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The Mock Democracy

by Rainer Mausfeld, translated by Terje Maloy

The citizens are disenfranchised and conditioned to be politically apathetic consumers. In recent decades, democracy has been replaced by the illusion of democracy. New forms of organization of power and psychological methods for manipulation of our consciousness protect the powerful against the risks of democratic empowerment and strengthen their position.

Democracy and freedom. Two words that are charged with unheard-of social promises and that can release tremendous energies of change to achieve them. Today, hardly more than a shadow remains of the hopes originally associated with them. What happened? Never before have two words, to which such passionate hopes were attached, been emptied of their original meaning in such a socially far-reaching way. They have been falsified, abused, and turned against those whose thoughts and actions are inspired by them.

Democracy today really means an elected oligarchy of economic and political elites, in which central areas of society, especially the economy, are fundamentally removed from any democratic control and accountability; at the same time, large parts of the social organization of our own life lie outside the democratic sphere. And freedom today means above all the freedom of the economically powerful.

With this Orwellian reinterpretation, these two words now have a special place in the endless dictionary of falsified words throughout history. With the poisoning of these two words, our hopes for a more humane society and a containment of violent ways of solving things are confused, clouded, broken and almost wiped out from the collective memory. The loss of the civilizing dreams associated with these two concepts makes it hard for us today to politically articulate an attractive, decent alternative to the prevailing power relations, or even worse, think of any at all.

Democracy, which was originally associated with great hopes for political self-determination and a safeguarding of internal and external peace, is left only as a formal shell in the real structure of society. Democracy has been reduced to a staged spectacle of periodical elections, where the population can choose from a given «elite spectrum». Real democracy has been replaced by the illusion of democracy; free public debate has been replaced by opinion- and outrage-management. The guiding principle of the responsible citizen has been replaced by the neoliberal ideal of the politically apathetic consumer.

Of the hopes associated with the concepts of democracy and freedom, only the empty words of a false promise have been retained by the powerful; with these words it is possible to effectively manipulate the consciousness of the subjugated majority.

International law has also today largely developed into an instrument of undisguised power politics. The self-declared ‘Western community of values’ has openly reverted to its almost religious belief in the effectiveness of violence, the wholesomeness of bombs and destruction, drone killings and torture, support for terrorist groups, economic strangulation, and other forms of violence that serve their purposes. This is a political fetishization of violence, whose effects can be seen all over the globe.

Hardly more than a historical memory is left of the great hopes originally associated with democracy and international law, namely, the hopes that civilization could contain power and violence. The populace is all the more being forcefully convinced of the political rhetoric of democracy and international law, with which the economically or militarily strong seek to win the consent or tolerance of the populace for their actual practice of a violent realpolitik. In today’s realpolitik, the right of the strongest has again long been accepted.

Two hundred years after the Enlightenment, which we praise so much our political rhetoric, we live in a time of radical counter-enlightenment. At the same time, when it serves their power interests, the powerful like to refer to the Enlightenment in order to affirm their claimed civilizational superiority over those they consider to be their enemies.

An elitist democracy is a contradiction in terms. While there are formal democratic elements in an elitist democracy, they are structurally kept to a minimum. Despite this minimalistic democracy, from the point of view of the actual economic and political centers of power, democratic elements are not necessarily as risk-free as they would like.

So in order for the present power elite to secure their status, they are dependent on securing themselves against democratic aspirations.

The weak point is now the public debate space, which – especially in the periodic elections – could potentially become a risk against stability. How can this be controlled in an elitist democracy? How can the risk that democracy potentially poses be kept as low as possible? If the remaining democratic residual elements were removed, it would no longer be possible to maintain the democratic rhetoric useful for preventing revolution; for public debate and periodic elections are indispensable even for the mere illusion of democracy. So if the real centers of power want to keep these formalities, they need appropriate ways to build stability that can make democracy risk-free for them.

Over the past few decades, the powerful have made great efforts to develop new ways of securing such stability, in order to protect the democratic residual elements remaining in elitist democracy from the risks posed by democratic empowerment.

These include, in particular, novel structural forms of organizing power, as well as psychological methods for manipulating our consciousness. Of course, the roots of these developments go much further back, but these developments have accelerated rapidly and become institutionally solidified in recent decades. The social transformation process associated with these things is similar to the effects of a «revolution from above», i.e. a revolution that represents a project of the economic elites and serves to expand and consolidate their interests. The transformation process that accompanies this revolution essentially rests on two pillars.

