Lambert here: Yet another (Welsh; Graeber; Doctorow; Stoller) piece on the change in the constitutional order many of us sense from the zeitgeist, but cannot yet see steadily and whole, or name.
By Tom Engelhardt, a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books), has just been published. Originally posted at TomDispatch
Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.
And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.
Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of “we the people.”
Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.
1. 1% Elections
Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you’ll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn’t be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests. (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)
Take, for instance, “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,” a recent piece Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper. A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton’s historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election. He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present. Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not “be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory.” It’s the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future. (No, Virginia, we haven’t left the world of politics in which former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)
Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary’s electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s or even Al Gore’s America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year’s primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.
The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and billionaires, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice. So the early primaries — this year mainly a Republican affair — are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been widely reported. These “contests” involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful, and so reflect our new 1% electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a kitty of $500 million heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)
Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 Citizens United decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat. By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, “The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending,” Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.
In the meantime, it’s still true that the 2016 primaries will involve actual voters, as will the election that follows. The previous election season, the midterms of 2014, cost almost $4 billion, a record despite the number of small donors continuing to drop. It also represented the lowest midterm voter turnout since World War II. (See: demobilization of the public, below — and add in the demobilization of the Democrats as a real party, the breaking of organized labor, the fragmenting of the Republican Party, and the return of voter suppression laws visibly meant to limit the franchise.) It hardly matters just what the flood of new money does in such elections, when you can feel the weight of inequality bearing down on the whole process in a way that is pushing us somewhere new.
2. The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third-World Nation)
In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the Clintons of yore in wink-wink, you-know-how-they-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc. Again, the coverage, while eyeball gluing, is in a you’ve-seen-it-all-before, you’ll-see-it-all-again-mode.
However, you haven’t seen it all before. The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted. An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications. If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought. But it didn’t happen in some third-world state. It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which — even if it wasn’t the first time such a thing had ever occurred — should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it.
Though the marriage of the state and the corporation has a pre-history, the full-scale arrival of the warrior corporation only occurred after 9/11. Someday, that will undoubtedly be seen as a seminal moment in the formation of whatever may be coming in this country. Only 13 years later, there is no part of the war state that has not experienced major forms of privatization. The U.S. military could no longer go to war without its crony corporations doing KP and guard duty, delivering the mail, building the bases, and being involved in just about all of its activities, including training the militaries of foreign allies and even fighting. Such warrior corporations are now involved in every aspect of the national security state, including torture, drone strikes, and — to the tune of hundreds of thousands of contract employees like Edward Snowden — intelligence gathering and spying. You name it and, in these years, it’s been at least partly privatized.
All you have to do is read reporter James Risen’s recent book, Pay Any Price, on how the global war on terror was fought in Washington, and you know that privatization has brought something else with it: corruption, scams, and the gaming of the system for profits of a sort that might normally be associated with a typical third-world kleptocracy. And all of this, a new world being born, was reflected in a tiny way in Hillary Clinton’s very personal decision about her emails.
Though it’s a subject I know so much less about, this kind of privatization (and the corruption that goes with it) is undoubtedly underway in the non-war-making, non-security-projecting part of the American state as well.
3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency
On a third front, American “confidence” in the three classic check-and-balance branches of government, as measured by polling outfits, continues to fall. In 2014, Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court hit a new low of 23%; in the presidency, it was 11%, and in Congress a bottom-scraping 5%. (The military, on the other hand, registers at 50%.) The figures for “hardly any confidence at all” are respectively 20%, 44%, and more than 50%. All are in or near record-breaking territory for the last four decades.
It seems fair to say that in recent years Congress has been engaged in a process of delegitimizing itself. Where that body once had the genuine power to declare war, for example, it is now “debating” in a desultory fashion an “authorization” for a war against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and possibly elsewhere that has already been underway for eight months and whose course, it seems, will be essentially unaltered, whether Congress authorizes it or not.
What would President Harry Truman, who once famously ran a presidential campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, have to say about a body that truly can do just about nothing? Or rather, to give the Republican war hawks in that new Congress their due, not quite nothing. They are proving capable of acting effectively to delegitimize the presidency as well. House Majority Leader John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undercut the president’s Iranian nuclear negotiations and the letter signed by 47 Republican senators and directed to the Iranian ayatollahs are striking examples of this. They are visibly meant to tear down an “imperial presidency” that Republicans gloried in not so long ago.
The radical nature of that letter, not as an act of state but of its de-legitimization, was noted even in Iran, where fundamentalist Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed it “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” Here, however, the letter is either being covered as a singularly extreme one-off act (“treason!”) or, as Jon Stewart did on “The Daily Show,” as part of a repetitive tit-for-tat between Democrats and Republicans over who controls foreign policy. It is, in fact, neither. It represents part of a growing pattern in which Congress becomes an ever less effective body, except in its willingness to take on and potentially take out the presidency.
In the twenty-first century, all that “small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats can agree on is offering essentially unconditional support to the military and the national security state. The Republican Party — its various factions increasingly at each other’s throats almost as often as at those of the Democrats — seems reasonably united solely on issues of war-making and security. As for the Democrats, an unpopular administration, facing constant attack by those who loath President Obama, has kept its footing in part by allying with and fusing with the national security state. A president who came into office rejecting torture and promoting sunshine and transparency in government has, in the course of six-plus years, come to identify himself almost totally with the U.S. military, the CIA, the NSA, and the like. While it has launched an unprecedented campaign against whistleblowers and leakers (as well as sunshine and transparency), the Obama White House has proved a powerful enabler of, but also remarkably dependent upon, that state-within-a-state, a strange fate for “the imperial presidency.”
4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government
One “branch” of government is, however, visibly on the rise and rapidly gaining independence from just about any kind of oversight. Its ability to enact its wishes with almost no opposition in Washington is a striking feature of our moment. But while the symptoms of this process are regularly reported, the overall phenomenon — the creation of a de facto fourth branch of government — gets remarkably little attention. In the war on terror era, the national security state has come into its own. Its growth has been phenomenal. Though it’s seldom pointed out, it should be considered remarkable that in this period we gained a second full-scale “defense department,” the Department of Homeland Security, and that it and the Pentagon have become even more entrenched, each surrounded by its own growing “complex” of private corporations, lobbyists, and allied politicians. The militarization of the country has, in these years, proceeded apace.
Meanwhile, the duplication to be found in the U.S. Intelligence Community with its 17 major agencies and outfits is staggering. Its growing ability to surveil and spy on a global scale, including on its own citizens, puts the totalitarian states of the twentieth century to shame. That the various parts of the national security state can act in just about any fashion without fear of accountability in a court of law is by now too obvious to belabor. As wealth has traveled upwards in American society in ways not seen since the first Gilded Age, so taxpayer dollars have migrated into the national security state in an almost plutocratic fashion.
New reports regularly surface about the further activities of parts of that state. In recent weeks, for instance, we learned from Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the Intercept that the CIA has spent years trying to break the encryption on Apple iPhones and iPads; it has, that is, been aggressively seeking to attack an all-American corporation (even if significant parts of its production process are actually in China). Meanwhile, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA, an agency barred from domestic spying operations of any sort, has been helping the U.S. Marshals Service (part of the Justice Department) create an airborne digital dragnet on American cell phones. Planes flying out of five U.S. cities carry a form of technology that “mimics a cellphone tower.” This technology, developed and tested in distant American war zones and now brought to “the homeland,” is just part of the ongoing militarization of the country from its borders to its police forces. And there’s hardly been a week since Edward Snowden first released crucial NSA documents in June 2013 when such “advances” haven’t been in the news.
News also regularly bubbles up about the further expansion, reorganization, and upgrading of parts of the intelligence world, the sorts of reports that have become the barely noticed background hum of our lives. Recently, for instance, Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization of the CIA meant to break down the classic separation between spies and analysts at the Agency, while creating a new Directorate of Digital Innovation responsible for, among other things, cyberwarfare and cyberespionage. At about the same time, according to the New York Times, the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, an obscure State Department agency, was given a new and expansive role in coordinating “all the existing attempts at countermessaging [against online propaganda by terror outfits like the Islamic State] by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.”
This sort of thing is par for the course in an era in which the national security state has only grown stronger, endlessly elaborating, duplicating, and overlapping the various parts of its increasingly labyrinthine structure. And keep in mind that, in a structure that has fought hard to keep what it’s doing cloaked in secrecy, there is so much more that we don’t know. Still, we should know enough to realize that this ongoing process reflects something new in our American world (even if no one cares to notice).
5. The Demobilization of the American People
In The Age of Acquiescence, a new book about America’s two Gilded Ages, Steve Fraser asks why it was that, in the nineteenth century, another period of plutocratic excesses, concentration of wealth and inequality, buying of politicians, and attempts to demobilize the public, Americans took to the streets with such determination and in remarkable numbers over long periods of time to protest their treatment, and stayed there even when the brute power of the state was called out against them. In our own moment, Fraser wonders, why has the silence of the public in the face of similar developments been so striking?
After all, a grim new American system is arising before our eyes. Everything we once learned in the civics textbooks of our childhoods about how our government works now seems askew, while the growth of poverty, the flatlining of wages, the rise of the .01%, the collapse of labor, and the militarization of society are all evident.
The process of demobilizing the public certainly began with the military. It was initially a response to the disruptive and rebellious draftees of the Vietnam-era. In 1973, at the stroke of a presidential pen, the citizen’s army was declared no more, the raising of new recruits was turned over to advertising agencies (a preview of the privatization of the state to come), and the public was sent home, never again to meddle in military affairs. Since 2001, that form of demobilization has been etched in stone and transformed into a way of life in the name of the “safety” and “security” of the public.
Since then, “we the people” have made ourselves felt in only three disparate ways: from the left in the Occupy movement, which, with its slogans about the 1% and the 99%, put the issue of growing economic inequality on the map of American consciousness; from the right, in the Tea Party movement, a complex expression of discontent backed and at least partially funded by right-wing operatives and billionaires, and aimed at the de-legitimization of the “nanny state”; and the recent round of post-Ferguson protests spurred at least in part by the militarization of the police in black and brown communities around the country.
