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Inverted totalitarianism: what we're up against

by fairleft Fri Jan 29th, 2010 at 01:42:05 PM EST

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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? -- S.S. Wolin

I said: That [corporations are people] ruling was a nightmare in theory, but even if the SCt had ruled the other way, we'd just get more of what we have now, which is a completely corporation-dominated politics.

Donkeytale responded: That ruling was more than a nightmare in theory. It has huge practical implications. Watch and see.

And I elaborated: . . . corporations already more or less rule this country. The only thing they and theirs're afraid of at this point is riots and shit like that, so they will occasionally throw the rabble a bone. This is the way it's been for awhile; we've long been post-democracy in the U.S., the death knell was two or three decades ago.

BTW, I'm not saying we had anything more than a ragged, corrupt, semi-democracy from the 1930s to the 1970s, but it seems to me simply a fact that union members had more sway over the political system back then, and for awhile almost 50% of [working] U.S. adults were in unions. But it's a minor point . . . At this point popular control through the normal electoral channels is close enough to nothing to be meaningless. That's what matters and will matter going forward, and that all happened before the SCT's big decision.

Only later did I stumble on support for my point of view in Monday's Chris Hedges essay, Democracy in America Is a Useful Fiction, which is an extended rant/riff on Sheldon Wolin's Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Hedges' essay is a fiery, intellectually intense deja vu of that little exchange with donk. He begins:


Corporate forces, long before the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, carried out a coup d'état in slow motion. The coup is over. We lost. The ruling is one more judicial effort to streamline mechanisms for corporate control. It exposes the myth of a functioning democracy and the triumph of corporate power. But it does not significantly alter the political landscape. The corporate state is firmly cemented in place.

The fiction of democracy remains useful, not only for corporations, but for our bankrupt liberal class. If the fiction is seriously challenged, liberals will be forced to consider actual resistance, which will be neither pleasant nor easy. As long as a democratic facade exists, liberals can engage in an empty moral posturing that requires little sacrifice or commitment. They can be the self-appointed scolds of the Democratic Party, acting as if they are part of the debate and feel vindicated by their cries of protest.

Here's another great paragraph by Hedges derived from Wolin:

Hollywood, the news industry and television, all corporate controlled, have become instruments of inverted totalitarianism. They censor or ridicule those who critique or challenge corporate structures and assumptions. They saturate the airwaves with manufactured controversy, whether it is Tiger Woods or the dispute between Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. They manipulate images to make us confuse how we are made to feel with knowledge, which is how Barack Obama became president. And the draconian internal control employed by the Department of Homeland Security, the military and the police over any form of popular dissent, coupled with the corporate media's censorship, does for inverted totalitarianism what thugs and bonfires of books do in classical totalitarian regimes.

Read it, it's a fantabulous consciousness raising rant! I'm going out and getting the Wolin book, myself. Chalmers Johnson wrote an enlightening and enthusiastic essay of Wolin's book back in May, 2008. (A minor point, btw, is that Wolin's sense of the 'real democracy-ness' of the New Deal days matches my own) (emphasis added):

. . . Wolin introduces three new concepts to help analyze what we have lost as a nation. His master idea is "inverted totalitarianism," which is reinforced by two subordinate notions that accompany and promote it -- "managed democracy" and "Superpower," the latter always capitalized and used without a direct article. . . .

Wolin writes, "Our thesis is this: it is possible for a form of totalitarianism, different from the classical one, to evolve from a putatively 'strong democracy' instead of a 'failed' one." His understanding of democracy is classical but also populist, anti-elitist and only slightly represented in the Constitution of the United States. "Democracy," he writes, "is about the conditions that make it possible for ordinary people to better their lives by becoming political beings and by making power responsive to their hopes and needs." It depends on the existence of a demos -- "a politically engaged and empowered citizenry, one that voted, deliberated, and occupied all branches of public office." Wolin argues that to the extent the United States on occasion came close to genuine democracy, it was because its citizens struggled against and momentarily defeated the elitism that was written into the Constitution.

"No working man or ordinary farmer or shopkeeper," Wolin points out, "helped to write the Constitution." He argues, "The American political system was not born a democracy, but born with a bias against democracy. It was constructed by those who were either skeptical about democracy or hostile to it. Democratic advance proved to be slow, uphill, forever incomplete. . . ." Wolin can easily control his enthusiasm for James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution, and he sees the New Deal as perhaps the only period of American history in which rule by a true demos prevailed. . . .

On inverted totalitarianism's "self-pacifying" university campuses compared with the usual intellectual turmoil surrounding independent centers of learning, Wolin writes, "Through a combination of governmental contracts, corporate and foundation funds, joint projects involving university and corporate researchers, and wealthy individual donors, universities (especially so-called research universities), intellectuals, scholars, and researchers have been seamlessly integrated into the system. No books burned, no refugee Einsteins. . . ."