The first pillar of this transformation process is that the organizational forms of power are designed more abstractly and with a purposeful diffusion of social responsibility, so that the unease, indignation or anger of those ruled can find no concrete, i.e. politically effective, targets. Thus a will for change in the population can no longer find expression among the actual decision-makers.

This process of transformation consists of a creeping – and for the populace as invisible as possible – creation of suitable institutional and constitutional structures. With these structures, power relations can be stabilized and the redistribution processes permanently removed from democratic access, and thereby be made largely irreversible. For this, the democratic structures historically won after hard struggles must be eliminated or eroded, so that their effectiveness is neutralized.

In addition, domestic and international law must be ‘developed’ in such a way that the centers of economic and political power can legally enforce their interests authoritatively in the legal framework thus created. In particular, a legal framework must be created to enable the transformation of economic power into political power, and to provide a legal framework for the desired or already established upwards redistributive mechanisms, so that the minimum remaining democratic possibilities cannot undo them.

The organized crime of the propertied class is not only legalized by such lawmaking, but also protected for the future and sealed against possible democratic interventions.

The second pillar is the development of sophisticated and highly effective techniques that can in a targeted way manipulate the consciousness of the ruled. Ideally, those who are ruled should not even know that there are centers of power behind the political surface, presented by the media, of seemingly democratically controlled power. The most important goal is to neutralize any social will to change in the population or divert their attention to politically insignificant goals.

To achieve this in the most robust and consistent way possible, manipulation techniques aim for much more than just political opinions. They aim at a purposeful shaping of all aspects that affect our political, social and cultural life as well as our individual ways of life. They aim, as it were, at the creation of a «new human being» whose social life is absorbed in the role of the politically apathetic consumer.

In this sense, they are totalitarian, so that the great democracy theorist Sheldon Wolin rightly speaks of an «inverted totalitarianism», a new form of totalitarianism, which is not perceived by the population as totalitarianism. The techniques for this have been and are being developed for about a hundred years, at great expense and with substantial involvement from the social sciences, whose importance in society is closely linked to the provision of methods of social control.

A central element of these techniques for manipulating the consciousness of the population is the creation of appropriate ideologies that are largely invisible to the population as ideologies and thus provide a barely questionable framework that gives meaning to all the individual’s social experiences.

The core of these ideologies, culminating in neo-liberal ideology in recent decades, is the ideology of an expertocratic «capitalist elite democracy», in which competent and well-committed elites should direct the fate of society in the most efficient manner possible.

Both developments serve to make power unidentifiable and therefore invisible, in order to undermine our natural mental defense mechanisms against being ruled by others. Both are characteristic of the modern forms of contemporary capitalist elite democracies.

We can only develop promising strategies of resistance to the current order based on power and violence if we sufficiently understand these new organizational forms of power. The same applies to the manipulation techniques, through which specific properties of our mind can be exploited for political purposes.

Rainer Mausfeld, born 1949, is professor emeritus in psychology at the University of Kiel (Germany), and a popular lecturer and author. Translated by Terje Maloy as Creative Commons 4.0. from Rubikon.

Terje Maloy is a Norwegian citizen, with roots north of the Arctic Circle. Nowadays, he spends a lot of time in Australia, working in the family business. He has particular interests in liberty, global justice, imperialism, history, media analysis and what Western governments really are up to. He runs a blog, mostly in Norwegian, but occasionally in English. He likes to write about general geopolitical matters, and Northern Europe in particular, presenting perspectives that otherwise barely are mentioned in the dominant media (i.e. most things that actually matter).

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Terje Maloy is a Norwegian citizen, with roots north of the Arctic Circle. Nowadays, he spends a lot of time in Australia, working in the family business. He has particular interests in liberty, global justice, imperialism, history, media analysis and what Western governments really are up to. He runs a blog, mostly in Norwegian, but occasionally in English. He likes to write about general geopolitical matters, and Northern Europe in particular, presenting perspectives that otherwise barely are mentioned in the dominant media (i.e. most things that actually matter).

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David Horsman
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David Horsman

Before continuing, “freedom and democracy?”

The word freedom means so many different and contradictory things to so many different people it is meaningless.

Freedom is the acceptance of your responsibilities (to me.)

Democracy is better defined in its various forms should it become a possibility. What we have is corporatism evolving into full blown fascism as it recently did in Israel.

