Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fascism and the Future, Part Two: The Totalitarian Center

As the first part of this series pointed out last week, there’s an odd mismatch between the modern use of “fascism” as an all-purpose political snarl word, on the one hand, and the mediocrity of the regime that put the term into general use, on the other. All things considered, as tyrants go, Benito Mussolini simply wasn’t that impressive, and while the regime he cobbled together out of a bucket of spare ideological parts had many objectionable features, it cuts a pretty poor figure in the rogue’s gallery of authoritarian states. Let’s face it, as an archetype of tyranny, Italian Fascismo just doesn’t cut it.  
For that matter, it’s far from obvious that there’s enough common ground among the various European totalitarian movements between the wars to justify the use of a single label for them—much less to make that label apply to tyrants and tyrannies around the world and throughout time. Historians in Europe and elsewhere thus spent a good deal of time in recent decades arguing about whether there’s any such thing as fascism in general, and some very thoughtful writers ended up insisting that there isn’t—that more general words such as “dictatorship” cover the ground quite adequately, and the word “fascism” properly belongs to Mussolini’s regime and that alone.

On the other side of the equation were those who argued that a certain kind of authoritarian movement in Europe between the wars was sufficiently distinct from other kinds of tyranny that it deserves its own label. One of those was Ernst Nolte, whose 1968 book Die Krise des liberalen Systems und die faschistischen Bewegungen (The Crisis of the Liberal System and the Fascist Movements) played a central role in launching the debate just mentioned. Nolte was careful enough not to propose a hard and fast definition of fascism, and offered instead a list of six features that any movement had to have to count as fascist. The first three of them are organizational features: a cult of charismatic leadership, a uniformed Party militia, and the goal of totalitarianism.

That last word has been bandied around so freely over the years since then that it’s probably necessary to stop here and discuss what it means. A totalitarian political system is one in which the party in power claims the right to rule every sphere of life: political, religious, artistic, scientific, sexual, and so on through all the normally distinct dimensions of human existence. There are plenty of dictatorships that aren’t totalitarian—in fact, it’s fairly common for dictators to spare themselves a lot of extra work by focusing purely on the political sphere, and letting people do what they want in other spheres of life so long as their activities don’t stray into politics—and there are also totalitarian systems that aren’t dictatorships: there are plenty of religious communities, some of them more or less democratic in terms of governance, that claim totalitarian authority over every aspect of the life of the faithful.

The totalitarian dimension, though, is central to those movements and regimes that count as fascist by Nolte’s criteria, and it’s a crucial distinction. The charismatic leaders and party militias of between-the-wars European fascist parties presented themselves, and in at least some cases honestly saw themselves, as trying to overturn not merely a political system but an entire civilization they believed was rotten to the core. Crusades against “degenerate” art and literature thus weren’t simply the product of the individual vagaries of fascist leaders; they were part and parcel of an attempt to reshape an entire society from the ground up, and the cult of leadership and the party militia very often served mostly as vehicles for the broader totalitarian agenda.

A good deal of the discussion that followed the publication of Nolte’s book focused on whether the three organizational features just discussed were sufficiently unique to fascist movements to serve as touchstones, whether there were more features that might usefully be added to the list, and so on.  The other three features in Nolte’s description, by contrast, were broadly accepted by scholars. This is all the more interesting in that one of them is almost always rejected out of hand on the rare occasions it slips outside the charmed circle where professional historians practice their craft. These three features are the things that fascist movements and regimes consistently rejected. The first is Marxism, the second liberalism, and the third—the hot-button one—is conservatism.

Mention this to anyone in the contemporary American left, and you can expect blank incomprehension. Try to push past that, and if you get anywhere at all you can normally count on seeing the blank look replaced by flat rejection or incandescent rage. It’s one of the standard credos of current political folklore that fascism belongs to the conservative side of the political spectrum.  More specifically, it’s supposed to be the far end of that side of the spectrum, the thing that’s more conservative than the conservatives, just as—to the contemporary American right—Communism is the far end of the left side of the spectrum, the thing that’s more liberal than the liberals.

I mentioned in last week’s post the way that the riotous complexity of political thought in the early 20th century got flattened out into a Hobson’s choice between representative-democracy-plus-capitalism (the ideology of the American empire) and bureaucratic state socialism (the ideology of the Soviet empire) in the course of the Cold War. The same flattening process also affected domestic politics in the United States, though in a somewhat different way. Communism and fascism have long been the most overheated labels in our political culture’s demonology, and Republicans and Democrats eagerly applied these labels to each other.  Since Republicans and Democrats are themselves simply very minor variations on a common theme, it worked well thereafter to apply those labels to anyone who strayed too far from the midpoint between the two.  This allowed the parties to squabble about peripheral issues while maintaining perfect unanimity on core values such as maintaining America’s empire, say, or supporting the systemic imbalances in financial and resource flows that keep that empire in business.

One of the consequences of that strategy was the elimination of conservatism, in anything like the old meaning of that word, from the vocabulary of American politics. The Anglo-American tradition of conservatism—continental Europe has its own somewhat different form—has its roots in the writings of Edmund Burke, whose Reflections on the Revolution in France became a lightning rod for generations of thinkers who found the hubris of the radical Enlightenment too much to swallow. At the risk of oversimplifying a complex tradition, conservatism was based on the recognition that human beings aren’t as smart as they like to think. As a result, when intellectuals convince themselves that they know how to make a perfect human society, they’re wrong, and the consequences of trying to enact their fantasies in the real world normally range from the humiliating to the horrific.

To the conservative mind, the existing order of society has one great advantage that the arbitrary inventions of would-be world-reformers can’t match: it has actually been shown to work in practice. Conservatives thus used to insist that changes to the existing order of society ought to be made only when there was very good reason to think the changes will turn out to be improvements. The besetting vice of old-fashioned conservatism, as generations of radicals loved to point out, was thus that it tended to defend and excuse traditional injustices; among its great virtues was that it defended traditional liberties against the not always covert authoritarianism of would-be reformers.

In America before the Cold War, conservatives thus called for limitations on federal power, denounced the nation’s moves toward global empire, demanded balanced budgets and fiscal prudence, and upheld local and regional cultures and governments against the centralizing reach of Washington DC.  In the South, that reasoning was inevitably used to defend segregation, but it’s a distortion of history to claim that American conservatism was never anything more than a polite label for Jim Crow.  Like every political movement in the real world, it was a complex thing, and combined high ideals and base motives in roughly the same proportions as its rivals.

Whatever its faults or its virtues, though, it died a miserable death during the 20th century, as both parties and most of the competing power centers that form America’s governing classes joined eagerly in the rush to empire, and vied to see who could come up with more excuses for centralizing power in the executive branch of the federal government. As part of that process, the old conservatism was gutted, stuffed, and left to rot in cold storage, except for very occasional moments of pro forma display for the benefit of the dwindling few who hadn’t gotten the memo.

In Europe between 1919 and 1945, though, the European version of old-fashioned conservatism was still a major power, and Nolte was quite correct to say that one of the core themes of fascism was the rejection of conservative ideas. Where conservatives saw themselves as the defenders of the old order of Europe—Christian, aristocratic, agrarian, and committed to local custom and local autonomy—fascists wanted to impose a New Order (one of Hitler’s favorite phrases) in which traditional social hierarchies would dissolve in the orgiastic abandon of “one leader, one party, one people.” Fascists by and large hated and despised the conservatives, and the conservatives returned the compliment; it’s a matter of historical fact that the most diehard resistance Hitler’s regime faced, and the conspiracies that came closest to blowing Hitler himself to smithereens, all came straight out of the hardline aristocratic right wing of German society.

The bitter divide between fascists and conservatives, in fact, goes straight back to the origins of both movements. In a teasingly titled book, Hitler as Philosophe, Lawrence Birken showed in detail that the entire vocabulary of political ideas used by Hitler and the other ideologues of German national socialism came straight out of the same radical side of the Enlightenment that Edmund Burke critiqued so trenchantly.  When Hitler ranted about the will of das Volk, for example, he was simply borrowing Rousseau’s notion of the general will of the people, which both men believed ought to be free from the pettifogging hindrance of mere laws and institutions. Examples could be multiplied almost endlessly, and matched nearly word for word out of Mussolini’s speeches.  Despite the trope that fascism was a reversion to the Middle Ages, Hitler, Mussolini, and their fellow fascists were thoroughly modern figures pursuing some of the most avant-garde, cutting-edge ideas of their time.

Point this out to most people nowadays, though, and you’re likely to get pushback along two lines. The first is the claim that fascism equals racial bigotry, and racial bigotry is a right-wing habit, thus fascism must be a right-wing movement. That argument gets what force it has from the astonishing levels of historical ignorance found in the United States these days, but it’s common, and needs to be addressed.

Old-fashioned conservatism in the United States, as noted above, unquestionably had its racist side. South of the Mason-Dixon line, in particular, talk about local autonomy and resistance to edicts from Washington DC normally included a subtext favoring segregation and other policies meant to disadvantage Americans of African descent. That’s one consequence of the tangled and bitter history of race in America. It’s conveniently forgotten, however, that well into the twentieth century, the labor movement in the US was as heavily committed to racial exclusion as any collection of Southern good ol’ boys—keeping African-Americans out of the skilled trades, for example, was seen by many labor activists as essential to boosting the wages of white laborers.  With embarrassingly few exceptions, racial prejudice was widely accepted straight across the American political scene until the convulsions of the 1960s finally pushed it into its present state of slow disintegration.

Elsewhere in the world, the notion that racial bigotry is purely a right-wing habit has even less support. Even to the extent that labels such as “left” and “right” apply to the n-dimensional continuum of competing political and economic viewpoints in the pre-Cold War era, racial prejudice, racial tolerance, and relative apathy on the subject were more or less evenly distributed among them. Fascist parties are a good sample of the whole. Some fascist regimes, such as Hitler’s, were violently racist. Others were not—Mussolini’s regime in Italy, for example, was no more racist or antisemitic than the democratic government it replaced, until Germany imposed its race laws on its ally at gunpoint. The easy equation of fascism with racism, and racism with contemporary American (pseudo)conservatism, is yet another example of the way that the complexities of politics and history get flattened out into a caricature in what passes for modern political discourse.

That’s the first standard argument for fascism as a right-wing movement.  The second is the claim that German national socialism was bought and paid for by big business, and therefore all fascism everywhere has to have been a right-wing movement. That’s an extremely common claim; you’ll find it splashed all over the internet, and in plenty of less evanescent media as well, as though it was a matter of proven fact. The only problem with this easy consensus is that it doesn’t happen to be true.

There have been two excellent scholarly studies of the issue, Pool and Pool’s Who Financed Hitler? (1978) and Turner’s German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler (1985). Both studies showed conclusively that the National Socialist German Workers Party got the vast majority of its financing from its own middle-class membership until the last year or two before it took power, and only then came in for handouts from business because most German businesses decided that given a choice between the two rising powers in the final crisis of the Weimar regime—the Nazis and the Communists—they would settle for the Nazis. In point of fact—and this can be found detailed in any social history of Germany between the wars—German big business by and large distrusted Hitler’s party, and bitterly resented the new regime’s policy of gleichschaltung, “coordination,” which subjected even the largest firms to oversight and regulation by Party officials.

So where did the claim that fascism is always a puppet of big business come from? Like the use of “fascism” as a generic label for regimes liberals don’t like, it’s a third-hand borrowing from the Soviet propaganda of an earlier day. In the political theology of Marxism, remember, everything boils down to the struggle between capitalists and the proletariat, the two contending forces of the Marxist cosmos. Everything and everyone that doesn’t support the interests of the proletariat as defined by Marxist theory is therefore by definition a tool of the capitalist ruling class, and any political movement that opposes Marxism thus has to be composed of capitalist lackeys and running dogs.  QED! 