The main social sectors promoting and reinforcing this modern Shangri-La are corporate power, which is in charge of managed democracy, and the military-industrial complex, which is in charge of Superpower. The main objectives of managed democracy are to increase the profits of large corporations, dismantle the institutions of social democracy (Social Security, unions, welfare, public health services, public housing and so forth), and roll back the social and political ideals of the New Deal. Its primary tool is privatization. Managed democracy aims at the "selective abdication of governmental responsibility for the well-being of the citizenry" under cover of improving "efficiency" and cost-cutting.

Johnson describes Wolin's surprisingly optimistic conclusions and his own, far less so:

Toward the end of his study he produces a wish list of things that should be done to ward off the disaster of inverted totalitarianism: "rolling back the empire, rolling back the practices of managed democracy; returning to the idea and practices of international cooperation rather than the dogmas of globalization and preemptive strikes; restoring and strengthening environmental protections; reinvigorating populist politics [yada yada] and rolling back the distortions of a tax code that toadies to the wealthy and corporate power."

Unfortunately, this is more a guide to what has gone wrong than a statement of how to fix it, particularly since Wolin believes that our political system is "shot through with corruption and awash in contributions primarily from wealthy and corporate donors." It is extremely unlikely that our party apparatus will work to bring the military-industrial complex and the 16 secret intelligence agencies under democratic control. Nonetheless, once the United States has followed the classical totalitarianisms into the dustbin of history, Wolin's analysis will stand as one of the best discourses on where we went wrong.

Consider reading both essays and maybe buying the book. I think Wolin's perspective (along with his new vocabulary) may be the first satisfyingly complete grok of the deep, systemic 'democracy problem' we've all seen most clearly since 2000 in the U.S.

Display:
Well, since Zinn died, someone had to replace him. Or are we reading another Zinn think-alike. No matter. He's fit for the job. Only thing he needs is a name that sticks.

Who is he? Whoever he is, I agree. But a lot good it will do when my local representative to Congress is found working in my local McDonald drive in.

by shergald on Fri Jan 29th, 2010 at 04:15:53 PM EST
than Sheldon S Wolin. Seriously, though, he's better than a replacement for Zinn, a political scientist rather than a wide-ranging historian, and we need his all-encompassing summation of the hole we're stuck in. I don't think Zinn ever provided that.

fairleft
by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 02:47:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wolin is from the same generation as Chalmers Johnson: he was a bomber pilot in WW II and is 87.

I'm surprised this diary hasn't gotten more attention here. Don't people realize that if the idea became widespread that the US isn't a democracy any more, but has mutated into the new political form which Wolin describes, fighting neoliberalism would be a lot easier, in Europe at least?  Or is the idea that America isn't a democracy too shocking, even for readers of this blog?

What this otherwise excellent diary doesn't mention is that Wolin has produced a devastating critique not only of the American state, but of neoliberalism as well. See the Wikipedia article.

This diary should be put on the front page. As Chalmers Johnson observes

The problem is that there are too many things going wrong at the same time for anyone to have a broad understanding of the disaster that has overcome us and what, if anything, can be done to return our country to constitutional government and at least a degree of democracy. By now, there are hundreds of books on particular aspects of our situation [...] There are [...] a few attempts at more complex analyses of how we arrived at this sorry state. [...]

We now have a new, comprehensive diagnosis of our failings as a democratic polity by one of our most seasoned and respected political philosophers. [... Wolin's] new book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, is a devastating critique of the contemporary government of the United States -- including what has happened to it in recent years and what must be done if it is not to disappear into history along with its classic totalitarian predecessors [...]


People wanting to buy the book, by the way, should note that a new edition is coming out in March, in which "Wolin describes how the Obama administration, despite promises of change, has left the underlying dynamics of managed democracy intact."

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns
by Alexander on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 03:00:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you (especially about the new edition). I suppose the critique of neoliberalism is in the book as well, or would I have to go to a separate book for that? That's what I think I love about SS Wolin, him very comfortably taking all the symptoms into a single, reasonably clear vision.

fairleft
by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 03:22:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it's in the book. Wolin doesn't really provide a critique of neoliberalism as an economic doctrine. (In fact, he doesn't use the term the way we do, and what he refers to as "neo-liberalism" is the turn liberalism as a political ideology took in the fifties.) What he does is take it as self-evident that the dismantling of the welfare state is a bad thing, and consider the political implications of a large segment of the population having an increasingly precarious economic existence.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns
by Alexander on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 03:55:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or is the idea that America isn't a democracy too shocking, even for readers of this blog?

