Jane Mayer’s latest book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, is of course an exposé. And while I love such books, it must be said that its usefulness is limited and it is, ultimately, unable to do what Mayer would like it to do – disempower or defeat the billionaires whom she says have funded what she calls “the radical right.”
Exposes work with such phenomena as, say, child slavery, impure food and drugs, or environmental pollution. To expose such phenomena is to defeat or to pave the way for the defeat of them. Why? Because there is no justification for such practices.
Exposes don’t work, are insufficient with regard to the phenomena Mayer is addressing in Dark Money because those she is exposing are convinced – and have convinced others – of the justice of their politics. As Aristotle pointed out, a very long time ago, oligarchs appeal to justice to legitimate their claim to rule. And their appeals are not simply baseless or merely a cover for their self-interest, although they serve in that capacity. The claims of the wealthy few that they deserve to rule are, of course, controversial, that is to say, partial or incomplete. But so too are the claims of the democrats to rule. Ala’ Aristotle, all claims to rule, either by the one, the few, or the many, are and remain controversial precisely because they are all partial or incomplete.
So, to expose some people as oligarchs who are seeking to rule will not accomplish much, will not lead to their defeat in the political arena, as should be clear by now in the U.S. And showing, as Mayer does extensively, that they use deceit, deception, or secrecy to achieve their goals does not delegitimize their activities. To undermine our oligarchs, our billionaires of the radical right, as Mayer has it, requires showing how oligarchy is unjust, how oligarchs practice injustice rather than justice.
This is where Mayer comes up short, which is why her expose’ becomes repetitive rather than enlightening. Again and again, Mayer exposes the doings of the her billionaires of the radical right, as if people did not know that our political order today was screwing them over. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing and we don’t actually need an expose’ to know that we, the many, are being screwed over by our government. What we need is a politics that revolves around questions of justice, not around questions of increasing the nation’s wealth and power. For the pursuit of wealth and power, as the most important political goals, legitimates oligarchy and the rule of oligarchs, while marginalizing the pursuit of justice, especially where the many are concerned. A politics of justice, not a politics of wealth and power or a politics of greatness, is what is most needed now.