More broadly, communist parties have generally pitched themselves to the public by insisting that all other political movements work out in practice to a vote for the existing order of society. A useful bit of marketing in any context, it became a necessity once Stalin’s regime demonstrated just how unpleasant a communist regime could be in practice.  Insisting that fascism is simply another name for what we’ve already got, though, had an enduring downside—it convinced a great many people, in the teeth of the evidence, that fascism by definition defends the status quo. The fact that Italian Fascism and German national socialism both rose to power promising radical change in their respective societies and delivered on that promise has been completely erased from the modern political imagination.

For that matter, the flattening out of American political thought into a linear spectrum from “the left” (the Democratic party, and the Communists who are presumed to be lurking in its leftward fringe) to “the right” (the Republican party, and the fascists who are presumed to have a similar hideout in the GOP’s rightward fringe) helps feed the same belief. Once all political thought has been forced onto that Procrustean bed of ideology, after all, if the fascists aren’t hiding out somewhere on the far end of the Republican half of the spectrum, where else could they be?

It’s at this point that we approach the most explosive dimension of the history of fascism, because the unthinking acceptance of the linear model of politics presupposed by that question isn’t merely a problem in some abstract sense. It also obscures some of the most important dimensions of contemporary political life, in the United States and elsewhere.  According to that model, the point in the middle of the spectrum—where “left” and “right” fade into one another—is the common ground of politics, the middle of the road, where most people either are or ought to be.  The further you get from that midpoint, the closer you are to “extremism.”  (Think about that last word for a moment.) What happens, though, if the common ground where the two major parties meet and shake hands is far removed from the actual beliefs and opinions of the majority?

That’s the situation we’re in today in America, of course. Americans may not agree about much, but a remarkably large number of them agree that neither political party is listening to them, or offering policies that Americans in general find appealing or even acceptable. Where the two major parties can reach a consensus—for example, in giving bankers a de facto amnesty for even the most egregious and damaging acts of financial fraud—there’s normally a substantial gap between that consensus and the policies that most Americans support. Where the parties remain at loggerheads, there are normally three positions: the Democratic position, the Republican position, and the position most Americans favor, which never gets brought up in the political arena at all.

That’s one of the pervasive occupational hazards of democratic systems under strain. In Italy before and during the First World War, and in Germany after it, democratic institutions froze up around a series of problems that the political systems in question were unwilling to confront and therefore were unable to address. Every mainstream political party was committed to maintaining the status quo in the face of a rising spiral of crisis that made it brutally clear that the status quo no longer worked.  One government after another took office, promising to make things better by continuing the same policies that were making things worse, while the opposition breathed fire and brimstone, promising fierce resistance to the party in power on every issue except those that mattered—and so, in both countries, a figure from outside the political mainstream who was willing to break with the failed consensus won the support of enough of the voters to shoulder his way into power.

When fascism succeeds in seizing power, in other words, it’s not a right-wing movement, or for that matter a left-wing one. It seizes the abandoned middle ground of politics, takes up the popular causes that all other parties refuse to touch, and imposes a totalitarianism of the center. That’s the secret of fascism’s popularity—and it’s the reason why an outbreak of full-blown fascism is a real and frightening possibility as America stumbles blindly into an unwelcome future. We’ll talk about that next week.


Odin's Raven said...
Another nice essay, thank you. Would you care to give a similar explanation of that other misunderstood and misused historical and political 'F' word - Feudalism?

2/19/14, 4:50 PM

Joseph Nemeth said...
@JMG -- thank you, you've clarified the matter and resolved my earlier confusion neatly.

2/19/14, 5:05 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

As an interesting side issue, tribal societies can also be a totalitarian regime in that they regulate most aspects of people’s lives. I wonder how many people these days would subject themselves to such oversight if they had the choice.

Your conclusion at the end of this week’s essay tends to indicate to me that when, or if people have no choice they will support a totalitarian regime. I reckon the secret appeal of these regimes - as you indicated - is that they can push through radical change when it is required, as most likely other methods have proven to be ineffective (current political deadlock anyone)?

I've often wondered why the US population - who loudly claim to be free (of tyranny) - subject themselves to a loss of those freedoms and also increased oversight by authorities such as the NSA etc. The irony is not lost on me.

Quote: "cult of leadership and the party militia very often served mostly as vehicles". Oh my, this culture and thought has truly worked its way into the top end of town and is an accurate reflection of the populations’ relationships with corporations. Spine chilling stuff.

I liked the bit too about the confusion of fascism and conservatism as they are mutually conflicting objectives: It is impossible to both seek radical change and maintain the status quo at the same time.

Another thought too. Conservatism in the traditional sense of the meaning is an advantage too in fragile ecosystems in that it avoids novel responses which can ultimately harm the environment.

Your quote: "which both men believed ought to be free from the pettifogging hindrance of mere laws and institutions". I'd have to suggest that a large chunk of the population in Industrial countries would agree with that statement. Unfortunately, to achieve that stated goal means even more laws and oversight institutions, but with differing uniforms and ideology.

This week’s essay was even more exceptionally thoughtful and interesting than usual.



2/19/14, 5:34 PM

Ventriloquist said...
John Michael,

To briefly post a small lyric:

Somethings happening here,
What it is ain't exactly clear,
There's a man with a gun over there,
Telling me . . . I've got to beware,

-- Buffalo Springfield

Now, pardon me if I've segued slightly from your thread theme,


There are some significant portents going on right now -- To Wit:

The Ukraine is on fire.
Russia is on the verge of being drawn in.
There's some very serious agricultural impacts in two of the world's breadbaskets (California and Brazil) with massive drought right now, that is worsening by the week.
The US of A is stuck in a quagmire of a political death-wish in Washington, DC.
There is an increasing instability between China and Japan with saber-rattling increasing.
The European currencies are more volitile than they have been in recent memory and the huge purchases of precious metals in Asia are indicative of signigifant fear in India, China, and Southeast Asia right now.

Can you postulate . . . .
Are we . . . possibly . . . approaching a Tipping Point here?

2/19/14, 5:45 PM

Shane Wilson said...
Omg, this just gives me goose bumps reading it. I will have to reread again for clarity. I can see burkean conservatism in some of your thinking, JMG

2/19/14, 5:47 PM

Avery said...
"What happens, though, if the common ground where the two major parties meet and shake hands is far removed from the actual beliefs and opinions of the majority?"

Wow. Clear as day, and I hope this will let readers see through the mush of blogger-quality political arguments in the future. Fascism, after all, is defined by its popular appeal!

This means as well that the alternative to fascism in a failed government may well be a type of elitism. In a previous cycle, you offered up a possible scenario that would cause the United States to break up into several smaller nations, but what if there's a consensus for legal union without the ability for political union? The result might be a Confucian-style bureaucratic government like I described in my previous post, or a military junta. But neither of these things are the same as populist fascism. Rather, they may be the most savory alternative to a totalitarian regime.

2/19/14, 6:31 PM

Merle Langlois said...
This was an excellent post JMG. The way you spell out these tricky concepts reminds me of walking through a minefield in the dark. You did mention before that Fascism was the totalitarian center and I understood that somewhat, in that they have a grab bag of policies from all directions, but the two left wing critiques of fascism that you took apart here also coloured my view before. Now I see that you are right and that Fascism really has this big grand vision to remake society.

On a different note, your Burkean conservatism is a bit impractical at the moment as the policies of even the past three hundred years can't exactly be relied upon as our "most antient and excellent tradition." In other words, right now, there isn't really much of a helpful tradition to harken back to. It's forward over the cliff in one way or another.

2/19/14, 6:44 PM

jkwill said...
John Michael-

many of the so called fascist regimes regimes also fall apart eventually as is happening in Venezuela right now. A single carasmatic individual can't or doesn't want to provide much improvement for society as they are generally too narcisist beyond what most of us are. Once the leader goes the project is over and people get back rebuilding after the disaster. Can we see the general lack of agreement on values in american culture right now as a prelude to another totalitarian attempt?

2/19/14, 7:15 PM

Nathan Donaldson said...
Great read, and you are right, when I was in school the Maryland Citizenship test had us learn Representative Democracy and Authoritarian as the two catch-all categories of governments. And the 10th grade teacher also taught us the political spectrum exactly as you describe it.

However, I still contend that fascism as an ideology, if it exist at all, is centered on war making. Mussolini did shout after the invasion of Ethiopia: "At last Italy has her empire." Now this war was a far cry from Hitler's conquest but that's as much because of the difference between the two countries as it was the two dictators.

A conservative will usually view war as a necessary tool of statecraft while a more fascist type personality sees it as the essence of life. Most of the economic policies you sited are the logical extensions of that way of thinking.

2/19/14, 7:22 PM

Pinku-Sensei said...
Decades ago, I decided that the radicals on the Right (note that I didn't call them conservatives, even if they call themselves that these days) were more dangerous than the ones on the Left. First, I figured out that there were a lot more of them. Second, I looked at the history of Communist vs. Fascist regimes. I can't think of a single successful indigenous Communist revolution that took place in a democracy. When the socialists take over a democracy, it looks like Sweden, not the U.S.S.R. Therefore, that wasn't going to happen to the U.S. On the other hand, I looked at all the fascist regimes and every one of them came out of a failed experiment with democracy. That could happen here.

Also, you're not alone among Peak Oil thinkers in expecting fascism in America's future. James Kunstler has been predicting for more than a decade that we'd elect maniacs who'd promise to allow us to keep our McMansions, cars, and commutes long after Peak Oil made all of them untenable. After a few years, he changed "maniacs" to "corn-pone Nazis led by a corn-pone Hitler." He's been looking for that "corn-pone Hitler" since. The last time he identified one, it was Sarah Palin. That turned out to be a false alarm; women historically don't become fascist dictators. However, there are plenty of candidates for that role these days.

2/19/14, 7:27 PM

onething said...
"One government after another took office, promising to make things better by continuing the same policies that were making things worse, while the opposition breathed fire and brimstone, promising fierce resistance to the party in power on every issue except those that mattered—and so, in both countries, a figure from outside the political mainstream who was willing to break with the failed consensus won the support of enough of the voters to shoulder his way into power"

This is something I can really see. The politicians' talk has become so idiotic, so banal, so predictable and so unrelated to reality, that if someone comes on the scene and speaks frankly and openly, it might be almost irresistible.

2/19/14, 7:36 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Raven, we'll get to that in the upcoming series of posts on dark ages.

Joseph, you're welcome. Got your story for the contest, btw.

Cherokee, exactly. When institutions stop working, and remain stuck in a broken-record repetition of failed policies, fascist movements have their chance, because they can present themselves as the only alternative to business as usual. Thus the need to look at other alternatives that lack the downsides.

Ventriloquist, choose a year at random in the last decade or so. Find a news site with good archives, one that covers wars and crises, and go to five randomly chosen dates in that year. Odds are you'll find equivalent crises, and if you go to peak oil forums for those same dates you'll find claims that a tipping point is about to be reached. That is to say, no, I don't think so -- just one more bump on the early stages of the Long Descent.

Shane, indeed you can. Glad you liked the essay!

Robert, got it.

Avery, a military junta is one very likely possibility; a Confucian bureaucracy, probably not, since that requires a bureaucratic class with a certain level of competence and capacity for self-restraint, which we don't have.

Jkwill, of course fascist governments generally fall apart once the leader-figure dies. That doesn't keep them from being extremely efficient at staying in power while he lives -- nor does it keep people from falling into goose step behind the banners when the movement's young and its problems have not yet become brutally clear.

Nathan, nah, militarism was popular in 1920s and 1930s fascist movements because it was socially acceptable in most European countries, and in the US as well. I think you'll find that any effective neofascist movement will set its sails to the popular buzzwords and tropes of today -- or tomorrow.

2/19/14, 7:44 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Pinku-Sensei, indeed it could happen here. To my mind, though, Jim's "cornpone Hitler" is more a reflection of his own prejudices against Southerners and working class Americans than anything else; what we have to fear, rather, is an earnest, passionate, appealing figure who doesn't trigger anybody's canned biases, who seizes the abandoned center and seems to be talking common sense, just in a somewhat strident tone.

Onething, exactly. I'll talk more about that next week.

