This review of The Greening of America was published in The Abolitionist sometime in 1971. I couldnít find a copy of the published version, but I found an early draft of it in my files and used the draft as the basis for this version.
by Roy Halliday
Charles Reichís bestseller, The Greening of America, describes three mentalities coexisting in America today. He labels them Consciousness I, II, and III in the chronological order of their initial appearance.
Consciousness I comprises the beliefs of our grandparents, conservatives, most VFW members, the Daughters of the American Revolution, Spiro Agnew, and other "love-it-or-leave-it" American flag worshipers.
Consciousness II arrived with FDR and the New Deal. It is the mentality of the Kennedys, the New York Times editorial page, and the "enlightened" leaders of business, government, and academia.
It is the consciousness of "liberalism," the consciousness largely appealed to by the Democratic Party, the consciousness of "reform." (66)
Consciousness III is the counter-culture of the younger generation--the "beautiful" people who wear long hair, love beads, and sandals--the people who take psychedelic trips when they are not eating macrobiotic food--the ones who drop out of affluent society to return to a more "natural" life-style.
The foundation of Consciousness III is liberation. It comes into being the moment the individual frees himself from automatic acceptance of the imperatives of society and the false consciousness which society imposes. (225)
Charles Reich believes Consciousness III will revolutionize America nonviolently simply by changing peopleís values from the "false" values of Consciousness I and II to the "true" Con III values. Regardless of the validity of Reichís central thesis, the categories of Consciousness I, II, and III are useful for analyzing the current intellectual milieu in America. I see some fundamental epistemological and moral distinctions among the three categories of people.
Consciousness I started out on the right track by waging a revolution against British imperialism. Their ideology was good at first, especially with regard to private property, freedom of trade, and the rights of man. But they put too much faith in the Constitution and the new system of government, didnít monitor it closely enough, and allowed manipulators to take over. Con I never realized how corrupt the system became, and they continued to dream the American dream, idolize the flag, and regard the Constitution as a divinely inspired document. The federal government is as sacred to them as their church. They fear and despise political dissidents the way they fear and despise atheists. They have made patriotism into a religion. Their political opinions are now based on myths.
Because of differences in their beliefs about America and about free will, conservatives and liberals (Con I and Con II) arrive at different conclusions about how to handle social problems. Conservatives donít look for the other personís point of view, nor do they question the idea that America is the land of freedom and opportunity for all. Patriotic faith colors all conservative solutions to social problems. Americans who do not succeed must be lazy and shiftless and unworthy of respect. Since America means freedom and opportunity, anyone who is unpatriotic or disrespectful toward America must be evil, including protesters, communists, and Con III delinquents. Being evil, these people should be punished rather than coddled. This is the essence of the Con I political philosophy.
Con I doesnít search for the ultimate causes of social problems. Instead, Con I advocates simplistic, a priori, logical, and therefore extreme policies that often have no relation to the real world. They look for scapegoats and devils.
Liberals, on the other hand, blame all social problems on society at large rather than individuals, and they take a social engineering approach to solving Americaís problems. Their sympathies lie with the criminals and the poor who they regard as victims of our imperfect system. The Con II solutions to social problems invariably involve tweaking the system by allocating more money to federal programs intended to alleviate the living conditions of the underprivileged and potentially antisocial classes. Their preoccupation with social engineering through government has motivated many of them to make social work their occupation. They have taken up most of the government jobs in ever-expanding fields of health and human services, much as the Con I people occupy most of the government jobs in the armed forces and police departments.
