The Strange Story of the Survival and Resurgence of Conservative Politics Since WWII

It’s 1945, and right wing politics – globally, and here in the US – is on suicide watch.

And for good reason. The Great Depression destroyed faith in the capitalism system; the Western world is saved by various brands of Keynesian-style socialism. Here in the US, we know this as FDR’s New Deal.  Fascism exploded onto the scene following the Depression, but between the horrors of the Holocaust and WWII, was completely discredited. Traditional conservative causes like royalism, religion and that general notion of “we need to get back to the good old days” was intellectual bankrupt and in total abeyance.

Trump’s election in 2016 is the culmination of the survival and complete return of right wing politics in a global sense. Placing Trump as the cap stone amongst figures like Theresa May, Nigel Farage, Erdogan (president of Turkey), Szydio in Poland, Orban in Hungary, and Duterte in the Philippines,  we are living at a rather startling resurgence of right wing politics. Putin pre-dates this crop of right-wingers, but as a classic authoritarian kleptocrat, he necessarily finds himself at home with Trump, whose political essence, ideology and rhetoric aside, is fundamentally the same.

Why? How?

The crucial movement, the key time period were conservatism is resurrected from the trash heap of history is the stretch in American history that starts with the Red Scare and McCarthyism and closes with Nixon’s election. I’m calling this “the Cold War” and by Cold War I am not referring to the military and political containment of Soviet Russia, I am referring to the Cold War as a cultural phenomenon on the US.

To be blunt: our government, in collusion with big businesses and the military-industrial complex – what Eisenhower warned us all about – makes the conscious decision to promote conservative and religious groups both in the US and across the globe to fight communism.

To be clear, conservative ideas are intrinsically linked to a) power/money/privilege and b)certain psychological and emotion orientations. This means that conservatism was always going “to come back” from 1945. But this is quite separate from how it was consciously saved and promoted by the US government and how small groups of wealthy conservatives consciously set out to make the US a Christian, white, capitalist country. In 1945 the US is a ‘revolutionary’ country, distrustful of the old European imperialism; by Nixon, we are the imperialist power; and this goes beyond a simple consequence of being by far the most powerful country at the time.

Put another way, the best thing to happen to capitalism and conservatism ever – literally ever – is communism. Even today, vague and uninformed references to communism/Stalinism/Soviets is enough to chill conversation and debate over our economic system. It’s still a real bogeyman, and that is not a coincidence at all.

The hegemony of Keynesianism, socialism and communism in the post-war world allowed conservatism and laissez-faire capitalism to rebrand itself. FDR’s New Deal and the public spending of WWI created a truely middle country – economic equality had never been higher, but the spectre of the welfare state at home and totalitarian communism abroad allowed people like Frederick von Hayek – his fundamental insight being that a centrally planned economy simply could not keep up with the complexity of human society – and other outsiders like Ayn Rand to lassez-faire capitalism as a fundamental component to human freedom; a freedom under threat from the welfare state. The American Libertarian Party today is a direct result of their ideas. Corporate power was able to increasingly pose as an agent of choice and of liberty.

Shifting to domestic American politics, the Republican Party in the early 40’s was the party of monied interests, lost in the wilderness from the Great Depression – the legacy of “do-nothingism” dies hard. FDR had left the US the most powerful and respected nation in the world after a decade in power, the stark reality is that the Republicans would have to defeat the new Democratic president Truman or fade away from the national scene. It’s the Cold War that saves them. McCarthyism marks the point where the Republicans cease to be a party of loyal opposition and because a truely right-wing party.

This basic shift leads to America’s first right-wing president: Nixon. Sometimes this is referred to as the “Southern Strategy” – pandering to Souther racism and insecurity to back up the monied and military interests of the rest of the party. The larger point here is that in order to justify the sustained level of military spending to fight the Cold War, our government green-light a widespread culture of fear-mongering and conformity. It’s no coincidence that Reagan got his political start as the face of General Electric’s propaganda show. The ’60’s counterculture is as much a reaction against the Cold War conformity – the great moulding of America into either lily-white cowboys or evangelical businessmen  – as against anything else.

So we have the conscious decision of the US government to quite literally save conservative circles – be it military cabals, business consortiums, ex-nazis, etc – by providing surprising amounts of financial and ideological support. This succour went on for decades. This also cut they other way. For example: figures like Ho Chi Min (his declaration of independence for Vietnam was basically copied word for word from our own) were forced into the hands of the Communist block.

I think it’s important to examine why conservative, authoritarian politics has returned. Since neoliberalism gained real power in the ’80s with Reagan and Thatcher, economic inequality has exploded. Privatisation, austerity, trickle-down economics, free-trade all boil down to a sustained attack on the idea of the public good by corporate combines with resources and concerns which exceed the confines of individuals and nations.

The generic name for all this is “capitalism,” but this would be inaccurate; the reality is an increasingly globalised system of private corporate power which has utilised a rhetoric of “free trade” to leverage votes, promising prosperity (a prosperity strangled by regulation and laziness). The stark reality is that these companies are profitable because they escape the tax burden and are the beneficiaries of governmental policy. The US’ effective policy is for Americans to drive cars; oil companies receive massive tax breaks. Or Wal-mart effectively taking advantage of welfare policy to under pay its employees. The result is impoverishment of the society at large. If you need more proof look at Russia: the largest privatisation and corporate giveaway of all time.

The basic pattern here is that the system which we all roughly refer to as “capitalism” siphons off wealth away from the larger society, obviously leading to a period of crisis. During the last cycle (the ’30s), government enacted the welfare state and taxed the ultra wealthy and corporations. These protections have been worn away with the obvious result that we have today.

 

Dear Tom Perez….

Congratulations on being elected to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.

It’s very exciting to know that the mindset of myopia, hypocrisy, backroom dealings and ineptitude that lost the 2016 election to a reality TV star and snake-oil salesman named Donald Trump is still solidly in control of the Democratic Party. It’s a real honour to lead the most corrupt political party in American history: the party of machine politics and smoked-filled backrooms, Mayor Daley and Herbert Humphrey, and now the party of Hilary Clinton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and yourself. A smug insider elected by smug insiders that vividly, excruciatingly have no reason to be smug: that’s your situation right now.

Oh, I know that Hilary won the popular vote, but you have clearly not learned a lesson from the election. Nor have you and your backers any conception of what is happening to this country right now. The Democratic Brand embodied by the Clintons: neoliberalism, identity politics, wealthy behind the scenes donors, technocratic centrism loaded with platitudes about Hope and Change has actually just been torpedoed. You are captain of a sinking ship that just voted to tell it’s progressive base – and not for the first time in very recent memory – to go f*** itself. There is no other way to say it.

Thank you, Mr. Perez, for confirming to progressive voters that they are not at fault for Trump’s election. Thank you for confirming our suspicion that he Democrats are a corporate party, designed more to foil progressive politics then to represent them. Every time I start to feel any sort of loyalty or start to identify with the Democrats, somewhere behind the closed doors of the DNC, some sort of wedge issue emerges to reconfirm that the DNC is the Abbott to the GOP’s Costello. A few months ago, I thought between demographic changes and the fielding of Trump that the Democrats where going to be the party in power for the foreseeable future and the GOP was going to split into a sort of regional party and a libertarian party. Now I don’t even think we will see any real democracy ever again.