John Ward
Reader

A very good piece, although I would have liked more emphasis on the two forms of invisible globalist dictatorship – the now established neoliberal, and the emerging collectivist. Both almost glory in their denial and manipulation of reality, and both behave like the more intolerant forms of religion.
Technology has overlain this escapism by allowing individuals to find solace in online hermitage rather than social intercourse and communitarian action. The Gilets Jaunes of France are a welcome reaction against the plunder of the Gigarich 3%;
https://hat4uk.wordpress.com/2018/12/29/why-the-global-picture-breeds-ignorance/

https://olduvai.ca
Reader

I lost faith in the system some years ago and have stopped voting. I refuse to enable/encourage the political class through the election process when it seems to me the entire charade is simply theatre to give the illusion of choice and input. Left. Right. Centre. It matters not who/what party hold the reins of power. Corruption, nepotism, and criminal behaviour continues without pause.

Simon Hodges
Reader

Freedom is slavery. Left wing is right wing. Right wing is left wing. Outside of these prodigious metaphors what remains other than human morality and ethics supposedly shared by all parties?

Kathy
Reader
Kathy

A good article. This democratic process weakens us the the giver and empowers the recipients. It contrives to diminish confidence and trust in our own abilities to self govern and be responsible for our actions as loving human beings collectively. The idea that we could live in harmony and trust. Free of dominance has been conditioned out of people and replaced with mistrust and a suspicion of each other. It is this that has kept us locked in fear of our own human nature and enabled the unscrupulous to dominate. This corruption of power has led to rulers elected to… Read more »

Fair dinkum
Reader
Fair dinkum

The One Per Cent are fearful.
Climate catastrophe is on our/their doorstep and they know that the only way they can maintain control is via totalitarianism.
Batten your hatches.

Michael Leigh
Reader
Michael Leigh

While I am not totally comprehending the antipodean catastrophy you cite or indeed what is “fair dinkum or not in that concern or not ” ?

But given the incredible climate fears and sums of public money awarded to the actual mass polluters I would say that for them it is ” a fair dinkum “.

milosevic
Reader
milosevic

Conversely, perhaps social revolution is on their doorstep, and the only way they can maintain control is via threats of climate catastrophe, now that the utterly fraudulent nature of the Terror War is obvious to anyone with eyes to see.

milosevic
Reader
milosevic

the great democracy theorist Sheldon Wolin rightly speaks of an «inverted totalitarianism», a new form of totalitarianism, which is not perceived by the population as totalitarianism. The techniques for this have been and are being developed for about a hundred years, at great expense and with substantial involvement from the social sciences, whose importance in society is closely linked to the provision of methods of social control. A central element of these techniques for manipulating the consciousness of the population is the creation of appropriate ideologies that are largely invisible to the population as ideologies and thus provide a barely… Read more »

mark
Reader
mark

You could argue that the promotion of apathy and depoliticization has already achieved its objectives. In the UK, if you go back to the 1970s both major political parties had memberships of around 2 million. Now it is what – 100,000 geriatrics apiece? Trade unions have lost millions of members since that time and become more or less completely emasculated and irrelevant. Churches, charities, sports clubs, amateur dramatic groups, used to be mass organisations, the glue that held society and communities together. Ancient history. Now all people want to do is play with their iphones and ipods. 120 million didn’t… Read more »

Ken Kenn
Reader
Ken Kenn

Nothing wrong with Philosophy but no one is going to “think” their way out of this Democratic Crisis. It’s glaringly obvious in the so called democratic west that the parameters of debate are managed by the politicians who work for the one percent. This is nothing new, it’s just that years ago it was carried out silently and now it’s an open secret. The question is: how do we get out of bind that the media – politicians and some of the voters impose on political discussion and how do we take on the financial power of the Corporate sector… Read more »

David Horsman
Reader
David Horsman

“We must always bear in mind that there are around 5% of people literally employed by the 1% to protect them and the income/lifestyle they have become accustomed to.”

That is what is truly relevant.

harry stotle
Reader
harry stotle

Don’t you just love it when someone can precis complex ideas and make them instantly accessible and understandable.

Rainer Mausfled captures the political zeitgeist perfectly IMO.
His diagnosis is spot on although what to do about it is a harder question to answer.

George cornell
Reader
George cornell

The solution imo to some of the most egregious problems of democracy is more democracy. In the US it should be easy to adopt a zero tolerance policy for lobbying. The two party system in which there are only trivial differences between the two is there to protect the interests of the few. They need a third party desperately and Perot almost made it happen. The public has been powerless since to prevent an endless succession of increasingly odious Hobson’s choices like Clinton vs Trump. The systematic interference with the media by the 1% can be proscribed. The gaming of… Read more »

mark
Reader
mark

I believe the only solution may be a form of direct democracy on something like a Swiss model.
A few years ago the commander of the Swiss air force said he wanted some new planes.
They held a referendum on (1) whether to buy some new aircraft or not and (2) if the answer to part 1 was yes, whether to buy US, Swedish or Russian aircraft.