The Birth of a New System
Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of — to use Fraser’s word — “acquiescence.” Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be. In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual. Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.
While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design. Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion. In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention. Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.
Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.
Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt
Lets call it for what the process actually has become, is within the body politic of the USA, namely, and as any political scientist will instruct you, Amerika is now a fascist state run on fascist principles – the UK is just a few few years behind this process. And yet they moan about Russia and Putin – bait and switch in reality.
The vital economic difference between fascist states and neoliberal ones is that fascist states were mobilized toward productive ends in an expanding capitalist economy — Germany, for instance, was put to work building the Thousand-Year Empire, and Italy built Mussolini’s reputation as a man who made the trains run on time. The point of neoliberal states, on the other hand, is to make the rich richer while the rest of us remain dispensable in a global economy characterized by declining growth rates.
No “rallying the masses” is necessary for the neoliberals outside of the perfunctory cooptation of the public interest during election run-ups. In fact, neoliberal governance really has no use for increases in national productive capacity, because the neoliberal masses are exploited through debt peonage.
I suppose a major Marxian revision would be to say that in late capitalism, TPTB have moved on from simply extracting surplus value to developing the means, still yet to be perfectly realized, of divorcing the means of production from anyone who might be capable of expressing their political will in terms of real action. If the plebs have no meaningful association with the means by which the patricians accumulate wealth, then it doesn’t really matter what the plebs do as public assets are persistently enclosed and sold off supposedly to “fund” the civil society that makes wealth accumulation possible in the first place. Throw in a bit of agitprop about “hunger games” or “divergence,” and you have a populace whose political sentiments are deflected from what gets stolen from them every single day.
It would be an intriguing thesis to pursue; is there anyone left to spend the years in the library like Marx did? Will the libraries even last that long?
Will the libraries even last that long?
Excellent point. Digital information has a nasty habit (or potential) of changing depending on who is accessing it.
They can pry my Save As… from my cold, dead hands.
Great observation. Just as the military was divorced from the citizenry by eliminating the draft we seem to be divorcing the populace from the means of production by outsourcing it to China or Mexico (in the case of cars and trucks.) The problem that they seem to miss is that the population cannot consume without income.
They can consume if they are provided with never ending debt. Play Monopoly and just ignore going bankrupt and the game will go on forever. Just ignore debt and everything is ok. Sort of like wile (sp?) coyote. Beep Beep
Funny enough, I initially wrote out a brief example of what I meant that looked exactly like this: the outsourcing of manufacturing. But then I realized something–or rather had a vague premonition. If there is a neoliberal endgame, the great fact of widespread conspicuous consumption may come to matter less and less over time. I can’t quite fully articulate this, but throughout the global economy what has developed most rapidly within the context of the financialization of the total economy is a means of accruing wealth almost solely through the possession of wealth: debt products, asset commodification of debts (e.g. bundling mortgages and selling shares in the pool), insurance schemes which function in all practical terms as bets, high speed trading, stock buybacks, etc. Through a number of disparate means, rents are extracted from the whole economy, and the process of doing so is becoming increasing algorithmic/automated. This is not a new idea, i.e. rents of various kinds, what I have yet to see anyone articulate is how the extraction of wealth in this manner seems to completely sidestep the old logic of make something–>sell it for more than you made it–>profit, i.e. old school consumer capitalism.
Which is why I ended on the point that how the patricians go after wealth nowadays may be designed, if accidentally, to completely ignore and potentially sequester anything the plebs might do to influence modern wealth extraction. The wealthy may be trying to find a way to quarantine the revolution rather than abate it…. maybe.
Although it is commonly believed human desires are unlimited, I remain skeptical of that. I cannot believe there is not a point where even the most avaricious, gluttonous and acquisitive of humans can use can desire no more. So, what motivates the quest for a second million, or billion to bank? It cannot be about consumption. Consumption is just a perk along the way. I believe it is about power and the ability to control the lives of others — to use them, use and direct their time, their efforts and energies, their skills and gifts even to discard them like so much waste — to use other people to increase the reach of your power and control. What is insatiable, in some humans, is this lust for power.
All talk of efficiency, growth of profits, growth of market share is but smoke. To see your beliefs incarnated in the world drives the forces crushing growth today even as growth is held up as the shining value drawing eyes away from the true motives.
I also believe the greatest part of humanity has modest desires for friends, a warm home to bring to, a full larder, good health, a mate and perhaps a family who might share in this same modest good life in their future. To these simple wishes I would add, for myself, a measure of wisdom, the ability and desire to grow my knowledge, a true interest in something and/or an urge to create and the skills to execute that creation.
Maybe the turn toward rents you identified may save the planet yet. The growth of bank accounts uses little of the world’s resources. Crushing even the most modest desires of the many can put a lid on growth. So maybe there is a happy ending to our story. A very lucky few can enjoy great comfort and exercise control to their heart’s delight. They can count the growing zeros behind their accounts as misers once counted their gold coins. The rest of humanity can suffer in poverty, ignorance and mindless drudgery through their mercifully short but miserable lives. Civilization, such as it will become, will be saved and the Earth can slowly recover over the hundreds of thousands of years
[I think I’m in a bad mood today.]
I’ve often thought along similar lines. I’m a member of the vast labor pool in manufacturing that has been nearly destroyed over the last 30 years. My observation of the CxO’s that I’ve known, mostly multi-millionaires, is that they are hyper-competitive. They like to win at all costs, especially if those costs can be off-loaded onto society in some way. It has little to do with power, or satisfying their own desires and avarice.
Its just about winning. Every CxO that I’ve known, and every one that I’ve read, has said, “If the rules don’t explicitly disallow x, then I have to assume x is legal and assume that the competition is doing x.” The take it brutally hard on themselves when they don’t win every time, everything in sight.
These are the ones whom our society has rewarded for their “success” and they are the ones who own our government, via lobbyists, contributions, and regulatory capture. They influence the laws and regulations in order to make it easier to win.
Its all about winning, the law of the supposed jungle, etc. Its easy to see how and why society suffers badly under this style of thinking.
Well, you are Grim!
An excellent, concise distinction. What remains the same, however, is that the majority of the population is exploited by a minority via a nefarious, (unsustainable?) corrupt relationship between state and business or finance.
What is at least seemingly new – and significantly so – in this depressing and frightening arrangement is two fold; 1) the acquiescence mentioned in the post, and 2) the technological and psychological advances in control mechanisms as well as the sheer scale of these mechanisms in the form of national and international projects as described in the post (but add in the MSM which perhaps didn’t get sufficient emphasis in this article).
In another thread this phenomenon was described (my version from memory) as a particularly inauspicious meeting up of technology with oligarchy, but in it’s current form, the two are inextricable.
I don’t see half the concern about control in the neoliberal world system that was attributed to fascist states. You don’t see the Gestapo or the brownshirts shutting this conversation down, do you? Rather, corporate power monopolizes government power so it can play a numbers game, keeping everyone poor and dependent so that we will all stay out of the way of the Important People’s pretend accumulation of “wealth” in a world close to ecosystems exhaustion.
One of the things NC asked us a few years ago was how we felt about drone technology. At that time I said, well, I’m conflicted because on one hand it means that American GIs won’t be put in harm’s way… but on the other hand it means that America will engage in a lot of useless warfare. In this way: It takes troops (that’s us and our kids) to hold ground. Holding ground is what war is for. We can do all sorts of other warfare (like financial war) without troops; but actual, old-fashioned war, requires arm-to-arm confrontations. So as Obe Wan Knobe said: there is nothing to see here. Because the warfare is against the warriors. There is no way for the USA to fight its way out of this stagnation. Except to impose draconian government on anyone who wants more than their fair share – except for the corporations and banksters (of course – that now goes without saying). Time was when “fascism” mobilized a nation of patriots to fight for a better life and a better way of life. So we can kiss that goodbye, unless there is serious international dedication to save the planet, which I doubt. But be careful because those in power will certainly try to convince you there is. We need an International Verification Agency. An honest one. Which I also doubt is currently possible because nobody, no government, has challenged TEPCO’s nonsense about Fukushima.
War was once for “holding ground,” but nowadays war is about the transfer of money from banks to military corporations. So they spent $1 or $2 trillion to fight a war in Iraq during the Zeros. By no criterion of “holding ground” can you say they got their money’s worth.
I think enormous amounts of energy and concern are extended on control. In scale and scope it is beyond anything 1984 described. It’s also a good deal more sophisticated than it was 70 years ago and knows that shutting down sites like this is both unnecessary and counterproductive. Lack of paranoia -that type of concern– is not a good measure of the perceived value of control; the amount of money spent on spying on US citizens would be better but still far from adequate.
That doesn’t obviate your point about the numbers game and the monopolization of government power by the corporate world. Rather it makes it possible, smoother, more acquiescent , less prone to unanticipated adjustments.
The extent of control will become more clear when one wonders if that approaching drone is a package from Amazon or a potent wedding kiss from Uncle Sam.
Every Amazon-drone package delivery presents an opportunity to net a drone to hack for better uses.
As someone who teaches rhetoric and composition to college students, I can say without a doubt that all of the various forms of “messaging” that exist nowadays, be it advertising or agitprop (most Hollywood action films fit in this category) or public relations or government press offices (gawker is doing a really interesting job of documenting the White House pool texts), are far more sophisticated than anything a 20th century fascist propaganda minister could have imagined. My students regularly vomit out this garbage as if it were their own deepest personal convictions and react rather strongly when I try to disabuse them of that notion. It’s not unlike psychoanalytic therapy. The messaging is so finely crafted, and they are so ill-equipped to handle the way it manipulates their desires, that there doesn’t need to be any censorship. They are force fed a perfectly plausible narrative, so long as you don’t think about it too much, that bears all the hallmarks of factual reportage or “reality” but is anything but.
They perform their control more indirectly now, Bernays-style (from my very rough reading), but more, rather than less, effectively, maybe, than with the old-style direct intimidation methods. The American public has proven itself delightfully distractible. X-Boxes, NFL, SUV’s, a continual advertising blitz to make us desire and focus our consciousness on this dreck, and yes, we leave political affairs to our betters just as completely, if not more so, than the more directly (crudely?) intimidated populations of the 20th Century totalitarian states.
