Clinton, Sanders, the American Principle of Association (and Fascism)

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

“The principle of association” is a phrase that comes from De Toqueville’s Democracy in America (1835), Chapter 12. It’s worth quoting a big slab of it as a reminder of what one foreign observer thought made America exceptionally, and exceptionally great, and to form a mental contrast with where the country is today, and with the political conventions we have seen the Republicans and Democrats put on:

In no country in the world has the principle of association been more successfully used or applied to a greater multitude of objects than in America. Besides the permanent associations which are established by law under the names of townships, cities, and counties, a vast number of others are formed and maintained by the agency of private individuals.

The citizen of the United States is taught from infancy to rely upon his own exertions in order to resist the evils and the difficulties of life; he looks upon the social authority with an eye of mistrust and anxiety, and he claims its assistance only when he is unable to do without it. This habit may be traced even in the schools, where the children in their games are wont to submit to rules which they have themselves established, and to punish misdemeanors which they have themselves defined. The same spirit pervades every act of social life. If a stoppage occurs in a thoroughfare and the circulation of vehicles is hindered, the neighbors immediately form themselves into a deliberative body; and this extemporaneous assembly gives rise to an executive power which remedies the inconvenience before anybody has thought of recurring to a pre-existing authority superior to that of the persons immediately concerned. If some public pleasure is concerned, an association is formed to give more splendor and regularity to the entertainment. Societies are formed to resist evils that are exclusively of a moral nature, as to diminish the vice of intemperance. In the United States associations are established to promote the public safety, commerce, industry, morality, and religion. There is no end which the human will despairs of attaining through the combined power of individuals united into a society.

An association consists simply in the public assent which a number of individuals give to certain doctrines and in the engagement which they contract to promote in a certain manner the spread of those doctrines. The right of associating in this fashion almost merges with freedom of the press, but societies thus formed possess more authority than the press. When an opinion is represented by a society, it necessarily assumes a more exact and explicit form. It numbers its partisans and engages them in its cause; they, on the other hand, become acquainted with one another, and their zeal is increased by their number. An association unites into one channel the efforts of divergent minds and urges them vigorously towards the one end which it clearly points out.

Things look a little different today; one answer to the question of what young working class men who aren’t in the labor force are doing is: Playing video games. (I’ll note in passing that “association,” to DeTocqueville, is distinct from “faction,” to Madison, because to Madison factions are formed on property interests, and associations, in DeTocqueville’s telling, are not. Whether the modern political parties are aggregated factions, or aggregated associations, or aggregated associations drawn from certain factions is left as an exercise for the reader. I certainly don’t know.)

Now let’s jump immediately to what we might label The Question of Fascism: What is Fascism? Along with: Who can be said to be a fascist? Is there more than one kind of Fascism? Let me say immediately that I’m not going to answer that question today. I am, however, going to propose a different approach to answer. Most answers to The Question of Fascism take the form of a checklist. Sam Ro’s, drawn from the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco’s work, is typical:

I see seven items that potentially match current events:

  • a cult of tradition
  • rejection of modernism
  • opposition to analytical criticism
  • appeal to a frustrated middle class
  • obsession with a plot
  • humiliation by the enemy
  • machismo

(One notes immediately that Ro’s list is ahistorical: Does “modernism,” for example, really exist out of time? (Post-modernism, for example, became visible as a movement in the 1980s, at the start of the neoliberal dispensation. One might also note that “opposition to analytical criticism” and “obsession with a plot” are broad tendencies in America today, and by no means limited to “the loony right.”)

However, if we look at how fascism has appeared historically, we may come to a different answer (or, at minimum, another bullet point for Ro’s list). From the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci, who died in one of Mussolini’s jails:

What is involved is the possibility of meeting; of discussing; of giving these meetings and discussions some regularity; of choosing leaders through them; of laying the basis for an elementary organic formation, a league, a cooperative or a party section. What is involved is the possibility of giving these organic formations a continuous functionality; of making them into the basic framework for an organized movement. Fascism has systematically worked to destroy these possibilities.

Its most effective activity has, therefore, been that carried on in the localities; at the base of the organizational edifice of the working class; in the provinces, rural centres, workshops and factories. The sacking of subversive workers; the exiling or assassination of workers’ and peasants’ “leaders”; the ban on meetings; the prohibition on staying outdoors after working hours; the obstacle thus placed in the way of any “social” activity on the part of the workers; and then the destruction of the Chambers of Labour and all other centres of organic unity of the working class and peasantry, and the terror disseminated among the masses – all this had more value than a political struggle through which the working class was stripped of the “rights” which the Constitution guarantees on paper. After three years of this kind of action, the working class has lost all form and all organicity; it has been reduced to a disconnected, fragmented, scattered mass. With no substantial transformation of the Constitution, the political conditions of the country have been changed most profoundly, because the strength of the workers and peasants has been rendered quite ineffective.

In other words, for Gramsci, Fascism violates the principle of association[1]. The historian Richard Evans, in his magisterial Coming of the Third Reich, descries the Nazi variant of the same violation, called gleischaltung, where even stamp collector’s clubs were Nazified (and of course workers’ institutions were systematically destroyed, as we also saw in the neoliberal variant of fascism installed in Chile). Now, I’m not claiming that violating the principle of association is sufficient to answer The Question of Fascism — that would make Andrew Carnegie and George Pullman fascists, for their lethal efforts at strikebreaking — but I do urge that it is necessary, and if you look at history, obvious.

So fast forward to the Democratic Convention. Sanders clearly understands the principle of association. In fact, it was central to his campaign (though I’ll have more to say about the contradictions of his speech when I have Clinton’s to lay beside it). He said:

I understand that many people here in this convention hall and around the country are disappointed about the final results of the nominating process. I think it’s fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I am. But to all of our supporters – here and around the country – I hope you take enormous pride in the historical accomplishments we have achieved.

Together, my friends, we have begun a political revolution to transform America and that revolution – Our Revolution – continues. Election days come and go. But the struggle of the people to create a government which represents all of us and not just the 1 percent – a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice – that struggle continues. And I look forward to being part of that struggle with you.

(Now, it may be urged that Sanders is in fact advocating reform, and not revolution, that he’s a “sheepdog,” even a betrayer, etc. But Bill Clinton is a smart politician, fully invested in his consort’s election, and I don’t think Bill Clinton believes that for a minute, and in fact sees Sanders as a thread. Here he is, during the first part of Sanders speech:


The Big Dog is cogitating mightily, and so he ought to be.[2])

That’s Sanders and the principle of association which, you will recall, is important for anti-fascists to uphold, and whose violation is at least one sign of fascism’s onset. Where does the Clinton Dynasty stand on the principle of association? I argue (a) evidence is absent to show they[3] support it, and (b) evidence exists to show they oppose it.

Let’s look at the text of Bill Clinton’s speech. I redacted the sentences and phrases whose subject is “She” (that is, Bill Clinton’s consort, Hillary), including the verb but editing out detail (and I hope I got them all; it’s a long speech and I processed the text by hand). I invite you to examine these sentences as phrases as closely as you can. They are sorted to make them easy to scan for similarity, which is why “She actually” is first:

She actually took an extra year in law school working at the child studies center to learn • She also served on a … commission to propose changes • She also served on a special Pentagon commission to • She also started the first legal aid clinic • She also teamed with the House Minority Leader Tom DeLay • She always does new things, by listening and and learning • She always wants to move the ball forward • She and Senator Schumer were tireless • She backed President Obama’s decision to go after Osama bin Laden • She became the de facto economic development officer for the area of New York • She became the first senator in the history of New York ever to serve • She became… our family’s designated worrier, born with an extra responsibility gene • She began her campaign the way she always does new things, by listening and and learning • She came up with really ambitious recommendations • She compiled a really solid record, totally progressive on economic and social issues • She filed a report about • She filed a report on that • She flew all night long from Cambodia to the Middle East to get a cease-fire • She got longer family leave • She had also begun working in the Yale New Haven Hospital to develop procedures • She held listening tours in all 75 counties with our committee • She joined the oldest law firm west of the Mississippi • She just went out and figured out what needed to be done and what made the most sense and what would help the most people. And then if it was controversial she’d just try to persuade people it was the right thing to do • She launched a team to fight back against terrorists • She lost a hard-fought contest to President Obama in 2008 • She loved her teaching and she got frustrated when one of her students said • She met one of the nicest fellows I ever met, the wonderful union leader Franklin Garcia, and he helped her register Mexican-American voters • She negotiated the first agreement ever • She put climate change at the center of our foreign policy • She said she thought it would work in Arkansas • She said, oh, I already did it. I called the woman who started the program in Israel, she’ll be here in about 10 days and help us get started • She sent me in this primary to West Virginia • She started a group called the Arkansas Advocates for Families and Children • She took a summer internship interviewing workers • She tried to empower them based on their abilities • She tried to expand and did expand health care coverage to Reservists and members of the National Guard • She tried to make sure people on the battlefield had proper equipment • She tripled the number of people with AIDS in poor countries whose lives are being saved • She voted for and against some proposed trade deals • She went to Beijing in 1995 and said women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights • She went to South Carolina to see why • She worked for farmers, for winemakers, for small businesses and manufacturers, for upstate cities in rural areas who needed more ideas and more new investment • She worked for his election hard • She worked for more extensive care for people with traumatic brain injury • She worked hard to get strong sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program • She worked to empower women and girls around the world and to make the same exact declaration • She’s a change-maker • She’s been around a long time, she sure has • She’s insatiably curious, she’s a natural leader, she’s a good organizer, and she’s the best darn change-maker I ever met in my entire life….

Recall that DeTocqueville defines associations as “formed and maintained by the agency of private individuals.” Did you see any examples Hillary Clinton creating associations in Bill Clinton’s list of her achievements? Of people being directly empowered, of becoming agents? I see a ton of “She filed a report,” “she tried to,” “she went to, and “she became,” and of good programs as Clinton defines good — what we might call, following Lakoff, maternalism instead of paternalism, where others in the professional classes are called to assist — but virtually nothing that implements what Gramsci calls “continuous functionality” by and for working people. In the 50 sentences that list Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments, I can come up with a bare three:

(1) “She started a group called the Arkansas Advocates for Families and Children.” The AAFC itself says it was founded by “a group of prominent Arkansans” — in other words, an association — although Wikipedia says is was founded by Hillary Rodham, personally. Anyhow, that was 1977, so I’ll treat that as a gimme for Bill. Forty years later, AAFC seems to have evolved into a typical non-profit whose mission is “leadership, research and advocacy.”

(2) “She met one of the nicest fellows I ever met, the wonderful union leader Franklin Garcia, and he helped her register Mexican-American voters.” This, too, seems to have been back in the 70s, but somehow I think “he helped her” probably underestimates Garcia’s role, and over-estimates Clintons. Who, after all, already had the association in place, on the ground? That would be the union leader Garcia.

(3) And then Bill tells this story of Clinton as a teacher. Strictly speaking, this is not a story of association, but the lesson it teaches is all about association, so I’ll quote it:

Didn’t take them long to find out what she was like. She loved her teaching and she got frustrated when one of her students said, well, what do you expect, I’m just from Arkansas. She said, don’t tell me that, you’re as smart as anybody, you’ve just got to believe in yourself and work hard and set high goals. She believed that anybody could make it.

This is, of course, credentialism, the Big Lie of meritocracy, as Thomas Frank points out in Listen, Liberal (page 60 et seq):

[Bill Clinton on the campaign trail: “What you earn depends on what you learn.. … I put Clinton’s line about “what you earn” in italics because it may well be the most important passage of them all for understanding who his party — how our entire system — has failed so utterly to confront income inequality [for which the less polite word is “class warfare” –lambert]. …[H]ere, in a single sentence, is the distilled essnece of the theory that has governed the politics of work and compensation from that day to this: You get what you deserve, and what you deserve is defined by how you did in school. …[4]

And here is Hllary Clinton peddling this lie to a school child (as opposed to teaching, for example, how important it was to create associations by working with others to achieve common goals.[5]

So much for the absence of evidence that the Clinton Dynasty supports the principle of association; now for the evidence that they affirmatively oppose it. Bill tells this moving little story:

A couple of days later, I saw [Hillary Rodham] again. I remember, she was wearing a long, white, flowery skirt. And I went up to her and she said she was going to register for classes for the next term. And I said I’d go, too. And we stood in line and talked — you had to do that to register back then — and I thought I was doing pretty well until we got to the front of the line and the registrar looked up and said, Bill, what are you doing here, you registered morning?


I turned red and she laughed that big laugh of hers. And I thought, well, heck, since my cover’s been blown I just went ahead and asked her to take a walk down to the art museum.

We’ve been walking and talking and laughing together ever since.

Clinton herself elaborates on the story:

We both had wanted to see a Mark Rothko exhibit at the Yale Art Gallery but, because of a labor dispute, some of the university’s buildings, including the museum, were closed. As Bill and I walked by, he decided he could get us in if we offered to pick up the litter that had accumulated in the gallery’s courtyard. Watching him talk our way in was the first time I saw his persuasiveness in action.

Indeed. As for the “labor dispute,” Jacobin explains:

The relationship between Rodham and Clinton, two instrumental figures in the decoupling of the Democratic Party from the priorities of the mainstream labor movement, thus began with the crossing of a picket line.

When Rodham and Clinton picked up the garbage strewn about the art gallery courtyard (if, indeed, they ever did so), they were doing exactly what everyone from Sirabella to the Black Student Alliance at Yale had asked students not to do. They were performing — or at the very least offering to perform — the work that members of Local 35’s grounds maintenance division, had refused to do.

So, Hillary and Bill began their long — and happy! and loving! — relationship by crossing a picket line and performing scab labor. Bill’s speech needs a copy edit:

We’ve been walking and talking and laughing and screwing working people together ever since.

Fixed it for ya.


I’ve urged that violating the principle of association should be on any checklist that proposes to answer The Question of Fascism. I’ve also urged that upholding the principle of association is essential to fighting it. I’ve argued that Sanders supports the principle of association explicitly, and that the Clinton Dynasty opposes it, both by acts of omission, and acts of commission.

We might also consider whether the Democrat Party, as presently constituted, supports the principle of association. Given that the 17-city paramilitary crackdown on Occupy was orchestrated by a Democrat administration, and carried out by Democrat mayors (with the exception of Michael “Mayor for Life” Bloomberg, a speaker at tonight’s Democrat Convention), and given the militarized police crackdown on Black Lives Matter activists, that would be a hard case for Democrat loyalists to make. Making it even harder is liberal purges of political opponents, actual or threatened.


[1] One might say that Fascism moves the needle on the collective action problem scale toward the betrayal side, by systematically dissolving altruistic ties. But then neoliberalism does that, too.

[2] Since it would be irresponsible not to speculate, I can also imagine a thought balloon over Bill Clinton’s head, something like: “That scrawny little kid Mook told me he showed Bernie the briefcase with the horse’s head in it, and told Sanders how it was going to go. And now that son-of-a-bitch isn’t going through with the deal!” Bill’s subsequent smiles would then be signs of joyous relief. Not that I’m foily.

[3] I’m not sure whether the Clinton Dynasty is a “they” or an “it.” I opted for “they.”

[4] Frank goes on to write (page 77): “Another reason so many were convinced so completely that education determined everything from personal prosperity to national competiveness was, again, that it was true for them personally.”

[5] This is called “cheating.”

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Please don’t dump unrelated anti-Clinton talking points into this comment thread. Try to relate to the theme of the post. (And no me-toos or drive-bys either.) This link has nothing to do with the principle of association or the convention or fascism. There are other more open threads like Links or Water Cooler. Use them.

  1. allan

    How’s the principle of association working for the people of Honduras? Libya? Ukraine?

    Robert Stone once wrote something to the effect that what’s best about the US doesn’t export well.

      1. vlade

        When I lived in NZ, what you call the PoA, on its loosest terms, was fairly visible. When floods destroyed roads in rural communities, it was often repaired immediately by the community (as much as could be) etc.