The referendum result was yes, buy some new US aircraft.

axisofoil
Reader

If I recall correctly, this was somewhat like the setup in Libya before we liberated them.

Thomas Prentice
Reader
Thomas Prentice

I just sent this out to my list:

“Both developments serve to make power unidentifiable and therefore invisible, in order to undermine our natural mental defense mechanisms against being ruled by others. Both are characteristic of the modern forms of contemporary capitalist elite democracies.”

YOUR JOB, if you choose to accept it, is to make power identifiable and visible in order to undermine power’s natural defense mechanisms against being ruled by the people in a democracy…The secretary will disavow any knowledge bla bla bla bla (After the TV show Mission Impossible. Let’s do Mission POSSIBLE – thom]

binra
Reader

The next step – from such observations is to re-educate ourselves – as to OUR own conditioning – that we so readily see in others or the world. The need-driven (tyrannous) assertion of and demand for substitution for true relational communication is the masking mind or personality construct. This of course goes ‘deep’ – relative to any surface narrative identification – and is the re-opening of what such a surface mind was invoked to keep denied. Addressing the underlying patterns or devices of mind cannot occur or be understood WITHIN the framing OF such a mind. NO ONE ELSE is… Read more »

axisofoil
Reader

So….Binra,
If we are to assume, as you say…….. we are separated from reality by a convoluted misconception of twisted, circular reasoning flying through an invisible tube of consciousness inside our manipulated mind while flailing to grab coherence from a blur of false premises on a spinning smorgasbord of mind mines and we have made the wrong choice….. what was the right choice? Mormon?

Gary Weglarz
Reader
Gary Weglarz

Here in the U.S. the institutional forces aligned “against” anything resembling democracy are already hard at work two years before the next national election. The leadership of the Democratic Party are already demonizing anyone who could be considered to the left of the corporate/military interests they so faithfully represent. So although Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America by the polls, the Democratic establishment wants nothing to do with him, and vilifies those who support him as “divisive” and “playing into Trump’s hand,” etc. Remember that Bernie is hardly some revolutionary figure in any sense, and although he… Read more »

George cornell
Reader
George cornell

Bacon of democracy?

milosevic
Reader
milosevic

The oligarchy would appear to have three choices, “impeachment, assassination, or capitulation to reigning in our highly lucrative imperialist foreign policy.” I’m not a betting man, but I wouldn’t put my money on that last option.

Kennedy tried to normalize US relations with Russia, and Nixon tried to normalize US relations with China. What happened to them?

mark
Reader
mark

Moore is a faux left arsehole, cheerleading for Clinton. He was trying to portray her as a cross between Mother Teresa and Jesus. He is worth over $100 million and owns several mansions. It can be very lucrative being an “Ordinary Joe” and a “man of the people.”

Oslo - Norway
Reader
Oslo - Norway

New Studies Show Pundits Are Wrong About Russian Social-Media Involvement in US Politics
Far from being a sophisticated propaganda campaign, it was small, amateurish, and mostly unrelated to the 2016 election.
https://www.thenation.com/article/russiagate-elections-interference/

Frankly Speaking
Reader
Frankly Speaking

If you are not already acquainted with him, I strongly recommend that OG readers research the founder of the term “inverted totalitariansm”, the late Sheldon Wolin:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inverted_totalitarianism

Also read his book: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism

He truly saw what was coming and what is now occuring. It’s frightening and difficult to see how societies can now reject it, it’s become so pervasive, so dominant, even in the UK.

FS
Reader
FS

Even in the UK?
Especially in the UK.

Frankly Speaking
Reader
Frankly Speaking

…actually should have written “ESPECIALLY in the UK”.

BigB
Reader
BigB

This is one of the more important political philosophy essays OffG has published. Thank you. I get it, people don’t do philosophy, but maybe they should. Philosophy is the developmental psychology (psychology and philosophy = psychosophy), which is the idealist foundationalism of our societies. If, in Arendt’s view, the raison d’etre of politics is freedom – then political theory is an epic human failure. If we want to know why, and propose a remedial politics – we need to understand the ‘psychosophy’ of political freedom. Democracy and freedom are a priori transcendental idealisms: as such, they are metaphysical truth claims… Read more »

Peter Charles
Reader
Peter Charles

The only criticism of this article I have is that there is nothing new about ‘mock’ democracy, it has always been so. We have always been ruled by “…. an [elected] oligarchy of economic and political elites.” The individual components of those elites wax and wane in power and influence and there are political and governmental policy drifts in response to those changes. There are outside pressures that arise among the populace that can also force such drifts. Notable was the post WW2 social and welfare changes although that had more to do with the fear among the then economic… Read more »

