of what needs to be said. So I may have to follow up this post with a number of others that deal with related issues such as nationalism (conservative and liberal versions), the ideology of internationalism, corporate supply chains and export processing zones, etc., always keeping in mind contemporary global events as they relate to the topics I just listed. 

What do you really know about corporate supply chains? Do you really believe that Canada trades with other countries? What does globalization mean to you? What do you think is the relationship between government and business? What do you think it should be? Why? 

Nestlé has 447 factories, operates in 189 countries, and employs around 339,000 people. It is one of the main shareholders of L’Oreal, the world’s largest cosmetics company. Nestlé is the largest food company in the world and is headquartered in Switzerland. Less than 5% of its labour force is in Switzerland. Is it a Swiss company? Of course it has to be headquartered somewhere, but what do you think about that? 

Oh, the questions! I have lots of them. I also have answers. Stay tuned for my epic blog post coming soon to a computer near you!