        My theory on this is twofold. First, PoA works, in fact, must work, where the population is relatively sparse (all of NZ has less population than London, inhabiting an area similar to that of the UK). Sparse population means that it has to be more self-reliant, and at the same time it’s much less anonymous. So things like shaming and social shunning work well (mind you, both ways – small communities can be pretty damn nasty too, and the same dynamics that can accentuate the good can help the bad too).

        Also, it means that it’s harder for the government to “interfere” in its citizens life – regardless of whether with good or bad intent. Once the government takes over a part of its citizens life, it’s very hard for both parties to let go – bureaucracy doesn’t like giving up control, and citizens have to be active to take it back (while at the same time living their normal lives).

        1. bdy

          Association can work in cities just as good as the countryside. Think Battle in Seattle for an organized example, or Paris ’68 for something more spontaneous/entropic. I like your NZ example because it’s a case of collective repair/building, more like the pea-patch infill common in so many cities today (another case of successful urban association).

          Seattle, Paris and (perhaps less successfully) Occupy were/are less creative — focusing instead on resistance to the powers that be. But all urban associations resist Simmel’s blaise hypothesis, pushing back against anonymity, submarining individualism and eschewing apathy in favor of collective purpose — something to celebrate and certainly not negated by urban density.

  2. Anonymous

    Bookmarked for later. Somewhat related is the concept of totalitarianism. State control of mass media is one defining features and calls to mind the implications of DNCLeaks, namely, that the DNC, aka HRC, influences, if not controls, mass media.

    From Wikipedia: “Totalitarianism is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible.[1] Totalitarian regimes stay in political power through an all-encompassing propaganda campaign, which is disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, a single party that is often marked by political repression, personality cultism, control over the economy, regulation and restriction of speech, mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror…”

    1. hunkerdown

      It is true that Liberalism is a totalizing ideology, in that it suggests no limits on its authority (as delegated to the market) to answer questions on any particular of the world. This could be considered a second-order attack on the principle of association, by way of interfering with the capacity of associations to, as a group, orient, decide and assert their associated interests, independently of or in conflict with Liberal principles.

  3. AWB

    As someone who supports the principles the Tea Party embodies, and who recognizes the Occupy Movement and the Tea Party, both populist movements subverted by their respective national committees, have a common enemy in the status quo and the establishment, I applaud the analysis and conclusions presented in this article. HEAR HEAR

  4. SufferinSuccotash

    There may be some confusion over the term “modernism”. I take. Eco to mean “modernity”, the shorthand term for post-Enlightenment secularism, liberalism, and the scientific worldview. “Modernism” is usually defined as the cultural and intellectual movement dating from roughly 1880 to 1930. Freud, T.S. Eliot and Smile Durkheim are names usually mentioned in connection with modernism.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I’m not sure about that, I think he did specifically mean ‘modernism’ as you defined it the second time. While I think it is over intellectualising it to say that Fascists were ‘anti-modernism’ in the sense that most fascists probably never gave it a lot of thought, there is no doubt that there was a significant hostility to early 20th Century art and intellectualism within fascism. I think this does raise one of the issues of applying definitions to fascism these days – much of what constitutes ‘classic fascism’ was very much embedded in the specific economic and intellectual environment of early 20th Century Europe. Later fascism (and the fascism of, for example, pre war Japan), was similar… but distinct.

      I tend to think that its more useful to think in terms of totalitarianism. Lambert very enlightening analysis shows that modern Clintonism is almost devoid of either a sense of the value of community, without having the merit of being libertarians, strongly indicates that they, along with the mainstream of the Dem party, has a strong totalitarian streak.

      1. SufferinSuccotash

        The hostility to intellectual and artistic modernism certainly does apply to German Nazism; The Bauhaus School and the works of Thomas Mann were categorized as “cultural Bolshevism” and banned accordingly. The relationship between Italian Fascism and modernism is more ambivalent. There was a strong tendency in Italian avant garde artistic circles–the Futurist movement is the best example–to identify with values akin to Fascism. And as far as some modernist intellectuals were concerned–T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound–there was certainly no inherent conflict between modernism and Fascism.
        Whether any of this early 20th century stuff applies to movements, parties, and political figures a century later is open to debate.

          1. human

            Also, the limits of tags/compartmentalization using the fluidity of language with word definitions which can change over even relatively short periods of time, sometimes by agenda.

            Thank you for this topical analysis.

  5. Cry Shop

    Certainly her pathological fear of others, her need for secrecy, are not indicative of a person who understands how to work through association among equals. Getting sideswiped on healthcare reform while Bill held substantial power also indicates she has no idea how to apply power to a task through association, She’s a wonk who can only function through bureaucratic structures and abuse of power for money. The State Dept was right up her alley, but she’ll be a horrible president, worse than Obama who suffers the same defects, but to a lesser extent.

  6. grayslady

    As I scanned the list of statements in Bill Clinton’s speech, it reminded me of why neither of these two essentially has ever held a job outside of politics. If anyone submitted to me a resume that did nothing but list job titles (which is not only what Bill Clinton did, but pretty much what Hillary has done throughout the campaign), I would toss it in the wastebasket. In a resume, you want to spell out your accomplishments, not your job titles. The absence of accomplishments (yes, you won a senate seat, but what did you do for the people you were supposed to represent once you were elected) is perhaps a half-step away from association, but may be a useful shorthand for deciphering whether a list of jobs translates into trying to empower others or trying to empower yourself.

    1. RUKidding

      I listened to WJC’s speech last night. Not a huge Clinton fan, but I felt that WJC did discuss some level of detail of what HRC (one might say: allegedly, I guess) accomplished in her various roles that he depicted. Certainly not in exacting detail, as he speech didn’t last that long. But he did discuss a certain amount of accomplishments in most of her roles/positions, sometimes providing specific examples, including people’s name or programs/projects completed.

      One may quibble with many things concerning the Clintons, but the list that Lambert provided in his post, abover, just gives, imo, the outline, not the level of detail that WJC addressed last night. I felt he did address accomplishments. Like minds may disagree if the accomplishments discussed were detailed enough or whatever, but nonetheless, there was detail provided.

      1. grayslady

        I salute your iron stomach. I can’t even stand to look at the man, much less listen to him. Since you actually listened to the speech, did you feel, based on what Bill Clinton said, that anyone, or groups of anyones, were better off because of Hillary (outside of her immediate family)?

  7. Pavel

    I may have missed them, but I missed the following in Bill’s list:

    * “She voted for an illegal and reckless Iraq war based on GW Bush’s lies”
    * “She helped instigate an illegal and reckless overthrow of the Libyan regime, causing chaos”
    * “She recently threatened to use nuclear weapons against Iran if they don’t keep to the agreement”

    I’m sure NC readers can think of other omissions.

    I have boycotted the entire convention (on TV), and the only thing worse than hearing Bill speak is hearing a no doubt triumphant Hillary.

    1. DarkMatters

      A great list; perhaps something about Ukraine could have been added, but she might be saving the big part of that for after she’s elected.

      A bit of painful personal history. Back in the 90’s I mentally “boycotted” most right-wing commentators as bigots. That limitation caused me to mis-assess much of our political system for some time, specifically, to dismiss all the derogatory stories being reported about the Clintons. It took me quite some time to realize that it was important to understand why people believed what they did, before judging the merits of their positions. I still wind up dismissing a lot, but I find surprises, and clarity. Sometimes it can be helpful to look the devil in the eye, and to hear what the demons have to say.

  8. FascismsManyFaces

    “Societies are formed to resist evils that are exclusively of a moral nature.”
    Or just the opposite, as per this article:

    Political rallies seem more to me an “association” of psychotic masses. Gangs, mobs, and lynching “associations” also exercise their principle of association, to their perceived “rightful” ends. How society channels their powers of association matters, and their causes can be, and often is, easily usurped by pathological leaders.

  9. katiebird

    I listened to the speech from the couch while my husband watched and listened. He was charmed at first by Bill’s memory of Hillary without makeup and in a Hippie Dress (that could have been us … And we met in a library too. Although it was a public library and we worked there) … And I annoyed him by chanting “She… She… She…”, Along with Bill. But even he had to admit (once I got bored and stopped) that it was too much.

