Yves here. As much as creeping fascism is a real issue in the US and arguably even more so in Europe, making it a central theme of a post runs the risk of encouraging readers to make Godwin’s Law violations. So please be mindful as to whether your use of historical comparisons is merited or sensationalistic. And perhaps even more important, be mindful of the thrust of Firestone’s observations: that fascism describes a very specific type of social and political arrangements. It’s tempting to cry “fascist threat” to overcome complacency. Over time, that strategy loses its potency, particularly if the warning is sounded on too little evidence or simply incorrectly.
By Joe Firestone, Ph.D., Managing Director, CEO of the Knowledge Management Consortium International (KMCI), and Director of KMCI’s CKIM Certificate program. He taught political science as the graduate and undergraduate level and blogs regularly at Corrente, Firedoglake and New Economic Perspectives. Originally published at New Economic Perspectives
If the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement will, if implemented, and as I’ve argued elsewhere, result in the death of national and state sovereignty, constitutional separation of powers, and democracy, then what system and what principles will replace these things? Eric Zuesse answers that it will be Fascism. And implicitly, that we are going through an evolution from representative democracy to fascism and that trade deals like the TPP, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) mediate the transfer “. . . of democratic national sovereignty to international fascist bodies that represent global corporate management. . . . ”
The motivation behind U.S. President Barack Obama’s trans-Pacific trade-deal TPP, and his trans-Atlantic trade-deal TTIP — the motivation behind both of these enormous international trade-deals — is the same, and Democratic U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown are correct: it is not at all progressive. It is instead to transfer political power away from the public in a democracy, and for that power to go instead to the international plutocracy (i.e., to go as far away from any national democracy as is even possible to go).
This is to be done by switching the most fundamental thing of all: the global power-base itself. Instead of that power-base being democratic votes of the national publics, who elect their political representatives who determine the laws and regulations, that national democratic political system becomes instead the exact opposite: the global aristocratic stockholder votes of the international plutocracy who elect the corporate directors of international companies, who will, in their turn, then be selecting the members to the international-trade-panels which, in TPP and TTIP, will, in their turn, be determining the rules and enforcements regarding especially workers’ rights, product-safety, and the environment.
And later . . .
This transfer is called Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS. It is really an emerging, and distinctively fascistic, world government. It is not at all democratic, and it is a creeping form of international government which, to the extent that it becomes imposed, reduces national sovereignty.
I dislike the TPP, the TTIP, and TiSA, at least as much as Zuesse does, and I think he is right that it will facilitate an evolution to fascism at the national level. But, still I think one needs to use the term “fascist” carefully and not apply it to the wrong things.
First, as obnoxious and damaging to national sovereignty, and other very important things we value the ISDS tribunals may be, I don’t think they are a government as much as they are a regulatory mechanism over national and sub-national governments limiting the sovereignty of the nation states and sub-national areas they govern, and constraining their legislation to laws and implementation rules that will benefit multinational corporations only.
Second, and this function of constraining national and sub-national governments is actually anti-fascist relative to the world government level of analysis. In fact, it leaves the world governmental system in a state of anarchy in which political authorities are weak enough to allow multinational corporations scope for continuous looting of the net financial assets of all nations.
Third, consider the characteristics of fascism: nationalism, (emotional commitment to one’s nation and its leader as a single, unified organic entity, superior to all others and deserving of absolute loyalty); totalitarianism (including continuous top-down mobilization of the population accompanied by intense and constant surveillance, continuous propagandizing by mass media hewing to a party line defined by the State, its leader, and a single party intertwined with it, and denial of zones of privacy; planned collaborative state-controlled economy in which productive disciplined people of all classes work together against the parasitic elements in society to achieve the economic goals set by the state (including autarky); respect for the capitalist profit motive and for the primary role of productive privately owned corporations and businesses in a command economy; support for social welfare programs serving social integration with the national organic unity; opposition to egalitarianism; direct, often violent action, supported by an ideology of social darwinism directed against opponents of the state, both external and internal; militarization of the police; external militarism; emphasis on youth and its role in direct action; strong commitment to traditional male/female roles, and to “non-deviant” heterosexual behavior, accompanied by strong opposition to “homosexual and other behavior it deems “deviant;” commitment to purging of decadent behavior and forms of modernism regenerating the “moral character” of the nation. Even though all would not agree with this specification of fascism in all its particulars, I claim that students of fascism and totalitarianism would agree that the specification of it as a social science cluster concept requires the heavy majority of these characteristics, and that excludes an ISDS regime from the world-wide fascism category.
