The U.S. is not a Democracy, It Never was

Share

Hits: 2658

One of the most steadfast beliefs regarding the United States is that it is a democracy. Whenever this conviction waivers slightly, it is almost always to point out detrimental exceptions to core American values or foundational principles. For instance, aspiring critics frequently bemoan a “loss of democracy” due to the election of clownish autocrats, draconian measures on the part of the state, the revelation of extraordinary malfeasance or corruption, deadly foreign interventions, or other such activities that are considered undemocratic exceptions. The same is true for those whose critical framework consists in always juxtaposing the actions of the U.S. government to its founding principles, highlighting the contradiction between the two and clearly placing hope in its potential resolution.

The problem, however, is that there is no contradiction or supposed loss of democracy because the United States simply never was one. This is a difficult reality for many people to confront, and they are likely more inclined to immediately dismiss such a claim as preposterous rather than take the time to scrutinize the material historical record in order to see for themselves. Such a dismissive reaction is due in large part to what is perhaps the most successful public relations campaign in modern history. What will be seen, however, if this record is soberly and methodically inspected, is that a country founded on elite, colonial rule based on the power of wealth—a plutocratic colonial oligarchy, in short—has succeeded not only in buying the label of “democracy” to market itself to the masses, but in having its citizenry, and many others, so socially and psychologically invested in its nationalist origin myth that they refuse to hear lucid and well-documented arguments to the contrary.

To begin to peel the scales from our eyes, let us outline in the restricted space of this article, five patent reasons why the United States has never been a democracy (a more sustained and developed argument is available in my book, Counter-History of the Present). To begin with, British colonial expansion into the Americas did not occur in the name of the freedom and equality of the general population, or the conferral of power to the people. Those who settled on the shores of the “new world,” with few exceptions, did not respect the fact that it was a very old world indeed, and that a vast indigenous population had been living there for centuries. As soon as Columbus set foot, Europeans began robbing, enslaving and killing the native inhabitants. The trans-Atlantic slave trade commenced almost immediately thereafter, adding a countless number of Africans to the ongoing genocidal assault against the indigenous population. Moreover, it is estimated that over half of the colonists who came to North America from Europe during the colonial period were poor indentured servants, and women were generally trapped in roles of domestic servitude. Rather than the land of the free and equal, then, European colonial expansion to the Americas imposed a land of the colonizer and the colonized, the master and the slave, the rich and the poor, the free and the un-free. The former constituted, moreover, an infinitesimally small minority of the population, whereas the overwhelming majority, meaning “the people,” was subjected to death, slavery, servitude, and unremitting socio-economic oppression.

Second, when the elite colonial ruling class decided to sever ties from their homeland and establish an independent state for themselves, they did not found it as a democracy. On the contrary, they were fervently and explicitly opposed to democracy, like the vast majority of European Enlightenment thinkers. They understood it to be a dangerous and chaotic form of uneducated mob rule. For the so-called “founding fathers,” the masses were not only incapable of ruling, but they were considered a threat to the hierarchical social structures purportedly necessary for good governance. In the words of John Adams, to take but one telling example, if the majority were given real power, they would redistribute wealth and dissolve the “subordination” so necessary for politics. When the eminent members of the landowning class met in 1787 to draw up a constitution, they regularly insisted in their debates on the need to establish a republic that kept at bay vile democracy, which was judged worse than “the filth of the common sewers” by the pro-Federalist editor William Cobbett. The new constitution provided for popular elections only in the House of Representatives, but in most states the right to vote was based on being a property owner, and women, the indigenous and slaves—meaning the overwhelming majority of the population—were simply excluded from the franchise. Senators were elected by state legislators, the President by electors chosen by the state legislators, and the Supreme Court was appointed by the President. It is in this context that Patrick Henry flatly proclaimed the most lucid of judgments: “it is not a democracy.” George Mason further clarified the situation by describing the newly independent country as “a despotic aristocracy.”

When the American republic slowly came to be relabeled as a “democracy,” there were no significant institutional modifications to justify the change in name. In other words, and this is the third point, the use of the term “democracy” to refer to an oligarchic republic simply meant that a different word was being used to describe the same basic phenomenon. This began around the time of “Indian killer” Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign in the 1830s. Presenting himself as a ‘democrat,’ he put forth an image of himself as an average man of the people who was going to put a halt to the long reign of patricians from Virginia and Massachusetts. Slowly but surely, the term “democracy” came to be used as a public relations term to re-brand a plutocratic oligarchy as an electoral regime that serves the interest of the people or demos. Meanwhile, the American holocaust continued unabated, along with chattel slavery, colonial expansion and top-down class warfare.