Thank you for freeing me from any sense of loyalty to Democrats. If this election has done anything good, it has revealed a lot of true stripes. For all the fake news and indefinably rigged primaries and elections, there is a decent chance that Americans will get to see exactly where things stand now. With this catastrophic loss to Trump, I thought that the Democrats would embrace progressive politics and lay the foundation for the millennial generation to really come to identify with  a major US political party. Well, that dream is done; perhaps  I was foolish and naive to think that was possible. Instead of fighting for democracy and choosing to represent and fight for an energised progressive base, you have opted to stay fiercely loyal to the very things that where rejected in this last election. Millennials – the largest and most highly educated generation – are seeking political representation and you have failed them again and again. Brilliant. The galling thing is that both your tactical moves and your strategic moves are not working…

Of course, that’s not your perspective. I know that your calculation is that progressives and millennials have no choice but to vote Democrat in 2018 and 2020, but if the results of the election suggest anything, they suggest that the American voter isn’t buying the (never very successful) Democratic model that Bill Clinton started. It’s all about money after all, isn’t it?  The progressive voter cannot be counted on to show up on voting day.

As a progressive voter, I’ve heard it all before. Sarah Silverman’s “You’re being ridiculous!” has come to define the party you now lead. I wish the Democrats were as effective as opposing Republicans as they where at foiling their own progressive wing of their party.

It’s not too late though Mr. Perez. We’re looking for leaders. Right now we have Bernie, but there is a hunger for leaders that voters can trust. Trump won because a big block of Americans felt they could trust him; they felt they represented their interests. I think they are stupid and dead wrong, but that is beside the point.

The majority of Americans want what ‘Merica wants. True representation.

You might try it sometime.

 

 

this is what fascism looks like

It has been one month since Trump became president. We have all been asking ourselves: “what is Donald Trump?” A populist? A fascist? Just what we need to shake things up? We as a society have not settled on what he is, what he really represents. And this might be his greatest strength; that potential of ‘normalisation’ already well under way.

Let’s cut to the chase: this is what fascism looks like. All the “fascism” alarms bells, klaxons, sirens, calendar event reminders and tocsins are going off right now. All of them. Every damn single last one.

Let’s be clear on what fascism is and what it is not. Because a part of the problem is that we have used the word “fascism” for so long as a catchall word meaning “very bad, angry/strict.”

Fascism is revolution in favour of authoritarianism. The strange marriage of angry populism and cynical conservative powers, this is a revolt against the idea of the public good, public reason and messy secular humanism. Fascism always makes use of the emotional appeal of a misunderstood, mythical past, even as it is itself something new and has nothing to do with the actual history of the nation. Fascism simultaneously captures the language of revolt and of change; it thus has a way of outflanking traditional political parties on both the right and the left.

This logically incoherent, internally contradictory appeal is the keynote sign of facscism. It “works” because, remember, fascism is revolt against civil society: it is an explosion of greed and selfishness, the triumph of the id, so to speak. As the saying going: “there is no contradiction in self interest.” Fascism is what happens when corporate greed hollows out a society, its individuals and institutions in the name of profit, and when things come to a breaking point where the path of the political body either points towards a move towards public good at the expense of corporate profit, or the destruction of civil society for the benefit of corporate profit. The resulting destruction of civil society and government based on public reason creates the appearance – in the case of Nazisim at least – of explosive growth and expansion. Because the resources of society are no longer being directed to the well-being of its individuals, it’s being completely directed into military expansion, corporate profit, and the gain of the handful of sychophants at the top. Fascism in this sense is extreme corporate cronyism with an expansive ideological cover.

All of these signs are present in Trump’s nascent regime. It all fits. Let me repeat that: it all fits the pattern. “Populism,” the tortured ideological term conservatives would prefer you to use for Trump, is drafted every time a demagogue sweeps onto the scene to take advantage of people’s anger. Don’t call it mob rule. At it’s best, populism expresses an almost marxist sense of lower class identity. Explain to me how Trump’s cabinet of billionaires is “populist” again?

Fascism is not true populism. Nor is it pure autocracy. It obviously contains huge doses of these things, but fascism is not about common people overthrowing some sort of oppressive regime, nor is fascism particularly strong at the top. It is not so much characterised by extreme centralised authority as competing factions of cronies and sycophants, who compete for the attention of the Leader. Fascism isn’t so much centralised and autocratic as a handful of powerful interests – in Nazi Germany’s case, the army, the bureaucracy, the SS and the major corporations – vying to expand their own power. The German government had ceased to exist in a de facto sense. Remember, Hitler wasn’t brilliant and his cronies and henchmen were even worse. They where crackpots, ranters, fanatics and madmen that political elites thought they could control and mould. Fascism is a wrecking; that turns a vibrant society into a barracks.

Recently, I have been reading the traditional Republican/conservative pushback on Donald Trump being as fascist: here are the best two articles. Barton Swaim’s “Trump’s populism isn’t fascism. So what is it?” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-populism-isnt-fascism-so-what-is-it/2017/02/16/d871df78-f20f-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html?utm_term=.5db0621deea1&wpisrc=nl_popns&wpmm=1 Swaim suggests that America exceptionalism – that our character as a nation renders us immune to fascism – and that if we where going to have gone fascist, it would have been in the ’30s and ’40s. Embracing the idea of American Exceptionalism, Swaim smugly announces that our society intrinsically resists the “centralisation of authority” that would happen under fascism. Further, fascism is “for elites, not mavericks or crackpots” and German society, including their version of liberal professors fell into line behind Hitler because German thought of itself as monolithic and was OK with being ruled by an aristocracy from Berlin. Again curious when your election is made possible by billionaires, the oil and coal industry, and FBI Director Comey. Fascism is when the “elites” and crackpots join forces.

Any complains liberals might have – like Bannon saying that the media should shut up – say more about delicate liberal sensitivities than about Trump’s ideology. Swains suggests that because he is able to disagree with Trump on anything (he airs slight disapproval of the Muslim Ban here) that means Trump is not a fascist. Swain then gets to his main course: Trump is a populist. A return to roots and basics. He’s the Salt of the Earth of American Democracy. Again, Trump lost the popular vote and “did not vote” was the winner of the election. After providing no evidence or explanation, merely a vague quote from Irving Kristol that echoes the Jefferson quote about the Tree of Liberty needing the blood of patriots except in this case populists, Swaim closes by saying the real problem is the conformism and complacency of America’s liberal elites.

Adopting the arm-chair-general superciliousness I’ve come to strongly associate with conservatives delivering an oversimplified, strangely convenient/cherry-picked version of history, Swaim claims that American ‘frontier spirit’ and general resistance to conformity means that authoritarianism of any stripe would be instantly halted before it even began. The funny thing about Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, Swaim says, is that it fascism never took place in ’30s America. I cannot tell if Swaim makes his arguments out of cynicism and hypocrisy or naive ignorance, but he clearly has not read It Can’t Happen Here. The entire point of the book is to illustrate how easily it could “happen here” i.e., how easily “American exceptionalism” could be turned into a fascist program. If I was Swaim, I wouldn’t have even mentioned the book at all.

Further, Swaim seems blind that he is on the side of the forces of racial/religious conformism. America was explicitly founded on the idea of public reason and the separation of church and state: the Founding Fathers refused to choose. Swaim implicitly thinks that American means “white and christian.” What this means in the modern age is fascism. Nor does he have any conception of how the ‘frontier spirit’ might work. When does it “kick in?” Swaim is also ignoring the realty of what the decades of the Cold War have done to our democratic society (talk about centralisation of power and conformity); his statement that “Americans have never gone for socialism” seems strange given FDR’s New Deal programs and the fact that American politics is currently heading off a cliff into right wing extremism. It implies Americans are immune to extremist politics just when that is exactly what is happening.

