Matrix & Transformation: Chapter 3


Richard Moore

Copyright 2004 Richard K. Moore



* Adversarial systems and liberal democracy

If We the People are to respond effectively to our
Transformational Imperative, then we will need to do so by
means of an appropriate social movement. In the preceding
chapter I argued that a protest movement like the
anti-globalization movement cannot be our transformational
vehicle. I also suggested that electoral politics cannot be
our vehicle either, and I offered the Populist Movement as an
example of a promising popular movement that finally
floundered on the shoals of the political system. In this
chapter I'd like to take a deeper look at our 'democratic'
system, as a prelude to investigating what kind of movement
could serve our needs.

Liberal democracy is an adversarial system. Candidates compete
for party nominations, parties compete to get their candidates
elected, and elected representatives compete to get their
programs adopted in parliaments. In the U.S. Constitution,
adversarial dynamics are enshrined in the form of a carefully
worked out balance of powers among the executive, judiciary,
and legislature.

There is a naive democratic theory behind this system of
governance. When advocates for side each present their case,
there is some hope that all relevant information will emerge,
enabling good decisions to be reached. When candidates and
parties compete, there is some hope that their relative
success will be related to the size of their following --
leading indirectly to a democratic result. In a competition
among people, ideas, and programs -- the theory goes -- the
best will rise to the top.

But with any kind of system, theory is one thing and practice
is another. Systems tend to have inherent dynamics -- and the
way those dynamics play out is not always consistent with the
theory or purposes under which the system is established. In
the case of hierarchies, an inherent tendency toward
centralization of power inevitably pushes against whatever
mechanisms are set up to constrain the hierarchy. We can see
this in the gradual consolidations of power by the Federal
Government in the U.S. and by the Brussels bureaucracy in the
EU. In the case of adversarial systems as well, there are
inherent dynamics which we can observe wherever adversarial
systems are employed.

An adversarial process operates as a competitive game. The
objective of the game is to win. If you want to be a
successful player in the game, you need to be better at
winning than the other players. In the case of politics,
winning means getting elected. According to the naive theory
of democracy, the election of a candidate should reflect
general acceptance of the candidate's program. But in reality,
victory in the political struggle depends on the ability to
attract a constituency by whatever means prove to be effective
-- and selling programs isn't the means that works best in
practice. More important might be the charisma of the
candidate, or the vulnerability of the opponent to a smear
campaign, or the ability to focus public attention on
superficial but dramatic issues, or countless other propaganda
games we see played out in typical campaigns. When programs
are talked about, a candidate usually does best by evading
questions or by telling people the lies they want to hear. The
dynamics of the competitive game lead to results that have
little to do with the naive theories behind representative

Electoral reforms can be attempted, and have frequently been
implemented, but reforms are like sand castles set against the
tide. The same political dynamics, and similar results, can be
seen in every nation that uses competitive elections. Indeed,
if we look back two thousand years to the Roman Republic we
can see the same patterns of corruption, complete with costly
campaigns, gerrymandering of districts, bought votes, etc.
What we need to understand here is that 'corruption' is the
wrong word for these phenomena. They are not distortions of
the system, rather they are the normal behavior of such a
system. It is the adversarial system itself that is a
corruption -- of democratic principles.

* Liberal democracy and elite hegemony

Liberal democracy is an ideal system to facilitate rule by
wealthy elites. In any adversarial game, the advantage goes to
the strongest players. On the school yard, the game of 'King
of the Mountain' is naturally dominated by the biggest and
strongest kids. In politics, the game of elections is
naturally dominated by those with the most campaign funds and
the most media support. By such means wealth can be translated
directly into political power and influence -- and by such
means every so-called 'democracy' is in fact ruled by wealthy
elites, either in office or from behind the scenes. There is
an ironic truth behind the neoliberal myth that capitalism and
'democracy' are closely related. In the myth the two are
related by a mutual respect for human freedom; in truth they
are related by their mutual friendliness to elite domination.

It is not by chance that we are governed by a system that
facilitates elite rule, nor was the system established due to
a mistaken belief in the naive theory of liberal democracy.
The naive theory is for school text books; it is part of the
establishment's supporting mythology. The elites who set up
these political systems understood very well how they actually

When the American revolution was over, the result was thirteen
sovereign republics, collaborating under the Articles of
Confederation. But there were problems. So much was new that
unforeseen difficulties arose. There was no common agreement
to protect sea lanes, for example, and piracy became rife. The
States all agreed that the Articles required amendment. A more
collaborative framework was needed. The legislatures agreed to
sponsor a Constitutional Convention, empowered to amend the
Articles and bring them back for unanimous approval of the
States. The delegates were supposed to represent their States,
and the Constitution was to be an agreement among the States,
an amended version of the Articles. Such was the charter under
which the Convention was empowered to operate.