In spite of certain minor changes over time, the U.S. republic has doggedly preserved its oligarchic structure, and this is readily apparent in the two major selling points of its contemporary “democratic” publicity campaign. The Establishment and its propagandists regularly insist that a structural aristocracy is a “democracy” because the latter is defined by the guarantee of certain fundamental rights (legal definition) and the holding of regular elections (procedural definition). This is, of course, a purely formal, abstract and largely negative understanding of democracy, which says nothing whatsoever about people having real, sustained power over the governing of their lives. However, even this hollow definition dissimulates the extent to which, to begin with, the supposed equality before the law in the United States presupposes an inequality before the law by excluding major sectors of the population: those judged not to have the right to rights, and those considered to have lost their right to rights (Native Americans, African-Americans and women for most of the country’s history, and still today in certain aspects, as well as immigrants, “criminals,” minors, the “clinically insane,” political dissidents, and so forth). Regarding elections, they are run in the United States as long, multi-million dollar advertising campaigns in which the candidates and issues are pre-selected by the corporate and party elite. The general population, the majority of whom do not have the right to vote or decide not to exercise it, are given the “choice”—overseen by an undemocratic electoral college and embedded in a non-proportional representation scheme—regarding which member of the aristocratic elite they would like to have rule over and oppress them for the next four years. “Multivariate analysis indicates,” according to an important recent study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination […], but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy.”

To take but a final example of the myriad ways in which the U.S. is not, and has never been, a democracy, it is worth highlighting its consistent assault on movements of people power. Since WWII, it has endeavored to overthrow some 50 foreign governments, most of which were democratically elected. It has also, according the meticulous calculations by William Blum in America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, grossly interfered in the elections of at least 30 countries, attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders, dropped bombs on more than 30 countries, and attempted to suppress populist movements in 20 countries. The record on the home front is just as brutal. To take but one significant parallel example, there is ample evidence that the FBI has been invested in a covert war against democracy. Beginning at least in the 1960s, and likely continuing up to the present, the Bureau “extended its earlier clandestine operations against the Communist party, committing its resources to undermining the Puerto Rico independence movement, the Socialist Workers party, the civil rights movement, Black nationalist movements, the Ku Klux Klan, segments of the peace movement, the student movement, and the ‘New Left’ in general” (Cointelpro: The FBI’s Secret War on Political Freedom, p. 22-23). Consider, for instance, Judi Bari’s summary of its assault on the Socialist Workers Party: “From 1943-63, the federal civil rights case Socialist Workers Party v. Attorney General documents decades of illegal FBI break-ins and 10 million pages of surveillance records. The FBI paid an estimated 1,600 informants $1,680,592 and used 20,000 days of wiretaps to undermine legitimate political organizing.” In the case of the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (AIM)—which were both important attempts to mobilize people power to dismantle the structural oppression of white supremacy and top-down class warfare—the FBI not only infiltrated them and launched hideous smear and destabilization campaigns against them, but they assassinated 27 Black Panthers and 69 members of AIM (and subjected countless others to the slow death of incarceration). If it be abroad or on the home front, the American secret police has been extremely proactive in beating down the movements of people rising up, thereby protecting and preserving the main pillars of white supremacist, capitalist aristocracy.

Rather than blindly believing in a golden age of democracy in order to remain at all costs within the gilded cage of an ideology produced specifically for us by the well-paid spin-doctors of a plutocratic oligarchy, we should unlock the gates of history and meticulously scrutinize the founding and evolution of the American imperial republic. This will not only allow us to take leave of its jingoist and self-congratulatory origin myths, but it will also provide us with the opportunity to resuscitate and reactivate so much of what they have sought to obliterate. In particular, there is a radical America just below the surface of these nationalist narratives, an America in which the population autonomously organizes itself in indigenous and ecological activism, black radical resistance, anti-capitalist mobilization, anti-patriarchal struggles, and so forth. It is this America that the corporate republic has sought to eradicate, while simultaneously investing in an expansive public relations campaign to cover over its crimes with the fig leaf of “democracy” (which has sometimes required integrating a few token individuals, who appear to be from below, into the elite ruling class in order to perpetuate the all-powerful myth of meritocracy). If we are astute and perspicacious enough to recognize that the U.S. is undemocratic today, let us not be so indolent or ill-informed that we let ourselves be lulled to sleep by lullabies praising its halcyon past. Indeed, if the United States is not a democracy today, it is in large part due to the fact that it never was one. Far from being a pessimistic conclusion, however, it is precisely by cracking open the hard shell of ideological encasement that we can tap into the radical forces that have been suppressed by it. These forces—not those that have been deployed to destroy them—should be the ultimate source of our pride in the power of the people.


