A Better History Will be Decided by Ending the Rule of the Rich and Powerful

Jeremy Cloward | Politics & Government | Analysis | August 5th, 2019

"Had I so interfered … [on] behalf of the rich, the powerful … or any of that class … it would have been alright."

- The "Old Man" John Brown, shortly before he was hanged on December 2, 1859.

In a Virginia courthouse in 1859 John Brown was declared insane by his own attorney and sentenced to death for attempting to start a nation-wide revolt to bring an end to the most brutal form of capitalism to ever have existed - slavery. Two years after his execution, a bloody civil war began in the United States which finally brought an end to that barbaric system that had torn apart the lives of millions of men, women, and children. The cost for doing so was the death of some 750,000 soldiers-a total higher than all US lives lost in all other 270 US wars combined-as well as the crippling, maiming, and injuring of 500,000 more.[1] Yet, why was the war fought at all? Because the rich and powerful of the South were unwilling to give up their class privilege and rule. Instead, they engaged in treason by ordering their fellow Southerners to take up arms against the United States government and forced millions of their countrymen, North and South, to pay a steep price-one they were often unwilling to pay themselves [2]-to try to maintain their position atop the existing politico-economic order of the day.

Class power in the South was based on control of the productive forces of society (i.e., farms, factories, etc.) by the rich or what we have come to know as private property. It is the fundamental component of capitalism that allows for wealth, power, and inequality to develop into enormously disproportionate dimensions throughout the world. Those that control property are able to determine what will be produced, how much will be produced, at what cost, and for what wage. Through ownership of the means of production of society, great wealth is produced for the owning class which often translates into great political power as well. While the idea of private property in the West has its roots in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, its most recent conception comes to us from the Enlightenment and is best understood through the political philosophy of liberalism and the economic doctrine of capitalism. Or more specifically, liberal-capitalism.

Liberal-capitalism holds up individual rights, limited government, reason, and private property as virtues. In fact, John Locke, one of the most notable thinkers of the Enlightenment and for many the father of liberalism, considered property rights to be so important (as well as nearly every framer of the US Constitution [3]) that he argued "the preservation of property [is] the end of government." [4] However, even Locke recognized that "where there is no property, there is no injustice." [5] Thus, in two brief statements Locke made clear the truth about private property. The truth is that private property creates such inequality that any society that introduces it into its social relations will need the full force of the state to "protect" owners of property from those who are the victims of property ownership. Indeed, if private property creates injustice then the state will be needed to both legitimate its existence and suppress any kind of dissent against the privilege and power that comes from its possession. Still, in the end, economic inequality-including slavery-and all the injustices that come from it were not a problem for Locke nor most of the Enlightenment thinkers. Instead, these men helped bring into existence a world where political equality was a necessity (for white men with property anyway) but any notion of economic equality was simply beyond the reaches of human civilization.


So, it has been left to those who have come after the Enlightenment to create a social order that is rooted in political and economic equality as the foundation of a just society. While there is no formal name to this post-Enlightenment period that is now emerging, the most recent historical chapter that has been written by liberal-capitalism has been the problematic age of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism might be thought of as an extreme variant of state-regulated (or deregulated) capitalism. The idea of neoliberalism was first developed by the so-called "Chicago Boys." The Chicago Boys were a group of Chilean economists who received their Ph.D.'s in economics primarily from the University of Chicago and were trained by the neo-conservative economist Milton Friedman. They later played high-ranking roles as economic advisors in the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile in the 1970s and 1980s. Neoliberalism is essentially a two-pronged approach to political economy and consists of: (1) the reduction or elimination of government spending on social programs such as education, health care, and programs for the poor, and (2) the deregulation of private industry and the transferring of government services such as electricity, water, and oil into corporate hands. The purpose behind the system is to allow capital to move around the globe unhindered by the state in its never-ending pursuit of profits. Many times, this system of capital accumulation is reinforced by state power, including by a nation's military.

Neoliberalism (as is true with capitalism itself) places into motion the most basic law of wealth accumulation and poverty creation through a simple formula: the owning class pays the working class less than the value of the commodity or service that they produce . Even if there are different degrees of wealth distribution between companies and countries, there are no exceptions to the relationship between the owning class and the working class. The more capital the owning class takes for itself the less there is for everyone else. To not see this is to be awake but not see the sun. However, when the relationship between those that own and those that work is not taught in our schools and universities, revealed by our news media, nor whispered in the once hallowed institutions of our government then it is clear that a conspiracy of silence in understanding power has reached our culture. In so doing, our society has lost its ability to generate fundamental truths about itself from the very institutions that are supposed to provide them. Nevertheless, global capitalism (and one of its recent modifications-neoliberalism) with its opposing classes, remains the dominant economic system embraced or imposed upon nearly the whole of the world. Aside from its unequal distribution of class power, this system of capital accumulation has caused a whole series of national and planetary concerns. Consider just a few:

Responsible for Near Endless Wars Around the World

While many nations fight wars for one purpose or another, no nation behaves quite like the United States on the world stage. In examining the United States and its involvement in war, we can more clearly understand the forces at work within neoliberalism. The United States is the world's empire and its history makes it clear that war is very much a part of the American character. In fact, in its more than 240-year existence the US has been at war for more than 90 percent of the time. Since the end of World War II, the United States has engaged in more than one-hundred separate military "interventions" with more than thirty of them initiated after the turn of the twenty-first century. With none being formally "declared" as required by the Constitution, these often-brutal and long-lasting wars have resulted in the death and dislocation of millions of people around the world. It should not come to us as any surprise then, that from the millions of lives obliterated by the arithmetic of what are the ever-expanding American wars that the United States is now considered by a fairly wide margin, according to global public opinion polls, to be "the greatest threat to peace in the world today." [6]