It's old news to readers of this blog.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 03:29:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That America isn't a democracy might be old news, but I think that until Wolin came up with his idea of "inverted totalitarianism, we didn't really have an adequate concept of what America IS, as opposed to what it isn't.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns
by Alexander on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 04:03:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's Galbraith's New Industrial State, based on the politics of innocent fraud.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 04:19:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Only, it's not actually an industrial state, nevermind one dominated by the Galbraithian technostructure.

It is more of a malign fusion of the control mechanisms of the industrial state with the robber baron mentality of the proto-industrial state.

I need to do that diary on Reich's Supercapitalism...

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 05:58:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What JKG's son call The Predator State.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns
by Alexander on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 06:06:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think inverted totalitarianism is not such a good term for marketing that the US is not a democracy. Inverted - reversed - totalitarianism could be lots of things, included democracy.

Successful totalitarianism perhaps, or Modern totalitarianism. Even New totalitarianism would be better then inverted.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 05:12:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Neo-totalitarianism? Haven't heard that one before.

I admit "inverted totalitarianism" is a bit awkward. But I think it's pretty clear that it means a variety of totalitarianism, which by definition excludes democracy.

As for "successful totalitarianism": I think that at some point Wolin suggests that in the same way that despotism is the corrupted form of monarchy, classical totalitarianism (e.g. Nazism) was the "corrupted" form of inverted totalitarianism.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 06:15:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Though I understand, I think, why Wolin uses 'totalitarianism', since there's effective control of the entire system, the academia/media/political system. However, as a persuasive term it has a hard time getting past first base with 'regular folks'. I mean, why bring Hitler/Stalin connotations/confusions into your term for 'whatever it is' the U.S. has become and/or is increasingly becoming?

fairleft
by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 11:43:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The term "inverted totalitarianism" as whatever Wolin wants it to mean, as an academic term, is fine.

But as a persuasive term it sinks immediately upon launch. 'Totalitarianism' by the general public is associated with (if they associate it with anything) Hitler and Stalin, and it just common-sensically doesn't feel that way here in the States. So, anybody have a better term that still captures what he's getting at and connects with the 'sorta totalitarian' way it feels to experience this hopeless and regressing political system?

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 11:12:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Stealth Totalitarianism might be more thought provoking and more accurate. As I have commented here, the real genius of the system is that, when those who pull the strings attached to Congress and the Executive really screw up big time, they can always blame the electorate: "Well, you guys elected these fools." And so we did.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 01:04:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nice! I suppose there is no perfect alternative term, but yours is the best I've seen here.

Though I still think something like 'sold out system', 'post-democracy', or 'stage-managed society', some term that focuses on the fakeness of the democracy-related institutions, would resonate with most people's common sense without bringing in the extreme (You're saying we're just like Nazi Germany??) connotations of the word totalitarianism.

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 12:38:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Stealth Totalitarianism may be the end to which we are proceeding, but, for the present, the de facto oligarchy of wealth and the popularly elected government that represents them and whose election they financed finds it convenient to allow a broad range of discussions, PROVIDED they remain confined to obscure blogs, etc. Were such discussions as we regularly see on ET to start occurring in the pages or even the on line blogs associated with the NY Times either a change in ownership or of editorial policy might be in order.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 01:28:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wolin's Democracy Incorporated has been ignored by The New York Review of Books (with which he had published a book, and to which he had doubtless contributed), not to mention the NY Times. The New York Review is considerably to the left of the Times, so the fact that even it doesn't want to touch Wolin's recent ideas says how bad things have gotten in the US.

The only mainstream "general circulation" publication I've found to review the book is The Times Higher Education Supplement.

It of course makes members of the American elite uncomfortable to entertain the idea that the US is not a democracy, but a new, postmodern political form. But it makes European elites uncomfortable, too, largely, I think, because of NATO and all the American military bases that exist across Europe.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 02:52:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What's wrong with "managed democracy", which Wolin uses and which you yourself mention? That's a natural enough term without the emotive effects of "totalitarianism".

Recalling the Soviet slogan

Communism = Soviet power + electrification of the whole country

one could say

Inverted totalitarianism = managed democracy + neoliberalism + American empire


A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns
by Alexander on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 03:09:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I personally like Oiligarchy.

I know it's not all about oil, but oil is a big part of it, and it's nice and concrete and something people can relate to. It's also already associated with big money and shady colonial wars.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 01:28:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not to discourage creativity, but I don't think that works so well. Even U.S. imperialism in the Middle East doesn't make sense, cost-benefit-wise, as wars for oil. I couldn't put one of the two, three, or four main sub-groups at the head of my one-word definition: the military-industrial complex and the finance/insurance/real estate complex seem to share governance very comfortably, and I didn't even mention the oil lobby there.

fairleft
by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 10:43:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Slogans don't have to be accurate. They have to be catchy. Accurate is what you do once you have people's attention.

