Democracy Against Capitalism: Liberalism

In Chapter 7 of Democracy against Capitalism Ellen Meiksins Wood sets out an historical analysis of the politics of the transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, starting with England. In Wood’s telling, two of the major steps along the way were Magna Carta and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Both events temporarily settled the relations between the nobility and centralizing state in the person of the monarch. Neither event had anything to do with the establishment of democracy in the sense of rule by the people. The settlements assume the continued servility of the masses, and continued domination by the aristocracy. The power of the nobility was based on their economic domination through non-economic means, military, juridical, and ideological, and on control over the power of the nascent state.

As feudalism morphed into capitalism, domination was split between two forces, the centralizing state and increasing economic power, mostly held by the aristocracy and by the rising merchant class. The latter were threatened by growing centralized power, and reacted to it by working to increase the power of the Parliament which they controlled. Capitalism helped make this possible because the economically dominant class was able to extract surplus from the productive sector through economic power, only somewhat aided by the power of the state.

Liberalism became the dominant ideology among the dominant economic class. This use of the term “liberal” has a specific meaning: it refers to a set of values including limited government, constitutionalism, individual rights and civil liberties. Kindle Loc. 4499. The pre-condition for this kind of liberalism is the existence of a centralized state, one that has to be limited by these ideological constructs. Kindle Loc. 4502.

The dominant classes were willing to extend civil protections from the central state to the multitudes. What they were not willing to do was to allow any intrusion on their rights of property. That led to a search for legal and constitutional protections of their property rights. Capitalism provided the economic framework for this project. Citizenship relates to the State, and a growing right to select representatives to govern. Citizenship is irrelevant to the economy, where the economically dominant class controls everything. Legal and ideological structures protect that division.

Wood looks at US history, and sees a somewhat similar process. In the US, a limited form of democracy existed in the States at the time the Constitution was written, and the Founding Fathers could not displace it. Still, the same solution emerged. The Constitution protects property interests. Theoretically, all citizens share in that protection of property, but the emphasis is on political freedoms, the liberal freedoms of individual rights and civil liberties, and limited government. The principle limit on government was to prevent it from imposing restrictions on the free use of property. The dominant class, first merchants, then industrialists, and then financiers, controls the economy.

The idea was that all citizens would be represented by their elected officials. Wood says that the representatives are removed from the people at large, both spatially in the sense that the central government was isolated; and in the sense that the representatives are few in number compared to the number of citizens.

In ‘representative democracy’ rule by the people remained the principal criterion of democracy, even if rule was filtered through representation tinged with oligarchy, and the peoplel was evacuated of its social content. Kindle Loc. 4436; ital. in orig.

The term “social content” means the natural social context in which people live, relations of home, work, church, community. This idea of representation is natural according to Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 35, quoted by Wood

The idea of actual representation of all classes of the people, by people of each class, is altogether visionary…. 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…. 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 merchants 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…. We must therefore consider merchants as the natural representatives of all these classes of the community. Kindle Loc. 4240.

These words could have come from Plato, substituting a different elite for merchants, or from any other elitist theorist. This obviously is not rule by the people, as in the original meaning of democracy. As I type this, we can see our elitists in action, busily confirming a known liar and a sexual creep to join four other conservative hacks on SCOTUS, where they will decide just how much majority rule we are allowed.

The political sphere is the home of limited government, the home of civil liberties, the home of individual rights. That sphere is separate from the economic sphere, which is put into the hands of the oligarchs, the rich, and their minions. The economic sphere is the area that provides us with the means to live, mostly by selling our labor. The idea is that the political sphere is not supposed to interfere with the economic sphere, insuring that every part of our productive lives are at the disposal of the rich, including our ability to provide our families and ourselves with food and shelter.