Ultimately for Swaim, nothing Donald Trump could ever do would count as fascist. And that is the real weakness in what he’s saying. Swaim’s rationale here indicates that that, hypothetically, Mike Pence’s “Patriotic Bible Camp for American Greatness” cannot be a  concentration camp because, well, it reflects our frontier spirit, and it chastises bleeding heart liberals (who are also secret totalitarians) and if it was fascist – which it definitely isn’t – Americans wouldn’t have it. “Frontier spirit” is great, but does Swaim realise that there is no frontier anymore?

Swaim’s basic argument rests on myths and  misconceptions about the American past and the actual nut-and-bolts of how are society functions today. Worse, he has no idea what fascism actually is. For him, the sum of the liberal argument is that Trump is a fascist because he is a bully, and Benito Mussolini was also a blustering bully. Swaim dismisses the comparison as facile. Fine. But he misses how Trump’s bullying fits a pattern that is repeating itself  here and now.

The second pattern of response is quite a lot more subtle and complicated. A great example is John McNeill’s “How fascist is Donald Trump? There’s a formula for that.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/10/21/how-fascist-is-donald-trump-theres-actually-a-formula-for-that/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.e23796649cd4.

McNeill, a historian, grades Trump on his similarities with historical fascism in eleven categories, each category getting a possible four “benitos.” This is an interesting and charming read (on the category of ‘fetishisation of masculinity,’ four benitos are awarded) that dismisses Trump as a crude semi-fascist, a baby fascist (Trump scores a total of 22 benitos out of a possible 44). Fine. McNeill is clearly no friend of Trump, but his perspective tends to play down or even dismiss concerns about what is taking place now. Instead of indicating that we are serious danger of history repeating itself, and that our society and democracy are in dire peril, McNeill more or less leaves the impression that, like Swaim, Trump is like commercials during a movie: you don’t like them, but you sit through it anyway. McNeill contributes, in a small way, to the normalisation of Trump.

But what does it mean that a third of Americans slobber a semi-fascist and many more tolerate him? It strikes me that even a baby fascist should still trigger the “frontier spirit.” And even then, I would argue that the basic mechanics of fascism – populist rage allied with corporate and military interests destroying the basic tenets of the public good/civil society – clearly do not require a “high benito scoring” fascist dictator to be fascism. Remember we are talking about destruction here; you don’t have to be competent. 

Obviously Trump isn’t Hitler. Trump obviously isn’t Mussolini. But he does not have to be, and  American fascism – Trumpism – was never going to resemble the historical fascists. Really – just think about it. This is root-and-branch the essential reasoning behind the conservative mind-block on what’s happening to this country. Trump can’t be a fascist – the reasoning goes – because of the dazzling array of superficial differences between Trumpism and Nazism, Germany/Italy and America. For example, McNeill awards zero benitos in the categories of ‘fetishisation of youth’ and ‘hierarchical party structure/purging the disloyal,’ making much of the fact that his followers are not dressed up in ersatz military outfits and some Republicans dislike Trump and are not afraid to say so in public. So Republicans aren’t goose stepping around Washington DC in Davy Crockett outfits. Great. McNeill is blind to how militarised are society has become; requiring that fascism march in the street with matching outfits is laughable. Also, what about those little red hats?

NcNeill’s categories have nothing to do with what fascism actually is and how it actually operates. McNeill is implicitly assuming that Trumpism must fit snuggly into a mould that it simply doesn’t need in order to be fascist. McNeill is like the generals who “prepare for the last war” instead of looking to fight the next one. Again, neither McNeill nor Swaim look below the surface and look at what has happened to this country since WWII and the underlying economics, not to mention the state of our democracy (effectively gone). They are afraid to check underneath the hood: Trump doesn’t represent “frontier spirit” nor does Trumpism need to fit a blueprint of 1930’s European fascism for Trumpism to be fascism.

How long will these ostensibly reasonable, hard headed Republicans – fond of Winston Churchill and Edmund Burke – keep up their sham debate? How bad will it have to get? Look at their words and actions. Bannon’s statements about the media culminate to a calculated attempt to subvert democracy; Trump is moving full bore destroy any sort of function public system.

What exactly do you need to be more clear?

 

 

The City and the Castle

2500 years ago, at the birth of western civilisation as we know it, there where two political nodes from which the ancient Greek world organised itself. One one side you had The City: a vibrant, messy republic.  And on the other, the Castle: an austere militaristic society. I am referring to the classical match up of Athens and Sparta. Ultimately, the idea of the City and the Castle refer to bedrock notions of what the idea political body should be: one based on civil duty, and the other, righteous hierarchy.

These rivals created the bedrock of western political thinking; I would argue that each society has, since ancient times, wrestled with a political spectrum with Athens at one end  and Sparta on the other. This political spectrum is both more realistic and even more practical than the clunky, outdated and ideologically motivated American conception of the political spectrum, i.e., Communism on the far left and extreme libertarianism/ anarchy and or fascism on the right (depending on who you ask), with American society perfectly balanced distinctly on the right in the realm of laissez-faire capitalism.

The political spectrum of the City and the Castle is also more complex and nuanced then a clunky authoritarianism vs freedom sense of the political spectrum. This means that the Castle does not mean “authoritarianism” and the City does not mean “freedom,” though these concepts are definitely integral to both respectively.

Athens and Sparta represent the two poles, or ideals of the western political landscape. Every society and government primarily appeals to one or the other; and while every society will have both impulses, a given government or ruler will appeal to one ideal or the other. For example, I would like the 20th century totalitarianisms of Stalinism and Nazisim with a radical shift towards the Castle. While the French Revolution could be seen as a bringing-into-line of the French political system with a socio-economic system which had already shifted along the lines of the City.

The Castle – the fundamental sense that there is a righteous, received hierarchy and order to society – is best seen in Sparta, but other examples might be feudal Europe and various authoritarian units throughout western history, ranging from the likes of Oliver Cromwell to Pinochet. There are numerous advantages: military strength and high social cohesion between the two big ones. But the idea of the Castle is as much psychological and social as it is political. As Herbert Marcuse said: “people do not want to be free.” The strength of the Castle is it’s clearly delineated social hierarchy closely linked to an ideology with religious overtones, i.e., “One God in Heaven, One King on Earth.” The Castle provides its people with simple, unquestioned answers to life’s vexing questions.

static, oppressive, brittle, ignorant

The City – exemplified originally by Athens – rests on a conception of shared humanity. Thus the human individual is a citizen – with rights and duties – rather than a subject or member of a folk. The City doesn’t equate to democracy, or even a republic necessarily. It’s about the fundamental conception of how the political body should function: how it is envisioned. The City is where the idea of the public good is primary. The strength of the City is it’s vibrancy. By this I mean more than simply “freedom.” The idea of the polis – a rational, human-oriented political unit – assists human individuals with pursuing their own well being. It is this social framework of the public good which enables tremendous social energies to be released.

The drawback with the Castle is its static conception society and life in an ever changing world. The Castle is oppressive: the result a psychological and emotional stunting of it’s people. It is a narrow conception of society and life which some psychological profiles crave, but few thrive in. Strong leaders of the Castle are almost unstoppable, but wise, great men are always in short supply and one wise man is not enough to rule an entire society. Ask any autocrat ever.

