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The Powell Doctrines (Lewis & Colin)

Two different people have had "doctrines" named after them:  two people with the same last name.  These doctrines share the fact they have been embraced by the right wing of the Republican party at various times.  Both doctrines arose out of the Republican reaction to the debacle of Vietnam.  Both doctrines have truth in them, but one is wise while the other is cunning.

As we approach the point of no confidence in this Administration and the Government, we examine two doctrines which have had a major impact on our nation, one of which helped define the political opposition progressives now face.

The quoted material in this diary is either in the public domain or constitutes fair use in accordance with copyright laws.  The Powell Memo has been reproduced in toto by several publications and was first published in 1972 by columnist Jack Anderson.  If it was copyrighted, the quotations herein are within the bounds of fair use.  The Federalist material quoted herein is in the public domain, published in book form in the Gideon Edition of 1818.

Point of no confidence:  March 21, 2007
Point of no return:  Bush announces the surge -- January 10, 2007

In the immediate aftermath of the Sixties and the protests on college campuses across America, Lewis Powell was a lawyer serving on several corporate boards.  He would later be appointed a Supreme Court Justice.  In 1971, long before Watergate, he wrote a strategy memo for the United States Chamber Of Commerce.  In this memo, he laid out the ways in which corporatations should mobilize to "defend the free market system" from the radicals and liberals.

The memo is credited by some to have led to the founding of the right-wing think tanks (Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Accuracy in Academe, etc.) who brought about the Reagan Revolution and continued the advance of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (VRWC) up to the present day.  

The Bush Administration has taken the VRWC strategy to its limits; the line at which our republican democracy is nearly crossing into fascism.  Standing on this balance point, we would do well to consider the details of this memo and how they have been carried out.  We should do this not just to defend against it, but to understand the fronts in this "culture war" as seen by the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.  That conspiracy was laid out beautifully in this memo, and has been taken to heart in hundreds of think tanks and consultancies on the right wing.

The System

Powell defines The System for us by describing its opposition:

The sources are varied and diffused. They include, not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society, than ever before in our history. But they remain a small minority, and are not yet the principal cause for concern.

The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.

Moreover, much of the media-for varying motives and in varying degrees-either voluntarily accords unique publicity to these "attackers," or at least allows them to exploit the media for their purposes. This is especially true of television, which now plays such a predominant role in shaping the thinking, attitudes and emotions of our people.

The opponents of the system become the targets of "education" programs later in the memo: professors, ministers, journalists, researchers,  artists, scientists, politicians and judges.  All have run amok in opposition to the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, the feminist movement and other "Marxist" activities.  The only ones left out, according to this sad testiment to paranoia, is the corporate executive.

Powell refers to the thing-to-be-defended, variously, as "the free enterprise system", "the American political and economic system" and "Western values".  As successful as this memo was, it does not, in itself, define a clear case:  it is a paranoid vision, but has been an effective call to arms.  The memo itself, of course, is not solely responsible for the rise of the VRWC.

The Chamber Of Commerce, the audience of this memo, itself often ignores most of the businesses in its area.  When I was active with a local Chamber organization, I would talk to many small businesspeople who would not join because they didn't feel welcome at Chamber events.  Mechanics and other businesses where the dress code was not suits felt uncomfortable at Chamber events among the bankers, accountants and executives of larger companies or large divisions of distant companies.  I became disillusioned because the presentations to businesspeople were targeted to large businesses, many of whom were competing for the same talent pool as my nanobusiness (smallest of the small in "small business") does, and who benefit from things like the imbalance in health care insurance as it presently exists -- what helps them hurts the rest of us.

The Achilles heel of the businesses who support Republican causes is the fact that most small businesses are hurt by the laws being passed by the efforts of lobbyists and legislators supported by the spawn of Powell's Doctrine.  Democrats often do not recognize the immense pool of businesspeople who could be called upon for support.  Renewable energy companies, for example, have been actively suppressed by their competitors.

