There’s a pattern here – a historical cycle if you will – that is in the course of repeating itself. It’s both very ancient and unsettlingly modern. We have seen it most recently in the “Brexit” debacle. You can see it in the Rise of Trump, and the resurgence of right-wing populism around the globe.
I’m not even sure what to call it, or if it even has a name. I’m reminded of Max Weber’s term of disenchantment, referring to how the rise of the modern world of rules eleminates our sense of wonder with the world. It’s more then just that and what I am referring to is economic, social, and political. It’s both an unconscious process and a conscious series of choices. The closest familiar term would be “globalisation”, but I feel that this word simple refers a specific time period and certain economic policies and corporate decisions.
So here it is. Corporations – vehicles of profit maximisation and essentially unaccountable – are literally and figuratively eating our planet and our societies. In modern, industrial and post-industrial societies, this is leading to a viscous political cycle one which is only getting worse. Here’s the basic cycle. Corporate elites gain serious power and money because they are able to escape some of the burdens of living in a society (like the lack of direct personal responsibility, for example). Their profit is dependant on cheap labor and cheap natural resources. Their success tends to impoverish the rest of society, or at least large swaths of it.
Because modern societies are so complex and because of our rich civic and democratic heritage, these wealthy few must seek popular support against people pointing out the dangers of their activities. They essentially choose to pander too and manipulate what is usually called right wing populism.
Eventually there is a breaking point because the Corporate impulse is impoverishes the people in the society; these corporate leaders can choose to moderate their excesses and submit to more of the rules of living in a society, or – and this is what has historically happened- they burn down the house. The populism they have fed explodes in frustration, fear, and anger. The Corporate elites, far from throwing their weight behind urban, moderate social forces tend to prefer to ride the tiger of right-wing populism, always too terrible results.
These powerful elites believe their own propaganda to a certain extent; in a very different sense then the “base” does, but none-the-less, they do believe it. The greed, selfishness, and vicious ignorance which makes the profit possible is excused by lies they themselves have chosen to believe. They lie to themselves as well as all of us.
Really it’s just the modern, capitalist version of divide and conquer. Two conceptions of society tend to emerge; an urban, social one and a backward-looking, often rural conservative one.
And really, the results, historically speaking, have been fascism. Because the story I’ve just told is what happened to Germany. And it is what is happening here in the US, right now. Fascism is what happens when the right-wing populists come to power, and the Corporate elite thrown their money and influence behind them (usually thinking they can control the situation).
The Right Wingers have their own thing going on, however and have little actual interest in Corporate power dynamics – it’s not something they understand. Right Wingers are living in a fantasy world; they seek to turn back the clock to reassure themselves in their anger and insecurity. When they come to power, the set out to make their fantasy a reality. And this is fascism.
In some ways this pattern is an old continuation of the emotionally complex relationship between the Ruler and the Ruled which has bourn many different names over the ages. Weather its a the King and the peasants, or Nixon and the White Lower Middle Classes, it’s a pattern that has long been established. The Ruler needs tangible support; allegiance. This requires a reason; a ruling ideology. “Obey me because I am the True King anointed by God,” says the King to the Peasants. “Vote for me because I will restore this country to its (totally imaginary) former greatness,” says the contemporary politician (Trump is not the only one making this basic play).
The Ruled need to be entertained -they need to live vicariously through celebrity (what the ancients would have called a hero) – while they labor and slave. Their sacrifices emotional, physical and mental for work or war must be acknowledged and made to feel like there is a point to the whole thing. I can’t help but picture a the relationship between Celebrity and the Fans; they need each other and do things for each other even though they seem to live totally in their own, separate, worlds. They need “the word of God” to make their brutalisation worth it; they need a True King almost as much as the King wants you to think he is.
What has changed is the rise of the urban office worker and the corporate enterprise. Where once there was King and Peasant, there is now, call it the “artisans” who have escaped from the celebrity-audience cycle. This is a problem not just for the King, but really for the Peasants as well. I admit this is a cruel metaphor, and the whole thing is far more complicated, but I think it’s an okay way to introduce what I am getting at.
What happened to Germany nearly a hundred years ago now could easily happen here (my nod here to It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis). The powerful military and corporate interests in Germany, unable to convince the greater public to vote for them as is, threw in with the Rightists. The result was the horror of WWII; its the greed and power of the corporate profit motive which is killing our democracy, our society and our planet.