The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Rising Ideologies Need People Inside; Stagnant Hegemonies Want People Out

When a new system is on the rise, it needs more people to join. Maybe it doesn’t need everyone, there may be an “out” group which is either the enemy or the scapegrace or both, but basically they want people inside their new system. Capitalists want wage workers; communists want everything collectivized and so on.

But when you’ve won, when your system, your ideology, is the only one available to most people, well then, you want people out because if you push them out the benefits for those who remain are greater and because being pushed out is such a huge punishment. If there is more than one system easily accessible to people, a person kicked out of one can usually go to another.

Even an alternative system which is not easily available, but does exist mitigates against abuse. It’s not an accident that the late era weakening of the Soviet Union and then the end of the Cold War saw much more abuse of populations in the capitalist world.

We, if it’s not obvious, are in a period with a dominant hegemonic ideology: capitalism of the neoliberal variety. (The previous dominant capitalist ideology was “New Deal” or “Post War” capitalism and was quite a bit different, while still being capitalist.)

This “pushing out” operates at all levels. At the bottom it means you get pushed out onto the street. In the middle it means descent to the working class or precariat. In the upper class, which is not the ruling class), it means dropping to the middle. And at the top, in the ruling class, it means being pushed into the upper class: people who are very comfortable and have more money than they need, but have no real power. You can have tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars and be in the upper rather than ruling class: it’s about power more than money. Some politicians and corporate executives are in the ruling class despite being worth only a couple tens of millions and even some billionaires, with just a few billion, aren’t really ruling class if they only have the money and don’t have control of any important company or some lever of power.

The pushing out is one of the symptoms of ideological decay. Peter Turchin has become famous for talking about “elite overproduction” but it has been understood for a long time that people who had expectations of being in the ruling or upper class and are kicked out are dangerous to the status quo. Indeed everyone who had expectations and didn’t get them is dangerous, but people who know how the system actually works and who were groomed for some form of leadership are particularly so.

At first the pushing out doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter much in the 80s or 90s or even 2000s, but eventually it reaches critical mass: an elite faction in opposition to the main system, massive popular discontent and, for a variety of reasons, an enforcer class unwilling to do their jobs.

This doesn’t have to be from the left; there are definitely right wing revolutions.

I leave it to readers to think this thru and apply it to our current situation.

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 28, 2023


Bruno Macaes On Putin And The World Order


  1. GlassHammer

    “But when you’ve won, when your system, your ideology, is the only one available to most people, well then, you want people out”

    I find this a bit difficult to grasp because your ideology only crowds out other ideologies (especially to the point of being the only game in town) so long as you continually crelate more adherents. Pursuing exclusivity is akin to pursuing ideological death.

    The ideology itself functions similar to a virus seeking ever more hosts and the hosts rarely know they are spreading it. So a conscious decision by the host to limit the spread would indicate the ideology is not that strong and… I don’t think neoliberalism is/was that weak.

    My take is that neoliberalism produced an environment so hostile to it that it simply can’t propagate further. To me it’s not the hosts curtailing the growth of neoliberalism it’s the world itself at this point in time.

    And from what I can tell changes in “material conditions” (the world itself) is historically the thing that terminates ideologies not efforts of its adherents or detractors.

  2. Feral Finster

    Surplus elites are the most destructive class in any society and lead to revolutionary activism at home and exporting ideology abroad, as middle Europe in 1848, Spain in the 1930s, or Russia in the first decades of the 20th century show.

    Or, to paraphrase General Sherman, the problem was that the Confederacy was infested with young men about town, and they would rather die than actually have to get honest jobs.

  3. KT Chong

    The “woke” ideology has never been discussed much here. IMO, to push the woke agenda is actually the perfect excuse and justification for the US to continue its foreign interventions. I’ve recently come across this discussion…

    Woke Imperium: The Coming Confluence Between Social Justice and Neoconservatism:

    Key Findings:

    • The advocates of American primacy within the United States foreign policy establishment historically rely on prevailing ideological trends of the time to justify interventionism abroad. The new ‘woke’ face of American hegemony and projects of empire is designed to project the U.S. as an international moral police rather than a conventional great power—and the result is neo-imperialism with a moral face.

    • This is an iterative and systemic process with an internal logic, not one controlled by a global cabal: when the older rationalizations for primacy, hegemony, and interventionism appear antiquated or are no longer persuasive, a new rationale that better reflects the ruling class norms of the era is adopted as a substitute. This is because the new schema is useful for the maintenance of the existing system of power.