Still, the massive size of the military, the military budget, and the reasons for military intervention across the planet are rarely questioned or investigated in any genuine way by the corporate press or discussed in any real detail by the United States government. In fact, the US enters one violent conflict after another with virtually no institutional debate, no declaration of war by congress, and virtually no understanding by the American people. Likewise, at almost no time whatsoever is the military budget placed into any meaningful context or even put into question by either the media or the US government. Indeed, the actual US military budget stands at some $1.2 trillion and is greater than all other 194 countries combined but is never even discussed by either the media or the United States government. [7] Rarely do the corporate press or the US government ever identify the hundreds of US corporations and industries located in any of the more than 150 countries where there are United States military forces. No real connection between capital extraction and the need for a military presence is presented, explored, or considered in the media and government or framed as a part of the larger economic system. Instead, questions about the US military in the world tend to be viewed through the prism of the "War on Terror," similarly to how military questions were once viewed through the viewpoint of "anti-Communism" or the Cold War.

Aside from the failings of government and media in explaining the causes for war, mainstream academia and international relations scholars will provide every answer under the sun why two countries go to war except for what is often the truth. The truth is that war is many times driven by a want by the powerful to take from the powerless. Or more specifically, in the case of the United States war on Iraq: the rich bribing the state to kill the poor and then steal from them . This is one of the most basic features of the political economy of neoliberalism. And, it was laid bare for anyone with eyes to see when US economic elites "influenced," through campaign contributions and lobbying dollars, the US ruling class to wage war on the Third World country of Iraq resulting in the deaths of at least one million Iraqi citizens so the oil industry might further increase its already enormous corporate profits. [8] In fact, these cultural thought leaders who often occupy prestigious chairs in our centers of higher education (e.g., Madeleine Albright of Georgetown and Larry Diamond and Condoleezza Rice of Stanford, to name just a few) regularly fail to come to this most obvious of all conclusions for multiple reasons. They do so because either they can't see it, don't want to believe that there are deeper systemic causes for war, out of concern for their own role in the "war crimes" against the targeted country, or out of fear of being labeled a heterodoxic thinker or scholar (or worse still, a Marxist) and as a result have their analysis brought into question by being identified as such.

Yet, the truth remains. And, the truth is that war is good business. Indeed, the provisions of goods and services to the military is a massive source of capital accumulation in the United States and is fundamental to the functioning of the nation's economy. In fact, it is not too much to say that the United States maintains a "permanent war-time economy" as the nation has been at continuous war since September 11, 2001 (if not from its inception) and the military is fueled by nearly every sector of the US economy. For sure, when we think specifically in terms of political economy and examine the top ten donors to the Democratic and Republican parties we see that every single donor comes from a sector or industry within the national economy that is directly tied to military spending, including (but not in rank order): (1) health, (2) communications and electronics, (3) energy and natural resources, (4) transportation, (5) agribusiness, (6) defense, (7) labor, (8) construction, (9) lawyers & lobbyists[9] and (10) finance.[10] Through their massive-sized donations, each industry ensures that it will receive contracts from the United States government including some of the most profitable ones that exist-the contracts for war. In filling their war contracts, one powerful and large-scale industrial center of our society after another more fully embeds itself in the military political economy of the United States and further deepens the nation's dependence on war to sustain the nation's economic system. Thus, again and again since the 1980s, the starting point of neoliberalism, we have watched the state reduce funding for the republic while expanding it for the empire-one of the most basic principles of neoliberalism.

Global Warming and Climate Change

The universe is fourteen billion years old. In it are some two trillion galaxies. One of those galaxies is our galaxy, the Milky Way. It contains at least one billion planets and, at minimum, the same number of stars. Nine billion of those planets are estimated to be in the "Goldilocks Zone"-meaning they are neither too far away nor too close to the star that they are orbiting to prevent life from developing. However, so far, the only planet that we know has life on it is our own-Earth. Of all fifty billion species that have existed on our planet, 99% are now extinct. Human beings have already walked the planet for some 200,000 years-100,000 years longer than the average species. Yet, with all of that knowledge at hand, human beings remain the only species to have ever planned their own destruction. Second only to the terrible power of nuclear weapons-there are now enough to kill everyone on Earth many times over-global warming and climate change are the most immediate long-term threat to the continued existence of the human race.

Global warming and climate change are a product of the Industrial Revolution which is itself a development of global capitalism. The industrialization of global society began just 200 years ago and was brought into existence to make the rich, richer still. It allowed for all kinds of goods and services to be produced at an ever-faster pace which translated into more profits and new markets for an emerging international owning class. In time, industrialization gave rise to powerful cross-country locomotives and the automobile industry which were fueled by coal and oil. As time passed, fossil fuels would come to heat, cool, and power our homes and workplaces.

However, the burning of oil and coal releases carbon dioxide or CO2 into the atmosphere. An excess of CO2 in the atmosphere upsets the Earth's natural chemical balance and creates warmer global temperatures which in turn leads to climate change. In burning fossil fuels for a relatively short period of time, human beings have fashioned a state of affairs where the Earth now has more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than at any other time in the last three million years. [11] Yet, with the whole world already experiencing the harsh effects of global warming and climate change, the real concern is that it may, as the great cosmologist Stephen Hawking noted, become permanent. For certain, he writes that:

"The danger is that global warming may become self-sustaining, if it has not done so already. The melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps reduces the fraction of solar energy reflected back into space, and so increases the temperature further. Climate change may kill off the Amazon and other rain forests, and so eliminate once one of the main ways in which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. The rise in sea temperature may trigger the release of large quantities of carbon dioxide, trapped as hydrides on the ocean floor. Both these phenomena would increase the greenhouse effect [and further heat the temperature of the Earth]." [12]

Whatever the case may be, the United Nations has concluded that all countries must take "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society" to avoid increasing the Earth's temperature by 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by as earlier as 2030.[13] If not, then the world risks more extreme weather including more intense droughts, wildfires, floods, and food shortages impacting billions of people across the globe. With that call to action in the background, the United Nation's Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) later explained that climate change and "the relentless pursuit of economic growth" [14] has created a situation where one million species (or one in eight species known to exist on Earth) are now faced with extinction. With the planet already moving into the sixth mass extinction period (or what is known as the "Holocene extinction"), many of these species will begin to disappear within decades if nothing is done to slow the increase in the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. [15] Yet, how did we get into this situation in the first place? Through the non-stop pursuit of capital by capital, irrespective of its impact on the physical environment or the Earth's people.

