What Are We; Democracy, Plutocracy, Meritocracy or Something Else?

During WW II the Nazi propaganda machine painted the United States and Great Britain as plutocracies and not democracies. Is there any truth to their claim.

During World War II the Nazi propaganda machine continuously referred to the United States and Great Britain as plutocracies. Simply stated; a plutocracy is a governing system where the wealthy few rule. Some of the better known historical plutocracies have been the Roman Republic, some of the Greek city states, Carthage, and the Italian city states. However, all of these existed either during the European Classical Period or the later Middle-Ages and Renaissance Period. With the United States claiming to be a democracy, what is the rationale for the Nazis to label the US as a plutocracy?

It’s no secret that what the Nazis were referring to was a thinly veiled reference for what they promoted as Jewish global banking dominance. Clearly this premise was and is untrue; but, is the United States truly a representative democracy or is it a plutocracy in disguise, controlled by the wealthy elite; and, have we been educated and led to believe that we are living in a merit based democracy?

If we look at our history and our founding, the break from the British Monarchy was conceived of and promoted by the colonial elites. The “founding fathers” were, by all measures; the best educated, leading “enlightenment” thinkers of North America and some of the wealthiest men on the continent. It didn’t matter whether the wealth came from mercantilism or agriculture, what mattered was their wealth and social position. In keeping with the principles of the enlightenment; a republican democracy was chosen as the government structure. If we honestly look at it, our system of government started out much closer to that of plutocracy than a true democracy. The elite elected or chose the legislative representatives who drew up, first the Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution. When the US Constitution was ratified, it was ratified by the elected elite within each state. I don’t think that it ever occurred to the founding fathers that anyone other than the elite would be in positions of power. One only has to look to who was eligible to vote to determine their intent; white property owners. However, over the course of our history, if we determine the level of democracy by who is eligible to vote, we have become more democratic over the course of time. Amendments to the Constitution have empowered more and more people to full participatory citizenship. Finally with the 19th Amendment giving women suffrage, all US citizens were given the right to vote. Unfortunately, one group was routinely denied their constitutional right to vote; southern blacks. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally addressed this denial of legitimate citizens’ right to vote and we became a true representative democracy.

As more and more Americans have been given the right to vote, the battle has shifted to the selection of candidates who will stand for election for the various political offices. Although we have two political parties, our choices have been traditionally limited by whomever the wealthy and powerful elites have chosen to run; therefore limiting our choice to one elite candidate or the other. True grassroots candidates are few and far between. One of the greatest limiting factors preventing candidates is the massive amounts of money needed to get elected. Unless someone is independently wealthy they cannot run and succeed without seeking patrons who will help fund their candidacy. No matter how independent the candidate is, he or she will still be beholding to those who have financed the campaign. Although the majority of citizens complain about this system, they don’t appear committed enough to change it and it would take at least one more article to examine it in depth. To overcome this problem, many nations will not allow private financing of candidates and it accomplished through government financed elections. As long as both sides have equivalent amounts to spend on support of their candidates, the election process is considered to be fair and balanced.

If the citizen is given a choice, then the battle moves to a fight for the minds and hearts of the electorate. Whoever can shape the issues and consistently stay on message has a higher probability of prevailing. However, this also takes massive amounts of money. Over the last forty years a myriad of think tanks, institutes, political action committees and other special interest enterprises have been created to help create the intellectual arguments, policies and strategies to win the hearts and minds of the American citizen. In American society liberal and conservative groups have been formed to perform this function. Better known groups such as the American Enterprise Institute, Foreign Policy Council, Council on the American Family, etc are all focused on specific points of view and the promotion of those same views.

A favorite theme that is promoted is the American myth that we live in a meritorious society. In other words; no matter how lowly one is born, that through merit one can rise to the top based on individual merit. To affirm this myth, stories about Abraham Lincoln, Oprah Winfrey and others are told over and over again. This highly placed value is purely mythical in nature. In order for it to be true, all would have to be born at the same level of status and wealth. But as it is, they are a very large number of citizens who are born with little or no opportunity to rise up, while the elites provide every possible opportunity for their own to succeed even if they possess less talent, intellect or skill than those who are lowly born. Their claim to station is that they were born to the right parents, under the right circumstances and in a culture that promotes and values wealth and power.

