Thursday, August 25, 2016

trilateral commission: crisis of democracy


chomsky |  The Trilateral Commission has issued one major book-length report, namely, The Crisis of Democracy (Michel Crozier, Samuel Huntington, and Joji Watanuki, 1975). Given the intimate connections between the Commission and the Carter Administration, the study is worth careful attention, as an indication of the thinking that may well lie behind its domestic policies, as well as the policies undertaken in other industrial democracies in the coming years.

The Commission’s report is concerned with the “governability of the democracies.” Its American author, Samuel Huntington, was former chairman of the Department of Government at Harvard, and a government adviser. He is well-known for his ideas on how to destroy the rural revolution in Vietnam. He wrote in Foreign Affairs (1968) that “In an absent-minded way the United States in Vietnam may well have stumbled upon the answer to ‘wars of national liberation.'” The answer is “forced-draft urbanization and modernization.” Explaining this concept, he observes that if direct application of military force in the countryside “takes place on such a massive scale as to produce a massive migration from countryside to city” then the “Maoist-inspired rural revolution may be “undercut by the American-sponsored urban revolution.” The Viet Cong, he wrote, is “a powerful force which cannot be dislodged from its constituency so long as the constituency continues to exist.” 

Thus “in the immediate future” peace must “be based on accommodation” particularly since the US is unwilling to undertake the “expensive, time consuming and frustrating task” of ensuring that the constituency of the Viet Cong no longer exists (he was wrong about that, as the Nixon-Kissinger programs of rural massacre were to show). “Accommodation” as conceived by Huntington is a process whereby the Viet Cong “degenerate into the protest of a declining rural minority” while the regime imposed by US force maintains power. A year later, when it appeared that “urbanization” by military force was not succeeding and it seemed that the United States might be compelled to enter into negotiations with the NLF [National Liberation Front] (which he recognized to be “the most powerful purely political national organization”), Huntington, in a paper delivered before the AID-supported Council on Vietnamese Studies which he had headed, proposed various measures of political trickery and manipulation that might be used to achieve the domination of the U.S.-imposed government, though the discussants felt rather pessimistic about the prospects….

In short, Huntington is well-qualified to discourse on the problems of democracy.

The report argues that what is needed in the industrial democracies “is a greater degree of moderation in democracy” to overcome the “excess of democracy” of the past decade. “The effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups.” This recommendation recalls the analysis of Third World problems put forth by other political thinkers of the same persuasion, for example, Ithiel Pool (then chairman of the Department of Political Science at MIT), who explained some years ago that in Vietnam, the Congo, and the Dominican Republic, “order depends on somehow compelling newly mobilized strata to return to a measure of passivity and defeatism… At least temporarily the maintenance of order requires a lowering of newly acquired aspirations and levels of political activity.” The Trilateral recommendations for the capitalist democracies are an application at home of the theories of “order” developed for subject societies of the Third World.