Making the Case for Kleptocratic Oligarchy

(as the Dominant Form of Rule in the United States)

in Social Analysis

Mainstream pundits, the media, and many academics represent the United States of America’s political system as a democracy, and the vast majority of its middle- and upper-middle-class citizens certainly think it is. I would like to argue against this idea, to propose instead that the US form of rule at present is not a democracy but instead an emergent kleptocratic oligarchy. According to the Webster’s Third International Dictionary (1976), this is “despotic power exercised by a privileged clique,” one moreover devoted at the most mundane level to kleptocracy, or rule while engaged in plunder of the public treasury. This emergent oligarchy is the undeclared alternative base of rule to the demos or ‘people’, whose organized governance constitutes a democracy. Although kleptocratic oligarchical rule is not entirely new to the US—the ‘Gilded Age’ from the 1880s to 1910, marked by corporate ascendancy and control of the US Senate, was very similar in many respects (Phillips 2004: 236–242)—I would argue that the contemporary American oligarchy has new strategies, organization, and objectives.