Created A Massive-Sized and Expanding Global Poor

Neoliberalism and global capitalism have allowed those who own to accumulate wealth at heights almost never seen before in history. Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Ford, and Gates rank behind only a handful of emperors and kings (and one of the most brutal warlords in history in Genghis Khan) whose wealth has been unmatched in world history. As a consequence of this ongoing "Gilded Age" for the very rich, today 80 percent of the world's population, or more than six billion people, live on $10 or less a day, amounting to just $3,650 a year. While troubling enough, according to the anti-poverty organization Oxfam International (founded by Quakers and Oxford scholars) not only is the majority of the world poor but "seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased" from 1980 and 2012. [16] In fact, any humane definition of global poverty indicates that not only has economic inequality increased, but so too has the number of people who are poor grown in size as well.[17] Conversely, from 1980 through 2012, Oxfam found that, "the richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries" that the organization inspected[18] with this trend continuing right through 2018. Though rarely noted in the corporate press or discussed by almost any capitalist-government, if the richest 1 percent are getting richer, then someone else is getting poorer. In the United States and throughout the world, that would be almost everyone else. In fact, not only has poverty increased but it has become so extreme that in the richest country in the world today more than "five million people [are] living in Third World conditions" in the United States.[19] In other parts of the world, poverty has become so entrenched that some people have been forced to consider doing things that many of us would rather not imagine. For example, in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and in a country where 80 percent of the population already lives on $2 or less a day, some people have been left so far behind by the virtues of neoliberalism that they have, at times, turned to eating "mud-cookies" (a mix of dirt and water sunbaked on the cement) [20] to ward off their hunger. Yet, in spite of some Haitian's attempts not to starve, hunger is still the number one cause of death in the world, killing more than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined each year. [21]

Still, in 2014 it was almost shockingly reported that a mere eighty-five people possessed more wealth than the bottom half of the Earth's population, combined.[22] While a clear sign of massive wealth inequality and all of the problems that come with it, today, depending on whose numbers are correct, possibly as few as eight men control more wealth than the bottom half of the world combined. [23] As the merciless logic of global capitalism continues to place all of the world's wealth into the hands of a few exceedingly rich individuals, neoliberalism's predictable end of also creating and further expanding a massive-sized global poor remains the present state and future trajectory of the world economy. Whatever the outcome, the increased ranks of the global poor as a consequence of the increased concentration of wealth into the hands of the few runs contrary to the common argument made by the ruling classes and the wealthy few the world over that all people are "better off" as global capitalism spreads around the entire planet. [24]

Narrowed Our Sources of Public Information

In a democracy, the news media is responsible for investigating public officials and political institutions to ensure that each is working on behalf of the people or, more generally, the "public good." The investigation of the political arena by the news media is to occur from a variety of independent and unconnected sources which are based upon a variety of ideological viewpoints. In the United States, the airwaves are supposed to be publicly owned which would allow for, at the very least, a not wholly corporate-based telling of the news. Yet, when we examine the American media, we find that this is not always the case.

As recently as 1983 fifty separate corporations owned 90 percent of all the United States' news media-print, TV, and radio. However, as neoliberalism concentrates economic power into the hands of fewer people, today just six large global corporations control 90 percent of everything that people read, watch, or listen to in the United States. Notably, four of the six media corporations are controlled by individuals who are billionaires, and three of the six companies are owned by just two people. By definition, then, the American news media does not include multiple diverse interests but is instead an oligopoly-a market that is controlled by a very small group of for-profit companies.

If the media is controlled by very wealthy members within the global elite, it is reasonable to ask whether or not the news media has an identifiable political and economic ideology. Liberal scholars regularly argue that there is no discernible politico-economic ideology of the news media, or that Democratic and Republican issues are given roughly the same attention in the media. However, this argument is undermined by the fact that mainstream news media focuses almost exclusively on conservative and liberal concerns. If the news media did not have some identifiable ideological value-system, then a whole range of individuals and issues and a whole series of political and economic questions would either be discussed in the corporate press or at the very least, not attacked, such as: the virtue of public ownership in all of its forms, the value of unions and collective bargaining for working people, the reality that the majority of left-leaning Third-party platforms align with the majority of the American people's interests, a thorough and highly critical critique of the exploitation of the Third World by international capital (including by the American owning class), and the nature and massive size of the US military and military spending, including a questioning of why US troops are stationed in more than 150 countries around the globe. Yet, this is not the case. Instead, the corporate press is either silent on each of these issues or is, in fact, hostile toward them.

For certain, it is not correct to say that the news media in the United States is unbiased or does not hold any political or economic ideology. In general, liberal scholars' argument that the mainstream media pays equal or almost equal attention to liberal and conservative concerns is likely correct. However, that misses the point. What is most alarmingly true is that the media ignores, downplays, or places a negative connotation on virtually any issue, person or idea that is in contradiction to the class interests of those that own the corporate media or criticizes the capitalist economic system itself. Instead, the corporate press overwhelmingly tends to see social reality in the United States-and around the world-through the eyes of the class that owns it.

