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Oligarch Ideology, Part 1: Charles Koch's Empty Notion of Democracy

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Photo Credit: Graphic by Rachel Dooley. Copyright In These Times magazine. All rights reserved.

Forbes Magazine  ran a special up 'n close feature on Charles Koch in December. The article is a pastiche of the typical billionaire suck-up puffery you'd expect from Forbes with -- maybe it's just wishful thinking -- some genuine insights about one the most fiendish members America's ownership class.

There's plenty to read, but I want to share the big takeaway, Charles Koch's big concept that underwrites his funding of an ocean of business propagandists, union busters, power-worshipping Republican politicians, etc:

The goal has always been, Charles says, “true democracy,” where people “can run their own lives and choose what they want to buy, choose how to spend their money.” (“Now in our democracy you elect somebody every two to four years and they tell you how to run your life,” he says.)

Let's extrapolate a little: "True democracy" is about living how you want to live and the right to buy whatever you want to? It's worth ruminating over, since this guy Charles has a monster pile of speech-money to make his points with. The right to buy whatever you want is not something you have to fight for... the merchants and masters of commerce will always fight on everyone's behalf to make sure we have that right. It's a sorry-ass definition of democracy, it should be as embarrassing as wetting your pants on the school yard to say something like that in a nationally-distributed magazine...but of course that's not where we are at in the year 2013. Instead it's something you can say with pride at this moment in time, and there's nothing like a counterveiling force to shame a smug industrialist like Charles Koch away from saying things like this.

Where on earth did Charles Koch get the idea? He and his brother David attended something called Freedom Schools in the '60s, which did pioneering work in brainwashing young future inheritors like the Koch bros that God lived in the marketplace, that participation in the capitalist enterprise was moral activity and that the  American ideal of freedom existed within the boundaries of commercial activity. They were taught to believe in what I call a business religion. Their dad Fred came out of a capitalist-Calvinist tradition that swims in these waters. It's a vein of thinking that has been around for some time...Koch would smile on our country's founders who equated liberty with property. But it's toxic stuff in the long run. It sets up a situation where the the attainment of freedom amounts to the acquistion of wealth; the wealthiest person in the society becomes free-est person of all. The attainment of liberty is a moral enterprise...so if you get rich -- aka "free" -- you're righteous. It's not pleasant.

 A hideous, democracy crushing ideology-tautology that we are living in. None of this arena concerns the enterprise of democracy, which includes the right of everyone to be involved in decision-making, planning, and fashioning the morals that the society should live by. Practically nothing to do with commerce. 

 

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