Condemning Politics Itself

The Associated Press reports a new poll showing “that Americans are plenty angry at Congress,” going on to observe that “[t]he poll finds more people are down on their own member of Congress, not just the institution, an unusual finding in surveys.”

That disapproval of Congress so thoroughly pervades the American population can tell us something important about the class character of the state. We’ve all heard the aphorism, “If you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one,” and one possible interpretation of the Associated Press-GfK poll is that a polarized America is unsatisfied with the compromises — or indeed the inaction — that the Washington political process delivers.

Under this view, since Congress is divided between Republicans and Democrats, neither group is ultimately pleased with the aggregate, surmising that the other side frustrates their caucus’s attempts to realize a more ideologically pure agenda.

On the other hand, the “responsible” talking heads, epitomized by self-described “centrists” like Chris Matthews, insist that a lack of compromise is the source of Americans’ disaffection with Congress; these “moderates” worry that Congress isn’t getting enough done, rallying for a more coordinated — and more meddlesome — legislative branch.

There is, however, at least one other possible explanation for the widespread sentiment that Congress isn’t fulfilling its duties to the nation. According to this explanation, which we might call the “tip of the iceberg” theory, Americans are realizing — consciously or otherwise — that the federal government doesn’t actually represent the interests of the vast majority of Americans.

With Wall Street banks and the Fortune 500 riding high and government debt swelling by the second, Americans may, at least latently, have a hunch that Washington serves only the very tip of the iceberg. The rest of the population, that immense portion of the iceberg floating below the waterline, is not so much a participant in the political process as it is a victim of that process.

If the “tip of the iceberg” theory holds true, it would seem that Americans are dispensing with a political mythology that has prevailed since at least the New Deal era. The state, it has long been thought, stands at odds with powerful economic interests, a bulwark against exploitation affording a social safety net.

The general idea has been that government, as a democratic institution motivated by the common welfare, acts as a countervailing force in relation to big business, protecting the common man. Contrary to this account, though, the state is an institution activated by the power elite and their interests, a willing partner in collusion with today’s answer to the Robber Barons of yore.

Though it’s often forgotten today, Roderick Long notes that “[i]n the late 19th and very early 20th century, there was a much more widespread understanding among both leftists and free-marketers of the symbiotic relationship between state and corporate power.”

Whatever the reason(s) for the fact that almost nine out of ten Americans disapprove of Congress’ performance, it is abundantly clear that politics itself is defective, at least as a mechanism for solving problems. But then, market anarchists argue that politics isn’t actually designed to solve problems; instead, it is designed to mobilize the coercive apparatuses of the state in service to the ruling class.

Looking askance at Congress is a good first step. The next is to disapprove of politics and the state entirely, to endorse voluntary exchange and cooperation is the means to addressing society’s problems.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory