Michael Parenti

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Michael John Parenti
Michael Parenti.jpg
Michael John Parenti
Born1933 (age 80–81)
New York City
Occupationpolitical scientist, historian, and media critic
EducationCity College of New York, B.A.
Brown University, M.A.
Yale University, Ph.D.
SubjectsHistory, Politics, Economics
ChildrenChristian Parenti

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Michael John Parenti
Michael Parenti.jpg
Michael John Parenti
Born1933 (age 80–81)
New York City
Occupationpolitical scientist, historian, and media critic
EducationCity College of New York, B.A.
Brown University, M.A.
Yale University, Ph.D.
SubjectsHistory, Politics, Economics
ChildrenChristian Parenti


Michael John Parenti (born 1933) is an American political scientist, historian, and cultural critic who writes on scholarly and popular subjects. He has taught at American and international universities and has been a guest lecturer before campus and community audiences.[1][2] He has played an activist role in political struggles, and in various anti-war movements.


Parenti received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University. He is the author of twenty three books and many more articles. His works have been translated into at least eighteen languages.[3] Parenti lectures frequently throughout the United States and abroad. He wrote The Assassination of Julius Caesar.[4] He is the father of Christian Parenti, an author and contributor to The Nation magazine.

Parenti's writings cover a wide range of subjects: U.S. politics, culture, ideology, political economy, imperialism, fascism, communism, democratic socialism, free-market orthodoxies, conservative judicial activism, religion, ancient history, modern history, historiography, repression in academia, news and entertainment media, technology, environmentalism, sexism, racism, homophobia, Venezuela, the wars in Iraq and Yugoslavia, ethnicity, and his own early life.[5][6][7] Perhaps his most influential book is Democracy for the Few,[8] now in its ninth edition, a critical analysis of U.S. society, economy, and political institutions and a college-level political science textbook published by Wadsworth Publishing.[9] In recent years he has addressed such subjects as "Empires: Past and Present," "US Interventionism: the Case of Iraq," "Race, Gender, and Class Power," "Ideology and History," "The Collapse of Communism," and "Terrorism and Globalization."[3]

Michael Parenti was raised in an Italian-American working-class family and neighborhood in New York City about which he has written.[10] For many years Parenti taught political and social science at various institutions of higher learning. Eventually he devoted himself full-time to writing, public speaking, and political activism.[11]

In 1974, Parenti ran in Vermont on the Liberty Union Party ticket for U.S. Congress and received 7% of the vote.[12]

In Washington, D.C., in 2003, the Caucus for a New Political Science gave him a Career Achievement Award. In 2007, he received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from U.S. Representative Barbara Lee and an award from New Jersey Peace Action. In the 1980s, he was a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

He served for some 12 years as a judge for Project Censored. He also is on the advisory boards of Independent Progressive Politics Network, and Education Without Borders; as well as the advisory editorial boards of New Political Science and Nature, Society and Thought.[13]

Social and political analyses[edit]

Parenti has covered many subjects in 45 years of teaching, writing, and speaking. The broad outlines of some of these are summarized below.


Parenti argues that western racism is systemic and historical in nature and should be regarded as more than just an attitudinal problem.[14] He identifies the origins of western racism in imperialism and slavery: To justify the colonial plunder of another nation or entire continent (as in the case of Africa) as well as the enslavement of conquered populations, imperialists and/or slave traffickers dehumanize their victims and define them as moral inferiors and subhuman.