Wood sees liberalism as “democracy tinged with oligarchy”. As I explain in this 2013 post at Naked Capitalism, we live in an oligarchy inside a democracy. This and similar posts at FDL are based on Oligarchy in the United States? by Benjamin Page and Jeffrey Winters and on Winters’ book Oligarchy. They argue that Oligarchs share three interests:

1. Protecting and preserving wealth
2. Insuring the unrestricted use of wealth
3. Acquiring more wealth.

Oligarchs differ on what we call social issues (the carceral state, abortion, gay rights, guns and so on), which in Wood’s telling are the domain of the political sphere. Consequently some legislation on those issues is possible. Their views on economic issues are almost identical. A threat to one rich person is a threat to all. Therefore they unite on economic issues and generally prevail when legislation or regulation threatens any of them. Or when they really want a SCOTUS nominee to be confirmed.

44 replies
    • Boadiceia Carr says:

      AlanK, well, i did — check it out, Serwer — and then i too felt depressed, only somewhat relieved by binge watching for the weekend Inspector Morse, Hercule Poirot, Prime Suspect and, a new one for me , Shetland in which the main character artfully & casually drops in a few lines of Yeats from Circus Animals Desertion, to which the cloud lifted for a bit.

      Agree, EW is some of best writing and coverage out there, and first and last place i visit.


  1. alaura says:

    re: “…The dominant classes were willing to extend civil protections from the central state to the multitudes. What they were not willing to do was to allow any intrusion on their rights of property…”

    I listened to this new podcast from Intercepted yesterday (several times), and Dr. SIngh also emphasizes the need for people to understand history before we can resolve how that crying little white-boy bitch got on the not-Supreme Court.

    “…NYU Professor Nikhal Paul Singh took a longer historical view of three arcs of U.S. History that yielded the durable commitments to racism, militarism, and unequal class power that has sharpened over the last two decades…”
    (Intercepted is on other cast services – Bonus: From Nation State to Empire)

  2. Debbie Hillman says:

    I have not read Prof. Wood’s book, but since it was published in 1995 I can only assume that she did not have access to the best understanding that I have come across about what’s wrong with the U.S. political-economic system, especially the U.S. Constitution.  I highly recommend the 2000 book, Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas, by Prof. Barbara Alice Mann (Humanities – Univ. of Toledo).  Being Native American Indian (Bear clan, Seneca), Prof. Mann had access to oral traditions and cultural understanding that non-Native scholars did not.  (Gantowisas is variously translated as clan mother, indispensable woman, mature woman acting in her public capacity.)

    I have tried to summarize the structures that the U.S. Constitution and system is missing in a fairly short blogpost.  It includes other current resources for investigating the Iroquois League’s Great Law of Peace. In Case of Constitutional Crisis…Start Here: The Great Law of Peace

    Thanks for the conversation.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      It is unsound and unfair to an author to make sweeping assumptions about her work – or a blog post here –  without having read the material.  It is more persuasive to present the new material on its merits, rather than to compare it to an unkown.

  3. Allison Holland says:

    i find the article sad because it a description of the obvious. it might as well have been a discourse of a building say, of meis van der rohe comparing it to a palladian summer house in the outskirts of rome. obvious things are comparable. it is sad that things have to be broadcast like this. instead of a book, had it been a graphic novel then perhaps more good could come from it. i havent read the book so i dont know if she touched upon the denial of education as the main culprit in oligarchal power. or of the criminal justice system. or how the wealthy corporations conspire to keep their workers. even architects (who should be highly educated though many are ignorant of many things).. they conspire to keep them tied to the land ala catherine the great of russia-who did it by decry– by impoverishing them to the point where they really dont have funds to relocate or time to find a better job and get threatened for looking for another job that is better. to me, the illusion of all is that women are not the most structurally biased load bearers of the wealthy and privileged. we have been beaten since before our evolution into homo sapiens. or homo erectus or whatever beginning of man you have read about. we were beaten before Lucy was a broken woman of prehuman stature found as a piece in african desert sands. we have been beaten in our developing evolution and we continue to be beaten down to this day. physically. verbally. economically. try being a woman in a custody fight in a county i cant name…after thinking about it…. look up those (any) stats and you will see we are still being beaten. by male judges who rule like medieval priests. should the man want the children. the law, welded with a robe and an oath that can easily be bought. perhaps not with cash like senator collins but with approval and promotion and continued power assured. the bones discovered fairly recently of women who crossed the bering straight all those thousands of years ago are to a one beaten. beaten and healed. we have suffered long enough. collins the collaborationist is finally finally exposed. i knew all along she would go with the republicans. i knew it mattered nothing to her how the truth appeared and then disappeared. she pretends quite well. but as a woman who sees how mothers can be evil and how mothers can look the other way i knew who she was a long time ago. she is a fake. she always was. i knew she couldnt be counted on. its women like her that hurt real women. oligarchs, priests, bankers, presidents….we are all so dependent on their good will. but we dont have it now. and so we fight. murkowski is a woman to be honored. collins is a woman to be banished.

