Commentary Magazine


The Politics of the Paper Economy

David T. Bazelon here completes his three-part series on our Paper Economy; parts I and II appeared in September and October respectively. The three articles together will form the core of Mr. Bazelon’s new book, which Random House will publish early next year under the title The Paper Economy.

 

From the early English colonial corporations through the period of railroad building and the growth of Standard Oil et al. to the present era of immense corporate enterprise, business activity has always tended to be a form of government. Business is the politics of production. But business is a fairly irresponsible form of government since ostensibly it is bound only by its own self-interest. Also, it is unfortunately authoritarian: we have two governments in the United States, only one of which is clearly subject to political action of the electorate.

Given our commitment to technology, this second non-democratic government is necessary. And it is not such a bad government, in the sense that it still works pretty well, and without undue reliance on police power. But from the point of view of the development of a viable democratic culture, it is a disaster. The second government governs mostly by denying its own existence—which requires immense ideological distortion—and by additional domination and perversion of the entire national culture, which it finances. It directly attacks and covertly undermines its weak sister, the official government, on a continuing basis. If the traditional state exists by virtue of a domestic monopoly of armed force, then our second form of government exists through the exercise of a monopoly of effective fabrication.

To the extent that we have achieved a rational organization of our economy, private government has been permitted to control most of the process. Organization is the heart of the problem of building the modern world and making it habitable. When science is applied in the world, as technology, it requires drastically new forms of social organization. The effective technology then leads to more people living longer—what the newspapers call the “population explosion”—which again requires a heightening of organization. The organization is more important than the paper representing it legally; the term for understanding an organization is hierarchical power, not ownership; exit the sway of property, insofar as property remains private.

The essence of organization is the new power it creates—power to accomplish the task which led to its establishment, and power over the individuals who make up the organization. But organizational power is not simple and does not rely much on direct physical force. Where, then, does the power of organizations come from? It is, simply and magically, made up of shared weakness. In organized life, no single individual is permitted to do anything or control anything which by itself would keep him alive. The power thus abdicated individually is agglomerated into a centralized fund—the organization. But then the problem becomes to avoid making the individual so weak that he can no longer manage to accomplish his iota of organizational work; indeed, there is even a danger that he might cease being a viable individual altogether. To forestall this is the function of morale or ideology: having been destroyed as a physical unit capable of self-accomplished survival, the individual is resuscitated by the firm assurance that in return for surrendering his power to it, the Organization will assume the obligation to keep him alive.

_____________

 

Anti-Planning

Organizations exist by virtue of planning. Planning is the essence of technology, if indeed there is any real difference between the two. It is simply effective thought and appropriate implementation on a grand scale (effective armies have always done it).

But “planning” is a dirty word in the United States of America. A “planned economy” is a standard term of abuse in our newspapers and other cultural institutions. The term is used not to refer to General Motors, the Department of Defense, the AEC, the NASA, or even the FRB or any of our major planning agencies. It is used to refer to: (1) any change in our system; (2) any recognition of what our system is; and (3) foreigners. Why this nastiness?

Planning is thinking: proposing one plan or another, differing as to objectives and techniques—all this will be recognized as part of thinking by anyone who has ever indulged. The anti-planners are anti-thinkers, or vice versa, because and to the extent that planning involves central, official, legal authority. For them, planning by non-federal financial, industrial, and even governmental units is either all right or is called by some other name, depending on the mood. But each time the slightest increase in federal planning activity takes place, it is seen as the beginning of the end. Mere mention of existing federal planning powers—especially in a conversational tone—is nerve-racking, in bad taste, and may ruin the whole day.

What the anti-planners really want is not that there should be no planning, but that planning should be carried out by and largely for the benefit of “private” financial and industrial institutions, not by the federal government or for the benefit of the general citizenry. But their problem is that separate institutional plans, in order to work effectively, need to be integrated on a national level. They have no solution to this problem beyond military spending. I imagine they are bothered by this very dangerous deficiency in the system they run, but they are not willing to reveal their concern in public.