    • The rise of a ‘woke’ activist-driven, social justice-oriented politics—particularly among the members of academia, media, and the professional managerial class—has provided the latest ideological justification for interventionism, and it has become readily adopted by the U.S. foreign policy establishment. These groups now have an even greater level of symbiotic relationship with state actors.

    • Professional selection and advancement under these conditions require elite signaling of loyalty to ‘progressive’ universalism as the trending state-sanctioned ideology, which further fuels the push towards interventionism. This combination of factors encourages a new institutional and elite consensus around trending shibboleths.

    • The emerging hegemonic posture and its moral imperialism are at odds with a sober and realistic appraisal of U.S. interests on the world stage, as they create untenable, maximalist, and utopian goals that clash with the concrete realities on which U.S. grand strategy must be based.

    • The liberal Atlanticist tendency to push moralism and social engineering globally has immense potential to create backlash in foreign, especially non-Western, societies that will come to identify the West as a whole with niche, late-modern progressive ideals—thus motivating new forms of anti-Westernism.


    The web page has a link to download the full white paper in PDF document.

  4. JBird4049

    Could the problem also be that eventually the only truly competent ability that the elites have is for maintaining power with part of the process of staying in power is co-opting or removing people of ability, any ability, for that threatens the rulers?

    Then add the resource extraction and hoarding, which is part of gaining more of that wealth, leaving nothing for others to use like the builders, plumbers, doctors, teachers, and widget makers. People need to eat and they need the tools necessary for their job.

    Finally, the lack of ability in anything, but personal empire building, means that those with power are not only unskilled, but very ignorant, being surrounded by yes men. They lack the ability to see the oncoming collapse, even if they were willing to give up a little of their wealth and privilege, which they probably are not.

    They set the house on fire after burning the library and the furniture, for warmth in winter unable to see that that the snow will just fall through the missing roof.

  5. Ian Welsh

    What’s interesting about neoliberalism is how it doesn’t co-opt very much. I remember post war liberalism and the early years (80s) of neoliberalism and back then they still co-opted: if someone clearly had talent, they’d often find a place for him (and to a lesser extent, for her). By the 70s more people were being pushed out than in, but still, there was some concern for co-opting. In the 50s up to about 1968 the movement was still in.

    Neoliberalism seems to have an early bias to exclusion, I think based on its hard acceptance of capitalism’s “money is worth” paradigm, which post-war/New Deal liberalism somewhat rejected, but also the policy dynamic more or less demands it.

  6. NR

    KT Chong:

    I’m not impressed by yet another rant, of approximately eleven billion, about ‘woke’ that doesn’t even define what that means. I have yet to see a definition of ‘woke’ that doesn’t just amount to “anything right-wingers don’t like.”

    If this guy wants me to believe that ‘woke’ is going to infect American foreign policy, he first has to tell me what ‘woke’ is.

  7. Purple Library Guy

    I find it interesting the way so many people, both ones who like it and ones who hate it, think of “Woke” as an ideology. Woke isn’t an ideology in two senses.

    First, in the sense that an ideology is a sociopolitical idea that is controversial, that there can be any real disagreement over, woke isn’t an ideology because the core of it is incredibly uncontroversial. “We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .” Wokeness is simply taking sort of seriously the bits in the constitutions of most countries that say all people are equal. Wokeness starts from that and makes an itemized list of all the “all people” that get to be equal, trying to nail down every last one so nobody can pretend they thought there was some group that didn’t count, and it gets somewhat specific about the ways you can’t treat people if they’re your equal, e.g. you can’t tell racist jokes to blacks and then ask where’s their sense of humour. That’s it, it’s just the latest manifestation of one of the core enlightenment concepts. Even most people who hate wokeness actually believe in it, they just really wish they didn’t and it makes them mad because it implies people they don’t like or feel threatened by should get an even break. That’s why most of the anti-woke crowd spends a lot of time twisting themselves into pretzels pretending that their racist actions aren’t actually racist or their sexist actions aren’t actually sexist or they don’t hate gays because they’re gay, just because they, um, are all “groomers”, yeah that’s it–they’ve conceded the basic point about fundamental equality, they’re just trying to dodge having to pay attention to it in real life. There are some in the far right who do just straight up deny equality to be overtly racist and so forth, but even now they are relatively few.