    • Bruce Olsen says:

      I understand Murkowski voted the way she did only because Manchin voted the way he did. Had Manchin voted no, It’s my understanding Murkowski would have voted yes.

      But even if that’s not accurate, all she did was to listen to her constituents. That seems to me to be table stakes, but I guess given the way the rest of the GOP ignored the masses’ will, listening to one’s constituents has become somehow praiseworthy.

      • Anon says:

        Why do you say that?

        My sense is that no Mancin based his decision on her and on Collins.

        Murkowski had very Alaska-specific reasons to oppose Kavanaugh and Mancin’s act did not save her much. Moreover she has long been clear that she takes Judicial nominations seriously in a way that others do not. So much so that she has actually made nominations a public process rather than a pet perk. My sense is that she held her cards and made her decision carefully, while he waited for the chips to fall then did what was expedient.

        • Bruce Olsen says:

          It was mentioned in an article that, iirc, included a timeline of the announcements. Can’t find the link. But we can ignore it because I was reacting to the statement that “Murkowski should be honored”.

          I think honor is way too strong. Her constituents’ opinions were widely known weeks prior, yet she held on to the last. She didn’t say anything of particular substance about Dr. Ford. She did hint that she thought his temperament was not right.

          It’s great that she voted the right way, but it was way too close. She had all the same facts after the second hearing was over. If she had come out with a “Nope!” right after the hearing maybe she would have achieved the effect that she (apparently) seemed to want.

          Now the Alaskan GOP is all over her. If she’d come out forcefully she’d have a better way to stand up to them. Ah, well…

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Thanks, again, Ed. Excellent point to bring out the connection between the rights and obligations with which one seeks to endow government, and the control one expects to wield over that government. We’ve seen modern variations on that recently in the different treatment Kavanaugh and his patrons extend to a president, depending on his party affiliation.

    The Glorious Revolution was glorious because it was relatively non-violent. Parliament displaced from the monarchy one hereditary house in favor of another. In that case, a controllable Protestant one for an unpredictable Catholic one. It was part of a larger European confrontation between Catholic and Protestant monarchies.

    It presumed a weak monarchy with dwindling support, or it would not have been so relatively peaceful. As you say, support had shifted toward a nobility-merchant axis, and a redefinition and enhancement of Parliament’s powers at the expense of the king’s by those who expected to wield that power for their benefit – and to limit the king’s ability to interfere with that exercise of power.

  5. Bruce Olsen says:

    Thanks, Ed. I really appreciate your work.

    That explains the virulent anti-Communism of my (too-distant) youth in a way I didn’t understand then. And now that Russia is no longer communist (but is merely corrupt throughout) I guess it’s OK to be pals. It’s still amazing GOP voters have bought into that flip-flop, though; I doubt most know Russia isn’t communist.

    Any ideas for countering this? Education of the voters?