So we come to the point of what we are; democracy, plutocracy or something else. I think it’s clear that we are not a true and pure representative democracy; but neither are we a plutocracy. We are also not a meritocracy. Therefore, what are we? We are unique and do not fit anyone system since we have elements of all systems; including a little socialism and a little communism.

What truly marks us as a great society is that we hold the ultimate authority. Our votes are the final determining factor for what kind of society that we are. This is dangerous for any one person or group that may want to force us into doing something that we don’t want to do. In Wisconsin we have been going through a fight to exercise our ultimate authority. The recall petitions and recall elections are proof positive of the people’s power. This is disturbing for those who fear the power of the people. The demonstrations in Madison brought the reality to the forefront that people have power. Oligarchs, autocrats, plutocrats and dictators hate and fear when the people exercise their authority. The final answer is that we are a free people who will guard our freedoms jealously.

Remember to exercise your freedom and vote!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

CowDung July 13, 2011 at 03:43 PM
"there are a very large number of citizens who are born with little or no opportunity to rise up" I think that the statement can be a self fulfilling prophesy. Those that believe that there is no opportunity will never seek to rise above the situation into which they were born.
Bob McBride July 13, 2011 at 04:34 PM
Life ain't fair. You can either resign yourself to your position or attempt to do something about it. There's no guarantee you're going to succeed, but if you don't try, it's a pretty good guarantee you won't. One thing that's sure to make you miserable is envy. Instead of wasting time worrying about the few who were born with silver spoons in their mouths, why not encourage those who are less fortunate to at least TRY to do better for themselves, rather than furthering the defeatist attitude that the cards are stacked against them? There are whole communities of people who have come to this country unable to speak the language with little or no education, who are ethnically and racially different than the majority and who have done very well for themselves. You'll find that most of these folks have yet to be sold on their victimhood and have, instead, taken advantage of each and every opportunity presented to them, no matter how small. If you want to assure that some people never get out of their dire economic circumstances, keep telling them they can't. Works every time.
Lyle Ruble July 13, 2011 at 06:42 PM
@CowDung...Thanks for reading the blog and responding. I don't disagree that being told you have no opportunity can be and is a self fulfilling prophesy. There will always be those who will not accept responsibility and take advantage of the opportunities that do exist. However, don't we have a societal and moral responsibility to remove as many of those obstacles as humanly possible?
CowDung July 13, 2011 at 07:13 PM
I would agree that removing obstacles is a good thing. A huge part of removing those obstacles is providing the tools that people need to succeed--like the opportunity to obtain a quality education so they can find jobs that will pay a living wage.
Lyle Ruble July 13, 2011 at 07:23 PM
@Bob McBride II...Hello my old friend, when are we going to have our Huber Beer? The reality is that life isn't fair and never will be. I will never advocate sitting back feeling sorry for oneself or just accepting things as they are. However, I do believe that we must work to remove those obstacles that we can. Envy is an evil disease that incapacitates one from taking responsibility and making change. One doesn't have to be born with a silver spoon to be advantaged. Most of our kids on the North Shore are advantaged and don't even know it. In American society just being born white is a distinct advantage. My kids went to school with the kids of a well known North Shore MD. They were, as my daughter said "dumber than dirt", but they never failed to push their family connection, even during police encounters. Needless to say, few respect them or their family for letting these kids get away what they have. Whatever these kids accomplish, it can't hold a candle to those who may accomplish less but started out at a lesser advantage. I think that all of us had progenitors who came here and busted their backsides and took advantage of the opportunities that were here. Of course there is a huge number who were brought here against their will and forced to live in slavery. Don't forget it has been less than a half a century since the descendents of slaves have achieved full citizenship. this is a culture still seeking their way.
Bob McBride July 13, 2011 at 09:24 PM