Concentrated Political Power in the Hands of the Wealthy Few

Irrespective of the founders' intentions, today the United States is a plutocracy. Plutocracy is an Ancient Greek word that means: "a society ruled by the rich where wealth is valued over goodness." As wealth accumulates in any society, the owning class, unless politically prevented from doing so, will eventually come to shape state policy. As the state is a reflection of class power, they will do so not on behalf of the bonum populi (i.e., "good of the people") but instead on behalf of their own class interests. This is done in the United States by the wealthy few spending hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbying dollars to "influence" the state. Known as bribery in other countries, this arrangement (made worse by "corporate-personhood" [25]) has allowed powerful American trusts and wealthy individuals to essentially purchase the state for their own use. If this were not the case then we would see a whole series of issues debated and resolved by the government in favor of the people and not the rich. For example, today the United States would provide free health care and a free kindergarten through graduate school education to each of its citizens. All American wars would be brought to an end and US troops would be recalled from their many locations around the world. People throughout the country would be paid a living wage and housing and day care would be provided affordably, if not free. But this is not the current state of affairs in the United States nor is it the reality of daily existence for an enormous majority of the world's people. In the US (and often times throughout the world) it is because of a longstanding class advantage by the rich even if it is not recognized as such.

In the United States, through their massive-sized campaign contributions and lobbying dollars, the wealthy few are able to produce policy outcomes that provide for immense-sized tax-payer provided bailouts for their already giant-sized banks. How big are the banks? The top ten financial institutions in the United States have combined assets that are greater than the total GDP of China which is second only to the US. The amount each bank uses for "political influence" amounts to only a tiny fraction of their total assets and is often the best money they will ever spend. So too is the owning class able to ensure huge tax breaks for their class [26] yet at the same time make it more difficult for the working class to be released from heavy financial burdens or file for bankruptcy. [27] Through their class rule, the rich have been able to make sure the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have continued for more than fifteen years even though the majority of the nation's people have been against them since less than two years after the start of each war. And, the wealthy few are able to ensure that healthcare remains private and highly lucrative for their class though70 percent of the country favors a state-funded healthcare system. [28] Thus, when we examine national policy in the United States it becomes quite clear where real class power resides-with the wealthy few.

In Sum: Neoliberalism & Future Generations

As today turns into tomorrow and future generations begin to write the history of our time, they may look at the physical world that has been ravaged by neoliberalism and unrestrained global capitalism and may point to Native American culture with its respect for the Earth and ask why it wasn't paid attention to more closely. Or upon considering the horrible conditions created by poverty, they may ask why we did not better follow the example left by Martin Luther King Jr. Or in thinking about the terrible destruction of war they might wonder why we didn't take John F. Kennedy's position about war more seriously when he said, "Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind." Or to our horror they may have a more sympathetic view toward people like Ted Kaczynski and his critique of the "techno-industrial system" than the one that we currently possess.[29] In fact, in due time, as global capitalism and an ever-increasing technological-neoliberalism continues its stampede across the globe, creating great wealth but generating planetary-sized concerns, Kaczynski may well someday be viewed more as a modern-day prophet than a historical pariah. Whatever the case may be, capitalism marches on, with the rich and powerful continuing to provide every reason under the sun why the system that so richly benefits their class is the only one possible and is, irrespective of the evidence to the contrary, beneficial to all.

Consequences of Confronting the Rich & Powerful: The Case of Chile in the 1970s

Dating back to the Ancient Roman gladiator and slave Spartacus and continuing right up until the present day in countries such as Venezuela and Cuba, those that have opposed the rule of the rich and powerful have often paid a heavy price. They have opposed the class rule of the privileged few not out of greed but instead out of a want of ending the inequities and injustices that come with it. Dr. Salvador Allende and the nation of Chile are a case in point. One of the best and most thoughtful men to have ever graced the political stage, Allende tried to breathe life into a new conception of government and society in his country. After becoming the first democratically elected socialist president in the history of the world in 1970 he began to transition the Chilean economy, which was controlled by the international owning class, into a socialist economy that would be presided over by a democratic-socialist state and Chile's working class.

With more than one hundred US corporations in Chile at the time, key sectors within the United States' owning class stood to lose billions of dollars under a man and government that had every intention of nationalizing industries and corporations for the benefit of the Chilean people. Once in power he did exactly that. One of the largest and most profitable sectors brought under national control was the mostly US-owned copper industry. After expropriating Chile's mines from US corporations, Allende provided relatively little money in return. His argument for doing so was based on the American companies past exploitation of Chilean workers and the damage that they had done to the country. Allende's government also seized control of the utilities sector which was owned by American capital and nationalized US and internationally owned banks. Not stopping there, in its move toward a more equal society, Allende's government imposed heavy state regulation on or nationalized the iron, coal, and steel industries. And, if that was not enough for the owning class, he began to increase wages for workers and impose price freezes on goods and services throughout the country. Finally, Allende's government focused on an agrarian reform program not unlike the one undertaken by Fidel Castro in Cuba. [30] A program that was popular in Latin America at the time for its ability to redistribute wealth amongst a nation's poor and unpopular in the United States for the same reason.

By early September of 1973 the Chilean oligarchs and key members within the American ruling class had enough. Daring to call themselves patriots, and with the full support of the United States government and many of Chile's rich, a clique of Chilean generals and admirals conspired to overthrow the Allende government. The events that followed made up one of the most tragic chapter's written about democracy during the twentieth century. Indeed, the future military junta that was now forming in close alliance with the United States government ordered the Chilean Air Force to bomb the presidential palace, La Moneda-Chile's White House-with Allende and members of his government still inside. In his final hours, Allende chose to end his own life (for some, rather valiantly) instead of falling into the hands of what would become the murderous General Augusto Pinochet regime. After the coup and Allende's death, and fully reinforced by the United States government, the military junta allowed Chile's rich and the American owning class to regain control of industries and factories that had been nationalized by Chilean workers and the state just a few years earlier.