Originally published on 2017-12-13

About the author: Gabriel Rockhill is a Franco-American philosopher and cultural critic. He is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Villanova University and founding Director of the Atelier de Théorie Critique at the Sorbonne. His books include Counter-History of the Present: Untimely Interrogations into Globalization, Technology, Democracy (2017), Interventions in Contemporary Thought: History, Politics, Aesthetics (2016), Radical History & the Politics of Art (2014) and Logique de l’histoire (2010). In addition to his scholarly work, he has been actively engaged in extra-academic activities in the art and activist worlds, as well as a regular contributor to public intellectual debate. Follow on twitter: @GabrielRockhill

Source: Counter Punch

Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!

Donate to Support Us

We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.

[wpedon id=”4696″ align=”left”]

READ MORE!
The “Non-Citizens” of the Baltic States: Α European Scandal Nobody Speaks about!
The negotiations on Brexit are attracting a lot of attention. In particular, the possible erosion of the rights of around three million EU-27 citizens living in Britain is a major cause for concern.The European Parliament resolution adopted on 3 October states that “the withdrawal agreement must incorporate the full set of rights citizens currently enjoy, such that there is no material change in their position”.The main author of this text, Mr Guy Verhofstadt, the EP Brexit Coordinator, argues that such an approach – not to lower the level of citizens’ rights – is “the goal of democracy”. But why was ...
READ MORE
French Documentary Exposes Ukraine’s Far-Right: “Ukraine – The Masks of the Revolution”
The activities of aggressive nationalist and neo-Nazi armed movements in present-day Ukraine are the focal point of Moreira’s documentary.  Their existence is not denied by any of his leading critics in France — even as they try to find excuses to justify their actions. On Wednesday, 3 February, as I was about to start assembling this article on the very important documentary about the Maidan broadcast by the French independent television channel Canal + on Monday evening, 1 February, I was headed off by breaking news on Russia Insider, carrying links to the first half of the documentary in English voice-over ...
READ MORE
Lincoln Ordered the Greatest Mass Hanging in America’s History
Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement! Donate to Support Us We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations. [wpedon id="4696" align="left"]
READ MORE
U.S. Special Operations Forces Deploy to 138 Nations, 70% of the World’s Countries
They could be found on the outskirts of Sirte, Libya, supporting local militia fighters, and in Mukalla, Yemen, backing troops from the United Arab Emirates.  At Saakow, a remote outpost in southern Somalia, they assisted local commandos in killing several members of the terror group al-Shabab.  Around the cities of Jarabulus and Al-Rai in northern Syria, they partnered with both Turkish soldiers and Syrian militias, while also embedding with Kurdish YPG fighters and the Syrian Democratic Forces.  Across the border in Iraq, still others joined the fight to liberate the city of Mosul.  And in Afghanistan, they assisted indigenous forces in various missions, just as they have ...
READ MORE
Serbs Survive in Ghettos in the Heart of Europe: The “Republic of Kosovo”, a Criminal Entity
After 19 years since a part of the international community, under the auspices of NATO and the US, took control over the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija, following two ethnic pogroms of the Serbs and non-Albanians occurred in 1999 and in 2004, which resulted in ethnic cleansing of around 250 000 Serbs and other non Albanians, the rest of Serbian population still survive in ghettos across the territory of self-proclaimed independent Republic of Kosovo.Destroyed 14th-century Serbian Orthodox church Samodreža in Kosovo by Muslim Albanians in March 2004 The Self proclaimed Republic of Kosovo, as a creation of the USA/NATO joint ...
READ MORE
Remembering U.S. Soldiers who Refused to Kill Native Americans at Sand Creek
A scholar shares the true story of two men who stood up and spoke out against the murder of American Indians, and how they are celebrated today. Native American tribal members pay their respects at the headstone of Union Officer, Capt. Silas Soule, at the Riverside Cemetery Dec. 03, 2014 in honor of the 150th Anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre.Every Thanksgiving weekend for the past 17 years, Arapaho and Cheyenne youth lead a 180-mile relay from the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site to Denver.The annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run opens at the site of the Sand ...
READ MORE
Zoran Djindjic: The Quisling Of Belgrade
