Hidden in Plain Sight

The paragraphs included below come from the introduction of the Trilateral Commissions Task Force Report no. 8, titled The Crisis of Democracy, published in 1975 by the Trilateral Commission and New York University Press. According to the Trilateral Commission web page, where I obtained the text, the report is out of print.

The authors of report are Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington, and Joji Watanuki, each from a domain in the theory of trilateralism, which holds that Europe, the US, and Japan are each the centers of spheres of capitalism. At the time, Michel Crozier was found and director of the Centre de Sociologie des Organisations, Paris and senior research director of the Centre Nationale de Recherche Scientifique; Samuel P. Huntington was Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government, Harvard University and associate director for the Center for International Affairs, Harvard University; and Joji Watanuki, was a sociology professor at Sophia University, Tokyo.

Three paragraphs are quite important as they identify what the Trilateral Commission, a organization of global elites dedicated to shaping world evolution to their advantage (privilege and wealth needs), believed represented the three greatest threats to democracy. I will summarize the three threats here and then leave you to read the excerpt.

The first threat to democracy were those intellecuals who existed outside the circle of power, as they were critical of that charmed circle and the structural basis for it – in other words, those intellectuals who were advancing another vision of democracy, one not based on state monopoly capitalism and bourgeois democracy (limited republicanism), but one based on popular democracy, which required a different type of economic organization, one in which the workers and their organizations and representatives ran things instead of the capitalists and their managers. In other words, a framework in which the economy was subject to democratic control, not the other way around.

The second threat to democracy were those young Americans who were, because of lives lived largely deviant of and even in rebellion to the goals of the capitalist state, were dangerously less than optimally patriotic. Here the authors were identifying the countercultural movement of the 1960s and early 1970s.

The third threat was democracy itself. Democracy cannot be the framework in which life happens, according to the point of view of elites, because it leads to people believing that they actually control their own lives. Democracy has to be ultimately controlled by an outside force – the economic and military sectors of advanced civilization – in order to avoid self-destruction, i.e., socialism. To clarify, trialterialists see order as a tripartite structure, a balance of military, economic, and government forces. The economy and military are not controlled democratically, but rather keep democracy in check. This is a fundamentally authoritarian construction, which is, of course, why the democratic movement of the 1960s was so threatening to the power elite.

As you read through these carefully constructed paragraphs, crafted mainly by Huntington (a judgment based on familiarity with these author’s respective work), pay close attention to the actual meaning of the argument. The authors are arguing that the greatest threat to bourgeois democracy are those democrats, both intellectuals and workers, who believe that democracy ought to actually fulfill its promise along the lines of C. Wright Mills’ definition of democracy offered in the Sociological Imagination: “Democracy means the power and the freedom of those controlled by the law to change the law, according to agreed-upon rules — and even to change those rules; but more than that, it means some kind of collective self-control over the structural mechanics of history itself.” He summed his views up later in this fashion: “In essence, democracy implies that those vitally affected by any decision men make have an effective voice in that decision.”

Now, without further ado, I give you the Trilaterialists….

At the present time, a significant challenge comes from the intellectuals and related groups who assert their disgust with the corruption, materialism, and inefficiency of democracy and with the subservience of democratic government to “monopoly capitalism.” The development of an “adversary culture” among intellectuals has affected students, scholars, and the media. Intellectuals are, as Schumpeter put it, “people who wield the power of the spoken and the written word, and one of the touches that distinguish them from other people who do the same is the absence of direct responsibility for practical affairs,”3 In some measure, the advanced industrial societies have spawned a stratum of value-oriented intellectuals who often devote themselves to the derogation of leadership, the challenging of authority, and the unmasking and delegitimation of established institutions, their behavior contrasting with that of the also increasing numbers of technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals. In an age of widespread secondary school and university education, the pervasiveness of the mass media, and the displacement of manual labor by clerical and professional employees, this development constitutes a challenge to democratic government which is, potentially at least, as serious as those posed in the past by the aristocratic cliques, fascist movements, and communist parties.

In addition to the emergence of the adversary intellectuals and their culture, a parallel and possibly related trend affecting the viability of democracy concerns broader changes in social values. In all three Trilateral regions, a shift in values is taking place away from the materialistic work-oriented, public-spirited values toward those which stress private satisfaction, leisure, and the need for “belonging and intellectual and esthetic self-fulfillment.”4 These values are, of course, most notable in the younger generation. They often coexist with greater skepticism towards political leaders and institutions and with greater alienation from the political processes. They tend to be privatistic in their impact and import. The rise of this syndrome of values, is presumably related to the relative affluence in which most groups in the Trilateral societies came to share during the economic expansion of the 1960s. The new values may not survive recession and resource shortages. But if they do, they pose an additional new problem for democratic government in terms of its ability to mobilize its citizens for the achievement of social and political goals and to impose discipline and sacrifice upon its citizens in order to achieve those goals.

Finally, and perhaps most seriously, there are the intrinsic challenges to the viability of democratic government which grow directly out of the functioning of democracy. Democratic government does not necessarily function in a self-sustaining or self-correcting equilibrium fashion. It may instead function so as to give rise to forces and tendencies which, if unchecked by some outside agency, will eventually lead to the undermining of democracy.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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