2/19/14, 7:51 PM

William Hunter Duncan said...
Reading this, I think most Americans, and people generally, are closet (or unconsciously/naturally) Anarchists - which is a word the vast majority misunderstand, even more than Fascism or Socialist.

But then, just about everybody is accustomed to bowing before some kind power (rather than standing firmly in their own.)


2/19/14, 8:00 PM

DaShui said...
You know this weeks posting is prescient.
One of my friends, who was a covert CIA agent during the Cold War and speaks german so well that he can speak in different german dialects. We know because we had an Austrian test him.
Anyway, last week he said that when he watches Hitler's speeches, he's amazed that how appealing a speaker hitler is 70 years later.

2/19/14, 8:04 PM

Pinku-Sensei said...
I think you’re right about where Jim’s “corn-pone Hitler” image comes from. The man doesn’t hide his prejudices.

On an entirely different topic, you’re absolutely right that a simple linear model of Left vs. Right doesn’t fully describe political ideology. Calling that idea one-dimensional is both figuratively and literally true. The whole idea came out of the French Revolution and the seating of delegates with the conservatives on the right on the liberals on the left. That didn’t last, as the most radical group, the Montagnards, who unleashed the Reign of Terror, didn’t sit at either side, but instead high in the center. Given your description of fascism as a totalitarianism of the center, I find that quite fitting.

Now that I’m finished with the historical aside, I’ll point out that there are several models that incorporate two dimensions to describe ideology. The most famous is probably the Nolan Chart, which the Libertarians use. That one uses economic freedom and personal (non-economic) freedom as its two axes and has the advantage of separating three groups collectively considered the Right, libertarians, conservatives, and fascists. It will also map the fascists next to the communists as different kinds of Statists instead of at opposite corners.

The Political Compass is very similar, with an Authoritarian-Libertarian axis corresponding to personal freedom and a Left-Right axis corresponding to economic freedom. That will also separate out different political philosophies almost the same way that the Nolan Chart does. It also allows people to take tests to find their position and then graphs them on the chart. When done in the aggregate, it exposes a flaw in the model; the two axes are not independent of each other. There is a strong correlation between Authoritarianism and Right and Libertarianism and Left. There are relatively few people who score as Authoritarian Left or Libertarian Right; most fall on a main sequence that may as well be the traditional Right-Left axis, except that the Far Left is not Communist, at least as practiced in officially Communist countries, but Anarchist. That might be something to think about when one considers the failure of Left-leaning organizations during the past 30 years, something you wrote about during December 2012.

A third model is that of science fiction author and Ph.D. in Political Science Jerry Pournelle. In his dissertation, he came up with his own axes for what is now called the Pournelle chart--rational vs. irrational and acceptance or rejection of government authority. The rational vs. irrational dimension was basically a conservative vs. liberal dimension, with the conservatives being exactly as you described them, but also irrational. The liberals were the rational ones, as they were trying to do what you described the reformers doing by imposing an ideological model. Remember that Pournelle considers himself to be a conservative, so being irrational is not a bad thing to him, nor is being rational necessarily a good thing. The attitudes toward government would separate out the two authoritarian types (Communist and Fascist) from the two anarchist types (Libertarians and Anarchists) on opposite sides of the chart, with most political philosophies participating in democratic politics in the center of the chart.

2/19/14, 8:24 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
So, whenever other people say "yes but it's different this time" I always answer that of course, it is different every time, but that does not always negate the larger similarity.

Still, I'm going to contemplate my own thoughts about a way in which it might be different this time...

One of the core principles that we believe we hold in the U.S. is personal liberty and autonomy. We believe that this is one of our defining principles in all areas of life. Is this a difference from the european situation in the early 20th century? Does this present a higher bar for the establishment of totalitarianism than might have existed then and there? I am trying to picture my neighbors giving up their right to own whatever guns they can afford, their right to go to whatever weird evangelical /pentecostal/true sabbath observing/etc. church they happen to fancy, their right to do as they durn well please on their own property (we don't even have zoning here), etc. That charismatic leader is gonna have to be one heck of a silver-tongued devil to talk them out of those things; or his/her militia are going to have have superhuman persistence to pry these things away by force. And this is not just true in the backwoods; it is the same in the suburbs.

2/19/14, 8:27 PM

Pinku-Sensei said...
Continued from previous comment.

All of those are theoretical constructs. There is another model that has the advantage of being derived empirically, DW-Nominate, which Voteview computes. That one takes the votes of U.S. Representatives and Senators and determines the independent axes that best describe their votes. Ever since the beginning of the Republic, there has been a Left-Right axis, with votes on the left being in favor of redistributive policies and those on the right being against redistributive policies. The second axis has changed over time. For most of U.S. history, it was about race relations, which supports your point about racism being independent of left and right. Since the 1970s, that version of the second dimension has collapsed into the first axis, with race-related issues also become economically redistributionist issues. That would also explain the current state of thinking about left vs. right and racism; now they are correlated. The second dimension is now about insider vs. outsider with the insiders in favor of the U.S. as an imperial power with all of the military, intelligence, and policing apparatus that entails, while the outsiders are questioning the idea of empire and think that the costs, both financial and social, are too much. That’s what united Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders, the most Right Representative and the most Left Senator, until Paul’s retirement last year.

That graph doesn't have the advantage of distinguishing Fascists, as there aren't any in Congress, but it will separate the libertarians from other Republicans and the populists from the Establishment Democrats. Based on what you wrote about advocating the abandoned center, maybe what DW-Nominate sees as the second dimension is starting to pick that up.

2/19/14, 8:32 PM

John Franklin said...
I enjoyed the article. Thank you for writing it.

As for Burke, he also “loved a manly, moral” liberty, where people needed less governance from outside forces because they (as much as possible for imperfect beings) governed themselves. Specifically, he explains his classic formula:

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites [...] in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

Since, I think, the only way to fully adapt to the long descent will be to adopt these sorts of self-imposed restraints (what we used to call morals), I think Burke's ideas are still very relevant. Not all innovations need be new.

2/19/14, 8:41 PM

Paul Thompson said...
A very reasonable (and well reasoned) explanation of what Fascism is and how it works. Thank you.
I was left wondering why Facist regimes historically, commonly become totalitarian regimes. Could it be that 'the party which seizes the middle-ground and addresses the issues mainstream politics can't or won't' experiences sufficient opposition from entrenched interests, that it must impose a totalitarian regime in order to overcome this resistance? This is, in ssence, what Hitler argued when he was pushing his "Enabling Act" through the legislature.
I wonder if the One Nation Party here in Australia, was a premature attempt at Fascism?

2/19/14, 8:50 PM

Enrique said...

Militarism, imperialism and a popular enthusiasm for war making have actually been quite common in democracies throughout history, from Periclean Athens and republican Rome to 19th/early 20th century Great Britain and the present day United States.

2/19/14, 8:53 PM

Bob said...

Thank you so much for your last two essays! I've always considered myself (relatively) politically savvy but your writings demonstrate that I was woefully misinformed.

I've long thought that the sorry state of education in the US was purposeful, in that an uninformed populace is a lot easier to lead around by the nose ring and it's clear that the oversimplification of political thought was purposeful, too.

While it might feel like inviting arguments at times, I'll be sure to use my newfound knowledge in future political discussions and maybe enlighten others. Thanks again!

2/19/14, 9:06 PM

Crews said...
John Michael Greer,

If you have time, it would mean the world to me if you would take a look at my post on energy at

( I also linked to your seven sustainable technologies as on it as well, very complementary)

Excellent post this week! Taking power from the unoccupied center is something I can completely see happening, catalyzed by a financial crisis in the next few years. I am impressed at how well you tied up all the loose ends of these nebulous terms!

I would not surprised to see a private military contractor, such as those used in Iraq, to form part of the praetorian guard of an politically influential charismatic leader. Such a figure could use the chaos of economic malaise as a ladder. totalitarian control wouldn't be a difficult stretch with just a bit more militarization of police as Americans already have gladly sacrificed their rights in the name of "terrorism." Is the totalitarian control power move usually explicit or is it a more subtle move under a cloak and dagger pre-text?

Best Wishes,

2/19/14, 9:08 PM

Thijs Goverde said...
Hmmmm. While it is certainly true that the conspiracies that came closest to blowing Hitler himself to smithereens, all came straight out of the hardline aristocratic right wing of German society, one of the reasons for this was that those aristocrats could still move with realitve freedom once the Nazis were in power, and that they (as opposed to, say, communist groups) were able to get close enough to Hitler to even try.

Likewise, though it is certainly true that dynamic young men from the conservative aristocratic class who joined the SS were looked down on by their elders, it is rather telling that they were even there to be looked down on.

While young aristocrats were among the most valued members of the SS, you'd have to look pretty hard to find them in communist gatherings, and only slightly less hard to spot them amongst socialists.

The dynamics between Nazism and conservatism were more complicated than you seem to imply here. One reason might be that the Nazis promised a complete overhaul of the way their society was organised, while leaving the core values of that society intact. (Please note: I'm not saying this is feasible or even possible, I'm saying that that is what the rhetorics promised)

This promise goes a long way to explain their appeal to the middle class, who often mistake the benefits they reap from the way society is structured for benefits gained through adherence to certain values ("I prosper because I am an honest businessman/ a Christian/ true-bred [fill in nationality here]/ hardworking decent jolly good fellow/ etc.]

For instance: the more 'left-wing' movements tended to be cosmopolitan, while both conservative and 'fascist' movements favoured nationalism. A similar distinction could be made on the atheist-vs.-Christian-axis.

Conservatives and fascists may have been uneasy bedfellows, but at least they agreed on what bed they should sleep in!

2/19/14, 9:25 PM

John Michael Greer said...
William, I'm familiar with the proper meaning of anarchism, and I have a hard time seeing Americans as they are today as natural anarchists. I think they like to see themselves that way, but really? Not a chance.

DaShui, the frantic insistence that Hitler was crazy, that only the evil or the deluded could have followed him, blah blah blah, is driven by an attempt to forget just how plausible and convincing the man was in his own place and time.

Pinku-Sensei, what all those schemes leave out, to my mind, is the dimension I discussed in last week's post -- which class has its interests catered to? -- which can't be tracked by any simple linear scale or set of scales, since in any society there are a good many classes with their own distinct agendas. I may have to brood on that and propose my own scheme one of these days.

Bill, Weimar Germany was obsessively individualistic and fixated on fantasies of personal autonomy, too. It's an interesting detail of history that when a society swings to one extreme along that line (as well as many others), it can be vulnerable to flipping to the other extreme -- at least for a time. It takes sudden disruptions to cause that sort of snapping, but such things aren't exactly unlikely in the years ahead of us.

John, and there's also much to be said for scrapping the notion of "innovation" and asking instead "what actually works when it's tried?" There again, Burkean conservatism does remarkably well. The challenge, of course, is the need for individuals to tackle the very hard work of making themselves fit for liberty.

Paul, it's partly that, but remember also that fascist movements generally rise out of a general critique of their societies -- Hitler's followers didn't believe that Germany just needed a change of leaders, they felt that German society had to be transformed from top to bottom, and the totalitarian impulse came largely from that perception.

Bob, expect to get almost universal rejection. People are very fond of their delusions.

Crews, I'll visit as time permits. As for mercenaries, that's rarely necessary for a successful fascist movement -- there's rarely a problem attracting true believers that will goose step for free.

2/19/14, 9:32 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Thijs, there I disagree. How much Nazi literature have you read? They didn't want to keep the values of their society intact, they wanted to overturn most of what German conservatism stood for -- respect for tradition and existing (not newly minted!) social hierarchies, Christianity, an economy and culture centered on the agrarian dimension, etc. -- and replace it with a New Order drawn mostly from what were then up-to-date scientific notions.