    Even the religious right’s model of gayness fundamentally agrees–the position of the religious right on gays is that they are just like everybody else (and so by definition equal), it’s just that they gave in to temptation and committed certain sins, and God is upset with them because of this (because apparently everyone really WANTS to be gay, and only sheer willpower and virtuous adherence to God’s will keeps straight people straight). The construction of trans people is similar. It’s a bizarre idea, but one important feature of it is that it constructs people who are gay as in no way fundamentally different from people who are straight; to the contrary, they’re exactly the same except for the choice of letting the devil or whatever tempt them (personally, I always thought I was straight because I enjoy it and actually LIKE girls, but apparently the religious right aren’t like that).

    More fundamentally, woke isn’t an ideology because it is a very small concept. An ideology is a general social/political/economic model of how things work and should work. It’s a theory of human societies in somewhat the way the Standard Model is a theory of physics (although generally much more inaccurate). Woke is just a theory of people, saying that they are not lesser for being trans or gay or women or dark or this or that or the other. It does not say anything about how economies work or should work, how political systems work or should work and so on. So for most important things about political economy, you just can’t consult wokeness to reach a position–it has no application. That’s what makes it so easy for neoliberal Democrats to adopt; it’s an idea about justice that has no objection to plutocrats and poverty.

    It is no doubt true that the US foreign policy establishment use some elements of wokeness as a bludgeon to coerce and propagandize against other countries. But that’s not an important fact. The US foreign policy establishment uses whatever ethical norms are going for that purpose; woke stuff has just joined the toolkit along with things like “democracy” and “freedom”. It’s not like they BELIEVE in any of it. If the alt-right religious crowd managed to take over the foreign policy establishment would use claims about overpermissiveness or un-Christianity or the immoral allowing of abortions or whatever for the same purposes. Imperialist foreign policy always starts from whatever normative moral ideas are popular and then claims the “bad guys” are violating them, whether they in fact are or not. Hence Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro are/were “dictators” despite having been elected in processes significantly more democratic than anything the US has going. So, US foreign policy using some concept as a bludgeon says nothing about the concept except that it’s fairly popular.

  8. Willy

    Around here a while back there was some agreement that ideologies might need competition to succeed. Eliminate the Eastern communist block and the Western ‘freedom’ block devolves into even more greed, corruption, and stupidity than ever before. Eliminate the Bourbons and the Habsburg kids start looking funny. Okay, maybe the Habsburgs were looking funny long before that but you get the point.

    It seems the competency and quality of ‘elite leadership’ diminishes significantly after they’ve won, and their game becomes far more about power consolidation than solving any social economic problems. Neoliberals no longer care about the lifting of all boats, but the sinking of “woke” boats, “Sharia Law” boats, or whatever the hell lookoverthere boats diverts from the fact that their own ideology is floundering.

  9. GrimJim

    All ideologies are merely fronts for an oligarchic faction. With some it is obvious, with others, especially those not in power, the ownership of the faction is often hidden. And any political faction that makes any headway, even those that are ostensibly anti-oligarch, are eventually coopted.

    Once the faction comes to power and eliminates or obviates it’s competition, it must be needs shrink, as the oligarchs divide into sub-factions, each vying for more wealth and power.

    Try as they might, they can never completely destroy all of the former members of their faction that were sidelined from power, and eventually, those sidelined form a new faction that becomes competitive with the faction in power.

    Eventually, one of those new factions overthrows the ruling faction, and it all begins again. Empire building writ small, or large, or vast, as in the case of the ruling faction of the American Empire.

    The US has been ruled by a single faction since it’s founding, two sides to the same coun, they just agreed to power sharing. That antique deal has been breaking down over the last 40 years. The Republican sub-factions has defacto ruled for decades, and is in the process of eliminating the Democrat sub-faction.

    But in the process, they have also winnowed out their sub-faction, survivors of which are using MAGA and the like to build their own counter revolutionary faction.

    And so it goes…

  10. GrimJim

    I meant to mention how this was all shown quite clearly in 1984, where the three factions that ruled the world had finally come upon the formula, or at least seemingly, for eternal power.

    The three factions divided up the world into three essentially self sustaining blocs, with space in-between for continual controlled growth and loss, none of which made any real difference in the three cores.

    They also devised a method for co-opting all potential counter factions through the brainwashing methodology of their respective ruling “parties,” essentially, the combination of the oligarchs with the management apparatchiks.