And the oil lobby is pernicious enough to be a worthwhile target, even though they aren't the whole (or even the biggest) story.

Besides, the oil lobby is entrenched enough and powerful enough that the process of taking them out will of necessity involve tearing down much of the same infrastructure the MIC and FIRE sectors use to buy politicians.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 11:03:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess I didn't think "war for oil" worked very well as an anti-Iraq war slogan. Right-wing radio, to its vast audience, easily dismissed it, by pointing out (for instance) that the pre-war Iraq oil embargo actually was allowing oil companies to charge super high prices for oil, so why would they want a war that would end that great deal for them?

But, hey, I don't have a solution, a really good alternative name for 'inverted totalitarianism' either.

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 12:24:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Right-wing radio, to its vast audience, easily dismissed it, by pointing out (for instance) that the pre-war Iraq oil embargo actually was allowing oil companies to charge super high prices for oil, so why would they want a war that would end that great deal for them?

That was a cop-out argument. The simplicist level of the 'war for oil' argument is indeed faulty to consider short-term corporate interests, but serious arguments focused on imperial interests pursued by neocon strategists: control over reserves in a post-Peak-Oil environment. Which was more or less explicit in the pre-war arguments by Cheney or Baker.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 02:27:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
'Imperial war' was a pretty good way to describe the Iraq war, from the left. It fronts empire, which is completely on target and leads to the right dangerous thoughts. It doesn't leave out oil, but doesn't assert the war was for the narrow interests of the oil industry.

fairleft
by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 04:03:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree that inverted totalitarianism as an academic term is good: it solves Horkheimer and Adorno's problem of how to relate America to Nazi Germany: America is Nazi Germany turned upside down.

Another key term for Wolin is managed democracy. Perhaps that term would be more digestible by the masses.

It should be kept in mind, by the way, that why Wolin considers America to be totalitarian is that the economic dominates everything else: thus the implicit idea is that neoliberalism is in essence totalitarian. I think that's a very important insight, something completely beyond the intellectual reach of a Hayek or a Krugman.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 12:19:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I kind of like post-democracy more than managed democracy. Just because the system's 'religion' -- neo-liberalism -- is the ideology of ending democratic management of the economic sphere (well, of everything, actually). In one sense of the meaning of 'managed democracy', I'd much rather have that than a market-fundamentalist 'democracy'.

And I kind of like the way 'post-democracy' implies that what is emerging still has democratic forms and procedures but that they're used for purposes that 'move past' democracy to something new. But, my fave is not very specific on what that new something is, and how evil it is, which is a flaw.

fairleft

by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 04:14:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The US isn't a democracy and it never was.

It's a republic.  It was purposely designed to be a republic and our governing systems are based on being a republic.  Madison, in particular, worked his butt off to ensure the Common People had bugger-all to do with actively making substantive political decisions; that's the job of the elected representatives of the people.

This is more than arguing over semiotics.  Nothing in the US makes sense unless the fact the US governing bodies are structurally protected from the influences of democracy is grasped AND those bodies are specifically designed to be controlled by the "best people," i.e., the ruling elites.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 03:49:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The US isn't a democracy ... It's a republic.

This is one of those phrases that get thrown around a lot - by US conservatives mostly - and which for the life of me I can't figure out what it means.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 04:01:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for that: I was going to make a comment along similar lines.

I don't think "republic" is a category that has much standing in political theory (as opposed to among US conservatives, as you note). The three political forms that Aristotle considered were monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy: rule by one, by the few, and by the many. "Republic" would seem to be a euphemism for the corrupted form of aristocracy, oligarchy.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 04:12:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Was the Roman Republic an Aristocracy? Is that what is meant when people say the US is a Republic, not a Democracy?

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 04:28:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My impression is more that the Roman Republic was a democracy, although citizenship was fairly restricted.

Here's a relevant passage from the book (pp. 255-56). It confirms that "republic" is an ideological, rather than a theoretical, category:

Foreign observers were impressed by the intensity of political interest among ordinary Americans. During the years from roughly the 1760s to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 an American demos began to establish a foothold and to find institutional expression, if not full realization. State constitutions were amended by provisions that broadened the suffrage, abolished property qualifications for office, and in one case instituted women's suffrage. There were also efforts to ease debtor laws, even to abolish slavery.

