The first chapter of Sheldon Wolin's Democracy, Inc. is available online. Good account of Wolin's lifelong commitment to participatory democracy at Wikipedia. In his current book Wolin argues that we now live in a Superpower formed by the synergistic fusion of global corporations bent on expanding into new markets, a radical/conservative political leadership bent on expansive political power (empire), and, of course the military. He shows how technocratic elites are produced and authenticated, becoming a cloistered group apart, governing by hierarchies, deception, myth-making, force, and by keeping the demos (rabble, that would be us) in a cultural war with one another over identity issues and "values," divorced from economic self interest. Wolin, essentially, underscores the rise of what we call Wealth Bondage, what C. A. Fitts calls, the Tapeworm, and what John Perkins calls, "the corporatocracy." We are all driven to invent these new terms because the fusion of business and government for private ends masquerading as public ends is new, and very dangerous to democracy, world peace, the environment, and, it increasingly appears, our survival.
Wolin, remembering the 60's, when he was leader of the free speech movement at Berkeley, holds out for a democratic revival outside the established two-party (or as he says 1.5 party) political system. Oddly, while he mentions protest and teach-ins, he does not mention the web (other than in a nod towards Moveon.org). In tracing the history of the demos (as opposed to that of various aristocratic or meritocractic governing elites), Wolin speaks of periodic outbreaks of "fugitive democracy," ignited by events that impinge on the world as lived by ordinary people. The draft in the Vietnam war was an example. Perhaps, rising food and gas prices, with rising health care costs, coupled with rising debt service on adjustable mortgages, and reduced bankruptcy protection, a falling stock market, an ominously locked up bond market, and more precarious job prospects may prove the next trigger. Efforts will be made by those in charge to turn us against one another, Red versus Blue, secular versus religious, feminist versus traditionalist, etc. But increasingly, progressives, true conservatives, libertarians, and ordinary upset people will find themselves making common cause to bring our handlers out into the light of common day, to answer for their machinations, gone so dreadfully awry, as every bill payer knows.
Wolin pays attention to the role of elites in America's political history, that of a Republic with elected representatives, rather than direct democracy. He, as professor emeritus at Princeton, understands how elites are made, and of what materials, and to what tolerances. He is not hostile to such elites, more like jaundiced, unimpressed. He asks where a counter-elite, an elite outside Wealth Bondage, or Superpower, or might be found. Interesting for our purposes at Gifthub, he locates such a potential power center in Nongovernmental, or as we say in the US, Nonprofit, organizations. Looking at the nonprofit sector as a source of political power (outside and offsetting Superpower) is quite different from the view we hear so often from Philanthrocapitalists, that the nonprofit sector is really just a businesses sector gone terribly wrong. Wolin suggests that Superpower loves consumers, investors, technocrats, but not citizens per se. With citizenship it is at tacit war, since an active citizenry might turn the world of established power upside down.
With Wolin, my hope is that the nonprofit sector, and even philanthropy, will prove the vanguard of a democratic revival, one that brings contrition, if you will, to the hearts of those who would rule, in the Platonic or Straussian fashion, by force, intimidation, collusion, hierarchy, and guile. As a Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families, I will do my bit to hasten their reform - if only I could gain access to their homes, places of business, or the safe spaces in which they conduct crimes, philanthropy, business. As it is, I find the acoustics in the Dumpster lend to my solitude a certain alienated majesty.