Toby
Reader
Toby

I’ve listened to a few of Mausfeld’s lectures, and would say that he would agree with your main point; that it has, more or less, always been this way. On why that might be, I am finding “On Kings” (by David Graeber and Marshall Sahlins) to be very insightful. I’ve just started reading it, but even the introduction is very eye opening. In essence, regardless of the social mode humans live in – be it hunter-gatherer “egalitarian” bands, pre-state tribes or modern corporatocracies –, there is invariably a super-powerful external “monopoly on force” meting out reward and punishment in an… Read more »

Peter Charles
Reader
Peter Charles

It is very difficult for it to be otherwise. Human-kind is fundamentally a pack species, maybe ten percent of the population have the ‘Alpha’ genes that drive them to dominate and the rest are generally ‘hard-wired’ to to obey and follow the Alpha. Well, so long as they maintain their position and strength, if they don’t another will take their place, or they would if our advanced society did not protect them far beyond their sell date. Unfortunately Alpha does not equate to intelligence and ability, although such traits are usually important if they are to hold their position. Even… Read more »

milosevic
Reader
milosevic

On Kings — David Graeber and Marshall Sahlins (full text PDF)

jag37777
Reader

The post WW2 consensus was that government policy shoyld be directed at maintaining full employment. Thus resl wage growth and the rise of broad middle class prosperity.

Neoliberalism changed all that in the mid 70s and to this day the fiction of fiscal balance rules the political discourse.

Economics went backwards (to pre 1929) and stayed there.

curri
Reader
curri

“The core of these ideologies, culminating in neo-liberal ideology in recent decades, is the ideology of an expertocratic «capitalist elite democracy», in which competent and well-committed elites should direct the fate of society in the most efficient manner possible.”

James Burnham wrote about this (with the exception of the part about neoliberalism) in his well known !940 book, The Managerial Revolution.

kingfelix
Reader

“We can only develop promising strategies of resistance to the current order based on power and violence if we sufficiently understand these new organizational forms of power.” This is, unfortunately, not the whole answer. Knowledge is most certainly not power, at least not in the present climate, just as the fate of Wikileaks’ project was that the truth won’t set one free. All the understanding in the world will not free a single individual. Only a massive social movement inoculated against all the state’s arsenal of dirty tricks and thuggery can accomplish the task. It’s probably impossible at this moment… Read more »

axisofoil
Reader

I believe this to be a VERY important book. Well worth reading. Essential, in fact…….Sorry about the Amazon link.

Manifest Destiny-Democracy as Cognitive Dissonance

https://www.amazon.com/Manifest-Destiny-Democracy-Cognitive-Dissonance-ebook/dp/B07BTN7MSW

Norcal
Reader
Norcal

I agree axisofoil, this brief, well written book explains much about why we are in our current dilemma. I will also link F. William Engdahl’s web page for other important articles.
http://www.williamengdahl.com

axisofoil
Reader

Thanks

RealPeter
Reader
RealPeter

Mausfeld’s description of the two pillars of neo-totalitarian transformation applies very well to France – for example, the first pillar (the creation of diffuse power structures with no clear political responsibilities) precisely mirrors the last 30 years’ local government reorganization whereby the directly-elected councils and mayors of cities, towns and villages have seen their powers progressively stripped away to the benefit of giant, indirectly-elected conglomerates called ‘communautés de communes’, remote from citizens, who are no longer sure about who does what. Out of habit, citizens with complaints (e.g., about rubbish collection or a problem created by a new set of… Read more »

vexarb
Reader

@RealPeter: “France’s military presence there [in Syria] is simply never discussed, indeed is practically never even mentioned.”

I have just now read in SyrPer that the Syrian Army is moving into Manbij, and the Frogs leaving with the Yanks.
Another climbdown by Presidenh Micron.

Jen
Reader
Jen

Confirmed also by Bernhard in his latest post at his Moon of Alabama blog, which also goes on to say that there are Kurdish and Turkish delegations currently in Moscow to discuss Syria-related issues, and that a number of Arab states will be reopening their embassies in Damascus.
https://www.moonofalabama.org/2018/12/syria-sitrep-army-to-regain-northeastern-territory-political-isolation-ends.html#comments

vexarb
Reader

Confirmed by Auslander BTL Saker on December 28:

SAA is already in Manbij. Good source says Russia is working with SAA to escort foreign troops out of the city and the area. That would be the US and French troops there. Apparently Turkei has been told not to attack in to Syria.

Auslander