Those "attacks" on property and the concomitant threat of demotic rule were crucial considerations prompting several outstanding politicians (Madison, Hamilton, John Adams) to organize a quiet counterrevolution aimed at institutionalizing a counterforce to challenge the prevailing decentralized system of thirteen sovereign states in which some state legislatures were controlled by "popular" forces. A new system of national power was proposed, at once centered yet with authority coextensive with the boundaries of the nation, and designed to discourage demotic power both by reducing the authority of the states, several of which had enacted legislation favorable to the lower classes, and by minimizing the role of the demos in national institutions. Only the House of Representatives would be more or less directly elected.34 The theory was this: the less the demotic presence, the more likely that the populace would defer to men of talent, judgment, and political experience--a governing class composed largely of lawyers, financiers, and plantation owners who would serve the common good although not necessarily all classes to the same extent. Thus was reborn the idea of a republican elite. The aim, which Madison, Hamilton, Adams and several other members of the emerging political class bluntly stated, was to ensure that the new regime, while abstractly based upon "the people," would be directed by the representatives of wealth, status (slave-owners), and achievement rather than of democratic majorities.

Republican theory emerged as the counterforce to demotic power, thus perpetuating a dualism that had first appeared in ancient Athens. As noted earlier, republicanism promoted the notion of a governing class, an idealized aristocracy, virtuous, able, and public spirited. When the theory was transported from Britain to America, it had to accommodate to bourgeois values of wealth and competence and to acknowledge in some degree the presence of democratic ideas and practices.35 In America republicanism had to find a place for democracy, eventually even endow it with sovereignty--if only in the abstract--while contriving obstacles to popular power that simultaneously advantaged the Few (e.g., a property qualification for voting) and defined governing in ways that corresponded to the abilities of a new class of merchants, bankers, lawyers, and manufacturers.


Thus, America was always non-democratic, at least since the ratification of the Constitution. Or, better, not non-democratic, but, as Wolin says, dualistic: with a tension between democratic and elitist forces. But, starting with the Reagan presidency, a new kind of anti-democratic system began to emerge, one grounded in the US's being a superpower. The nature of the system began to become apparent with the theft of the 2000 election, which both Democrats and public opinion did little to resist. And, as we've seen, the election of Obama didn't really change anything.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns
by Alexander on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 04:57:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The theory was this: the less the demotic presence, the more likely that the populace would defer to men of talent, judgment, and political experience--a governing class composed largely of lawyers, financiers, and plantation owners who would serve the common good although not necessarily all classes to the same extent. Thus was reborn the idea of a republican elite. The aim, which Madison, Hamilton, Adams and several other members of the emerging political class bluntly stated, was to ensure that the new regime, while abstractly based upon "the people," would be directed by the representatives of wealth, status (slave-owners), and achievement rather than of democratic majorities.
At the end of the 18th Century in Europe there were a number of Enlightened Despots, progress-minded absolute monarchs who surrounded themselves with some of the leading intellectuals of their country as ministers. The textbook description of this system summarised it with the phrase all for the people, but without the people. The US Founding Father just instituted their own version of this. Hamilton even advocated that the President should be elected for life, like the old Germanic kings. Washington thought otherwise.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 05:14:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wikipedia:
Emperor Joseph II said, "Everything for the people, nothing by the people."


En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 05:15:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hm. I would think this is apocryphal at least. Indeed a 1857 German lexicon ascribed it to [Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de?] Mirabeau.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 05:24:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but the Age of Absolutism predated the rise of capitalism. It is hard for despots to be enlightened and progress-minded if they have to deal with powerful monied interests.

It was inevitable that, given how the constitution was designed to prevent a majority from emerging, the US would end up where it is today, a plutocracy. The only remedy against the political power that comes from great wealth is a vigorous democracy.

Of course, democracy is in a weakened state in Europe as well:

Ruling the Void? The Hollowing of Western Democracy

But at least European countries are not subject to the corrupting effects of running an empire.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 05:54:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but the Age of Absolutism predated the rise of capitalism.

The start of capitalism depends on the definition, with some definitions it well predates Absolutism.

It is hard for despots to be enlightened and progress-minded if they have to deal with powerful monied interests.

Absolutism was a restoration of royal power against both powerful feudal and monied interests. Earlier kings were already dependent on bankiers to fight their wars.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 06:03:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The absolutist rulers didn't have to contend with the plutocracy, because they were the plutocracy.

Democracy, by and large, was a convenient ideology to foment a revolution when the plutocrats and the nobility ceased to be coterminous.

Liberty and freedom and individual inalienable rights and all that jazz just piggybacked on that trend.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 06:39:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But, starting with the Reagan presidency, a new kind of anti-democratic system began to emerge, one grounded in the US's being a superpower.

I don't think this is new at all. I see echoes of Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine all over it...

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 06:32:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The US was a great power back in those days, not a superpower.

Also, what I was thinking of was that during the Reagan presidency, the press changed, becoming postmodern. The idea that journalists could be objective observers of reality was given up. Any position became just a point of view, with the new journalistic standard being that "both sides of the story" need to be told.