Parenti maintains that racism serves several functions for ruling interests in the United States:[15]

  1. It divides the working class against each other
  2. It creates a "super-exploited" group of people who are forced to work at below scale wages thereby depressing wage levels for the entire workforce
  3. It distracts the (United States) white population from its own legitimate grievances by providing an irrelevant scapegoat in the form of minority populations

Culture and social structure[edit]

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, becoming increasingly critical of the existing socio-economic system, Parenti argued that images of the United States as a pluralistic, democratic society were more ideological than accurate. He did not deny the existence of a vast plurality of social, ethnic, and regional groups in America, but he felt that this group pluralism did not translate into a democratic pluralism in political life. Only limited portions of the political process are accessed by the general populace. Power in America is not broadly distributed, according to Parenti, but is highly concentrated in a social structure dominated by corporate moneyed interests, whose influence predominates in most mainstream institutions and major policy areas.[8] Parenti maintains that the resources of power are lodged in the social structure itself, the culture, institutions, and established social roles, and that ruling elements maintain their dominant positions not only by raw economic power but by attaining “cultural hegemony,” a concept formulated earlier by Antonio Gramsci (whom Parenti cites).[16]

Role of US media[edit]

With respect to the US media Parenti has maintained that, while news coverage can be marred by problems of deadlines, space, and ordinary human error, much of the misleading coverage is the result of carefully honed ideological production. Reporters, he says, often exercise much skill to avoid the more important points of a story or news analysis so as not to offend anyone who wields substantial political and economic power, including their own bosses and corporate advertisers. Parenti concludes that their goal is to avoid fishing too deeply into troubled waters thereby maintaining an appearance of objectivity and moderation. Their careers, he suggests, depend in part upon their ability to equate centrist views with “objectivity,” and to stay within the prevailing ideological orthodoxy.[17]

Parenti’s treatment of entertainment media (movies and television) continues the argument that the media are not neutral and favor elitist interests. Exploring a wide range of films and programs, he has attempted to demonstrate that the entertainment media do more than entertain; they indoctrinate by propagating values in keeping with their corporate ownership and corporate advertisers.[18] Most recently, he wrote the foreword to Matthew Alford's Reel Power: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy (Pluto Press, 2010).

Parenti often attacks specific examples of the misleading coverage provided by the US media. In Blackshirts and Reds[19] he cites historian J. Arch Getty's figures to demonstrate the exaggeration elsewhere in the US media of the executions effected by Joseph Stalin in the Great Purge. Parenti critically reviews Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia[20] in "The Demonization of Slobodan Milosevic"[21] and To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia ,[22] finding similar exaggeration of war crimes in the breakup of the second Yugoslavia. In "Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth"[23] he observes, "western news media, travel books, novels, and Hollywood films have portrayed the Tibetan theocracy as a veritable Shangri-La" then goes on to detail what he feels were its negative aspects.

Culture across the globe[edit]

Parenti maintains that, far from being neutral, culture is often ideologically driven in a highly skewed system of social power, benefiting some groups at the expense of others. “Growing portions of our culture are increasingly commodified and mass marketed.” “So we buy more and more of our culture and create less and less of it.” Rather than being accepted at face value, Parenti says that all cultures should be subjected to critical investigation to be judged by “universal human rights standards” and by the criticisms voiced by those who are victimized within the various cultures of the world. Parenti gives extensive attention to those who are regularly victimized by their own cultures, providing examples in chapters entitled “Custom Against Women,” “The Global Rape Culture,” and “Racist Myths.”[15]

Role of voting fraud in US elections[edit]

Parenti is among those who have cited a variety of studies claiming that the 2004 presidential election was fraudulent. In an essay entitled "The Stolen Election of 2004"[24] he argued that modern voting technology allowed powerful corporations to manipulate the electoral results. He concluded the article by observing, about the forthcoming US election, "Given this situation, it is not likely that the GOP will lose control of Congress come November 2006. The two-party monopoly threatens to become an even worse one-party tyranny." In an updated analysis of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, he adds a postscript explaining why—despite the massive crossover reported in the polls away from the GOP-—the Democrats won only a slim victory in the Congressional 2006 elections.”[25]

Parenti has stated he is likely to vote for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein in the 2012 election.