The weakness of the City is it’s trouble with social and political cohesion. Implicitly based on ideas of equality and moral relativism, it lacks a sense of divine sanction. It is hard to ask people to sacrifice themselves – either their lives or their sense of profit and gain – for an indistinct and abstract ‘public good.’ The City is more complicated psychologically, intellectually and emotionally. It’s much harder to sustain; it requires much more privileged circumstances to  function properly.  The most successful republics – Athens, Venice, Holland, England, and America are at once the most dynamic societies but also incredibly rare and fragile. The Venetian Republic, for example, was a totally unique production of geographic location (islands in lagoon which both protected the Venetians and inhibited the rise of the feudal system), historical confluence (the Hunnic invasions, the fall of the Roman Empire), and cultural factors (the intellectual and cultural heritage of  Athens and Rome. These factors combined to create a unique sense of civic pride and duty amongst the citizens of Venice.

The Peloponnesian War – the WWII of ancient Greece – was eventually won by Sparta. Plato’s Republic is in many ways inspired by Sparta, and since then the lovers-of-all-things Spartan have only gained ground. Sparta resonates with many people, where as nobody makes movies about Athenians.

But there is a problem. There are no actual Spartan accounts of being Spartan. Everything we know about the ancient Spartans was written by other Greeks: Athenians, Thebans, Corinthians. When we refer to the birth of western civilisation, we are referring to Athens at the height of its glory. Yes, the entire ancient Greek world played its part here, but it is Athens that produced the great philosophers and the artists that created a lasting civilisation. Sparta won the War because it remained defensive; Sparta merely survived. It never conquored. Sparta rode high until they where defeated by the Thebans. And then they where gone. And we are all Athenians now.

America was founded upon the ideas of The City: secular humanism, civic duty an the public good. These values are at the root of what makes America great. These ideas are under attack, to the point of being destroyed. Make no mistake: patriotism and people shouting about loving freedom do not guarantee freedom, nor will it matter when it comes to maintaining a republic in this country. It’s the idea of the public good, linked with secular humanism which is the essence of American democracy, not guns and bibles. Corporate greed – the profit maximisation principle – and the religious right are two principles which seek to destroy the idea of the public good, which both limits profits and stands in implicit contradiction to the fundamentalist mindset.

It’s now or never.

 

President Orange, Part III

I am aware – oh so aware – of Godwin’s Law. You know: the longer an argument takes place on the internet, the greater the likelihood that something or somebody will be compared to Hitler. Hitler is our Great Cliche, Nazis our Great Bad Guy. WWII is our lodestone; our orientation place. It was bound to come up.

But you know the old favourite of McCarthyites: “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…”

Look, Trump bares little resemblance to Hitler. The GOP alt-right Twitter squad will never swear a personal loyalty oath to der Furher, like the Nazis and the Brown Shirts. Trump’s gewgaw world of gold-paint chandeliers, Reality TV production, and scuzzy casinos is a world apart from an alienated struggling artist in 1920s Bavaria. I can make any number of statements about ostensible differences.

But Trump has everything to do with fascism. I’m not making a ‘Duck Test’ Argument here, I’m making a direct parallel between Trump’s America in 2017 and Hitler’s Germany in 1933: the alignment of social forces are identical. Fascism is the alliance of Big Business with, well, exactly the sort of people who voted for Trump: the lower middle classes (white working class) and that curious group of angry blowhards (Jeremy Clarkson’s type) who’s fragile egos and brittle intelligences are threatened by a messy, changing, complicated world.

Let there be no mistake: Trump was never going to resemble Hitler and the Nazis. All too often we assume fascism means “Swastika armband, hating Jews, silly little moustache.” The Nazis really are only the best example of what fascism is: the alliance of the angry and ignorant with the supremely greedy and powerful. That is simply the alignment of social forces: the psychological essence of facsism  is best seen in contemporary politics of Pizzagate. People believe in Pizzagate – that Hilary Clinton is running a child sex ring out of a Washington DC Pizzerias’ basement (even though it doesn’t even have a basement) – because they intuitively understand that that is what their “side” is supposed to believe. People believe in Pizziagate the same way that they have faith that Trump is actually a brilliant businessman, or the way children come to believe in Santa Claus.

Fascism, then, is a social alignment of the lower class and the corporate interest, but also a complex psychological phenomenon. This explains why so many people are drawn to it: it’s appeal is emotional.

American Fascism was always going to come wrapped differently: it was always going to be the Cowboy Hats or some sort of showbiz billionaire (as in our case!) Our fascism was always going have more glitz and glam. We will have a family-values, gimcrack-disco-ball deregulated and pro-small government totalitarian future of ecological destruction and societal collapse.

It doesn’t matter that Donald Trump does not want to be fascist. It does not matter that Trump genuinely wants to bring jobs back to the Midwest or get better trade deals for the US. His very outlook – that thuggish authoritarianism – combined with powerful corporate interest (Rex Tillerson to name merely the most prominent example) combined with a ignorant and angry political base, and all the contradictions contained within conservative ideology is fascism.

This is how things are going to play out. The corporate interest wants tax breaks and profits; it wants regulations to go away: it wants profit and only profit. The angry political base not only wants contradictory things, like libertarianism that restricts women’s rights or wants to kick protester’s teeth in, or fiscal conservatism that will expand the military (already comically, criminally bloated) and rebuild America’s infrastructure and build The Great Wall of Trump, but what they really vote for is a psychological, emotional satisfaction.

The only thing they will agree on is destroying the things they both hate (for differing reasons). You know: Planned Parenthood, the welfare state, national parks, NPR, the environment, protesters, the education system, etc. In a world what is most likely to come under attack is civil society and our notion of the public good. This cannot be too strongly emphasised. Hitler’s economic miracle for Germany came most directly at the cost of destroying civil society, followed eventually by the total destruction of Germany.

Keep in mind that Hitler, like Trump, are idiots, who genuinely have no idea what they are doing. They have certain talents that they know how to use; they are demagogues, and they have the benefit of having an audience who is psychologically vulnerable (they are idiots alongside the leader). Remember, the easiest person to fool is yourself.

The grim, gritty reality in both cases is that the system of profit-for-profit’s sake, weather it is called monopoly capitalism (as in Hitler’s time) or neoliberalism (our version) had eaten away at people lives; at society at large. Faced with a situation where profits would either be sacrificed for the good of society or vice versa, these powerful entities have sided with twisted social forces beyond the pale. Greed leads the very destruction of society, which consumes itself in ignorance, anger and violence.

The fact that Trump badly lost the popular vote and is already the most corrupt, disliked man to ever take office and he actually hasn’t quite gotten their yet, combined with the long-term demographic weaknesses of the conservative movement and the GOP, means that the kakistocracy in power will be pulling out all of the authoritarian stops to “Make America Great Again.” Let me put it this way: there is a great conservative bubble, that due to how well funded it is, has been wildly successful. But now that the wing-nut’s have their fantasy Cabinet – and they will actually have to govern in this messy, complicated world – their only real option will be the radical and truely fascist leap into locking down our advanced technological society into the Great White Christian State (with a pussy-grabbing casino-capitalist twist).

Our constitution was built on the humanistic idea of the republic: an institution of civil society and the concept of the greater, public good. This idea is radically under attck both from corporate greed from one side and from a conservative subset of Americans who see this country in religious terms.

If you believe in democracy, and if you believe that this Great Republic is truely the last best great hope of mankind, then now is the time to make your voice heard. Now is the time to act.

 

 

 

 

 

A Dirge for Libertarians

There is a longstanding, positive conception of what it means to be American. It has gone under many names – Jefferson’s yeoman farmers, rugged individualism – and you see it pour through pop culture in the figure of the cowboy and the pioneer. This is the notion that part of being American is a tough, practical self-suffieciency: being a burden to others is shameful. It’s a vision of Americanness as scrappy, hard and entrepreneurial: not stoic, but seasoned. Clear-sighted and bright-eyed with calloused hands. It is under attack.