I remember watching a discussion about Star Wars on the MacNeil Lehrer News Hour in the early 80s, and thinking I was seeing something new.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 06:58:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that what you were seeing was in fact something old that was reasserting itself - specifically, the active role of owners and managers in using the press to propagandise for their personal political views. This was, in fact, the original role of many newspapers.

This tendency had been kept mostly in check during the early postwar period, by a variety of different institutional, social and legal constraints (anti-trust laws, comparatively strong newsie labour unions, fairness doctrines, the comparative lack of political polarisation and many others). Those constraints were either withering or being actively dismantled in the early 80's and late '70s, and so the press returned to its earlier role as propagandist (of course, on those matters where the political consensus departed from reality - most notably in matters of foreign policy and "The Cold War" - this role had never really been abandoned in the first place...).

There were three crucial differences this time around, though: The absence of any kind of organised labour with the capacity to underwrite their own news organisations, the existence of a large, organised propaganda industry and the comparative affluence of modern society, which to a large extent enable us to insulate ourselves from the consequences of wrong-headed policies until they are deeply entrenched and have already done considerable damage.

(Television didn't do public discourse any favours either, nor did the fact that these developments coincided with the decision by one of your major political parties to take leave of its senses...)

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 07:22:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At the time of the US revolution I believe the word democracy had negative connotations, uncontrolled mob rule killing Socrates. Republic on the other hand was the noble way of the romans before they succumbed to monarchism in new clothes. So at that time it was a slogan to promote the idea of monarch-less government among those afraid of the mob.

Today I am less sure what it means. Maybe it means the US is meant to be republican, ie ruled by the republican party.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 04:58:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Googling "A Republic if you can keep it" throws up things like these...

From Ron Paul early in 2000:

The term republic had a significant meaning for both of them and all early Americans. It meant a lot more than just representative government and was a form of government in stark contrast to pure democracy where the majority dictated laws and rights. And getting rid of the English monarchy was what the Revolution was all about, so a monarchy was out of the question.

...

Our constitutional Republic, according to our Founders, should above all else protect the rights of the minority against the abuses of an authoritarian majority. They feared democracy as much as monarchy and demanded a weak executive, a restrained court, and a handicapped legislature.

From John F. McManus in The New American on the eve of the 2000 Presidential Election
The Founding Fathers supported the view that (in the words of the Declaration of Independence) "Men ... are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." They recognized that such rights should not be violated by an unrestrained majority any more than they should be violated by an unrestrained king or monarch. In fact, they recognized that majority rule would quickly degenerate into mobocracy and then into tyranny. They had studied the history of both the Greek democracies and the Roman republic. They had a clear understanding of the relative freedom and stability that had characterized the latter, and of the strife and turmoil -- quickly followed by despotism -- that had characterized the former. In drafting the Constitution, they created a government of law and not of men, a republic and not a democracy.
Some local branch Republican blog
Benjamin Franklin explained the threat democracy poses to liberty thusly: "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!"
To these conservatives, a "Republic" differs from a "Democracy" in that majority rule is constrained by a Constitution. In their emphasis on the Rule of Law they are like the classical Liberals. And this may be no accident - Liberal Democrady is the political system of the Enlightenment and the US' Founding Fathers were contemporaries and mostly agreed with the French Encyclopedists and other philosophers who were leading the Enlightenment movement in Europe.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 04:42:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you're exactly right. What's "liberal" in "liberal democracy" is that demotic forces are constrained. Here are another couple of passages from the book (278-80):

The numerous divisions and conflicting interests of contemporary society that make it difficult to muster a coherent majority appear a striking confirmation of the prescience of James Madison's argument in the tenth Federalist. Madison's essay is worth recalling, not only because conservative writers and politicians treat it as constitutional gospel, and not only because Plato's antidemocratic argument resurfaces in it, but also because it reveals the conception of a constitution designed to frustrate the politics of commonality. [...]

Since the revolution of 1776 had depended upon popular participation and as a result aroused democratic hopes, political expediency dictated that democratic impulses be controlled rather than suppressed. In short, how to manage democracy, or how to exploit division and thereby dilute commonality?

The solution required identifying the conditions for an antimajoritarian republic, for nullifying the single most important power element of democracy, not sheer numbers but differences that might discover their commonality. The solution required an expanded society where the geography of huge distances combined with "a greater number of citizens" and "a greater variety of parties and interests" would render it "less probable" that "an unjust and interested majority" or a single "religious sect" or "a rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project . . . [could] pervade the whole body of the Union."



A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns
by Alexander on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 05:18:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What's "liberal" in "liberal democracy" is that demotic forces are constrained.

