Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism

Sheldon S. Wolin wrote Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. In this assessment, I focus on the 2008 version, which covers the majority of the political, social, and economic issues that occurred prior to the publishing date. The book begins with a critical presentation and critique of notions, some of which are the author's creation. For example, the author defines inverted totalitarianism, bringing to light the fact that the population has been politically demobilized at the expense of the corporate receiving immense political might. In the preface, the author argues that "American democracy has never been truly consolidated. This statement is used by the author to provide examples that explicitly show that America has never been a democracy. In Essence, Sheldon Wolin suggests that the outward-looking of the superpower body is the exact opposite of the inward-looking inverted totalitarian body. There is nothing more to the book than suggesting that the democratic space in the US is limited and the corporation will soon become a dictator of the masses.

In chapter one, the author talks about a myth in the making. Wolon singles out the events that followed 9/11 as the appropriate definition of the American political life. In this discourse, it is apparent that the rights of the US citizens were undermined by a regime bent on trying to score a political milestone. Ensued in the debate was the media, science, and technology that have either sided or come up with the event. This explains why there have been several conspiracy theories that try to explain the events that preceded 9/11 as well as the aftermath. To conspiracy theorists, it was an in-house job, where White House, Pentagon and the CIA collaborated to send shockwaves around the globe that indeed the war on terror was necessary. In all the mayhem, the US patriot was the casualty.

Chapter two extends the argument in chapter one by contending that in deed the mythical sense of 9/11 is to create an imaginary permanent global war. The chapter presents the theme of totalitarian inversion by concluding that the imaginary permanent global war is a gamut of philosophies that aimed at describing how power becomes legitimized and constrained. In the light of this theme, Wolon recaps the arguments behind the WWII and the cold war and concludes that all are conspiracies. Practically speaking, there is a whole level of truth in these cases given that all global wars are inspired by the need to gain hegemonic power as well as control global resources that are scarce. Through the Cold War, the US was able to subdue the USSR and remain to be a superpower through elitism.

A summary of the remaining chapters is as follows: In chapter three, Sheldon Wolin argues that the creation of "inverted totalitarianism" is as a result of the act of totalizing of powers. Unlike the preceding chapters, chapter 3 is wide and explicitly talks about the birth of inverted totalitarianism giving its actual definition as a system where economics dominates politics; and a complete opposite of classical totalitarianism. Chapter four talks about the National Security Strategy and how it aims at reshaping politics in contemporary America. Chapter Five explores the ‘superpower’ tag and its utopian existence. Chapter six considers the elections of the year 2000 and draws sharp lessons on the meaning of transformation of society. Chapter seven proposes the union of the ‘dynamic right’ and the ‘archaic fundamentals. Chapter eight provides the most anticipated answer by claiming that the power of the corporation is greater than that of democracy. Chapter nine brings into focus the fact that institutions of higher learning have embraced antidemocratic elitisms. Chapter ten insists that it is because of inverted totalitarianism that there is divisiveness in the US. Chapter eleven considers the historical perspectives and how they vilify liberals. The theme carried in chapter twelve is that the US constitution was designed to contain democracy. And, lastly, chapter thirteen considers the future of democracy by looking at the past.

With all the discussions built from topic after topic and the alliteration thereof, it is apparent that Wolin's book has shortcomings. First, it dwells so much on historical events in a bid to construct the present political discourse. In fact, it is rich in history and philosophy, but it fails to provide a rich contemporary annotation of events. In a nutshell, it uses concrete empirical records of the progressive era and brings out the US as a business-friendly country, more suitable to invest in than any other. This is a fallacy given that corporate evolution in the US has never been independent; rather, it is also a product of the spirit of globalization. While depending so much on the philosophy of the right thinkers of the progressive era, Wolin forgets, or maybe is unaware of the great works of the left thinkers who extensively wrote about capitalism, western democracy and imperialism. Accordingly, Wolin forgot about big names such as Charles Derber, who wrote about the corporate regimes that rued America, Ralph Milliband, Alex Carey and Naom Chomsky as some of the authoritative writers on the topic of corporate democracy.

The second shortcoming of Wolin's work is that he writes in a language that can be described as excessively academic and abstract. Simply put, not everyone that knows English can read the book. The book contains several political, economic, and philosophical terminology that is hard to interpret for a person that is not willing to put their time into reading and to reread the text. Also, Wolin makes no effort to connect the ideological similarities between the left cultural theory and the far-right projects. The only thing that Wolin does exemplarily is the depiction of the American citizens that have been softened by inverted totalitarianism.

Much can be said about inverted totalitarianism, and there is a whole packet of truths that can be accumulated to show that Wolin did not achieve much of his desired outcome of readership. From the works of Charles Derber, it is evident that Wolin was not so much interested in building a case against inverted totalitarianism, but instead exploring the phenomenon as a new concept. Deber's view of the authoritarian corporate regime is that dominated by large corporate, some which are multinationals and which show highly dynamic characteristics.

Despite the shortcomings, Wolin has achieved the goal of describing contemporary America in the lens of preconceived political systems. In the interest of his commentary, Wolin vacates from the notion that America is a fully democratic country and refutes such claims. The Brave New America is at crossroads, and Wolin explicitly explains the situation as it is. Democracy incorporated reveals how corporations have taken over the role of government in cultivating the democratic space since they have more money and authority than the government. A befitting example, in this case, is the exaltation of the American Fruit Company at the expense of the citizens of what later came to be known as the banana republic. It is a ruthless world, and systems work for those who put them in place- in this case, the corporations.

In conclusion, Wolin’s boo is wide and informative on many fronts. Dealing with inverted totalitarianism, the book brings into focus the issues that affect many countries around the world-not just the United States. In bringing up the debate, the author goes ahead to bring out so much material on the philosophical underpinnings of the incorporated democracy. With a clear focus on life in the US, Wolin demonstrates that the US as a superpower is a utopian feeling that is not easy to erase, yet the country itself has been unable to contain its run-away dictatorship being propagated by corporations. In the end, the corporations will become all powerful and will even dictate the government on what to do in its plans.


Norquist, Warren E. "How the United States won the cold war." Intelligence: Journal of US Intelligence Studies (2003): 47-56.

Wolin, Sheldon S, and Silvia Villegas. Democracia S.A. Madrid: Katz, 2008.

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