I am going to call it “Crockettism” – as in Davy – and it must be distinguished quite vigorously from “capitalism,” “neoliberalism,” “libertarianism,” and the dubious intellectual project of Ayn Rand. Each of these terms come with their own intellectual history and set of ideas. None of them are “notions” about what it means to be American; they are technical terms which date to the 20th century, and therefore are distinctly separate from what it means to be American. Rather, it is the notion of Crockettism that has played into the widespread acceptance of “capitalism,” “neoliberalism” and”libertarianism.”

Crockettism is a “wedge issue” in that our attachment to it has been used for political gain  on the economic front; its equivalent on the social front, for example, is abortion. Huge numbers of Americans vote Republican every year in the name of Crockettism. It’s clearest political, contemporary articulation is libertarianism, which essentially occupies the position of “socially liberal and economically conservative.” This is a gross characterisation, but I feel like it has to be made in order for our own clear thinking on this topic. Anytime somebody says “I don’t want the government telling me what to do” that is libertarianism. Capitalism in a technical sense, simply refers to private ownership of capital and its use as the basic engine of economic activity. Straightaway, we can tell that no American political party is against “capitalism.” I include the Green Party and Bernie Sanders, and progressives in general, in this statement. Again, a distinction must be made between capitalism (Adam Smith) and neoliberalism, a very different beast.

Neoliberalism is the set of economic ideas and policies that originate with the writings of Frederick von Hayek, an Austrian who traumatically encountered the ideas of Milton Keynes in the ’30s. This has been the ruling ideology of the United States since Reagan’s Administration; it includes Clinton’s and Obama’s terms. Also known as “Austerity,” and “trickle-down economics” it is in fact an extreme pro-corporate, pro-elite set of ideas which is the true target of progressive figures like Bernie Sanders. It’s privatisation for privatisation’s sake, deregulation for the sake of deregulation and hero-worship of robber-barons for the sake of robber barons, er, I mean Captains of Industry. It sees government as a strangulation of enterprise; it has a telling connection to the adolescent ideas of Ayn Rand. Anytime somebody uses the parable of a rich guy buying and maintaing a yacht and how this employs people, or a crude allusion to “if we shouldn’t feed the wildlife because it makes them dependant, then the same applies to people,” that is neoliberalism.

As you can see, it has little to do with our cherished notion of Crockettism. Since Reagan, who instituted tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, deregulation and privatisation, we have seen a decline in the American middle class. Meanwhile, CEO pay has exploded along with corporate profits. The American work force has become more efficient and productive, yet works ever-increasing numbers of hours. We live in the most inquisitions society of all time; a handful of individuals and corporate control the vast majority of the wealth in this country. Thus, when somebody is against the redistribution of wealth, or resents welfare recipients for “getting something for nothing,” they are implicitly ignoring the current redistribution of wealth that is taking place in this country. That is, a transfer of wealth upward from the middle class. It gets even more ironic because even as conservatives and libertarians fret over taxation, it is the reality that the wealthiest Americans and businesses have escaped the tax burden. A vote for the Republican party directly supports a taxation system which puts billionaire paying as much in taxes as their secretaries. This, combined with a corporate system that pursues profit-maximazation above all else explains the decline of the American middle class.

Crockettism is under attack from profit-maximaization and the subversion of democracy by corporations which find buying government support through lobbying an excellent bargain. Adam Smith and Davy Crockett would not approve of Rupert Murdoch and the sinister manipulation of minimum wage laws by Wal-Mart. Americans for Prosperity and Citizens United have little to do with our own self-reliance. It comes down to what sort of society you want to live in given the current realities of our society. I think we can agree that Jefferson’s yeoman farmers is not a realistic option. Think of it like this: do you want a country of strip malls and Wal-Marts? Or do you want a country of hipster downtowns? It’s a simplification, but it’s the essence of your choice. Society is mutual cooperation, not about “the war of all against all” which conservatives seem to relish so much.

A counter-point might be government over-reach; the libertarian anxiety about “tax-and-spend” policies. First of all government is dedicated to the well-fare of its citizens, not profit. No matter how clunky or corrupt, government remains accountable to us, even if only in the abstract, the citizenry. A corporation must mindlessly pursue short-term profits, no matter the cost to human individuals, our democracy and society, and our fragile environment. Put another way, the unwieldy intuition of government is our only recourse against corporate oligarchy. If you want a society of strong, independent individuals the first step is restoring a certain economic/income equality which did actually exist during during the post-WWII years in this country. The Republican legacy is just as much “big-government” as the Democrats; the truth is that our government is in the hands of corporate influence, and both political parties are beholden to a handful of wealthy donors. How the Republicans managed become the party of Crockettism in the minds of Americans is beyond me. Is it because Reagan often appeared in a cowboy hat? Looking at the facts, the Republicans are more reliable the party of fossil fuels, gross military expenditure and creeping theocracy, not plucky individualism. Look at their record on surveillance, torture and the environment.

It’s a complex, painful issue. It asks you to see “beyond the horizon” if you will, of our everyday, concrete world, where the poor person is poor because they are lazy (and that is emotionally satisfying, like big cigar). The failure of identity politics, the clumsy, flawed functioning of the welfare state has many critics – and I agree with these critics. I just cannot fathom support for the Republican Party based on these ideas. It’s inexplicable to vote for a (born rich) billionaire who has gamed the system over and over again in the name of personal responsibility and hard work. Watch as the Republicans pull the levers of Big Government in the name of Small Government and Freedom. Watch as our rights are stripped away in the name of patriotism. Already, the bedrock foundations of democracy, be it First Amendment rights, or voter suppresion, or fake news is destroying what little is left of our democratic heritage. Clearly, Trump only values people based on their support for Trump. The Libertarian support for Trump will do serious damage to the concept of small, efficient government to everybody’s detriment.

By allowing our sentiments of Crockettism to vote for Trump, we may have ended the last vestiges of Crockettism itself.

 

President Orange, Part II

I’m sure that most Americans – even those who voted for Trump – and even Trump himself are not fascist.

But that doesn’t matter. Trump has now occupied a facist nexus in American politics. The alignment of forces and motives, the decay of civil society, all point to truely alarming parallels to Germany in the 1930s. I make this statement not out of hyperbole or sophistry, but with a full understanding of what happened to Germany in the ’30s. I wrote my masters dissertation on this period, understanding exactly what happened and why.

When the Media like The Washington Post pen articles like “Who is the Real Donald Trump (and what does he stand for),” they totally miss the point. Trump has no plan; no program; there is no core set of principals. His strength is this very formlessness. He’s a  Rorschach Inkblot Test for America. This is exactly part of the appeal of for right politics; most individuals and institutional forces can either perceive an advantage, or find some sort of rational for supporting the proto-fascist. Hitler attracted the support of the German military and big industrial businesses (who reckoned that they could both control Hitler and use him against their enemies, the Socialist and Communist parties arguing for a more equitable distribution of wealth); the lower middle class fell for Hitler because his emotional argument fit their predicament. German traditionalists and nostalgics (longing for the return of the Kaiser) found Hitler and acceptable stand  in.

Hitler, like Trump, appeals to strange and broad coalition of social elements (note that the far-right tends to borrow and mimic some of the ideas of the Left; ‘Nazi’ means National Socialist. Both are demagogues; both lack a grasp of reality; both are extremely cunning in a tactical sense (like who do I need to placate right now, who can I intimidate into silence right now, who can I destroy right now?). It’s a strange mix of fervour and emotion on one hand a devastating cynical calculation of “ironic distance” (i.e., I know that Trump is a buffoon, but because I am white and rich, I know that I will be okay) on the other.