And that's not entirely a bad thing. It is pointed out with some regularity that, if it had been up to the people in a referendum, Europe would still have the death penalty. Mob rule is a nasty thing and we didn't get the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by a democratic vote.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 05:40:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the central problems of political theory is maintaining the rights of the minority against an oppressive majority.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 01:34:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The majority may only be oppressive when it's deliberately marginalised, undereducated and misinformed, and represented by fools, chancers and demagogues.

It amazes me that Aristotle's ideas are still current and recognisable. The traditional view seems to consider politics as inherently zero-sum - power is desired and acquired by interest groups entirely for their own benefit, at the expense of other groups.

This is how politics actually works empirically, but that could be because the assumptions are taken for granted and haven't been challenged for more than two millennia.

Compared to developments in science, mathematics and philosophy, it's a tremendous failure of imagination and vision.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 04:54:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wolin's magnum opus is titled Politics and Vision. He considers political theory to have gone into decline with the appearance of liberalism, which represses the political problem of conflicting interests with Adam Smith's idea that pursuing self-interest leads to the common good.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns
by Alexander on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 12:05:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What, Wolin is not aware of John Stuart Mill?

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 12:09:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Blindness to social coercions persisted in the thought of nineteenth-century liberal writers and accounts in no small measure for the failure of liberalism to comprehend the phenomena of "mass societies." The true measure of this is to be found in the political ideas of John Stuart Mill.

Today Mill's fame derives from his impassioned plea for individual freedom and his acute analysis of the social pressures working to destroy variety and spontaneity in human character. As he explained in his Autobiography, the essay On Liberty was an indictment of the "oppressive yoke of uniformity in opinion and practice." And true enough the essay contained many noble passages defending the right of the individual to go his own way despite the offense it might give to the opinions of society. "... The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection ... His own good ... is not a sufficient warrant." Yet there remained a hopelessly unreal quality about Mill's principles of liberty, one which has the effect of reducing them to mere preaching, even if of a highly commendable kind. For when it is asked, how are these principles to be enforced?  Mill could give no answer because his own argument had compromised the integrity of the only means possible, namely government. If society is the enemy of individuality and if, at the same time, the dangerous development of modern democracy is that it makes government the agent of society, it is hardly to be expected that society's agent could intervene to protect the individual from society.

Even more perplexing was the contradictory tendency of Mill to fall back on the very power of society which he had sought to expel in Liberty. The same Mill who had accused Comte of aiming at "a despotism of society over the individual," who had welcomed Tocqueville's profound analysis of social conformity, nevertheless proposed that the tyranny of opinion be invoked in order to promote some of his own pet causes. First, his personal bête-noire, the old problem of overpopulation, could be alleviated, Mill argued, if there were sufficiently intense social disapproval of large families. "Any one who supposes that this state of opinion would not have a great effect on conduct, must be profoundly ignorant of human nature." Secondly, Mill's argument in Representative Government for an "open" rather than a secret ballot was founded on the proposition that voting was a public trust and hence "should be performed under the eye and criticism of the public ..." It is less dangerous, Mill concluded, for the individual to be influenced by "others" than by "the sinister interests and discreditable feelings which belong to himself, either individually or as a member of a class." Finally, Mill's sympathies with moderate socialism were derived in part from a belief that a society based on communal ownership had superior methods at its disposal for compelling the lazy members to produce. Under capitalism, incentives of selfinterest had failed to eliminate parasitism, for the parasites had been only too willing to follow their self-interest in concocting ingenious ways to avoid work.  But under socialism the bulk of the members would have a common interest in the productive output of the society, hence the malingerer would face the solidified resentment of the community. Where the private employer could only dismiss a worker, socialist society could stigmatize him by public opinion, "the most universal and one of the strongest" methods of control. (Politics and Vision, pp. 312-313)



A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns
by Alexander on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 01:03:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 01:43:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Another aspect the small-r-republicans emphasize is that 'representative democracy' is an oxymoron.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 05:41:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Alexander:
I don't think "republic" is a category that has much standing in political theory

Plato, of course, wrote The Republic

Aristotle actually delineated SIX forms : there are three pairs of congruent governments :

  1. A state with only one ruler is either a monarchy or a tyranny
  2. A state with several rulers is either an aristocracy or an oligarchy
  3. A state in which mob rule or a democracy.

He found flaws with all of them and thus concluded that none were suitable systems of government. Aristotle largely embraced Plato's ideas and in his Politics three types (sans Timocracy) are discussed in detail. Aristotle views aristocracy to be the ideal form of government but he observes that none of the three are healthy and that states will cycle between the three forms in an abrupt and chaotic process known as the kyklos. In his Politics he lists a number of theories of how to create a stable government. One of these options is creating a government that is a mix of all three forms of government.

