Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Elite Governance at the Crossroads?

The London Review of Books featured an oddly repellent review of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. Ultimately, this review was a backhanded slap at democratic populism and an apologetic for the future of humanity in the hands of a ruling elite. You'll have to read the whole thing in order to see for yourself. Two excerpts from the review galvanized my attention, first this thumbnail sketch of warsocialist praxis;
what, if anything, makes the Bush administration uniquely odious?

Her answer is that the Bush administration draws its political support not from America’s corporate class generally, but rather from a particular part of it: ‘the sprawling disaster capitalism complex’. She has in mind the companies that reap huge profits from catastrophes, both man-made and natural. They include defence contractors, arms dealers, high-tech security firms, the oil and gas sectors, construction companies, private healthcare firms and so on. Not exactly ambulance-chasers, they are driving the ambulances themselves – for a profit. For the most part, they capitalise on emergencies rather than deliberately bringing them about. But the distinction is not always so clear: the stock price of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defence contractor, almost tripled between 2003 and 2007 after a former vice president at the firm chaired a committee agitating for war with Iraq. The Iraq war was also ‘the single most profitable event’ in the history of Halliburton, whose former CEO, who still retains stock options, is Dick Cheney.

Klein is outraged by the rapacity of corporations that see ‘exciting market opportunities’, rather than human suffering, in wars, hurricanes, epidemics and other disasters.
Second, this downright Cobbian assertion that benevolent elites are the only barrier against populist and democratic expression of xenophobia;
Anti-immigrant xenophobia, hostile as it is to the free-market model that she, too, opposes, is never mentioned as a genuine expression of democratic populism. Wasn’t there majority white support for the dispossession of New Orleans’ black community after Katrina? And wasn’t there majority Russian support for Putin’s wars in Chechnya? Isn’t the ordinary citizen’s fear and hatred of otherness as malicious a force as the corporate profiteer’s insatiable greed?[...]
This hope that ordinary people will ‘at last’ take control of large historical processes may explain, by backward reasoning, why Klein assumes that such processes are now tightly controlled by a predatory elite adhering to a sinister doctrine. If that were the case, then refuting ‘the shock doctrine’ would be a first step towards wresting control of world history from the corporate masters. Unfortunately, the developments she so tellingly describes, such as the proliferation of barricades and other techniques for managing class conflict, have deeper and more impersonal roots than greed and ideology. Current trends may be stymied or reversed, but, if this happens, Klein’s admirable aspirations for democracy and justice are not very likely to play much of a role.
Holmes has set up an interesting juxtiposition in this review of The Shock Doctrine. I find it more illustrative of the extent to which governance narratives have been undermined by the rapacious incompetence of the current administration, i.e., all faith in judicious rule by elites has been undermined, and to the extent that a truly chaotic tipping point may have already been reached.