POLITICAL MYTHS AND ELITE MISANTHROPY
Can Peace and Order Hold Society Together?
By Herbert Schui
[This reading sample of Herbert Schui’s “Political Myths and Elite Misanthropy” published in May 2014 by VSA publishers; Hamburg is translated from the German on the Internet. Herbert Schui was a professor of economics at the University of Hamburg and a member of the German Bundestag for DIE LINKE (The Left Party) from 2005 to 2010.]
1. The Myth of the Achiever
2. The Myth of State Indebtedness
3. The Myth of the Market and Competition
4. The Export Myth
5. The Demography Myth
6. The Second Economic Miracle
7. Democracy as market-conforming parliamentary co-determination
8. The Pacification of Ghettos: Class Apartheid and Unconditional Basic Income
9. Uniform Language and Standardized Public Opinion
10. The Mirror of Standardization: The Devaluation of Weaker Groups
11. Selection as a Link between Fascism and the Estranged Middle Class
12. Education and Opposition: The Half-Education of the Declasse Bourgeoisie
The political debate is ruled by myths. Thus state deficits are sins against the children. The demography myth is there are too many seniors and too few children and young persons. According to the achiever myth, higher taxes discourage and wear down the achievers. Sacrifice must be made to them – as to the rain-god in prehistoric religions.
These “new political myths” do not arise freely out of the blue, Ernst Cassirer said in the “Myth of the State.” “They are not wild fruits of a luxuriant power of the imagination. They are artificial things produced by very skilful and cunning craft-persons.” The goal of these myths is to assure peace and order through legends and magic – even if these are more characteristic of past cultures – and not through material concessions or police force. The absurd social situation in developed industrial countries should not be recognized. The productivity of labor is very high and increases on account of the highly developed production technology.
With rational organization of society and the economy, this could be the basis for higher living standards, more private consumption, better public services and reduced working hours with full wage compensation. However these possibilities are not utilized. This absurdity must unnerve people or plunge people over the edge. The opposite is happening. How can idleness and hopelessness be overcome?
Both poverty and wealth are increasing at the same time in developed industrial countries. The rich obviously have enough power to acquire an ever increasing part of production. The falling share of wages in the national income demonstrates this. What is this power of the rich? The matter is complicated since the wealthy do not send out armed mobs to plunder the poor. Rather our economic and social conditions make possible this distribution. They obviously encourage the well-to-do to increasingly access the newly produced wealth. This can only be changed when workers in successful conflicts can raise their share in production. The strategy for their opponents is set. If they want to further enrich themselves smoothly and undisturbed, they must be anxious that a conflict does not appear on the horizon. If possible, this should be achieved without police force. That is the trick. The conflict must be prevented before it arises. This strategy consists of appeasement or calming down. This means not simply condemning the conflict but idealizing its opposite: quiet, order and peace. The key words are social cohesion, social peace as a “high good” or the new social contract.
Social cohesion is defined somewhat differently. In the English language literature, it is often a policy with the goal of peaceful life together of different races and cultures. (The term peace life together of “races” is avoided for well-known reasons and replaced by terms with the keyword “integration.”) Whether social cohesion and social peace are now judged positively depends on how they come about. Social classes can peacefully live together when their living standards and life chances are not terribly different and when the society is not marked by excessive poverty on one side and immoderate wealth on the other side. No radical conflicts endanger this society even if it is a class society. If an adequate social balance occurs, most do not see any tangible reason to regard the society in which they live as unjust or needy of change. On the other hand, more opposition can often be seen in phases with relative mass prosperity and full employment. The unions of the 1960s could serve as an example. However satisfaction with the situation does not prove there are no reasons to go beyond social balance.
Whether a social peace established by balance can be permanent is questionable in a society characterized by the opposition between capital and labor. Social peace is always a compromise that is abandoned when the social hierarchy of power changes. The last 50 years taught us this very urgently. The (recent) class struggle from above illustrates this. But if a social peace results from a successful conflict organized “from below,” it is paid with the surrender of profit and power, with material concessions “from above.” Therefore “those above” must do everything in their power to ensure social peace other than through material concessions. Such strategies need not absolutely reject material concessions. Much would be gained if the concessions are kept low.