Con II understands that crime doesnít just happen. It is caused by social conditions such as poverty, inequality, and disillusion with the establishment. Con II searches for cures to social ills in much the same way as research scientists look for cures to diseases. Con II observes the real world, sees that America is not the "land of opportunity" that it ought to be, and sets out to fix this problem by treating whole segments of society, including Con I and Con III people, as patients in need of large doses of Con II medicine. Con II congratulates itself for seeing deeper and being more sophisticated and enlightened than Con I and Con III. Con II feels morally and intellectually superior to Con I and does not take Con I criticisms seriously. Unfortunately, Con II is only one inch deeper than Con I, and Con II doesnít understand economics as well as Con I. Con II solutions are economically naive, and they always fail just as predicted by the Con I critics. But Con II dismisses Con I criticism as mean-spirited, remains clueless as to why welfare programs fail, and continually experiments with new government programs in the vain hope that one of them will succeed.
Con III shares the original Con I dream of freedom and opportunity, but is too hip, too aware, to mistake the dream for reality. Con III also sees that the Con II solutions donít work and that the Con II establishment is part of the problem. Having less innate ability for self-delusion than Con I and Con II, Con III turns to drugs to escape, temporarily, from the ugly reality created by the Con Iís and Con IIís. Con III is too "beautiful" to be part of the ugly establishment, so they drop out of the system rather than contribute to the corruption.
Con III resembles Con II in that it is aware of our social problems and realizes that our leaders have made terrible mistakes. Con II regards the mistakes, like the war in Vietnam, as miscalculations or misjudgments, not as evidence that something is wrong with the centralized approach to government. Con II thinks this was the wrong war at the wrong time because our leaders underestimated the strength of the enemy. Con III, on the other hand, believes it is wrong for one class of people to manipulate another and regards the Con II approach as immoral. Reich is correct on this point:
Consciousness III rejects most of what happens between people in our world: manipulation of others, forcing anyone to do anything against his wish, using others for oneís own purposes, irony and sarcasm, defensive stand-offishness. (228)
Like Con II, Con III believes in experimentation rather than rational analysis, but unlike Con II, Con III thinks it is wrong to experiment on or use other people. Instead, the Con IIIís experiment on themselves. They try new drugs, mystic religious cults, strange diets, sexual variations, and fresh approaches to all aspects of their own lives. Unlike Con I and Con II, Con III has a libertarian tolerance of diverse life-styles.
Many of Reichís observations about the three types of consciousness strike me as accurate, but his argument that a peaceful Con III revolution is inevitable did not convince me. He says that we live under a system that no one really wants, that deep-down we all want the same things, that the Con III people will help everyone to realize that our present system cannot provide what we want, and once we all realize this the current system will be replaced without much struggle.
There are no enemies. There are no people who would not be better off, none who do not, in the depth of their beings, want what Consciousness III wants. (394)
Since there are no enemies, Reich doesnít understand why they get so much news coverage,
The newspapers make their front page news, day after day, out of the speeches and actions of a few men in Washington whose thoughts are ludicrous, predictable, stereotyped, banal, and above all, boring; who are utterly out of touch with American society; who deserve, beyond anything else, to be ignored. (342)
This would be true, except for one thing: they have the power of life and death over all of us. Reich fails to grasp the fact of power. He explains the war in Vietnam philosophically, without villains:
... we are in Vietnam because of the way of life of the American inhabitant of technologyland, a way of life so regimented, repressed, and artificial that it has transformed the brave and good qualities of Americans into forces of destruction. (345)
This way of life is perhaps what enables them, the ruling class, to get us into war, but it is still they who lead us. Who they are, by name, can be learned by studying documents like the Pentagon Papers. There are people who know how our political system works and believe in it. There is a power structure in America, and those near the top of it want to stay there. As long as political power structures exist, consciousness analysis cannot replace class analysis.
Con IIís want a hierarchical system so the enlightened ones can manipulate and control the rest of us for our own good. Con IIís believe they are more intelligent than the rest of us and that they should hold the reigns of power to steer us along the right path. They cannot do so without there being a power hierarchy. The Con II people who have what it takes to get to the top constitute most of the ruling class along with a few successful Con Iís. The rest of us, whether we are Con I, II, or III, conservative, liberal, or anti-political constitute the ruled and exploited class.