    • Eureka says:

      On the education front, two topics have returned often to my mind this past week:

      First, that per studies, people don’t actually support the policies that the Koch group is hoping force with their plotted Constitutional Convention (I saw an interview on this in early August; I don’t have the link yet, but the points resonated with other popular knowledge).

      Second, the oligarchs (as used here) are a doomsday cult.  I had quipped earlier about when did we decide to let a doomsday cult run our country?  Maybe if more people knew the dirty details, they would care deeply.  (Though ostensibly the evangelicals are on board with it.)  Here I am thinking of the Sept. 21 Guardian piece on petroleum companies having data since the 80s (including at FedSoc’s founding) that their products would lead to catastrophic temperature rises, followed by the Sept. 27 WaPo piece on trump admin. docs that show basically an extrapolation into doomsday, with the response to just ~’go with it!’

      But that’s nothing compared to the gems fomenting in these hedge funders’ imaginations for when some version of doomsday hits:  they are cogitating about “disciplinary collars” for their compound workers and such.  Or maybe robots so as not to have to deal with provisioning testy people.

      The concrete ideas they’re batting around as they work the pensions of those who have them might make for compelling mainstream discussion.  I am often fond of pragmatic proofs, and there’s nothing more telling about their intentions than plots for a future without a citizenry.

      Survival of the Richest – Future Human – Medium

    • Ed Walker says:

      I don’t have answers. My best guess is that some group of  politicians and  activists create a series of concrete programs that a large majority of people want. When they don’t get them they will be open to asking why they can’t have nice things that they want. Hopefully we’ll be ready with some answers and some proposals to make it possible to have an actual democracy, one not infected with oligarchy.

      • Michael L says:

        I really enjoyed your ditty.

        “make it possible to have an actual democracy, one not infected with oligarchy.” Sounds like we would need a revolution. That will never happen, we are to fat. Revolutions are fought by skinny hungry people and we are not. Keep the grunts fat, drunk with plenty of carnivals and lots of cake and there will be no revolution. Our democracy peaked with Obama. Hope everyone enjoyed it, I did.

        • Rayne says:

          Revolutions are fought by skinny hungry people

          What if the revolution isn’t fought by the skinny or the hungry?

          A critical problem with this western society is that it clings to old memetic material like a child hangs onto a security blanket.

          • Bruce Olsen says:

            Revolutionaries must be willing to give up all they personally have for the mere hope of something better for everyone else.

            When was it ever different?

            Others need to help, but until circumstances become dire few will be motivated enough.

                • Rayne says:

                  See my latest Three Things post, the part about Mike Huckabee mocking Taylor Swift. Swift’s Instagram post spurred over 65K voter registrations in 24 hours — more than all the new voter registrations in August. And she really didn’t try, just published a single post. Imagine if women and minorities who have social capital all chose to flex their muscles; would men like Huckabee see the punch coming?

                  I suggest going out of your comfort zone and doing more reading on your own of voices you ordinarily pass over or avoid. More pointedly seek out decolonizing texts.

                  “Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.”

                  ― Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

                  • Bruce Olsen says:

                    You assume many things abut me that are not true.

                    I believed, based on what you’ve written here, that you’d be less dismissive of another human simply because of their color.

                    • Rayne says:

                      There are very few men of european heritage who are conscious of their colonization. Just because you dislike overt racism doesn’t mean you are comfortable with decentering whiteness as a default.

                      When you become comfortable with having your race and gender noted all the time — as women/non-binary and minorities are constantly, treated as if they are “other” and not the default — you may have shed euro-colonization.

        • bmaz says:

          What in the hell is this idiocy??

          “Ditty”?? Really. Get out, and don’t come back without a more clear discussion. Lest you be a troll, which you may be.

          • Michael L says:

            What? Serious? I met no harm or disrespect. I am not a writer or lawyer, nothing like that, in fact. Not a book reader, either.