2/19/14, 9:38 PM

John Franklin said...
An interesting read and perspective. You have definitely hit on something. It is interesting to me particularly since both my parents grew up in Nazi Germany and lived through WWII. My father actually used to equate fascism as the extreme right end of the political spectrum but actually thought of the political continuum as forming a circle where the extreme right and left (fascism and communism) met to complete the circle. In his mind they both eventually became practically equivalent forms of totalitarianism. His family was from the conservative, business, upper middle class side of the German society and easily melded into Hitler's new order. My mothers family on the other hand was involved in the arts, theater, and music and both her parents were artists and intellectuals. Her family did not enjoy or profit from the rise of the Nazis. They also helped some of their Jewish friends avoid the Nazis. So in that sense from my family history the Nazis definitely seemed more at home with what we would call conservative middle class society, than the liberal intellectuals and artists. Just some thoughts.

2/19/14, 9:59 PM

Derv said...
Nice to see a deeper understanding of politics from you, JMG. When the question of conservatism comes up (and I am a staunch conservative), I've often tried to present the supposed left-right spectrum instead as a conservative-progressive spectrum.

To my mind, the defining feature of conservatism, from Burke to today, is that we cannot escape human nature. The general structure of society that we see, even under various political systems, is an inevitable outcome of human nature writ large. Progressivism, on the other hand, is the idea that human nature is malleable, and that we could potentially become something other than we've been. They think that man a century from now could be a different creature than man a century ago.

To the progressive, the potential for utopia is high, but utopia isn't an easy thing to come by. Naturally, many of them tend toward totalitarianism as a simple matter of ideological consistency; you can't re-form man without changing every element of his environment. Gramsci was big on that idea and I think was simply articulating the general sense held by progressives.

To a conservative, of course, the potential to create a utopia is precisely zero, and so any new method (especially those that tend toward totalitarianism) presents nothing but a danger. Any traditional Christian is conservative almost by definition. The doctrine of original sin and concupiscence means that every society will have poor and rich, power-hungry politicians, thieves, murderers, and so on. The state can never be dismantled like the Communists hoped, and history bore that out.

I would agree that Fascism is not a conservative movement whatsoever, but rather a progressive one. If anything, the far-conservative boogeyman ought to be monarchy, or even borderline-theocracy. And for many decades both the Republicans and Democrats have been progressive parties.

But I disagree that Communism is also wrongly ascribed to the far left. It is the most extreme form of progressivism, the belief that progress to utopia is not only possible but inevitable. They depart from the Fabianists by believing that violent revolution is necessary, believe the Dictatorship of the Proletariat must rule the entire world, and essentially advocate totalitarian slavery for generations in order to create paradise. It really is the furthest you can take the progressive ideology. Of course, that doesn't mean that there are any large number of Communists in the US, but it's properly ascribed to the left/progressivists.

I agree that some form of authoritarianism is a danger in the US, though I'd bet against fascism in particular. The best hope against that, in my opinion, is a return to states' rights. It's a long-shot, but when the debt crisis finally reaches its end-game, we'll have a window for real change. I hope the pendulum is swinging in our direction, then.

2/19/14, 10:04 PM

Fielder Jones said...
After last week, I was wondering where you would go with this series. Interesting read.

A book of modern philosophy I’m currently reading seems to equate fascism with nihilism. There may be something to this, especially if, as I think you are saying, fascism lacks a distinct philosophy or program. The fascist/nihilist would then believe in nothing except what was expedient. Nothing except a will to power? After all, the attributes you list from Ernst Nolte hardly add up to a platform; they appear to be more of an attitude or a style of governance, not a belief system. A fascist regime could use the Old Testament or Das Kapital for inspiration as long as it met Nolte’s requirements.

Looking forward to next week.

2/19/14, 10:07 PM

S P said...
I still maintain that America is not organic enough as a nation to have a genuinely successful fascist movement along the lines of Italy and Germany, as brief and limited as those systems were. And what I mean is that any fascist movement in America is going to be quite domestic, it's not going to have the strength to impose its ideas internationally or make major contributions to culture.

Although America exports a lot of culture and ideas now, that doesn't necessarily have to be the case. I can easily envision a world of an isolated America, where the energy comes from the Eurasian heartland, the commodities and materials from around the globe, and the ideas and manufacturing in Asia and Europe.

Americans have it good now, but we will quickly find out as we fall into internecine civil war just how isolating the Atlantic and Pacific oceans can be.

2/19/14, 10:07 PM

Mister Roboto said...
I think one reason for the placement of fascism on the far right is that communism, which is on the far left, is the rival ideology that the Nazis hated more than any other. Though I suppose that may have been because the communists were the Nazis' biggest rival in recruiting true believers longing to replace the existing order of society with a new order of some kind.

2/19/14, 10:09 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
JMG -- interesting. I find that period between the wars to be a very confusing time to try to get a handle on; I suppose it was even more confusing for the people living through it.

I'm also reminding myself that we are probably talking about people who are still children and very young adults now, when we talk about the people who might ditch individualism, Jesus, and conservatism in exchange for promises of something better than stagnant creeping poverty and decay. I think about folks here talking about their traditional "Southern Ways," and these young dudes don't seem to view these "Ways" as anything deeper than beer, trucks, guns, and fishing. I don't think most of them even know the history of that "red flag" they get tattooed on their necks and why it makes some people queasy. If someone can sell them on a truck in every driveway and a bass on every hook, s/he might go far...

I was also thinking of just one particular facet of society, health care. After a decade or two more of messing around with ill-conceived variations on the "government-regulated private marketplace," none of which really solve any problems, folks could very likely say "to hades with all of them, let's nationalize the whole system!"

Realizing that it all may hinge on how people who are currently 14 years old will vote in 2032 changes the picture considerably. That sounds way far off in the future, but 2032 is the same distance from today as 1996 is... and that seems like just yesterday to some of us old(ish) geezers.

2/19/14, 10:49 PM

steve pearson said...
The person I always saw as the likely "centerist savior" in the U.S., until he got caught with his pants down, was David Petraeus:intelligent,suave, distinguished soldier, not the embarrassing, extremist like Sarah Palin who would only have appealed to one side of the political spectrum.
For better or for worse getting caught with ones pants down is a bit of a career killer in the U.S. I remember an Australian commenter during the Clinton/Lewinsky debacle saying " Thank God we got the convicts, not the puritans".

2/19/14, 10:58 PM

Bernd Ohm said...
JMG/Thijs: I think the relationship between conservatives and the Nazis was rather more complicated. A lot of conservatives joined Nazi organisations during the 20s and 30s because of the shared enemies (Communism, Liberalism etc.), only to find out later that this didn't square with their traditional elitist and/or Christian views. In some cases, this lead to a cautious retreat into what some of them termed "inner emigration", in others, to actual resistance.
However, this doesn't mean conservatives simply wanted to go back to the old days of Christian Europe. If you look at the political ideas of the Kreisau Circle, the conservative network behind Stauffenberg's assassination attempt, you will find that they pretty much resembled Franco's Spain, i.e. a more or less totalitarian state without too much racism and aggressive imperialism, but with strong links to the Christian tradition. There were even some elements of democracy, but without universal suffrage. The basic idea was "something has gone awfully wrong since the French revolution, and we need to fix it", but the proposed solutions contained old elements as well as new ones.

A little note on "Gleichschaltung", the usual English translations do not really cover its meaning. "gleich" means "alike" and "Schaltung" is something you do with a "Schalter", i.e. a "switch", and it also means "electrical circuit". So, the image conveyed here is that of a national bureaucracy as some kind of a giant switchboard that is used to influence the "wiring" of society in a way that brings all of the latter's elements "into line", emphasizing the totalitarian aspects. Hope you get the picture...

2/20/14, 12:22 AM

Bogatyr said...
This is interesting, JMG, and it helps to clarify where you're going with this series. There's one thing that seems to me to be missing from your analysis, and that's the Spanish Civil War.

As you've pointed out, National Socialism differed from Italian fascism, though it was certainly inspired by it in many ways. Franco's Falange and the Carlists were neither fascist nor national socialist; they were a European paleo-conservatism of the Church, army and aristocracy, of the sort you describe this week.

Nevertheless, when they overthrew the Popular Government, the only help the democratically-elected Republicans received was from the Soviet Union and Mexico; the European democracies turned their backs. This turned civil war into 'a battle against world communism', which brought in Germany and Italy.

Italy, as you pointed out was the original and prestigious fascism; it also had the military reputation at that point, having been militarily victorious in Libya and Ethiopia.

It was natural, then, for the European left to bundle all three movements together under the term 'fascists', and I suspect this has much to do with the widespread use of the term for a range of 'rightist' movements. The Falange may not have been technically fascists, but the Italian troops fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with them were.

Regarding your comments about Mussolini's regime not having the prejudices of national socialism, I came across an interesting element on Wikipedia: By 1934, Libya was fully pacified and the new Italian governor Italo Balbo started a policy of integration between the Libyans and the Italians, that proved fully successful. Indeed in 1939, laws were passed that allowed Muslims to be permitted to join the National Fascist Party and in particular the Muslim Association of the Lictor (Associazione Musulmana del Littorio), and the 1939 reforms allowed the creation of Libyan military units within the Italian army.

In Germany, as you've noted, there was a widespread anti-semitism, in common with much of northern Europe at that time. According to various sources I've read, though, what made the Nazis so extreme in this area was the early involvement in the party of Baltic Germans, who had been the aristocratic rulers of the Baltic states for centuries until dispossessed and driven out following the Russian revolutions. They brought with them their sense of German racial supremacy, along with late-Tsarist attitudes towards the Jews and Bolsheviks...

2/20/14, 12:34 AM

Tony f. whelKs said...
Greetings to all - long time reader, but constrained commenter due to the perversities of my PC. I'm hoping a blogger account (in the greater service of the post-peak writing challenge) will help!

This latest series on fascism (and even facism ...) has really underlined the bankruptcy of recent political discourse - hardly any of the labels applied are accurate today, distorted either by self-delusion or demonisation of opponents. In fact they amount to little more than content-free flags which mean 'my side' and 'the enemy's side'. The degree to which this is deliberately cultivated is a fascinating conjecture.

Anyway, I've had to rethink exactly what it is I believe fascism to be, and more to the point - if it isn't what I thought it was (exactly), then what has it been that I've found so scary in some kinds of politics?

I've always held the hallmarks of fascism/nazism etc to be: extreme nationalism, charismatic leadership, militarism, authoritarianism, 'social Darwinism'/eugenics, irrational scapegoating, intellectual/ideological uniformity (preferably on as low a level of sophistication as possible), and finally populism.

I think what we need to be wary of in particular: anti-intellectualism, simple solutions to complex problems, group identities (either positive like 'patriotism' or negative scapegoating).

@Bill Pulliam - I don't hold out so much hope for your gun-totin', Bible-waving, autonomous neighbours as a bastion against fascism. I think any culture that can lynch can be swayed to fascism*. Fascists are like Rosicrucians in that they 'adopt the habit of the country' - all they need to do is weave a narrative in which their constituents' right to wield those guns and Bibles are threatened, sprinkle a little anti-intellectualism, and hey presto there's your new party militia.

@Ventriloquist - re Ukraine... "Russia is on the verge of being drawn in." IMHO Russia is already so deep in that they can't see any light filtering down from the surface. This is a LONG LONG game, at least a few centuries old.

* and I'm not claiming my own culture is any less susceptible, btw.

2/20/14, 2:23 AM

cafesneinton said...
Pinku-Sensei, what all those schemes leave out, to my mind, is the dimension I discussed in last week's post -- which class has its interests catered to? -- which can't be tracked by any simple linear scale or set of scales, since in any society there are a good many classes with their own distinct agendas. I may have to brood on that and propose my own scheme one of these days."

That would be interesting to hear...
My perspective comes from study of plato. He looks at classes of society
when classifying regimes. From rule by philosophers to fighters, the rich, the masses to the tyrants...I think it might be possible to site these under two dimensions

2/20/14, 3:00 AM

gregorach said...
A very interesting post - I hadn't encountered Nolte's definition of fascism before. I'm curious as to what you think of Umberto Eco's ideas on the subject, as laid out in "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt"?

2/20/14, 3:19 AM

Phil Knight said...
As far as the pro- or anti-modernist tendencies of Nazism are concerned, Jeffrey Herf's "Reactionary Modernism" is supposed to be a good book examining this subject.