Tributes to Zoran Djindjic, the assassinated prime minister of Serbia, have been pouring in. President Bush led the way, praising his “strong leadership”, while the Canadian government’s spokesman extolled a “heralder of democracy” and Tony Blair spoke of the energy Djindjic had devoted to “reforming Serbia”. In western newspaper obituaries Djindjic has been almost universally acclaimed as an ex-student agititator who bravely led a popular uprising against a tyrannical dictator and endeavoured to steer his country into a new democratic era. But beyond the CNN version of world history, the career of Zoran Djindjic looks rather different. Those who rail against the ...
READ MORE
NATO adds to Turkey’s Chagrin
There has long been speculation about a Turkish good-bye to NATO.The U.S. and its military proxy organization in Europe are doing their best to further such a move:The image of Atatürk was displayed as a target during the drill at NATO’s Joint Warfare Center in Stavanger, Norway held between Nov. 8 and Nov. 17, while a NATO soldier posted defamatory words about Erdoğan on the social media.Atatürk is the founder of the secular Turkey. He was designated as "target" during a desk-top drill. NATO's Joint Warfare Center is not a low level school but an elite officer training institution led ...
READ MORE
Install “Madam President”
“Reform always provokes rage on the part of those who profit by the old order.”  Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.,  The Crisis of the Old Order Who are the anti-Trump protesters besmirching the name of progressives by pretending to be progresives and by refusing to accept the outcome of the presidential election?  They look like, and are acting worse than, the “white trash” that they are denouncing. I think I know who they are. They are thugs for hire and are paid by the Oligarchy to delegitimize Trump’s presidency in the way that Washington and the German Marshall Fund paid students in Kiev to ...
READ MORE
September 11, 2001: The Crimes of War Committed “In the Name of 9/11″
The following text was presented at the International Conference on “9/11 Revisited – Seeking the Truth”, Perdana Global Peace Foundation (PGPF), Kuala Lumpur, November 2012IntroductionThe tragic events of September 11, 2001 constitute a fundamental landmark in American history, a decisive watershed, a breaking point.Millions of people have been misled regarding the causes and consequences of 9/11.September 11 2001 opens up an era of crisis, upheaval and militarization of American society. The post September 11, 2001 era is marked by the outright criminalization of the US State, including its judicial, foreign policy, national security and intelligence apparatus.9/11 marks the onslaught of ...
READ MORE
EuroMaidan Ukraine – (Selection of the Best Photos)
Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection, Public Domain & Pinterest.Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!Donate to Support UsWe would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.[wpedon id="4696" align="left"]SaveSaveSave
READ MORE
Israeli Historians’ New Study Claims 30-year Genocide against Anatolian Christians
The Christian population that had made up one fifth of the Ottoman Empire’s population was wiped out in waves of violence by successive Ottoman and Turkish republican governments that left Christians a tiny minority in Anatolia, two Israeli scholars have said in a new study.The controversy over the killings of the Armenian Christian minority living in Anatolia during the last days of the Ottoman Empire is already well known – while the majority of the scholarly community and many international states recognise the killings as genocide, Turkey accepts that killings took place but rejects they constituted a genocide.Israeli historians Benny ...
READ MORE
Why Israel is Blocking Access to its Archives
Israel is concealing vital records to prevent darkest periods in its history from coming to light, academics sayAl-Jazeera – 9 June 2016Israel is locking away millions of official documents to prevent the darkest episodes in its history from coming to light, civil rights activists and academics have warned as the country’s state archives move online.They claim government officials are concealing vital records needed for historical research, often in violation of Israeli law, in an effort to avoid damaging Israel’s image.The Israeli army has long claimed to be the “most moral” in the world.Accusations of increased secrecy come as Israel marks ...
READ MORE
Post-Maidan Ukrainian Anti-Semitism: Tragic “Blowback” Resulting from U.S. Interventionist Foreign Policy?
The foreign policy of the United States in the post-Cold War era, driven by a doctrine of Exceptionalism and managed by a neoconservative strategy, has been responsible for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Nato’s war on Libya in 2011 and the covert war waged in Syria using Islamist proxies. It was also at the root of its involvement in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Ukraine in 2014. But the geopolitical advantage intended in each enterprise has brought the proverbial blowback.The results are plain to see. Libya is now certifiably a failed state. Accompanying the destruction of ...
READ MORE