....

The ideal of a mixed government was popularized by Polybius who saw the Roman Republic as a manifestation of Aristotle's theory. Monarchy was embodied by the consuls, the aristocracy by the Senate, and democracy by the elections and great public gatherings of the assemblies. Each institution complements and also checks the others, presumably guaranteeing stability and prosperity. Polybius also describes Sparta as an earlier manifestation of this ideal. Polybius was very influential and his ideas were embraced by Cicero.

....

Cicero became extremely well regarded during the Renaissance and many of his ideas were embraced. Polybius was also rediscovered and the positive view of mixed governments became a central aspect of Renaissance political science integrated into the developing notion of republicanism. Mixed government theories became extremely popular in the Enlightenment and were discussed in detail by Hobbes, Locke, Vico, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Kant. Apart from his contemporaries, only Montesquieu became widely acknowledged as the author of a concept of separation of powers


Thus while the republic may not have made Aristotle's list, it preceded him and was the description used by the Romans for their form of government prior to the Empire.  Montesuieu described three forms of government: Monarchy, Republic and Despotism.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 02:00:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thus while the republic may not have made Aristotle's list, it preceded him and was the description used by the Romans for their form of government prior to the Empire.

What do you mean? Republic comes from the Latin Res Publica ('the public thing'). Plato's Republic was called

Πολιτεία/"Politeía", meaning "city-state governance")
We get the word politics from Aristotle's book title. The Roman Republic started in the 6th century BC, well before Socrates or Plato. Anyway, did the Romans call their state "the Republic of Rome"? To them Res Publica was the affairs of the State. SPQR stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus: 'the Roman Senate and People'. They probably just referred to Rome as 'Rome' and when they said 'the res publica' they meant politics.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 05:07:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And I wonder whether we don't get the term Republic directly from Cicero and whether the term was used before he did
De re publica (Latin: On the commonwealth, see below) is a dialogue on Roman politics by Cicero, written in six books between 54 and 51 BC. It is written in the format of a Socratic dialogue in which Scipio Africanus Minor (who had died a few decades before Cicero was born, several centuries after Socrates' death) takes the role of a wise old man -- an obligatory part for the genre. Cicero's treatise was politically controversial: by choosing the format of a philosophical dialogue he avoided naming his political adversaries directly. Cicero employed various speakers to raise differing opinions in an attempt to make it more difficult for these adversaries to take him to task on what he had written.


En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 05:13:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For instance this article doesn't quote any author prior to Cicero.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 05:15:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Mig:
What do you mean?
I am obviously not a Classical scholar and have not read original sources in Latin or Greek. One of the cheif differences between Greek and Roman ideas of governance was that the Greeks were long bound, (by choice or cultural preference), by the concept of the polis as the practical unit of governance, while the Romans devised a way to incorporate a much broader area into a single quasi-elected form of governance. That probably gave Rome military advantage.

Regardless,

Roman authors would also use the word res publica in the sense of the era when Rome was governed as a republic, that is the era between the Roman Kingdom and the Roman Empire. So in this case res publica does distinctly not refer to the Roman Empire, but to what is generally described as the Roman Republic.
It is to that I referred. The point being that the form, the name and the theory of republics was from classical antiquity. My focus was on the history of the concept rather than the etymology of the word. But citing the mis-translation of Plato's work was misleading and anachronistic.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 12:23:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I quote Wolin on republicanism in this post. The citations you give yourself make clear that "republic" isn't a fundamental political category. How old the term is or where it comes from doesn't really matter: what matters is what competing concepts there are, and which are more coherent. Aristotle's six political forms that you list are coherent; republic isn't.

Plato's Republic was a kind of aristocracy, and republicanism is an attempt to put a positive spin on oligarchy. It is rule by the few attempting to claim the legitimacy of rule by the many.

As for the idea of "mixed government", according to Wolin, America is a republic in the sense that there is a continuing unresolved conflict of interest between the many and the few. The way that inverted totalitarianism deals with this conflict of interest is through managed democracy.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 11:57:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
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? -- S.S. Wolin
Well, we know the US is The Best Democracy Money Can Buy...

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 31st, 2010 at 04:14:53 PM EST
Soon coming to a European continent near you...
by Bernard on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 08:45:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Soon coming to Now on sale at a European continent near you...

There, fixed it for you.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Feb 1st, 2010 at 09:40:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the US Government is now on sale everywhere in the world.  Don't complain about it--buy it!  

(Just remember, you must do it through your >50%-owned US subsidiary.)

My knowledge of history is sketchy, but it seems to me that when empires reach this stage, it is near the end.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Wed Feb 3rd, 2010 at 01:20:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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