    It wasn’t the sort of repetition that had a poetic cadence. It was more like a sledgehammer.

      1. katiebird

        I think you did great. I’m wondering how often you’ll have to replace those waders this fall. I think we have some muddy days ahead.

  10. Uahsenaa

    I don’t find the “fascism” frame all that useful, for a reason that Eco even points out in his “Ur-Fascism” essay, that the fascism of the future won’t resemble the fascism of the past. Moreover, it seems as about as effective a claim (“that’s fascist” or “you fascist!”) as calling someone or something racist. That it may very well be, but the best you can hope for, unless the person is already sympathetic to your reasoning (in which case, why are you trying to persuade them?), is to feel good about yourself for standing up to them. I’m with Marx on this: the point is to change it.

    Which means identifying behaviors, be they personal or institutional, rather than whole persons or psychologies as fascist/racist/sexist/whatever, to show how even well-meaning people can be complicit in bad acts, and to relieve them of the stress of having to identify as a villain before getting to the point of changing whatever offensive behavior. Psychotherapy shows pretty clearly why this is more effective: people are far more likely to change and adapt specific behaviors, which can be demonstrated as being compelled, in some part, from without, but if you try to make someone’s dysfunction into a character flaw, it only increases the likelihood of their becoming defensive and simply tuning you out.

    I’ve been in the rather awkward position in the past of trying to get mildly affluent, midwestern white kids to try and recognize structural racism. I’ve found more often than not that beginning from that term as a premise tends to tune people out; it’s just not an effective rhetorical strategy. However, if you begin at the ground level of specific behaviors and connect the dots between those behaviors and institutions, then from the institutions to ideologies, you can arrive at structural racism or patriarchy or what have you without the need to impose a “this is the way the world is” dictum on people. You have to begin by showing them how things work in their own lives and tease out the contonections, because, ultimately, if you want to combat fascism/sexism/any societal ill, you need to equip your interlocutor with the tools to see it for themselves.

    But then again, I’m a teacher, so I tend to approach most problems from the perspective of education and argumentation.

    Also, a note: what Eco means by “modernism” isn’t the movement of the early 20th century but something much broader:

    “The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life, but it mainly concerned the rejection of the Spirit of 1789 (and of 1776, of course). The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

    Little m modernism then is synonymous with technological, intellectual, and social progress in general.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I don’t find the fascist frame useful as a way to look at candidates, but I don’t think it’s without utility in looking at systems.* Clearly, something terrible is happening to our political system, and fascism is “out there” as a concept. We’re already hearing it, and just wait ’til the volume really gets amped up after Labor Day.

      On modernism vs. modernity, I’m quoting the checklist, and there are a lot of ’em floating about, all with problems like the one I point out. I didn’t go to Eco specifically, because I wanted a generic one. I didn’t quote it because Ro (mis)-represents Eco’s views. That said, here’s the whole quote from Eco’s famous essay:

      2. [Fascism] Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. Both Fascists and Nazis worshiped technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject it as a negation of traditional spiritual values. However, even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements, its praise of modernism was only the surface of an ideology based upon Blood and Earth (Blut und Boden). The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life, but it mainly concerned the rejection of the Spirit of 1789 (and of 1776, of course). The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

      Rejection of modernity or rejection of modernism: Both need to be historically situated, which is my point. (I’d also ask if we’re still even living in the modern era at all.)

      Adding, as far as “identifying behaviors,” yes, that’s what the post does.

      * “the fascism of the future won’t resemble the fascism of the past.” But that is true for capitalism as well? Surely you aren’t arguing that capitalism is not a useful frame? All of these entities are dynamic and display adaptability.

      1. Uahsenaa

        Yes, “fascism” is out there floating about the aether, but it seems to be doing now precisely what Eco lamented in his introduction: it appears to mean a whole list of seemingly contradictory things, as with calling someone who harshes your buzz a “fascist pig.” In other words, it seems to me to be working in several contexts as a rhetorical slight of hand, a catch all for any vaguely authoritarian ideology with which the person making the claim of “fascism” happens to disagree. So, in practice, the Dem tribalist will reflexively call Trump fascist, regardless of whether that designation is deserved or not, because the accusation is devoid of precise content, all the while ignoring the authoritarian and less than vaguely racist impulses of his/her own partisans (not just candidates) that someone less sympathetic to them might just as easily dub fascist in a similarly content free way, the way libertarians do.

        What I want is less an “aha! this is what fascism really is,” even if perfectly accurate and precise, and more a demand that people show how they are arrive at the claims they make. If that latter bit is the key point, then the label is irrelevant, because the nefariousness will become clear (or not, depending on the individual’s mendacity) in the explication. It’s good, old fashioned holding people’s feet to the fire. So, when someone makes a claim like, “Clinton will be good for black people,” you don’t counter with a talking point like “she was mean to BLM protestors” or reference the superpredator speech, both of which, though odious, only serve to preach to the already converted. Hilbots were entirely deaf to those claims. Instead, you begin from something like her actions in Haiti, work your way through the details of how she and the Clinton foundation propped up a fundamentally corrupt strong man so that corporate American could profit, and how that led directly to the immiseration of black and brown folk. The beauty of a historical narrative with lots of details all tied together in clear cause/effect relationships is that its much harder for your interlocutor to weasel out of or dismiss out of hand. In other words, tell a story, don’t just make claims. In my own teaching I’ve found this to be far more effective, even with die-hard partisans.

        Last, I think there’s something of a false equivalency with regard to the change-i-ness of capitalism and fascism. With capitalism, the fundamentals don’t seem to have changed: workers are still alienated from the products of their labor, those who own the means of production (or the algorithm of deception) reap most of the rewards, and people are compelled by means of coercion and force to participate in an economic system that exploits them in order simply to acquire the means of their survival. With fascism, I think you need to re-evaluate the fundamentals. Traditionalism is a good point to re-examine: neoliberals glorify all things technocratic, and there isn’t a technological or social disruption they wouldn’t adopt in a heartbeat. Also, the forces arrayed against global capitalism are quite often characterized as backwards or “folksy,” be it the crunchy hippy environmentalist or the natives in Latin America struggling for the right of indigenous peoples.

        If there is such a thing as neoliberal fascism (and I think there very well is), then those first two items (obsession with tradition, rejection of modernity) would need to be seriously rethought. If they need to be rethought, then I would argue we need to begin from the nefariousness of particular practices, not categories, and build up a purview empirically from them.

        Does that make sense? I feel like I’m rambling…

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Well, if it’s out there in the ether it has to be dealt with; I’m a pragmatic guy and when somebody throws the word at me I need a response. I wrote “The Question of Fascism” quite deliberately, since one obvious answer is “It doesn’t exist.” A better answer would be “It can never exist again, because _____.” My inclination was to begin with the idea of fascism as the marriage of corporation and state, and go from there. Conveniently, that permits us to look for similarities between the candidates rather than differences.

          It strikes me that one difference between Marxism and Fascism is that Marx was a good writer, and Hitler (and I assume Mussolini) was a terrible writer. This is actually more serious than it sounds, because it speaks to the syncretic, bricolage aspect, its protean ability to shape-shift (which the left does not have). Trump is good at that, incidentally, but then all neoliberals are.

          1. Tim

            Fascism is corruption institutionalized/legalized by the state. That’s the best definition I can come up with.

        2. DarkMatters

          Yes, I agree with the power of “historical narrative with lots of detail”. I take the position that history is the data of politics, and should be carefully respected in forming political opinions. For instance, my main concern about anarchic systems is that they do not seem to occur in nature, whereas societies without governments are usually taken over by “entrepreneurs” like the Normans by violence. But that’s a very long story.
          A defense against name callers that sometimes works is to ask the user to define their use of the term. Someone I know said that they despised Hillary because she was a communist, but they were unable to say what they meant when pressed. Another said they were against socialism; said that it was government by edict; and then challenged me to name one case where government restraint helped the public good. Er, traffic lights? No reply.
          We’re so used to arguing abstractions that a little grounding in facts usually defuses ideological arguments pretty quickly. But be forewarned that people find it annoying, since it tends to harsh their buzz.

