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Although he did not use the term and might be horrified to witness what it has become, Lewis F. Powell's legacy is today's copocracy, or the Devil's marriage between powerful corporate interests and all three branches of government. The intent of this article is to summarize Powell's role and its aftermath and then to close with a brief preview of a scheme necessary to undo his legacy short of a Second American Revolution.
The Tobacco Road Lawyer's Manifesto
Except for the defense industry, most industries had never recovered from FDR, whom it loathed worse than any foreign enemy, for he and the U.S. Supreme Court of his time couldn't be high jacked and his New Deal policies were put firmly in place. But the upholders of democracy were completely caught off-guard by what was to transpire.
It began with a wake-up call in 1971 to a moribund big business and to wealthy conservatives from a most unusual source. Lewis F. Powell was at the time a successful tobacco industry lawyer who specialized in securities laws and who had also been president of the American Bar Association. A staunch advocate of keeping government out of the affairs of business he had become alarmed over what he perceived to be a pervasive assault on the free enterprise system from the gamut of public institutions and the liberal elements of the public itself. Big business, he fretted, was taking the assault lying down.
So he wrote a memorandum, eventually dubbed Powell's "manifesto," to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce dated august 28, 1971 proposing that it lead a counterattack. Business, he wrote, was "ill-equipped to conduct guerrilla warfare with those who propagandize against the system, seeking insidiously and constantly to sabotage it" and "have shown little stomach for hard-nose contest with their critics" (all quotations are from his memo). He went on to lay out what amounted to a battle plan, apparently to help business conduct "guerilla warfare."
He suggested numerous strategies targeting four major American institutions: education, the media, the political arena, and the courts. The strategies were all very aggressive. A few on paper at least seem militant and even paranoid and Orwellian in nature, to wit: It is "a long road and not for the fainthearted." "There should be no hesitation to attack [those] who openly seek destruction of the system." "There must be "constant surveillance of textbooks" and "monitoring of national television networks." Does that read like it's coming right out of some Orwellian pages?
This ideologue and corporate lawyer would become just a few months after firing off his manifesto a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Just think of that, a person like Powell taking a seat on the bench of the land's highest (or is it the lowest?) court. The Senate had been derelict in vetting Powell during the confirmation hearings, and even Powell had acknowledged years later to his biographer that he did not expect to be confirmed because of his close links to business (that was certainly putting it mildly). Powell joined the Burger Court that had just a few years earlier succeeded the liberally oriented Warren Court. It had favored citizen over corporate rights and very possibly influenced Powell in criticizing the courts.
Powell's Plan to Blitz the Classroom and the Aftermath
Powell understood perfectly how shaping of the young mind could help sew the seeds for the reforms he advocated. He proposed several initiatives for blitzing classrooms even down to the secondary education level.
He believed that the college campus was the "single most dynamic source" of the attacks on free enterprise and had been for several years. He also blamed professors in the social science faculties "known to be unsympathetic to the enterprise system" who were shaping their young students' minds.
A "priority task for business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce," Powell believed, was to counter the "liberal" bias on campus with a multifaceted strategy that included these proposed initiatives: Establish prominent scholars in the social sciences who believe in the free enterprise system. Give incentives to induce these scholars to be as passionate and productive as liberal/leftist faculty members in publishing their scholarly writings. Create a "Speaker's Bureau" to deploy polished speakers who would "articulate the product of the scholars." Insist on "equal time on the college speaking circuit" for those speakers. Continuously evaluate the textbooks of social sciences in order to ensure a fair and factual balance. Correct the "most fundamental problem," that of the imbalance of many faculties." Parlay rapport with graduate schools of business into greater influence there in the "essential training of the executives of the future."
Powell didn't stop with higher education. He stooped into secondary education, although he didn't go into specifics: "Action programs, tailored to the high schools and similar to those mentioned [for higher education], should be considered." He proposed that the implementation of these programs be "a major program for local chambers of commerce," but that the "National Chamber" would retain responsibility for the "control and direction" of the programs. Ironically, the robber baron regime during their era of power had helped promote compulsory public education as a way to ensure less individualistic and more compliant workforces.
Big business and conservative intellectuals took Powell's proposal for blitzing classrooms and proceeded over the years to "incorporate" much of education. At the university level the takeover can be seen in curriculum content, in the teaching of classes, in the commercializing of faculty research, in soliciting partnerships with universities for war-related research, and even in the ownership of some universities. Ultraconservative corporate foundations alone reportedly give millions of dollars annually to influence political science, law, and economics departments at numerous universities. The corpocracy's heavy hand is greatest naturally in business schools where students are imbued with the free-enterprise spirit, myopically trained in financial management, and then graduate ready to do whatever is necessary to help corporations maximize short-term profits.
At secondary and primary levels the influence of the corpocracy and its think tanks is seen in the privatization of schools, in the profitable selling of standardized tests, in curriculum content, in sponsorships, in the piping in of sham educational broadcasts run by marketing corporations, and in school hallways lined with vending machines. To give one example of "Corporcracy High," the arch conservative and corporate funded Ayn Rand Institute uses high schools as a "major battleground" to advance the ideas of unfettered capitalism. It does so by giving hundreds of thousands of Rand's books to high school teachers and by sponsoring annual high school essay contests. I will never endorse book burning, but Rand's books tempt me! Instead of high school students being given a dose of Rand, democracy would be better served if they were given a heavier antidote of civics. Most flunk a miniature version of the test immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship must pass.
Powell's Plan to Blitz the Media and the Aftermath