Lewis Powell points to Ralph Nader and Charles Reich as the most dangerous exponents of this anti-system assault.  The paranoia of the poor, disadvanced corporations against this overwhelming onslaught is concisely stated as Powell's call to action.  We now can look back and see the results.

It is still Marxist doctrine that the "capitalist" countries are controlled by big business. This doctrine, consistently a part of leftist propaganda all over the world, has a wide public following among Americans.

Yet, as every business executive knows, few elements of American society today have as little influence in government as the American businessman, the corporation, or even the millions of corporate stockholders. If one doubts this, let him undertake the role of "lobbyist" for the business point of view before Congressional committees. ...[T]he American business executive is truly the "forgotten man."

Current examples of the impotency of business, and of the near-contempt with which businessmen's views are held, are the stampedes by politicians to support almost any legislation related to "consumerism" or to the "environment."

As Al Gore points out in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, whole sectors of our economy are waiting in the wings to emerge as the sustaining industries of the future.  Fair regulation of environmental standards, as well as markets like "carbon trading", if opened up for all businesses of any size, would provide much-needed capital and cash sources for these businesses.  

Powell recommends the business community focus on key battlegrounds:


The think tanks have spent a lot of money and time grooming their own "intellectuals" -- even trying to substitute those "experts" in debates such as global warming for the bulk of the scientific community.  They have sponsored students attempting to get professors fired, eliminate tenure as a defense against political influence over universities and encouraged funding of universities by businessees  

Social science faculties (the political scientist, economist, sociologist and many of the historians) tend to be liberally oriented, even when leftists are not present...Few things are more sanctified in American life than academic freedom. It would be fatal to attack this as a principle. But if academic freedom is to retain the qualities of "openness," "fairness" and "balance" -- which are essential to its intellectual significance -- there is a great opportunity for constructive action.

Note the buzzwords now infesting the MSM:  fairness and balance.  The way these terms have been applied to academia have changed the very nature of discourse and debate on television, with two "sides" always present -- usually one being a small, vocal minority outside the professional consensus given apparent status as a peer to a representative of a majority opinion.  The "intelligent design" debate is a perfect example of this "balancing" of the naturally imbalanced to the detriment of public debate.

The Public

Reaching the public generally may be more important for the shorter term. The first essential is to establish the staffs of eminent scholars, writers and speakers, who will do the thinking, the analysis, the writing and the speaking. It will also be essential to have staff personnel who are thoroughly familiar with the media, and how most effectively to communicate with the public.

The People must be "educated" to appreciate the corporate mindset.  Indeed, Lewis Powell cites how many students leave campus and enter the corporate ranks and come to change their world view -- to the good, in his mind.  They come to appreciate the System, even embrace it as the true common good.


But one should not postpone more direct political action, while awaiting the gradual change in public opinion to be effected through education and information. Business must learn the lesson, long ago learned by labor and other self-interest groups. This is the lesson that political power is necessary; that such power must be assidously (sic) cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination -- without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.

Lobbying the legislatures, installing the revolving door on people in government administration and applying legal pressure on and through the courts are the path to power and influence.  In this area, the Vast Right Wing Conspiraacy has succeeded beyond their wildest dreams -- but still they are not satisfied.  It is the nature of power that a thirst for it can never be slaked, and that is the glaring danger behind this philosophy in all its forms.


The early incarnations of the right-wing think tanks were modeled on Ralph Nader's legal team, so the assault on the Courts became the leading edge of the VRWC.  Later luminaries in the movement included Ken Starr and the elves of the Federalist Society -- a notorious law student organization inspired by this portion of Lewis Powell's memo.