In short, it is not a question, in the modern world, of planning or not planning. It is only a question of who does it, how well and how soon and for whom.

What is technology? It is just brains. We have reached a point in history where the noodle has finally come into its own: it now counts for more than force—indeed, effective force is now entirely dependent upon it.

The more recent wonders of technology are discussed currently under the heading of “automation.” This word today summons up visions of the push-button factory and consequent unemployment. In fact, if the term is even assumed to stand for no more than a part of the promise-and-threat of modern know-how and can-do, it portends a great deal more than that. Because unless the managers can figure out how to move the huge quantities of goods that automation will create, it will turn out to be as great a threat to them—and their system—as to the production workers. Automation is a non-stoppable process from raw material to consumer—it will not spend itself until society is nicely organized into one well-meshed, producing-consuming unit. Automation is not a new way of making money—quite the contrary, it is the best way of making goods. And it also carries forward irresistibly the managerial revolution and its instrument, the New Class, for, as Peter Drucker says, it “requires trained and educated people in unprecedented numbers.”

Automation, the new technology, strikes at the most vulnerable aspect of the Paper Economy—the preference for paper over things. And it also reveals another great structural weakness, the lack of organization among firms and sectors of industry on any but a primitive buy-sell basis, which makes price more important than product, and inventory the greatest danger to business-like behavior.

(A word about Russia: Automation is the Soviet Union’s secret weapon. Whatever may be wrong with that society, it does not have our problem of being unable to accept technology and its imperatives. The USSR is willing both to produce goods to its capacity and to train its people to carry out this production. That is power—the primary power of the modern age. The Communist party is not in business to make money.)

_____________

 

Our Depressing Capacity

If the automated future looks black under the aspect of the horrible blessings of technology, our currently under-used capacity is in itself quite gray enough to depress any reasonable citizen. Just how much underproduction we typically experience is arguable: during the 1960 campaign, the Democratic Advisory Council and Leon Keyserling pointed to a short-fall during 1952—59 of $175—200 billion of production, and the Republicans countered with statistical juggling and undignified arguments about “growthmanship.” But note the following points, which do not rely on freshly persuasive statistics: (1) the immense promise of unleashed technology is not in dispute; (2) we know what we did during World War II; (3) the meaning of our frequent recessions is only too obvious; and (4) the discrete instances of unemployment of men and machines are too numerous and too definite to be ignored or taken as exceptions.

The most obvious and widely discussed example is steel. Operations at 75 per cent are considered “normal,” and the steel industry would have been pleased most of the last few years to rise to this low level. The steel executives fight with great determination to “raise productivity”—they literally lust after all technical innovations. But to what avail? They replace existing facilities which have never been used to full capacity with new and better installations which also will never be used fully to make steel. What really motivates the steel executives is for their company—with which their lives are identified—to possess the best up-to-date factories and to be a well-run organization. They are not motivated to produce steel: that is inventory, and it can ruin you.

What is true of steel is true of many other industries. Also, steel is too “pure” an example—because you don’t reach the question of the purpose of the product. The steel that could be and is not produced could be and is not used by a lot of people, without getting into the what-for. A good “un-pure” example would be the automotive industry, which produces more cars than we need, and makes them to last not so long as we need them. For me, the following is a truly breath-taking statistic: in 1960 the American people junked 4,340,873 automobiles.

_____________

 

GM could make a great deal of almost anything we decided we needed or wanted—it has the capacity, roundly considered: it could, for example, make enough decent buses to carry our migrant farm workers to and from their various enslavements—and enough trucks to deliver our farm surplus to their dinner tables. It did, in fact, make half of the machine guns we used in the War.

The wonders of war—what Veblen called “this diligent pursuit of disaster.” World War II was our most important national experience—indeed, I would nominate it for the title of “most creative mass act in the history of the human race.” That was when industrial technology came into its own: immense purposive production, organized on a mass scale—and superbly accomplished, from the initial meeting of man and machine with matter to delivery of the product to the ultimate consumer. And no paper stood in the way, at any stage of the process, including the free delivery. Magnificent. And utterly mad.