    2. inode_buddha

      Actually this is along the lines that I was thinking: that behaviors arise out of psychologies (and spiritual illnesses in some cases)

      And these things are propagated through the mass of society, causing the society itself to prosper, or become ill —

      (doing some writing about this)

  11. Sluggeaux

    Thank you for quoting Tocqueville and Gramsci (Jack Schaar is smiling in heaven) to point out the fundamental anti-associative nature of the Clintonite/Obot Democrat Party, something that I’ve been trying to put my thumb on for 20 years! However, it’s wrong to focus on fascism; Bolshevism, Fidelismo, Peronismo, Maoism, and all top-down cults of vanguard-parties utilize this same mode of oppression.

    Credentialism is an essential part of the micro-politics of oppression by these personality cults, which use it as an apology for exclusion from the apparatus of mass oppression. A while back at a book signing I hammered Joseph Stieglitz on his blithe “PhD’s for All” solution to the gross inequity that he documented.

    Thank you for documenting the anecdote that crossing a picket line was the first act of the Rodham/Clinton cabal. Disdain for the masses is the core value of their brand, be they in Detroit or Tripoli.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Yes, devaluing the principle of association is necessary for Fascism but not sufficient to define it; which is why there’s overlap between it and the other *-isms you name.

  12. JEHR

    Thanks for helping me to pinpoint what it is that is so off-putting in Hillary’s repertoire of accomplishments–such slippery things they are.

  13. Oregoncharles

    It might be time to stop fussing over the meaning of “fascism.” Semantics are important, but they get us only so far; ultimately, the lesson is that word meanings are arbitrary. That’s especially obvious in English, where the same word may mean very different things – and vice versa. The real point is that it’s important to specify what you mean by a vexed word like “fascist.” Bearing down on the principle of association is a good example – but one commonality is not an identity, so it’s one thing to say: “The Fascists also did this, to powerful effect,” and quite another to say “so this contemporary example is fascism.”

    Once you’re past the historical examples – Italy, Spain, Germany – any application of the word is an analogy; those are never precise, and can easily be misleading. In practice, it’s used to mean “right-wing authoritarianism”, as opposed to say, Communism, meaning “left-wing authoritarianism.” Famously, they tend to be rather similar. A crucial commonality is that both fuse big business (economic power) with government (political power). I tend to see that concentration of power as the core evil. I think you could make a case that both suppressed associations, too; the Communists, in power, first set up co-operatives, then suppressed them in favor of state ownership. Suppressing association is part of concentrating power.

    Our problem in the US is that we have great and increasing concentration of power, but less-than-obvious authoritarianism. It’s there, and increased a great deal under Obama (I thought Bush was scary), but it’s still somewhat disguised.

    The basic lesson of semantics is that it isn’t the word that matters, but the definition – in this case, the check list. Using a scare word like “fascism” without defining it clearly is a red flag for propaganda.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I hadn’t thought I was “fussing”; perhaps I should give the piece a re-reading.

      Surely you’re not serious when you urge that a checklist, divorced from historical context, is in any way a definition? Back to Gramsci again:

      ts most effective activity has, therefore, been that carried on in the localities; at the base of the organizational edifice of the working class; in the provinces, rural centres, workshops and factories. The sacking of subversive workers; the exiling or assassination of workers’ and peasants’ “leaders”; the ban on meetings; the prohibition on staying outdoors after working hours; the obstacle thus placed in the way of any “social” activity on the part of the workers; and then the destruction of the Chambers of Labour and all other centres of organic unity of the working class and peasantry, and the terror disseminated among the masses

      That’s the historical context. It’s not on Ro’s list. Apparently, it’s not on the Green Party’s either. Not a good look.

  14. dcblogger

    This is a very soft-edged sort of fascism. I think that Trump is the overt type, a US version of Pinochet. I think he will declare martial law within hours of taking office. I imagine he will spend the transition period drawing up lists of people to be arrested and where they will be held (I imagine South Pacific islands). Under laws passed under Bush and normalized under Obama an American President can label anyone a terrorist, including American citizens and have them kidnapped or killed outright. Obama never used that against Fox News, but there is nothing to prevent Trump from using it against Naked Capitalism and anyone else he does not care for.

    In fact, I suspect that even now one of his military advisors is drawing up such a plan.

    Under President Hillary we live to fight another day. That is why Bernie supports her, that is why he said our best path forward is through a Clinton Presidency.

    1. DanB

      “Under President Hillary we live to fight another day.” This is a vague open-ended statement, and what you accuse Trump of plotting is explicit -with no evidence, so I guess it’s really you’re hunch. I will not vote for Trump under any circumstances, likewise Hillary. However, I see Hillary as a warmonger who is depraved enough to think a first strike against Russia or China would be good for the 1% who rule the American economy. And I guess that she’s got people telling her this is the reasonable thing for the exceptional nation to do.

    2. shinola

      “Under President Hillary we live to fight another day.”

      Well, I suppose it wold take more than a day to provoke a war with Russia…

    3. vidimi

      I think he will declare martial law within hours of taking office. I imagine he will spend the transition period drawing up lists of people to be arrested and where they will be held (I imagine South Pacific islands). Under laws passed under Bush and normalized under Obama an American President can label anyone a terrorist, including American citizens and have them kidnapped or killed outright. Obama never used that against Fox News, but there is nothing to prevent Trump from using it against Naked Capitalism and anyone else he does not care for.

      this strikes me as merely the projection of an active imagination, and not something that can be extrapolated from trump’s behaviour, petty and narcissistic though it is. we’d be hearing rumours of trump enemies sleeping with the fishes in concrete shoes by now if there was anything to really worry about; instead, he seems to prefer a twitter rant or a litigation threat.

      1. hunkerdown

        Perhaps this fantasizing should be called “little blue-team pills”. I believe the function is approximately the same.

    4. reslez

      > I think he will declare martial law within hours of taking office. I imagine he will spend the transition period drawing up lists of people to be arrested and where they will be held (I imagine South Pacific islands). Under laws passed under Bush and normalized under Obama an American President can label anyone a terrorist, including American citizens and have them kidnapped or killed outright. Obama never used that against Fox News, but there is nothing to prevent Trump from using it against Naked Capitalism and anyone else he does not care for.

      That’s a serious charge. If you have any evidence for those assertions outside your own imagination you should share it with the rest of us. That way we can join you at the barricade.

      If Trump tried any of those things “within hours of taking office” the level of opposition he would face is tremendous. The other items you list consist of the exact same stuff Obama does. Hillary would continue those policies — to say there’s anything to distinguish her and Trump on that score is disingenuous. At least Trump is a less overt warmonger, he has that going for him.

      1. dcblogger

        You are correct, the resistance would be massive. I predict a failed state, think Lebanon circa 1984.

    5. Binky

      That sounds like a lot of hard work and I don’t think Donald Trump is up to hard work.

      I have seen the RNC and I don’t see a lot of hard edged, wiry, hungry people, I see fatties who stick to the couch and television because it is safe and easy.

      Look at Hitler and read up. He was a motivated guy! He practiced his moves and consulted Leni Reifenstahl for presentation tips. He was selling the product, tweaking on speed to get his message out. Donald Trump is playing it easy, just rambling whatever bs comes into his head until just lately. Now he has to work, read whats on the prompt and so he gets stressed out.

      German and Japanese fascism are too hard for Americans. We could do Italian fascism, and kind of did back in the day. We had Nazi sympathizers like Ford and Lindbergh and Prescott Bush, and we had Silver Shirts and the Klan ran Indiana, but to really do the job requires some kind of desperation and intensity we just don’t have in America to the degree others have had. We have had it good for too long.

    6. different clue

      Pinochet? Are you sure? Didn’t Pinochet seize power through a military coup?

      Perhaps you meant to mean Juan Peron instead? He was elected ( or is my memory wrong?), after all; and remained caudillismically popular with his base for a long time.

      If Trump comes to power, it will be through an election, not a coup. In fact, the OverClass and its Clintonites will try every stealth shadow-coup method they can get away with to prevent Trump winning.

