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114 of 121 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Managed Democracy, Superpower, and alas, even, "Inverted Totalitarianism", June 17, 2008
This review is from: Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Hardcover)
This is a seminal work which "tells it like it is" concerning the current power arrangements in the American political system, as well as the political leadership's aspirations towards global empire. Prof. Wolin sets the tone of his work on page 1, with the juxtaposition of the imagery of Adolph Hitler landing in a small plane at the 1934 rally at Nuremberg, as shown in Leni Reifenstahl's "Triumph of the Will," and George Bush landing on the aircraft carrier "Abraham Lincoln" in 2003. Certainly one of the dominant themes of the book is comparing the operating power structure in the United States with various totalitarian regimes of the past: Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Prof Wolin emphasizes the differences between these totalitarian powers, and the softer concentration of power in the United States, which he dubs "inverted totalitarianism."

The book is rich with insights - the best way to savor Prof. Wolin's erudition is in small chunks. He shows the influence of the ancient Greeks, both Plato, as well as the Athenian political operative, Alcibiades, on the neo-cons "founding father," Leo Strauss. He examines in detail the efforts of some of America's own "founding fathers," particularly Madison and Hamilton, on how democracy should be contained and managed. He quotes at length an amazingly prescient passage from Tocqueville predicting one possible scenario for the future of the American democracy, which ends with "...and finally reduces each nation to nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd" (p79-80). He also discusses the profound impact of the "National Security Strategy of the United States" document of 2002 on the traditional vision of the values and rights expressed in the Constitution. He raises awkward questions - asking why there were massive public demonstrations in the Ukraine, in 2004, following an election deeply flawed by fraud, which ultimately lead to a new election; yet there were no popular demonstrations in the United States, a country with much stronger democratic traditions following the irregularities in the 2000 election.

He seasons his learning with nuggets of wry wit: "such a verdict after Florida would be an expression of black (sic) humor. (p102); "... to endorse a candidate or a party for reasons that typically pay only lip service to the basic need of most citizens...It speciousness is the political counterpart to products that promise beauty, health, relief of pain, and an end to erectile dysfunction." (p231); and "No collective memory means no collective guilt; surely My Lai is the name of a rock star." (p275). He also has a knack for using the popular phrases for a given sentiment, for example: "get government off our backs."

As other observers have also noted, there is the sharpest of contrasts between FDR's maxim that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" to the current constant promotion of holding the citizenry in a constant state of fear, admirably summarized on the domestic front by: "Downsizing, reorganization, bubbles bursting, unions busted, quickly outdated skills, and transfer of jobs abroad create not just fear but an economy of fear..." (p67)

For all the above, Prof. Wolin deserves 5 and ½ stars, but I did think his presentation was marred by poor organization, redundancy, and lapses into turgid prose. For example, on p. 190, long after the issue has been thoroughly discussed, he says "The administration seized on 9/11 to declare a `war on terrorism.'" Similarly, on p. 202 he says "Historically, the legislative branch was supposed to be the power closest to the citizenry..." Numerous other examples could be cited. Also, I tried - real hard- to come to terms with the term "inverted totalitarianism" but just never could - the intrinsic meaning simply is not there, like as in "managed democracy." Perhaps something like a "hyper-concentration of power" conveys the meaning better.

Overall though, the book is an essential read for anyone interested in the current state of the world.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 4, 2009 7:00:50 AM PST
This intelligent, thoughtful review was most helpful.

Posted on Mar 4, 2011 7:31:50 AM PST
Actually, I thought that there were protests to Bush's "win" in 2000 and 2004, but the media didn't report on them. "If a tree falls in the forest....". I certainly remember the prevailing messages from the Right was "Bush won. Get over it." and "Gore was a sore loser." I think Kerry capitulated so quickly in the 2004 election to avoid being branded as a sore loser also.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 18, 2011 6:54:12 PM PST
You're right, there were protests. Chris Hedges, in his discussion of this book on Alternative Radio, mentions Dennis Kucinich's appearing on the Capitol steps to push for Bush's impeachment, and being ridiculed the next day in the Washington post for his appearance, as an example of exactly what is happening to our society as we become consumers of tidbits about people rather than people willing to confront facts and issues. That may have been before or after the "win" but I think it's relevant.

