"Money and power, in the service of money and power", has become the template upon which our human experience is built.
This is at once both obvious, and, in need of some clarification.
What is obvious today is that the multi-national corporations, and the politicians who serve them (along with the mainstream media, think-tanks and a host of unelected advisory and regulatory entities) together form the power structure that, virtually unopposed, shapes our lives.
It is further obvious that this corporatist structure is the source of the vast sums of money -- the enabling mechanism -- that now powers the policies and politics of our so-called democracy.
It should also be obvious that the corporatist ethos now dominates every almost facet of our society and culture.
And I hope its obvious that today's pay-for-play politics is, in reality, a self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing feedback loop, the negative outcomes of which we seem unable to escape.
Less clear, though, is how this situation came about, and what might be done to change it.
The history of mankind is the struggle for power -- the power to rule and to dominate -- by emperors and kings, and despots and tyrants. The great events of history have arisen out of this struggle, in which the initial chaos and upheaval later gave way to a productive equilibrium. But at all times, the same tectonic forces were building toward the next seismic shift.
More recently, as we began to imagine ourselves as civilized, having learned the lessons of distant history, we re-discovered the philosophies of the ancients. It is from them the liberal revolutions of the Enlightenment shaped the early traditions of democracy, and the notion of "consent of the governed".
And today, kings have been replaced by prime ministers, dictators by presidents. But the struggle for power remains, and our consent is now mostly manufactured. The great liberal traditions that infused our founding documents in North America are being rapidly swept away. The age-old desire to dominate still persists, and more than just natural resources are at stake -- after all, the minds and will of the people are the greatest prize, are they not?
This struggle for power simply reflects the tension that has always existed between the rich few and the poor many. It is a tension that is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
Between the polar opposites -- government for the benefit of the rich, and government for the benefit of the poor -- is the middle way with which we are most familiar, a liberal democracy supported by a strong middle class. However, as is increasingly clear from all manner of reports, the middle class in the US and Canada is under grave assault, and the gap between rich and poor is unprecedented.
In his book, Death of the Liberal Class, Chris Hedges describes how the central institutions of our liberal democracy have been co-opted as part of this assault on the middle class. This diminution of the moderating force between rich and poor has allowed the elites to retake much of the hard-won gains of the liberal revolutions.
The institutions that comprise the liberal class, and the strong middle class that sustains it, perform a very specific function in a liberal democracy, in that it provides a safety valve through which dissent and reform are possible. But when, as Hedges suggests, that safety valve is removed, discontent cannot be adequately expressed, and incremental reforms become impossible. In the absence of change mechanisms that offer even the faintest of hope for greater equality, radical social movements (as we are now seeing) can arise.
The dramatic shift away from liberal democracy in North America is generally attributed to the rise of right-wing forces inside the Republican Party in America and, more recently, the new Conservative Party in Canada. Whatever their individual goals and aspirations might be, the potent mix of neoliberal, neoconservative, corporatist and Christian Right ideologies has coalesced to serve very well the interests of the wealthy few over the needs of the many poor.
How has this been accomplished? By what sleight-of-hand has the great liberal revolution been rolled back? It is a continuing source of amazement that today the great mass of citizens have no idea how completely they are manipulated to endorse policies through the "democratic process" that are in direct opposition to their own best interests.