I have long used the word oligarchy to describe America because I think it accurately captures the reality of the current state of politics where a small coterie of wealthy individuals and families control the country and make all the major decisions on economic and military issues. The so-called people’s elected representatives are merely the people in front of the curtain, there to entertain us and distract us from the fact that we really have no say except on a limited set of social issues that the oligarchy does not really care that much about as long as the stability they need to maintain their own lifestyles is maintained.
While many would agree with some of those premises, actually using the word oligarchy used to be the preserve of leftists, and establishment types used to shy away from the word. But no more. I see the word being used more and more as the nakedness of class oppression in the US becomes manifest. The latest to do so is former Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart in an article titled Dare we call it an oligarchy?.
If the presidency were to pass back and forth between two or three families in any Latin American nation we would call it an oligarchy.
The lobbying/campaign finance/access matrix has corrupted American politics, divided our nation, and is well down the road to creating a system of political oligarchy.
We have created what came to be known in late 17th and 18th century England as a division between the Court and the Country. The Court is composed of networks of political office holders and insiders, their lobbying and finance contacts, the policy centers which they inhabit between administrations, the offices they rotate in and out of, and a deep sense of shared entitlement, power, preference, and prerogative. The Country is all the rest of us.
I have a colleague in the economics department, a fairly liberal person, who once expressed her disdain for an article on economics I sent her because the author used the word oligarchy and to her this meant that he was beyond the pale of respectable discourse. And she was correct, at least for now, at least when it came to academia.. When Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University published their analysis that showed that elites dominated politics in the US and everyone else had little or no say, they used the term “elite economic interests” instead of oligarchy.
But that did not stop the media from replacing that euphemism with the more pithy label. Here’s an article from the Washington Times about the research of Gilens and Page.
America is no longer a democracy — never mind the democratic republic envisioned by Founding Fathers.
Rather, it has taken a turn down elitist lane and become a country led by a small dominant class comprised of powerful members who exert total control over the general population — an oligarchy, said a new study jointly conducted by Princeton and Northwestern universities.
One finding in the study: The U.S. government now represents the rich and powerful, not the average citizen, United Press International reported.
Even the solidly establishment BBC used the word to describe the study’s conclusions, under the title Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy.
John Cassidy in the New Yorker also wrote about the study under the title Is America an Oligarchy? and ponders on the suitability of that word. He concludes:
There can be no doubt that economic élites have a disproportionate influence in Washington, or that their views and interests distort policy in ways that don’t necessarily benefit the majority: the politicians all know this, and we know it, too. The only debate is about how far this process has gone, and whether we should refer to it as oligarchy or as something else.
Gerry Myers writes that it is not clear how to describe the country, that while it seems to be a mix of an oligarchy, plutocracy, and a theocracy, one thing it definitely is not is a democracy.
John Steinbeck said that “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” But when the conditions are right, there is the possibility of some kind of Gestalt switch occurring where people suddenly realize the truth of their condition. When mainstream media outlets and establishment types start using the word oligarchy without disdain to describe the US, then one senses a change in the zeitgeist. This is what the oligarchy lives in fear of and what they are trying to prevent at all costs.