The legislatures, unfortunately, mostly appointed their
delegates from among their local wealthy elites. The delegates
then ensconced themselves in secret session and proceeded to
betray the charter under which they had been assembled. They
discarded the Articles, and began debating and drafting a
wholly new document, one that transferred sovereignty to a
relatively strong central government. The delegates reneged on
the States that had sent them, and took it upon themselves to
speak directly for "We the People" -- and thus begins the
preamble to their Constitution. In effect they accomplished a
coup d'etat. They managed to design a system that would enable
existing elites to continue to run the affairs of the new
nation, as they had before under the Crown -- under a
Constitution that for all the world seems to embody sound
democratic principles.

At every level of the new Constitution there were safeguards
against uprisings from below. The life-appointed Supreme Court
Justices and the six-year Senators provided a kind of
conservative flywheel against any kind of rapid change. The
President was to be elected indirectly by State Legislatures,
which provided a buffer from "mob" sentiments in each state.
Most significantly, the strongest protections in the
Constitution were granted to private property. The
Constitutional sanctity of private property guaranteed that
existing elites would be able to hold on to and continue
developing their fortunes. Whereas in most European nations
the financial system is controlled by a central government
bank, in the new American republic the private sector was
given a more influential role. This provides American elites
with a way to influence economic affairs outside of political

This may seem like a cynical assessment of the legacy of
America's "Founding Fathers". Have they not given us all those
noble sayings?... "Give me liberty or give me death.", "The
price of liberty is eternal vigilance.", .etc. Were they not
true democrats? Some were and some weren't. Even some of the
best of them, like Thomas Jefferson, were slave owners. The
worst of them, like Alexander Hamilton, would have preferred
rule by an American royalty. In general the allegiance of
colonial elites to democracy was tempered by their concern for
their own self-interest, and their notion of how society
should operate. They didn't want Royal interference in their
affairs, but neither did they want interference by what many
of them referred to as "mob rule".

By the very way they carried out the secret Constitutional
Convention they demonstrated how the new government was going
to operate. They were delegates, chartered to represent their
constituencies, and they were mostly from wealthy elite
circles. When gathered in their own company they represented
instead their own mutual interests -- yet they presented their
work as the embodiment of their charter. And they succeeded
politically in selling their product to the people and to the
States. Such has been the story of American politics ever

After the Convention completed its work, a debate raged
throughout the colonies as to whether the new Constitution
should be ratified. As part of this debate, a series of
newspaper articles appeared that came to be known as the
Federalist Papers. These papers reveal with considerable
candor the elite reasoning behind the design of the new
government. Zinn writes:

      In Federalist Paper #10, James Madison argued that
      representative government was needed to maintain peace in a
      society ridden by factional disputes... "Those who hold and
      those who are without property have ever formed distinct
      interests in society." The problem he said, was how to control
      the factional struggles that came from inequalities in
      wealth.Minority factions could be controlled, he said, by the
      principle that decisions would be by vote of the majority.
      So the real problem, according to Madison, was a majority
      faction, and there the solution have an "extensive
      republic", that is, a large nation ranging over thirteen
      states, for then "it will be more difficult for all who feel
      it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with
      each other...The influence of factious leaders may kindle a
      flame within their particular States, but will be unable to
      spread a general conflagration through the other States."

The purpose of the new system, in other words, was to enable
the colonial elite to retain their economic and political
dominance by systematically preventing the ascendency of any
kind of popular democratic movement. The rules of the
adversarial game were carefully worked out so as to enable the
successful management of factionalism by the elite
establishment. The system was consciously designed to
facilitate elite rule and that is how it has functioned ever

* Divide and rule

Directly after the ratification of the Constitution, two
elite-led political parties were established. Madison,
Jefferson, and Monroe joined the Democrat-Republicans, while
Hamilton, Washington, and Adams joined the Federalists. This
set the pattern for U.S. politics ever since: two mainstream
parties, both controlled by wealthy elites, and providing the
illusion of choice to voters. The two major parties had the
funding to carry out major national campaigns, and then as now
people were corralled into choosing between the lesser of two
evils when they cast their ballots.

From the beginning, the primary agenda of all mainstream
parties has been to facilitate economic growth and the further
enrichment of the wealthy elites who control both the economy
and the government. I do not mean to imply that the elite were
then, or are today, a monolith with a single consensus agenda.
There have always been ideological divisions and different
cliques competing for relative advantage. These differences
play themselves out partly in political campaigns, and lead to
rhetoric that attempts to attract voters to supporting one
clique rather than the other. Each party tries to convince
voters that the other party is to be feared, and that their
own party will lead to popular prosperity. Voters have a
choice, but it is always between two different elite agendas
which differ only in the tactics by which growth is to be
facilitated -- and by which the people are to be kept under

As Madison anticipated, political stability in America has
been achieved through the management of factionalism. At any
given time, some sizable faction was always doing rather well
under the elite-managed system of economic growth, and these
more prosperous elements provided a solid base of support for
government policies. But there was always a mass of unrest
boiling up from the less advantaged segments of society.
Particularly with industrialization and the increasing
dominance of capitalist dynamics, wealth was very unequally
distributed, workers, women, and minorities were exploited,
and there were always movements of various kinds attempting to
influence the elite agenda. These movements were contained
either geographically, or else by means of pitting one faction
against the other. The Populists probably came closer than any
other movement to challenging elite hegemony, but they too
finally fell prey to adversarial dynamics when they cast their
lot in the electoral game.

