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"Democracy and Deference" by Mark Slouka

Really good essay in this month's Harper's. Here are some choice bits:

This is the paradigm--the relational model that shapes so much of our public life. Its primary components are intimidation and fear. It is essentially authoritarian. If not principally about the abuse of power, it rests, nonetheless, on a generally accepted notion of power's priveleges. Of its inherent rights. The Rights of Man? Please. The average man has the right to get rich so that he too can sit behind a desk wearing an absurd haircut, yelling, "You're fired!" or refuse to take any more questions, so that he too--when the great day comes--can pour boiling oil on the plebes at the base of the castle wall, each and every one of whom accepts his right to do so, and aspires to the honor.

[...]

What kind of culture defines "maturity" as the time when young men and women sacrifice principle to prudence, when they pledge allegiance to the boss in the name of self-promotion and "realism"? What kind of culture defines adulthood as the moment when the self goes undergroung? One answer might be the military one. The problem is that while unthinking loyalty to one's commanding officer may be necessary in war, it is disastrous outside of it. Why? Because loyalty, by definition, qualifies individualism, discouraging the expression of individual opinion, recasting honesty as a type of betrayal. Because loyalty to power, rather than to what one believes to be true or right, is fatally undemocratic, and can lead to the most horrendous abuses. Powell's excuse--that he did not want to betray the ethic of the loyal soldier--was precisely the one used by the defendants at Nuremberg, and if you say that the analogy is a reckless one, that Colin Powell is no Rudolf Hess but a generally decent man--an A student, a team player, a loyal employee, a good soldier--I'll agree, and say only this: God save us from men and women like him, for they will do almost anything in the name of "loyalty." Something to consider, perhaps, as the nation contemplates the presidency of John McCain, a member of our warrior class for whom loyalty constitutes the highest possible virtue.

[...]

Tyranny isn't something up ahead; it's right here. It's in the soil, in the very air we breathe. It's the
other climate change, and no less real. The old tyranny, from which we emerged as a nation, has been transformed by the wonder-working ways of time and advertising into a powdered wig, a tricorn hat, and the God-given freedom to burn hot dogs; the new tyranny, meanwhile--infinitely more dangerous, Made in America--looms just ahead, so large as to be very nearly invisible.

Truly excellent piece. I highly recommend it.

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