Haven't read it myself, but it has been recommended to me a number of times.

2/20/14, 3:27 AM

Bard Of Bwyd said...
A highly interesting post once again John. I'm not entirely sure how you manage to make nearly every sentence of your prose give me an 'Ahahaa!' moment, but you consistently do. This entire series is ripe for expansion into book territory in my opinion, and what an important book it would be at this moment in time. Thanks again.

2/20/14, 3:33 AM

Fidelius said...
In 1996, when I first got Internet access, I regularly visited an American online forum on politics, society and free speech. On one occassion, someone started a thread about fascism and how fascists come to power; I took part in the discussion and related some of the memories told to me by my grandfather, who was born in 1925 and fought in the second world war. (I'm Austrian, so my grandfather, who was conservative in the continental European sense, was drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1943.)

As soon as it became clear that, as someone from a country with first-hand experience in fascism, I had some sort of "expert status" on the topic, people wanted to know how an ideology as extreme as fascism could have possibly come to power in Germany and other parts of Europe. I told them more or less the same things JMG has described in this week's posting, because basically that's what's taught in school here. That caused quite a stir. Back then I didn't really understand why, but now, after having read JMG's post, I begin to grasp how oversimplified political views seem to be in the USA. I also explained the concept of "militant democracy" (wehrhafte Demokratie) on which the constitutions of many continental European countries were based in the wake of the second world war.

But I digress; what really amazed me were the reactions once I made the "mistake" to suggest that no country and no people, including the USA, are immune to the lure of totalitarianism under the right circumstances. I presented my opinion that in the Great Depression of the 1930s, the USA might already have gotten uncomfortably close to fascism (again, that's not a conclusion I came to on my own, but rather what I learned in school).

The result was an uproar that eventually got me banned from the forum. Americans, most participants in the discussion proclaimed, are by nature democratic, individualistic and capitalist (why these three concepts were viewed as an inseparable whole is still beyond me). An especially fervent supporter of innate American democracy explained to me that basically, Americans were simply mentally superior to the rest of the world – he based that assumption on the fact that many Nobel laureates are Americans – and would thus never, ever deviate from democracy. When I repeatedly questioned his "reasoning", suggested that it bordered on racism, and warned that exactly this sort of thinking – "it can never happen here, we're an advanced, civilized country" – was prevalent in interwar Germany before the rise of the nazis, I finally got banned – from a forum proclaiming free speech!

Make of that what you will, but in my opinion, it doesn't bode well. And that was almost 18 years ago.

2/20/14, 3:57 AM

Richard Larson said...
That is an ominous prediction.

I have been in the trap of stating those type claims against both parties, but didn't take the time to consider I might then be labeled an extremist - by both sides as well. Being excluded makes sense to me now! So I'll just call them all something else then, a term not allowed here.

It is interesting to learn Hilter was actually funded by the middle class, that business interests chose one side over the other is still on them, though. Better to close the business than to fund a political movement, in my opinion.

The middle class in America is under huge strain and something is going to give here shortly, It could well be fascism. Good call.

2/20/14, 4:08 AM

Johannes Roehl said...
It is one thing to use phrases like Overturning of all values, new society etc. in one's pamphlets. The nazis certainly did that. It is also true that their backbone as far as numbers go was the (lower) middle class, neither workers (most of which kept voting socialist/communist) nor aristocrats.
But OTOH in practice they were heavily dependent on the support of both the industrial capitalists (Krupp, Thyssen, IG Farben (chemical industry) etc.) as well as "old boy's networks" from aristocrats and the military. Most of the latter had despised the "Weimar Republic" from the very beginning.
What's more, once in power the Nazis were socially conservative in many respects, e.g. concerning the role of women.
So while I agree that Nazism is far from being simply in extreme version of conservatism, I think that de facto it did share quite a few features with traditionalist und socially conservative forces in the first third of the 20th century.

2/20/14, 4:39 AM

Nestorian said...
Your clarifications are helpful, but I wonder if perhaps you understate the role of big business (both German and Anglo-American) in bankrolling, collaborating with, and acting as at least a junior partner with the Nazis during the period of their worst excesses. Mutatis mutandis, perhaps you are also assigning short shrift to their likely role in the possible rise of fascism today in an American context.

Granted that big business lent their support to the Nazis only reluctantly and relatively late in the game, the fact is that it DID ultimately do so - and with gusto. Moreover, I think a strong case can be made that this financial and political support was a necessary condition for the ultimate success in Nazism in gaining all-encompassing power over German society. That is, the Nazis would not have ultimately succeeded in attaining and maintaining their hold upon absolute political power in Germany WITHOUT the support of big business as a junior partner in the enterprise.

This state of affairs underscores both the crucial historical role of big business in paving the way for the worst excesses of Nazism, and their moral bankruptcy in so doing. Ultimately, all big business cared about (as usual) was their bottom line, and so they proved reluctantly willing to enter into what ultimately proved to be a devil's bargain with the Nazis with the aim of securing that bottom line. Any private moral misgivings that the agents of big business may have had in entering into an alliance with the Nazis mattered nothing in the end.

As a result, big business wound up playing a crucial role as the junior partner in one of the most egregiously monstrous regimes of the 20th century. Yet, those egregious monstrosities might have been avoided had big business placed certain basic moral considerations ahead of its own bottom line in deciding how to deal with the Nazis.

With big business remaining arguably the single most powerful concentration of power on today's social-political scene, I think it is important not to overlook or minimize the role of big business as an indispensable, albeit junior, partner in the Nazi rise to power, as well as the Nazi's ultimately destructive exercise of that power (e.g.: IBM eagerly supplied the punch-card machine systems that undergirded the notorious administrative efficiency of the Nazi death camps).

2/20/14, 4:48 AM

Yupped said...
I've heard it said that the old style Burkean conservatism is primarily an temperamental disposition, rather than a politicsl philosophy: a preference to trust in what works and see how things evolve, and a suspicion of any type of grand scheme. "Don't just do something, sit there" might be another way of summarizing it. But that does require the patience to actually sit there, and not interfere too much.

It's now my personal disposition, but only after years of seeing grand schemes, and several of my own temporary enthusiasms for such schemes, come to crashing down, as they were always going to.

I've been doing part-time work in New York quite a bit recently, taking the train in along the Connecticut coast line, and coming into the city. It's a great way to take a close look at the infrastructure of industrial civilization, and how crumbly the foundations are getting. Since industrial civilization is pretty much the grandest scheme in human history, and is visibly crumbling, we should absolutely expect to see all political methods applied to defend it on the way down. Although I still can't see us in the US getting with all the uniforms somehow.

2/20/14, 5:06 AM

Nathan Donaldson said...
Let me clarify: I would define fascism as the extreme version of militarism. As reactionary is an extreme version of conservative, as radical is to liberal, as communism is to socialism, as anarchism is to libertarian, as utopianism is to idealism....

Of course this is a logical abstraction, but examining the concrete historical examples runs into the problem of small sample size, as far as I know there has only ever been two purely fascist regimes as you describe them.

2/20/14, 5:30 AM

Andy Brown said...
Very nice diagnosis. Your image of the abandoned center is a really nice summation. There's a very consistent populist critique/diagnosis about corruption in this society (the US) that appeals to people all over the political spectra. And when the appeal of the duopoly parties consists of, "Our guy stinks, but at least he's not as bad as their guy," the door is left wide open for a political entrepreneur to make a play. I think the political elites believe that with the levers of power removed from the reach of populists, that the population then has no other options. They are right about that - right up to the point when they become wrong about that.

2/20/14, 5:31 AM

Phil Harris said...
A very thoughtful 2nd essay (and for me an important thesis – thanks): for myself, I am glad that I did my homework in the meantime and read the early 1940s essay by Polanyi recommended by both you and Hypnos in last week’s comments. I understand of course that you “don't propose at this point to get into the deeper dimensions of fascist thought, as discussed by Polanyi …”

Just a couple of points of comparison then between then and now: the capture of the centre ground in Germany (following Italy’s ‘modernisation’) actually got the economics right for those times. (Internationally based finance had seriously got it wrong). That option for our democracies could seem unlikely in the 21stC, perhaps? Is there a ‘right’ economics so handily available?

But the defining features in inter-war years for Europe were not just economic. There had been the 1914 war.

Of course, the military build-up in the geopolitical context before 1914 had been very noticeable, even as the actual result was unimaginable beforehand. For example, three old Empires and their rationale disappeared across Europe and Middle East and a lot else went with them, and the previously hegemonic global-trading British Empire was no longer in ascendant contention.

Nationalism, a powerful 19thC concept of organisation, was more seriously than ever up-for-grabs and re-invention, and there was an enticing landmass already with a long-standing ethnic German Diaspora.

But perhaps more importantly, the sheer power of the mad military machine and its massacres had destabilised ordinary personal expectation: modernisation had led to disintegration and dead ends. Modernisation though could not be abandoned: it was too relentlessly competitive.

I wrote the following as part of a small essay of my own last week.
“Modernism ached to be re-engineered according to the will – violent energies could create new machines. And violence own reward created new energy out of thin air. Totalitarian-welded violence sees no limitations – anything is possible. Why not encompass a whole obedient nation? … The scientific method is enlisted to make reality of fantasy. And the national will can find endless enemies to fight - and total war. “
I ended by saying:
“Pogroms had been a feature across central and Eastern Europe but not in Germany. Being good modern Germans, Jews could not understand the defining role being assigned to them in the violent imagination.

I do not understand America. Your violence has seen extreme episodes in my lifetime – talking of mad machines - and is internally chronic. But is it equivalent to the 1914 watershed? How are your enemies becoming defined?”

Phil H

2/20/14, 5:33 AM

Brian Cady said...
Thanks for the essay, JMG. Pinku-Sensei, thanks for the link to DW-Nominate; fascinating idea, wish I could get the movie to work.
JMG the breadth of your analysis reminds me of Hazel Henderson, who's a bit more optimistic, Lewis Mumford, who interspersed the last stuff I read of his with so many literary references I hadn't read that I was befuddled, and Norbert Weiner, who, as I remember it, claimed science is aided by a little monotheism, but hindered by beliefs in actively intelligent evil. Thus the power of science is lost to the paranoid persecutors. Somehow I'm not consoled much. Wonderfully disturbing article JMG

2/20/14, 5:36 AM

Ice Torch said...
The Archdruid wrote:

"Some fascist regimes, such as Hitler’s, were violently racist. Others were not—Mussolini’s regime in Italy, for example, was no more racist or antisemitic than the democratic government it replaced, until Germany imposed its race laws on its ally at gunpoint."

Mussolini imposed his race laws of his own accord in 1938. The Germans were in no position in 1938 to impose them at gunpoint.

It has always puzzled me why Mussolini did it, since he had at least one Jewish mistress, and initially most of the Fascists were not anti-semitic. After his invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), Mussolini became isolated within Europe, and he fell more into the wake of Hitler - even though he had opposed Hitler's attempted overthrow of the Austrian government in 1934, when the Austrian Nazis assassinated the Austrian chancellor Dollfuss.

From what I have read, Mussolini became angered by the increasing protests of foreign Jews against his regime - they rightly associated Fascism with its Nazi allies - so decided to hit back. Some of Mussolini's more moderate(!) Fascists apparently complained at the time that Italy's Jews were suffering because of the deeds of foreign Jews. To their credit, most Italians, whether civilian, military or police, actively obstructed those laws. Only after the Nazis had set up Mussolini in the puppet-state of the Italian Social Republic (in Northern Italy) in September 1943 were Mussolini and his Italians really at their mercy, and the Jews suffered accordingly.

2/20/14, 5:45 AM

Nathan Donaldson said...
As for the American 1930s, I recently read a Huey Long biography and found the idea of him being our emergent fascist dictator (as FDR liked to claim) to be ridiculous. He was still a very dangerous man.

2/20/14, 6:09 AM

Luckymortal said...
As always, keen insights.

And you've told a fascinating story here, but it's a story that can only be read as the purest fiction.

