This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Economic power and political power

Regarding money specifically, I’ve said repeatedly that the problem with voting is that it obscures things that need to be acknowledged, and can act as a smokescreen for corruption. One thing this smokescreen has thoroughly hidden from American political awareness is the distinction between economic power and political power, and how the two can influence one another.

I do not have a problem with money, in itself, nor do I have a problem with people who have lots of it. It seems necessary to say this only because the reaction, whenever someone dares criticize the wealthy, is usually to accuse that person of desiring the wealth for himself. It is as if the only conceivable reason that someone would criticize wealth is if they coveted it for themselves. If that is the way you think–if you are truly unable to imagine any other motive for criticizing wealth than the simple desire for it–then you might be the one with the greed problem. So again, I do not have a problem with the existence of wealth or wealthy people.

What I do have a problem with, however–and what everyone should have a problem with–is the ability of one social group to bend political activity in favor of their interests in such a way that the interests of all other social groups are undermined. And this is precisely what happens when the wealth of the nation concentrates into the hands of a few. Those few begin to wield a disproportionate influence on political activity, for no other reason than that they have large quantities of money while other people do not. Such a situation is not democracy, but plutocracy.

In order to head off an objection, I would also like to say that, if what I have just said is true, then it does no good to launch into hysterics about, “What do you want to do, take all their hard-earned wealth and divide it up amongst everyone? That’s unjust!” I didn’t say what I would do to fix the problem, and what I would do really has no bearing on the truth of the analysis just made. If the situation we currently have is unjust, then let’s at least acknowledge that before we go spiraling off on some tirade about how people like me just want the wealth for ourselves. That sort of reaction is, I find, really just an attempt to ignore the problem by short-circuiting the conversation with straw men and hyperbole. Let’s not go there.

Returning now to what I said above: if money can influence politics, and some people have massive amounts of it while some have very little, then it follows that the political influence will be divided out accordingly, in which case we do not have democracy but plutocracy. Votes may still be counted, but it will become apparent that what we are voting about, and who we are voting for, was decided by money, and so the ‘democracy’ element only kicked in after the ‘plutocracy’ element was finished.

But there is another problem with this. Seeing things as they are, we might ask how they could be any different. After all, unless everyone has equal quantities of money, this problem will be almost unavoidable. And we will eventually be led to the possibility that democracy and plutocracy are not different things, but the same thing from different points of view. Or, to say it another way, the theory of democracy seems to lead irrevocably to the practice of plutocracy. Turning to historian Oswald Spengler:

“…it must be concluded that democracy and plutocracy are the same thing under the two aspects of wish and actuality, theory and practice, knowing and doing. It is the tragic comedy of the world-improvers’ and freedom-teachers’ desperate fight against money that they are ipso facto assisting money to be effective. Respect for the big number—expressed in the principles of equality for all, natural rights, and universal suffrage—is just as much a class-ideal of the unclassed as freedom of public opinion (and more particularly freedom of the press) is so. These are ideals, but in actuality the freedom of public opinion involves the preparation of public opinion, which costs money; and the freedom of the press brings with it the question of possession of the press, which again is a matter of money; and with the franchise comes electioneering, in which he who pays the piper calls the tune. The representatives of the ideas look at one side only, while the representatives of money operate with the other.”[1]

The truth, then, is this: political power follows economic power wherever it goes. It doesn’t matter how adamant you are about everyone being created equal, or how often you say “every vote counts,” the practice is always the same. Greater economic status carries with it greater political influence. This does not have to be considered on the large scale either. We can all perceive it if we take a step back and look at our circumstances.

The vast majority of Americans are wage-earners. That means they work for someone else. They don’t “own” the business they work at, they are simply paid for their time. It is also true that most of these people do not hold much wealth and are, in a very real way, economically dependent on the employer. Due to this situation alone, it is no exaggeration to suggest that the wage-earner’s judgment is compromised. He does not vote for interests that are “his,” but instead votes in the interest of his employer. Or, if he happens to be on welfare of some kind, he would vote in the interest of the state. In either case, he does not have his own independent interest. Instead, due to his dependence, his interests are subsumed into the interests of another, someone higher on the economic food chain, because these provide his livelihood. In short, he never votes for himself, because he can’t. Such a man is politically servile for the simple reason that he is economically servile. And that is the situation of most Americans. That is reality in a pluto-democracy.

On the other end of the spectrum, we see the opposite. If a man has vast economic resources at his disposal, he will be capable of sponsoring candidates and lobbying in his own interest in such a way that no man with merely average economic means can stand against him in the political sphere. The rich man’s vote, regardless of what the law says about equality, is worth more than the poor man’s. This is because the poor man just has his vote, while the rich man has a vote and the economic power to determine what is being voted about. They both fill out the ballot, but one of them wrote it.

You, if you are of average means, cannot lobby in Washington, fund campaigns, or influence which names appear on the ballot sheet. You do not own a television station or a newspaper, and so your “free speech” is reduced to nothing in comparison to the ceaseless propaganda of the major media outlets, which themselves are controlled by the economic power of only a handful of people. Because you cannot choose who you vote for, it does not really matter which choice you make when you fill out the form. By that time, you are merely being flattered and patronized.

If you still have your doubts, consider the fact that in the 2012 cycle there were 435 House elections. Of those, the big spender won 95% of the time. And consider also the sums of money put into each presidential campaign. Who is providing that money, and for what purpose? Patriotism, or power? And do you think they’d be doing it if it was a waste of time? Would all these millions be poured into the process if millions were not able to determine the result? It is done this way because it works.

Many people, thankfully, are beginning to see this, and it is this, and not indifference, that leads to the mass exodus from the polling places. Here again we can refer to Spengler, who observed that under these circumstances,

…the vote ceases to possess anything more than the significance of a censure applied by the multitude to the individual organizations, over whose structure it possesses in the end not the slightest positive influence. So also with the ideal thesis of Western constitutions, the fundamental right of the mass to choose its own representatives–it remains pure theory, for in actuality every developed organization recruits itself. Finally the feeling emerges that the universal franchise contains no effective rights at all, not even that of choosing between parties. For the powerful figures that have grown up on their soil control, through money, all the intellectual machinery of speech and script, and are able, on the one hand, to guide the individual’s opinions as they please above the parties, and, on the other, through their patronage, influence, and legislation, to create a firm body of whole-hearted supporters…which excludes the rest and induces in it a vote-apathy which at the last it cannot shake off even for the great crises. (p. 456)

This indifference to the hard-won rights is simply the result of a simple realization: “One can make use of the constitutional rights only when one has money.”

As a final note, I should tell you that Spengler prophesied about what would come next. He said that, as a result of this disillusionment, the nation would stumble toward what he called the “Age of Caesarism,” when a man of “instinct” and “personality” would draw to himself a large number of frustrated men and women, not because he upholds any traditional values, but simply because he represents something violently different than the dull, tasteless leaders that preceded him. Sound familiar?

This should provide a rough outline of the problem of political vs. economic power, and will allow us to move on into specific issues related to that problem.

[1] Oswald Spengler, Decline of the West: Perspectives of World History (New York: Knopf, 1928), pp. 401-402.

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