Swans Commentary » swans.com January 29, 2007  



The 5th Estate


by Bruce Patterson





(Swans - January 29, 2007)  All dictatorial social systems are protection rackets. European feudalism during the Absolutist Era is one glaring example. Society was broken down into three "estates." At the top of the heap was the warrior class, the First Estate, which was also the landed aristocracy and the ruling class. Out of this "nobility" came the "royalty" that was whoever happened to be king or queen, plus their kin.

At any given time the king or queen embodied "the nation" in all things, and they were seen as the instruments of God. Thus heresy and treason amounted to the same thing.

The Second Estate was the clergy. It wasn't enough for the nobility to "defend" the commoners against the fiendish people living just over the next mountain range, or across the wide river. In addition the common people needed protection for their soiled yet everlasting souls teetering, as they were, on the abyss of eternal damnation.

The Third Estate was the Bourgeoisie. Mostly townspeople engaged in manufacturing and trade, and having neither noble nor royal blood, they were politically marginalized.

While over 90% of the people worked in agriculture, they formed no estate and they had no political status. They had no status because they were landless serfs; the tenants and vassals of the aristocracy and the clergy. For in exchange for providing protection against evil men and the Wrath of God, the warriors and the priests hogged all of society's wealth for themselves.

What did the people who were serfs get out of the arrangement? Beyond those two indispensable benefits provided by their merciful landlords, they also got the opportunity to work so they could eat to stay strong enough to work so they could keep eating.


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It's been said that during the current constitutional crisis the main reason the American Left has been unable to rise from obscurity is because their leadership is trapped in a 1960s time warp. Bent by white-skin guilt, anti-capitalist dogma (talk about kicking a dead horse), identity politics, victimhood, and anti-imperialism of the Leninist type, they cannot see how the ground has shifted under their feet.

I think most Leftists have a mindset more akin to that of the communists, socialists, and other radicals living in the German Republic during the rise of the Nazis. Having set for themselves the modest goal of seizing state power while maintaining their ideological purity and moral rectitude, the radicals turned on their natural allies, the hated liberals, and demonized them any chance they got. Many of these lost souls, peering into the crystal ball provided by dialectical materialist analysis, prophesized that the rise of the Nazis would be a good thing because, finally seeing the true face of capitalism, "the masses" would rally to the side of liberty, justice, and peace.

Riding the popular backlash against the "radical revolutionaries," Adolph Hitler and his merry band were democratically elected to lead the German state. Once, in the name of ensuring domestic tranquility and national security, their iron heel came down, the first people to disappear off the streets and into the ovens were the communists, socialists, radicals and, of course, the liberals.

Preoccupied with building an invincible army that could expand German wealth, territory, power, and prestige, the Nazis were not about to tolerate any domestic opposition. With the flower of German youth goose-stepping their way toward the establishment of a Glorious Thousand Year Reich, what the German civilians on the home front needed was Unity and a collective Iron Will. And those sacred qualities were best instilled in them through their loyalty and obedience to one Strong Man: a single man who personified the Fatherland.

While European fascism came in many flavors: Italian, Spanish, Polish, and Hungarian, to name a few, all represented the resurrection of feudalism's Ancien Regime. Somewhat transformed by modern technologies, weaponry, and marketing mechanisms, the Three Estates remained essentially the same: the industrial and landlord classes, the warfare state, and the church in alliance against any and all social changes that did not add to their own wealth and power. While for over five thousand generations European commoners had lived as beasts of burden, under the fascists they'd die as cannon fodder.


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Show me where in the American Constitution it is written that a clique of politicians, acting on their own authority, can forcibly take sons and daughters from their mothers and fathers, and mothers and fathers from their children, and have them slaughtered on some foreign field of battle. Read me the clause in the American Constitution that declares that we as a free people must surrender all that we hold most dear to whims of politicians.

I'm paraphrasing a part of a speech made by Daniel Webster to the U.S. Senate in 1814. Arguing against President Madison's call for a military draft in order to build an army to invade Canada, and with memories of the American Revolution still fresh in most people's minds, Mr. Webster asked his colleagues if they were willing to bend a knee to the Chief Executive by granting him the powers of a king, why then had they thrown out the bloody English in the first place?

Webster won that argument, by the way.