Or rather, mythology.

Or better yet, a children's coloring book, since our political mythology is necessarily, and comically reduced to absurdity, with the colors and details left to individual interpretation.

But then again, coloring books are at least 2 dimensional...

Still, Marx's observation was that our ∞d politics isn't boiled down to 1d by human error. It reflects the natural law for there to be a status quo and an opposition. This is the surface tension that binds political parties into a two opposed coalitions. But this necessary compression squeezes reality and truth right out of the system.

Another layer of nonsense compresses our 1d political system into pointalistic meaninglessness is that for the parties to maintain their relevancy, they must accomplish next to nothing they claim to be "for," especially on their most polarizing issues. The "anti-abortion" party will never deliver, and neither will the party of health care and MLK's dream.

This means the only thing our parties CAN do well is the stuff that nobody wants them to do. Like the unprecedented and utterly revolutionary transfer of money and power to corporations, our real modern ruling authority.

And The Corporation is already authoritarian in its scope, brutality and intrusion. It LITERALLY enslaves, commits genocide, renders huge portions of the earth uninhabitable (Fukushima, Chernobyl...) spys on us, steals our houses and jobs, and it seeks to levy tax, sorry "monitize" every single aspect of our lives. But so long as it isn't happening to you...

Obladi, Oblada.

I'm not scared that the boogie man is coming, no matter what word you call him.

He's been with us a long, long time.

2/20/14, 6:22 AM

BruceH said...
Thank you for the excellent post. For years I have tried to explain to my acquaintances from all political persuasions how simplistic, dualistic and limiting the concept of a left/right linear spectrum really is. I've also tried to explain that what they call “conservative” is not what conservative used to mean. I suggest that many of those who call themselves “conservatives” today have no intention of conserving anything. They should be called “preservatives” because their main motivation is preserving the status quo. This post brought to light a few new historical threads I had not stumbled across until now.

As Cherokee Organics wrote: “Conservatism in the traditional sense of the meaning is an advantage too in fragile ecosystems in that it avoids novel responses which can ultimately harm the environment,” I have often explained that Nature in general is extremely conservative over long periods of geologic time once ecosystems have evolved to a climax community and changes only when a major change in the environment requires it. Then it often does so fairly rapidly (i.e. Gould and Eldredge's Punctuated Equilibrium.)

2/20/14, 6:36 AM

Twilight said...
So the obvious question becomes “Where is that center?”. Kunstler is probably not too far off in that energy and resource constraints will mean many will fear for their comforts, privileges, luxuries and entertainment, and so those who offer hope they can keep them will win favor.

Of course, the resource limits are real, but real problems are the key that allows the manipulators an advantage, and in recent years that has manifested in a great concentration of wealth and power. So one could make things appear to be less dire than they are by reversing that concentration, but only by taking on today's wealth and power. If some social/ethnic/religious grouping could be identified among them to separate them from the “regular people”, then this would be the tool – and of course this has been done before and looks to be repeatable. I have thought for some time that such a backlash is inevitable.

It will be interesting and possibly useful, if unpleasant, to anticipate the characteristics of what such a totalitarianism of the center will be. Given the real resource constraints, I suspect it will not be as broadly inclusive as some may have been in the past.

Oh, and your Burkean sympathies have leaked out before (no criticism implied) – it is at least a unique view in modern American political landscape. I think the challenge for anyone is to evaluate any of the political traditions of the 20th century in a frame that does not include boundless growth and cheap and abundant energy, and consider how viable it is in a lower energy, lower complexity, no growth world. Thus, disputes about how to distribute the spoils of industrial society become obsolete when there are no spoils, and different organizations become preferable.

2/20/14, 6:52 AM

Jasmine said...
Dear Mr Greer

In the future we will start to suffer from real poverty where it may be difficult to get enough food to keep body and soul together. In such a climate concepts like freedom, the law and democracy may no longer be important. Freedom and democracy do not feed you or keep you warm. It such an environment the prophet who promises bread may find it easy to get elected and sweep the democratic parties aside. If you start getting bread in your mouth you might not care that democracy has gone down the drain and might welcome the opportunity to take your anger out on some scapegoats. Many of us are still leading fairly middle class life styles. From this perspective it may be difficult to realize how desperate we might become in the future.

There is still a lot that we could in theory do to mitigate the effects of peak oil. This will not stop us from getting poorer, but it may prevent us from reaching the stage of desperation where we are happy to wave democracy goodbye. If people think that they are doing something constructive about the situation then they may be prepared to bear a lot of sacrifices, just like Britain did during the Second World War. This may be enough to preserve a democratic system. However the real danger comes when nothing constructive is being done about the situation. That’s when people may become disillusioned and will vote in the prophet who promises us bread. The tragedy is that the prophet may be a lot worse than the useless democrats he expels from office. The situation in Germany in 1932 was bad, but this was nothing compared to how bad it was in 1945. We may find that turning our anger on the scapegoats was just another distraction from the real problems that we face and that we have only made things worse. However if we have got rid of democracy we will find that we cannot get rid of the prophet and there will be nothing we can do about it..

2/20/14, 7:03 AM

Eddie Tennison said...
I'd guess Kunstler's corn pone nazi idea is straight from the late Joe Bageant. The reason neo-cons have been so successful is precisely because they do appeal to the middle and the working poor in the south.

You stated that business interests did not give Hitler support until after the Nazis gained power. But isn't it true that in the time immediately after, fortunes did accrue to the industrialists building the Nazi war machine? And that they were guaranteed profits at the expense of the tax paying public?

I certainly agree with you that the so called political spectrum of Right v. Left these days is a false paradigm. What i see is an extremely entrenched and powerful political machine that eagerly tries to make any grass roots movement into a part of the existing platform. Dominance by ingestion.

I'm trying to think of a political middle in this country that one party or the other wouldn't instantly successfully co-opt. Since the only thing Americans agree on is that both parties are corrupt, I guess some kind of third party is bound to appear. And since our problems are systemic and related to declining energy, they won't truly be able to fix much of what's broken. So whatever their name, or their slogan, they will just be another bunch of power-grabbing thugs.

2/20/14, 7:24 AM

Ángel said...
Excellent post, JMG.

Here in Spain, one of the most famous quotes from Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, one of the founders of falangism, our own fascist ideology, was:

"Our movement, which is not a political party but a movement - we could call it an anti-party group -, does not belong to the Right or to the Left. Because Rightist aspiration is to maintain the current unfair economic status-quo, and Leftist aspiration is undermine the current economic organization (and all the good things that could be lost that way) (...) our movement won't be constrained by the group or class interests that dwells under superficial left-right division" (My translation)

Of course, after Franco's coup d'état and civil war, traditionalists and conservative political parties such as carlists, decided to join Falange as the other only option was communism and anarchism. But most aristocrats, overlords and landowners were unsympathetic to falangism.

Just my two cents.

2/20/14, 7:27 AM

Io said...
*whistles appreciatively*

This is nicely done. If you don't get how distinctively modern fascism is, that it is a response to the political habits of the modern period, then you don't really get fascism.

It's no accident that Nazi fascism had such a preference for both the cinematic and the technical.

Fwiw, from where I stand there is a lot of fertile middle ground between what you detail and what Thijs describes. You are talking about *political* conservatism while he is talking about *social* conservatism. The two don't have to go hand in hand--Europe's aristocratic libertines who endorse conservative politics but not conservative social values or proper Boston Brahmens who support quite liberal policies, for two examples.

That young aristocrats were drawn to the SS might be the telling point--bullish and impatient with having to play the politically conservative game that their elders dominated, they were jumping at the chance to impose their interests directly.

Populisms of all stripes tend to have that socially conservative underbelly regardless of their political attitudes. That is part of why racism troubled the U.S. labor movements.

Social conservatism seems to trouble pretty much any mass movement, though, obdurately interfering with the achievement of many of its stated goals. Probably a natural conflict between the ape and the hominid that will be with us until our species time is done (or, at least, until our capacity for mass mobilization is done).

2/20/14, 7:32 AM

Goldmund said...
In addition to applying the term "fascist" to their political enemies, both sides of the political spectrum seem to want to lay claim to the term "populist", e.g. the Tea Party on the right, Occupy ("We are the 99%")on the left. But the Populist movement in the US emerged in the late 19th century during a time when wealth was concentrated in the hands of a tiny few- the so-called Gilded Age- and many on the progressive left side are making comparisons to that time with regard to income disparities, corporate influence on government and the vast sums of money being spent on political campaigns. I don't know how much longer the right can continue to claim they represent the "common folks" while supporting these disparities and opposing any changes to the minimum wage.

2/20/14, 8:06 AM

troy said...
I am really liking this essay series. I suppose what comes next for us is Caesarism, and there's not likely to be any way to prevent that, is there? Of course Caesarism doesn't necessarily have a totalitarian component, but I guess whether it does or doesn't in our case will mostly be up to whoever the new Caesar turns out to be.

What to do about it when it happens? Just keep our heads down and do like the song says, "Swear allegiance to the flag / Whatever flag they offer / Never hint at what you really feel"?

In an interesting coincidence, a conservative writer published an article yesterday raising the specter of a "dictatorial" Huey P. Long type figure seizing power in the U.S. from the entrenched financial elites by articulating the grievances of the many, and focusing their anger effectively.

Disquieting, but it's hard to see how else the political logjam/consensus can ever be broken. I just hope our new overlord is nice.

2/20/14, 8:32 AM

Master Oogway said...
I've never regarded the Nazi regime to have been fascist however I do recognize that it has become the cliche symbol that most point to when rendering insult or just using it as an example to illustrate the disappointment with a give governments lack of committment to the public. The vitriolic speeches, the sinister uniforms and the one, strong leader are all part of that cliche and I don't regard them as the essential components of that movement. At the core of fascism is the notion that it is the only solution left, the best of a bad lot. It rose when the public and its leaders were exhausted; tired of the struggle to fix what seemed unfixable and unwilling to take responsibility to make very hard choices. Weimar Germany was essentially the last gasp of even a moderate effort to solve problems by some honourable process. It didn't occur to anyone at the time to make an effort to fix the existing structure; it was either Nazism or Communism. The public and leaders gave up, essentially taking the selfish route; "make it stop hurting for me, let someone else pay". Kind of like suicide. Fascism is an apex predator; a high energy state that requires a healthy ecosystem to feed from. Nazi Germany failed primarily due to a lack of energy. The modern notion of the "one world government" (which I regard as code for global fascism) has become an obsolete concept that we don't have the energy and resources for. We may see some of the cliche fascist states being created as the world fragments but that's speculation not particularly relevant to current affairs. You see I regard America and the rest of the 1st world (who follow the same capitalist methods) to have been fascist for some time. The American way of life is the apex predator of our time and the general notion of the global public, not just Americans, is that there is nothing out there that is better and so no real action to solve our many problems will be taken. In our case though there is no "enemy" who will take us to task; the rapid depletion of resources and exponential growth of climate change will sort things out.

2/20/14, 8:45 AM

Steve in Colorado said...
The question is what kind of fascism would appeal to the American public. It would probably have to "wrap itself in the flag and carry the cross," like folks on the Left expect. But it wouldn't be the caricature Republican from Bumbleturkey spouting off about "job creators." I haven't read much of Mr. Hitler, but I do recall reading a couple of his speeches, and he spent as much time ranting against "capitalists" and "bankers" as anything else. I have a feeling that we were almost at the point in 2008-2009 where a movement that began with bankers as its scapegoat might have taken power... I remember hitchhiking through Oregon as the Tea Party was beginning. I got a ride with some typical Douglas County rednecks-- and (at the time I was a typical leftist-anarchist) I was shocked to find we agreed on a great deal. If anything, they were more anti-military than I was (because they thought the government was responsible for 9/11). They were all psyched about the Tea Party.

