Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Honoring Sheldon Wolin (1922-2015)
Sadly, the distinguished political theorist and philosopher Sheldon Wolin has died in Salem Oregon. Wolin was 93.
Wolin was one of the US's leading political philosophers and someone who enlivened leftist and radical political philosophy, whilst retaining a commitment to the radical possibilities of democracy.
Sheldon Wolin's final book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Spectre of Inverted Totalitarianism is without doubt the most important book I have read in the last decade.
In that book, Wolin describes inverted totalitarianism as the fusion of corporate and political power. Wolin makes clear that inverted totalitarianism is in no way morally or politically comparable to totalitarian states like Nazi Germany.
Wolin argues that contemporary democracies and corporate capitalism have inverted the ways that authoritarian regimes politicize all spheres of life. State and corporate power are increasingly enmeshed. He warns that the combination of state power and unchecked economic and corporate power now verge on total power and has created its own pathologies.
Wolin argues that political and corporate forces don't necessarily seek to replace democratic structures. Rather, they claim to honour democracy, electoral politics, freedom of speech and the right to assembly, whilst all the while capturing, manipulating and corrupting the levers of power to serve political, economic, corporate and business interests.
Wolin also examines the myths and mythmaking used to justify this interlocking of corporate and state power, including the claim of a failing economy, the quest for an ever-expanding economy, privatisation and the never-ending war on terror.
Wolin warns that corporate power no longer answers to state or citizen control. The institutions of government, economy, civil society and society no longer play the role they were intended for. They primarily serve the interests of the political, corporate and business classes.
For Wolin, corporate power and political power are now so closely intertwined and the much of the citizenry so demobilised, that genuine democracy is a remote possibility, expressed in what he described as rare “fugitive” expressions of the popular will.
Wolin argues that inverted totalitarianism destroys democracy, politically demobilises citizens, projects power and wealth upwards and creates instability, passivity and precarious existence for the majority of citizens.
Wolin writes that inverted totalitarianism:
'is not expressly conceptualised as an ideology of objectified in public policy but is furthered by decision makers, power holders and citizens who unaware of or blind to the deeper consequences of their actions or actions'
Chris Hedges, who is a passionate supporter of Wolin's work has written this piece in memory of his friend and colleague. A series of interviews with Sheldon Wolin by Chris Hedges are here and here.