In seeking to control the public discourse by appealing to the ideal of the corporation as The System, Lewis Powell makes a mistake anticipated by the writers of The Federalist in the days before the Constitution was signed:

The idea of an actual representation of all classes of the people, by persons of each class, is altogether visionary. Unless it were expressly provided in the Constitution, that each different occupation should send one or more members, the thing would never take place in practice. Mechanics and manufacturers will always be inclined, with few exceptions, to give their votes to merchants, in preference to persons of their own professions or trades. Those discerning citizens are well aware that the mechanic and manufacturing arts furnish the materials of mercantile enterprise and industry. Many of them, indeed, are immediately connected with the operations of commerce. They know that the merchant is their natural patron and friend; and they are aware, that however great the confidence they may justly feel in their own good sense, their interests can be more effectually promoted by the merchant than by themselves. They are sensible that their habits in life have not been such as to give them those acquired endowments, without which, in a deliberative assembly, the greatest natural abilities are for the most part useless; and that the influence and weight, and superior acquirements of the merchants, render them more equal to a contest with any spirit which might happen to infuse itself into the public councils, unfriendly to the manufacturing and trading interests. These considerations, and many others that might be mentioned prove, and experience confirms it, that artisans and manufacturers will commonly be disposed to bestow their votes upon merchants and those whom they recommend. We must therefore consider merchants as the natural representatives of all these classes of the community.

With regard to the learned professions, little need be observed: they truly form no distinct interest in society; and according to their situation and talents, will be indiscriminately the objects of the confidence and choice of each other, and of other parts of the community.

Nothing remains but the landed interest; and this, in a political view, and particularly in relation to taxes, I take to be perfectly united, from the wealthiest landlord down to the poorest tenant. No tax can be laid on land which will not affect the proprietor of millions of acres, as well as the proprietor of a single acre. Every landholder will therefore have a common interest to keep the taxes on land as low as possible; and common interest may always be reckoned upon as the surest bond of sympathy. But if we even could suppose a distinction of interest between the opulent landholder and the middling farmer, what reason is there to conclude, that the first would stand a better chance of being deputed to the national legislature than the last? If we take fact as our guide, and look into our own senate and assembly, we shall find that moderate proprietors of land prevail in both; nor is this less the case in the senate, which consists of a smaller number, than in the assembly, which is composed of a greater number. Where the qualifications of the electors are the same, whether they have to choose a small or a large number, their votes will fall upon those in whom they have most confidence; whether these happen to be men of large fortunes, or of moderate property, or of no property at all.

It is said to be necessary, that all classes of citizens should have some of their own number in the representative body, in order that their feelings and interests may be the better understood and attended to. But we have seen that this will never happen under any arrangement that leaves the votes of the people free. Where this is the case, the representative body, with too few exceptions to have any influence on the spirit of the government, will be composed of landholders, merchants, and men of the learned professions. But where is the danger that the interests and feelings of the different classes of citizens will not be understood or attended to by these three descriptions of men? Will not the landholder know and feel whatever will promote or injure the interest of landed property? and will he not, from his own interest in that species of property, be sufficiently prone to resist every attempt to prejudice or encumber it? Will not the merchant understand and be disposed to cultivate, as far as may be proper, the interests of the mechanic and manufacturing arts, to which his commerce is so nearly allied? Will not the man of the learned profession, who will feel a neutrality to the rivalships among the different branches of industry, be likely to prove an impartial arbiter between them, ready to promote either, so far as it shall appear to him conducive to the general interests of the community?

The Federalist No. 35
Publius (Alexander Hamilton)
(emphasis mine)

Lewis Powell assumes the citizens who own things (the "landed citizens" above) are the best ones to represent everyone.  But those who make things (the artisans and craftsmen) do not share the concerns of the owners of property and land.  Moreover, those in academia (whom Powell fears) would be not feel represented by either of the other two "classes".  The writers of The Federalist wisely foresaw that no scheme to elect representatives of the people by what they do for a living can work in practice.  Lewis Powell's error is thinking there is something we can call The System, and those who understand that thing are better able to govern than other citizens.  The result of this kind of representation would be tyranny, unrest and instability.  The present Bush Administration is ample evidence of this error in thinking.