So maybe 2009 was too early. The crisis hit, and it got two responses: The Tea Party from the "right" and the Occupy movement from the "left." One got into power but failed to change anything; the other just failed. What that suggests to me is that when the next crisis comes, if it comes soon enough for 2008 to not have disappeared into the American memory-hole... when the next round of bailouts comes, there may be a sense that the right-left paradigm has failed. That might open the way for a third option, which seems to be " talking common sense, just in a somewhat strident tone."

2/20/14, 8:45 AM

rj8957 said...
Good post JMG,

Last week I asked about the followers of Ayn Rand and Ron Paul.
I was rather curious about what role they will play in this whole drama.
In my local community they frequently stymie public transportation, for example, by crying, "enviro-nazis", at anyone who proposes such measures. It would seem that a group such as this would be a major obstacle to a 21st-Century Fascist movement whose forebearer said things like; "Nothing outside the state , Nothing against the state". Any thoughts?

2/20/14, 10:18 AM

Ray Wharton said...
Very interesting read. I am sorry to say that it makes all too much sense. A lot of what you have said in the last two posts I feel like I already knew, some of it no doubt from small remarks sprinkled through the ADR archives.
I hope its not improper to post this entry again closer to the front end of comments, fishing for commentary.

Though I would have changed a couple things in it in light of this weeks post, namely more focus on what aspects of our era could be sharply rejected by potential Totalitarians. But the story works as it is, maybe a different experiment on the theme will follow the completion of this series.

Any thoughts on what parts of our decadent are likely to be forcefully changed by a totalitarian experiment.

Also, stuck with alot of politically dubious projects rising and falling any ideas on how to avoid getting on the wrong side of a dangerous party line, and how to foster something comparatively sane? Right now it seems to be fostering virtues in the self and among kith, and trying to lie low politically, so those virtues don't get marched out into some wasteland work project to decompose in an unmarked swale.

The thing I have seen which most frightens me at the moment is alot of folks talking about being more... 'spiritually progressed' than others, who just need to be 'helped along'. Maybe it is a danger of living too close to the Principality of Boulder.

I think too many work about a crazed government defending our wealthy way of life, but that's what we already have, the Reagan Dynasty it could be usefully titled. Certainly they support the upper-most classes graft to an embarrassing degree, but most Americans also get a much larger bribe than is polite to mention. When that bribe check can't be cashed the Dynasty is nearing its end.

What comes next doesn't feel like a more serious Corporately my kith fear. Instead I suggest an imposed and self righteous austerity as more likely, all doing our part toward the shared goal of what ever. Austerity has alot to speak in favor of it of course, the challenge is implementation that isn't too hot headed (I am mad at tat group, lets hurt them) or cold hearted (That group's survival is not cost effective, they must pass on).

Of course the details are vague to me, what my current interest is in what can be done to make sure that such a potential monoculture of values doesn't end up stamping out the usefulness of dissensions. How to protect dissensious and the potentially worth while works from being crushed before they have had a reasonable chance to be tested on their own merits? Resource limits of course will impose much pruning with out the help of Groupism, but retarding the hands which would go further with that pruning than our material predicaments require is an interesting problem.

I suspect old fashion human virtues, fostered in individuals are the best thing, but also an unlikely one on a national scale. The courage and wisdom of individuals and groups protecting what they find beautiful and worth while in the world, may be the most effective thing currently within grasp.

Who here would hazard the ire of a murderous government to protect something great from extinction? People like that have passed forward some of the finest heritages of human culture.

2/20/14, 10:46 AM

k-dog said...
You say between the two world wars every mainstream political party was committed to maintaining the status quo despite a plethora of problems which demanded new thinking. That is our situation now with problems a-plenty that our leadership cares not to confront or acknowledge. With such a commitment to the tried and untrue things can only get worse.

But in a culture of manufactured consent where a thirty second T.V. spot has more social sway then ten thousand well written internet blog articles and homeland security is ready to respond on any threat to homeland security how can any figure from outside the political mainstream emerge? So far the tightening ratchet of our creeping crumble is slow enough that an amnesia of a short term public attention span kicks in. The eroding crumble of life plods on un-noticed. The fantasy of things eventually getting better with enough time and enough inaction continues to dominate public thought and is encouraged.

The problems mainstream parties refuse to touch could engender popularity if such problems could be discussed but full-blown media control will not allow this to happen. An outbreak of a fascist alternative is impossible without a real and influential free press. Something our already fascist state has quietly done away with and will not allow any more. Only the pretence of its former self remains.

The totalitarian dimension, central to a fascist organization, we have now. Management of consent is carefully orchestrated by media and numerous three letter government agencies already exist to effectively keep dissent repressed and hidden from public view. America once rich with counter-culture is for the most part fully homogenized now with acceptable and unacceptable modes of behaviour well defined.

I don't see how any change is possible. I don't see an outbreak of full-blown fascism as a real and frightening possibility for America. Modern electronics and computers have made its emergence impossible.

I'll be looking forward to next week for you to describe how an outbreak of full-blown fascism is a real possibility as America bumbles and stumbles blindly into the unwelcome future. It seems the bumblers are in full control with an iron fist of technology making any alternative to their personal agenda of enrichment impossible.

2/20/14, 10:53 AM

k-dog said...
Lots of talk in the comments about Jim Kunstlers corn-pone Nazis.

I present an original definition.

"You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is."


The black philosopher's idea was that a man is not independent, and cannot afford views which might interfere with his bread and butter. If he would prosper, he must train with the majority; in matters of large moment, like politics and religion, he must think and feel with the bulk of his neighbours, or suffer damage in his social standing and in his business prosperities. He must restrict himself to corn-pone opinions--at least on the surface.

From Corn-Pone Opinions, by Mark Twain

I imagine a corn pone Nazi would be someone who would reward any deviation from tried and untrue procedures and ideas with pain and suffering.

2/20/14, 11:17 AM

John Franklin said...
Corporations are almost always major forces of change, not conservation. Specifically, they try to transform society into a consumer cash cow, to maximize their profits.

2/20/14, 11:31 AM

latefall said...
Big sigh of relief and big thank you JMG!
I think this is a particularly useful bit to piece together unnecessary political divides.

Last week had me biting my lip several times when "left/right" binaries were unholstered.
In my experience the terms left and right are about as useful in a serious political discussion as a sledgehammer in fine jewelry
I really had 5-6 physical sighs of relief when you broke that one up. I would be very curious to see what your brooding will lead to.
To be honest I am surprised that did not happen a decade ago already. Part of the reason I didn't post anything is that I was quite sure my scheme would look ridiculously naive...

2/20/14, 1:07 PM

Fire River said...

This is my first post. Quick background: I and my family lean toward Asatru (we have also 'been through' Wicca and Christianity, in that order). We live in New England, in an 130-year-old house which is interesting but unfortunately, not very energy efficient.

It's refreshing to see Burke mentioned. I first learned of him from Russell Kirk, probably one of the last true American conservatives. I was introduced to Kirk was reading his ghost stories, which are excellent, by the way.

It seems to me one can apply the Burkean "proven to work" rationale to religion as well. For thousands of years cultures around the world followed polytheistic, pagan religions for the most part. Then monotheism (primarily Christianity)arrived, promising to usher in a new world, make everyone equal, etc. These wonderful visions justified, of course, the forced conversions of entire cultures that followed. But was the innovation really better than what it replaced?

As a side note, I'm not familiar with most of your books, but I did recently re-read 'A World Full of Gods' and recommended it to a colleague of mine who also happens to be a Catholic theologian. We've had some interesting talks, but I haven't yet heard his reactions to your defense of polytheism.

2/20/14, 1:12 PM

John Michael Greer said...
John, so noted.

PhysicsDoc, the middle class in Germany as in America is by and large the middle of the road, uninterested in any kind of "extremism" -- so, yes, that tends to be one of the major sources of support for fascist movements.

Derv, I suggest that the entire "left-right" distinction is broken and should be discarded; a linear conservative-progressive distinction is to my mind as unhelpful as any other linear distinction. I'll propose an alternative view down the road a bit.

Fielder, I'd disagree with the idea that fascism is inherently nihilistic, though it's a viewpoint that was ably defended by Hermann Rauschning among others. Rather, you're quite correct in suggesting that it's a style of governance rather than a specific ideology -- the same is true, please note, of monarchism, and of many other political stances.

SP, are you defining the success of a fascist movement based on how successful it was in invading other nations? Hmm. By that measure Mussolini's regime was an equivocal success at best, as it got its rump handed to it repeatedly when it tried to invade anything but Third World nations.

Mister R., good. Are you familiar with the concept of competitive exclusion in ecology?

Bill, exactly. If past parallels are anything to go by, for what it's worth, I'd expect to see an American fascism catch on first among college students and unemployed vets, then start gathering support from the downwardly mobile middle classes, and only in its final stages start getting mass support from your neck of the woods.

Steve, funny. Petraeus might be the General Ludendorff of today's Weimar America, I suppose.

Bernd, thanks again for the grammatical notes! You're quite right, of course, but I used the standard English translation for the sake of clarity.

Bogatyr, granted, and I could also have brought in the other European fascist parties, Peronism, etc. Every successful fascist movement drew its ideology from the beliefs and opinions that were popular in its own culture, which is one of the reasons it's so easy for people these days to use it as a content-free snarl word. As for German antisemitism, while the role of the Baltic Germans is important, there's also the simple fact that Hitler was deeply into that kind of thinking himself. That's one of the reliable problems with dictatorship: whatever delusions your dictator has will get imposed on everyone else, usually at gunpoint.

Tony, charismatic leadership, ideological uniformity, and populism are certainly features of successful fascist movements; there's also the cultivation of emotion in place of thought, which of course is standard practice in any kind of rabblerousing (consider the use of such content-free slogans as "hope" and "change" in the Obama campaign of 2008). Since, to borrow another reader's formulation, fascism is more a style of governance than an ideology, it can stretch to embrace whatever happens to be fashionable in the society where it takes root -- populism, after all, tends to focus on what's popular...

2/20/14, 1:31 PM

Marcello said...
"Fascists by and large hated and despised the conservatives, and the conservatives returned the compliment; it’s a matter of historical fact that the most diehard resistance Hitler’s regime faced, and the conspiracies that came closest to blowing Hitler himself to smithereens, all came straight out of the hardline aristocratic right wing of German society."

Sorry, but I have to disagree. It is true that nazis somewhat despised conservatives, nationalsocialist rethoric was in fact quite fond of slapping the "reactionary" label on things it disliked and adding the volk or revolutionary label to things it liked. The large majority of conservatives was however so happy with what the nazis and fascists delivered, such as the destruction of communist organizations or the strenghtening of the hyerarchical principle, that they were willing to get along with them, when not groveling at their feet;that long range nazi goals would result in the destruction of traditional Germany in favor of some racial fantasyland was something they were eager to overlook.
The italian fascists had power handed to them on a silver platter by traditional conservative forces, starting from the King himself, without that support they would have gone nowehere (whenever they actually ran afoul of law enforcement they were badly beaten); the german case as far as I can tell differed mostly in details.

The generals opposition to Hitler had relatively little to do with some principled Burkeian stand against tyranny. It was the chilling (well founded as it turned out) fear of a losing war that mostly drove people like Beck into amateurish plotting in the late 30's. Some eventually got disgusted by the mass murders or some aspects of the regime but it was far from universal, Stülpnagel got along with the Einsatzgruppen, Nebe (who was supposed to kill Himmler) had commanded one. Some had baser motives, such as having been snubbed for promotions or what not. Even Stauffenberg, who was perhaps the best of the lot had hardly batted an eyelid when the Army got Rohm's head in 1934 gangster style (that it came along with Schleicher's hardly warranted concern it seems).
It is hardly a coincidence that they did not really get their act together until 1944, when the sentence "the sky is falling" could have a literal meaning in Germany. In a genuinely totalitarian society,as it was Germany at that point, where merely making a joke about Hitler could result in a trip to the guillotine with perhaps a detour to the torture room, the military was simply the only entity left with the organization and the means to seize power away from a leadership bent on a suicidal course. Only a part tried, reluctanctly and only at the eleventh hour.