Class and class power[edit]

Parenti stresses the role of class in all societies, particularly the purportedly classless U.S. one. He extends the definition of class as a demographic trait relating to status, education, lifestyle, and income level to include the effects of social interrelationships. He observes that there can be no rich slaveholders without poor slaves, no powerful feudal lords without serfs, no corporate bosses without workers. The interrelationship is highly asymmetrical. It centers on the organized wealth of the society.[8]

Parenti also believes that there is a third factor involved in class relationships, specifically the productive resources (land, agriculture, herds, natural resources, factories, technology, etc). The dominant group in class relationships owns or controls these economic resources. The weaker class historically has had only its labor to sell. Hence the “dominant money classes” exercise a preponderant influence over workforces, markets, major investments, consumption patterns, media, and public policies. Parenti concludes that when discussing class, class power—how it is used, for whose interests, and at whose expense—must also be discussed.[26]

US downplay of class[edit]

Parenti has repeatedly criticized the tendency among many who profess to be progressive to downplay the importance of class and class power as a formative force as compared to race, gender, and culture. He allows that each of these other categories of social experience have imperatives that are distinctly their own, sometimes of a life-and-death urgency. Still they should not be seen as being mutually exclusive of, or in competition with, considerations of class power in society, he argues, and should not be used as a means of evading class analysis.[27]

Democracy and capitalism[edit]

From the late 60s well into the 80s, Parenti was one of many radicals and socialists who questioned the validity and value of what they called “bourgeois democracy,” seeing it more as a charade to mislead the people into thinking that they were free and self-governing. By the late 80s, however, he noticeably modified his position, arguing that democracy should not be thought of as merely a subterfuge or cloak created by ruling elites, although it certainly can serve that purpose. More often, Parenti claimed, whatever modicum of democracy the people attain in any society is usually the outcome of genuine struggle for a more equitable politico-economic order. He asks why the corporate class should be credited with giving people a “bourgeois democracy,” when he claims the ruling plutocrats actually opposed most democratic advances in U.S. history, such as the extension of the franchise or the struggle for ethnic and gender equality, more direct forms of representation, more room for dissent and free speech, greater accountability of elected officials, and more equitable socio-economic domestic programs.[8]

According to Parenti, reacting to mainstream commentators who turn every systemic vice and deficiency into a virtue, leftist critics of the status quo, seeing no real victories or progress in the centuries of popular struggle, have felt compelled to turn every virtue into a vice. To counter this trend, he says, people should recognize that real gains have been made, democracy refuses to die, and both at home and abroad popular forces continue the democratic struggle, even against great odds.[28]

For Parenti, democracy has two basic dimensions, the procedural and the substantive, both of which are equally important. Procedural democracy consists of the basic political forms: free speech and assembly, the right to dissent, accountability of officeholders, the right to vote in regular and honest elections, etc. Substantive democracy consists of egalitarian socio-economic outputs that advance the well-being of the populace, protect the environment, and curb the abuses and often untrammeled powers of great wealth. Parenti quotes the German sociologist Max Weber who remarked almost a century earlier that it remains to be seen whether democracy and freedom can exist under the dominion of a highly developed capitalism.[8]

Parenti concludes that “there is no one grand, secret, power elite governing this country, but numerous coteries of corporate and governmental elites that communicate and coordinate across various policy realms. Behind their special interests are the common overall interests of the moneyed class,” which is not to say that differences never arise among these elites.