Lewis Powell concludes the meat of his argument with this axiom, which is a false doctrine:

As the experience of the socialist and totalitarian states demonstrates, the contraction and denial of economic freedom is followed inevitably by governmental restrictions on other cherished rights. It is this message, above all others, that must be carried home to the American people.

In fact, the opposite is true:  the liberty of individual citizens has been increasingly restricted by applying "economic freedom" without wisdom or restraint.  Since 1971, corporations have gained ground establishing their sovereignty as co-equal with the sovereignty of the People -- in the body of law and in court decisions.  They do not have the right to vote, but they have gained the right to due process, to jury trial and to fund the campaigns of candidates to a degree which has distorted the election campaign process itself.

We now know that Powell was wrong, but his methods have been effective.  We are less free than we were then as a result.  The mythology he spins here has now been used to endanger civil rights, poison the environment, forestall the onset of environmental technologies (and the new businesses which the old businesses do not want to compete against), have lobbyists write many of the bills Legislators pass, distorted academic freedom, shouted down the reasoned opinions of scientists and now denies us our civil liberties in the workplace with surveillence, drug testing and unnecessary control over employees and customers which endangers liberty itself.

Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been, and ever will be, pursued, until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society, under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign, as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger: and as, in the latter state, even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak, as well as themselves: so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced, by a like motive, to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.

The Federalist No. 51
Publius (Alexander Hamilton or James Madison)
(emphasis mine)

Lewis Powell, in this memo, is taking the side of the powerful against the weaker.  The "uncertainty of their condition" should induce them to want the rights of minority interests to be protected.  Powell articulates that uncertainty, but misapprehends it.  By encouraging the "landed" class to attack the other classes in society, he ends up promoting more instability for everyone, which is not good for anyone.

The Powell Doctrine (Colin)

Colin Powell's doctrine emerged from another subculture: the military.  This doctrine was a wise response by professionals in the military to the Vietnam war.  It also depends on the fact that the United States military and diplomatic corps can overwhelm any adversary in a confrontation where conventional military rules are relevant.  

The military is not the same as the military industrial complex.  Colin Powell represented, briefly, that difference.  However, the military industrial complex is the power player, and regularly endangers the United States military by forcing weapon systems sales to have a higher priority than paying military personnel, by selling weapons to enemies who will use them against our soliders, and by promoting war itself without purpose other than profit.

Diplomacy doesn't make private companies money.  Ultimately, every war ends in the workings of diplomats, not military personnel.  Powell recognized the balance which must be kept between diplomatic action and military action.  Unfortunately, Colin Powell was duped by playing to his training as a "good soldier", and he ended up lying to the United Nations -- the greatest offense a diplomat can make.  The irony of this situation put an end to his doctrine, but the doctrine deserves to live on.

Colin Powell has found out the hard way that the diplomatic component of this doctrine, and the restraint of a "wise Commander-In-Chief", are necessary for this doctrine to work.  Once again, the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy troops took some good ideas and destroyed their wisdom by being unwise and mad for power.  

In this light, the two Powell doctrines reveal that the real "system" both respected in the ideal will overwhelm such intellectual positions once greed and fear take over.  Those who started with high-minded ideas and threw in their lot with the right wing movement have been betrayed and their ideas turned inside out by the gold rush to attain absolute power.

Our Progressive Doctrine

The progressive movement now is nothing like any previous movement, but it has its roots in many movements from the past.  By examining the two Powell Doctrines and how they played out in the regressive movement which rose from the abyss of the Nixon resignation to the pinnacle of power and influence in the current Bush Administration, there is a lot to contemplate in examining these two doctrines and in looking at our own.  The MSM and the regressive movement pundits are challenging the Democrats to "tell us your plan".  

