America Was Not Meant to Be a Democracy
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America Was Not Meant to Be a Democracy (NoamChomsky)

Question: The video (“Manufacturing Consent”) mentions that 20 percent of the population that goes to college and holds important positions within the capitalist democracy – these are the sections of the population that need to be brainwashed under freedom. Do your books address this 20 percent of the population, trying to strip them of their illusions, or whom are you addressing?

Noam Chomsky: The 20 percent figure is not mine. It is a standard notion in political science called the “political class”, the class that is actually active in public and economic affairs. This roughly constitutes about 20 percent of the population. From the point of view of the propaganda or the doctrinal system they are a different kind of target than the rest of the population.

Remember, the United States is not a democracy – and has never been intended to be a democracy. It is what is called in the political science literature a polyarchy. A polyarchy is one in which a small sector of the population is in control of essential decision-making for the economy, the political system, the cultural system and so on. And the rest of the population is supposed to be passive and acquiescent. They are supposed to cede democracy to the elite elements who call themselves (rather) modestly the “responsible men”. “We are the responsible men and we take care of the affairs of the world.” The rest are sometimes called a “bewildered herd” or a rabble or something like that. Actually, I am quoting Walter Lipman, the leading figure in US journalism, and a leading public intellectual of the 20th century.

This goes right back to the constitutional system. The system was designed that way…. It is not exactly what you learn in school. But if you read the debates of the constitutional convention, which are much more revealing than the published documents, you find that the main framer, James Madison (1751-1836), who was very lucid and intelligent, understood all this very well. He was a democrat. He wanted to have a kind of democracy in which the primary role of the government – I am quoting now – “is to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority”.*

That is the fundamental role of the government. What he (Madison) called “the permanent interests of the country”, are those of property owners and that they must be protected. He was thinking very concretely. Remember, this was in the 18th century and the model they had in mind was England and the question of the English framework of the constitution kept coming up. And Madison pointed out that if in England the general population had the right to participate freely in the political system, then they would have to institute the kinds of programmes, which we nowadays call agrarian reforms. They would want to take over property and have it used for the general population, not concentrated in the hands of a small number of wealthy. And, of course that is intolerable.

The US system was designed so that power was to be placed in the hands of what Madison called “the wealth of the nation” - people who are sympathetic to property and its rights and will not allow infringement on them. The rest of society is supposed to be fragmented and broken up so they do not do too much.

Well, that is the form of system. A lot of things have changed in the last couple of hundred years. Franchise has extended unions; and popular groups have formed; and many things have changed. But the main structure of the system remains about the same. Going back to the question, the decision making class has to be indoctrinated into the right forms of belief. They have to understand the permanent interests of the country, the rights and needs of the opulent and powerful. The rest of the people – 80 percent, it is just a rough number and not to be taken seriously, has to be distracted so that they do not interfere.

There is a huge industry that is devoted to this, developed primarily in the more democratic countries – England and the United States. That is where the industry developed – it is called the public relations industry. The advertising industry is a part of it. Their concern is to distract the public. Alex Carey, an Australian, in a scholarly analysis of corporate propaganda, wrote a book called “Taking the risk of democracy”. When you have a formal democratic system, when people have won right after years of struggle, like the right to vote and participate in elections, you have to take risk out of democracy by ensuring that there is very little substance to their democratic choices.

This is done by organizing the world so that the major decisions are not in the public arena. And by imposing on the people – I am now quoting from manuals of the public relation industry – a “philosophy of futility”*. This is done so that the attention of the people is focused on the superficial things of life like fashionable consumption.

From infancy children have drilled into them, from television, advertising and in every possible way, that they have to have a “philosophy of futility” as far as serious decisions are concerned and that they have to perceive themselves as passive consumers. It does not really matter what you know about the world. The less you know the better.

That is the model. It does not work, but that is the model. The rabble never accepts this. It continually resists and struggles against this.

That also requires the use of other techniques to try and control people. The elite media are mostly directed to the small decision-making sector people who make choices in decisions that run the society. They have to be properly indoctrinated by not just the media but by the education system and everything else. The true mass media that go to the general audience, they mostly distract, making people pay attention to something else – popular music, purchasing.

It is not surprising that indoctrination and propaganda should have reached their highest forms in these societies. In the 20th century, in particular, these are largely contributions of the US and England. It grew out of the First World War when England had what they called a Ministry of Information, which was to convince the US – meaning primarily educated Americans and the intellectuals – that they better get into the war with England. The Ministry concocted all kinds of tales. It brainwashed the educated elite, including famous people like John Dewey, magnificently. The population of the US was mostly pacifistic and did not want to get involved in European conflict. Others like Adolf Hitler were impressed too.

Who am I talking to? Mostly the 80 percent. The 20 percent do not want to hear about this. They already know what truths they are supposed to believe. But the general population is much more open, inquisitive, concerned and wants to act to change the world.

(Taken from Frontline) *Emphasis ours