What we call fascism actually occurs when the ‘fantasy’ meets reality, and in the desperate need to maintain the fantasy, civil society is totally destroyed. This is what happened in Germany and could easily happen to us. The ‘fantasy’ is that Trump is a successful businessman who will run the government like a business; that the insecurity and poverty of White America will go away, that the minorities and messy reality will fade into the background, that Obama and Hilary and the Democrats actively worked against America and that government regulation is a sinister plot; that America has always been a White, Christian Nation, and that Trump will wash away plot against this White, Christian Nation.

This is truely fantasy; we where never a White, Christian Nation (however many of us thought or felt that it was). The Founding Fathers chose not to choose; the unifying metaphor in our Constitution is an Enlightenment conception of a classical, civil republic along the lines of ancient Athens or Rome. Living in a “liberal democracy” means we choose not to choose. And this is the essence of what Trump, and the sad morons who voted for him, utterly threatens.

Trump will have to satisfy the populists (the alt-right, the plumbers and car mechanics who voted for him) and the powerful moneyed and corporate interests who perceive Trump to be an unusual Queen on the chess board of profit-maximisation. These forces are tenuously aligned; and when the whiney, meme-driven Republican fantasy actually has to govern and meets the full force of reality (i.e. repealing NAFTA won’t bring the steel mills back or the coal mines back, stripping away environmental regulation won’t benefit America’s vulnerable middle class, etc), Trump’s only real option to main power will be to go full fascism: the only way to benefit the populists and the corporations will be to destroy our civil society, our liberties. Massive government spending on the military will cover for the stripping away of the last of our liberties. This will be the only way to maintain the Fantasy.

So what do we do now?

The main thing will be to not let Trump get normalised. The election season cannot end. Everything word and action of his Administration must be problematised and subverted. Any respect given to Trump – even lines like “show respect for the office” must be mocked, must be sabotaged. Those who voted for Trump must be barraged by a constant stream of truth, mockery and sarcasm. Like a dog that’s peed on a rug, we have to rub their noses in it. They are insecure, ignorant people; we must make their shameful mistake public and constant. There is nothing ‘normal’ or ‘ok’ about Trump. Nothing at all. We must strengthen our civil society so that Trump withers away before he is forced into a sort of “Reichstag Fire” moment.

Already the “give Trump a chance, he might just be another Republican president line” has picked up steam, especially amongst the corporate/centrist democrat crowd (Tom Hanks for one). It’s clear from the general tenor of the GOP and Trump himself, and the cabinet choices that his well not be “just another Republican presidency.” This has to be stopped. We can’t let that be the narrative that the Democrats adopt.

I’m trying to look on the bright side. A lot of conservative poison will be drawn out by this election; a lot of stupid Republican ideas that have been around forever (like running the government like a business) will get aired. Hell, people might even learn something. The idea here is that at least the Republican fantasy playbook well be carried out by a cheeto-colored buffoon instead of someone more competent: better a Hermann Goring than a Reinhard Heydrich.

The silver lining is that the Clinton machine is done; it is possible that the Democrats can be become a truely progressive party that responds to the needs of American voters.

In reflecting on what has just happened in America on the 8th, three things standout First, the “center” in American politics has collapsed. Second, historical parallels to the 1968 presidential election and the 18th Amendment – Prohibition – seem freshly relevant, as well as, I hate to say it, 1930’s Germany. Last, the idea that a larger, techy, urban – and largely apolitical society is increasingly the reality of America today: call it “cosmopolis.”

Identity politics has been a disaster; it needs to be abandoned. It’s not just a poor indicator of how people vote (like when we say “white males voted Trump” what really mean is like 65% of them did; that leaves an awful lot of white males who didn’t vote Trump). Political Correctness, while based on noble motives (you have to treat people with respect and would it kill you to have some empathy?), has likewise been a disaster. The problem with “Black Lives Matters” isn’t that it is wrong or incorrect, it simply doesn’t work, like calling for “socialism now” or burning an American flag in protest. People can’t think in the abstract enough to understand those actions and symbols; we are too easy to manipulate. Racism is not about Black people, it’s about White Insecurity (in a fundamental sense).

Already, the tendency to talk about the ‘white working class’ or the ‘aggrieved white male’ as the driving for behind Trump already misses the point; it’s already wrong. What is the real problem is neoliberalism (capitalism for capitalism’s sake; which is stripping away our culture and values and even the basis of democracy in the name of ever-more-profit). I am not denying the racism, I am saying that identity politics is the wrong way forward and needs to be abandoned. We need less “labels” and more policies; new language and programs which totally shift the paradigm of American politics as far away as possible from the canned bickering of Baby-boomer politics.

 

My last point here is that the real danger is the lurking, boring and technical aspects of Trump and authoritarianism. While our Buffoon-In-Chief districts with Twitter, and outrageous racist comments, the CIA and FBI will gain unlimited surveillance powers. The military will grow larger and more bloated; corporate profit will explode at the cost of the environment and our society. Republicans will intrench themselves ever more deeply into our judicial system, and institute a new, ever-more-subtle Jim Crow.

We cannot let this “campaign” end.

President-Elect Orange

There was a moment watching the election results when all those upper midwestern states shifted red and I knew that our country was about take a very dark, very different future. I felt sick. In the words of a shell-shocked CNN pundit – I think it was Van Jones – “this is a tectonic shift.”

Yes, the racism – Van Jones’ ‘Whitelash’ – and sexism of America were on full display but that neither scared me nor surprised me. I don’t think it was the racists that swung it for Trump. What did scare me was that a crucial number of people (maybe the “Shy Trump voter”) that actually think Trump is going to…to what? Save them? Save them from what? Make America Great Again? What does that mean?

It’s not the anger, frustration and resentment; I share those emotions. It’s the fact that so many think that Trump will fix things for them. And that is what scares me. Really scares me. Because the level of “magical thinking”  – otherwise known as stupidity – to think that President Pussy-Graber will bring back the steel mills and restore America’s place in the world and make all the inconvenient facts  and reality in general go away has the distinct whiff of true fascism.

There is the narrative of the voter who, while not liking Trump, really wants change and just wants to upset the apple cart for the sake of upsetting the apple-cart. Again, I can appreciate that; it does have a certain satisfying appeal. But this rationale must again fail because Trump isn’t an outsider. Trump won’t actually damage the neoliberal economic order – yes, he might withdraw from NAFTA – but that is small potatoes.  Watch closely as his corrupt Administration slashes taxes on massive corporations and his fellow billionaires, and corporate America finds itself perfectly comfortable with Trump.

The only applecart that has been upset is America as a liberal democracy. These voters clearly didn’t consider the environmental damage that will be inflicted. Trump and the Republicans have no interest in being America’s president: they are going to rule viciously in favour of Duck Commander and Corporate America.

The entire right-wing populist edifice is built on the Fox News echo chamber, where a few crucial assumptions have been made: 1) Obama specifically and Democrats/Liberals in general are out to destroy America, 2) Obama has been a disaster as president, 3) taxation and regulation are the reason for economic decline and the death of the middle class. The entire Republican tone and mindset has been one of “aggrieved, angry, forgotten white male”. It’s secretly been this since Nixon, but with Trump, it is now out in the open in a way that I wish were only an episode of Black Mirror.

