Today, as state-sponsored American corporatism is being extended around the globe, we are witnessing a gross overproduction of official ideology—the rhetoric of human rights, democracy, and free trade—which conceals some sordid realities. With the state replacing God as the source of all values, human rights and democracy have become key justifying themes for our overseas activities. There is a growing din of criticism regarding the human-rights shortcomings of other states, and many even suggest that the right to live in a democracy is universal and must be enforced.

Democracy as an item for political export is not entirely new. During World War I, following the lead of President Woodrow Wilson, the Cleveland Americanization Committee called for “carrying democracy…to all peoples…in order that the world may have a greater industrial, educational, economic, and political freedom.”

For insights into global democracy, we may turn first to political scientist William I. Robinson, who crossbreeds world system theory with Gramscian Marxism. Under globalization, he writes, “capitalist production relations are displacing . . . all residual pre-capitalist relations.” How this is coming about is significant: The new order “is unfolding” under the aegis of U.S. power. This has involved a practical change of strategy.

U.S. policymakers once employed local strongmen, writes Robinson, to ensure “U.S. and core access to the raw materials, markets, and labor power of the Third World.” Now, democracy— “an essentially contested concept” —takes center stage, while U.S. policy actually fosters “polyarchy,” in which “a small group actually rules and mass participation . . . is confined to leadership choice in elections carefully managed.”

In fact, for builders of sheer state power, democracy has been a happy discovery. People who believe that they “are the government” do not threaten states. As Robinson notes, “consensual domination” has advantages, including greater legitimacy won through “ideological co-optation.” Coercion still exists but seems more acceptable, and domination becomes “transnational.” Thus, polyarchy is stable, with the popular role “limited to the right to vote,” with “no legitimate mechanisms between elections for holding elected officials accountable . . . since accountability is defined as nothing more than the holding of elections.”

The Reagan administration set up Project Democracy in 1981, but the decision had a long prehistory. The notion of stable overseas control through “democracy” came near the end of long-running Cold War debates among American political scientists and policymakers. The point was to foster modernization and nation-building as antidotes to communism.

In the 1970’s, Samuel Huntington took the authoritarian side, while William Douglas championed polyarchy. As Robinson observes, “Douglas held that Third World nations required ‘tutelage,’ ‘regimentation,’ and ‘social control,’ but that ‘democracy’ could achieve these goals more effectively than authoritarianism.” From this premise came the invention of U.S. “political aid.” Accordingly, Washington now bankrolls, advises, and trains “political parties, trade unions, business groups, mass media, and civic organizations.” The new approach “is more sophisticated than earlier forms of intervention.” Its Gramscian purpose is thoroughly to “penetrate not just the state, but civil society . . . and from therein exercise control over popular mobilization and mass movements.”

The U.S. government already organizes its own civil society—“including U.S. business groups, branches of the AFL- CIO, the Democratic and Republican parties, and other private and quasi-governmental civic groups.” Outwardly private, these sectors are

intermeshed with branches of the formal state apparatus through a variety of mechanisms, including interlocking directorates, joint decision-making processes, and private dependency on government funds.

The United States can use these bodies overseas to “support existing groups, or create new groups . . . in the civil society of the target country, in synchronization with U.S. state operations at the level of political society.” Initiatives include “education and training, institution building, social projects, information dissemination, visitor exchanges, political action, and so forth.” Using tools from its own captive civil society, the U.S. government undertakes the thorough colonization of entire societies.

In the Philippines, the United States worked with youth clubs, women’s groups, the National Movement for Free Elections, and so on to bring down the Marcos dictatorship. This operation successfully both defined and restricted “the anti-Marcos movement.” In Nicaragua, the United States kept the Contras in play while inventing “an internal ‘moderate’ opposition . . . organized and trained through large scale U.S. political-aid programs . . . to undermine Sandinista hegemony.”

While policymakers tried out the new strategy, other players deepened the theory. In The Democracy Makers: Human Rights and International Order, Nicolas Guilhot tracks the genealogies of human rights and export-worthy democracy. He subjects the bearers of the new consensus to the rigors of the sociology of knowledge. He detects an emergent ideology of global mercantilist republicanism whose high-minded patricians aspire to fix the world’s problems.

