Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fascism is coming to the USA... Literally (no kidding)

David Seaton's News Links
I thought twice before using the word "fascism" in the title of this post, because by now the word "fascism" and "fascist" have become degraded into simply all purpose terms of abuse without any concrete meaning, except disaproval: so perhaps it might be a good thing to go straight to how  fascism is defined by former Columbia University Professor Robert O. Paxton in Wikipedia's article on the subject and see how it fits with some of what we are looking at today:
"Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."
I would say that professor Paxton's definition is a useful one and that the far right in the USA has gone through most of the steps that Paxton has outlined right up to pursuing "with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion." unless, of course, you count the invasion of Iraq, the Patriot Act and Guantanamo, as steps in that direction.
Let's take a look at a few sentences in an essay by Dinesh D' Souza in Forbes and see how they jibe with Paxton's parameters of "community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood":
The U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation's agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son. The son makes it happen, but he candidly admits he is only living out his father's dream. The invisible father provides the inspiration, and the son dutifully gets the job done. America today is governed by a ghost. Dinesh D'Souza - Forbes
Now, if you think that all this is too weird to be relevant, just read the comments on D' Souza's "thoughts" by one of the Republican party's guiding lights, former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich quoted in The National Review:
Gingrich says that D’Souza has made a “stunning insight” into Obama’s behavior — the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama. What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” Gingrich asks. “That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.” “This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president,” Gingrich tells us. National Review
To give some more context and to heighten the flavor of Gingrich's comments, it might be useful to view a trailer of his latest film, "America at Risk", stressing professor Paxton's themes of "community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood".

What is this really all about? Why is so much money being spent to make American's angry and afraid?

Professor Paxton's text also gives us a clue, when he speaks of:
"A mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites"
Sounds a bit like the Tea Party, doesn't it?

During the Wiemar period in Germany, many of the country's richest industrialists, concerned about the rise of communism, saw fit to finance the rise of Adolph Hitler... was this a mistake on their part?

In World War Two, Germany was burnt to the ground and nearly seven million Germans died, but the families that financed Hitler such as the Krupps and the Thyssens are still some of Germany's richest citizens. I think that answers the question. Obviously the vital concerns of the super rich and those of ordinary citizens often don't coincide and the ruin of nearly everyone is not necessarily the ruin of a few.

We could use that hypothesis when studying which public affairs organizations the Koch family, for example, finance with their fortune.

Here is would be correct to note that the USSR has disappeared and with it the "international communist conspiracy" that went with it. We live in a period where the free market's hegemony is absolute. Why are rich people like the Koch's spending such sums on political agitation? What are they afraid of?

Looking through my files, I stumbled on an important article written in 2007, in my opinion one of the most important articles of our brief century, written by Martin Wolf, the head economist of the Financial Times, one the most level headed, best informed and least controversial writers on world affairs in the English language.

It seems to me that the article, which seems to have been forgotten , entitled, "Living in a Zero-Sum World", gives us the key to the "Tea Party" phenomenon and all the strange and contradictory and sometimes quite senseless, behavior we associate with it. As I hope you will see, reading the following extracts, there is method in their madness:
We live in a positive-sum world economy and have done so for about two centuries. This, I believe, is why democracy has become a political norm, empires have largely vanished, legal slavery and serfdom have disappeared and measures of well-being have risen almost everywhere. What then do I mean by a positive-sum economy? It is one in which everybody can become better off. It is one in which real incomes per head are able to rise indefinitely. How long might such a world last, and what might happen if it ends?
Obviously the idea that we may coming to a point where an irresistible force, our (over) capacity to produce is running into an immovable object, our finite energy resources and the disastrous effect of global warming. This puts into question the entire idea of a "positive-sum" world, and in many ways takes us back to the times before the Industrial Revolution. Here is what Wolf has to say (emphasis mine):
"A zero-sum economy leads, inevitably, to repression at home and plunder abroad. In traditional agrarian societies the surpluses extracted from the vast majority of peasants supported the relatively luxurious lifestyles of military, bureaucratic and noble elites. The only way to increase the prosperity of an entire people was to steal from another one. (...) Democratic politics became increasingly workable because it was feasible for everybody to become steadily better off.(...) in the new positive-sum world, elites were willing to tolerate the enfranchisement of the masses. The fact that they no longer depended on forced labour made this shift easier still. Consensual politics, and so democracy, became the political norm.(...) The biggest point about debates on climate change and energy supply is that they bring back the question of limits. If, for example, the entire planet emitted CO2 at the rate the US does today, global emissions would be almost five times greater. The same, roughly speaking, is true of energy use per head. This is why climate change and energy security are such geopolitically significant issues. For if there are limits to emissions, there may also be limits to growth. But if there are indeed limits to growth, the political underpinnings of our world fall apart. Intense distributional conflicts must then re-emerge – indeed, they are already emerging – within and among countries." Martin Wolf - Financial Times
The bottom line that ties together all the above quotes are the taboo words, "class struggle" or what Martin Wolf artfully calls, "intense distributional conflicts."
"if there are indeed limits to growth, the political underpinnings of our world fall apart"
What does Martin Wolf mean by the "underpinnings of our world"? The great (huge understatement) British historian, Eric Hobsbawm, puts it this way in "The Age of Revolution":
"... some time in the 1780s, and for the first time in human history, the shackles were taken off the productive power of human societies, which henceforth became capable of the constant, rapid and up to the present llimitless multiplication of men, goods and services."
This is the world we have lived in since the end of the 18th century, we know no other and it is predicated on limitless growth. Limitlessness is an article of faith, so is optimism. 