            Troll? What is a troll? 1957; went to high school (’75) and played football with Paul Manafort’s much younger brother Dennis in a sheeeet hole called New Britain. The Manafort family were the Kennedy’s of New Britain. That’s my connection to politics and how I found this sight. Many ions ago I read Charles Beard and Ed’s and Mz Wood’s writings reminded me of it, which reminded me of my life long curiosity of who are the Plutocracy? Who picked up the Kavenaugh tab?

            Please accept my apologies.

            Sincere regards, Michael

  6. Anon says:

    Your comment on the Federalist reminded me of a comment in “Inventing a Nation” by Gore Vidal. He was talking about the impact that the Shays Rebellion (a genuine communist rebellion in the US) had on our founding fathers in spurring them to move from the articles of Confederacy to the actual Constitution (quoting from memory):

    “In this crisis there were no Federalists, no Future republicans, only terrified men of property. Men who were now spurred to create a nation where nothing like Shays could happen again and where tranquility, if not liberty, was the common goal.”

  7. Pam Schwingl says:

    Similarly, the 60’s was a shock to the ruling class and bound them together in their mission to control the supreme court and state governments in a ploy to gerrymander in every state possible. Behind the mass outrage against the Vietnam war was in fact, that great equalizer – public education. Which is why in the 80’s Reagan’s “minister” of education began planting the seeds of charter schools and vouchers for private schools.

    • Bruce Olsen says:

      Seems to me a strict reading of the establishment clause could be used to argue for eliminating all religion-based legislation, including tax breaks and taking money from the public school system.

      Everyone has to support a public good; you can direct your own leftover funds wherever you like.

      I’d be a plaintiff.

  8. Kick the darkness says:

    I’ve enjoyed and learned from this series.

    I don’t know if you’ve looked at James Scott’s “Against the Grain”; I’ve only read the free parts I can pull off the web. But the thesis is that from the inception of nation states as hunter gathers transitioned to agriculture, such institutions have always been fundamentally about enforcing coercive social control. The research suggests the walls were built to keep people in.

    But my comment, such as it is:

    “democracy tinged with oligarchy”….. “oligarchs differ on what we call social issues (the carceral state, abortion, gay rights, guns and so on), which in Wood’s telling are the domain of the political sphere. Consequently some legislation on those issues is possible. Their views on economic issues are almost identical.”

    Seems like a reasonable view of R’s versus D’s. But does it explain current partisanship, the latest outcome being ramming Kavenaugh onto the Supreme Court? Or is an additional dynamic required to explain it? Like maybe somebody’s oligarchs decided accumulation of further wealth required a resetting of the rules. Perhaps democracy tinged with oligarchy can be maintained, but I don’t think democracy poisoned with kleptocracy is viable. “Which brings us once again to the urgent realisation of just how much there is still left to own”.

    • Ed Walker says:

      That’s a great question that deserves an answer. I tried to say that progress was possible, but I’ve been thinking that the pathways are narrowing. There has been a change in the attitude of a large number of the rich, and that deserves to be looked at.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Yes, the rich, unlike the 1950s, have given up on the idea of sharing.  Trump is an avatar for that harder philosophy of everything for me, and none for thee.  So, too, are the Kochs and their cohort of post-Powell letter corporate titans.

        That requires a redefinition of society, since the wealthy have taken away one of its three legs.  They claim to the common weal and to ways society’s benefits their bottom line, but deny that they should be subject to any uncontrolled state taxing or regulatory power.  That is inherently predatory and unstable.

      • Kick the darkness says:

        Thanks.  I guess if I try and place my finger on it I’m trying to get a sense of  to what extent a class based analysis (or a poly-sci assessment of individual politics based on independent social and economic variables) captures where we are.  The wealthy appear to be doing great.  If their enlightened self-interest is to perpetuate a political system that maintains their advantage, they appear to be doing a pretty crappy job.  I know McCain was like “return to regular order”.  And many hope a blue wave (funded by the blue oligarchs presumably) would return balance.  We’ll see; we do need hope.