So, at the level of the international political system the ISDS tribunals do not constitute a fascist government. Nor, does their delivery of a veto power over national and sub-national legislation make them a fascist government. Nor does the combination of the ISDS tribunals with an informal system of corrupt international elites constitute a fascist government, or even an emerging fascist system.
Why not? Because an emerging fascist system must be able to call on nationalism as its fundamental support, capable of driving the emergence of most of the other attributes of fascism I’ve listed. And the world we live in is very far from one in which a world-wide nationalism emotionally devoted to a world-wide political system and a world government can emerge.
It will never happen in the near future. Nor can an ISDS-based regime make such an emotional unity emerge, since it offers no ideological basis for such a unity, but only a basis for quasi-feudal rivalries among multinationals in their looting of national social systems.
Fourth, the conclusion that the ISDS tribunals constitute fascism at the international level is wrong, but that doesn’t imply that an ISDS regime greatly broadened and extended by the TPP, TTIP, and TiSA are unrelated to the death of democracy, and its replacement by national level fascist systems all over the world. Indeed, I agree with Zuesse that these “trade agreements” and the ISDS are instruments that will make the world’s nations turn to fascism even faster than present trends indicate that they are doing under the pressure of corrupt campaign financing practices, self-imposed government austerity and deference to financial and big business interests.
Ask yourselves, assuming that the ISDS tribunals work as intended, what then will the governments of nation states be exposed to? The answer is long-term habituation to their constant regulation by the decisions and potential decisions of these tribunals.
That habituation will result in national decisions that take great care to implement as small an impact on the profits of multinationals as possible. This result will be especially acute for those nations whose ability to create net financial assets is limited by their status as currency users rather than currency issuers. So, the nations of the Eurozone will be particularly hard hit, as will other nations who have large debts in currencies other than their own.
In order to avoid damaging settlements against them, governments at all levels will increasingly cease to legislate to solve national problems as long as the solutions may impact multinational profits. Since that will include solutions to environmental and climate sustainability problems, problems involving development of new energy foundations, and to problems involving sustainability of social safety nets, the net effect will be to undermine the adaptability of national governments on one hand, while, on the other, they become increasingly committed to satisfying the interests and desires of the multinational corporations in preference to the desires and interests of most of their citizens.
These results will bring them closer to the model of fascist governments that favor corporate interests disproportionately over the interests of other elements of the State. It will also create a tendency for States to try to maintain political integration by using extremist ideology and the other elements of fascism I’ve listed above, which many nations, including the United States have been turning toward anyway to prevent and suppress dissent, while attempting to mobilize anger and frustration toward outgroups including other nations and their multinationals.
These tendencies toward fascist totalitarianism are likely to accelerate at the national level for awhile without interfering the impetus provided by the ISDS regime. But eventually, national fascist elites will find it expedient to reject the “free trade” trade treaties because the constraints they impose on national sovereignty will seem increasingly inconsistent with the goal of glorification of the nation, and the ideal of survival of the fittest that motivates fascism.
The more successful the ISDS tribunals become in looting nation states, the more likely it is that states will, in the longer run, reject the “trade” treaties and dethrone the ISDS tribunals. So, the ISDS regime, insofar as it encourages fascism at the national level, contains the seeds of its own destruction and that of the treaties that underly them.
The end result will be the restoration of unrestricted competitive trading, and given the logic of national fascisms, renewed competitive struggles for markets and the resurrection of protectionism in a renewed search for empires and autarky. Where this will lead no one can now say.
But, it is clear that competitions governed by a survival of the fittest ethic are dangerous for the world and its inhabitants. And, following on a period of paralysis in which the ISDS regime will prevent any progress on the environmental and climate change crises ll nations and peoples face, this result may spell disaster for humankind – the final result of serial follies after many decades of following where the ideology of the Washington Consensus leads.