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UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper LXXVI: March 16, 2009, 7:00 p.m.

Michael Parenti, Democracy for the Few (Boston: Thomson


Wadsworth/Thomson Higher Education, 2008 [February 2007]). Eighth
edition. First published 1974.
Preface. Little is neutral in the study of politics (xi). This Chapter 9: The Last Environment. Privileges for profit
book “tries to strike a balance” between criticism and in all domains (106-14). Alternative approaches are being
defense of the present system (xi-xii). Parenti emphasizes cultivated; “Our very survival hangs in the balance” (115).
the importance of corporate capitalism, but also formal
political institutions, history, and public policy (xii). Its Chapter 10: Unequal before the Law. As written and
approach is broadly “structural”; but “[s]ome conspiracies enforced, the law favors the very rich (118-28). Sexism
. . . are real” (xiii). favors men and straights (128-30). Children are
inadequately protected (131-32). Racism is in endemic
Chapter 1: Partisan Politics. Contrary to the idealized (132-34).
myth of American democracy, “just about every part of
the political-economic system . . . serves to maintain . . . Chapter 11: Political Repression and National
the system’s basic class interests” (2; 1-3). “Politics and Insecurity. Organized dissent is often repressed (138-
economics are two sides of the same coin” (3; 3-5). 41). Thousands have been political prisoners (141-44) and
some have been murdered (144-48). “The national
Chapter 2: Wealth and Want in the United States. security state’s primary function is to defeat advocacy
The “owning class” and “workers” (6-8). Inequality; the groups at home and abroad that seek alternatives to free-
very rich (8-12). Big corporations dominate but do not market globalization” (148; 148-50). The CIA has used the
provide employment proportionally (12-14). Agribusiness drug trade and other illegal activities for financing (150-
(14-15). Profit, not need, orients activity (15-18). “Most 53). September 11 has been used to expand its powers
Americans actually are working class” (19). About 13% (153-55).
live in poverty (20). That Americans are well-off is a myth
(20-21). The lot of the poor: ill health, illiteracy, Chapter 12: Who Governs? Elites, Labor and
homelessness, insecurity (22-23). Globalization. “Plutocracy” refers to the wealthy who
are politically active (160-63). Labor organizations are
Chapter 3: The Plutocratic Culture: Institutions and under pressure from the state (163-66). Globalization is
Ideologies. The main function of university boards undermining democracy (166-71).
“seems to be to exercise oligarchic, ideological control
over the institution” (28; 27-28). The same holds true of Chapter 13: Mass Media: For the Many, by the Few.
institutions throughout the country (28-31). Conservatives Wealthy interests dominate the media; when other
(31-33). Centrists (33-34). Leftists and progressives (34- perspectives slip through, they are underdistributed (173-
35). Public opinion is to the left of what is mistakenly 86).
regarded as the mainstream (35-36). Parenti defines
democracy as “a system of governance that represents Chapter 14: Voters, Parties, and Stolen Elections.
both in form and content the interests of the broad The American political system is structured to enable
populace” (36-37). wealthy interests to prevail (188-207).

Chapter 4: A Constitution for the Few. History of the Chapter 15: Congress the Pocketing of Power.
U.S. Constitution; a combination of elitism and progressive Congress is demographically unrepresentative and is
elements deriving from the Enlightenment (40-52). dominated by moneyed interests (210-27). Suggestions
for reform (227-28).
Chapter 5: Rise of the Corporate State. Violent class
struggle with the government “mostly on the side of big Chapter 16: The President: Guardian of the System.
business” has marked American history (53-59). The New The president acts as “promoter and guardian of global
Deal’s accomplishments, while real, were modest (59-62). corporate capitalism” (230; 230-38). The Electoral College
(238-40). The executive has vastly grown in power (241-
Chapter 6: Politics: Who Gets What? U.S. 47).
Government furthers private business interests,
sometimes directly (65-68). State and local government, Chapter 17: The Political Economy of Bureaucracy.
too (68). Taxation redistributes income upward (68-73). What is an endemic problem of modernity, bureaucracy,
“Conservatives” have embraced deficit spending (73-75). has been used rhetorically to promote privatization and
deregulation for the benefit of big business (250-63).
Chapter 7: The U.S. Global Military Empire. Massive Public powers have been placed in private hands (e.g. the
expenditures make possible the world history’s largest Federal Reserve) (263-65).
“global military empire,” associated with vast corporate
profits and waste (77-81). Many costs are hidden (81-83). Chapter 18: The Supremely Political Court. The
Its goal is to maintain “economic imperialism” (83-89). Supreme Court protects the plutocracy and neglects the
public interest (268-85).
Chapter 8: Health and Human Services: Sacrificial
Lambs. Limited concessions to human services have Chapter 19: Democracy for the Few. Pluralism is a
been made by the capitalist state (92-99). But the record myth; while “there is no one grand power elite,”
on safety, education, housing, and transit shows public nevertheless the “common interests of the corporate
need is subordinated to private profit (99-103). owning class” achieve dominance through “continual
communication and coordination” (291; 289-92). Reform
has limits (292-93). “Class struggle” exists in the U.S. but
has been downplayed (294-96). But “democratic rights”
exist and are “all we have to keep some rulers from
imposing a dictatorial final solution” (297). Fascist rule
has not been imposed because elites “fear that they could
not get away with it” (298). A wish list of specifics
(sometimes very specific, e.g. cut 2% from the current
12.4% Social Security flat tax rate and offset it by raising
the taxable income cap) “to bring us to a more equitable
and democratic society” (298-303). Finally, a call for
“some measure of socialism” in the form of “public
ownership of the major means of production and public
ownership of the moneyed power itself” (303; 303-06).

Index. 13 pp.

[Critique. A disappointing volume. Actually published in


February 2007, not 2008. Rambling and conversational.
Oddly bland and uninspiring, without drama or sense of
actual human experience. References usually to popular
press; many assertions are unsourced; some are cribbed
from other texts without attribution. No effort to
distinguish to fact from opinion. There is no hint of
methodological concern or of the genealogy of the
discipline or of intellectual history, or, indeed, of historical
consciousness. End-of-chapter notes mix ephemeral
material with sources of lasting value and are not a
reliable guide; for example, Steven F. Freeman and Joel
Bleifuss, Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen ? Exit
Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count (2006) goes
uncited, while a less definitive essay by Freeman is cited;
in ch. 16, there is no mention of Arthur Schlesinger’s The
Imperial Presidency (1973); in ch. 18, there is no reference
to Jeffrey Toobin, Too Close to Call (2001); etc.]

[About the Author. Michael Parenti has a Ph.D. in


political science is from Yale and has written twenty books
and hundreds of articles. Parenti has described himself as
a “recovering academic.” He defines himself not as a
Marxist but as a “red-blooded American social scientist”
(255). Web site: www.michaelparenti.org. He was born in
1933 to an Italian-American family living in New York; his
father worked for his brother’s bakery.]