Technology, money, and deficit spending[edit]

Parenti believes that people's thinking about past and present developments needs to be contextualized, that is seen in a social context of power and ideology. He gives the examples of technology and money. Both are seen as neutral entities that are inherently neither good nor bad. Almost all technology, he argues, is devoted to advancing the interests of higher circles, maximizing profits and corporate production, or in the case of government, maximizing surveillance, communication, and military striking power. New advances in technology are not neutral things. They impact upon us and our environment in ways that can advantage some and hurt others, according to Parenti. He writes similarly about money: "Like technology, money has a feedback effect of its own, advantaging the already advantaged", liquefying wealth, making it easier to mobilize and accumulate. With the growth of moneyed wealth comes a greater concentration and command over technology by the moneyed class.[29]

Few phenomena in the social order can operate with neutral effect even if supposedly pursued with neutral intent, according to Parenti. The national debt is a good example. Considered merely as a “problem” of excessive government spending, the national debt in fact works well for certain interests, specifically the moneyed class, Parenti claims. By 1977, he noted how the national debt brought a transfer of income from the taxpayers to the wealthy creditors, the holders of government bonds. Parenti concludes it is no accident that the biggest deficit spenders have been conservative presidents like Ronald Reagan and both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. The national debt is in effect a way of privatizing public spending and defunding the federal budget, Parenti argues.[8]


Parenti’s treatment of fascism differs from that of the many writers who stress the irrational features of fascism: its state idolatry, nationalistic atavism, and leadership cult. While not denying that these are key components in the propagation of fascism’s appeal, he invites us not to overlook the “rational politico economic functions” that fascism performed. “Much of politics is the rational manipulation of irrational symbols,” he claims. The emotive appeals of fascist ideology have served a class-control function, “distracting the populace from their legitimate grievances and directing their frustrations at various scapegoats.”

Most of the immense literature on the subject of fascism and Nazism focuses on who supported Hitler’s rise to power. Relatively little, Parenti writes, is said about whom the Nazis supported when they came to power. In both fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, he points out, wages were cut drastically, domestic programs were rolled back, huge subsidies were given to heavy industry, labor unions were broken, taxes on the very rich were greatly reduced or eliminated altogether, and workplace safety regulations were ignored or abolished. Fascism, he concludes, has a much overlooked politico- economic agenda; it involves something more than just goose stepping.[30]


U.S. foreign policy is neither confused nor bungling, according to Parenti. It is quite consistently directed toward certain goals, and is largely successful. For the most part, U.S. leaders have maintained friendly relations with those governments that have opened up their countries to Western corporate investors, and have shown hostility toward those countries that have tried to use their land, labor, natural resources, and markets for their own self-development, Parenti believes. He says that Iraq was targeted for “having committed economic nationalism,” with a state-run economy that pretty much shut out Western investors. The same holds true for Yugoslavia, he claims. Both countries were bombed and invaded, and their public economies were shattered. Parenti believes that Yugoslavia was transformed from a viable social democracy to a cluster of little right-wing mini-republics.

Parenti's beliefs led him to become head of the United States chapter of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milošević,[31] in which capacity he added to the criticisms of bias in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia[32][33]

Parenti also maintains that the U.S. empire feeds off the U.S. republic; the empire’s expansion abroad entails increasing costs for the republic. The many third world countries that are the targets of colonial intervention pay the highest price, he writes.[34]


Most of the left continue to deliver impassioned and blanket condemnations of deceased communist countries, Parenti states. “Those of us who refused to join in the Soviet bashing were branded by left anti-communists as ‘Soviet apologists’ and ‘Stalinists,’ even if we disliked Stalin and his autocratic system of rule and believed there were things seriously wrong with existing Soviet society.”[19]

Parenti did in fact make a number of criticisms of the Soviet Union. In 1986 he wrote: "In the USSR there exist serious problems of labor productivity, industrialization, urbanization, bureaucracy, corruption, and alcoholism. There are production and distribution bottlenecks, plan failures, consumer scarcities, criminal abuses of power, suppression of dissidents, and expressions of alienation among some of the population."[35]