But what happens when this victim mindset has to actually govern? What happens when the assumptions I listed above have to be put into action? Trump and the Republicans will have no excuse when the steel mills don’t return, when rural America doesn’t return to prosperity, when gays continue to be seen on the streets and things go from bad to worse. Because clearly their entire mindset is based on a system of lies and falsehoods; it is out and out delusional.

How far will Trump and the Republicans go to maintain their illusions? Is is where the possibility of American Fascism and Apartheid become very, very real. When Trump’s pathetic, truck-stop-dive-bar level understanding of government (like for every new regulation, two must be eliminated, a frieze on the hiring of new federal employees) fails to make any meaningful change and actually makes things worse what are they going to do? The temptation will be a Reichstag Fire moment; the full leap into endless militarism. The temptation to dismantle the last vestiges of democracy might be too tempting and too easy. The Republicans – unable to win things like the popular vote – must stay in power by tactics like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and controlling judges. Democracy won’t function if people are over-worked, ignorant and fearful.

There is the long Republican tradition where a charismatic figure is elected, but the actual administration is left largely to a core of Republican insiders. Think of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor of California, Reagan, Bush and Cheney. There is a possibility, supported by Trump’s actions in picking a VP earlier in the campaign that what we are actually going to get is a Pence Administration, with Trump as demagogue and  distractor in chief. While this is not necessarily the case – all bets are off you haven’t noticed – there is a decent chance that the next few years will be a typically disastrous Republican administration, but no worse.

The second scenario is that Trump and his gaggle of deplorables, alt-right bizzaros and strange sycophants runs rough shod over everybody and everything. The full Trump. I don’t know what will happen in this scenario; either Trump will be quickly abandoned and possibly impeached after two or four years, or it will be literally the end of democracy and America  in any recognisable form.

Since Bill Clinton’s Administration, the Democrats have been a corporate centrist neoliberal party. Hillary fully embraced the mantle of The Establishment; full catered to insider Republicans instead of progressives.  Her staff, and the inner core of the DNC where clearly locked in a baby-boomer centric, outdated model for American elections where the only way to win is to occupy the center and make no gaffes.

So it is no surprise that millennials and blacks didn’t turn out to vote for her. Hillary offered relative sanity, but nothing else. She really is the Herbert Humphrey of our time: the insider’s pick that nobody actually wanted. The Democrats, true to form, played to lose and where generally more interested in pleasing their corporate sponsors then acting like party that represented the interests of genuine Americans. This is not about lazy millennials too lazy and spoiled to show up to vote: this is about a DNC that had nothing to offer. Hillary was always the candidate we where meant to pick. They have nobody to blame but themselves.

So forcing myself to be hopeful here: this election does open a door for truely progressive politics a la Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to emerge. To quote Naomi Klein’s excellent article in The Guardian, (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/09/rise-of-the-davos-class-sealed-americas-fate?CMP=fb_us): “The Democratic party needs to be either decisively wrested from pro-corporate neoliberals, or it needs to be abandoned.” This is the real opening of the election. It’s the only way that the Democrats can hope to win elections, but more importantly, it is the only way for our country to recover and move forward.

 

 

Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy

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Probably one of the most important influential books you have never heard of. It’s fascinating because it’s very much of its time, and yet very much of our time as well. Here’s what I mean. The meat of the book was written, or at least intellectually developed before WWII (published during) in the late ’30s. However, this is also one of the key texts of the triumph of neoliberalism. This book never seemed more prophetic then in the ’90s with the technology explosion and corresponding economic growth.

Of course, of our vantage point here in 2016, that pendulum has swung completely in the other direction. I would love (love love love) to bring Joseph Schumpeter to our present day and show him around the global poverty, environmental destruction, and insane inequality explained away in moralistic tones. Because it’s all kinda his child.

How should I say this? Schumpeter is never wrong – on the contrary, he is highly logical and rigourous. He’s cosmopolitan. He loves Latin phraseology. But it’s what he leaves out. It’s in what he brushes aside or discounts due to “space considerations”. I’ll come back to this.

Schumpeter is one of the large exodus of German intellectuals driven out by Hitler in the 30’s, who came to settle in America and became profoundly influential, in deep, long lasting ways. It’s one of the more interesting and unpredictable effects of WII. Schumpeter, along side von Hayek and Richard Strauss represent the more traditionally conservative political perspectives. While the Frankfurt School of Marxists were going around inventing postmodernism and influencing the counterculture of the ’60s, these handful of thinkers were busy building their own intellectual dynasties which would come back with a vengeance in the 80’s; their peak being the Bush/Cheney/Rove Administration.

In a nutshell, it is these three German intellectuals who provide the intellectual fodder (eyewash?) for the modern American conservative movement. When a conservative attacks a liberal for being either a Bleeding Heart or a Secret Stalinist, it is the work of Sumpter, Von Hayek and Strauss which provide the intellectual justification for this view.

I think that if Schumpeter was alive today and looking out over our economic and cultural landscape, he would probably vote Democrat. I doubt he would go for Bernie Sanders, but he would definitely feel comfortable with Hilary Clinton. And this is why his book is so very much of it’s time in the late ’30s. It’s not of ours; his views have been superseded (and yet they still form the rational basis for pretty much any sort of neoliberal economic view).

Between National Socialist Germany and Marxist-Leninist Russia, and the decline of the traditional capitalist democracies (England and France), it seemed in the 1930s, that socialism was pretty much bound to triumph all over the world. Intellectuals ranging from serious academics to cafe dilettantes all espoused some kind of socialism. In a nutshell, socialism and the phraseology of socialism was IN in a big way. Hardly anyone could make any sort of pronouncement without making certain comments of a socialist shade.

Joseph Schumpeter thus feels like the “lone voice crying in the wilderness” in support of capitalism. He’s very annoyed by people who make irrational arguments or silly assumptions. And this book is his massive rant against both socialism and the “cafe socialists” which he has had to tolerate. He writes like a man who assumes that his cause is lost. He attributes the unpopularity and failures of capitalism to essentially the fact that it gets bad press.

But here his brilliance – and I do not say that sarcastically – emerges. He writes for a public which he assumes is to a man in some bent pro-socialist. To keep people reading – instead of throwing down the book in disgust – he maintains a rather impressive tongue-in-cheek tone that lasts for a solid half of the work.

He opens with a discussion of Marx and the theoretical underpinnings of socialism. Even as he rips apart Marx and his ideas, he maintains a tone and certain sentences which make it seem that he is actually in support of Marx and or socialism, but is just making fine-tuning remarks or reworking some of Marx’s ideas to make them better. It’s actually really  well done and definitely worth a read.

This book is also famous for the idea of “creative destruction”; the idea that growth is takes place over the bodies of outdated industries or techniques, IE, vinyl being replaced by CDs, etc. He also makes a strong pitch for capitalism being in the long run more compatible with democracy than socialism (which he points out is not necessarily a democratic form of government.

Fine.

But here is my actual problem with Schumpeter’s reasoning (and again it’s more of what he leaves out or ignores). In one of the opening chapters he defines the best economy as the one that maximises production/output. It’s literally just a sentence that he’s thrown in. And that’s really the whole trick. Once he has made that assumption, he can easily prove that capitalism is the system that maximises production, and is therefore the best.

He seemingly remains oblivious to the massive flaws in this assumption. I won’t ding him for not being concerned with the environment because I suppose nobody was at this time. But he ignores the true complexity of our individual lives and our societies and saves his argument be hiding behind “maximum production”. He fails to see the great contours of capitalism – a system of exploration that feeds off of population growth and environmental destruction. He categorically refuses to recognise the massive aid that governments have to lend to “capitalism” to keep it going.