Later, the Pinochet military dictatorship would go on to torture and "disappear" (i.e., murder and vanish from the face of the Earth) thousands of Chilean citizens from 1973 to 1990 who were considered to be opponents of the regime or supporters of Allende. This again was done with the full support of key members of the US ruling class. [31] In time and with the Chicago Boys fully entrenched in Pinochet's government, any chance of a return to a working-class republic disappeared from Chile's foreseeable future as did any sign of democracy for almost two decades. In destroying this once promising socialist-democracy, the US and Chilean owning class made it clear that when their class power was threatened, they would use violence and unconstitutional measures to restore their class privilege atop the social order of Chile. While Pinochet's rule eventually came to an end and he was later indicted for hundreds of human rights violations (though he was likely guilty of thousands more), his dark legacy remains that of introducing "the gun" into Chilean politics to resolve the class conflicts that are so elementary to the system of capitalism and capital accumulation on behalf of the rich and powerful.

Yet, the case of Chile is just one example of the same brutal history lesson taught many times over by the United States government in the past 75 years. As popular movements and government leaders who have attempted to nationalize their country's resources, redistribute wealth, or keep US multinational corporations from exploiting their nation's riches have so bitterly learned, they have often been the target of US-backed assassinations and government overthrows. In fact, since 1945, the United States (via the CIA) has assassinated, attempted to assassinate, or played a role in the assassination of at least fifty foreign leaders or heads of state and tried to overthrow, through a variety of means, at least thirty separate foreign governments. [32] In spite of its public pronouncements to the contrary of "spreading" democracy" or "nation-building," not one time since 1945 has the United States government worked to protect a democratic government, improve the living conditions of the poor or working class, or assist a popular movement abroad. Instead, each time the US has "intervened" in a nation's affairs since the end of World War II it has been done to support or enhance the class position of a very specific class.

An American Caligula and a Troubled Republic: When the Rich Rule

The long and violent history of US involvement all around the world is a legacy that we will leave to future generations. In fact, they may well one day think of the US troops spread all around the globe, the ongoing deadly wars, the seemingly non-stop social violence throughout the country, the ravenous greed of the rich, and an increasingly corrupt government that is led by a man that resembles the Roman emperor Caligula (12 AD-34 AD) and view this time in history as the beginning of the end of the American republic. Like children wandering through the ruins of their ancestors and confronted with the vicious truth of a powerful empire that they have inherited, they may well wonder why those who came before them seem to have brought back into existence some of the darkest days of the Roman Empire.

In fact, the parallels between Rome under Caligula and the United States under the current American president might be quite striking for them. The historical record is in almost complete agreement that Caligula was insane, self-obsessed, cruel, a tyrant, and a sexual deviant. Or as Anthony Barrett writes, he was a "self-indulgent and unpredictable ruler devoid of any sense of moral responsibility. Totally unsuited to the task of governing, without training and with little talent for administration." [33] While his debased personality traits likely would have made him noteworthy in Roman history, his actual rule as emperor brought about or exacerbated a whole series of problems that Rome was already facing. In just four years, he further undermined the Roman notion of republican government and the rule of law and made it even more remote that this once promising city-state would ever return to its previous formulation as a republic.

Caligula's time in power included not only waging costly wars but also sending Roman troops on meaningless military excursions. He worked to increase the political power of the emperor to almost unlimited degrees and used state funds to build grand-scale and self-aggrandizing "public-works" projects. Never shy to enhance his own wealth and prestige, while emperor Caligula continued to build expensive residences for himself with it not always being clear if the money being spent came from the state or himself. After squandering much of Rome's money, Caligula tried to replenish the republic's treasury through a series of unpopular tax measures and legally doubtful and dishonest expropriations. With Rome knocked askew from his unscrupulous rule, Caligula announced that he was going to Egypt to be worshipped as a living god. After already making his horse a priest, this decision was apparently one step too far for the Roman elite. His announcement led to an assemblage of murderous-minded men to coalesce around him resulting in his assassination by the Pretorian Guard-the very men assigned to protect him. Though removed from the political scene, the damage Caligula had done to Ancient Rome cast a dark shadow over the once great city-state long after his death. Today, his rule echoes down through history as an example of the toxic mix of power and madness.

Yet when we think of the United States and consider the actions of the man leading the republic and empire today can we really conclude that the United States is so different than Rome was under Caligula? The American president too has debased personality traits, is self-obsessed, cruel (and ignorant), a sexual deviant, amoral, and appears to be of an unsound mind. With respect to his governing style, the president has pushed the limits of power of his once venerated office to bounds never before seen in American history and not intended by the framers of the Constitution. He has openly violated the Constitution and the rule of law as well as disrespected the republican principle of a separation of powers by trying to fund a "public works" project with money that has not been approved for it by congress and by ruling through his constitutionally questionable decrees. In so doing, he has undermined the very foundation of American government.

With a military already unrivaled in world history, he has further turned plowshares into swords by increasing the size of the military budget and then sent American troops on a meaningless military expedition to the US-Mexico border. In fact, some of his actions are more reminiscent of the grim character Fames in the Roman poet Virgil's Aeneid than they are of Caligula. Fames-or "Hunger"-loitered in front of the "Gates of Hell" urging people to commit crimes. [34] Yet in the United States, instead of loitering as the embodiment of hunger, the American president has given massive tax-cuts to the rich (including to himself and his family) while he and his party have made deep cuts to important social programs for the people and the poor. He has done this all the while requiring hundreds of thousands of federal employees to work without pay. Then the president and his wealthy cast of cabinet members wonder mindlessly why some federal employees can't "make ends meet" by simply taking out a loan, borrowing from their local grocery store, or relying on a food bank. Like a thief for the rich (and not unlike Fames), he tempts the American people to become like a modern-day Jean Valjean, an otherwise honest man who resorts to stealing bread so he might continue to live.

