Decline of the American Empire

Nothing is more dangerous in public affairs than the influence of private interests, and the abuse of the law by the government is a lesser evil than that corruption of the legislator which inevitably results from the pursuit of private interests. When this happens, the state is corrupted in its very substance and no reform is possible

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Growth of Private Influence in Washington

One of the articles I linked to in the previous post is worth some further discussion:

The title of the article is "Welcome to the Machine: How the GOP disciplined K Street and made Bush supreme". At first glance, it looks like a bit of a tiresome read about the type of internal Washington politics that most of us never think about. But if one perseveres in reading it all, one will get a realistic picture of the unprecedented corrosive corruption in Washington brought on by the Republican party (and to a far lesser extent by the Democratic party).

It may seem hopelessly idealistic, but when many of us think of the American political system, we imagine that politicians make decisions for the good of society as a whole. Those politicians may take input from private interests such as corporations, but in they end, the laws they make should serve the public interest. If a private group or corporation secretly funnels money to a politician to cause that politician to vote for laws that are not in the public interest, then we might consider that bribery, subject to criminal prosecution.

We all know that isn't quite how it works in Washington. Members of congress regularly receive compensation from private interests, and they are not usually punished for it. However, the type of corruption hinted at in the article goes beyond mere bribery. What we are currently seeing in Washington is a merging of government and private interests into a larger entity. Government officials and politicians increasingly serve private interests, and the private interests increasingly serve the government. Often, government officials have a limited hand in creating policy. For example:

While environmental groups complained loudly about being excluded from meetings of Dick Cheney's energy task force, Bush's own energy secretary, Spencer Abraham, was barely involved. As Public Citizen pointed out in a February 2003 letter to Congress, Joseph Kelliher, a senior advisor to Abraham and his point man on the task force, didn't write white papers or propose ideas of his own, but merely solicited suggestions from a cross-section of energy lobbyists and passed them on to the White House, where they were added to the task force's recommendations nearly verbatim. Top administration officials then handed the package down to the House, where it was approved almost unaltered.


It seems likely that the creation of legislation is increasingly being privatized. If private interests, and not elected lawmakers are main forces behind legislation, how can America be a democracy?

Monday, August 14, 2006

American Corruption: Another Quote from Rousseau

I believe the following quote is also quite relevant to today's political situation.
Nothing is more dangerous in public affairs than the influence of private interests, and the abuse of the law by the government is a lesser evil than that corruption of the legislator which inevitably results from the pursuit of private interests. When this happens, the state is corrupted in its very substance and no reform is possible
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "The Social Contract" (1762), book 3, chapter 4,

While considering this quote, think about the lobbyist culture in Washington. Think about the influence of the oil industry on government. Think about the "Military Industrial Congressional Complex" that Eisenhower warned America about. These examples, and the primacy of their influence on government indicate to me that what Rousseau warned us about here has already happened in America.

Is America corrupted in its very substance such that no reform is possible?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Public Good: A quote from Jean-Jacques Rousseau

This is a quote from Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "The Social Contract", Book IV:
However, when the social tie begins to slacken and the state to weaken, when particular interests begin to make themselves felt and sectional societies begin to exert an influence over the greater society, the common interest becomes corrupted and meets opposition; voting is no longer unanimous; the general will is no longer the will of all; contradictions and disputes arise; and even the best opinion is not allowed to prevail unchallenged.

In the end, when the state, on the brink of ruin, can maintain itself only in an empty and illusory form, when the social bond is broken in every heart, when the meanest interest impudently flaunts the sacred name of the public good, then the general will is silenced: everyone, animated by secret motives, ceases to speak as a citizen any more than as if the state had never existed; and the people enacts in the guise of laws iniquitous decrees which have private interests as their only end.
This was written in 1762 by someone whose writing was a central inspiration to those who founded the American republic. And it is also an excellent description of American politics today.