The Specter of Eris

Eris (from inscription). Tondo of an Attic black-figure kylix. (Credit:  Museum (I.Gesk) © Berlin Antikensammlung / Wikimedia Commons)

Eris (from inscription). Tondo of an Attic black-figure kylix. (Credit: Museum (I.Gesk) © Berlin Antikensammlung / Wikimedia Commons)

What comes after empire, corporate capitalism, and the war state—the world we presently know?


Chaos is the dark, primordial realm of Eris, Greek goddess of witchcraft, disease, death, and disorder. Eris personified strife and rivalry and was closely associated with war. Her Roman name was Discordia. Mortals invoked her for evil purposes.

Eris symbolized the mystifying realm of ghosts and nightmares, the terrifying menace of the unknown. Her very conception in Greek mythology might suggest our strong preference, even today, to live with the known problems of a badly flawed order rather than undertake the risk of change.

Even in deeply troubled times, the specter of Eris erodes our will to imagine a better world. It is hard to envision a viable alternative to the present reality.

Political economist Gar Alperovitz believes Americans can reclaim their democratic vision. Alperovitz’s idea for democratizing wealth is worked out in America Beyond Capitalism (2005 & 2011) and What Then Must We Do? (2013). His premise is that the US cannot promote healthy, peaceful relations with other countries unless and until we find ways “to realize values of equality, liberty, democracy, and, one day, perhaps even of community in our own land” (America Beyond Capitalism, p. 239).

Alperovitz advances an argument for something other than reform and revolution, something he calls evolutionary reconstruction. The old progressive model will no longer work, he argues, because labor unions are no longer strong and corporate capitalism dominates government. Change must happen from the ground up over the long haul. Already existing and new institutions of democratic ownership—such as cooperatives, worker-owned firms, land trusts, and social enterprises—can be built up slowly to replace corporate institutions. Municipalities can democratize wealth by developing, for example, municipal-owned electrical generation facilities and cable and internet services. National health insurance would provide better coverage at a lower cost. Nurtured over time, these and other ideas for creating a mixed economy more favorable to democratic values might, when crises in the present system inevitably occur, “become sufficiently powerful to begin to alter the downward-moving direction of the great social, economic, and environmental trends that now define the decaying pattern of the corporate-dominated system” (What Then Must We Do? p. 136).

And to what signs of decay is Alperovitz referring? They include unemployment, under employment, poverty, environmental degradation, global warming, and diminishing civil liberties. The US ranks last among affluent nations on measures of inequality, poverty, life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity, and overall environmental performance. The top one percent of Americans is prospering at the expense of everyone else.

There is nothing inevitable about systematic change, but it does require a vision—a sense of purpose and direction—and a design that is culturally compatible and recognizable. Democratic change entails getting back in touch with the mythos of community.

Democracy is a dream that has yet to be realized, but a recurring dream nonetheless. Eris makes the democratic dream into a nightmare of disorder and discord. Alperovitz defies the curse of Eris by pointing to multiple examples of citizens and workers already engaging in constructive democratic practices and projects. From that actual experience he sees the possibility of evolving a system other than state socialism and short of revolution that works better than corporate capitalism.


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