After the Soviet implosion, American leaders determined to drag smaller states into a New World Order. Announcing new “global standards,” they decided that democracy had “become a commodity that can be exported.” Weighing the claim that pure democratic idealism, unattached to any wider agenda, is sweeping the planet, Guilhot traces such claims back to the anti-Stalinist Old Left.

He begins in the early Cold War, when math-prone social scientists—behaviorists, modernization theorists, “cyborg” scientists (with their “rational expectations theory”), and game theorists, sup- ported by the usual foundations—began serving the American state. In this mixed environment, ex-Trotskyists proved skillful at outflanking Cold War rivals. For the ex-Trots, “democracy” became an ethical end instead of a means. Seymour Martin Lipset (for one) re-fiddled social class, concluding that, as Americans were already egalitarians, and given the welfare state, “middle class” democracy was the revolution. Overseen by non-ideological managers, America embodied history’s goal, fulfilling sundry prophecies and giving post-Marxist social theory a new historical ending.

Application of modernization theory to the war in Vietnam served to undermine the theory. Thereafter, the Ford Foundation subsidized certain Latin Americanists, hoping the latter could accurately describe the Third World’s structural problems. These scholars, as quasi-Marxists, dealt with classes, capital, dependency, etc. They studied “transitions” to democracy, and their research agenda, once hijacked, proved useful to the gathering project of global democracy.

Meanwhile, under Reagan, Cold War leftists, who had derided Jimmy Carter’s “human rights” initiatives, deployed their own version, which was both counterrevolutionary and revolutionary. So it was that a former CIA publicist for the Contras “supervised the creation of the National Endowment for Democracy” in 1983.

The new line licensed interference with other states’ political forms. Imposing democracy loomed as a “moral crusade.” “[M]oral and disinterested actors” were shaping new global norms. Even the World Bank heard the new gospel of the millennial reign of worldwide corporatism. Quickly converted, it redefined itself as “a normative agency” furthering “political participation, transparency, ac- countability or the rule of law.”

Guilhot’s work suggests that these themes amount to a state-led paradigm shift, in which neoconservatives were both medium and message.

Antiwar journalist Jonathan Schell observes that, while some “civil society” movements away from authoritarian rule got themselves going in the 70’s and 80’s, things have changed:

Civil society groups in the more prosperous societies began to lend welcome assistance in poorer ones. But governments also joined in. Unlike private civil groups, governments are in their nature interested in power, and the civil society movements clearly exercised it.

Schell mentions the National Endowment for Democracy and some of the usual NGOs.

John Laughland, writing in the Guardian (May 19, 2005), notes that, because “President Karimov of Uzbekistan is presented as a pro-US tyrant,” liberal journalists want him out. They fail to see

that Uzbekistan is home to precisely the same network of US-funded non-governmental organizations, human rights activists and media outlets that helped to engineer pro-US ‘revolutions’ in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

Liberal critics of the “pro-US tyrant” thus miss the core of U.S. strategy— namely, “to try to support and control all sides in any political equation.” In Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are

scores of western-backed NGOs that agitate politically for the opposition. . . . Freedom House—a notorious CIA front and the main architect of the orange revolution in Ukraine—has an office in Tashkent.

Laughland concludes that to anticipate

anything other than the consolidation of American power in this strategically crucial region near China’s border is to fail to understand how much US foreign policy under the neocons owes to the theory of permanent revolution.

In this fashion, the soft revolutions firm up President Bush’s own Warsaw Pact. Perhaps Uzbeks, Ukrainians, etc., will be happier under U.S.-NATO stooges (rather than Russian stooges), but mentioning the fact of NATO stoogehood should not be scandalous; nor does it seem wrong to ask precisely how the U.S. Constitution authorizes the current struggle.

And here is the genius of the new “democratic” strategy: By colonizing the “target’s” entire civil society, U.S. influence is meant to become not only stable but permanently rooted. It is indeed handy to have a lock on both government and opposition in any country. Our rulers have aspired to this at home since the 1890’s and finally perfected it after World War II. Give the people few choices, and no “bad” choices—such as “isolationism”—are made.

I begin by observing that U.S. policymakers want what they have always wanted: access to every possible foreign market on agreeable terms—i.e., open-door imperialism.

