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Making the Case for Kleptocratic Oligarchy

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

Donald M. Nonini

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.

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Indonesia Seen by Outside Insiders

Its Chinese Alters in Transnational Space

Donald M. Nonini

Chinese businessmen in Indonesia still want to come [to Australia] for safety for their families, especially their children. Right now many Chinese in Jakarta fear violence, because commercial grudges are actually being settled by attacks on them. Recently, a famous Chinese businessman in Indonesia was shot dead even though he was guarded by men from KOPPASUS [an elite counter-terrorist army unit]. He was killed by men due to some business grudge … I do not want my son to do business in Indonesia because of the violence. He could make a competitive tender for a government or other contract, but then find that someone bears a grudge against him for being underbid and decides to hurt or kill him. One never knows.

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Introduction

The Global Idea of 'the Commons'

Donald M. Nonini

What is now at stake at this point in world history is control over ‘the commons’—the great variety of natural, physical, social, intellectual, and cultural resources that make human survival possible. By ‘the commons’ I mean those assemblages and ensembles of resources that human beings hold in common or in trust to use on behalf of themselves, other living human beings, and past and future generations of human beings, and which are essential to their biological, cultural, and social reproduction.

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Donald M. Nonini

Marilyn Strathern, in her collection of essays, Commons and Borderlands (2004: 39–40), reflects on interdisciplinary research collaboration and its products in the contemporary British university setting. She points to two opposed pressures on such research. One, seeking “undivided outcomes,” comes from those engaged in interdisciplinary research who see “an object held in common, the joint product, multi-authored, of diverse efforts.” The other comes from those determined to attribute “ownership” as a matter of “undivided origins” to an individual “owner” of the object—its presumed creator—who can be uniquely identified and appropriately awarded, often with legal intellectual property rights in the form of patents or copyrights. While the perspective of researchers connected to the former impetus is one in which several researchers see themselves as bringing their complementary knowledges to bear in an “orientation to a joint project (‘problem solving’, etc.) [which] takes precedence” (ibid.: 48n4), that of the latter requires that they parse out origins to specify how “collaboration can be unpicked to identify the individual person, or the individual team, with whom the origin rests undivided” (ibid.: 40). Both pressures are, in the case of the British academy, very recent. Calls for interdisciplinary research have been articulated over the same period of the past two decades during which new property claims have been made—by universities, by ‘society’, and by for-profit corporations—on intellectual creations in the university milieu.

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Donald M. Nonini

It is always a pleasure to read John Clarke’s work because, like the analytical “ordinary language” philosophers of the 1950s to 1970s, such as Wittgenstein and Austin, he pushes all of us who use the concepts he examines to think more rigorously about what we mean by them and by our theoretical assumptions when we use them. The present essay is no exception, and I learned much from it as a tour d’horizon of current thinking about neo-liberalism by social scientists. The observations that John makes about the ways in which current scholars view neo-liberalism as promiscuous, omnipresent, and omnipotent are spot-on.