Surrealpolitik: Democracy Inc.

Author: Sheldon Wolin

Princeton: Princeton University Press (2010, first published in 2008)

Quick Summary

Wolin puts both myth-making and so-called "realism" within a context of a political power imaginary and argues that "inverted totalitarianism" -- a projection of state power inwards in combination with corporate, religious, and other cultural forms of power -- replaces (or "sublimates") democratic participation with mobilization. Permanent war against vague enemies, fixing ideological boundaries, but not, he argues, as the result of a plan but more or less accidentally, as a function of having absorbed a certain peculiarly American zeitgeist. Inverted totalitarianism is contrasted with classic totalitarianism in several ways:
Sudden, dramatic, "march on Rome". Drastic dismantling by outsiders of prior system Undramatic evolution, a convergence of tendencies, organized by consummate insiders
Totally dependent upon a particular charismatic leader, movement lives and dies with himSystemic, requires no charismatic leader, continues on with any leader
Mobilized citizenryDemobilized (depoliticized, demotivated) citizenry
Business subservient to the state (at least with the Nazis)Business supreme, merged with state, state adopts corporate values, corporations do not adopt civic values


There are 8 quotes currently associated with this book.

[T]otalitarianism is capable of local variations; plausibly, far from being exhausted by its twentieth-century versions would-be totalitarians now have available technologies of control, intimidation and mass manipulation far surpassing those of that earlier time. (page xvii)
Tags: [Fascism]
The Nazi and Fascist regimes were powered by revolutionary movements whose aim was not only to capture, reconstitute, and monopolize state power but also to gain control over the economy. By controlling the state and the economy, the revolutionaries gained the leverage necessary to reconstruct, then mobilize society. In contrast, inverted totalitarianism is only in part a state-entered phenomenon. Primarily, it represents the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry. (page xviii)
Tags: [Fascism]
We are experiencing the triumph of contemporaneity and of its accomplice, forgetting or collective amnesia. Stated somewhat differently, in early modern times change displaced traditions; today change succeeds change. (page xviii)
Tags: [Fascism, Postmodernism]
How to persuade the reader that the actual direction of contemporary politics is toward a political system the very opposite of what the political leadership, the mass media, and think tank oracles claim that it is, the world's foremost exemplar of democracy? (page xx)
Tags: [Activism, Apathy/Resistance, Everyday Life, Truth & Real, Fascism, Culture, Simulacra/Illusion, Myth, American Exceptionalism]
"Inverted totalitarianism" projects power inwards. It is not derivative from "classic totalitarianism" of the types represented by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, or Stalinist Russia. Those regimes were powered by revolutionary movements whose aim was to capture, reconstitute, and monopolize the power of the state. The state was conceived as the main center of power, providing the leverage necessary for the mobilization and reconstruction of society. Churches, universities, business organizations, news and opinion media, and cultural institutions were taken over by the government or neutralized or suppressed.

Inverted totalitarianism, in contrast, while exploiting the authority and resources of the state, gains its dynamic by combining with other forms of power, such as evangelical religions, and most notably by encouraging symbiotic relationship between traditional government and the system of "private" governance represented by the modern business corporation. The result is not a system of codetermination by equal partners who retain their distinctive identities but rather a system that represents the political coming-of-age of corporate power. (page xxi)
Tags: [Fascism]
At the same time that [World War II] halted the momentum of political and social democracy, it enlarged the scale of an increasingly open cohabitation between the corporation and the state. That partnership became ever closer during the era of the Cold War (1947-93). Corporate economic power became the basis of power on which the state relied, as its own ambitions, like those of giant corporations, became more expansive, more global, and, at intervals, more bellicose. Together the state and corporation became the main sponsors and coordinators of the powers represented by science and technology. The result is an unprecedented combination of powers distinguished by their totalizing tendencies, powers that not only challenge established boundaries -- political, moral, intellectual, and economic -- but whose very nature it is to challenge those boundaries continually, even to challenge the limits of the earth itself. Those powers are also the means of inventing and disseminating a culture that taught consumers to welcome change and private pleasures while accepting political passivity. (page xxiii)
Tags: [Fascism, Culture]
I want to emphasize that I view my main construction, "inverted totalitarianism," as tentative, hypothetical, although I am convinced that certain tendencies in our society point in a direction away from self-government, the rule of law, egalitarianism, and thoughtful public discussion, and toward what I have called "managed democracy," the smiley face of inverted totalitarianism. (page xxiv)
Tags: [Fascism, Culture, Capitalism]
Both spectacles [i.e., the Nuremberg rally and Bush's "mission accomplished" pageant] are examples of the distinctively modern mode of myth creation. They are the self-conscious constructions of visual media. Cinema and television share a common quality of being tyrannical in a specific sense. They are able to block out, eliminate whatever might introduce qualification, ambiguity, or dialogue, anything that might weaken or complicate the holistic force of their creation, of its total impression.

In a curious but important way these media effects mesh with religious practice. In may Christian religions the believer participates in ceremonies much as the movie or TV watcher takes part in the spectacle presented. In neither case do they participate as the democratic citizen is supposed to do, as actively engaged in decisions and sharing the exercise of power. They participate as communicants in a ceremony prescribed by the masters of the ceremony. Those assembled at Nuremberg or on the USS Abraham Lincoln did not share power with their leaders. Their relationship was thaumaturgical: they were being favored by a wondrous power in a form and at a time of its choosing. (page 2-3)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Fascism, Propaganda, Culture, Simulacra/Illusion, Myth, American Exceptionalism, Media]