Whatever the case may be, perhaps worse than his debased personality traits and morally questionable policies, the current American president has tried to murdered Truth. In fact, "this man of the rich" (yet out for himself) has told more than 10,000 lies in just over two and one-half years. If there is such a thing as a national tragedy then it will be if he is successful in this pursuit. While obvious to many, it seems that nearly one half of our citizens, and many of them working class, seem not to notice or care about his dishonesty. Or worst of all, they have become like a collective Pontius Pilate-all quietly asking themselves, "What is truth?" as they and the Republican Party continue to support the "Father of Lies" irrespective of his daily dishonest, and many times, disrespectful public pronouncements. In reality, if the Republican Party had an ounce of self-respect, they would have voted to impeach the president the first day he took office for violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution. With interests in over a thousand businesses in more than one hundred countries when he took office, today it is impossible to know if he is working on behalf of the United States or on behalf of himself. But they did not. Now, too often in ruling unchecked it is hard not to read the daily newspapers about one of the president's delusions or lies and not wonder how far away his mind is from considering if not he too should be worshipped as a living-god, much like Caligula once did. If Caligula's rule was characterized by chaos and absurdity then minimally we too have moved to the reductio ad absurdum (i.e., reduction to the absurd) or the "Age of the Absurd" when, in addition to the above, a man who presides over the most powerful nation in the history of the world has also…

- 24 women accuse him of sexual assault

- Taken the side of two foreign leaders who are enemies of American democracy

- 100 plus documented instances of contact with a foreign power during his election

- Chronically denied the scientifically proven reality of global warming and climate change

- 15 plus ongoing investigations against him involving his businesses and politics

- 10 plus documented instances of what appear to be "obstruction of justice"

- Continued multiple "undeclared" wars abroad

yet, the Democratic Party, which now controls the House of Representatives and was largely elected in response to the policies and personality of the current president will not even begin impeachment proceedings against him in that chamber. To their shame and ours, our children will likely only shake their heads and wonder why we didn't do anything. They will be right to do so and we will have no excuse. For in the final analysis, just as the "disaster that followed" the elevation of Caligula to the highest seat of power in Rome "was inevitable and of the Romans' own making" so too has the placement of the current American president in the most powerful seat in the world been done with the electoral blessings of the American people. [35]

Conclusion: Moving Toward a Better Tomorrow

In a just society Malcolm X would have been a senator and Martin Luther King Jr. would have been president. Instead, they were killed. Yet, their deaths reveal a basic truth about historical progress: "History moves slowly and it is unkind to those who try to make it move any faster than it is ready to move." However, today, the greed of the rich and the injustices visited on the people of the world by the powerful require us tomove history. The major task facing the world's people today is to change the nature of the political economy of the global system. While plutocrats never go easy, [36] to move the state and the world's economy away from the rich and powerful, the world's people only need to begin with their refusal to acquiesce to any social order other than one that is founded in true equality and justice. The whole notion of one person being more equal than another has "come and gone" in the world of political ideas. It died in political philosophy during the Enlightenment. Today, for an ever-growing number of people around the world, the notion of economic inequality as a worthwhile, much less moral, economic doctrine has died out as well. Thus, for more and more people around the world, any unequal social arrangement should only exist on the pages of history.

Once the world's people refuse to bow down to the rich and powerful, the only thing this hour in history needs is the simplest of all things-the Truth. If patience is the burden of thoughtful people, then thoughtful people need to patiently shine a light on the truth of the world. In doing so, it will be possible to bring forth the people and ideas that are needed to make a better tomorrow. In fact, the people and ideas that are needed are already emerging today. For example, in the United States, reparations for African Americans to address the cruel legacy of slavery are now being talked about by every major Democratic candidate in the 2020 presidential election. No longer can that atrocity and its many shocking brutalities be ignored. It was a "deal with the devil" that our founding fathers made and one in which the country would eventually reap a bitter harvest (i.e., the Civil War). Today, the long, dark shadow cast by slavery continues to haunt our nation's very soul. For many, a nationwide settlement of that issue is long past due.

"Economic rights" are now being discussed as human rights and merely as a continuation of the New Deal. Today, Establishment Democrats are quite removed from Franklin D. Roosevelt's conception of a "good society" and a return to his politics would be a step in the right direction for everyone in the country, including the rich. Economic rights for the people and the poor would prevent the rich from snatching up too much of the nation's wealth which could lead to social unrest and a diminishing of their class power to proportions that they may not be prepared to accept. Progressive lawmakers and people throughout the United States are taking global warming and climate change more seriously than at any time in the past. A threat to all the world's people, it is one of the most significant issues that our children will face. And, while congress will not move toward impeach of the president (for the time being anyway) there are right now some young, thoughtful women of color in congress that are very much progressive thinkers that seem to have the good of the nation and world in mind as they work within the halls of power in Washington D.C.

Outside of the United States, progressive movements in Europe are confronting a rising tide of extreme right-wing nationalism that pretends to be a kind of stern but still acceptable populism. Not only are these far-right politics on the move in Europe but so too in countries such as the Philippines which is led by an outright murderer and Brazil which is overseen by a neo-fascist. Still, popular movements have made historical strides. For instance, in the most recent European Parliament elections, the Green Party in Finland, France, Ireland, Germany, England, Wales, Portugal, and Belgium won high seat totals with multiple countries seeing the Green Party finish in second place. In fact, according to public opinion polls, in Germany, the Green Party is the most popular party in the whole country. [37] Other forward-looking individuals and groups have created international organizations to advance the concerns of all people of the world. One of those groups, the Progressive International, was specifically created to "transform the global order" and create "global justice" on an international scale. [38] At the same time, however, progressive nations such as Cuba and Venezuela are having their national sovereignty openly disrespected by much of the West and outright threatened with violence by the United States. One wonders how a country such as Cuba, which provides free education kindergarten through graduate school, free health care, and free food and housing to each of its citizens, is a threat to anyone. The fact of the matter is that it is not. Instead, because Cuba and Venezuela have the courage to control their own resources and have chosen to bow down to no one, they are targeted for harassment and destruction by the global ruling classes and the wealthy few.