Not to mention all the other distractions. Jobs, advancing in careers, romance and relationships, raising kids, chores, hobbies, whatever company your supposed to boycott today, saving for retirement, exercise, relaxation. It’s enough to make anyone seem A.D.D..
I’d have to agree :
Characteristics Of Fascism
By Dr. Lawrence Britt
Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
4. Supremacy of the Military
5. Rampant Sexism
6. Controlled Mass Media
7. Obsession with National Security
8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
9. Corporate Power is Protected
10. Labor Power is Suppressed
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
14. Fraudulent Elections
This system of governance and societal organization has a name, and is relatively well studied: it is called Fascism, and we witness its 21st century version. It has all the defining features: from the flag worship and jingoism to the national exceptionalism and cultural superiority to the militarized economy and the perpetual war imperative (to keep the plunder flowing in). Again, as was the case from Nazi Germany to Francoist Spain, the big business ran/is running the show behind the scenes, and enabled the smooth functioning of the “criminal enterprise”; and again the big business was/is the main economic beneficiary of the world-wide scale looting – from cheap resources to slave or quasy-slave labour to the captive markets. We are witnessing a loose repeat of history; perhaps for the late capitalism there is no alternative but to transform in fascism.
“Late capitalism,” like “progressive,” assumes a teleology I’m not sure I’m willing to buy into.
The term “late capitalism” makes sense if you consider the ecological exhaustion of the present capitalist world system and the inability of said world system to devise some sort of new technological revolution to escape this ecological exhaustion.
Recent essays by Jason W. Moore dramatize the historical movement of capitalist world society toward the exhaustion of “cheap nature,” or in other words toward the exhaustion of reserves of cheap resources.
As for “fascism,” you are correct to assume that few governments in the world today (if any; Hungary may be the exception) merit such a word.
In past eras of capitalist history, industrial revolution periodically postponed the tendency to ecological exhaustion by decreasing the organic component of capital, thus to “discover” new cheap resource frontiers. In this era, on the other hand, technical innovation does not decrease the organic component of capital sufficiently to postpone ecological exhaustion (otherwise we would have seen the post-oil era at least a decade ago, and food would be cheaper than it is now), while capital has moved the main nexus of profitmaking out of production and into finance.
This is why I think “late capitalism” fits. Eventually the capitalist system, absent some technical miracles, will shrivel up and die, possibly to be replaced by something worse.
Surely the term “late” assumes what it is supposed to prove or describe?
I think the term “late capitalism” is apt if one concedes that the current paradigm does not have much (fossil) fuel left in the tank…
Indeed. Someone living in the fifth century AD and seeing the ongoing collapse around him/her, might be inclined to declare her/himself living in the “Late Roman Empire”…except the eastern half hung around for another 1000 years.
Early, Middle and Late are all designations that can only be applied in hindsight–or at least it seems to me. Seeing as how we’re still in the midst of the Capitalist system, designating the stage we’re in now as “Late” seems…well…a little optimistic.
It seems to me that it would make more sense to characterize the age with, oh, something to do with how the productive forces are organized, rather than imputing a life-cycle to history. Maybe “extractive” if not “late.” Not sure.
The cannibalistic stage of Capitalism.
1) Arguably capitalism is by definition extractive. Capitalists regard both society and nature as “free gifts,” from which they extract a) surplus value and b) commodities, which together constitute what Marx called “value.” In the fourth chapter of Volume 1 of Karl Marx’s Capital this is what M-C-M’ is about: M is capital, and M’ is capital plus profits. So it has been that way from the beginning.
2) What distinguishes the current version of capitalism from all of the previous ones is that the technological and physical frontiers for capital expansion are closing. The current movement, by which capital expands by impoverishing the working class, is unsustainable over the long run. You did catch Tyler Durden’s list of charts?
So if you don’t like the term “late” to define “late capitalism” (as the term was popularized by Ernest Mandel in a book of the same name), you’ll have to find a substitute term which will be rather close to “late.” The Wikipedia entry has some options:
NB: I might add that the difference between today’s predictions of exhaustion and previous ones is the difference spelled out by Jason W. Moore, whose work I mentioned above. Capital’s implicit drive to exhaustion faces a world with a significantly smaller physical/ technological frontier than existed in 1837, 1929, or even 1973.
Now I suppose that some technological miracle might come along and grant capital the ability to generate new realms of resources out of nothing, but today (unlike in previous periods) the promise of such technological miracles is typically the province of hobbyists operating outside of the sphere of interest of capital. I have yet to hear of any breakthrough for, for instance, cold fusion.
But then, capitalism has always been about extraction, in one way or another…maybe “multi-national capitalism,” to indicate the trans-national character of today’s capitalist class, as compared to earlier periods…or maybe “post-nationalist”?
Nation-states still matter, of course — they have to be recruited, periodically, to enforce the conformist politico-economic order against people who would say or do otherwise. See e.g. the Troika vs. Greece…
But aren’t some of these same assumptions implicit in the use of terms such as “neo”liberalism? Yet are we not still in the midst of the age of liberalism even if it is transforming into something else as we speak? I know I’m missing something here; I simply rejoice in letting others know that as well…
My vote (see, votes do still matter!) for the proper name for the American system is Malignant Empire. As in Death Star orbiting over the rest of the planet, supplying 85% of the world arms trade, the dominant model of bankster globalization, and the most ecologically destructive economic organization.
It makes sense to say that social systems – like capitalism, or the US, for that matter – go through an organism-like arc of growth and decay. It’s one of the chief lessons of history – and the gist of the Archdruid’s message.
I don’t think this is true. There are aspects of the current regime — the financialization of everything, for example — that have no precedent in the fascist regimes of the 20th Century. (And I don’t think the issue is technological; the Stasi, for example, carried on its pervasive surveillance using a paper-based system.)
This is not a quibble. Know your enemy!
I think this is true – applying terms like ‘fascism’ to a State may feel satisfying, but its not particularly helpful in understanding how it works.
I think its much better to recognise simply that weaknesses in the democratic systems in many, if not most, western countries are simply becoming more obvious as the rich and powerful slowly, and apparently inevitably, twist the system in their favour. The history of almost any country you care to think of can be seen as representing the power of the richest element in society in conflict with other, weaker elements for control of that societies resources. Whether its the landowning elite of the Roman Empire, the Iron and Railroad magnates of 19th Century America, or the warrior elites of feudal societies, they gradually increase power until something – political upheaval or war, sets them back and another element – maybe merchants, or the bourgeoisie, or urban middle classes, find an opportunity to seize more power.
In western democratic societies today, we’ve seen a 30 year long process whereby a business elite has gradually set back the great progress made in the post-war era. This will continue to happen, until either a catastrophe sets the elite back, or the majority manage to grab back power. It should be in everyones interest to see that the second option is the one that occurs (for anyone who wishes a cleansing catastrophe, please do read some history, they are never neat and tidy or without appalling human consequences).
There is hardly anything democratic in the “western democratic societies” today – universal suffrage is conflated with and exploited for propaganda purposes as defining feature of the democracy when in fact it is not. What democracy could we speak about when voting does not influence or shape policy; when voting citizens have no direct control over their representative; and when the voting citizens are prevented from participating in governance which is left to professional players ? To cite loosely Hobsbawm, the ruling class embraced the universal suffrage and mass politics when mastered to make democracy ineffectual.
It is unrealistic, not to say absurd, to expect 100% repetition of the fascism as it was in the 1920s/30s.
I don’t recall having set “100% repetition” as a baseline. One very obvious difference is the absence of a Hitler or a Mussolini. Perhaps people are “working toward the market” instead of the fuhrer. If so, that makes politics and hence the political economy quite different. I also don’t see anything like the trauma of World War I (at least in this country). I think we need to separate fascism from the techniques used by fascism in power, techniques that are broadly available to any ruling class (in power).
Whatever else is Obama, with his corporate friendly actions and gunboat diplomacy?
Alternating puppet and punching bag by turns. If I thought he could ever write a book critical of his experience, inclusive of his role in it, I would read it. But probably that will never happen.
Ahh, terminology. It’s an interminable subject. Personally, I prefer “fascism” because it’s familiar and clearly negative. Granted, it’s also vague and much misused. In practice, it means right-wing authoritarianism, which, in practice, also means corporate control of government. I don’t think there’s any real question whether that’s what we’re dealing with. The details of, say, Italian practice are beside the point. You don’t need black-shirted thugs when you have the police (in black shirts and jackboots!)
OTOH, no one knows what “inverted totalitarianism” means, or especialy wants to find out. even if it’s a much more precise term.
Incidentally: do you kn.ow that Mussolini Fascism was NOT heavily financialized? I don’t.
We always need the ability to describe the various subsystems and particular abuses we’re confronted with, so there’s plenty of room for precise terminology. But I’m against re-inventing the wheel. It causes confusion and needless contention.
I agree with that. If we get too eggheaded we run the risk of coming up with another term like neo-liberalism, which when you try and use in a sound bite or headline for the masses, it immediately conjures the wrong image in the masses. Like it’s another thing Fox News doesn’t like. Then you have to somehow grab the mainstream’s attention span long enough to explain it’s origin.
But something like neo-facism may work.- the neo signifying some new twist for it. After setting the hook in the minds of the audience, you can then discuss the details in more depth. Neo is certainly becoming cliché, but we can put up with it if we have to.
“Neo-liberalism” (economic policy) and “neo-conservative” (aggressive, pro-Israel foreign policy) are examples of sub-systems that we’ll need to name.
The issue is not terminological but conceptual. If (Mussolini, Hitler, Franco) the charismatic leader is a key systemic feature, and a frail state + national trauma is an important criterion for fascism’s emergence (Mussolini, Hitler) then fascism, as a concept is wrong.
The term ‘fascism’ is not a good description of the current American regime. What you have in the US today is more akin to a classic Latin American dictatorship. Mussolini and Hitler needed bodies, for factory work & the front. Look at the importance of the body & body politic in Leni Riefenstahl films, the introduction of national health care schemes, pro-procreative propaganda etc. America’s oligarchs don’t need you. Their message to America is basically “fuck you”.