There are basically three strategies of pacification. The first strategy is raising wages and social state benefits so high that opposition does not form. The goal here is cautiously preventing any political organization that could systematically organize conflicts and not simply preempting or warding off conflict (that was the peacemaking formula of the social market economy in postwar Germany). A second possibility is staging political myths that suppress the readiness for conflict or steer it in another direction. This is complemented by falsifying or concealing facts. Thirdly and lastly, social stability can be produced through open repression. This can be directed on one side against unions or leftist parties and on the other side against all who are unemployed or inadequately provided by the social state (e.g. old age pensions, health insurance, educational institutions and so forth). Repression means here sorting out, making the concerned into objects of contempt to prevent solidarity with them.
Empirical social research describes this with terms like raw civility or demoralization of the middle class. This selection helps create the consciousness of homogeneity for others. They all belong together, at least of the middle class if not the upper class. They are the hardworking and the achievers. The Duden encyclopedia defines the achiever as “someone who contributes to a total outcome through his or her own performance.” This contribution makes him capable of community. Whoever does not belong to this homogeneous group is a failure.
The institutions of the European Union or the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) seem open for material concessions. The Council of Europe declares: “Social cohesion is the ability of a society to guarantee the well-being of all its members by keeping inequality as low as possible and avoiding polarization. All societies must live with tensions and strains caused by division and schism. For example, there is an unequal distribution of assets between richer and poorer. Cohesion is endangered when this inequality becomes excessive or tends to become excessive.” (Council of Europe, March 31, 2004) The European Commission similarly emphasizes that poverty and the risk of poverty, income inequality, unemployment and inadequate social security are essential for social cohesion (European Commission 2006: Portfolio of Overarching Indicators and Streamlined Social Inclusion, Pensions and Health Portfolios).
The OECD follows the same course. In 2011 the organization published a much noticed and criticized study on inequality in its member countries. The OECD said inequality “inevitably harms economic output even if there is no direct connection. Inequality increases the political challenges because it produces social resentment and gives rise to political instability. Inequality can also promote populist, protectionist and anti-globalization attitudes. The people will no longer support open trade and free markets if they are convinced that they lose while a small group of winners becomes richer and richer.” (OECD, Divided We Stand – Why Inequality Keeps Increasing, Paris 2011, p.40)
This study recommended a more progressive income tax. Measures to contain tax evasion, abolition of tax relief for the higher paid or development of taxes on property and real estate were suggested. At the same time state transfer payments are more important than ever to compensate the continuing losses for people with low incomes – often intensified by the recession. That was definitely too much for the German government! In October 2008 the OECD ensured nervousness with its study on growing inequality, income distribution and poverty. (Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries, OECD 2008). “Since 2000, income inequality and poverty have increased more strongly in Germany than in any other OECD country.” The Bertelsmann foundation reacted with an interpretation of the OECD study under the trivializing title “Social Justice in the OECD – Where is Germany?” Yes, where is Germany? The OECD answered that question!
The Council of Europe and the European Commission like the OECD are undoubtedly committed to economic liberalism. The social state is not their interest. However amid all the joy in successful liberalism, these institutions recognize how much the stability of the system is endangered by too much unequal distribution and increasingly meager social state services. (This fundamental knowledge is not apparent in the policy of the Commission and the Council toward the Southern European crisis countries.) Nevertheless the sober studies of these institutions are important,
Staging political myths as a second strategy is attempted with suggestions. The social environment is seen as a world that offers no reason for conflicts. Diverting from reality or presenting reality as “without alternative” is helpful here. One must submit to what is because it is a natural law and cannot be changed. If conditions are seen that way, rebelling or entering into conflict really makes no sense. Against whom should one rebel? The myth turns against a scholarly worldview that includes wanting to change reality instead of passing coming to terms with it. A magical world takes its place in which universally applicable rules of cause and effect are ignored.
The political myth educates for irrationality. This can lead to social conflicts breaking out at the wrong place. In other words, conflicts are shifted – intentionally ore unintentionally. This happens when the economic system or immigrant foreigners are blamed for unemployment, not economic policy (German jobs for Germans!). Lingual manipulation is undoubtedly part of myth, as for example when the term welfare state is replaced by the term social cohesion.
The political myth is obviously useful as an instrument of manipulation. But why is it attractive for the objects of the targeted but imperceptible influencing? At what weakness does the myth aim? A cogent answer can be found in Ernst Cassirer’s “The Myth of the State” (first published in 1946). In the chapter on the “technique of the modern political myth,” he wrote that the myth “reaches its full power (…) when the person faces an unusual and dangerous situation or a task that seems to far exceed his natural powers” (p.362f).