      1. RabidGandhi

        You are correct. Perón was elected three times and still remains wildly popular, especially amongst the working classes. And like Trump, Perón’s economic policies were significantly to the left of the status quo establishment, which eventually had the military overthrow him in a coup.

  15. inode_buddha

    Hrm, I would NOT have thought of making the connection between association and fascism like that, particularly with regard to the current political scene.


    I have an article brewing in my head, deconstructing Hillary in particular and much of post-modern politics in general…. may email you later about it. Yep, I remember the whole “post-modern” thing from college at the time.

  16. hemeantwell

    There’s something worth teasing out in your review of Gramsci and the Nazi gleischaltung effort. Gramsci is focusing on elements of fascism associated with the destruction of opposition organizations. Gleischaltung involves a permeation, or ordering, of “neutral” social organizations — e.g. stamp clubs — by Nazi ideology and the assimilation and strengthening of hierarchies within those organizations that complement the fascist order.

    My impression is that a big driver of this difference — and this comes both from reading and seeing how much was made of this at the Nazi Party Documentation museum in Nuremberg — is that Nazi ideology placed considerable emphasis on affirmative, emotional experiences, e.g. Strength through Joy, that obliged a thorough incorporation of everyday life practices. They were not interested in just wiping out opposition, but creating positive experiences that would, I imagine, help to generate loyalty and productive and military sacrifice. This supplemented more mundane pressures to centralization; to have an idolized Fuhrer concentrates the emotional focus and creates a bond among the idolizers.

    Viewed from this angle, fascism — at least its Nazi variant — is very different from anything on hand now. Political organizations now are geared to occasional efforts to get out the vote, a weak, plebiscitary function aimed to bring aboutt a political act that, compared to the “joy and sacrifice” demanded of the Nazi public, are nothing more than ephemeral, barely registering in the social lives of most people. Trump will want to get out the vote, but after that he’ll let the special forces and drones do the fighting while we watch it on our flat screens. Same thing with Clinton.

    It’s hard to know how much to make of the Nazis success in their effort. My guess is that it tends to be underestimated. In any case, I think that the question of association needs to be considered in light of the power of the emotional experiences they are capable of generating. Clinton is, in this respect, a failure, while Trump, as Ian Welsh argues, is less so.

    1. Seamus Padraig

      Good point. The Nazi model was much more ambitious and totalitarian than the fascism that we have. Our system is much more ramshackle and haphazard, like the banana republics of Latin America. They don’t aim at mobilizing and regimenting the masses to conquer Lebensraum; they are content to distract people with telenovelas and fake, rigged elections. Only when that formula doesn’t work do they resort to the coup d’état.

      1. Quantum Future

        Seamus – I agree on banana republic but not on coup de etat. The national power was lent to establish supranational order with the BIS and CFR continuing expanding power. The reality that always surfaces is that this causes a shrinking pie and those in the lower tiers of the pecking order revolt. It is akin to the game king of the hill in reality.

        An objective was two entities to potentially be global reserve currency to pass the torch. China or the EU. But both are also corrupt to the core. Now it seems just a race to grab as much loot and land before implosion similar to the Soviet experience.

  17. Anne

    The laundry list that Bill recited reminds me a little of the frantic high-schoolers desperately signing up for any and everything in order to ensure their acceptance into an elite college – okay, so you “joined” the XYZ Club – and then what? What did that mean for anyone but you? What did you learn from the experience that spurred you to learn more and do more? Did you learn more, did you do more? How did what you did benefit anyone other than yourself?

    These are less associative than they are a form of acquisitive; if any of these things Bill lists are forms of bridges or ladders, they seem to be suspiciously built for a party of one.

    I hope I haven’t missed the point being made in this post – I just don’t see how boring people to death with how “accomplished” someone is helps form a real bond with others; there is so much “I” – in the form of “she” – and not enough “we” or ” us” or “you.”

    I didn’t watch and I haven’t read the text of the speech – but it strikes me that if there’s a feeling HRC must once again be reintroduced and humanized, for the I-don’t-know-how-many-th time, it hasn’t occurred to the team that their methods to this point have failed to connect her to people, and they don’t understand how someone with her long list of things-she’s-done could possibly not be revered and loved.

    And, while not related to the topic of the post, I just cannot understand why anyone thinks anything Bill Clinton has to say would carry with it an iota of credibility or honesty. That association alone may be more of a turn-off for people than anything else.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      The point: There is virtually nothing in Clinton’s list of “accomplishments” that has anything to do with empowering working people under the principle of association. It’s a masterpiece of ticket-punching. And it’s all about her.

      1. Anne

        And doesn’t “I’m With Her” pretty much put the period to the end of that sentence?

      2. PH

        In this context, do you mean anything other than labor union? If so, what do you have in mind?

        In late 1800s and early 1900s, there were voluntary organizations that often were social clubs but also offered some insurance against health problems, etc. (Mason’s, odd fellows, various guild like social clubs). But most of the social service stuff was slowly taken over by government after the new deal.

        Not sure why the social club stuff died out. Maybe suburban living and the rise of television for private entertainment.

        What range and type of worker associations would you like to see?

        I have often daydreamed of community activities centered on vigorous continuing education programs. But might not appeal to many other folks.

  18. ekstase

    This is thought -provoking, (and therefore probably dangerous). Sanders always seemed to be coming from a position of: if we all do things together we will be much more powerful and effective, which is really just common sense. The resume of greatness of someone who is always presented as your superior, someone who will help you if you will only wise up and see their superiority, is in comparison, off-putting. It also seems likely that their “helpfulness” will be a lot less effective than communal effort, and perhaps even useless. Whatever we call it, this, “you are my saviour,” stuff has got to end.

  19. DJG

    Lambert: Interesting and thought provoking. And bringing in Gramsci means approaching the issue fresh.

    I, too, got snagged at the word ‘modernism,’ with your note on post-modernism.

    I’d say that the rise of post-modernism, which came from elite academia and the more meretricious part of the art world, may be a seedbed for a kind of soft authoritarianism. Ironically, all of that supposed questioning of authority has led to more puritanism and more rigid categories.

    Then there is the rejection of modernity, which was led by industrial production, the Machine Age in our older U.S. history book. But even modernity is now in retreat, with manufacturing offshored and the quality of goods (and services) in continuous decline.

    Yet associations do thrive. What have I read? The average American still belongs to a prodigious number of societies, organizations, and clubs. Or are clubs ancient history?

    1. hemeantwell

      My reading of pomo is heavily oriented to its (phobic) antihierarchical insistence. Aesthetics-wise, I think it flows right out of the same trends that Serge Guilbaut talked about in “How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art.” Sounds conspiratorial, but he does a good job of documenting how the US, through various gummint-sponsored cultural organizations, pimped abstract expressionism and its more apolitical, “free spirit” practitioners as expressing a vital response to the monolithic “industrial society” and its Stalinist exaggerations. You end up with a quietistic, confusion-mongering aesthetics that is deliberately directionless. Enter Mr. Market.

      It’s a good read, and very cheap at ‘zon.

  20. myshkin

    “Did you see any examples Hillary Clinton creating associations in Bill Clinton’s list of her achievements?… We might also consider whether the Democrat Party, as presently constituted, supports the principle of association.”

    If H Clinton is opposed to association, proving the point about the Democratic Party is fundamental. In the case of the Clinton’s that is the primary claim to support association; beyond the Democratic Party it might also pertain to whether one believes the US government is now absolutely opposed to association. The elective process, depending on how it is constituted, is an associative process to the degree it regulates participation; the stuff of republics and democracies are individuals and groups associating to limit the participation of other groups and individuals while abiding the principle of open association.

    The Clintons have long been involved in elective government in a presumed democracy, (quite a presumption). By definition the Senate is an associative body of elected representatives; the presidency, the governorship of AK all involve associative relations. They have a long history of participation in associative democracy or some semblance of it.

    The Democratic Party is still a quasi open association, Sanders would not have succeeded to the point that he did if that were not the case. The same is largely true of the bicameral congress. IMHO trying to make the case that the Clinton’s are opposed to open association, considering their participation in the electoral process as it exists in this country is a stretch, particularly if it is meant to link them to fascist sympathies.