Schumpeter, borrowing and building off of Max Weber, subscribes to the moralistic Predestination view of capitalism, i.e., those that are successful have done something to deserve it. They have saved or invested wisely or worked hard or been more smart than the next guy. He waxes poetically about the virtues and mindset of the businessman or the “bourgeoisie” which he finds to be hard working and sober and sensible.

He savours describing capitalism as an unceasing maelstrom of competition that even the biggest companies must weather. And this is the big secret of capitalism – it’s superiority. He’s blind to how far governments have to bend to keep the damn thing going. He’s blind to how rare it is for the system to work in the moralistic and efficient way that he suggests that it does.

And I think that if he were alive today I think we would see a Peter Schumpeter much less enthusiastic about laissez-faire economics and centre-right politics. With the threat of global Communism being definitely gone for a while now, with Marxist phraseology being well out of style, with an economy that depends on government propping up most of the major industries in one way or an other, with systematic global poverty, with environmental destruction and massive inequality, and with the link between war and Big Business definitely established, he would have to yield on a few points. For sure.

It’s a fascinating book and a monument to it’s time and place. That being said, unless you want to understand neoliberal rationalisations, it’s probably not worth your time.

The Perfect Propaganda of the Dark Knight Rises

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Most of us associate Hollywood and hollywood movies as liberal things. But that’s really not true at all. In fact, it seems that more and more, the movie industry is increasingly conservative. Even if the individuals who act or direct or write or make the props are themselves liberal, the industry itself is increasingly conservative.

The Dark Knight Rises is probably the most telling case in point. Now, there are a few qualifications I feel I have to make before I continue. First of all, Batman is my favourite superhero. He is unquestionably the most interesting. Superman? Yawn. Second, the Christopher Nolan reboots are great batman movies, especially the one with the Joker. I think Nolan is one of the few directors around today that matter.

Batman was always a conservative superhero (unlike the Fantastic Four for example, a band of freaks and loners who team together (is this an organic socialism?) against a fearful and reactionary society). The very idea of Batman/Bruce Wayne  (a philanthropic billionaire who saves hard working members of society from petty crime somehow not generated ultimately by the very economic system that makes Bruce Wayne possible) is profoundly conservative. But in The Dark Knight Rises Christopher Nolan has created the conservative propaganda movie par excellence. Really, it is up there with Triumph of the Will (the most perfect textbook propaganda film ever made), The Green Berets (one reviewer described this movie as “…Vile and Insane. On top of that, it is dull”. It’s a cowboys-and-indians narrative), and Reefer Madness (nothing needs to be said here) as some of the most iconic pieces of conservative filmmaking of all time. Also: the Death Wish movies, an indulgence of your deepest vigilante fantasy of violence…

Put aside Batman and put aside how much you like the Christopher Nolan Reboots, and think critically here, because Nolan wanted to make a propagandistic point with this film; it’s much more than “another Batman movie”, this is a real piece of political theatre.

And in doing so, Nolan has created the most perfect film of the conservative world view; it really just depicts the inner workings of the conservative mind, its fantasies, neurosis, and its hallmark lack-of-cognitive-dissonance. Many thinkers have already tackled The Dark Knight Rises as a conservative piece, most notably David Graeber in The Utopia of Rules and Slavoj Zizek in The Politics of Batman (http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/culture/2012/08/slavoj-žižek-politics-batman). I just wanted to give it my own shot; dwelling less on what the movies shows, and more on the movie itself as conservative propaganda, i.e., what it can tell us about the conservative mind. Both Graeber and Zizek dwell on the ideology of the film; Bane as a Robespierre, the cynical idea of liberal emancipatory politics as leading inexorably toward a totalitarian society.

I want to show how the movie reveals an ideological laundry list. I want to talk about the surreal inconsistencies and logical impossibilities that reveal this movie as a conservative propaganda piece.

Really, The Dark Knight Rises is about the Occupy Wall Street Movement. And boy, did Nolan have to twist this movie into knots to get his message across. Nothing in this movie makes any sense; at every turn Batman is right (even when he seems wrong or misguided or just plain stupid upon reflection). Take the Fusion Reactor subplot; at what point does it make even a little bit of sense? At every turn, Batman’s world view is confirmed…but the movie has to twist itself in knots to make that happen. And this is what I want to focus on.

Here’s the meta-synopsis: Batman is hiding out because he’s chosen to be a scapegoat. The League of Shadows, in the form of Bane and Miranda Tate/Ras’al Gul’s daughter, is bent on destroying Gotham, but not before creating a People’s Gotham City/Escape From New York situation before destroying it with Wayne Industry’s fusion reactor.

The League of Shadows (an organisation bent on “restoring balance” to the world notable for ending the great decadent civilisations of the past like Rome somehow) is inexplicably bent on destroying New York, err hem Gotham City. Note how “The League of Shadows” is the perfect conservative boogeyman; they are everything and nothing. There is no obvious motivation…but they are fiendishly dedicated to overthrowing what ever it is they are bent on overthrowing. They fit the conservative mind’s fear and it’s inability to understand the reasoning or motivations of others. Anything that is different from me and what I believe, the conservative thinks, must be wrong and must be stopped by violence (because that is what they understand). The League of Shadows in The Dark Knight Rises mixes a sort of eco-terrorism ethos with classic Marxist/communist motifs, as well as a Palestinian/terrorist/immigrant imagery. In other words, it makes no sense at all. Every conservative bugbear has been impossibly lumped together.

One of the weirdest bits is that Bruce Wayne has lost all of Wayne Industry’s money trying to build a cold fusion reactor (see billionaires do make the world a better place; the government couldn’t do that). Yet he doesn’t activate it because…it could be weaponised. The fact that it can be weaponised regardless does not seem to have occurred to any of the filmmakers. Miranda Tate/Ras al Gul poses as a sort of Green, liberal business savvy (an unobjectionable liberal figure in the green-tea-yoga mould simply to get her hands on the fusion core. Meanwhile, Bane a “high-tech Robespierre on steroids, a melded triad of Leninbin Laden and Steve Austin set on fomenting “proletarian retribution” takes over Gotham. Simply to do what exactly? Wait for the bomb to explode? Nolan sets out to show us the dangers of supporting Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Aside from the ridiculousness of the motivations and deception of the League of Shadows, it is Bruce Wayne’s entire world that is even more puzzling upon reflection. He’s a vigilante who, especially in this movie, has to fight other vigilantes (of a kind). Even though Bruce Wayne is mired in violence and Gotham seems in constant peril of succumbing to crime, poverty and the rest of it…somehow Nolan makes sure that everyone leaves the theatre thinking that “this is the best possible world.”

My favourite bit is when the police charge Bane and his revolutionaries – the whole thing dissolves in a brawl – and again, it makes no sense. First of all…it clearly wouldn’t work. Anyone who knows anything about WWI would be able to tell you why. I know why it’s in the movie: tear-jerking. But the very fact that Nolan put this in the movie tells us more about him then about us. 

Several different characters represent change of some kind. And each is carefully shown to be wrong or misguided. Only Batman’s vigilante violence seems to be pure and this is what I find to be the most ridiculous. Because this cannot be justified by claims of dramatic cinema. It’s just pure propaganda. The fact that environmentalists are portrayed as terrorists is the most egregious error here. It’s ridiculous.

Ironically, the fact that his movie of fantasy cannot imagine an alternative to Batman; the fact that no characters emerge with a solution or an answer or a way forward is, I think, this movie’s most damming criticism.