Whatever the outcome of world history, the present moment in the American experience likely will be remembered as a troubled time. A period where the future of our nation may well hang in the balance. Only time will tell but there is no mistaking that in the last few years there has been a nastiness in the air. A graceless age, when a stupidity has run nearly unconstrained over our republic. In fact, if it is not the many bloody and unconstitutional wars that will come to symbolize our times, then it may just well be possibly the saddest incident to have occurred during this time. That was the day a two-year old girl was put on trial alone. All by herself, she wept heart-breaking but ultimately bitter tears in front of a judge to answer for her crime of coming to the United States-the land of the "tired, the poor, [and] the huddled masses"-to escape poverty and violence in her own. [39] A dream that was once offered to the world but has become a nightmare for an increasing number of people who have acted on the words engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

In empathetic wonderment, our children might look back and ask us, "Why did any of this happen?" Shuffling our feet, we know we will have no good answer for them. But, possibly the only response that we should give them is that all of this occurred because we and our political leaders forgot one of the most important teachings that Christ ever gave us and one that the American president never bothered to learn: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."[40] Christ offered us a world without suffering. We rejected it. With it now clear to them that we had lost our way, our children may once again turn to Ancient Rome to try to understand our times. In looking back, they may well recall the words of the great Roman orator Cicero. Though he was speaking of Ancient Rome, our children may just as well conclude that he was speaking about us when he said, "You see, the Republic, the Senate, dignity dwelt in none of us."[41]

About the Author

Jeremy Cloward, Ph.D. is a political science professor and author living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has taught at the junior college and university level for the past 13 years and is the author of three books and multiple articles that have been published in theOakland Post, the Hampton Institute, withSocialist Worker, Project Censored, and the East Bay Times. His college-level American Politics textbook, Class Power and the Political Economy of the American Political System , is now in its second edition and has been endorsed by the progressive author Michael Parenti, the director of Project Censored, Mickey Huff, and the professor and former central committee member of the Black Panther Party, Phyllis Jackson. The book is currently being marketed to a national audience of political science professors throughout the country. In addition, Dr. Cloward has run for public office on three separate occasions (Congress 2009, 2010, and City Council 2012) and has appeared in a variety of media outlets, including FOX and the Pacifica Radio Network (KPFA). Today, he remains involved in the politics of peace, justice, and equality for all. His website is located at:https://www.jeremycloward.org/.


[1] For a detailed list of all US wars and interventions abroad see: William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2004).

[2] During the American Civil War, the Confederate Congress passed the so-called "Twenty-Negro Law" as a part of the Second Conscription Act of 1862 which exempted from military service any white man who owned twenty or more slaves on a Confederate planation or who owned two plantations within five miles of each other.

[3] See the discussion about private property and government in James Madison's Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Reported by James Madison (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987), 244.

[4] John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1960), see for example pg. II, Section 3.

[5] See reference to the quote in Locke, Two Treatises of Government, 72.

[6] Eric Zuesse, "Polls: U.S. Is 'The Greatest Threat to Peace in the World Today,'" Global Research, August 9, 2017, https://www.globalresearch.ca/polls-u-s-is-the-greatest-threat-to-peace-in-the-world-today/5603342 .

[7] The United States "base budget" of $700 billion does not include other military spending that clearly involves the military such as appropriations for nuclear weapons, space defense, homeland security, and supplemental spending for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name just a few.

[8] For a full discussion of the political economy of the US war on Iraq, who drove the war, and who benefited from the it see Chapter 6 in my Class Power and the Political Economy of the American Political System (Redding, CA: BVT Publishing, 2018).

[9] See for example OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics, "Ranked Sectors: 2014" OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics, http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?indexType=c&showYear=2014 and OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics, "Sector Totals, 2013-2014" OpenSecrets.org: Center for Responsive Politics, http://www.opensecrets.org/industries/ . Note: similar results are located in the top Campaign Contributors to Congress by Sector (2013-2014).

[10] Thomas Jefferson once somewhat famously wrote, "I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies." Whether this is true or not depends on one's perspective. However, what is true is that private banks do have the power to help fund governments that, in turn, can fund standing armies. Standing armies can then open markets for finance capital (and capital, in general) to invest in newly opened markets abroad, which allows corporate interests to accumulate more capital to, among other things, further finance government. This, of course, leads to additional markets being opened by the state in a never-ending cycle of private capital funding the state so the state can open markets and help private capital exploit land, labor, and resources at home and abroad.

[11] Yale Environment 360, "CO2 Concentrations Hit Highest Levels in 3 Million Years," Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, May 14, 2019, https://e360.yale.edu/digest/co2-concentrations-hit-highest-levels-in-3-million-years .

[12] Stephen Hawking, Interview, ABC News, August 16, 2006.

[13] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C approved by governments," The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, October 8, 2018, https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/ .

[14] Aljazeera, One million species to go extinct 'within decades,' Aljazeera, May 6, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/million-species-extinct-decades-190506130910133.html .

[15] Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), "Media Release: Nature's Dangerous Decline 'Unprecedented'; Species Extinction Rates 'Accelerating'," IPBES | Science and policy for people and nature, April/May 2019, https://www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment .

[16] OXFAM Briefing Paper, "WORKING FOR THE FEW: Political capture and economic inequality," OXFAM, January 20, 2014, http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/bp-working-for-few-political-capture-economic-inequality-200114-en.pdf .

[17] Jason Hickel, "Bill Gates says poverty is decreasing. He couldn't be more wrong," The Guardian, January 29, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/29/bill-gates-davos-global-poverty-infographic-neoliberal .

[18] OXFAM Briefing Paper, "WORKING FOR THE FEW: Political capture and economic inequality."

[19] United Nations Human Rights: Office of the High Commissioner, "'Contempt for the poor in US drives cruel policies,' UN expert says," United Nations Human Rights: Office of the High Commissioner , June 4, 2018, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23172&LangID=E .

[20] For example, see Associated Press, "Haiti's poor resort to eating mud as prices rise," NBCNEWS.com, January 29, 2008, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/22902512/#.Uw0iGc7wqzw .

[21] The World Food Programme, "What Causes Hunger?," The World Food Programme, November 5, 2013, https://www.wfp.org/stories/what-causes-hunger .

[22] Michael Parenti, "85 Billionaires and the Better Half," Commons Dreams, February 18, 2014, https://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/02/18/85-billionaires-and-better-half .

[23] See for example: OXFAM International, "Just 8 men own same wealth as half the world," OXFAM International, January 16, 2017, https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2017-01-16/just-8-men-own-same-wealth-half-world .

[24] See for example: Bill and Melinda Gates, "Three Myths on the World's Poor: Bill and Melinda Gates call foreign aid a phenomenal investment that's transforming the world," Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2014, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304149404579324530112590864 .

[25] Corporate personhood, a "legal fiction" created over time by the Supreme Court, has made it so corporations are viewed as "people" in the eyes of the law. In so doing, corporations now have the same rights under the law and Constitution as any other citizen. One of those rights is the right to a freedom of speech. The Court, importantly, has held that the freedom of speech includes the right to "speak" with money in support of political campaigns. The most serious consequence of that conclusion is that corporations can now give unlimited amounts of money to political candidates for their campaigns and being allowed to do so because of the 1st Amendment's free speech clause.

[26] For example, the 107 Congress (2001-2003) passed Public Law 107-16: The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 and Public Law 108-27: The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 which were a group of tax reductions known as the "Bush-era tax cuts" for the rich and were extended by President Obama. While the tax breaks lowered federal income tax rates for all income earners, they also lowered capital gains taxes and the tax rate on dividends, prevented the elimination of personal exemptions for higher-income taxpayers, prevented the elimination of itemized deductions, and eliminated the estate tax, - all of which were a financial boon to the wealthiest members of US society. Later, President Trump signed off on his own tax breaks for the rich that resulted in the wealthiest 1 percent of the country receiving $1.9 trillion in tax cuts over a ten-year time period.

[27] For instance, Public Law 109-8: The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act passed during the 109th Congress (2005-2007) made it more difficult for the vast majority of the American people to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7.

[28] Letitia Stein, Susan Cornwell, and Joseph Tanfani, "Inside the progressive movement roiling the Democratic Party," Reuters Investigates, August 23, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-election-progressives/ .

[29] While Kaczynski's crimes are difficult to excuse under almost any decent line of thought, his logic justifying his actions are very difficult to refute. His writings analyzing global society, whether agreed with or not, are illustrative of a truly sharp mind at work. For examples of his thought, see: Theodore J. Kaczynski, Technological Slavery: The Collected Writings of Theodore J. Kaczynski (Port Townsend, WA: Feral House, 2010) and Theodore John Kaczynski, Anti-Tech Revolution: Why and How (Scottsdale, AZ: Fitch & Madison Publishers, 2015).

[30] For an excellent film documentary of the Allende government filmed in the lead up to his downfall which chronicles the Chilean working class's movement toward control of the means of production and political power see Patricio Guzman's, The Battle of Chile (Icarus Films, 2009), DVD.

[31] For the best discussion of the Pinochet Regime and its support by the United States government see Peter Kornbluh's, The Pincohet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability (New York, NY: The New Press, 2003).

[32] For a complete listing of assassinations and assassination attempts by the CIA, see Appendix III in Blum, Killing Hope, 463-464.

[33] This quote is taken from the back flap of Anthony A. Barrett's Caligula: The Corruption of Power (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990)

[34] For the whole poem see Virgil, The Aeneid trans. David West (London, UK: Penguin Books, 1990).

[35] Barrett, Caligula: The Corruption of Power, back flap.

[36] For example, see the historical instances of the slave Spartacus leading a slave rebellion against the Roman Republic (73-71 BC); Haitian slaves rising up against their colonial masters during the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804); the working class of France overturning the aristocracy during the French Revolution (1789-1799); workers in Russia overthrowing and executing the fabulously wealthy and autocratic tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, during the Russian Revolution (1917); the movement for Irish statehood organized and led by Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera which included their war for independence against the British (1919-1921); the Cuban people pushing the corrupt US-backed military dictator Bautista from power during the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959); or attempts by the American people to create a more just and equal society throughout their history such as those attempts made by the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and 1970s.

[37] Jochen Bittner, "The Greens Are Germany's Leading Political Party. Wait, What?," The New York Times, June 19, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/19/opinion/greens-party-germany.html .

[38] See The Progressive International: A Grassroots Movement for Global Justice website located at: https://www.progressive-international.org/ .

[39] Vivian Yee and Miriam Jordan, "Migrant Children in Search of Justice: A Two Year Old's Day in Court," The New York Times, October 8, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/08/us/migrant-children-family-separation-court.html .

[40] Mark 12:30-31

[41] As quoted by Joaquim Fest in his excellent study of Adolf Hitler, entitled Hitler (Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 1973).