A Short History of Kosovo & Metochia (not approved by Noel Malcolm!)
Dechani monastery in Metochia - one of the most important shrines of Serbian Orthodox Church (14th century) The region of Kosovo & Metohija was a political center of mediaeval Serbia and makes the very essence of Serbian spiritual and cultural identity and statehood since the Middle Ages up today. The biggest and the most important number of Serbian Orthodox mediaeval monasteries and churches (for instance, Gračanica, Pećka Patrijaršija, Bogorodica Ljeviška and Visoki Dečani) are built exactly in Kosovo & Metohija and the headquarters of the Serbian Orthodox Church – Patriarchate established in 1346 was located (till 1766) in the city of ...
READ MORE
Kosovo: Hillary Clinton’s Legacy of Terror
Kosovo is Clinton Country: a 10-foot-high statue of Bill overlooks “Bill Clinton Boulevard” in the capital city of Pristina. Hillary is also memorialized in what has become the crime capital of Europe: right off the street named for her husband is a store named “Hillary,” featuring women’s clothing modeled after the putative Democratic party nominee for President. Pantsuits figure prominently. As Vice puts it: “While former President Bill Clinton has had a boulevard named after him, it’s without a doubt that his wife’s the real star out here.” Why is that?As Gail Sheehy pointed out in her biography of Hillary, ...
READ MORE
The US Military Bases Abroad are Disrupting the World Order
In years before 2014, the Afghan think tanks would opine that the US may wind down Afghanistan’s conflict through the end of this year, inferring that the goal of founding the nine large military bases across the country is almost accomplished. Many would delightfully say that Afghanistan is phasing into a new chapter with the flames of war quelled as the US government insisted on troop withdrawal.Entrenching military headquarters in strangers’ territories has no excuse or legal ground under any circumstances. The Afghan nation would cast aside objection to this permanent military foothold thanks in most part to the bitter ...
READ MORE
Difference between Iran and the USA
Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection, Public Domain & Pinterest.Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!Donate to Support UsWe would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.[wpedon id="4696" align="left"]SaveSave
READ MORE
US Imperialism Wages Permanent Warfare to Prevent its Inevitable Collapse
The US has always been a warfare state. However, the character of US imperialist warfare has changed dramatically. For over two centuries, the US regime’s purpose for war, whether on indigenous peoples, Black people, or nations all over the world, was to expand the productive forces of capitalist exploitation. War preceded the vast profits accumulated from chattel slavery, land grab, and resource extraction in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The foundation of white supremacy and capitalism allowed the US regime to consolidate its expansion despite episodes of periodic crisis. Recent events, alongside a steady fall in the rate of capitalist profit, indicate ...
READ MORE
ISIS is a US-Israeli Creation: Top Ten “Indications”
Makia Freeman is the editor of alternative news / independent media site The Freedom Articles and senior researcher at Tools For Freedom.com (FaceBook here), writing on many aspects of truth and freedom, from exposing aspects of the worldwide conspiracy to suggesting solutions for how humanity can create a new system of peace and abundance.ISIS is a US-Israeli creation, a fact as clear as the sky is blue. It’s a truth as black and white as the colors on their flag. For many alternative news readers, this may be patently obvious, but this article is written for the large majority of ...
READ MORE
The “Non-Citizens” of the Baltic States: Α European Scandal Nobody Speaks about!
French Documentary Exposes Ukraine’s Far-Right: “Ukraine – The Masks of the Revolution”
Lincoln Ordered the Greatest Mass Hanging in America’s History
U.S. Special Operations Forces Deploy to 138 Nations, 70% of the World’s Countries
Serbs Survive in Ghettos in the Heart of Europe: The “Republic of Kosovo”, a Criminal Entity
Remembering U.S. Soldiers who Refused to Kill Native Americans at Sand Creek
Zoran Djindjic: The Quisling Of Belgrade
NATO adds to Turkey’s Chagrin
Install “Madam President”
September 11, 2001: The Crimes of War Committed “In the Name of 9/11″
EuroMaidan Ukraine – (Selection of the Best Photos)
Israeli Historians’ New Study Claims 30-year Genocide against Anatolian Christians
Why Israel is Blocking Access to its Archives
Post-Maidan Ukrainian Anti-Semitism: Tragic “Blowback” Resulting from U.S. Interventionist Foreign Policy?
A Short History of Kosovo & Metochia (not approved by Noel Malcolm!)
Kosovo: Hillary Clinton’s Legacy of Terror
The US Military Bases Abroad are Disrupting the World Order
Difference between Iran and the USA
US Imperialism Wages Permanent Warfare to Prevent its Inevitable Collapse
ISIS is a US-Israeli Creation: Top Ten “Indications”
FOLLOW US ON OUR SOCIAL PLATFORMS
Share