Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? (Parts 1, 2 and 3)

Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges embarks on a long, ranging discussion with political philosopher and former professor of politics at Princeton University Sheldon Wolin on the state of American democracy and the rise of corporate capitalism.

For many years now, Wolin has been perhaps Hedges’ most cited source in articles and lectures about the state and direction of American society. An intellectual peer of Noam Chomsky, albeit less well known, Wolin is the author of seminal books on contemporary political theory, including “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” and “Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought.” He is an enthusiastic proponent of popular participation in government.

In part two of the conversation, which was produced by The Real News Network, Hedges mentions that Wolin wrote that he “doesn’t believe we have any authentic democratic institutions left.”

Wolin responds: “I don’t. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but I think–in terms of effective democratic institutions, I don’t think we do. I think there’s potential. I think there’s potential in movements towards self-government, movements towards economic independence, and movements towards educational reform, and so on, that have the seeds for change. But I think that it’s very difficult now, given the way the media is controlled and the way political parties are organized and controlled, it’s very difficult to get a foothold in politics in such a way that you can translate it into electoral reforms, electoral victories, and legislation, and so on. It’s a very, very complex, difficult, demanding process. And as I’ve said before, democracy’s great trouble is it’s episodic.”

Hedges also tells Wolin that “It’s hard to see you in most politics departments at American universities today. It was probably a lonely position even when you” were working.

Wolin responds: “Oh, yeah, because most American–most political science departments have become in effect social science departments and much more addicted to seeking out quantitative projects that lend themselves to apparent scientific certainty and are less attuned–in fact, I think, even, I would say, apprehensive–about appearing to be supportive of popular causes. It’s just not in the grain anymore. And the more that academic positions become precarious, as they have become, with tenure becoming more and more a rarity–“

Hedges interjects: “Thirty-five percent now of positions are actually tenured.”

And Wolin returns: “Yeah, I would believe it. I would believe it. I mean, and that becomes a problem in terms of finding people willing to take a certain risk, with the understanding that while they’re taking a risk, it won’t be so fatal to their life chances. But I’m afraid it is now. And it doesn’t bode well, because it seems to me, in a left-handed sort of way, it encourages the kind of professionalization of politics that results in the kind of political parties and political system that we’ve been warned about from the year one.”

Watch the first three installments of a projected eight-part series and read their transcripts here, here and here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

Alexander Reed Kelly
Former Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

Now you can personalize your Truthdig experience. To bookmark your favorite articles, please create a user profile.

Personalize your Truthdig experience. Choose authors to follow, bookmark your favorite articles and more.
Your Truthdig, your way. Access your favorite authors, articles and more.

A password will be e-mailed to you.

Statements and opinions expressed in articles and comments are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.