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Forum Post: chomsky on capitalsm and democracy - an old debate

Posted 12 years ago on Dec. 14, 2011, 11:32 a.m. EST by flip (7101)
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Aristotle also made the point that if you have, in a perfect democracy, a small number of very rich people and a large number of very poor people, the poor will use their democratic rights to take property away from the rich. Aristotle regarded that as unjust, and proposed two possible solutions: reducing poverty (which is what he recommended) or reducing democracy.

James Madison, who was no fool, noted the same problem, but unlike Aristotle, he aimed to reduce democracy rather than poverty. He believed that the primary goal of government is "to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority." As his colleague John Jay was fond of putting it, "The people who own the country ought to govern it."

Madison feared that a growing part of the population, suffering from the serious inequities of the society, would "secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of [life's] blessings." If they had democratic power, there'd be a danger they'd do something more than sigh. He discussed this quite explicitly at the Constitutional Convention, expressing his concern that the poor majority would use its power to bring about what we would now call land reform.

So he designed a system that made sure democracy couldn't function. He placed power in the hands of the "more capable set of men," those who hold "the wealth of the nation." Other citizens were to be marginalized and factionalized in various ways, which have taken a variety of forms over the years: fractured political constituencies, barriers against unified working-class action and cooperation, exploitation of ethnic and racial conflicts, etc.

(To be fair, Madison was precapitalist and his "more capable set of men" were supposed to be "enlightened statesmen" and "benevolent philosophers," not investors and corporate executives trying to maximize their own wealth regardless of the effect that has on other people. When Alexander Hamilton and his followers began to turn the US into a capitalist state, Madison was pretty appalled. In my opinion, he'd be an anticapitalist if he were alive today -- as would Jefferson and Adam Smith.)



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[-] 1 points by Stephen (5) 12 years ago

Dear Flip, You are correct in saying that Madison and our Founding Fathers were “precapitalist.” But you are postcapitalist; so it is important that you understand what the word means. Capitalism is laissez-fair; meaning an unregulated market place. Capitalism is separation of market and state in precisely the same way and for precisely the same reason as separation of church and state. Capitalism in one breath is – “you get to keep all the wealth you produce to use as you see fit.” Our founding fathers understood this principle, and it was the rock upon which they expected our constitution and our country to stand. Your little history lesson stopped short. World-wide, capitalism developed quickly with the unintended consequence of raising millions out of poverty and serfdom. It was not long before Madison’s “enlightened statesmen” and “benevolent philosophers” realized that if the right to vote were extended beyond the landed aristocracy, the recently liberated would become a powerful base. Political constituencies arose, barriers against unified working-class action toppled, exploitation of ethnic and racial conflicts became the rule, and Aristotle’s prediction came true. This newly empowered ruling class cemented their tie to the poor by redistributing the wealth of the rich thereby subsidizing a huge class of layabout drones they could count on for support at election time. Today, the richest families pay 40% of all taxes and it can be said that America’s entitlement system could not exist were it not of the continuing growth of the wealth of the richest few.

[-] 1 points by flip (7101) 12 years ago

wow - no time to respond to all of this but you are not of this world - when did this all happen - this capitalism rising - was it while the gov't was killing indians for the rail roads or when the gov't was enslaving africans?? first of all this is incorrect - Today, the richest families pay 40% of all taxes and it can be said that America’s entitlement system could not exist were it not of the continuing growth of the wealth of the richest few. - secondly how much of the income do they have??