Lyle, Over the past 50 years we've had groups of immigrants come here from impoverished countries and repressive regimes across the globe. Many of them have all or some of the strikes working against them that I mentioned above. Those that have, through their own determination, not allowed themselves to be drawn into the culture of dependency have thrived. Some of those have become so skilled at what they do that they now predominate specific industries and, even though having been here only a relatively short period of time, are becoming business owners in those fields. Their offspring, in just one generation, are populating our college campuses Contrast that to the group you refer to as a culture still seeking its way. All the money thrown in that direction due to a feeling a guilt, all the excuse making, all the programs designed to make sure physically mature adults never have to assume the responsibility inherent with similar emotional maturity have produced the lost, aimless culture you refer to. Again, if you treat people as if they're victims, unable to achieve for themselves because the cards are so unfairly stacked against them (even if that's not truly the case, as can be demonstrated by the other examples I've noted), that's precisely what you end up with, as we have. Assistance has it's place but when it becomes so accepted as to be deemed the norm for many in a particular cultural group, it has lost what should be its intended focus.
Lyle Ruble July 13, 2011 at 09:50 PM
@Bob McBride II...Bob, What you are stating is very true. I see the difference in the groups and individuals that you cite as those who wanted to come here. Therefore, they understand the opportunities that are available. I share your concern that we have created a segment of society that are on permanent dependency. My desire to eliminate obstacles is not out a sense of guilt but I view it as the proper and moral thing to do. What stymies me is that with all the programs that have been tried, there isn't any one thing that works. We can't continue to randomly throw money at the problems hoping that they work. The only thing that I can see will be to arm the dependent with education and skills so that they can compete within the marketplace. Having said that it is more than education, we must have the family supporting jobs available for not only this group but all Wisconsinites. We both know that even with our best efforts we are not educating those that need the education the most. It's not only MPS but it is the entire education system that needs to be examined and new models developed that will take advantage of the employment needs of the future. A reintroduction of vocational tech, needs to be reintroduced. All in all we are in more agreement than disagreement. I want to make things work not just abandon them. By the way just saw a poll on Channel 4 where Walker's oveall approval rating.s at 41%
David Tatarowicz July 13, 2011 at 10:18 PM
In the thread of this posting, there has been reference to "eliminating the obstacles" -- or rising above them, in regards to Blacks (referred to but not named). I contend that it is not a problem of "eliminating" obstacles --- that is needed for Blacks to achieve more --- rather there is Blatant Racism against Blacks, in their job opportunities, in their schooling, and by the legal system. Blacks who have raised themselves by their bootstraps, have done so against barriers that Whites cannot even begin to comprehend.
Bob McBride July 13, 2011 at 10:27 PM
Lyle, The opportunities for education within that culture have been there for years and continue to be there. Jobs were there for years as well. Some continue be there. The phrase "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" applies in both cases. What's missing is not the availability of education or jobs. What's missing is the motivation I'm pretty sure your first job, like mine wasn't "family supporting". It wasn't until we put some time in in those lower rung jobs that we were able to move up the ladder a bit. The phenomenon I'm addressing (lack of motivation spurred by readily available and culturally acceptable handouts) is not a new one. I can remember 30 years ago working for a company in the inner city, attempting to get someone to work in an entry level position that required a fairly decent amount of physical labor. Ultimately I did fill the position, but not before I went through 5 to 6 candidates from that struggling culture, some of whom who told me point blank that they could make almost as much money sitting at home doing nothing, which was their preference. Ultimately the position was filled by someone not of that culture who, I'm pretty sure, would find sitting home doing nothing and getting paid for it not only unacceptable, but rather embarrassing. Opportunities to be educated still exist there. Jobs, perhaps not as much, due to crime and a lack of viable employees. Lack of motivation continues to thrive.