    The Democratic machine has long been a fixture of the party; machine politics in this country, depending on the scale of control has always mooted the permitted degree of openness of association.
    Frank makes the point that the Clinton’s have been believers in the neo-liberal agenda, they have been out in front of the party of the left’s drift from the New Deal, leading the Democratic parade toward the Ayn Randian, social darwinist, market solution epiphany of the right. I think Frank’s assertion is that the Clintons are true believers and bankers and Wall Street lined up behind them. That is their current legacy, it is destroying the country and it contains a record of both anti and pro associative behavior.

      1. myshkin

        I watched it. Frank says nothing except that ironically the Clintons have been pivotal in destroying FDR’s Democratic Party and they are unredeemed neo liberalist true believers and have paved the way for populist demagogues like Trump.
        My point is that their decades long ongoing participation in the Democratic Party and the operations of the republic at various levels of government, as damaging and disturbing as it has been, largely refutes your case about association.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          > largely refutes your case about association.

          How? A gaggle of credentialed meritocrats network their way to power and wealth refutes the ideas that (a) suppressing associations to an indicator of fascism and (b) working class association are key to defeating fascism?

          It’s the class angle that’s missing from De Tocquville. Maybe I didn’t make the transition between the two carefully enough.

  21. Alex morfesis

    Fascism shall rise again since most have no clue or interest…eco closes with the poem describing the justice waiting in the clenched fists of the dead…most have no interest and most will not resist…it is human nature today to be concerned with the next few hours and never plant a seed or worry about a harvest…

    The nazi international (A-O) is hardly ever discussed let alone analyzed, and as such, we get simplistic discussion on “the bush family” & fdr having quarantined certain of their assets…no big discussions on ezra pound or mark furmans brother….

    Metaxas on paper was a fascist…at least the coloring book version…but el duce and Hitler knew he was faking it…the german high command worried about his impenetrable “metaxas line” designed since he had been trained in german military schools and was nicknamed “little moltke”…the “first peasant” knew they would eventually come for him…so he prepared the harvest…planted the seeds…and cost germany with the delay in barbarossa…(see kyffhauser)

    Himler had many american friends and one dare not mention the american organizations he helped nurture…

    Orwell titled 1984 as an ode to his departed spouse who began her verse with “synthetic winds”…he had lived the selling out by the russians of the spaniards and had to hide while in spain to prevent his being shot unilaterally as his side was on the losing end…(see homage to catalonia)…

    the april 4 he places in the diary was not in the original drafts…his final draft was sent in late 1948, but the book was being finished in 1949…

    Conveniently for the A-O, jang jieshi was not getting along with mao (or the 3 sisters were not getting along)

    & the fear of

    “the communist mennace”

    was brought over from germany by the operation paperclip crowd…

    to borrow a line for those who will understand…

    the first person in the room to suggest fascist is the fascist…

    $hillary has spent much more time in her life with people and organizations with historic ties to fascist partisans than donald has…he beats her on the room with mobster types…but not outright fascists…

    Out there somewhere is
    “the enemy”…
    they are everywhere and they are nowhere…and they are hiding amongst us…

    fear has been used against humanity for a few million sunsets…it works…as there is always something beyond the horizon and “fearless leader/big daddy” will protect us from the boogeyman…if we let him…

    and if we can keep it…

    as the good doctor in philadelphia questioned..

    1. different clue

      There are two sites which devote some time and writing to these issues of the Fascist International and the Nazi International and their successors survival and planning planning planning working working working unto this very day.

      One is David Emory with his Spitfire List and For The Record and other things. He did a series of radio programs which I believe can be listened to or read in transcript form.

      The other is Rigorous Intuition 2.0 by Canadian journalist and lately novelist-on-the-side. It is a blog.

    1. Synoia

      Are you perhaps confusing “association” with public good as its objective with “cabal” which has private gain as its objective?

      Sarcasm aside :-)

  22. Jim

    It is helpful to keep in mind a key economic dimension of association not mentioned in the essay.

    As De Toqueville stated above: “there is no end which the human will dispairs of attaining through the combined powers of individuals united in society.”

    De Tocqueville also maintained that “in the United States associations are established to promote public safety, commerce, industry, morality and religion.”

    In the area of commerce and industry the associational corporate mode gradually became predominant. By the end of the 19th century a more individualistic ownership of private property was beginning to be replaced by a more associational ownership of private property.

    I believe it is historically accurate to argue that the then emerging corporation brought into a type of cooperative association managerial, professional and technical labor whether skilled, unskilled or semiskilled.

    Economically the country began to shift from a proprietary-competitive economic environment to the corporate-administred stage of capitalism.

    It should not be forgotten that a more capitalist industrialization that began to occur at the end of the 19th century was also a type of social movement.

    Or stated another way–a more modernizing associational relationship (gesellschaft) began to supercede (gemeinshaft or the more kinship/communal relations of an earlier historical period).

    One might argue that today, primarily through the Democratic/Republican party, a managerial/bureaucratic/professional upper-middle class has sized the party-state apparatus using the ideology of neo-liberalism–and is systematically attempting to permanently weaken and destroy most sections of the working and middle class.

    Fascism in the future may well be determined by the nature and interests of the associational forces which come to control our modern State.

    1. HP

      Not sure I understand the history argument.

      LS described voluntary associations outside government. Corporations started as an exception to that rule — expressly made by govt action.

      The first Corp were special purpose for a public goal. It provided a shield from suit beyond the property of the chartered entity. Usually for a bridge, toll road. Later, banks and railroads. The usual rule was unlimited personal liability, and that was considered essential for reliable business relations.

      All this before greenbacks became accepted currency in the Civil War.

      My guess is that what has happened since is a tangled story of the role of corporations over time. But no doubt we are a long way from the world de Tocqueville visited.

  23. Auntienene

    This reminds me of the genius of the “association” of singing protesters in the Wisconsin state capital. They weren’t able to shut them down like an occupy encampment. They also couldn’t shut down the black-clad mothers of the disappeared in Argentina. Maybe we should start marching with baby buggies to save the planet for our kids.

  24. HP


    I will offer comments on your list.

    As an initial matter, I will make the usual stuffy disclaimer that fascism, like any political movement, is unique to its time and place. I think that puts limits on the discussion, and I am not comfortable calling anyone a fascist.

    Second disclaimer is that I think a related topic is what people think of as fascism today. Probably lots of people have an opinion. Fewer are familiar with the history.

    Ok, my list (of our current popular understanding of fascism):

    Express contempt for law or moral limits
    Willingness to openly use violence outside legal authority
    Political control of the police and courts to prevent customary avenues of restraint
    Use of informers to prevent counter-organization
    Political control of the media to dominate propaganda and silence dissent
    Appeal to an inevitable and desirable higher purpose
    Glorification of war
    Willingness to murder millions in an industrial fashion based upon the race of the victims

    In my list, I agree that the means described were used to break down social grouping. I found your Gramsci quote compelling.

    With regard to today’s world, the scariest parallel (to me) is between the use of informers and unchecked surveillance.

    The hardest question to answer, in my view, is why some people are attracted to fascism. But I think your question about association make a good point about why it is so difficult to escape once it has taken root.

    (The Clinton part struck me as a little thin. But a review of the 30s and 40s dwarfs anything Trump is accused of, too. Though the open contempt for law is nerve wracking. A little hypocrisy would be preferred.)

    1. hunkerdown

      Trump’s only crime is honesty that offends the sort of people who ought to be on lamp posts anyway.

      Of course liberals prefer hypocrisy. That’s what makes you all unfit to participate in other people’s discourse.

  25. Carolinian

    “You learn to earn”

    That pretty much sums it all up doesn’t it? Fortunately our brains aren’t really wired the way Bill Clinton thinks they are wired, because if they were the world would be a pretty bleak place. Everything in life is not about money.

    As to the musings about fascism, context is all. American society has little in common with those 20th cent societies that gave rise to fascism. We are more likely to all turn into anarchists. Regimentation is not in our DNA.