Why is war so wonderful? Because it creates artificial demand (artificial within the terms of the Paper Economy), the only kind of artificial demand, moreover, that does not raise any political issues: war, and only war, solves the problem of inventory.

In the past, it was expected that the resources devoted to war would be recouped by plunder in the event of victory. It was a speculative business venture, financed by daring entrepreneurs, with the price of the goods to be collected after effective delivery. Modern war is no such rational thing. The goods are given away. Payment for them would ruin the recipient: vide, German reparations after World War I.

From 1940 through 1944, physical output increased 57 per cent. At the end of 1944, the navy had 46,000 ships, not counting little ones—32 times its 1939 size. In three wartime years, we produced 44 million tons of merchant shipping. From the middle of 1940 through 1943, $62 billion worth of war facilities were built. And 96,359 planes in 1944—16,048 of them heavy bombers. While all this was going on, production of consumer goods also increased—from $122 billion to $145 billion in the period 1940 to 1945. And there you have the amazing story, the most revealing one that can be told about this nation of ours, and its nutty economy.

We most urgently require two things—a higher order of organization, and a better running criticism of it. The first will inevitably come about because of the imperatives of technology, and it is desirable, given the benefits it will bring; but it will come about exclusively under military jurisdiction if the issue is not made active within the arena of domestic politics.

_____________

 

A New Criticism

As to our other great need, criticism, the grand principle is this: wherever there is power over people, the people under it are entitled to have a political relation to it. Everyone is concerned about the fate of the individual, his liberty and freedom, in a society of big organizations. The danger comes from power overwhelmingly larger and greater than the individual’s potential force of assertion. The whole justification for the historical institution of private property, as idealized by Jefferson et al., was to ensure the individual’s liberty vis-à-vis the state, because at that time it was thought that only the state—and perhaps the church—were great threatening powers. This suggests our most pressing intellectual need, namely, to identify existing power centers. It might be convenient if the individual were always threatened by the same enemy, but such is clearly not the case.

We must therefore train ourselves to identify the existing power centers throughout American society, and then periodically to review the exercise of these powers by the stewards thereof. You cannot prescribe for, you cannot even discuss freedom meaningfully, unless you first identify and analyze the locus of power. And how much is necessary. And how much of it can be made responsible—that is, responsive to something other than itself. There is nothing to be free from except arbitrary exercise of power by unwarranted power-concentrations.

We have no assurance that knowing the truth about the powers that dominate us will make us free, but it can certainly make us more noble in our degradation. And it may do much more than that. It may finally disgust us with the garish irresponsibility of our institutional elites—and lead us back to politics.

The beauty of the Simple Truth in these circumstances is that the individual does have the power to do something about it—namely, he can find out what it is and state it in a clear, loud voice. Jefferson told us to be vigilant, but there is no point in being vigilant about the 19th century. He suggested vigilance because there was in his time no automatic mechanism to ensure liberty. There still is none. Our modern vigilance can well begin with simple awareness of where the power is and what its nature is. The idea that power exists only in the state and is always bad there, and that either it does not exist in non-state institutions or is always good there (or both, since our business leaders are nothing if not intellectually greedy), is a calculated deceit, turns our vigilance into hysteria, and misdirects most of our political effort.

_____________

 

Liberty, Etc.

Liberty is something people want or else they don’t get it. And liberty is not the absence of power—either in oneself or in others. Liberty is a special kind of control over power. That is all liberty or freedom ever could have been—a kind of power over power.

This issue of freedom—or “the problem of the individual” in a mass organized society—is not dealt with adequately by reliance on that noble 18th-century opposition to central public government. The consequence of unduly limiting the role of government in a society like ours is that more and more of its functions get to be exercised by private centers of power, or inherited by the military. Big government, in fact, is required to make the corporate system work; and beyond that, to keep it decent. In this whole ancient anti-state attitude there is today hidden, but only half-hidden, a contempt for and disbelief in the forms of political democracy. Under this view, power in a government controlled by voters is more to be deplored than power in a corporate system which is not so controlled.