In an article from the Weekly Standard from all the way back in 2005 there is a relevant paragraph on this optimism and the conflict that is brewing today:
"...the core of the GOP's support turns out to be drawn from "Enterprisers," affluent, optimistic, and staunchly conservative on economic and social issues alike. Enterprisers represent just 11 percent of registered voters--and apart from them, the most reliable GOP voters are Social Conservatives (13 percent of registered voters) and Pro-Government Conservatives (10 percent of voters). Both groups are predominantly female (Enterprisers are overwhelmingly male); both are critical of big business; and both advocate more government involvement to alleviate the economic risks faced by a growing number of families. "
I'm sure my readers will have noticed that whenever you talk to one of these "Enterprisers", they invariably pooh pooh any doubts about the sustainability of our system. These people have a taliban-like faith that there will always be a technological solution to any "limit" that might ever pop up.

Until recently this optimism was not confined to the Rotarian, Republican, booster crowd, it was also an article of faith of the left. Every Soviet five year plan that ever was, was filled with this very same optimism. Up till recently the only argument between the left and the right on the question of growth was to whom would fall the privilege of fulfilling mankind's destiny to soar ever upward on the wings of growing productivity... and the right is the last man standing.

At this point, as the evidence of the reality of global warming piles up, most of these optimists are whistling past the graveyard or in denial. Some of them, however, may be prudently planning for the future.

Martin Wolf is the chief economist of the Financial Times and a wonderful journalist. In his work: at international conferences, and over a thousand dinner tables and at countless coffee sessions, he comes into daily contact with some of the most wealthy and powerful men and women in the world and those that serve them. Wolf hears them speak and most of all picks up their body language, their silences and vibrations. His article on "limits", which I am quoting abundantly is the cri de coeur of a man who, though not wealthy and powerful himself, knows the ways of the wealthy and powerful as no other does... with the possible exception of Rupert Murdoch's butler. For the language of a sedate, financial newspaper, Wolf practically weeps:
"The response of many, notably environmentalists and people with socialist leanings, is to welcome such conflicts. These, they believe, are the birth-pangs of a just global society. I strongly disagree. It is far more likely to be a step towards a world characterised by catastrophic conflict and brutal repression. This is why I sympathise with the hostile response of classical liberals and libertarians to the very notion of such limits, since they view them as the death-knell of any hopes for domestic freedom and peaceful foreign relations."
If we examine what Martin Wolf is saying logically, not even really reading between the lines, this supremely informed man is declaring that he knows that, before they will ever pay Scandinavian like income taxes, drive small cars and wear sweaters around the house on cold winter days, the elites of the United States will create a police state and go to war endlessly to dominate the resource rich areas of the world. Hyperbole? Examine George W. Bush's presidency in that light and perhaps Dubya may not really have been as dumb as he looked.. Or maybe he was more like what May West once said about Ronald Reagan, "dumb but willing."

At this juncture, the elites of the Republican Party begins to separate from their middle class and working class base and the only way to keep them on board would be endless war and endless fear. Terror and paranoia,
what moldy old Marxists used to call, "false consciousness", may be the key to this year's and the 2012 election.

The Republican Party, to use another worn but useful Marxist term, has entered into contradiction with itself and using Wolf's analysis as our text, is probably going to finally tear itself apart. Unfortunately I don't think the Democrats will ever have the chops to pick up the pieces.

I think that without pulling any rhetorical rabbits out of hats, Martin Wolf's insights give a clear idea of what is going on in the American right and why they are acting so strangely lately. DS


Kevin Egan said...

The mass of Americans are decent enough--where is the leader who could still head off this terrible outcome, which is indeed, as you say, almost upon us?

The maniacs call Obama the Antichrist--how ironic that this mild-mannered constitutional scholar, too refined for down and dirty politics, may end up as some sort of unwitting placeholder for that demonic role!

oldfatherwilliam said...

I believe those elites have been aware of these things since at least the '60s. All that infinite growth has always been based on finite resources. The RR presidency concerned itself with repression at home, agression abroad, together with enablement (word?) of parasitic money-shuffling at the top of society. Has anyone convincingly explained the RR and GHWB adventures in South America except as toe-in-the-water efforts after Viet Nam?
Survivalists in the remote Pacific Northwest are looking saner all the time.

Gint said...

Perhaps this is the proper context to reintroduce the concepts of E.F. Schumacher's "Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered"?

claude said...

To elaborate on oldfatherwilliam's point, the handwriting WAS on the wall in the 60s. The predatory types read it to mean "grab what you can now while you still can" and other folks read it differently and began to dwell on the quaint concept of "sustainability", even back then, and were mocked for it.