Commercialism vs. Democracy

Walter Lippmann, in his 1914 review of American democracy, denounces in sneering tones the old U.S. bias of putting business on a pedestal:

The leading thought of our world has ceased to regard commercialism either as permanent or desirable, and the only real question among intelligent people is how business methods are to be altered, not whether they are to be altered. For no one, unafflicted with invincible ignorance, desires to preserve our economic system in its existing form.

The business man has stepped down from his shrine; he is no longer an oracle whose opinion on religion, science, and education is listened to dumbly as the valuable by-product of a paying business. [Drift and Mastery, xix.]

With one candidate for President trumpeting his appetite for self-enrichment at the expense of any other value and the other kneeling before Goldman Sachs, it is clear that American democracy still falls far short of the standards “among intelligent people.” That Sanders nearly won the Democratic nomination on the strength of anti-commercialism despite little name-recognition, little “charisma,” and the underhanded opposition of both virtually the whole body of mainstream media and his the Democratic Party elite offers some hope for the second century since Lippmann made his generous assessment.

That hope, unfortunately, needs qualification. As Lippmann himself cautioned:

The modern world is brain-splitting in its complexity, and if you succeed in disentangling from it some hopeful trend there is nothing more restful than to call it the solution of the problem [64].

The problem of removing the leach of unpatriotic, anti-social commercialism from the U.S. system of government is in truth so far from being solved that Bernie’s accomplishment really amounted only to communicating the nature of the problem to the general public…and finally finding the general public truly receptive.






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