More recently he wrote that the state-owned economies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union suffered “fatal distortions in their development” because of the years of “embargo, invasion, devastating wars, and costly arms buildup; excessive bureaucratization and poor incentive systems; lack of administrative initiative and technological innovation; and a repressive political rule that allowed little critical expression and feedback while fostering stagnation and elitism.”[6] Some on the left heavily criticized Parenti for what they saw as his defense of such regimes, however, in his book Blackshirt and Reds. Parenti argues that “despite the well-publicized deficiencies, crimes, and injustices, there were positive features about existing communist systems that were worth preserving, such as the free medical care and human services; affordable food, fuel, transportation, and housing; universal literacy; gains in women’s rights; free education to the highest level of one’s ability; a guaranteed right to a job; free cultural and sporting events, and the like.”[6] He supported Mikhail Gorbachev’s campaign of perestroika and glasnost until 1990 when it became evident to him that the Gorbachev reforms were leading to the implantation of free-market capitalism and were, as he saw it, bringing hardships to the common people.[36]


Parenti points to the increasingly catastrophic droughts, storms, floods, and abnormally high temperatures in many parts of the world to justify a hypothesis that the widely discussed ecological crisis of global warming will not be upon us “by the end of the century” or “in the lives of our grandchildren,” but is already happening today. He builds on this in an essay, "Why the Corporate Rich Oppose Environmentalism,"[6] to argue that immediate and immense profits that come at a cost to the environment are of more concern to corporate investors than the diffuse and long-run damage done to the global ecology.

History and historiography[edit]

Much of Parenti’s work draws upon history. In his History as Mystery[37] he takes the old adage that history is written by the victors and fleshes it out with examples drawn from ancient and modern times. In regard to early Christianity, for instance, he maintains that, contrary to popular notions, the “Jesus worshipers” did not gather most of their followers from the poor and downtrodden but from the more affluent strata. Some Christian leaders discouraged slaves from converting to Christianity. Slaves were prohibited from becoming church deacons or priests, he maintains. Contrary to conventional US notions, he argues that the Christians were not the keepers of learning and scholarship during the Dark Ages but played a relentless role in destroying all the advanced learning and all the libraries of antiquity that were in their reach.

In The Assassination of Julius Caesar,[4] he states that many historians, both ancient and modern, have treated popular insurgencies and the common people with fear and loathing, depicting them as mindless rootless mobs of ne’er-do-wells. He also argues that Caesar and other popular reformers of the Roman Republic before him were assassinated not because they were violating the Roman constitution but because they were advocating reforms that benefited the commoners at a cost to the aristocracy. He does not draw a link between Caesarism and the eventual descent of the Republic into the despotism of the Empire.

References in popular culture[edit]

Appearances in film and television[edit]

Apart from several recordings of some of his public speeches, Parenti has also appeared in the 1992 documentary Panama Deception, the 2004 Liberty Bound and 2013 Fall and Winter documentaries as an author and social commentator.

In addition, he was interviewed for two episodes of the Showtime series Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, speaking briefly about the Dalai Lama (Episode 305 – Holier Than Thou) and patriotism (Episode 508 – Mount Rushmore).