Robinson thinks that this has all been about money and profits from the very beginning. He must believe that “capitalism” already includes modern states, cruise missiles, WMDs, and everything deplorable as parts of the capitalist superstructure. But what if we are witnessing, instead, the globalization of the U.S. state apparatus? In this light, globalization is political-economic control, with “stealth and lethality” thrown in for the overgrown Boy Scouts; it is also about justifying ideology, humanitarian meddling, and reconstruction; finally, for some, it is indeed about ensuring that certain capitalists, in a politically ordered corporatist system, make a buck.

If it were really about money, narrowly, we could save time and trouble by sending our checks directly to Halliburton, Bechtel, KBR, various oil companies, and defense contractors. But such a payment plan leaves out the state, depriving bureaucrats, brass hats, and court intellectuals of their “psychic income” from power, prestige, and (yes) loot. They wouldn’t stand for it. And while some capitalists do well, any one of them could, singly, be squashed in the interest of the state or the overall system.

So let us consider that globalization is not about trade. There is trade, a lot of it, but trade is not exactly new. Nor would greater trade and a more complex world capital structure and division of labor, by themselves, need the massive ideological output and state-financial support we see before us. Globalization today seems the overseas march of American corporatism; but it is not mere free trade, and not even “capitalism”—not without some qualifying adjectives. It is, however, profitable for some.

Thus, the claim that U.S. leaders are fulfilling History’s Will serves some practical realities. Today’s fighting faith fast approaches full-blown “non-recognition of reality,” as imperial planners wield abstractions about human rights, democracy, and “democratic peace.” The last item asserts that, democracies being peaceful, peace would reign if democracy were universal; hence, whatever speeds this outcome is justified, including wars and subversion. Adding to this, the United States—inspired by the British record— must selflessly provide much needed “global collective goods.”

It becomes hard to track all the allies, satraps, imperial collaborators, NGOs, U.S.-trained “local” civic groups, p.r. flacks, World Bank fixers, civilian contractors, etc., but rest assured that they help structure that special “free market” that arises spontaneously after the United States bombs and invades, removing preexisting obstacles to free growth.

Earlier aspirants to the job, even the Soviets, were more modest, whereas U.S. planners believe they can have it all. Where foreign states stand athwart the millennium, they will have to be fixed. Washington has “fixed” its opponents— from Native Americans and Confederates to Philippine “insurrectionists.” Such words as reconstruction routinely fall from U.S. policymakers’ lips. Currently, one historian advises the Pentagon on “reconstructing” Iraq, while granting that it did not work in the South!

Under the new doctrines, America must furnish bourgeois-democratic revolutions where they have failed to appear. This resembles Trotskyism, minus some stages, but looks equally like Schlesinger’s and Rostow’s Cold War liberalism; from another angle, it could be Chicago School law and economics, with the United States as commonlaw judge, fighting “excessive” transaction costs with cruise missiles and commandos and adjusting global property titles to maximize social efficiency, utility, and growth. Here the policymakers follow, unwittingly, Karl Polanyi, who, holding that markets had been imposed by force, opposed markets. U.S. leaders accept the premise, claim to love markets, and are willing to provide the force.

Before crusading for democracy, perhaps we should assess that form of rule. Experience of it so far—here, in Canada, and elsewhere—is hardly inspiring. For John Lukacs, it simply disguises the rule of standing bureaucracies. Pareto, if he were here, would have to speak of “pluto-demo-bureaucracy.” And if most conflicts arise within the “extended state”— i.e., the formal state apparatus plus all the interests allied with it—we begin to grasp the old Marxist swindle: The state “withers away,” but only because all distinction between state and society disappears as the state becomes omnipresent.

It is the role of ideology to articulate interests. And what is the ideology of modernity? It is the modern state itself. There is even a team of sociologists (Boli, Meyer, Ramirez, and Thomas) who specialize in making this point. Under current U.S. doctrine, states must be proper ones, trained, financed, and certified by U.S. overlords. Accordingly, today’s ideological discourses are mostly about what the American state is, does, and wants. Power begets power and those who praise it.

U.S.-led world revolution is the ideology and practice of “late” American statism rather than “late capitalism.” Even the supposed postmodern “erasure” of the inside and the outside—domestic versus foreign—rests on an accumulation of specific decisions made by specific political actors. It is also the role of ideology to make the contingent and willed seem inevitable.

Only a great disaster could discourage the practice and dampen the regnant ideology. Even disaster might not be enough. The armed Emersonians have shown a lot of staying power.