We need to enjoin the battle on fronts such as these:

  • Consumer protection
  • Privacy
  • Civil rights
  • Environmental technology
  • Alternative & renewable energy

We do not unify on all these issues.  Each of us works on the problems we can help solve.  These battles are not between "us" and "them" -- these problems beset all of us, even those who resist recognizing them (especially those who refuse to recognize them).  Progressives don't propose "a plan" -- they engage the problem and try different solutions.  Solutions that don't work are thrown aside and another tried.  To the extent all of us are consumers, to that extent we expect to have recourse when duped or injured or sold a bill of goods.  To the extent we all have portions of our lives we do not want exposed to everyone, we all want privacy.  We all want to be treated as equals.  We don't want to die of cancers or poisons.  We all would like to throw off the yoke of the tyranny of the worldwide oil economy.

We have problems to solve, for the good of everyone.  Those who have money and power have no special protection against any of these problems.  They can only delay the inevitable and be harmed the more for the degree of that delay.  Progressives are once again in the position of fighting battles as much for those who oppose us as for ourselves.  Regressives fight battles in the political discourse to feel right until disaster proves them wrong.  Regressive philosophies are wasted resources which could be sooner put to the work of the common good than they are willing to give them, but join us in the end they shall.  Just like all citizens enjoy shorter work weeks and higher pay because of the battles fought by liberals and progressives in previous generations, even by those who opposed them, so we fight on for the good of everyone knowing that is the only way these problems will be solved for anyone.

Fundamentally, the progressive movement is not a single doctrine, or even a small cluster of them.  We are unified, not by an ideology to which we subscribe, but by wanting to solve the problems posed by the ideal of a republican democracy in the real world.  Progressives believe in real progress, achieved by applying the best fruits of reason available to us to the problems before us.  To do this successfully in each generation, all citizens should have the opportunity for a liberal education based on ideas which most professionals in each field of study use in solving problems in their area of expertise.  "The System" needs no defense -- it needs to adapt and change, because the totality of it is us.  

In our republic, the People are sovereign, and that is the challenge of this experiment we call the United States.  That ideal is the experiment.  Can the People be sovereign over themselves?  Can our doctrines adapt as reality changes?  Can we be tolerant of other people and expect them to be tolerant of us?  

As problems are understood, we instinctively band together to solve them, put them behind us and move on with our lives.  We do not operate on the assumption the world is going to end, even if that is our personal belief.  We do not impose on other citizens our personal beliefs exactly so they will not impose their personal beliefs on us.

But some beliefs are destructive and cause more problems than they solve.  Colin Powell's Doctrine is not false, but it can be used to expand Pax Americana where such behavior is unnecessary and spawns more hatred of our nation throughout the rest of the world than necessary.  Lewis Powell's doctrines are strategies which advance the interests of some businesses over others -- and business interests over those of private citizens, if not checked by progressive opposition.

Overton Cubed: VRWC As They3

The progressive movement is not the straw man cited by Lewis Powell, but we must counter the Overton window this memo set in motion.  The ideas Lewis Powell discusses provided the framework for that window movement, but along three distinct dimensions which Lewis Powell himself did not envision in 1971:

  • Neoconservatism
  • Dominionism
  • Military-Industrial-Complex

These three components of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy can now be clearly traced.  They don't act alone, but in concert.  For this reason, we can apply the Overton window to these three exponents of the Powell Doctrines to create a three-dimensional "state cube" with eighteen subcubes.  On each issue we can define the movement of public opinion (as academic, media, political, judicial and economic subgroups) which They3 have influenced over the past forty years.


Proposition:  America must become an empire

Overton window movement:  unthinkable->...->sensible


Proposition:  America must be ready for the end of the world

Overton window movement:  unthinkable->...->radical

Military Industrial Complex

Proposition:  America must have the largest military economy in the world

Overton window movement:  radical->...->policy

This example is only one where the proposition of one component of the VRWC takes synergy from the propositions of the other two.  Similar interlocked Overton window movements involve "economic freedom" translated into:

  • "America must let the rich people (and corporations) rule"
  • "God wants good people to be rich" (the insidious Gospel of Prosperity)  
  • "America must sell weapons -- the technology to make them and the knowledge to use them -- to everyone who has the money to buy them, even if they end up using them against us"

Similar lockstepped windows have evolved and wedded themselves together since Reagan took office and cursed the nation with ideology over reason.  By working along three dimensions, they are difficult to oppose along any one dimension.  We need to step back and see the whole interaction among these three movements which have become the "they" we liberals were often mocked about, as in "just who are they, those who are doing all these evil things you think are going on?", by our opponents in the sixties, seventies and eighties.  Answering along any one dimension was an incomplete answer.  Now, with the benefit of forty years of history, we can say who they are:  They3.