People throw around the term “fascist” so often it has lost all meaning. While you can draw parallels, I’d agree that whatever beast late-era neoliberalism has turned into deserves a new term. We need to stop viewing everything through the prism of early 20th century Europe. I’d go so far as to say this itself is part of the problem. Historical analogies are one thing, but it’s best not to get too bogged down in viewing everything as vulgar repetition.
Engelhardt’s and Lambert’s skittishness around the word “fascism” is characteristic of progressives who fear appearing “unreasonable” — the ultimate fear of genteel progressives everywhere (Lambert’s namesake being the most genteel, discreet, and proper of all literary creations). Cognitively-captured, they have have thus expunged an extremely powerful word from their rhetorical toolbox.
Notice how often rightwingers call Obama a communist? The rightwing clowns know, mostly, that Obama isn’t really a pinko, but calling him one manipulates the Overton window, brings his supporters under suspicion, and puts him on the defensive. It’s an effective rhetorical tactic.
We all know that the current regime doesn’t look like Mussolini’s (let alone Hitler’s). but Britt’s 14 characteristics of fascism TedWa cites above shows how close we really are.
So, let’s say that we have a neo-liberal variant of fascism. A kinder, gentler fascism, but a variant of fascism nevertheless.
Let’s not tiptoe around using a very loaded word which can help favorably manipulate the Overton window, create tension between the financial/corporate/military elites and their patriotic rank and file, and compel the corporatocracy to explain why it isn’t fascist.
Or maybe we can just an article of several thousand words trying to explicate something that has already been defined by a very simple and powerful word.
You think it’s “skittish” to say an apple isn’t an orange? (See reasons elsewhere on the thread.) Seems odd.
“Simple,” I agree. I think it’s important to know your enemy. Your mileage varies.
— Benito Mussolini
Mussolini invented fascism so I think it’s fair to say his own definition deserves some weight. If anyone wants to argue that we don’t see a merger of state and corporate power here in the 21st century they need to make that argument.
Maybe we could avoid any problems by simply replacing the “f-word” with “Mussolini-style corporatism,” as Yves did in this excellent post a little while back:
So where’s Mussolini?
classic Fascism only really applies to Italy and Portugal. Hitler professed to admire it so much but only vaguely applied a few bits of its formula in Germany. Franco actively suppressed Spain’s fascist party and set up a military dictatorship. Poland was run by a clique of military officers that ‘guided’ democracy. You can’t talk about any real Fascism after 1945 except Portugal. There it kinda did its thing until the cost of maintaining gigantic colonies in Africa became too obviously unbearable and would have brought down any government.
We have elements of fascism, but you could say they’re just tools that are deployed by any authoritarian state. Our state is captured by a different combination of authoritarians than those of Italy, &c.
Is your question directed at me, or at Yves who has on many occasions chosen to depict 21st century R and Ds, in our current system as “Mussolini-style corporatists?”
Mussolini of course is dead. So is Julius Caesar. So is Boss Tweed, so what? There is never a precise correspondence between one historical situation and another.
If you feel more comfortable denouncing “inverted totalitarianism,” rather than neofascism, more power to you!!
— President Franklin D. Roosevelt
I would submit that the recently passed Cromnibus legislation, actually partly written by Citigroup, suggests that we Americans have tolerated the growth of private power to a point where we do not have representative government that reflects the priorities of most people. We do have government that enforces corporate power over our lives. What you choose to call that system, is of course, up to you!
A 767 is vastly different from what the Wright Bros flew, but they’re both planes.
Green and red look very different, but they’re both colors.
Your obsession for an elusive taxonomic purity of questionable utility outside academia prevents you from recognizing systemic relations, from seeing a bigger picture.
The exact mechanisms and details are different, but the current regime is sufficiently similar to “classical” fascism that the appellation is warranted. Plus, it’s a great word, and rightwingers hate being called fascists. Watching fascists squirm is reason enough for calling them fascists.
“Neo-fascism” works for me…
Okay, let’s say I play your game and label this system “fascist” or “neo-fascist.” What does that even mean? What insight does this offer? Is it because you’re nostalgic for the days when the political enemies were so clearly defined? When you could clearly point to someone and call them the “bad guys?” Is it because fascism made it that much easier to wallpaper over the flaws in the US political system, much in the same way that the USSR got to play boogieman for several decades? I could point out the obvious differences, such as the paramount importance of nationalism in fascist politics and that neoliberal capitalism is a truly international phenomenon, but I don’t think that’s what this is about…….at all.
Also, why do you assume it’s skittishness instead of fatigue with Goodwin’s Law and seeing nearly every political argument devolve into a discussion on who resembles Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini more? It’s lazy, and you aren’t saying anything interesting or worthwile.
Feels like the Euro-Greek dance.
It’s called oligarchy.
Chris Hedges: “And I think part of what we’re seeing with the security and surveillance state is a preparation for that backlash–the destruction of civil liberties, which has been brutal, the wholesale surveillance and monitoring of, you know, virtually every American citizen, which I think many of us suspected and Edward Snowden, through his disclosures to Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian, made, you know, palpably real. The National Defense Authorization Act. And I sued the president in the Southern District Court of New York, and I won. We’re now–the Obama administration has appealed it. But this permits the military to seize, arrest American citizens, strip them of due process, and hold them in military detention centers, including our offshore penal colonies in places like Guantanamo or Bagram. And when Judge Katherine Forrest wrote her 112-page opinion, which I think is worth reading, she actually brings up the plight of the 110,000 Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II and stripped of due process and said that this provision in the NDAA essentially allows the state to criminalize an entire group of people and lock them away without any legal redress. And they know what’s coming. The NSA has run all sorts of scenarios on economic collapse, and especially climate change. And they’re preparing.”
With 1/2 the population of the world’s greatest super power believing their god’s plan of suffering and punishment is upon us and this is the way it must be, that half electing politicians who will stop anything getting in the way, nothing will happen. As for the 1%, you can’t eat gold. The ones running things don’t know what to do. We.Are.Screwed.
How long before the apparatus is turned from controlling the masses (still a WIP) to extract wealth and power from “other” elites? People like to talk fascism, inverted totalitarianism, Nazi Germany, etc. I tend to think of the Roman Republic. Maybe 9/11 is our Julius Casaer moment and now we have the lull while the triumvirate builds their forces before they start their in-fighting and we move from oligarchy to autocratic empire (perhaps not the right turn of phrase here) with one ring to rule them all. And one ring will confiscate it all from those who oppose. If my impression of history is correct, Julius let his enemies live and liked to pretend that nothing much had changed, whereas Augustus extracted their wealth and simply eliminated them.
Maybe a few hundred years from now, we’ll have a new version of Shakespeare to write our eulogy speech. I come to bury America, not to praise him. And perhaps we’ll see that two dynasties (or 20 pick your numbers) will eventually dwindle to one before the next phase… assuming of course that the earth herself doesn’t just kick us all in the ass because she’s tired of our stupid games (thrones, leverage, whatever).
Part 1 – Elections
(If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)
This does boggle the mind. Plus, the Clintons haven’t even entered their second generation(yet). Queen Chelsea Victoria Clinton ? Why is her middle name Victoria? This sounds like an ancient conspiracy.
But first we have 2016 to focus on. “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,”
Yeah, hard to call. Considering that people have little reason to show up at the polls, the S&P500 will surely get the Delaware electorial college vote. But then there is not much news coverage on how the Forbes 400 will weigh in taking the electorial college votes in the other 49 states. But each of the Kochs will get at least two states – being in both the Forbes 400 and S&P500. Do the Koch Bros agree on a winning candidate? That could make a big difference. Maybe the MSM will interview them and ask that question.
she was conceived on a bench in Victoria (railroad) Station, London
The name for this “new American political system and way of governing” was given more than a decade ago:
“Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” is a must read.
My other comment done got ate.
I’ve come to see 9/11 as our Julius Casaer moment. Now is the calm before the storm. Soon the civil war will be borne as the elite factions struggle for power (note: not a revolution by the masses). Then we’ll have one ring to rule them all and the era of autocratic empire will be fierce as our Augustus eliminates his enemies and confiscates their wealth. Since history doesn’t really care about the masses and the role they may or may not have played, we just shouldn’t bother ourselves with the details which will affect us little people directly since the current attitude seems to be that the little people can’t do anything to change the trajectory. Of course there’s that pesky little being called Mother Nature, but if she rears her ugly head, we’ll tame her beast. And those masses who simply don’t know what’s good for them. Either way, it has the potential to be very ugly. I hope I’m wrong and there’s more to the visible path than meets the eye.(/sacm)
Part 2. The Privatization of the State
Some potential for abuses here. Consider that they privatize Post Office. The CIA or NSA (why are there two?) could use it as an “arms length, plausibly deniable” agent to deliver anthrax letters to terrorists and other undesirables, political dissenters, or anyone that can read and write.
Part 3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency
Hmm. This falls in the “silver lining sometimes found in dark clouds category”. I would think if we have a “do nothing” Congress, then Congressmen would only be qualified to run for Vice President. If “qualified” matters anymore.
4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government
I believe we still have much bureaucratic inefficiency to sort out here. Considering the S&P 500 does still compete amongst each other to a certain extent, it is understandably difficult for the police state to effectively take direction with so many conflicting priorities. Anyone* whom has worked under a “matrix management” organization knows how difficult it can be to deal with bickering masters, all with conflicting desires, and they all want 100% of your time, like right now. Same would be true satisfying the desires and solving the problems of the Fortune 400.
As we continue to merge the S&P500 and reduce competition amongst them, their mood may improve and they may be a little more pleasant for the police state to work for. I have no idea what to do about the Fortune 400 all wanting to be “Number One”.
*I mean an individual employee in this use of the term “anyone”.
But the name is “Deep State”. Hey I’m just kiddin’. I know that name is banned here. Don’t taze me bro. :-)
*Sigh*. Our objection is that the concept, as defined by its originator, is sloppy and internally inconsistent, and tends to be used in a talismanic manner. That impedes investigation and analysis.
See here for details:
Oh ok. I didn’t know there was a whole doctoral thesis on that term.
Whatever the case, the Disintegration of the US Govt structure as described in this article does deserve its own term. Excellent piece.
