Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wilson Carey McWilliams: Theorist of Occupy Wall Street in 1988

The following quotation is from McWilliams' essay, "The Discipline of Freedom," published in 1988 in the volume To Secure the Blessings of Liberty: First Principles of the Constitution, edited by S.B. Thurow. This paragraph could have been published today and it would be rank among the best descriptions of our time:

Contemporary citizens confront a political world dominated by organizations so powerful that they amount to private governments. The media and the other great private associations have a considerable power to shape the market, to set terms for social life and to mold political opinion. Ordinary citizens, in practice, have little or no ability to create alternatives; these private governments can be controlled only by equally gigantic public bureaucracies. But private governments are often so important that government, at least in the short term, cannot allow them to fail. This is not a matter of ideology . . . . At a certain level and size, the great private governments virtually become institutions of the republic. The relative invulnerability of private governments, however, emphasizes the distinction between such organizations and the small businesses and individuals who can be and are allowed to fail because they are not important to the republic as a whole. The lesson is not lost on citizens: for individuals, public life is a sphere of indignity as well as of weakness, a sphere of activity in which only a few are heard and still fewer matter.

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