Myth and magic seem to be characteristics of past cultures. Both are regarded as “far advanced stages of the political life of the person.” In desperate situations, a person will always resort to desperate means – and the political myths of our days are such desperate means. When reason deserts us, the ultima ratio, the power of the wondrous and mysterious, always remains.” “In all critical moments of the social human life, the rational powers resisting the reawakening of antique mythical ideas are no longer certain of themselves” (p.364f). Then myths arise.
However myths are not spontaneous reactions in cases where reality can no longer be explained and seems unchangeable. Rather they are launched. “The new political myths do not freely arise. They are not wild fruits of a luxuriant power of imagination. They are artificial things, produced by very skilful and cunning crafts-persons. It was reserved to the twentieth century, our own great technical age, to develop a new technique of myth. In the future, myths will be produced in the same sense and according to the same methods as every other modern weapon – like machine guns or planes” (p.367f).
What is special in the myth is that it does not force anyone with violence to think or act in a certain way. Such an open process can lead to demands for freedom. Therefore “modern political myths act in a very different way. They do not begin by demanding or prohibiting certain acts. They strive to change persons and regulate and control their acts. Political myths act in the same way as a snake that tries to paralyze its victims before attacking them.” So persons begin to feel, think and speak in the same way. (…) They act like marionettes in a puppet show – without knowing it” (Ibid, p.373f).
Thus persons are especially ready for myths in “unusual and dangerous situations.” They are overwhelmed in a situation for which they seek in vain for an explanation, in a situation that makes them anxious which they feared. Therefore the political myth should be “a meaning-endowing narrative that explains the unknown or the hardly explicable in a simplistic way with what is known” (Heidi Hein-Kircher, Political Myths, 2007). Orientation should be created in this way. Certain questions should not be raised or – if this does not work – are at least wrongly answered. To name one example, labor productivity in industrial countries like Germany is high and increases continually. That poverty increases when more and more can be produced in a working hour is absurd. Work productivity is still the basis for a higher living standard, for more free time, higher wages and more and better public services. This is true with schools, health care, cultural institutions and civilized progress generally. If the increasing (public and private) poverty is understood as absurdity amid higher work productivity, that must lead to conflicts over distribution. These conflicts should not happen.
A political myth must give a meaning to the whole. Examples for such political and economic myths can be easily found: high wages create jobs – in the Far East, legal minimum wages cost jobs, higher taxes for achievers paralyze the economy, state debts me4an sinning against coming generations and old age pensions depend on large families. These few examples show: the goal of these slogans is preventing political actions that aim at change, reducing profits and a reasonable use of high and increasing work productivity. The firm belief prevails that such actions only worsen the situation or at least that the criticized conditions are fates to be accepted that cannot be changed. This conviction is accepted without force. Political myths give a meaning to inactivity and resignation.
“This explains why political myths experience a renaissance in social and political phases of upheaval. The power and significance of political myths for modern societies lie in this function of meaning and order. Possibilities of orientation and meaning are lacking in a secular world (…).” Political myths represent “a kind of substitute religion” (Ibid). Interpreting state indebtedness as sinning against the children, as a sin in a religious sense is a manifest example. Thus interpretation sovereignty is central. To this end, myths are a means of politics. They interpret and justify actions and omissions toward those whose interests are violated by these actions and omissions.
“The propaganda figure of the Schwabian housewife who does not become indebted and shows that state indebtedness should be avoided is the known on which the myth for rejecting state indebtedness is built. The suggestion is that state indebtedness is like child abuse and sinning against future generations. The known as foundation and the inadmissible analogy are important so the (misleading) myth can be useful as an explanation and the message is understood. The myth “illuminates” “the myth-maker (…) with the glow of the represented achievement” (ibid).
Falsifying and concealing should prevent a conflict, not only myths. The September 2012 Wealth report of the German government is one example. In the draft we read: “While wage development in the top bracket rose positively, wages in the lower bracket fell in the past ten years when corrected for inflation. The income spread has increased.” In the final version, it says: falling real wages is “an expression of structural improvements” on the labor market. The statement that “over four million persons in Germany worked for a gross hourly wage of fewer than seven Euros in 2010” was completely deleted. At the same time there are massive efforts to relativize poverty. The slogan “Be sorry for the super-rich” is heard again and again.