The problem of the individual should not be confused with the problem of the corporate system, because we have already made our commitment to the latter: the very size of the population is based on the technology the corporations administer. What is so puzzling about our situation is that, having made this great sacrifice, we do not insist on getting anything like the full benefit out of it. That benefit—meaning material security, an acceptable standard of living, and sufficient leisure—would in itself go a long way toward solving “the problem of the individual.”

The first step is to ensure that big industry produce all the goods it is capable of producing and that these be distributed to people who can use them—both here and abroad. This cannot be done without a more rational organization of the entire industrial setup, especially in its relation to governmental authority. Here, the more severe problem is our attitude toward the paper. It is our money/paper religion that is sapping our strength: we will have to put ourselves into the hands of the heretics, who will lead us out of the paper wilderness. This is not as painful as it sounds, once it is realized that we have it in our power to re-enter the Garden of Eden—if our full productive capacity were unleashed, there really would be enough to go around for everybody.

In America, don’t look for things to be called by their right names. Our conventional distinction between “private” and “public”—whether of property, power, or politics—is intellectually nothing but high comedy. In a society ruled under the proposition that money is more real than the things it buys, it would be expecting too much for the important powers, interests, and circumstances to travel the streets undisguised. But there is a serious danger in all this gay fabrication. Politics, for example: after a while, you don’t just fail to tell the truth (that’s an ordinary part of the game): you lose the capacity to recognize it (and that is an essential cultural failure).

_____________

 

Traditional Mindlessness

The worst part of this is the ideology of our advertising culture, paid for by business and inextricably wedded to the paper-happy giants. In a secular society, and especially this early existentialist version, ideology is necessary to rulership—as necessary as guns. Now, while it is quite true that the worst thing that has happened in this excessively secular century of ours has been the use of guns to enforce rigid ideology, the uses of ideology (and the means of enforcing it) are not to be understood solely by reference to this circumstance. In America, for example, our consumer-oriented groupism and accompanying ideological conformity go a considerable distance toward achieving effects similar to state-enforced ideology in Russia. What we have here seems to be something that might be called “voluntary totalitarianism.” (Freedom that people do not care to utilize is not really freedom: it is imperfect organization: certainly someone will come along and view it that way.) We are becoming so deeply ideologized that the issue of the necessity of guns has not had to be met.

Scholars have investigated and noted the gnarled historical roots of specific totalitarianisms. Well enough. But it can be argued that generic totalitarianism originates not in the past but in the future, in the technological future. What science has done—and clearly before we were ready for it—has been to transform traditional social existence into a permanent administered social revolution. The dynamic of this process is so imperative that guns are not a necessity, merely a convenience.

There is not much to say for big business from a cultural point of view. But one’s feeling about this, and also the animus generated by contemplating all the lost opportunities, should not lead one astray. Private government has created our productive society, with public government as a decidedly junior partner. If the corporate and financial powers had been legitimate, if we had known what they were doing to the traditional property system, we might very well not have allowed them to do it so effectively.

In any event, that is all in the past, and we have now gone about as far as we can with our frightening heritage of mindlessness. What happened was something like this: While the intellectuals and other ideologists on all sides were word-locked in the capitalist-socialist debate, the non-owning and non-theorizing managers were effecting the revolution which created our present system. This group was able to come to power and accomplish its task because the social mind was off somewhere else and didn’t notice them for what they were. Unfortunately, the managers thus came to be terribly dependent on this convenient mindlessness, which is why they try so hard to perpetuate it. But the system they created can no longer be run: (a) by themselves, without sharing power; and (b) mindlessly. There must be ideology: and it will be an increasingly awful one if our business rulers persist in their devotion to the early mindlessness to which, it is true, they owe a great deal.