    By eliminating family ties, they enabled the whole party to gain any loyalty an individual might develop. Those who rise through the party via “merit” would eventually go on to become the equivalent of an oligarch. Others would be kept in place through brainwashing or simply being dropped down the memory hole.

    Thus, the oligarchy was self-sustaining, self-repairing, and ideally, eternal. All they needed to do was eliminate the self in favor of the oligarchy.

  11. Ché Pasa

    “Woke” is a rightist trigger, and that’s about all it is anymore. Oh sure, I understand where it comes from in Black culture and community and why it is meaningful and important in that context, but we see that it’s stripped of all context and is merely something to hate and fear as used by its opponents.

    This demonstrates as clearly as anything the mastery of FOX and its emulators over The Narrative. They create A Narrative out of nothing, and that Narrative (of what to hate and fear in this instance) comes to dominate in their market segment and is then adopted as The Narrative in the general “marketplace of ideas.” They never say what “woke” is, but they use it to trigger the hate and fear centers of their clientele. It’s quite something to observe. Especially now that it’s near to becoming a causus belli for no reason at all.

    We live in perilous times….

  12. different clue


    I am just an amateur history buff and not a historian. So I have studied very little of the early United States . . . . the Article of Confederation United States . . . beFORE the Constitution.

    To the best of my slender memory, part of why the “Founding Fathers” wanted a Constitutional Convention was because they felt the United States had too much democracy and the rich landowners among them even feared land seizure and land reform and redistribution to benefit the democratic-minded majority of US Citizens
    at the time.

    So they engineered their constitution to suppress ” excess democracy” which they called “Tyranny of the Majority”. One could say it was a Two Faction Ruling Class from that point on, with contained semi-breakthroughs or at least breakouts by the Lower Class Majority from time to time.

  13. JBird4049

    There was some fear of the people getting too much power, but another fear was of the United States falling apart. Several states nearly went to war, the national government had no money for anything because the individual state governments were always not paying their, and it was likely that the British, the French, or even the Spanish might start nibbling away at the country.

    The need to create a national government that had some ability to gather revenue, stop the individual states from fighting, and to do even the minimum governing that any country needs including the new navy needed to fight the Corsairs is what got the convention going.

  14. GrimJim

    Different Clue and JBird,

    And for those and other reasons, the two broad factions of oligarchs — led by the propertied slave masters of the South and the banking and commerce masters of the North — cut a power sharing deal that lasted some two centuries.

    There were hiccups, of course, mostly brought about by the periphery of peons and apparatchiks, most notably the Civil War. But, as in 1984, the power structures withstood dissent. Some sub-factions shift sides over time, witness the Southern Strategy that started the Republican faction on their current trajectory.

    MAGA, however, is unlike the Abolitionist and Civil War interruption. The Abolitionists were a sub-faction that always remained a part of the mainline faction and eventually took it over. MAGA started as splitters, formed from those pushed from real power allied with true outsiders (Trump and his ilk were never part of the oligarchy, as Ian has said, there are plenty of wealthy, even mega-wealthy types, who are not in the true power structure).

    And now those outsiders are using the dissatisfied splitters, outcasts, and peons to create the first serious political challenge to the Status Quo alliance since Roosevelt.

    Kennedy and the whole Civil Rights movement was just a wet firecracker that built on the New Deal compared to the sea change that preceded them. Roosevelt’s failure was that he did not make any real change, just fixed the socioeconomic system around the edges to keep the proles and peons from rebelling and truly shifting power.

    That the oligarchs at the time did not see what a threat Fascism was then shows just how incompetent they were at the time. And really, they’ve not gotten any smarter since, as they still think they can use Fascism as a tool rather than be consumed by it…

  15. different clue


    Those were reasons too, and thanks.

    I think FDR and his supporters in government hoped to deepen the New Deal order but WWII was very attention focusing. Certainly the New Deal’s enemies feared FDR would get around to entrenching New Dealery and his seeming successor VP Wallace would deepen the entrenchment. So the New Deal’s enemies within the DemParty conspired to force Wallace off the ticket and put Truman on the ticket and a sick, tired near-death Roosevelt did not have the strength to stop any of it.

    Some of Roosevelt’s statements and goals indicated he somewhat understood the nature of the domestic threat. His “decent society” concepts were intended to make America somewhat more resistant to domestic fascism. I suspect Truman was too deeply shallow to understand any of that, which is why the Party Bosses picked Truman to be the one to force onto the ticket in place of Wallace. The DemParty was always full of Liebermanchins and Synemanchins.

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