Even though they do not understand it, Con I people also want the present system to continue because it represents their fixed religious beliefs about the US Constitution and the American flag, which they idolize and which they cannot stand to have challenged or criticized. Con Iís are full of righteous indignation against those who do not swear allegiance to the American power structure. They demand strict enforcement of laws and harsh punishment of the disobedient. It is wrong to say that Con Iís want what Con IIIís want, or that Con Iís wouldnít be willing to fight to defend the existing power structure.
Con I is fostered by the ruling class because it suits their purposes. The people in power in America appeal to patriotism to win support for their aggressive foreign policies. What they really want is to expand their control around the world. They want the American Empire to be the greatest on history.
There is a relationship between consciousness analysis and class (or caste) analysis in so far as there is a general tendency for the ruling class today to be composed mostly of Con IIís and the governed class to consist of Con Iís and Con IIIís. A change in the mentality of the governed class from predominantly Con I to predominantly Con III will not make them any less subject to taxation and other restrictions on their liberty. The ruling class has no qualms about governing people who view the world differently, and they will not give up their power simply because their subjects switch from one benighted world view to another.
Reich thinks reliance on consumerism is a fatal flaw in the corporate state that will cause Con III to be victorious against it.
We have shown that the Corporate State runs by means of a willing producer, who desires status, and a willing consumer, who desires what the State makes him want. (305)
Con IIIís are less competitive and less materialistic than Con Iís and Con IIís. Reich feels Con IIIís cannot be lured into the system by the manufactured need to keep up with the Jonses. This may be true, but it does not follow that the system will collapse if Con IIIís proliferate. It only means that the ruling class will have to use different techniques to control Con IIIís if Con IIIís grow to be a problem. Furthermore, it is unrealistic to suppose that Con IIIís have no material needs and are completely impervious to economic co-optation. Con IIIís can be relatively free of economic worries while they are young and healthy and have no children to support and while they themselves live like overgrown children at the expense of indulgent parents. But how long can they prolong their adolescence? Sooner or later most of them will grow up, have children of their own, accept responsibility for supporting themselves and their dependents, get jobs, and switch to Con I or Con II. Those few who persist in Con III living will be camping in the wilderness somewhere and wonít constitute a serious threat to the establishment.
Perhaps the most ridiculous assessment Reich makes of the current scene is as follows:
The fact that the exploited blue-collar worker is a chief opponent of change is in a sense an optimistic sign, for his consciousness clearly does not rest on economic interest, and is therefore just as clearly subject to change. (310)
Nothing could be further from the truth. The organized blue-collar workers do have an economic interest in preserving the status quo. They are making more money now than they would if they did not enjoy a privileged position in the economy. Their labor unions successfully limit competition in their fields, which allows the workers to enjoy high wages and other benefits at the expense of non-members who are prohibited from entering the industry.
Of the three kinds of consciousness described by Reich, only Con III really wants freedom and individual rights. But Con IIIís possess neither a sufficient devotion to rational analysis nor a minimal understanding of economics and property rights to avoid being co-opted by Con II social engineering techniques. If by some miracle the Con IIIís got control of the system, their belief in democratic socialism would guarantee their regime would fail. Con IIIís hearts might be pure and their intentions good, but an economy run by endless democratic squabbling cannot possibly support the American population.
There is too much nonsense in Reichís writing and in that of the Con IIIís about democratic planning, the right to an adequate income, and the right to a natural environment. For example,
The new consciousness could declare that everyone regardless of age, "aptitude," and job, has the right to a continuing growth of mind. (293)
How could such a right be infringed or enforced? What does it mean? Such phrases are never defined because any attempt to define and analyze them results in confusion. Their meanings are not discussed. They are simply accepted for now because they sound good. It will be discovered too late that they mean socialism and that the Con IIís will still be in control. In fact, Reich explicitly advocates socialism:
Economic equality and social ownership of the means of production are assumed, but the are now only a means to an end beyond. (355)
Should the Con IIIís ever get the chance to implement their system of democratic socialism, they will discover what they could have learned from studying Con I economists, that the means of socialism is incompatible with the ends they desire. The Con III means of socialism would inevitably result in Con IIís regaining control, and the Con IIIís will be back where were they started and will have to start over again.