“Doctoral thesis.” Pro tip: Give up when you’ve lost.
In all seriousness, I am not trying to pick a fight. This link is how I have always viewed that term.
This is the first time I have seen the link Yves posted above. I got the message. Will not use the term here again. Peace.
Yeah, my reference point was the article by the same guy, Mike Lofgren. His article addressed the question ‘Why do some things never change in governance?’ from the point of view of someone who worked inside the federal bureaucracy. I don’t recall him referring to Scott at all. I personally found his understanding of the term ‘deep state’ to be intuitively plausible – that the financial, mic etc.,, manage to govern without our consent.
I am grateful to this thread for learning about Wolin’s Inverted Totalitarianism. I will definitely follow up on that.
Yeah, in the Mike Lofgren article I linked, he mentions a couple things that could be indicators of a turn around. But that article is a year old now and if anything the situation is worse. No turn around took place. And it is definitely more confirmation data points on what Tom Engelhardt describes here.
Inverted totalitarianism has some rigor to it. We have, right here in this thread, an example of the problems the term causes — it’s both virulently memetic, and ill-defined.
It’s also totally useless as a slogan. A thought experiment, imagine two signs at a protest march:
“Robert Rubin and the Koch’s are fascists!” (not entirely accurate, but more accurate than not; familiar to all, and emotionally-charged)
“Robert Rubin and the Koch’s are inverted totalitarians!” (perhaps accurate, but understood by few, and entirely bloodless in rhetorical effect)
I’m willing to sacrifice nitpicking taxonomic specificity to rhetorical effectiveness.
As above, you’re confusing terms with concepts. And people have been marching under the “Fascist” banner since the 60s at least.
So, it’s a two-fer: 1) Sloppy thinking and 2) #FAIL as rhetoric.
Are you sure you don’t want to rethink this?
Sloppy. I used that term for a reason.
5. The Demobilization of the American People
Yes, well, if Paul Revere needed to be concerned that his lantern signals would be picked up by a Predator drone, relayed to London by a Milstar satellite and decrypted by a supercomputer – the supercomputer determining friend or foe autonomously and returning the command to launch the Hellfire missile at Paul Revere’s computer recognized gonads, or at least somewhere close to it, we would still be a British Colony.
That’s one case in point. It is very Wizard of Oz to convince us all that the Stasi is gonna come for us. When we really can’t even agree what government should be doing? That means we don’t know what it is. Grief. When they throw the Koch brothers in jail I’m not gonna protest.
Unaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt our Finances, Freedom, and Security –
October 15, 2014
by Janine Wedel
Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters
Jul 5, 2013
by Andrew Kreig
Janine Wedel is terrific. “Flexian” is a really useful concept and more a more powerful concept than the “revolving door.”
Lambert, dipped into the new Wedel yet? It looks tempting.
Two works worth noting on topic here:
Andrew Kreig’s Presidential Puppetry…2013
and Janine Wedel’s Unaccountable: How Elite Power corrupts…
Indeed, well said.
A minor quibble: while money is important in political campaigns, it is no longer the true ‘arm of decision.’ That lies with the corporate press, and it is far more important than mere campaign cash.
Suppose you are running a campaign and you have a million dollars in cash, you buy a few ads. Your opponent has half a million, but the big money is on his side. So you are mostly ignored in the press, or mentioned in passing as ‘quixotic’ or a joke. Something stupid that a supporter of yours said ten years ago gets big coverage: your opponents’ gaffes are ignored. You are constantly referred to as ‘far right’ or xenophobic or marxist or some other extremist epithet. Etc.etc. You can’t win. Nominally you have more campaign cash, but it would cost millions to buy the kind of one-sided press coverage that your opponent got. Remember that the mainstream press is completely scripted: journalists are not independent, and nothing gets out that is not vetted by the owners. To win, you need these owners to commit to you before you raise a single dollar…
Almost certainly correct but also almost impossible to prove. In Britain it is obvious, and to contest the reality of the phenomenon is ridiculous. But what is most frightening is that in a country like Britain where it is most obvious, it still works! Why do so many millions of people respond to the hysterical nonsense in the Daily Mail or the Telegraph or the Times like Pavlov’s dog? It’s terrifying to see how the people over there know the whole thing is staged and the politicos all bow before Murdock to get his blessing so they can get elected, yet they respond lemming-like when the press tells them that a Paddy Ashdowne or a Neil Kinnock is a commie out to scuttle the Royal Navy and turn the nation over to the krauts and the frogs. I just can’t wrap my head around it.
Seems like Protestant countries are especially prone to taking authority seriously. Might be time for a Liberation Theology reformation.
It’s less about big money supporting particular candidates than supporting a particular body of ideas and policies, and limiting the “legitimate” discussion to those. It’s what somebody once called “the great chain of opinion” that stretches from big money think-tanks to the pages of your local newspaper/TV news (or nowadays, well-known blogs). Nobody has to be explicitly vetted; people who fall outside the “legitimate” range are simply not taken seriously.
Right. The money doesn’t necessarily swing elections, but it sets the agenda.
We have that same power, to not take absentee authority seriously, and I wish more people would exercise it.
Tom, I wondered if you’d be willing to help me understand your own thinking about leftist opposition to Obama and the Democratic party. During the run up to the 2012 elections, you were part of a group of big-name left wing people who told us that we needed to vote for Obama and the Democrats lest evil Republicans get into power and do some real damage. You were a part of the group which helped to actively silence dissent of those who spoke out against the real damage being done by Obama and the Democratic party. Why did you do that?
You are writing about what is going wrong in American politics and society. To my mind, part of what is going wrong is that left wing luminaries such as you self are instrumental in silencing those of us who did not buy the very order which you now decry. We wrote about this a long time ago. When we spoke, we were told to shut up. What gives with that? I see left wing luminaries shutting down dissent as a real part of the problem. Do you?
I’m curious to see what sort of reply you get to this. I have noticed that when pushed, even now there is still a fair amount of residual support for the Democratic leadership lest we help the evil Republicans, as if they aren’t part of the same system.
The Gore vs. Bush election was probably the last real choice within the two party system before the changes of the 1990s were cemented, and the half-heartedness with which the Democrats answered the Republican tactics spoke volumes – especially in contrast to the extreme passion they showed in going after Nader supporters.
It’s a very legitimate question deserving of an answer, but I think there is an implicit one in the post itself, “Better late than never”, that does not include support – even when pushed – for Democratic leadership or the Vichy Left. The last paragraph in particular focuses on the newness of the phenomenon; what is taking place (being born) is not a variant of politics as usual, and forgivable or not, the implication is that it is something Engelhardt did not identify previously. And one he gives little space for excuse.
Nevertheless, I too would be curious as to Englehardt’s own response. After all, it’s not simply a matter of eating a little crow. As Jill points out, people such as Englehardt have a significant influence over what counts for serious discussion.
There are quite a number of “luminaries” (Firedoglake has been fertile ground for such) that could use a good dose of this and similar questions but it’s important to remember that at least some of them would have legitimate or at least reasonable responses and I would include among those, “to err is human.”
Ditto Jills’ comment from me too, Tom.
I’ve called you out on this before with nary a comment from you. You continue to use passive voice, as if to maintain plausible deniability and position, in the face of our clearly distressingly worsening conditions. If this is meant to encourage debate, please post your preferred forum. Otherwise, now that you use actual numbers to clarify the permitted talking points, I name you as the gatekeeper which you continue to act.
I voted for Obama in 2008 and again in 2012.
Remember the story of Pandora’s box. It was a box full of Evil things. …Though she shut the box as fast as she could the only thing that remained in the box was Hope. Some of us hold on to Hope for too long. Hope is an Evil thing like the other denizens in Pandora’s box.
I hope you sent this to Engelhardt at his own site; he won’t see it here. And I, too, would very much like to see his response. If you get one, please post it here – or send it to NC to post.
In general, I see him as an excellent journalist but not really a political thinker. Note that he draws no conclusions in the above article; he seems genuinely puzzled.
I did this and said I’d post his answer here with his permission.
I also sent it to him; he denies it completely – says he didn’t tell anyone to vote for Obama, at least not on TomDispatch.
Leaving his position as ambiguous as the above post indicates.
This is from a cross post with tomdispatch: After describing all the wars the US had recently engaged in Tom writes: “If Barack Obama, the man who got Bin Laden, is reelected, nothing of significance is likely to change in this regard. If Mitt Romney wins, the process is likely to accelerate, possibly moving from global misfire, failure, and obsession to extreme global fantasy, with consequences — from Iran to Russia to China — difficult now to imagine. ”
Yes, evil Republicans will make things much worse. War with Russia under Obama? No way. Only Romney would be that crazy!
I wondered at the time why people claimed to see such a difference in their policies. Obvious, of course: pure partisan wishful thinking.
As I said, I think Tom is more of a reporter than a political thinker – although this piece is genuinely thoughtful.
I think he is a propagandist. The piece I linked to above was well researched regarding Obama’s many wars of empire and their failures. However, like the piece presented here, it was often written in the passive voice, as if things just sort of happened.
After a long list of atrocities, Tom trots out-He got Bin Laden!, evidently as a war trophy. USA, USA, USA! This isn’t good reporting.
We don’t have much of an idea who was killed that day. Apparently, it was an old man sitting on an porta potty. The assurance that it was Bin Laden is via the report of USGinc with no outside, independent varification.
If you’re able to report a long list of atrocities, then recommend the person committing those atrocities for president, something is horribly wrong. As an alternative, as long as you’re recommending, why not recommend Jill Stein? She committed no atrocities and wanted to get us out of the empire/warmongering business. Neither Romney nor Obama wanted to do those things and Obama was the candidate who had already committed multiple atrocities.
To my mind this is a sophisticated form of propaganda aimed at a certain segment of the population,– people who have a conscience and thus had real doubts about voting for Obama. Those people had to be brought back into the voter fold and people like Tom did that work.
This isn’t to say this piece doesn’t make good points just as there was good reporting in the piece I linked to. Both make many good points. It’s all what you do with the information, how you present it (passive voice), and what you won’t say. In the piece I linked to a person of conscience would not list atrocities and then say, vote for this guy. They would stick with the report.
I’d like an honest answer to my original question.