The current collapse of traditional economic, legal, and political theory affords us the greatest possible opportunity to abandon our historic mindlessness. The fact that the concept of private property no longer explains anything of importance allows us without embarrassment to contemplate creatively the legal disorder encompassing the current disposition of material things; the unabashed failure of the image of free competitive markets returns to us one of the great issues of history in a pristine form—the grand quid pro quo of human exchange and relation; and the rediscovery of the existence and importance of private governments gives us a hungered-for chance to spell out a reasonably descriptive political theory.

I have used the term “politics” very broadly (out of necessity it must be redefined for the modern organized world) to refer to the relations among people in groups wherever there is an issue of power. Under this definition, activity can be political and politically significant even (especially?) when there are unwilling and unaware parties to it. To the extent that organized administration replaces received tradition in determining behavior, the term “political” replaces the term “social” or becomes equal to it. (More and more frequently in our world, tradition does not play its customary role but is merely another given element available for exploitation by one administration or another: traditions of all kinds are being chewed up in the maw of administration.)

_____________

 

Democracy in America

Those who do not believe our democracy is in decline rely on (or are victims of) the pervasive popular meaning of democracy—that is, the absence of obvious tyranny. What autocracy we have, and it is considerable, is so much a part of the system that it is no longer noticed; for the rest, substantial comfort is taken from the 22nd Amendment and its sparkling guarantee against monarchy. And behind these considerations lie the most convincing assurance of all: we must be a democracy since we obviously have no effective leadership.

Democracy has been understood in an absurdly negative fashion as non-rule by non-leaders. But just as freedom can no longer be conceived (much less preserved) as disorganization, so democracy itself is about finished under the definition of non-rule. Very simply, it makes dictatorship much too attractive, not to say inevitable. Modern society unled is a terrible danger to every member thereof.

Whenever anything happens politically in America, it happens first in the Executive, then in Congress, and when the change has already been effected politically, the deal is concluded by shaking the dead hand of the Judiciary. The key to this impossible system is the middle term, Congress: the proper job of the Judiciary is to formalize accomplished political facts, and slow or fast, it always finally gets down to business; and the Executive can initiate as it will, but always without real structural effect until it has carried the Congress, usually by the lowest possible means. The issue is that Congress of ours—and never more so than today.

While Congress has lost the power which it had in the 19th century to rule affirmatively, it is perhaps exercising the greatest power in its history these days in its role as non-ruler. The basic pattern of checks and balances in our system does not really operate between the different departments of government, but between the banks, the industrial leaders, and the official government when it is effective. Briefly, the present role of Congress is to represent business and financial interests, the non-governmental powers, and through this representation to hold down the power of the national executive.

In the public sphere, non-rule by non-leaders; in the private, autocratic baronies; and the effectiveness of public government sabotaged by mediocre personnel whose mediocrity is ensured by low salary levels. In truth, the dominance of private autocratic government is ensured by scores of such measures which have been incorporated into our political system. This internal subversion is the essence of our system, and there are three big props to it immediately visible: (1) the downgrading of all real political activity—“politics is dirty”; (2) the disastrously unrepresentative nature of our basic democratic instrumentality, the Congress; and (3) the lack of respectable class and elite leadership. Of these, the first is comic, the second is disgusting, and the third is tragic. The lack of respectable class and elite leadership is the important, truly shameful factor, the ultimate American tragedy.

Politics is dirty, Congress is undemocratic, our class leadership is inept. The Soviet confrontation is bringing on a great domestic crisis. Without a major creative effort by our elite groups this will become an undirected crisis, with consequent polarization (the cadres of the Right have already begun to form). And in the wings, the inevitable-unless: military dictatorship as the response to a series of international failures, and as an alternative to surrender.

Congress—especially the House of Representatives (which is a kicker, since the Senate, not the House, was intended to be the fraternity of old fuds)—is our most significantly reactionary institution. Which shows how far things have gotten out of hand. The backward quality of Congress is easily noticeable; so also are the reasons. It over-represents white farmers, hardly bothers with Southern Negroes at all, and makes a joke of affording fair representation to the 70 per cent of the population which is politically so misguided as to live in cities and suburbs. In a recent Congress, a Representative from San Diego had a constituency of over a million, while a fellow from a rural district in Michigan represented less than 200,000 people.