Posted on Nov 18, 2011 6:56:58 PM PST
Thanks for your detailed review. Maybe I have a turgid mind, but I fail to see anything particularly turgid about the quotes that you cite. And "hyper-concentration of power" doesn't at all convey his point, IMHO.

Posted on Jul 28, 2012 9:00:45 PM PDT
If I am not mistaken "inverted totalitarianism" is a reference to control of government by corporations, as opposed to traditional totalitarian control of corporations by the government.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 10, 2014 1:38:57 PM PDT
BruceK says:
> "inverted totalitarianism" is a reference to control of government by corporations,

The tradition definition of fascism. (as totalitarism)

> traditional totalitarian control of corporations by the government.
The traditional definition of communism, as totalitarism.

Either of these totalitarian system MUST be evolved into by any country that aspires to superpower status, because superpower status is all about war, command and control.

Compared to socialism or democracy I don't know that there is a dime's bit of difference, and democracy is more or less out of the question because of the external threats.

The corollary to that is that the world cannot really have peace and prosperity until war is a thing of the past because otherwise the military is the most important consideration in any country that cares about its survival.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 31, 2015 9:58:49 AM PDT
Urizen says:
There were protests after the election but they were conducted by Republican operatives bused to Florida from Washington D.C. to disrupt the Florida recount. The media, instead of realizing that most of these people were simply aides and other Republican functionaries from D.C., covered this activity as if the recount itself was an anti-democratic maneuver and the Republican operatives were simply angry citizens incensed that their votes were being disregarded because of insufficiently punched chads. In fact, in several instances these legislative aides and others literally invaded the offices were the recounts were taking place and shut them down.

The Democrats were just inadequately prepared; they allowed these disruptive tactics to occur and failed to react in any meaningful way, while the rest of the country did what they do best: They watched the action on television, marveled at it, and those who were most interested blogged, complained, and argued about it on political message boards. Some may have even signed petitions. In the meantime, the Republicans mounted a Supreme Court challenge to the very idea of a recount based on the troubles their operatives had caused in Miami and the Supreme Court agreed in a decision that they claimed was not to be a precedent that such disruptive behavior was a bad thing and stopped the recount effectively giving the election to Bush. At least that is how I remember it!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 31, 2015 11:43:55 AM PDT
BruceK says:
Bush v. Gore was the most outrageous Supreme Court decision every, and it was the beginning of the new modern era of dominated government facism.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 2, 2015 11:18:38 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 2, 2015 11:24:46 AM PST
In other articles, Wolin describes some distinct differences between the system he claims we're heading for and the totalitarian systems of the last century. One that comes right to mind is the HIGHLY involved citizenry of Nazi Germany - 90% voting on plebiscites - as compared to citizens in the US who, in a good year, vote at the 50% level. Nuances on this were about the current state of manipulated fears of terrorists and job loss, as contrasted to citizens of other regimes feeling empowered by the military might of their countries.

This sounds condescending, but Wolin's WHOLE point is encapsulated by the term 'inverted totalitarianism'. Understanding what he means by that, and the reasons why he describes it as inverted are the reasons to read the book in the first place. To wit: we're heading towards totalitarianism, but we're doing it with some important differences - inversions - in how that's occurring, as compared to how it was achieved in the past.

Truthfully, I'm guessing that it's easier to see the forest for the trees in some of the short articles I've read by Wolin about inverted totalitarianism: he gets right to the main point and lists them off. I suspect it's easier to lose sight of those points in something like 400 pages.
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