        I guess there was a large volume of data captured in the 2016 election that had not been assessed before as part of the 2016 National Election Study.  The analysis is interesting, trying to massage out the tightest correlations.  Here’s a recent one for example where you don’t hit a paywall.

        • Kick the darkness says:

          Whoops, that last comment was supposed to go under Ed.  But I was also going to say that I’d never heard of the Powell letter.  Reading it what struck me was that even though its going on 50 years it sounds like it could have been written yesterday, erasing  Commies and substituting some other pejorative.  It presents itself as an action plan, but it reads more as an us vs them screed, dressed up like a more precise piece of writing.  Qualitative assessments and anecdotal footnotes.  I guess maybe that’s one way of framing it…to what extent is our current direction a product of a strategy, albeit a perhaps loosely woven one, envisioned by controlling economic interests, enacted through politicians working on behalf of their benefactors, the judicial crisis network, the Lee Attwaters of the world, etc.  That sort of interpretation suggests fixes within our current system.  But if that interpretation is off the mark, if the problems are more intractably rooted in human nature, and moving along their own vectors, such fixes won’t work long term.

          I do agree learning (re-learning?) sharing would be a great start.  Some sort of national time out followed by mandatory kindergarten with public ethics.  Did such a sense of the commonweal ever meaningfully exist, or is that just part of our nation’s mythology?

          • Eureka says:

            A comment on this point:

            But if that interpretation is off the mark, if the problems are more intractably rooted in human nature, and moving along their own vectors, such fixes won’t work long term.

            I don’t think the problems are any more ‘rooted in human nature’ than are the solutions.  Else there wouldn’t need to be constant messaging about fear, anger, hate, disgust…related historically-valent pejoratives about commies revived, relentless misogyny, othering, etc.  There’s one locus where I find hope.

            • Kick the darkness says:

              Yeah, I don’t want to come across as fatalistic.  Thread’s run its course I suppose but will add that what I meant by roots of human nature was research showing that even for complex political/social attributes like right wing authoritarianism the narrow sense heritability score from twin studies appears to be surprisingly high (~0.55; in comparison, an established largely genetically determined complex trait like human height has a score of ~0.7, with 1.0 being genotype is a complete predictor of phenotype).  But the research also shows that factors such as parenting reinforce or temper that proclivity.  And for any parent that probably make sense.  Kids have their core personalities from the get go; caring parents try and steer from the backseat.  So a simple view is that our families and communities have roughly equal weight to genetics, at least for some underlying social drivers.  Maybe it’s been that way ever since Toba blew its lid.  We have a track record of persistence. I think there is a lot of hope in that.
              “No more turning away
              From the weak and the weary
              No more turning away
              From the coldness inside”

              (cue guitar solo)

              • Eureka says:

                As it’s part of the oligarchy war chest viz. public policy and social division, I’ve got to pick up the shiny dangerous heritability statistic to show its dull edges (so even worse as an instrument of violence).  I’m looking to resituate it in the larger discussion, not directed per se or to put a response burden on you, kick the darkness.

                Brevity and accuracy are not friends here, so I will offer just a few points and link to others who’ve already written much of this out, and substantively at that.

                Heritability is an exploratory tool, not an answer or a real thing.  Heritability does not mean inherited.  Heritability does not mean genetic.  It tries to estimate those things, to much misunderstanding regarding its limits.

                Not all scientists who use the h2 statistic are scientific racists, but it is and has been the primary hammer of scientific racists who have sought to use this politicized measurement to justify government/social  policies and ideologies to deny rights to targeted groups.  This is particularly true with regard to ‘the heritability of intelligence,’  but also re  ‘tendencies towards violence,’ etc.  The topic relates more foundationally to (neo) Platonic essentialist notions of who gets to participate in democracy.

                Aside, complex behavioral traits like ‘IQ’ are hard to measure:  there is much broader consensus on how to measure height.  What is ‘right wing authoritarianism?’