_____________

 

Yes, Leadership

But the quality of political activity and of the Congress is just a backdrop for—indeed, it is the result of—the quality of our class and elite leadership. These people—the rentiers always excepted—know how to do what they do, and they do it energetically. Considering how little tradition sustains them, the performance has a substantial amount of what we might as well go ahead and call dramatic magnificence. But as a cultural enterprise—a nation and a people relying on and utilizing a continuity of culture, class and otherwise—the United States is a farce and a failure: it never got off the ground.

Until immigration was stopped after World War I, we were in essence a frontier town—the greatest ever, to be sure—but hardly a nation: more a gang with a raw style for exploiting a continent, the elements of which style had been drawn together hastily (mostly for the benefit of farmers and conspicuous spenders) from polyglot European sources. The best that can be said for our current national culture is that there are a lot of things to eat, and a lot of distractions for the period when you are not eating them. This is the creation of big business, both the ingestibles and the distractions. It ought to be ashamed of itself.

Our leaders have misconceived their function: they are leading a great nation, not a couple of million guys-on-the-grab. The constituencies have been improperly identified. Also, to concentrate so much on money when there is no scarcity of the things money buys, is either: (1) incredibly piggish; (2) based on a disastrous misunderstanding of what money is; or (3) as I have argued, deeply derived from a historical backwardness which resists the finer meshing of our two spheres of government, the “public” and “private.”

Whatever its source, the cultural quality of our leaders has been a telling factor. Take General Eisenhower, for example: he seems really to have believed in what he called “fiscal integrity” (meaning an unwillingness to try very hard or disturb the paper system very much to achieve full production)—it was not just a slogan whispered in his ear by George Humphrey. That is why he bought Mr. Dulles’s policy of the “bigger bang for a buck.” But when you are all done with the story of the standstill foreign policy, the inept handling of recessions, and the golfing jokes—the main achievement of the eight Eisenhower years still stands out in shining relief: the New Deal was not repealed. This means that it never will be repealed without a convulsion bigger than an election. Rear-guarding, yes; old-style reaction, no. The true non-leader leads neither backward nor forward.

President Kennedy is not a born non-leader—he is the squirming victim of a system of non-leadership. Our current President is operating under the ideology of executive efficiency and shrewdness, with nothing much else to boost him along. If he fails, we will have then experienced the failure of the best, most important, most readily available executive elements in our society in a position and with the desire to use the power available to it.

President Kennedy has an almost unbelievably fortunate background of qualifications for an American leader. If anything, he is overqualified for the job, having inherited and been trained to an excess of political and other practical savvy. Indeed, he is so clear-headedly unprejudiced that he is rather difficult to understand. He obviously is not a believer in the rags and tatters of New Deal ideology which he uses carefully to get votes. He speaks most feelingly of “responsibility”—not Eisenhower’s fiscal responsibility, but some kind of social or at least executive responsibility. Anyway, he is shrewd: the historical point to be determined is whether he is shrewd enough. Or more profoundly, whether American society has already, sub rosa, achieved what it needs to achieve and now lacks only some vital shrewdness to bring it into the kind of existence which is apparent as well as real. Has the managerial revolution progressed to the point where a bunch of fast, shrewd managers can make the resulting social order work satisfactorily?

With this equipment, acting on a concept of leadership for which he was perhaps overtrained but which happens also to be the best such concept readily permitted by the system, how will Kennedy deal with the coming crisis? Is he capable of developing a liberal managerialist ideology which will inspire both the managers and the managed?

The answer rests with him. The issues comprising the crisis will most likely have been met and passed, however well or poorly presented to the people, before he leaves office.