  1. ^ tucradio.org
  2. ^ "Speaking Engagements by Michael Parenti". Michael Parenti. Archived from the original on 27 October 2007. Retrieved 25 December 2007. 
  3. ^ a b "Biography of Michael Parenti". Michael Parenti. Archived from the original on 27 October 2007. Retrieved 25 December 2007. 
  4. ^ a b c ,Parenti, Michael (September 2004). The Assassination of Julius Caesar, A People's History of Ancient Rome. New Press. p. 276. ISBN 978-1-56584-942-6. 
  5. ^ "Articles and Other Published Selections". Michael Parenti. Archived from the original on 26 October 2007. Retrieved 25 December 2007. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Parenti, Michael (August 2007). Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader. City Lights Books. p. 403. ISBN 978-0-87286-482-5. 
  7. ^ "Books by Michael Parenti". Michael Parenti. Retrieved 25 December 2007. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Parenti, Michael (February 2007). Democracy for the Few (Eight ed.). Wadsworth Publishing Company. p. 322. ISBN 978-0-495-00744-9. 
  9. ^ CENGAGE Learning. "WADSWORTH CENGAGE Learning political science". Retrieved 3 January 2008. 
  10. ^ Parenti, Michael (August 2007). "La Famiglia: An Ethno-Class Experience". Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader. City Lights Books. p. 403. ISBN 978-0-87286-482-5. 
  11. ^ Parenti, Michael (1996). "Struggles in Academe: A Personal Account". Dirty Truths. ISBN 0-87286-317-4. 
  12. ^ Sanders, Bernie (1997). "You Have to Begin Somewhere". Outsider in the House. 
  13. ^ Parenti, Michael. "Michael Parenti Political Archive". Retrieved 2 January 2008. 
  14. ^ Michael Parenti, The culture struggle, p.101
  15. ^ a b Parenti, Michael (2006). The Culture Struggle. ISBN 978-1-58322-704-6. 
  16. ^ Parenti, Michael (1978). Power and the Powerless. ISBN 0-312-63373-4. 
  17. ^ Parenti, Michael (1986). "The Politics of News Media". Inventing Reality. ISBN 0-312-43474-X. 
  18. ^ Parenti, Michael (1992). Make-Believe Media: The Politics of Entertainment. ISBN 0-312-05603-6. 
  19. ^ a b Parenti, Michael (1997). Blackshirts and Reds. ISBN 0-87286-329-8. 
  20. ^ Sell, Louis (2002). Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. Duke University Press. 
  21. ^ Parenti, Michael (December 2003). "The Demonization of Slobodan Milosevic". Archived from the original on 13 October 2007. Retrieved 25 December 2007. 
  22. ^ Parenti, Michael (2000). To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia. Verso. 
  23. ^ Parenti, Michael (2007). ["http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html" "Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth"]. Retrieved January 10, 2008. 
  24. ^ "ZNet Commentary: The Stolen Election of 2004". July 2006. Retrieved 25 December 2007. 
  25. ^ "The Stolen Presidential Elections". May 2007. Archived from the original on 12 October 2007. Retrieved 11 January 2008. 
  26. ^ Parenti, Michael (August 2007). "The Flight From Class". Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader. City Lights Books. p. 403. ISBN 978-0-87286-482-5. 
  27. ^ Parenti, Michael (1997). "9". Blackshirts & Reds. City Lights Books. pp. 141–160. ISBN 0-87286-329-8. 
  28. ^ Parenti, Michael (February 2007). "preface". Democracy for the Few (Eight ed.). Wadsworth Publishing Company. p. 322. ISBN 978-0-495-00744-9. 
  29. ^ Parenti, Michael (August 2007). "Technology and Money: The Myth of Neutrality". Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader. City Lights Books. p. 403. ISBN 978-0-87286-482-5. 
  30. ^ Parenti, Michael (1997). ""Rational Fascism"". Blackshirts and Reds. ISBN 0-87286-329-8. 
  31. ^ "International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milošević (official website). Committee members". December 2003. Retrieved 25 December 2007. 
  32. ^ Parenti, Michael (December 2003). "Two letters by Michael Parenti. On the official website of the ICDSM". Retrieved 25 December 2007. 
  33. ^ "International Action Center press release: Public announcement of the formation of the U.S. section of the ICDSM and a statement against the ICTY's most recent violations of international law and human rights". December 2003. Retrieved 25 December 2007. 
  34. ^ Parenti, Michael (1995). Against Empire. ISBN 0-87286-298-4. 
  35. ^ Parenti, Michael (1986). Inventing Reality. ISBN 0-312-43474-X. 
  36. ^ Michael Parenti, Michael. "Reflections on the Overthrow of Communism". Michael Parenti Archive. TUC Radio. http://www.tucradio.org/parenti.html.
  37. ^ "Parenti", "Michael" (September 1999). History as Mystery. "City Light Books". p. 304. ISBN 978-0-87286-357-6. 

External links[edit]

Michael Parenti's articles