                To be clear, I criticize heritability from statistical and other scientific perspectives (see links).  But the ‘why it’s important to do so, especially here’ part relates to these larger sociopolitical issues, including the politicization of the statistic itself.  So much so that one must beware that wikis on the topic of heritability or twin studies or related topics should be viewed critically, as sites of potential information warfare, possibly fluffed with straw men and other rhetorical stratagems.   Same re:  ‘free’ books.

                Plain language blog by a relevant scientist focused on issues with heritability generally:
                The argument that different races have genetically determined differences in intelligence – Greg Laden’s Blog

                More formal, broadly readable, with great examples including Lewontin’s thought experiment with plants having 100% heritability (h2 = 1.0) of height, when the difference is truly environmental (whole article is there when you scroll down; ignore request for a pdf as it gives a popup asking you to join site):

                The heritability fallacy- David S. Moore and David Shenk

                More technical esp. with regard to some statistical issues, but interesting because it is interwoven with some relevant sociopolitical history re eugenics:

                Missing compared to what? Revisiting heritability, genes and culture

                • Kick the darkness says:

                  Since genetics is down my line, I can’t pass up giving something of a response, even though the subject is getting far afield.  I liked the Feldman and Ramachandran treatment of the missing heritability problem.  Thanks-it’s not something I’d normally bump into.  I wanted to say there is a considerable shift in thinking as to what constitutes a heritable “unit”.  As your review points out, this is largely due to the failure of GWAS to explain traits such as height.  In short, it has been difficult to superimpose traits that are not transmitted in a simple Mendelian manner back onto DNA sequence in a straightforward way (hence missing heritability).  An emerging view is that such complex traits may be transmitted not as gene variants, but rather as higher order programming “architecture” that influences the expression of many genes acting in concert.  These programming “set points”, at least in some cases, appear fairly plastic and subject to environmental feedback.  From such a viewpoint, the old discrimination between nature vs nurture  falls away considerably.  I would not be surprised that what your review calls cultural transmission meets up in the middle at some point with this view of genetics.

                  This historian Raddick traces the roots of this change in thinking back to the very early days of genetics as a discipline.  Some may find it interesting.  If watching, skip to ~7:00 in to avoid a particularly painful introduction of the speaker.


  9. Michael L says:

    Great stuff, thank you.

    Who are the folks making the decisions – the oligarchs, the aristocrats or the plutocracy – whatever, whoever?

    One would think the Bush’s (Walkers), but they came out against Trump. So, what gives? Bannon trashed the Koch gang, that’s perplexing. Getty, DuPont’s, Hearst’s, Rocks are they the players?

    Is trump one, through perhaps his grandmother’s connection to the Rockefeller’s and others, perhaps Bloombergs, Hearsts?

    Or is he the hired gun? And why is he subordinate to putz?

    One would think Putin was hired by these US oligarchs. Who?

    There was no way, none what-so-ever, come hell or high water and all of that stuff,  the supreme court was going to become tilted left which meant Clinton never had a chance. Enter Putin and Trump. Exit Romney, Obama and Biden who’s silly excuse regarding Putin’s involvement as a non-factor because Trump had no chance. Sure. The reason for Biden not wasting his time running, seems clearer. There is only one party, the Dems are the folks that drew the short straw at Yale or Harvard.

    With the Mueller investigation steaming along, in a country with plenty of right wing judges to choose from, despite Kavenaugh’s background and the subsequent backlash, he still had to be confirmed – he will prevent Trump from going to court for high crimes and misdemeanors,  in addition to being a reliable puppet. No doubt there are a couple more skeletons in his closet. Where there is gambling, drinking, womanizing, there has to be cocaine and who knows what else. Reinquest was a junkie and he assured the election of George W.