Enjoyed the read. What is most important for me out of this process is that it has been a long, slow, methodical path. This isn’t something new. Whatever name exactly we call the Post-Bretton Woods system, it collapsed two decades ago now, give or take.
Perhaps financialization of everything comes after capitalism corrupts democratic institutions which then collapse: the Age of Financialization has touches of neo-liberalism and fascism also. But we need a one-word description to define the whole long process. (Maybe Rubinomics!)
In speaking aloud the phrase “rise of the .01%” one could say “rise of the oh-one percent,” which has a certain dog whistle quality and could be effective for the left, when there is one.
But “Inverted Totalitarianism” wins my vote.
But picture seeing on the news a group of protesters waving cardboard signs saying “Inverted Totalitarianism”.
Would you be for it or against it? Does it sound too geeky to even care?
‘Course you can write the book title like this:
Neo Facism: Inverted Totalitarianism in the 21st Century
Well if it’s inverted does that mean it’s the reverse of totalitarianism? That sounds good. Totalitarianism is bad, down with totalitarianism! What do we want? For the totalitarianism to be inverted! Down with totalitarianism! When do we want it: Now!
1. to turn upside down.
2. to reverse in position, order, direction, or relationship.
3. to turn or change to the opposite or contrary, as in nature, bearing, or effect.
But that’s the problem with a term that may make sense when definitd by a particular book etc. but makes almost no sense from trying to parse the English language alone, if you don’t’ get the reference.
You’re probably right that “inverted totalitarianism” is not a very catchy slogan. But surely there are other ways for a book to be useful.
If you read Wolin’s book you’ll find that he has good reasons for calling contemporary American totalitarianism “inverted”. It’s an excellent analysis of American power well worth a read.
As for Harper, Lo and behold, he saw the makings of the neoliberal state to the South and said: We should emulate that. And he did and continues to do so.
I think he read Britt’s Fourteen Defining Characteristics Of Fascism.
Seems to me only money and privilege can get any measure of popular traction; politics/media have shredded the power/credibility of ideas and principles as unifying forces.
I agree that: “politics/media have shredded the power/credibility of ideas and principles as unifying forces”. Heavy hitters on the left defended Obama long after Obama declared his right to kill any person anywhere in the world, screw due process and the Constitution. Obama had even bragged about killing a 16 year old boy, kept torture alive in Gitmo and other blacksites while left wing media still promoted him as a great guy. That is unfathomable to me.
The right wing similarly went (still go) after their critics of endless war and world surveillance (to name two atrocities). But I am hoping that enough people are fed up by such soulless, paid off, unprincipled people in politics and the media that there is going to be room for the authentic voice of people with real principles to flourish.
I am less hopeful. To me, Hillary’s coronation looks inevitable and assuming that does indeed come to pass says a depressing amount about how many people are “fed up by such soulless, paid off, unprincipled people in politics and the media…”
Makes me wonder why the price of oil has been so tweaked. Is it because we will all soon forget about global warming and peak oil if oil is just cheap enough to drive our SUVs and print our glossy magazines? Maybe. But our short attention span will not last long. Because it is short. Long before the lifespan of Saudi oil fields has sputtered out we will realize we’ve been had. If it happens in time to save the atmosphere we’ll all be in luck. Because, yes there is an alternative. It is more in balance with a finite, mechanical planet. It’s called manpower.
You are spot on. This is where it is happening right now; damage to the environment and the consequences dwarf everything else, but like Russian motorists and pedestrians engaged in clobbering each other when the meteorite whizzed overhead, we are too busy and jaded to notice.
There may be an alternative to extinction or perhaps even massive catastrophe. I hope so, but there is no longer an alternative to significant harm and suffering, only questions about exactly when, how and how much. Hillary will almost certainly be tucked away somewhere, perhaps in some cryronic vat for safe keeping; snort!, that probably wouldn’t work out too well…
I was walking by the magazine section at local mega-grocery store and my eyes caught the Hillary cover of Time, I quickly noticed the little “devil horns” on top of her head formed by blue background etc. I guess I wasn’t the only one who noticed.
An event! One of the first times Time has published anything meaningful in 40 years.
Nominating Hillary Clinton would be the best thing anyone could do for the Green Party. It would prove, once and for all, what a lost cause the DP is. Nominating Jeb Bush would be icing on the cake.
Which doesn’t mean it would be a good thing for the country; I think it would be a disaster. I just hope it would be a productive one.
Of course, one implication of Tom’s thesis is that it may well be too late for electoral approaches. I think we need to find out, certainly before we give up on the only peaceful way of overturning a regime.
Yes, the question, “when is it time to walk away?” haunts this entire discussion. I was re-reading a wonderful collection of essays on the collapse of the Confederacy last night and the theme that recurs throughout is knowing when to fold. Wars so often go on long after the issue is decided that it is obvious that people with a vested interest in an outcome will cling so tenaciously to the hope that “something will turn up” that they miss the best chance for seeking terms short of complete capitulation. Small businessmen do the same thing–sinking more and more money into a failed enterprise and destroying themselves financially in the hope that somehow things will turn around. As humans, we fixate on the one time in ten, or twenty, or fifty, that holding out led to success, and ignore the nine or nineteen or forty-nine times it did not. Likewise, we have so much riding on the continued viability of electoral politics that it will be almost impossible for most of us to give up on it even as it proves to be more and more a chimera. The alternative is just too bleak to embrace.
Depends on how attached you are to the “current” fineries of the permanent regime. On the other hand, I don’t think giving them a glaring warning shot is strategically beneficial to us.
You may be right Brooklin Bridge. And here’s another thing besides massive propaganda getting people to vote stupid, that can go horribly wrong. Because there are a large number of people who are fed up with liars, paid hacks and soulless “leaders” of one form or another, it is possible that we could have another person, who like Obama did, comes along pretending to be a savior.
We have to guard against looking for a savior. If we understand what can go wrong, and how it looks when it goes wrong we have a chance to stop this from happening. Authentic voice is always accompanied by authentic action. This time, too, we can stop letting self appointed saviors be our “leaders”. Much needs to be done. It will take the work of many, many people, not to get a savior elected, but to do actual work on behalf of other people and this planet.
The Constitution has be deregulated (notice passive voice).
I guess I watch too many movies. I view our situation as if we are living in a real-life Sci-Fi movie like “The Blob” except its a widespread infestation of creatures like the Blob:
The creatures in our movie call themselves Corporations. They are a new lifeform which slowly evolved from human organizations, business enterprises. Unlike the Blob they don’t dissolve human flesh. Corporations use humans to achieve their purpose. They have become an infection in another human organization, the State. The State is another new lifeform which slowly evolved from a different kind of human organization — governments — called nations when they reach a certain size. States too use humans to achieve their purpose.
To grow is the purpose driving Corporations and States. Their relationship has evolved to a strange symbioses. The State helps Corporations grow and Corporations help the State grow. Neither Corporations nor States are aware of or care about humans. We are but one of the materials both use.
Corporations and States have evolved more and more effective ways to control how they use humans. Humans are a reactive material, unstable when used improperly.
Some humans have become symbionts and some parasites in Corporations or the State. Like the Corporations and the State these human symbionts and parasites use other humans like materials for crafting their purpose.
We are living in the time of the Singularity. But it is not the Singularity of Artificial Intelligence. Neither the Corporation nor the State are intelligent lifeforms. They will consume and grow until nothing is left. We will die with them.
Now is the time of the Apocalypse — but there will be no second coming. This is a slow moving Apocalypse almost invisible on the human scale of time. The end comes like shutting the lights room by room in a great house. So we go not with a bang, nor even a whimper.
I think this is a very sad movie. But I am only human.
This is one horror movie the many would benefit greatly from watching even if “waking up” to what’s happening doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
And yet, Tom is still a Democrat (last we heard). Go Figure.
Overall, there’s a remarkable reluctance, even here, to call this “new” system what it is: Fascism, American style.
And incidentally, Move to Amend is now calling for a constitutional convention to end corporate personhood and the equation of money with speech. There’s a “Memorandum,” HJM 4, working its way through the Oregon Legislature to that effect. A high-risk strategy, but I agree that it’s time.
And figure this:
“. . . The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted. An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications. . .”
I’m sorry, Tom; this doesn’t pass the smell test. Most striking? Gee, I’d say most striking was Mz. Clinton’s support for warmongering across the globe – her ditty in response to the horrible demise of Khaddaffi is hard to obliterate, but you did give obfuscation the old college try.
Not true. Warmongering is a constant, has been as far back as you look. Privatizing government records, as Clinton breathtakingly did, is not unique to Clinton, but is modern.
Can’t have the masses get too educated, they might take over and see us as the kleptocrats we are and take away our power. Orwell nailed it. The 14 defining features of fascism by Dr. Laurence Britt certainly fits very well but Wolens inverted totalitarianism wraps it all up in my opinion. I keep asking myself, how did we get here? Certainly the Federal Reserve and Obama bailing out the banksters with no strings attached and no punishment going forward. Obama sees passing of the TPP and TTIP as his crowning achievements, but what it means to us mere mortals is the end of democracy and life as we knew it and as the world knew. For the better? God’s will? So many questions and so few answers.
I have a suspicion that energy has been the issue these past two decades and will be explicitly so in the coming decades. A timely article on the subject from Jacobin.
Capitalism was “saved” in the 30s by political reforms and concessions by and from the old money of the United States. These ultimately were derived from the hard fought battles of socialists and unions in the decades prior. Post WWII was a time where a fantasy level expansion of the USA economy was possible. Unfortunately, that was made the benchmark for the rest of the world. All of it built on oil. Political movements today need to limit global expectations of “growth” while simultaneously balancing the economic scales. A seemingly Sisyphean task. I’m optimistic there is still time to subsidize our transition to an economic equity and economic sustainability with fossil fuels, but the window is closing.
The “greenhouse effect” has been around, and among people well-versed in math and science, for a long time. It’s name is due to Joseph Fourier, widely known among engineers and other users of applied math for his descriptions of waves, heat phenomena, and the like, who described the idea in 1924.
I also note with interest that as far back as 1917, Alexander Graham Bell was advocating for the use of alternative energy sources instead of carbon, per the same article.
