BOOKS AND THE CULTURE N, OW AND THEN you may come across someone grumbling that what the left needs is “good new ideas.” Pay no attention. The left is awash in good new ideas. Since 1980 alone, any number of seminal books by radicals have appeared. For starters: Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers’s On Democracy; Alec Nove’s Feasible Socialism; Michael Walzer’s Radical Principles and Spheres of Justice; Robert Dahl’s A Preface to Economic Democracy; Martin Carnoy and Derek Shearer’ s Economic Democracy; Robert Kuttner’s The Economic Illusion; Samuel Bowles, David.Gordon, and Thomas Weisskopf’s Beyond the Waste Land; William Ryan’s Equality; Benjamin Barber’s Strong Democracy; Noam Chomsky’s Towards a New Cold War; Edward Herman’s The Real Terror Network; Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia Emerging and A Citizen Legislature; Barbara Ehrenreich’s The Hearts of Men; the feminist anthologies Powers of Desire and Pleasure and Danger; Christopher Lasch’s The Minimal Self; Marshall Berman’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air; and Lewis Hyde’s The Gift. Mind you, that’s just counting books written for a general audience. Excellent books, scholarly as well as popular, regularly stream forth from South End Press, Monthly Review Press, the Feminist Press, Beacon, Schenkman, Sharpe, and various university presses. And in left-wing journals too numerous to mention, good new ideas lie thick on the ground. Not only is there no dearth of ideas on the left; there are too many of them for this conscientious leftist, at least, to assimilate. The left’s problem is that ideas don’t matter. In theory, the outcome of elections in the United States reflects, with only minor distortions, the political preferences of the electorate. Only it George Scialabba lives in Cambridge, Mass., and writes about politics and culture. This piece originally appeared in the Village Voice and is reprinted by permission. doesn’t work out that way. The range of choices over which the American _ electorate’ is allowed to exercise its preference is sharply and systematically constrained. Electoral politics is dominated by two major parties, whose prograins, to the extent that they differ, correspond to the needs and goals of opposing sectors of the business community. The goals and ground rules that all sectors of business agree on constitute the framework of public policy, RIGHT TURN: The Decline of the Democrats and the Future of American Politics By Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers New York: Hill and Wang, 1986 278 pages, $19.95 DEMOCRACY AND CAPI-TALISM: Property, Community, and the Contradictions of Modern Social Thought By Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis New York: Basic Books, 1986 317 pages, $16.95 rarely or never challenged in the electoral arena. Policy proposals that fall outside this framework -i.e., good new ideas from the left remain invisible and inaudible. This is not a conspiracy theory. Business leaders do not meet in secret to decide how best to delude the public mind and thwart the public will. They don’t need to. In a capitalist democracy, business control over the state is assured structurally. Most people are economically vulnerable they depend on employment rather than on ownership or some other entitlement to survive so the best predictor of their voting behavior is likely to be the state of the economy at election time. Overall, the state of the economy is determined by the level of investment. Since investment decisions in a capitalist economy are made privately, governments must nurture that most delicate of blossoms, “investor confidence.” Those that fail meet Jimmy Carter’s fate. Furthermore, political participation in a mass society costs a lot of money. Voting may be free, but setting the agenda is enormously expensive. To work out and put forth a detailed political program at the national level requires information, organization, and publicity, and all these require cash. Since the only people with spare money are , capitalists. as Bernard Shaw explained long ago, “spare money” is simply the vernacular for “capital” they have an effective monopoly on political speech. So what else is new? Haven’t American leftists always claimed that Democrats and Republicans are merely the left wing and right wing of the Property Party? True, but Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers’s Right Turn \(along with their previous volume, The Hidden Election, and Ferguson’s ground-breaking essay, “Party Realignment and long way toward rigorously formulating, and then massively documenting, that hoary slogan. Ferguson and Rogers propose what they call the “investment theory” of American politics: “the fundamental `market’ for political parties in the United States is not individual voters. The real market for political parties is defined by major ‘investors’ groups of business firms, industrial sectors, or, organized collectively. In contrast to most individual voters, such investors generally have good and clear reasons for investing to control the state, and the resources necessary to sustain the costs of such an effort. These major investors define the core of the major parties, and are responsible for sending most of the signals to which the rest of the electorate responds.” Of course, the electorate must actually respond, Which sets some limits on investor dominance. Still, seen in this perspective, voter sovereignty turns out to be as much a myth and exactly the same sort of myth as consumer sovereignty. High start-up costs for firms and the unequal availability of credit sharply limit economic competition; the high cost of political mobilization and the unequal availability of publicity sharply limit political competition. And in both its economic and The Political Monopoly By George Scialabba 8 DECEMBER 19, 1986
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.