    Kav’s confirmation had nothing to do with abortion. Every once in a while, the SCOTUS will throw the rank and file labor class a liberal social bone and Roberts will cross the aisle. But not on government pensions and possibly Social Security. If this applies to you, start saving. In addition to Kav, the merchants and industrialists also got their 5% tax break, that leaves the financial gang lacking their loot but interest rates are on the giddy up.

    As this is being written, Trump and Rosenstein have just announced their marriage on CNBC. Which of course means the Mueller report will not become public. Forget about the impeachment, what snowball chance in hell it had has just melted.

    But what are the names of the white guys with the blow torches?

    • Rayne says:

      But what are the names of the white guys with the blow torches?

      What if they aren’t white, or guys? What if they don’t use blow torches?

      Welcome to emptywheel.

      • Michael L says:

        Thank you,

        Good points. Odds favor guys (men) despite the 50/50 break down. Maybe some with Semitic roots but most, if not all, would identify as European at least in part.

        Blow torches, hmmm. They could use pins to pop the bubbles of hope of justice.  But then again, justice is only an opinion.

        • Rayne says:

          LOL the old “strength in numbers” bit. There’s only 50/50 split as long as the oppressed believe that.

          The revolution looks like a terrified but determined 17-year-old Latinx lesbian with a shaved head, and black/mixed race/white popstars with bigger human social media audiences than the bot-bulked president’s. It looks like 50-odd-year-old women with closed eyes and a raised open hand, swearing the truth before the patriarchy in full view of cable audiences.

          The revolution is armed with patriarchy’s self-inflicted damage and its refusal to hear the oppressed. It’s easy to sneak up on the deaf and blind.

          • Michael L says:


            I think you are describing a cultural revolution. Fat people are good at those. Of course, TV helps.

            • Rayne says:

              What do you think culture is?

              Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.

              — Ifte Choudhury, Assoc. Prof, Texas A&M

              A culture war may well shape how a society distributes wealth. It can certainly shape political attitudes, which is what Fox News and right-wing talk radio programming have done for decades, what Russian disinformation ops have done here and abroad. It can trigger worse as radio programming in Rwanda did in 1994.

  10. Watson says:

    Re limited government, government can be TOO limited.

    Or as Mike Konczal (@rortybomb) puts it: ‘Define freedom as what we keep free from the market.’

  11. thomasa says:

    A couple of weeks ago I, an American, shared a table in the breakfast room of my hotel with three mid-career women on a reunion holiday in Barcelona. They had been interns together in Brussels a decade ago and kept up ever since. One was a German, one a Finn and a Portuguese – two lawyers and an accountant. The conversation turned to Brexit, its roots and its effect on the continent and how it had come about.

    They were quite concerned about accelerating right-wing political radicalism in Europe too. Less so in Finland apparently. They saw a rise of oligarchy at the expense of their liberal democracy and blamed propaganda for not only  Brexit but Marine La Penn and neo nazis in Germany, all fueled by such, in their view, non-issues as immigration — that being used to stir the pot of discontent among the working classes who had been left behind economically for a host of reasons having nothing to do with immigrants.

    Sound familiar?

    The women were quite concerned about what could be done about it and were apparently in a position to have some influence. I suggested that it was first necessary to understand how we got to this point given where we all had started post WWII. I’m a generation older than they and experienced the Viet Nam war and its attendant upheavals. I also remember my WASP aunt explaining what a scare the whole business had put into the establishment.

    Which brings us to the establishment’s reaction to the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement along with major social changes. I mentioned that in the US a concerted effort was begun to re-establish conservative rule both politically and economically. And the framework for that was laid out in a letter by Justice Lewis Powell in 1971 just before Nixon appointed him to the Supreme Court and that it’s online and they should read it; search on The Powell Memo. it should be as relevant across the pond as in the US. I explained that in my view the conservatives have engineered what amounts to a gordian knot that has politics and economics tied up in their favor. But perhaps that knot can be untied pulling one thread at a time, essentially running the movie of the past forty years backward. I said I thought there is hope but it would take time and patience. All agreed we should start forthwith.

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