Concern regarding ascendant fascism isn’t necessarily misguided— the question back is: where have you been for the last fifty years?
[Editor’s Note: This is an especially insightful column that peels away to “the” problem we are facing in our political and tilted economic system. — Mark L. Taylor]
By Rob Urie
From Whence ‘We’ Came
Fascism is a loaded topic for Americans. The term is usually put forward as oppositional, as the flip side of representative democracy, e.g. authoritarian. Left unaddressed is whose interests’ American representative democracy represents. Twenty years of research by political scientist Thomas Ferguson strongly supports the conclusion that it is monied interests (a/k/a the rich) that determines public policy. And while this isn’t the authoritarian leader alluded to with the charge of fascism, neither does it contrast with it in the sense implied.
In the American iconography, slavery and genocide against the indigenous population took place from the so-called founding forward under this system of representative democracy. Phrased differently, there is nothing intrinsic to representative democracy that precludes slavery and genocide. The social, economic and political repression and exploitation they represented had economic taking as their motive and they were systemic in structure— no single authoritarian leader, no Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini, created them as social facts.
Given its class and race composition and targeted policing, the U.S. today is an apartheid state divided into class and race-determined ghettoes. Whether or not this is fascism likely depends on where in the social hierarchy you are sitting.
The way that slavery and genocide functioned as American institutions was through oppositional definitions of the polity and not-polity. The assignation of slaves as three-fifths a human being in the Constitution was to accrue political representation to slave owners, not partial representation to slaves. Any geographic definition of the polity would have included slaves and some proportion of the indigenous population. One can argue the details of ‘the progress of history,’ but from the founding to the present, with ‘restorative’ interregnums, American representative democracy has meant class rule.
The class relations of American political economy are antithetical to the notion of a unified public interest. The point isn’t to suggest that this or that authoritarian leader isn’t authoritarian, but rather to sketch in the political backdrop to argue that the lived experience of social, economic and political repression is lived experience, not academic theories or bourgeois fantasies. The circumstances of investment bankers stripping assets, industrialists relocating factories built by workers to low-wage locations and tech ‘pioneers’ using licenses and patents to extract economic rents is systemically ‘authoritarian’ in the sense that democratic consent to do so was neither sought nor given.
This Machine Hearts Fascists
Around the time that George W. Bush’s war against Iraq began to unravel I had a chance conversation with a person near the top of the Pentagon’s ‘psyops’ (Psychological Operations) program. This person, a self-described liberal Democrat, explained the logic of the program: if people could be psychologically coerced into acting according to U.S. interests, the military wouldn’t have to kill them. In this context, ‘U.S. interests’ were determined by Donald Rumsfeld acting on orders from Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney.
The psyops ‘mission’ was framed in humanitarian terms: to save the lives of people who would otherwise have to be killed. It wasn’t nature that was going to kill them— the U.S. military was. My acquaintance largely agreed that the pretexts for the war had been a fraud— that no weapons of mass destruction had been found, that the Iraqi political leadership had no ties to the Saudis who had brought down the twin towers and that ‘U.S. interests’ were functionally the whims of the Bush / Cheney administration. Shortly after the conversation I received word that the acquaintance had been transferred to domestic operations with another agency.
Students of legal theory will likely know the precedent for rule by whim— Nazi law. In a broad sense, Nazi law was whatever the Fuehrer said it was. …
(Commoner Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2018. Open source and free for non-derivative use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )