Corporate Democracy, Corporate Democrats?
First of all, allow me to upset your expectations by remarking that ideally democracy should be corporate. Democracy should be "corporate" in the denotative sense of the term, which simply means "pertaining to a united group, as of persons; united or combined into one." In the strictest sense, corporate may be interpreted in terms of utilitarian ideals - the greatest good for the greatest number. In this sense, a democracy should tend toward becoming a corporation. A democratic corporation would amount to a group that advocated for the greatest good for the greatest number.
But what we mean by "corporate" today is its popular, connotative sense. In this sense, "corporate democracy" means that our democracy has, presumably, come under the sway of corporate (business) dominance. That is, for-profit corporations control the funding, the agenda, and ultimately the politicians whom they select and 'elect' into office. As such, "corporate democracy" is an oxymoron. It cannot exist.
Do corporations hold complete sway over our system of government? My conclusion will be that the domination of our government by corporations is significant, but always incomplete. As Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci noted, hegemonies are never total; wiggle-room, space for resistance, always persists somewhere, even within a totalitarian system. (Lest you think he was talking from better circumstances than ours, Gramsci made these observations from a jail cell as a prisoner of fascist Italy.) Furthermore, specific historical conditions must be taken into account to determine the success of any hegemonic movement.
In the case of the US political system, the fissures in corporate dominance are largely ideological. While many of our candidates may be 'selected' by corporations by means of funding, they are not wholly 'elected' by corporations, nor are corporations wholly in control of how said candidates act by means of lobbying. Yes, they may be selected and corporate funding may also have such an impact on the voters by means of advertising and face time in the media, that in a sense, they are actually, in a real sense, also elected by the corporations. But, especially in the case of Democrats, even if said candidates proposed to do only as corporations wished, they would be unable to. This is less true in the case of Republican candidates, who avow a laissez faire ideology of the 'free market,' which has often been noted as contradictory to the very principles of democracy. In the case of Democrats, who depend on egalitarian rhetoric and ideals, the possibility for corporate ideological dominance of candidates is much more restricted.
This is because while corporations are economically dominant, corporate ideology is not dominant. This fact is evident in the very terms of this debate. If corporate ideological dominance were complete, it would be impossible to use the term in any critical sense. The fact that this phrase signifies something that isn't 'just so' means that ideological gaps persist. The fact that we are aghast at the idea of "corporate rule" of our system means that we have ideological commitments that are violated by this notion. That means that our ideological commitments lie elsewhere. In other words, corporate ideology, while operative, has surely not been successful in "brainwashing" America. In fact, it has failed this rather miserably.
I hear the skeptics retort: "But you are speaking only of ideology. Money is the real issue. Ideology is just lip service and in the end, economics rule." Well, in a sense, yes. But not entirely, which is my point. The reason ideology works is because it constrains action. Ideology is not mere 'false consciousness.' It frames the way people see the world and thus, act in it. This includes even those people presumably 'bought and sold' by corporations. Test this by considering whether a person's employer, the payer of his or her paycheck, necessarily controls his or her point-of-view. And, my point is that corporate ideology is not the dominant one in U.S. politics.
A dominant corporate ideology would read something like a literal social Darwinist creed; "those who have power deserve it and as the powerful, are inclined, nay, even responsible, for exercising it. The weak are weak for a reason-or if not, they are simply weak by 'nature' and as such, cannot be other than what they are. The powerful are powerful by 'nature' and as such, cannot act weak, without violating the laws of 'nature.' This means that the powerful must act powerfully, dominating the weak." Of course, in terms of economic power, 'weakness' is characterized by the lack of money, and power or strength is characterized by the possession or control of it.
Obviously, social economic Darwinism, the implicit ideology of corporate rule, while operative (if not wholly articulated, it is covertly held by many on the right) cannot be fully articulated and unconstrained in its operations, without severe resistance in the public square. That is because it stands in contradistinction to the avowed Enlightenment ideals of egalitarianism and fraternity on which the U.S. Constitution is based. If we didn't have an egalitarian ideological basis in our belief system, the outcry against corporate rule would be absurd.
So, while corporate ideology would like to run things and become overtly dominant, it cannot be, under present historical circumstances. And remember, ideology is not mere ideology. Ideology dictates the terms under which action is impelled, framed and constrained. Ideology is the way of seeing the world; action depends on and is interpreted by it.
This analysis may explain the apparent contradiction between the obvious corporate preferences for some candidates, who yet haven't apparently acted on behalf of corporations while in office.
Here, I ask for the detractors with seemingly religious convictions to abide my risky excursus, while I suggest that the rupture between corporate economic dominance and democratic ideological dominance explains why Hillary Clinton can be the choice of corporate America among the Democratic candidates, while very little in her voting record serves to explain this preference. I am not advocating Hillary Clinton for President, but I am suggesting that the anti-Hillary fervor on the left is mistaken to the extent that it fails to identify the gap between corporate preference and parliamentary action. Hillary Clinton votes her ideology, which even she is not able to control. Her ideology, with the notable exception of her votes on Iraq and Iran, is liberal and even somewhat activist. However, she is nevertheless decried as a "corporate whore" (not without the apparent misogyny) by the left, perhaps with more vehemence than she is called a Marxist by the right. To this claim from the left, one might merely counter with the claims from the right. As I've said in an earlier CLG Rec Report, both cannot be true.
In other words, if you think that corporations completely control the agenda of all of those that they fund, including "corporate Democrats," you are significantly mistaken. The difference has to do with ideological commitments, which result in actions.
Ideology is not the same as rhetoric, mind you. If anything, Clinton rhetorically gives payback to her corporate donors. But rhetoric must be weighed in connection with assumed audiences and as against demonstrated ideological commitments. Rhetoric must be understood in terms of context and intent. Rhetoric must be seen as a means of satisfying some contingents (in this case, her donors) while hoping others are smart or informed enough to understand the difference. Rhetoric is used by every speaker; Clinton is not unique for rhetorical maneuvers. Clinton's payback to corporations is mostly rhetorical; those who do the most to persuade us in America, the corporations, are also the target of much rhetorical appeasement. This happens to be the case where most workers are concerned, as well.
Corporate Democracy is incomplete, if only because so-called corporate Democrats like Clinton have ideological commitments that are anything but based on the interests of corporate dominance.
Rec, The Rec Report
Michael D. Rectenwald, Ph.D.
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