_____________

 

The Military Illusion

If the crisis were simply military in nature, we would know just what to do. We would do what we did in World War II, what we have always been prepared to do—flip over the ace in the hole, straighten out the world in short order, and get back to being Americans again as quickly as possible. But the crisis is very obviously not military: we may be able to deter the Communist nations from a nuclear attack by our military might, but we cannot deter them from Communism either by our military might or by war itself. To deter Communism requires: (1) an alternative to Communism; and (2) the application of our great power to the support of that alternative. This is war, but a new kind of war; it is a social revolutionary war, with only minor military engagements.

As soon as one gets past the military illusion, one is confronted with an amazing realization: what is called for is to “mobilize” the nation to fight a social war which will go on without interruption for decades, and in which neither the method nor the objective is primarily military. And then the awareness slowly grows: that means permanent structural changes in our own society. To “mobilize the nation” for such an engagement means to initiate a domestic social revolution. Or, if you see it as I do, to quicken the pace and intensify the conscious direction of the domestic revolution that we have in fact for some time been undergoing. No wonder jaws fall agape and there is quick retreat to the security of the military illusion: It is required that the most conservative nation in the world devote its great power to leading a world social revolution—beginning at home.

The world revolution is simplicity itself to define: the members of the human race have decided that they don’t want any longer to live miserably and die young. They are convinced that the means are available to achieve this objective. This is quite a decision: it is, from here on out, the alpha and omega of world politics. We notice it less in this country because it has progressed so far here—because it is in our bones.

The issue between ourselves and the Russians is the direction and character to be given to the development of the world revolution. If the issue were their espousal of this revolution and our resistance to it, we would lose—hands down. Their greatest achievement to date has been to peddle this characterization of the conflict successfully—so successfully that even some of our own people believe it. We have unfortunately assisted them in this by emphasizing the military aspect of the conflict. But the only function of the military is for one side to keep the other side from resolving the issue by military means, which is not itself a resolution.

_____________

 

The Paper Economy, Finally

The main point for us to understand is that the crisis of the world revolution is for us primarily a domestic crisis. The revolution in its technical aspect has progressed so far here that we have been able to indulge ourselves inordinately in misrepresenting its character, and thus in postponing our response to its social, organizational, and ideological aspects. We have overplayed the golden opportunity to kid ourselves. The resulting confusion I have called the Paper Economy. This charming, bubble-headed system is certainly good enough for us, we are convinced; but clearly it is not good enough for the rest of the world—and the rest of the world is fairly well convinced of that. Moreover, we cannot lead the world away from Communism by offering it a state of confusion, even though we ourselves may have prospered under same.

The Paper Economy is inadequate in confronting the world revolution both practically and theoretically. Practically, because it does not make available our full productive power for waging the social war on a world scale—the power that was unleashed in another kind of war in the early 1940’s. Theoretically, because it cannot comprehend this war except in military terms. Notice the close connection between the two: the Paper Economy survives at all only because of military production—structural and dynamic advantages (rather, necessities) are achieved in this way that would be impermissible in any other way. The same military motif which is the best “resolution” we have been able to find domestically also dominates our conception of the foreign aspect of the problem. In both spheres, the military gambit can in fact be nothing more than a holding action subject to slow or fast but certainly inevitable attrition. Or disaster: in the world, by nuclear war; at home, by military dictatorship.

The validity of the perspective I have been presenting, incidentally, does not depend on anyone, including myself, liking it. That technology-too-soon has brought about the administered revolution for the modern world is no source of satisfaction to me. Managerialism elevates the administrative intellectual, with his vulgar scientism and half-mad functionalism. I am proud to be an old-fashioned humanist out of the mainstream, and personally go to some lengths to preserve as much anti-macasser and overstuffed irrationality as I can safely manage. But like de Tocqueville viewing the march of democracy some time ago, we must see the whole thing as inevitable. As much as we may be revolted by the spectacle, we should be disgusted more by the lack of clarity and candor in observing it. Which also, incidentally, is a classic humanist response to major movements of history.

As the New York Times says every Sunday, the fate of the free world depends on our domestic political decisions. This is the crisis, and it must be presented to the people by a responsible element of our class and elite leadership, preferably led by the President who represents the best elements thereof. There is no time for anything else.

_____________

 

About the Author




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.