Empire Deconstructed

Every day brings evidence of an untoward kind, a polite way of saying, the realities are piling up, whichever way one looks, of America’s downward projection into a class-state of concentrated wealth and power buttressed by a military establishment and accompanying weakening of constitutional rights, all with the result that global hegemony—the sun never sets on an American military installation—is seen as the means of staving off systemic failures in a market-fundamentalism, bred-in-the-bones, US capitalism. Militarism becomes the surrogate for, and life belt holding up, continued economic growth, in which the absolutism of the property right trumps the many phases of internal democratization which affect, and here, instead, derogate from, the people’s well-being.

From health care to environmental protection, from privacy to educational opportunity and excellence, and the list continues on into the night, government, rather than representing the public interest and dedicated to the general welfare, is the third rail to the war machine and Wall Street, energizing both—indeed, integrating both as in the militarization-financialization of capitalism itself, an obvious bastardization of Adam Smith, which called for a rounded framework of industry and commerce in a stable, even-handed international politics and system, yet ideally suited to the un-Smithian quest and paradigm of capitalist development founded on unilateral dominance across the board, whether by fair means or foul.

Now, mostly foul. American capitalism has become inseparable from intervention, the tip of whose iceberg is drone assassination selected and ordered by POTUS. When the chief executive resorts to premeditated killing, massive surveillance, eavesdropping on world leaders, trading partnerships one-sided in character, it is evident that this capitalist formation is growing desperate, cynical, yes, senile, fearing the loss of power and place, bragging rights to global leadership, and, to remain solvent, backing into the posture of counterrevolution and permanent war. Capitalism, once upon a time, was about trade, but now, isolation and containment of supposed adversaries (China, and soon the hitherto Third World rapidly developing), with Obama’s Pacific-first strategy and secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership key signs of a confrontational attitude, using terrorism as a crutch, to maintain ascendancy of the capitalist world—as itself the only legitimate one. To remain on top of capitalism is to deny, rule out, if needed, strangle, alternative modes, chiefly socialism, with even mixed economies running afoul of World Bank and IMF (both largely extensions of US policy) injunctions.

Today, spinal meningitis at Princeton, a rare form, which Swiss medication, not US-approved, may or may not successfully address, while Cuban medicine has produced a vaccine specifically directed to this type B meningococcal meningitis (see W.F. Whitney’s excellent article in CP, Nov. 18) but is kept out of reach because of the embargo on Cuban imports, illustrates the fanaticism of America, its capitalism, its fear, surely not of Cuba itself, but what Cuba represents, an alternative life form to the rigidified society and its institutions America has become, the Princeton students hostage to the unreasoning hatred of whatever holds the nation up to the mirror of reason and social decency. One small item in the news, but it is just such, which by their very presence, alerts us to the prevalence of social decay. There are many others.

Here are two examples, CP readers perhaps wondering why I include my Comments to the New York Times in these articles. They serve as triggers for further thought, and often contain inchoative formulations without which I could not extend the analysis. By quotidian signs of structural-political decline, I mean exactly that: daily evidences, straws in the wind if one likes, of what I take to be the makings of fascistization in America.

The first NYT Comment is to Roger Cohen’s article, “A Dangerous Interregnum,” Nov. 19, which, since I harbor few illusions about The Times (except for its strong national-security and financial investigative reporting) is all the more surprising. Not many columnists begin with a salient quote of Antonio Gramsci, which sets the tenor for the piece: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” (Italics, mine) Exactly the morbidity I find running through practically every aspect of public policy, including a second area, massive domestic surveillance. Thus, Adam Liptak and Jeremy Peters’s article, “Congress and Courts Weigh Restraints on N.S.A. Spying,” Nov. 18, which, to NYT’s credit, has kept surveillance in the spotlight. From different angles, we see a developing pattern hardly worthy of a democratic nation:


A rare treat: cogent philosophical analysis of a high standard in a Times op-ed. I felt Walter Lippmann was resurrected when we need him most. Interregnum, as though a global suspension of political-economic animation, seems accurate, except that the US, opinion polls showing Americans’ overwhelming preference for focusing on domestic rather than foreign policy notwithstanding, is loathe to surrender visions of world hegemony, and that, gained not through superior trade but through a massive military posture.

The world is tired, but the US sees this condition as an opportunity, perhaps like never before, to EXPAND its ideological influence and, equally, give its capitalism a chance for revitalization amid signs of structural decline (esp. compared with China) and societal decay.

Under Obama, the logical culmination of six decades of bipartisan intervention and somewhat ruthless market-penetration, we see a militarily overextended giant finally bearing the physical and moral costs of its outsize ambitions: a wasteland of widening class difference, a health-care system choking on its dedication to profit and privatization, banking with all of the grace of mobster-run casinos, and the social safety net springing more holes through which the citizenry’s needs remain unattended than in any other advanced economy.

Will “”think[ing] anew about changed power structures” come about before it is too late, i.e., before the US brings the rest of the world to its knees, I doubt it.


The moral bankruptcy of the American political system, viz., bipartisan leadership consensus on massive surveillance (hallmark of totalitarianism), is nowhere more evident than here. Surveillance, antithesis of democracy, goes hand-in-glove with international eavesdropping, and suggests a degree of social control under Obama unprecedented in US history. Drone assassination is ugly enough, but NSA’s carte blanche for spying and a willing American public to that outrage indicate a power-hungry government which will stoop to any practice conducive to global hegemony and support of mega-corporations and -banks.

Civil liberties is a dead letter. Everything is secret. In the name of the National Security State, the Constitution becomes so much toilet paper. Perhaps the real terrorists are POTUS, his security advisers, the intelligence community, and the bulk membership of both parties. They have done more harm to American freedom than al Qaeda could possibly achieve, because the canker lies within, prerequisite to growing repression.

How liberals/progressives can still support Obama passes belief. It is difficult to imagine worse to come, so vicious are the domestic practices done under the name of counterterrorism, and whose corollaries are intervention, paramilitary operations on a global scale, and a military budget sucking out the vitals of the Republic.

Norman Pollack is the author of The Populist Response to Industrial America (Harvard) and The Just Polity (Illinois), The Humane EconomyThe Just Polity, ed. The Populist Mind, and co-ed. with Frank Freidel, Builders of American Institutions. Guggenheim Fellow. Prof. Emeritus, History, Michigan State.  He is currently writing The Fascistization of America: Liberalism, Militarism, Capitalism.  E-mail: pollackn@msu.edu.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.