The takeover by the transnational elite is real. The consequences can be felt in all our lives.
Human beings need to name things and to gather together in tribes. The atomization of American society and control of information makes naming of the New World Order impossible. “Fascist” is too dated and implies state power and control. Today it is the exact opposite. Control is in the multinational corporate headquarters, with NGOs and by extra-sovereign institutions like the Eurozone. Power lies with the thousand or so families that make up the 0.01%. They are Oligarchs. Politicians and their appointees are paid puppets. We the people are devolving into wage slaves, armed gangs, or joining theocratic religions to ascend to paradise. Without the names to illuminate the new reality, we have no inkling of what is happening to us.
Very well said!! What is unprecedented in human historical terms is the vast geographical reach, and power over billions of people, of this relatively tiny, transnational group of kleptocrats:
This is why we must do more than simply resist through building up grassroots, small local alternatives to the kleptocrat-dominated world. We need to establish far more connections between working people all over the world, capable of pushing for dramatic, radical change on a number of fronts– all at once.
After many bloody struggles a faction of what I’ll call the Power Elite, for want of a better term, began to embrace and slowly co-op the union movement as a means to dispel and control the random acts of wild-cat strikes and other forms of labor sabotage. They’ve either forgotten this or believe they no longer need fear uncontrolled labor actions. As I’ve pointed out before and as detailed in Barry Lynn’s two books “End of the Line” and “Cornered” today’s Industrial system has been carefully crafted to maximize profits. The resulting system is extremely fragile and easily disrupted by natural disasters and uncontrolled political events overseas [domestic politics is largely under firm control]. Our Power Elite built themselves a great house of cards.
One more difference between the Fascism of the 30s and what’s going on today, the transnational elite.
I know little of depth on the matter, however, I recall Kevin Phillips, outlining extensive ties between American Corporate and Banking Interests and the money, capital, and expertize providing means for Hitler to build-up Nazi Germany through the 1930s, in his book “American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush.” I don’t recall details beyond the mention of Brown and Root. I also recall though I’ve forgotten the source — wasn’t Sloan of General Motors instrumental in helping Germany with the Volkswagen which was cover for building the Panzer Tank? Phillips argued that Roosevelt opted to overlook these little peccadilloes because he felt the country needed these Corporate Elite to build up the American War Machine going into World War II.
I guess this was one early example of too big to prosecute. Along that same line of thought there seem to be a lot of peculiar odors hovering over the 1936 Coup allegations made by General Smedley Butler. I read a blog post suggesting Roosevelt opted not to go after the big players General Butler mentioned in return for their calling off opposition to his New Deal legislation.
Why would anyone not see the fascism of the thirties as having everything to do with the “transnational elite”?
A great book on the matter was by Charles Hingham, “the Nazi-american money plot 1933-1949”
I don’t see why people won’t call this day and age of “corporatism”; “fascism”. Fascism, is the correct term. Hitler, didn’t create the Nazi party. and the Nazi party were “national socialists”, not fascists. Moussolini, defined 20th century fascism with his corporatism quote..
The personalities were not integral to the definition of state and corporate inter-relationships. The persons were just the deciders of the whimsy of power.
what we have here, is fascism. and what was happening in the 30’s was all about a “transnational elite”.
before WWII, multinational corporations like ford,GM,ITT,IBM,chase bank,national city bank,standard oil,dupont companies, morgan syndicate members,rockefeller intrests, etc were all part of the anglo American establishment that ushered a life with hitler into being. Tey also saw the war coming and protected their wartime activities by setting up fronts like the bank of international settlements so as to recover profits made by war profiteering.
Hell, back then, international elites really were “related” to each other. look at the house of Windsor, and the associated cousins, or the cecil family.. then there are the fords,morgans,astors,duponts,rockefellers,rothschilds,etc.,. Throw in a Prescott bush, a George Herbert walker, Alfred sloan, and other minor scumbag members of the establishment, and you have the making of a government under attack by the same people who own its debt.
after all, carroll Quigley covered this time in detail, and in the 6 or so countries involved, as to how the three bloc world group(Anglo-American establishment) were pressuring chamberlain(a minor character to their heft) to concede to hitlers demands. while they had been building up stalin’s soviet union for a decade, after getting lenin in power in 1917, looking for the world to be run by three centers, America/britian; germany, russia..
These are the people who controlled the world at the beginning of the twentieth century, set-up for WWI, and created out central banking system, and was in the process of dividing the world between WWII.
Only To get nominal control after WWII. Who are now the establishment that runs our neo-liberal experiment, and have more to do with setting in motion all that is today, than anyone else,
Standard oil of new jersey sold more oil/gas to axis powers than to allied by changing ports to venezuala.
GM, had stockpiled hunreds of tons of special chemical components of its patented aviation fuel compunds in neutral countries so it could continue to sell them to the axis during the war. Ford continued to operate one plant for hitler in Germany during the war, claiming to do otherwise would degrade their investment. Then they also built a plant in Africa for Rommel troops. Tey also built a factory in Vichy france for Germany. A plant that was interestingly enough, bombed by the RAF, and destroyed. Which caused ford to sue for losses, and won after the war and was repatriated for their losses.For built over half of the Nazi’s heavy trucks during the war. ITT sold 50,000 artillery primers a month to Germany and furnished most of the Nazi communications network. IBM, came up with the “code” of numbers that was stamped onto the arms of concentration camp prisoners, (each number in the series denoting something about each prisoner/grouping), and also created the corresponding office equipment and forms to keep track of the inflow. Chase bank and national city bank were among others(like the union banking corporation being directed by Prescott bush until it was shut down and confiscated for trading with the enemy in 1942), that were routing payments through the bank of international settlements which was created to deal with wartime repatriations.
Then there were the foreign corporations like IG farben and others who were run by boards that contained American and other allied directors during the war. Obviously some people resorted to temporary proxies, as a way of saving face. etc,
But to pretend what is happening today doesn’t fit the “fascist”, bill of goods… is a bit small minded.
Are we believing that north korea is really a “democratic republic of north korea” too?, Just because it says so.
I am still trying to come to grips with a paradox described in Ira Katznelson’s book, Fear Itself. He writes about the state that emerged from the New Deal which paradoxically combined institutionalized racism and restrictions on civil liberties within the United States together with a program of crusading warfare against dictatorships abroad. What do you call a system that fights tyranny outside its borders while imposing tyranny inside its borders? A hypocracy? Whatever you call it, if Katznelson is right, this system is not new. It’s been in place for more than fifty years. What gives the system its stability?
Whatever it is, it may in some ways be worse than fascism: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Worse-Than-Fascism-20150204-0044.html
that’s an great essay
Not to worry. Now that he can’t pass the time of day through Congress, Obama just came out for mandatory voting like in Brazil. He’s fighting for us against the Oligarchs!
He just forgot to so it when he could have during his first 2 years when nothing could have stopped him.
Andre Vltchek.captures how it feels to live in our ‘inverted totalitarian’ society. Read along with Engelhardt’s piece and weep. Or do something about it. If you think of anything please tell me/us.
A new type of order is emerging and Tom does a pretty good job of sketching its rough outlines.
But what is really discouraging to me is the inability of the opposition here at NC to come up with a theoretical framework that comes anywhere close to capturing and explaining the emergence of this rough new beast.
In addition, most of the commetariat seem satisfied with some-kind of warmed over and outmoded neo-marxism as a solution or even more sadly a willingness to settle for some upgraded version of the old New Deal, when the coalitions which once made such a regime possible new longer exist in the 21st century.
Furthermore, from my perspective, the network connecting The Levy Institute, MMT theoreists and the apparent designated mass mobilization blog for this perspective, (Naked Capitalism) is beginning to read like a boring edition of Dissent magazine in 1968.
Social Democracy was already dead in 1900 and to try to resurrect it in 2015 is to ignore the ugly reality of a powerful national security State linked to Big Capital, Big Finance and Big Bank (Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury) which is in desperate need of dismantling not strengthening– as often implied as an appropriate solution– in much of MMT theorizing.
The sacred State must be dismantled along with sacred Big Capital.
There’s no evidence that small states are necessarily more egalitarian than large ones. In this world we need a state that’s big enough to tell the Soviets to get their missiles out of Cuba and George Wallace to get his ass out of the schoolhouse door. Large or small, the issue is whether states are governed by oligarchies or by genuine representatives of their citizens/democracy.
Well, but that’s the problem. The old Big Government has been hijacked by, we’ll say two, elite factional interests that we’ve been calling “neoliberals” and “neoconservatives,” representing a tiny sliver of the population. These have placed themselves above the old Big Government you think you know, both through the manipulation of the elected government and through the penetration of unelected bureaucracies (with little regard for Constitutional law), and have coalesced their interests around war profiteering, amplifying the inherent tendency to prey upon the populations of nations that both already have.
What’s happening in Ukraine is a good example of this coalition of interests, which has also the potential to be massively destabilizing to an already weakened and divided Europe, due in part to the involvement of Russia–which these nuts seem to be deliberately courting.** One can also get a good look at this in the later chapters of Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine,” dealing with Iraq and the destabilization of the middle east, some of which is also being exported to Europe through the reaction of small terrorist cells and some elements of a marginalized and irritated Muslim immigrant population.
It’s also a little simple to say that this is rule by the rich and by multinational corporations, which seek to loosen national laws and regulations in order to maximize their profit, thereby making them “anti-government.” We do have that. But here we are talking about war and security state corporations that are being substantially funded by the government to the extent that they could hardly exist without it, at the behest of neoliberal and neoconservative factions, with no input whatsoever from the allegedly self governing US citizenry who have been turned into targets by their activities. You’re just another foreign country to them.
This coalition of factional interests is what rules within the US government today, and this is what we’re trying to evaluate. In any case, the cure for this is probably not just sleepwalking into a new New Deal, and if you got one, you’d have to wonder what it would look like. What’s the difference between “inverted fascism” and fascism fascism? Mobilization of the population.
** It seems a little inaccurate to me to think that all they want is for Ukraine to pay off its loans, or to engage in an asset grab, if they’re also turning a not-good economy into a completely non-functional economy. Something similar could be said for Greece. Although with Greece, asset and land grab does look like the most likely end game. (Yeah, I’d like a nice house on the Mediterranean too).