Lyle Ruble July 13, 2011 at 10:48 PM
@David Tatarowicz...You're right on the mark. Probably the greatest obstacle to achievement is that of both overt and covert racism. Many of our white neighbors cannot see that for the white majority to pass more stringent voting standards such as voter ID that it is an overt at of racism attempting to further disenfranchise this group. My article was to point out that the only power that we have is through the power of our vote. The elite will make every attempt possible to limit the vote and therefore assure their dominance.
Lyle Ruble July 13, 2011 at 10:56 PM
@Bob McBride II...Bob, I think you are seriously distorting the situation. I don't think that you are doing it deliberately, but the opportunities that you state are being over stated. The people in question, for the most part, do want jobs and are willing to work. There will always be those who refuse gainful employment and not just inner city residents. When Eaton Cutler Hammer opened up for 125 positions about 10 years ago for entry level jobs, they had over 800 applicants all from the general area around the plant. We both can cite anecdotal evidence and both be right and wrong at the same time. What we must address is the "Culture of Poverty" to make a dent in the problem.
Bob McBride July 13, 2011 at 10:56 PM
When well intentioned, albeit ineffective, programs fail it's easier to just blame racism than examine the real reasons for the failure of these programs.
CowDung July 14, 2011 at 03:07 AM
Voter ID is an overt act of racism? What percentage of Black people are unable to show a photo ID at the polling place? Have other states with voter ID laws had issues with disenfranchised minorities?
Lyle Ruble July 14, 2011 at 01:39 PM
@Bob McBride II...I think it is only race dependent when the majority of the impoverished are people of color in a given area. It is actually an issue of poverty and the culture of poverty, which is independent of race.
Lyle Ruble July 14, 2011 at 06:09 PM
@Joe Peterlin...Old friend I thought you were off the sauce. With this response it doesn't follow about education being a moral issue. It is an issue of meaningful education that meets the learning needs of the children. We need to overhaul the school system and make it relative.
Lyle Ruble July 14, 2011 at 07:57 PM
@Joe Peterlin...I think it's going to take more than educators going into homes. What is at hand is the culture of poverty. In general education has not been very important to a large number of people within the culture. They don't see a direct advantage to it. Why get a HS diploma if there aren't any jobs for them to go to where they need that diploma. When participating in the underground economy, an education is not the kind of life skill that helps "the hustle". My sister who used to teach in both public and private schools in the city was extremely discouraged with parents because they weren't committed to education and didn't see the need to get directly involved with their kids' education. All I know is that what we're doing isn't working and to find something that works will probably cost a boat load of money.
CowDung July 14, 2011 at 09:14 PM
The way I see it, there are several reasons that cause them for not see a direct advantage to education. 1) The perceived hopelessness of their situation (they are born with little or no opportunity to rise up). 2) The feeling that they cannot afford to pay for the post-secondary education (college, tech school, etc.) that can help them get the kind of job skills to rise up. 3) The temptation of having a 'lucrative' career in the 'underground economy'. 4) Lack of a 'life plan', causing children to have no real goals to strive for other than what opportunities they see in the 'underground economy'... 5) Having a single parent who is too busy earning a living at low paying jobs to spend quality time with their children and being involved in their education.
Joe Peterlin July 15, 2011 at 12:35 AM
Why am I not surprised that Patch allows this?
Bob McBride July 15, 2011 at 01:28 AM
I'm actually kind of surprised they do. Their parent company never used to.
Bob McBride July 15, 2011 at 01:59 AM
Joe, As long as we continue to pay people to maintain dysfunctional lifestyles, we'll never get past those kind of family issues. In some cultures, pride and/or shame is enough to cause folks to make a conscious effort to improve their position or that of their offspring. In others, being dependent on government handouts has no particular stigma associated with it. In the latter, unless we're willing to literally force people to at least in part fend for themselves, they never will. There will be no motivation to become educated because there's no life goal beyond subsistence living on the government's dime. Why bother with an education when you have absolutely no use for one as it relates to lifelong survival?


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