Thus hundreds of subconstituencies have been stitched together in powerful databases and respond together to stay "on message" like a school of fish or a flock of birds -- all coordinated by a Rovian machine in which every household in America is classified and targeted with all the media all the time.  This vast conspiracy is not secret -- indeed, it is proudly touted (until GOTV failed last November, anyway), and should not be underestimated in 2008.  

The blogosphere, and dKos itself, is a response to the power of They3's media machine, and represents a way to restore the power of grassroots organization and to counter the message echo effect of this opposition in the political arena.  Lewis Powell's memo was a catalyst in building that machine we now oppose in every corner of the nation.  Google is similarly opening the whole body of academic literature to the independent scholar.  YouTube is opening the power of television to small producers and artists.  

Opposing The Cube

To counter the Overton interlocked cubes, we need to think in multiple dimensions, not in single ones.  As dKos evolves, I believe the blogosphere will itself become multidimensional.  Instead of only three dimensions, Peoplen will expand to engulf and nullify They3 -- if we have time.  We must have the faith that we will have that opportunity, and take it.  We can start with a three-dimensional Overton cube opposing the three dimensions the regressives have fallen into:

  • Our nation can never be an empire without losing its soul as a republican democracy
  • We resolve to save the world from ending, whether God is trying to end it or a bunch of criminals armed with weapons we invented made of parts we sold them and assembled by people who graduated from our schools
  • Our economy cannot depend on military budgets or industrial might by multinational corporations -- instead on the diversity of small businesses doing business with each other all over the world

The Powell Doctrines are artifacts of 20th century thinking that we now must cast off so we can embrace the 21st century world.  In studying them, and their impact, we can understand the evolution of those who oppose progress because they fear it.  They fear it because they cannot control it.  They cannot control it because ideologies are challenged by change -- by progress itself.  In this vicious circle, our opponents spin.  It is up to us to move ahead, embracing change and celebrating diversity -- for their good as well as our own.

Our own Overton cubes should start with three themes central to the progressive agenda:

  • Peace
  • Prosperity
  • Privacy

by which we establish and defend the Four Freedoms FDR spoke of:

  • Freedom of expression
  • Freedom to worship (or not)
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear

This seven-dimensional Overton hypercube would be a great start for a progressive effort to sway public opinion.  This People7 cube will be used in future diaries in this series as an illustation of progressive leadership from a state of no confidence.

At the point of no confidence, we must be prepared to lead, not prepare a "plan".  We have problems to solve that will test the limits of our ability to reason.  Such it has been for every generation of Americans.  The People, and our common future, demand that we stop dithering and start solving the problems we face together.  That impulse, that hunger for change, is the real message sent in November by the People to their Government.

See you again in ten days as the countdown to no confidence continues.

Prior:  T-70:  False Doctrines
Next:  T-50:  Clean Out The Barn

Please feel free to use this as a common thread.  Pimp your own diaries, links and ideas without shame, because I want to hear from you.  Promote the words of others that our fellow citizens need to hear when the point of no confidence is reached.  Identify inflection points, realized and gathering, that you see.  This power is the power of the Internet, of this online community and of the People.  Use it now as more and more citizens need real ideas and real debate.  Prepare yourselves for the moment for which many of us have worked decades: a chance to finish the work left undone after the resignation of Nixon.

Originally posted to eOz on Sat Jan 20, 2007 at 05:35 PM PST.

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