If you are looking for a theoretical framework to capture and explain the “emergence of this rough new beast” you should look into some of the references cited above. Sheldon Wohlin’s book “Democracy Inc. Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” seems to be a good place to start. I have a copy but haven’t read it yet — it’s on my list. Phillip Mirikowski’s “Never Let a Serious Crisis Go To Waste” is another good reference. Mirikowski provides a detailed discussion and analysis of Neo-Liberalism. William Domhoff provides a detailed description of way our political systems work in his book “Who Rules America”. His earlier book “Who Really Rules? New Haven and Community Power Reexamined” describes how local politics works.
I have no doubt someone will step forward to correct me, but to my mind Marxism is a tool for analysis, a method of understanding and explaining, but offers no particular solution to speak of. Solutions were cobbled together after the Revolution — and there have been many — each attempting to correct for flaws noted in the society before the Revolution.
As for your contention those on this blog would settle for an upgraded version of the New Deal I plead guilty for myself. Though the basis for that world is long gone, it did offer a more equitable arrangement than the rough new beast. Yes it is a sad nostalgia. There were many things very wrong about the New Deal but it certainly is more attractive than the Neo-Liberal deal on offer. The coalitions which made the New Deal possible no longer exist but what coalitions do exist? We live in a fragmented society of individuals, with broken families whose members often spread across the reaches of this continent, and friendships made and lost with each move to a new job in a new part of the country. We live in a society of long solitary drives to fill cubicles where we deal with a keyboard and screen but few people, or of late, jobs sitting at a keyboard and screen on a desk in our living room making human contact by telephone and emails.
I never read “Dissent” magazine, so I have no basis for evaluating what seems to be an unflattering comparison. I guess I never considered this blog a mass mobilization blog for MMT theorists. The economy had just imploded and I had no faith in the explanations I was hearing from the mainstream news. NPR was not the same NPR and none of the actions the government took claiming to fix the economy made any sense. I used to read Krugman on a fairly regular basis. But his arguments made less and less sense as I became more aware of what had happened. None of the little economics I studied in college was of any value in explaining what was happening. I came to this blog after reading Yves’s book “Naked Capitalism.” As for MMT, it does better explain the way money works than other theories I’ve read. It is an economic theory though — not a social or political theory in the same sense that Marxism or Neo-Liberalism is. As for your contention that MMT theory seems to imply strengthening the Federal Reserve and Treasury, I cannot figure out by what twisted path you manage to arrive at that conclusion. I am no expert on MMT, so I must defer to one of the other commenters who is.
It is a very pretty idea to dismantle Big Capital and the State. Belling the cat was also a very pretty idea. We have anti-trust laws to dismantle Big Capital, but they haven’t been enforced for decades. We have national and international laws against the actions the State has taken at home and abroad but again no one has enforced those laws. As for dismantling the State, that’s fine, but I do believe a strong central government is necessary “… to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
I don’t see a lot of avenues for changing the direction we’re headed in. Marches and protests are fine but dealing with Pinkertons or Blue Meanies isn’t the same as facing a company of Blackwater mercenaries. How would you suggest dismantling Big Capital or the State? What do you envision as a “solution” for building the good society? And please don’t suggest some form of anarchy as a solution.
Exceptional comment! Not only a beautifully measured reply, but a sensitive description of where many are at, Yes it is a sad nostalgia. There were many things very wrong about the New Deal but it certainly is more attractive than the Neo-Liberal deal on offer. and an worthy defense of reasonableness.
“strengthening the Federal Reserve and Treasury” Not sure why the commenter thinks this. Money has value because the state accepts it as payment for taxes (not “will have,” “have”). I suppose in some future worlds that would make the Fed/Treasury more powerful. So far as I can tell, that doesn’t follow from MMT as such, and the MMTers I know would argue for democratic, not technocratic, control of the creation and (through taxes) destruction of money.
Just an observation.
It takes two to dance. Americans must choose to dance or not to dance. Those who avoid making a decision will have thrust themselves into the dancing pool. Those who choose not to dance have a difficult road ahead but one that allows them to sleep at night.
I suspect most NC readers would prefer not to dance.
Buy local. Buy used. Buy hand made. Use cash. Use credit unions. Avoid debt. Avoid chain stores. Vote for honest people. Shop at independent stores. Make it yourself. Grow it yourself. Cook it yourself. Avoid consuming more than you need. Build local communities that meet in person. Get to know your neighbors. Socialize face to face. Donate your time. Be generous. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be honest. Most especially, with yourself.
As you suggest I have no desire to “dance.” What you describe sound like paths to a good and simple life, paths I follow already, as much as I can. But you describe a lonely road leading to the periphery of our society. And what you describe works best in already small communities away from cities of size.
The problem with refusing to “dance” isn’t that it is not a good path. But it is a path which does little to salve the pain I feel watching the deconstruction of institutions and entire systems of belief that I hold dear. It may sound corny and old-fashioned but I still believe in a Constitutional government which sustains the people and Nation and which is sustained by the people. I still believe in Liberty and Justice and other old-fashioned outmoded ideas. The path of not “dancing” is a path of bending grass but even grass will break when bent too far.
The Constitution was originally built by men unwilling to dance.
Of that long list the only thing overtly political is vote for honest people (generally preferable to dishonest people of course, depending on what they are honestly in favor of).
But to a larger point, I was posting in another comment about distractions about how there are so many distractions from the political in modern life and it’s not just consumerism. For instance if a person was to do all the things in that list (and they’re all fine things) and keep fed and a roof overhead – pay the dues to mammon needed for survival, would they have time/energy/attention left for anything actually political? Or do you believe the system can be changed by those things alone?
From the introduction:
So, two issues:  conceptual, and  terminological. People seem to want to focus only on . That’s not a good sign (unless you’re part of the 0.01% that are running the show, in which case it’s a very good sign.)
More book titles.
Neo-Fascism: Faceless Fascism in the 21st Century
smaller print italics below title:
Global Elites hide behind the smiling face of national elected governments
This reminds me of a trip I took to DisneyWorld in Orlando. At some point I took a bus from my hotel to the “town” where I was doing to meet some people for dinner, and I saw, far away, giant searchlights reaching into the night sky; it reminded me powerfully of Nuremberg.
However, when I finally reached the (wholly artificial) town, I didn’t see anything else like Nuremberg; no stage with flags, no ranks of people in Nazi regalia, no spectacle of allegiance; in fact, there was no center at all; I finally saw a searchlight hidden behind a bush.
I know this is only metaphorical, but the sort of difference between Nuremburg and Disneyworld is what I’m trying to get at. Both are totalitarian or at least totalizing, in their own way, but the social (and political) relations that produce them are quite different. One has a center; the fuhrer, a person. The other does not. Perhaps the difference between “working toward the Fuhrer” and “working toward the market” (say).
Leni Reifenstahl describes a vivid scene in her autobiography of the staging of the march for Triumph of the Will (hoping I am correctly remembering which film it was). She is with Albert Speer in the stadium where the soldiers are practicing on the parade ground. She wrote it was a complete disaster. The soldiers were incapable of marching in step together, they looked inept and sloppy. She filmed the scene at night with broad search lights sweeping the heads of the passing soldiers. It looks very impressive on film but in fact was done to hide a thoroughly flawed performance.
A lesson in things are not as they always seem.
Okay, Lambert, here’s my first contribution, from the noble 11th-12th c. Tibetan dialectical debating tradition:
Qualities of a definition (to be labelled with definienda subsequently):
A proper definition:
*must not include more than what is being referred tp
*must not exclude any portion of what it purports to define
3 possible faults of a definition:
* non-pervasion: whatever is the definition must pervade the definiendum and vice versa
* too-extensive pervasion: the definition must not pervade objects beyond the referents of the definiendum
* non-occurence: the definitions characterize things that do not exist
There! Now, for the New American Order:
Oligarchical Political Disenfranchisement of the Public Citizen, or
Privatization of US Representative Democracy, or
Oligarchy Coup of US Constitution (w 2-Tier Justice System)
WTF = Washington Takeover by Finance
Really Tibetan? That’s great stuff!
P.o.o: Now how is that going to look on a protest sign, hey?
We’re discussing the use of a word. Terminology.
Your emphasis on the Big Men – Mussolini, etc. – and the setting of a decayed country (this doesn’t fit?) is new to me, not part of the usage I’ve seen. Fascism is also an ideology, or at least a type of governance. If we also require the Big Man element, then we won’t be using the word in this century – unless Obama qualifies, which in some ways he does. He certainly is, or was, charismatic.
Craazyboy’s coinage is perfect: neo-fascism. the new, improved, less flashy model.
I think I’ll use it after this.
My greatest concern is that Obama, even more than Bush, has been laying the foundations for open, jack-booted, Big Man-style fascism. I’d rather not wind up in a concentration camp, I’m really too old for that stuff, and that’s the logical conclusion of our present path. That, and/or an especially nasty civil war.
Calling the current system in the USA facism is easy, and may serve some propaganda purpose, but people do learn from the past, and the people at the top of the social piramid surely do, so only some of the attribute of the facism we know from the German and Italian version will be recognized. The Big Man-style fascism won’t reappear, excerpt for depicting enemy’s leaders like Putin, Kim or Chavez. Let’s start with that. The timeline is clear, the starting point the author lamented was 9/11, post 9/11 world with the NSA, Patriots’ act, and the DHS creation. But why people on the left in the USA refused to admit that 9/11 is a false-flag operation, or most of them did ? Why they didn’t care, like Chomsky said ? Who cares ? The parallels of this war on 7 countries in 5 years as describe by a US general, NATO head in 99, was started after 9/11. So using false-flag on the highest wooden structure of Europe in 1939.8.31 by the German SS, and state propaganda to start WW2 70 years ago is very like using false-flag attack on the highest steel structure of North America in 2001.11.09 by the deep state actors (CIA, NSA type most likely) And the finacial pressure and incentive for such deeds is likely the same. As one recognize the similarity, we are now in WW3 for already 14 years, and this one is different, all the big states and even smaller one like North Korea have nukes.