Today the grassroots U.S. population is divided into two
primary factions, usually known as liberals and conservatives,
or left and right. This split represents a rather
sophisticated version of factional manipulation. It does not
represent any real difference of interests. It is not the case
that grassroots liberals and conservatives are from different
economic strata, or have different self-interest agendas for
fundamental national policies. The divisions, though deeply
felt, are not over matters of state, but over issues such as
abortion, gay rights, and the like. These kinds of issues,
according to the Constitution, are not even the business of
the Federal Government -- they are the kind that should be
dealt with locally or at the state level. But divisiveness is
so effective at controlling the population that the major
parties are happy to promote such issues to the national
level, where they can be exploited to generate fear and
anxiety. Campaigns and rhetoric are focused on these
peripheral issues, and fundamental issues of national policy
never even come up for discussion. Campaigns have no more
relevance to national policy than do high school debates, and
as in high school debates the winner is decided more on the
style of their presentations than on the validity of their

* The Harmonization Imperative

      It ain't left or right. It's up and down. Here we all are down
      here struggling while the Corporate Elite are all up there
      having a nice day!..
      - Carolyn Chute, author of The Beans of Egypt Maine and
      anti-corporate activist

For two tactical reasons, the pursuit of a 'progressive
victory' via the electoral system is a no-win idea. The first
reason is simply that such a project cannot succeed. The
divisive power of the establishment media and political
machines are too powerful. Elites have refined the management
of factionalism into a science. We all know this intuitively,
and that is why most progressives don't want to 'waste' their
vote on a Nader-style candidacy.

The second tactical reason is that a strong and aggressive
progressive movement -- within the context of neoliberalism
and adversarial politics -- would heighten the fears of the
right, fan the flames of polarization, and help facilitate an
overt fascist takeover. Indeed, if a progressive movement
showed any signs of gaining power, the elite regime would be
likely to play the fascist card in self-defense. This is why
I'm writing this book instead of campaigning for Nader.

There is also a more strategic reason why a 'progressive
victory' is a no-win idea -- even if it were achievable. Such
a victory would perpetuate hierarchy and the adversarial game.
The progressives would be on top for a while, but society
would remain divided. Progressive legislation would presumably
be enacted, but it would be enacted and enforced by a
centralized government. Those in opposition would rankle under
what they perceived to be a 'leftist dictatorship'. The forces
of reaction would exploit this divisiveness and there would
always be a danger that the political pendulum would swing
back to the right. This is in part how Reagan was able to come
to power -- an eventuality that would have seemed
inconceivable during the euphoric progressive resurgence that
followed the resignation of Richard Nixon.

If we want to transform society both economically and
politically, then we must first transform our culture. If we
want a non-dominator culture, we cannot achieve it by using
dominator methods. Such a culture cannot be imposed by a
centralized government, it must be grown from the grassroots.
The Soviet experience demonstrates what can happen when a
centralized government sets out to create a brave new world in
the name of 'the people'. A dictatorship of the proletariat is
just another kind of hierarchical rule by elites.

In order to escape from the trap of factionalism, we need to
find a way to get beyond the superficial issues that divide
us. Underneath our political and religious beliefs we are all
human beings who want a better and saner world for our
families and our descendents. Instead of focusing on what
divides us, and struggling to prevail over the 'other', we
need to find a way to focus on what unites us -- and learn how
to work together to achieve the kind of world we all want. We
face a common crisis as neoliberal capitalism destroys our
societies and threatens our life support systems. This crisis
presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to find our
common ground, as there is no sizable segment of the
population that benefits from the direction the regime is
taking us in. Factionalism no longer has any economic teeth --
the regime keeps us divided not by appealing to our self
interest but by means of manufactured and sensationalized
fears and anxieties.

If We the People are to respond effectively to our
Transformational Imperative -- to save the world and humanity
from its crisis -- we need first to actualize our common
identity as We the People. We need to learn to see one another
as human beings rather than as 'us' and 'them'. We need to
learn how to harmonize our deep common interests instead of
accentuating our superficial differences. In order to respond
to our Transformational Imperative, we must first respond to
this Harmonization Imperative.

Fortunately, there is a proven means by which we can move
effectively toward cultural harmonization and overcome
cultural factionalism. That means goes under the simple name
of 'dialog', and the next chapter is devoted to examining the
remarkable results that been achieved by appropriate kinds of
dialog -- and exploring how dialog might be employed to awaken
We the People and empower us together to respond to our
Transformational Imperative.