In a system where everyone has an equal vote in deciding how the means of production will be used, it will be the Con IIís who, by their very nature, will assume roles of leadership, make the most proposals, do the most campaigning, and succeed at achieving control. Democracy is a weak safeguard for freedom. In fact, democracy and freedom are mutually exclusive. This is what is so pathetic about Reich and his tribe. They want freedom and toleration so that everyone can do his own thing in peace, but like all Leftists they want to collectivize and politicize the decision-making process.
Con IIIís have adopted the view that the world belongs to everybody equally. So they necessarily arrive at the conclusions that (1) private property and private control are wrong and (2) all decisions must be made collectively and democratically. Reich can see no social value in unorganized, private, economic activity. He regards individuals who are motivated in their work by personal economic interests as anti-social, regardless of whether they use the voluntary, economic means to acquire wealth or the coercive, political means. Reich blames the middle class for spending too much money on themselves and their families and not giving enough to the State and its Con II controlled social programs. As if taxes arenít already too high, and as if we are not spending more on government-run social programs than ever before, and as if these programs are not wasteful and counterproductive. He agrees with Kenneth Galbraith that the "public sector" is being starved while the "private sector" is growing too affluent.
All of this decay and neglect of the public facilities which could make possible a degree of equality of opportunity and amenity for the poor, is simply the obverse face of the ever-increasing expenditures for private purposes that are seen in every middle-class home. (171)
What appeal could Reichís prescriptions have to the majority of American taxpayers who are middle class and already resent being taxed at the highest rates in our history? If Reich truly reflects the Con III perspective, some former Con IIís like Reich will become Con IIís, but hardly any Con Iís will convert. Since the majority of Americans are Con Iís who vote, there is little reason to expect Con IIIís to gain control democratically in the near future if they stress their collectivistic tendencies.
If the Con IIIís somehow did gain control, what principle could they invoke to decide how much income to allow middle-class families to spend and how much to expropriate from them to spend on state-run welfare programs? How would they decide what "we" need, what "we" donít need, what "we" can afford, and what "we" canít afford? Are we all alike? Do we all need exactly the same things? Will deviations be permitted? What will be done with those who selfishly insist on putting the needs of their own families above the needs of "society"?
Even if all Americans had Consciousness III there would still be disagreements about priorities, and there would still be conflicting interests. If a person has the right to whatever he needs, the question naturally arises: Who determines what a person needs? If this decision is left to each individual, then each person will come up with an endless list of needs, and society would degenerate into a free for all until nothing is left and we all starve. If individual needs are determined by committee vote and goods and services are rationed accordingly, each individualís success will depend more on his political skills than his productivity and it would be in our interest to spend our precious time campaigning, lobbying, and making political deals instead of producing goods and services that actually serve peopleís needs. Eventually the decision-making process would have to be streamlined so that rationing decisions could be made in a timely manner--so that food is distributed before it rots. The obvious way to streamline a democracy is to make it a representative democracy. The natural evolution of a representative democracy is for representatives to become dishonest and corrupt as they succumb to special interests who offer them bribes. Then we are back to the system we have now.