    1. Malcolm MacLeod, MD

      Carolinian: You are absolutely correct, but then, money is the American true religion.
      Most of what I’ve learned in life (82 yrs.) has had no practical value, but, like reading
      Lambert’s article, has been the greatest joy.

    2. hunkerdown

      Sure. *nods politely*

      Or so you fancy yourselves, anyway. America’s addiction to Great Men and celebrity culture shows this conceit to be laughable and beneath respect. In fact, y’all will line up behind any geezer or jackanape with captivating enough fever dreams.

    3. different clue

      Perhaps the sayings for a New Hippie Rejection for our New Situation could be . . .

      “You learn to know”.

      and . . .

      “Make love, not money”.

  26. gordon

    I wonder about the extent to which the “principle of association” has been changed by the rise of social media like Facebook and Twitter. Are on-line associations real? Is “clicktivism” corroding activism or facilitating it? Does the paranoia about social media evinced by the ruling class mean that social media association is serious or just that the ruling class is paranoid?

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      The standard indictment of social media is “the strength of weak ties.” So many Facebook “friends” are not friends. I think the click petitions were big starting with MoveOn — big especially for the firms promoting them, who took commissions by the click — but I can’t remember one that had any effect. I would bet the letters that Yves got people to write to Calpers had more effect than any amount of clicks would get.

      That said, I have acquired digital friends all over the world, because I have known them for years. The ruling class might be legitimately scared by that if there are enough people like me, though they are paranoid too.

    2. different clue

      If people who first link up through social media reach through the digital veil to engage eachother’s personal meat-selves in reality-space; then social media has been a platform for enabling real people to really associate for real. ( Those of them who step outside the social mediasphere and personally associate for real).

  27. Francis Korning

    there’s another element: fascism is a system of societal control that seeks first and foremost to subvert individualism and grass roots collaborative collectivism (association), into a cult of blind worship to a hierarchical ruling class, faction, or coterie. it utilises extensive symbolism, propaganda, regalia, public relations and communications, to work the masses into a sort of ecstatic sacrifice of the self and of critical thinking, in order to obey and even outdo the commands from above. the will, brainwashed and conditionned, revels in an orgy of zealous oneupmanship and total abandonment of morality to serve the great cause and the higher powers. it’s a mystical crypto-spiritual beast (in the sense that it dominates the spiritual sphere to compleat submission and sublimation of self). the parallel with religion and especially cults with charismatic leaders is clear.

  28. Cry Shop

    Fascism, (Lambert’s Medal for) Muckraking/Whistle-blowing,; freedom of association.

    The follow is raw, unworked. One other point I’m thinking about is the freedom do disassociate and reform associations. It seems that the oligarchy & system allow and thrive on informal associations of interests at the top, after all Fascist systems are riven by factionalism. Part of keeping this business at the top is silencing the flow of information to those outside the approved association. The last thing is the total loyalty to the top, the inability (or fear) to disassociate among the members, and that factionalism and struggle must be within very tight limits (Debbie’s reward for the right loyalty is part of this).

  29. Edward

    The theme of a totalitarian assault on association was a central one in George Orwell’s 1984 classic. I don’t know that it is that important whether you put the label “facism” on it or not. It might offer a useful perspective with or without the label.

    When I was at the University of Texas someone told me one time that during the 1960’s the administration there filled most of the student mall with a planter in an attempt to disrupt student protests so maybe UT was fascist.

    In one of the essays in “The Chomsky Reader”, Chomsky discusses the Spanish Civil War. He describes a situation where the communists wanted to suppress rival organizations which reminds me of the anti-association politics described here.

    If one really wants to go the distance with this anti-association theme you could look at changes in society that influence associations. Does suburban life hinder associations?

  30. Swamp Yankee

    I urge any of those who are interested in the links between fascism and modernism to take a look at Modris Ecksteins’ illuminating cultural history of WWI, RITES OF SPRING. Ecksteins argues that it was actually the pre-war avante garde and bohemia — in short, modernists — who provided elements which, after the shock of World War (cf. the Urey-Miller experiment), turned into fascism in the 1920s. The emphasis on the realization of the will, the contempt for democracy, the celebration of atavism and the moment over the deliberation and the long-term — Ecksteins locates all of these in the pre-war artistic avant-garde, such as Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes.

    Thus, it wasn’t an accident for Ecksteins that it was the Futurist Marinetti who wrote longingly about airplanes dropping bombs on all the museums and cathedrals so as to build a new civilization (he got his wish; the first part, at least). And while the Nazis famously banned “degenerate art”, mostly modernist, it wasn’t that they were opposed per se to Modernism’s urge to explode, erase, and pave over previous forms and traditions; it’s rather that the Nazis had their own sub-mediocre artistic vision, like Speer’s lifeless architecture and Hitler’s loony-tunes plan to create a kind of German latifundia society with enslaved Slavs in the East. Fascism’s aims, he argues, were in important and fundamental ways aesthetic. It was, he writes, “death masquerading as kitsch.”

    Whether you agree with the argument or not, it’s a highly compelling and very readable work of cultural history that is highly relevant to this discussion.

  31. Roland

    Is fascism “anti-modern”?

    Unlike an old-line “White” reactionary, the fascist does not reject the increased scale and intensity of social and economic relations which are characteristic of modern life. As for technology, the fascist embraces it.

    The fascist, however, wants to preserve the corporate divisions characteristic of pre-modern life. By “corporate,” here, I mean the term in its ancient political meaning: the notion that a human society, like a human body, has separate organs for separate purposes, each of which serves the whole, but each of which must be treated differently than the others.

    For the fascist, the unifying principle is the nation, which is the largest coherent group united by blood, language, and custom. Every class in the nation has its place and its duties in the corporate scheme. The fascists, themselves, of course, provide the directing Mind or Will of the corporatized Nation.

    Because the fascists represent, in their own theory, the directing Will, they insist on the cultivation of appropriate virtues within their cadres. Note that the “purity” which they call for is not monkish, but martial. The disciplined, virtuous fascists then proceed with the thoroughgoing coordination of all other social elements, to reconstitute a dynamic, healthy, nation.

    The fascist claims, “We can have modernity without class struggle. The answer is coordination under the direction of those who have wholly committed themselves to personal sacrifice and national virtue.” That is not necessarily a reactionary line of talk, although it is vehemently anti-liberal.

    The fascist concept is distinctly different from bourgeois “success,” from aristocratic “birthright,” or from proletarian “equality.” The fascist spits on all those things.

    Under fascism, the proletarian labours and the bourgeoisie manage production, but it is the fascist who tells the bourgeoisie what to do. Under fascism, the aristos remain the officers and the proles are in the ranks, but it is the fascist who tells the aristo when and why to make war.

    I don’t think it’s all that hard to understand why, in a society riven with dissensions, people from any class might see something appealing in fascism. The upper classes see in fascism a way to preserve their station in society, even if they must swallow some of their pride. The proletariat, despairing of a better lot, can console themselves that the fascists will frequently humiliate the upper classes. And, unlike the bourgeoisie, the fascist acknowledges the proletariat forms an integral part of society, rather than being a mere collection of losers in the marketplace.

    The happiest classes under fascism are the petty bourgeoisie and the rural smallholders, for the fascist protects them from competition by the big bourgeois. The fascist also lets them keep their respectability before the proletariat. Moreover, because the small proprietors usually have strong attachments to their land and community, the patriotic appeal of fascism resonates among them.

    However, it’s not hard to point out the most telling contradiction of fascism. The only way to maintain the coordination of the classes and, indeed, the discipline of the fascist party itself, is under the constant pressure of war. The turmoil and destruction of war undermine the social cohesion that the fascists strive to achieve. QED.ˇ

  32. Adams

    Most interesting post and comment thread. My time better spent here than watching the nauseating Dem self-referential (and -revelatory) Dem pridefest. Thank you Strether et. al.

  33. Knute Rife

    If the Ueberklass didn’t keep pounding on the Big Lie of Meritocracy, people might start seeing all that schoolin’ for what it is and realize, especially in the case of law and business schools, that unless you’re black swan brilliant, all that matters is being born to the right parents who lived in the right neighborhood and belonged to the right country club so they could start you off with a book of clients or a “small loan of a million dollars.”

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