What the Poverty and Wealth reports understand under poor should seem misleading and false as the feeling sorry of starry-eyed unrealistic but well-meaning people. The living standard of the average poor in Germany is far ahead full time workers in Bangladesh. For some, the poverty-debate sounds “somewhat comical.” “We have the richest Germany we have ever had. Feeling sorry for the incredibly wealthy is really incomprehensible. The most frequent criticism of the Poverty reports or the calculations of the German Statistical Office is that anyone with less than 60% of the median income is regarded as poor (In the misunderstanding about poverty, it is good that we are only relatively poor. Why the Current Debate Completely Ignores the Unequal Distribution of Income. Zeit online 1/21/2013).
With generally rising incomes, it is possible that the incomes of the poorer do not increase or hardly rise. If this happens, the share of the (statistically) poor increases. This objection is true. Still the criticized definition of poverty is correct because it considers the share of the poorer part of the population in the total income and does not only measure with the absolute living standard. If the number of the poor is statistically distorted, this number shows the growing inequality in Germany. This should be repressed. The slogan “Feel sorry for the super-rich” is very successful.
In the fall of 2012, the Bertelsmann foundation also grappled with the question of social cohesion. Income distribution is one point among others for the study of the Bertelsmann foundation. While the Council of Europe sees cohesion endangered by unequal income distribution and therefore recommends higher taxes on high incomes and more state social services, the first version of the Wealth Report tries to name the inequality in Germany by name. The Bertelsmann foundation uses diversion. Social cohesion is measured with“cohesion radar.” Many things can be identified with this picture of a sonar that registers binding force. The Bertelsmann study names three factors for analyzing cohesion: first an ideal factor (values, well-being orientation, solidarity), secondly a relational factor (relations of members of society to each other and in the framework of different social groups) and thirdly a distributive aspect (the extent of inequality, the distribution of life chances). (David Schiefer, Jolanda van der Noll, Jan Delhey, Klaus Boehnke, Social Cohesion in Germany, University of Bremen, Bertelsmann foundation 2012, p.16ff). The first two aspects include terms like social relations, networks, cooperation-friendliness, consciousness of social responsibility, common values enabling people to identify common goals and projects and feelings of membership in society and identification with society. These terms are certainly important. They also include the measurement of satisfaction and well-being. This is discussed in detail in the literature. These terms invite us to see social cohesion as appearance instead of creating concrete presuppositions.
The third strategy of selection or separation creates an ideology that consciously identifies precariousness as basically defective and anti-social without aiming at full employment and more social state. This ideology can be characterized as follows with the former German minister for economy and labor Wolfgang Clement: “Biologists use the term `parasites’ for organisms that live temporarily or permanently at the expense of other creatures – their hosts (landlords) – to satisfy their needs. Obviously it is completely illicit to transfer terms from the animal kingdom to people. Lastly, social relations guided by the wills of individuals are not determined by nature” (German ministry for the economy and labor: Against Abuses. “Frauds” and Self-Service in the Social State, Berlin 2005. Clement left the SPD in the fall of 2008. Since 2012 he has been chairperson of the board of trustees of the New Social Market Economy initiative).
Thus parasites have weak wills. An essential goal of this separation is to give good reasons for Pharisaic conduct to those not selected – in the sense of the self-righteous, narrow-minded and hypocritical. This can further social cohesion insofar as the non-selected can understand themselves as a homogeneous group with qualities like strong will, diligence, readiness for work and personal responsibility. Since this group constitutes the majority, it creates social stability by actively helping those not selected in the economic process become more aggressive. The creation of homogeneity certainly serves the revival of a traditional aversion toward certain non-Germans. This is reflected in the slogan of the “thoroughly mixed society” of former Bavarian Prime Minister Stoiber (1991) and the election campaign motto “Children instead of Indians” of the North Rhine-Westphalia CDU in the 200 state election campaign. The former Bavarian minister of the interior Beckstein said similarly: We need “more foreigners who benefit us and fewer foreigners who exploit us”! Homogeneity should be established here in two ways: German parasites should be kept out… Positively “the people should be understood as homogeneous companions in distress (government policy statement. Angela Merkel, 11/30/2005). The third strategy of exclusion is obviously connected with political myths.
On the Myth of the Achiever
Andreas Exner, “The State as a Human Cage,” March 20, 2013 http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/02/03/18750233.php
On the Myths of State Indebtedness, Market and Competition
Hans-Jurgen Urban, “The Tiger and its Trainers,” 2013 http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/01/06/18748818.php
Konstantin Wecker, “Inhuman Capital,” February 6, 2015 http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/02/25/18751525.php