Fast forward to here and now. The vast majority of the Iraqi people want American soldiers out of their country, the vast majority of the American people want out of Iraq, and the vast majority of American soldiers caught over there in mindless, hellish combat wish to come home. So what do we get? We get 21,000 more American troops fed into the meat grinder, and more of our national treasure squandered on the hallucinations of vainglorious politicians, war profiteers, mercenaries, schemers, and black marketeers. We get the rebirth of the same Ancien Regime our founders rebelled against and warned us against. We get rule by the few for the few, a "national" church (Bible in one hand, nuclear bomb in the other), a warfare state and God and Country embodied in one Strong Man, our Lord Protector who will protect us whether or not we want his protection, whatever it is worth or not worth. Our Commander-in-Chief, our noble Decider, will decide who lives and dies, how much blood and money he will peel from our hides and how our money is spent, and what is within our interests, and what is not.

Beyond that -- modern tyrannies wish to control not just the fruit of your labor but also your minds -- what our strong man needs from us is National Unity and obedience to his will. With the flower of American youth selflessly marching off to the other side of the world to bring "us" national glory, dissent is treason, urging peace in the name of Jesus is heresy, and the Bill of Rights is the alien and sinister tool of our fiendish terrorist enemies.

All dictatorial social systems are protection rackets, and the reasons why we find ourselves living under one are many. But it's good to remember that an anti-American imposter like George Bush never could have risen to the status of a king were it not for the destruction of the Fourth Estate: a free press that is the cornerstone of any democracy. Free speech is meaningless if nobody hears it, and without the ability of the people to communicate to each other independent of the state's censors, mass communication becomes mass indoctrination and the systematic subversion of language, the truth, and so liberty. It is for that reason that, under the current arrangements, escalating or even widening the war in Iraq represents in the popular imagination just a relatively meaningless "surge," and by "surging" our liege lord is only changing "strategy."

The linchpin of the corporate warfare state is the corporate state media, the "mass media," and so it is that nationwide and nonstop we get Bushite pronouncements -- moronic gibberish -- like that. Take the notion of sending more American troops into the meat grinder as representing a new strategy. Since when is a besieged occupying army breaking through doors and rounding up or killing people in their homes a new strategy? It's a tactic, for one thing, and as such it is as old as chariots, torches, and spears.

How is it possible that the pathological liars who make up our ruling junta constantly get their message out while truth tellers are all but exiled from the national consciousness? How is it the Bill of Rights can be betrayed and snuffed out and a de facto dictatorship established with hardly a ripple of opposition (until now, at least)? It is because the Fourth Estate has become the instrument of the state and the free press has been marginalized nearly to the point of irrelevance.

To force our rulers to make peace in the Middle East is the same as us redeeming our personal liberty and our American heritage, but to do that we need a Fifth Estate. We need a Fifth Estate that will follow the principles laid out by a young immigrant, American Civil War veteran named Joseph Pulitzer, when he started his first newspaper in 1870. Notice as you read his words that never in your life have even you seen a publication or a television program that aspired to such heights:

Always fight for progress and reform; never tolerate injustice or corruption; always fight demagogues of all parties; never belong to any party; always oppose the privileged classes and public plunder; never lack sympathy for the poor; always remain devoted to the public welfare; never be satisfied with printing only the news; always be drastically independent; never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.


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Internal Resources

Patterns which Connect

The Rape of Iraq

Activism under the Radar Screen


About the Author

Bruce Patterson, a Vietnam Vet, has spent 30 years logging and ranching in the hills of Northern California. He's been writing columns for his local rag for 15 years, and went into a serious writing spree; the result of which is an exceptional book, Walking Tractor And Other Tales of Old Anderson Valley -- a book that should deserve a New York Times review and that is available on the Web at 4mules.com. A slightly different version of this article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser just about one year ago.



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This Edition's Internal Links

Energy Resources And Our Future - Admiral Hyman G. Rickover (introduction by Gilles d'Aymery)

The "New" Way Forward - Cartoon by Jan Baughman

Another Neocon Disaster Awaits - Philip Greenspan

The Insurgent Word: Zhōng ("Loyalty") - Gerard Donnelly Smith

Les Revendications Démocratiques Du Hezbollah - Mohammed Ben Jelloun

The Breakdown of Nations - Milo Clark

Fear, Distraction, Hypnosis, And The National Attention Span - Carol Warner Christen

Call Of The Wild - Martin Murie

The Old Man Of Corfu - Short Story by Peter Byrne

Dynastic Legends - Play Review by Charles Marowitz

The Good Shepherd - Film Review by Robert Wrubel

Voices n.2:muraika munjereri - Poem by Guido Monte

Letters to the Editor

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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published January 29, 2007