Reich forgets that the democratic process, or any other political process, is essentially a way of determining whose values shall prevail over whom. Political processes cannot do otherwise than create class conflicts and abrogate individual rights. Yet, according to Reich, Con III shares with libertarianism a fundamental belief in the importance of the individual:
Consciousness III starts with self. In contrast to Consciousness II, which accepts society, the public interest, and institutions as the primary reality, III declares that the individual self is the only true reality. Thus it returns to the earlier America: "Myself I sing." The first commandment is: thou shalt not do violence o thyself. It is a crime to allow oneself to become an instrumental being, a projectile designed to accomplish some extrinsic end, a part of an organization or a machine. (225)
How can socialized, democratic control be reconciled with the rights of the individual? If "society" controls economic affairs, what is left for the individual to control? Life would literally be impossible if all decisions, or even if just economic decisions were left to "society." Imagine what it would be like if everyone had to be polled every time someone wanted the use of capital for production, or every time someone wanted to change his allotment of goods to satisfy his needs. It is a completely unworkable system, and it would quickly have to lose its democratic form. Economic tsars would have to be elected or appointed to employ the means of production (including labor) and to allocate the resulting goods and services. Those who apply for the economic management positions would naturally be Con II types who believe they are more intelligent and higher minded than the rest of us.
A purely democratic socialist economy would be so inefficient that it would degenerate to a primitive standard of living as soon as it used up the capital it inherited from the past. Only a very small society would be maintainable if all economic decisions had to be made democratically, and small societies have less of the advantages of division of labor. Capital goods would be consumed and not replaced for lack of any profit incentive, which would further lower everyoneís standard of living.
The economic system that leads to the greatest accumulation of capital in service of consumer demand leads to the greatest prosperity, but that does not make it, ipso facto, the most just kind of economic system, nor is a Con III economy or any other economy that discourages capital investment necessarily unjust. Libertarians, who base justice on the non-aggression principle, can approve of Con IIIís as long as the Con IIIís stand for voluntary implementation of socialism. As long as they pool their own capital and allow others to opt out and don't expropriate other people's property, the Con III's have every right to live in socialist poverty. But if the Con IIIís were to force their system on others, like the Con I and Con II people do, libertarians have to condemn them as criminals.
Since the Con IIIís are not in power they have no choice but to live and let live. They donít have the ability to impose their life-styles and their values on the rest of us, even if they would like to. Whether they would retain their tolerant approach if they has political power remains to be seen.
Politically, Reich is closer to the libertarian position than are the Con I and Con II people who believe in obedience to the state and working within the established system. But he is more of a traditionalist and less of a radical than a libertarian. He believes in the Constitution:
I am suggesting that following orders in no longer good enough for us--not if we want our Constitution preserved. . . . It is our Constitution, not theirs. (The New Yorker, June 19, 1971, p. 57)
Reich needs to read Lysander Spoonerís No Treason. Then maybe he will lose some of his hang-ups about the state and the Constitution and he wonít sound so silly when he tries to assert a position based on principle. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to read what Reich has to say because he is an idealist and a humanitarian rather than a Con II social engineer or a Con I Babbit. Despite his blind spot about the Constitution, Charles Reich and his Con III friends share with libertarians a healthy distrust of the state. He knows that Con IIís like Nixon and LBJ are deceitful and that Con Iís like Agnew and J. Edgar Hoover are dangerously myopic, but unlike most Liberals, Reich does not regard these people as aberrations. He believes the whole system is criminal and sometimes, as in the following two quotations, he sounds more libertarian than socialist:
The central reality is that evil today is the product of our system of organization and our technology, and that it occurs because personal responsibility and personal awareness have been obliterated by a system deliberately designed to do just that--eliminate or minimize the human element and insure the supremacy of the system. (The New Yorker, June 19, 1971, p. 52)
It is not the misuse of power that is evil; the very existence of power is an evil. Totalitarianism is simply enough power, of whatever sort, to exercise full control over those within the system. (125)
Consciousness III people do not make war, do not tax, and do not conscript us. It is Con I and Con II people who are the enemy. It is they who are in power, run the welfare-warfare state, and carry on cold-war imperialism. Even if we think Con IIIís are uncivil and smell bad, their sins donít begin to compare with the crimes of the Con Iís and Con IIís. William Buckley and Ed Muskie are much greater criminals and much greater threats to human life than are Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. There is even a chance that the Con IIIís will be our allies. In any case, the growth of Con III should be welcomed by libertarians as long as its growth comes from the ranks of the Con Iís and Con IIís and not from our own.
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