2/20/14, 1:47 PM

latefall said...
My impression is that it is really not easy to get into the 20s and 30s frame of mind by reading treaties and speeches only - even though that is really important.
I'd suggest to heavily include common day life things. A few suggestions:
Get a theater program from the time and look up the ads (desires and dreams of people).
Try to forget what came later and rather think about what happened in the last 13 years (or last few elections). How were they commented? How did that comment change?

There's one cultural and political critic whose writing is "close to the street" (Kurt Tucholsky) whom I can warmly recommend for these purposes. Even though his style will greatly suffer under translation there's enough left content wise. He saw it coming quite clearly and went to Sweden from where he had to watch till he could no more.

Another bit that may help is a deserter's story from WWI:
His views are clearly socialist, but it will give you an idea of who these people were and what the gritty dynamics at play in the trench and street were like.

Generally the impact of WWI almost can't be overestimated I would say. And if you consider that Germany made the final installment of this repayment on 3 October 2010 - it becomes even more understandable. Ask a Haitian what he thinks of French war reparations...

Now imagine the Chinese drag the US to court for fraudulent financial practices and demand reparations until 2103. Your kid's college fund is going to Chinese permaculture projects in Mongolia. The last bits of profitable US industry (yes also the more sustainable kind) is being loaded into containers in LA. The government is forbidden to research or practice key technologies. Sure you can buy them from China if you really, really want them. You can be just as free, individualistic, democratic and capitalist as ever.
All the while the political leadership remains just like it is today. There's maybe a little less ads and more shouting on TV. The street gets rougher every day with already 1 or 2 young cousins or nephews becoming being crippled or killed by some OWC or TP equivalent.
Maybe there's also a few more snarky know-it-alls from abroad on the blogs you frequent.

But otherwise all is BAU.

2/20/14, 2:27 PM

DeAnander said...
Interesting! gee, JMG, you are the only other person I know who has read (or at least remembers reading) Turner :-)

thinking a bit about true conservatism takes me immediately to that radical period in English history, the Enclosures. a true conservative would have defended the traditional feudal rights of the commons (and the open field system); but those who did resist Enclosure are described in our textbooks as radicals. the upset was of course largely triggered by the first stirrings of that rough beast, Industrialism... and it was the agenda of a pushy nouveau-richesse, the textile barons, that was railroaded through a corrupt Parliament and into law... the results of which we're still watching as they play out down to the genomic level (patenting a genome being a logical extension of the extirpation of the commons).

anyway... I'm surprised that in all this chitchat about authoritarianism and totalitarianism, no one's mentioned one of the cultural ear-tags of fascist and fascist-style movements: gender anxiety. most of these movements embody a lot of anxiety about some kind of "rot" in society as reflected in a loosening of gender (as well as race) taxonomy and enforcement, and promise to return us all to the Good Old Days when [White] Men Were Men and everyone else knew their place. in majority Black or Asian cultures you can, of course, replace the race label as needed, but the gender revanchism seems pretty consistent.

Weimar was remarkable in being a more "advanced" cultural era, in terms of tolerance for gender nonconformity, gayness, etc (not to mention such dangerous things as Abstract Art, gosh) than any Anglo era after it until maybe the 70's in N America. the Nazis promised to set that right, to restore "order", outlaw homosexuality, and restore women to their rightful and secondary place in society. Weimar -- all that tolerance and individual freedom -- really frightened some people, badly. I see a lot of the same cultural/gender panic in the Tea Party thread in USian politics.

2/20/14, 2:47 PM

PhysicsDoc said...
JMG: I am a little puzzled by your response to my comment. I gave you two personal examples of family experiences during Nazi Germany. One family matching very well what we would call a modern day conservative family (emphasis on family, mother at home raising kids, military service, etc.) and one which we would nowadays call progressive (artists, intellectuals etc.). The conservative family was supported by, and supported the Nazi regime, and the liberal family was conflicted to say the least. It was only during and after the war that the conservative family fully understood the extreme nature of the Nazi regime because it was not in the cross hairs. This history (although just of two families) does not seem to march your fascism (at least Nazi fascism) does not have conservative tendencies thesis.

2/20/14, 2:49 PM

DeAnander said...
... sorry, I ran over-length and must continue in a second part ...

... and that brings me to a brief thought about totalitarianism, because people throw that word around a *lot*. intervention by the law into private affairs is not a simple matter of UnGood; I trust that no one among us would like to return to the era in which it was purely a man's private business how brutally he beat his wife or children. we acknowledge today that "privacy" should and can not shield, say, violent assault or the sexual exploitation of minors from legal scrutiny. in other words, we recognise that the law has the power to say "thou shalt not" to certain behaviours even if they occur in the home, w/in the family, in private etc. some ultra revanchists would decry that as totalitarianism; not I.

what I personally think of as *real* totalitarianism is the slogan T H White used to satirize the ultimate unfree state (by the metaphor of an ants' nest): "Whatever is not Forbidden is Compulsory." in such a world, no action is free from oversight and judgment by law/authority: there is no scope for individual preference, whim, or choice. for *some* things to be forbidden, even in private life, and for *some* things to be compulsory ditto, does not (for me) quite qualify as totalitarian. but for *every* moment of daily life to consist of avoidance of the forbidden and conformance to the mandatory, that would fit the bill.

oddly, life in a monastic order seems to match the working definition here :-) and if a monastic order were imposed on the public at large by threat of armed force, I'd call it totalitarian; but it's not totalitarian if one embraces it from choice and can leave it at any time...

related to "totalitarian" in my mental filing system is the notion of a "totalising" or "hegemonic" ideology as some might say -- an ideology which pervades all human spaces and interactions. in contemporary life what comes to my mind is the imposition of money value over all other values. it's hard to find any article in any mainstream paper reporting on any topic that does not, by graf 3 at the latest, tell us about the dollar value of ... whatever. the damage done by the storm, the species that has just been wiped out, the insurance payment to the injured party, the hours of labour force time lost to the traffic jams, and so on. it seems that what we are mostly reading and talking about is numbers of dollars, that no event, thing, object or interaction between people can be understood other than in the context of a market value in a monetised economy.

we all know how to think like this; we are all taught from earliest childhood to think like this; we are mocked if we make decisions which "don't make sense" in terms of money, and rewarded if we make "good" financial decisions (like investing in corporations which do great harm, but offer "good" returns). we even start to talk about citizens as "customers" of their governments, or of our "investment" in our friends and families. we start trying to value ecosystems in terms of "dollar value of services provided". I suspect that to some future humanity looking back at us -- may we survive that long and have the leisure for historical research -- we may sound a lot like mediaeval thinkers debating about maximum angelic concentration on pinheads.

2/20/14, 2:50 PM

DeAnander said...
afterthought: was Ross Perot a crypto-fascist figure who missed his moment in history? I remember that some social critics were nicknaming him "Ross Peron" at the time...

2/20/14, 2:58 PM

DeAnander said...
and just one more afterthought about gender anxiety: I notice that the more frothy of the Tea Party rants about gay people imply somehow that "we" will be forced to be gay, or "our kids" will be brainwashed into gayness... somehow the "thou shalt not" approach -- banning or discouraging active discrimination, harassment or hatespeech -- is being morphed by a fearful imagination into the "compulsion" trope and perceived as creeping totalitarianism. the desire to discriminate against gay people in business, employment, housing etc. is even being described as "religious freedom" in some circles -- though I doubt that many of those same "religious freedom fighters" would spend much time defending the somewhat comparable religious freedom of hardline Muslim mullahs to impose the hijab on women, stone adulterers to death, etc.

ah well, G-d hates shrimp...

2/20/14, 3:05 PM

Robert Magill said...
ENTRY: Post peak Contest

In The Shadow of Mount Trashmore

“Way too many. Way, way too many”, from an angry voice.
“That’s nonsense. Make it twenty”, another.
“You’re bitter!’, someone cried.
The meeting, one of several held to determine the final ratio, had been proceeding well enough until the call for floor suggestions. Now the rancor and dispute threatened to overshadow whatever progress had been enjoyed thus far...

...No one was thrilled at the meeting theme and it had been put off numerous times. Circumstances had made it no longer possible to delay further. What was finally decided now would have lasting repercussions for generations. It could not be taken lightly. ...

2/20/14, 3:07 PM

shtove said...
Conservative(ish) columnist in the UK:

"I was aware that Burke is making a much-deserved come-back in Britain, propelled by Jesse Norman's splendid book "Edmund Burke:The First Conservative". But China's enthusiasm for his work has more global "gearing", as traders say.

"The Nobel peace laureate -- and dissident -- Liu Xiaobo is a Burkean, as were many of those who signed the 2008 human rights charter.

"Needless to say, Burke has much in common with Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher of order, tradition, and harmony, now enjoying a revival in China as a post-Maoist source of authority. Jiang Qing cites Burke extensively in his classic work on the rise of a new Confucian political order published in 2008: "China: Democracy, or Confucianism?"

2/20/14, 3:21 PM

latefall said...
I did some thinking (a while ago) how I would try to get my bearings in a political discussion. It may not really be practical for larger groups but I have some hope the guys at liquid-democracy are working something out for that.

Usually at some point shortly after a "left/right fubar" is reached people bring up customs and values.
In my view moral high ground cannot be attained by a custom per se (maybe one exception) but by values. Of course you can ascribe value to a custom (Burke reasoning) and kind of convert it into "the value of tradition" (not withstanding you can turn this argument around as well, seeing that we are not wearing loincloths and fur).

This leaves us with a list of values. In my experience any self respecting list of values is at odds with itself.
Also it so happens that very, very many of the fundamental terms we use are wide open to interpretation. Before things get too abstract I'll use an example:

List of values:

I could easily imagine a conflict between "diversity" and "reason". For example there is a much more efficient way to manage a food garden than is being done by most. Yet I see value in the fact that people do things differently.
Or what is currently practiced as "liberté" and "égalité" in France may not be free of conflict from a US perspective.
"Survival" and "freedom" are in conflict with regard to abortion.
It may not only be context, but over historical periods meanings are also perceived differently.
"Survival" can illustrate some fuzziness nicely.
What is to survive?
Me? My genes? My kid's dreams? My kid's best friend's dreams? My family's culture(s)? My list of values? My reasoning? Industrial society? Or our ecosystem?

The priorities of values typically also vary from issue to issue. Early abortion vs late abortion vs war vs supermarket meat. Decisions fall here and there even though you may be fascist or liberal. It often is very different if the issue affects mostly one individual, or a diverse group.
This ultimately makes the axes bend or the n-dimensional space stretch. Possibly this rather wild curvature of the axes is what really contains the significant information though. This would the necessary background info in a political debate. For practical purposes though, I would say a short form code that covers a dozen hot button issues will suffice quite often.
I've tried interpreting religious scriptures in this context but it didn't get me very far. Maybe that is because the words and concepts have blurred too much over time. If I had to write my political program and was not aware of shifts in meaning I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up with something Sharia-like.

2/20/14, 3:38 PM

Five8Charlie said...
A while back I became very interested in why Hitler came to power - i.e., why did the German people allow/enable his regime? Most of my reading focused on the economic troubles of the hyper-inflation of the 1920s. Your insight that the National Socialist party was essentially populist/centerist is a major missing piece of the puzzle. Thank you for that.

Have you read or heard of a book called "Diary of a Man in Despair" by Friedrich Reck? It's the diary of a conservative in your sense of the word - someone who values traditions because they generally work - in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. If the diary is authentic, it agrees with your view that the conservatives were the ones who hated the Nazis the most - at least in the early days before everyone hated them. As an aside he has a great quote about what cars have done to society: "Gasoline, as the basis for all motorized happiness, has contributed more to the inner decay of mankind than alcohol" -written in 1937.

2/20/14, 3:55 PM

Varun Bhaskar said...
I don't know John, I just can't see the US swinging toward totalitarianism. At least not of the absolute domination model exemplified by the USSR and Germany. I see it more along the lines of India, circa 1975, where Delhi and a few other cities were dominated by parliament and Congress Party but the rest of the country, especially the south, was under the rule of other parties and factions. Even if the US does harden at the centre I can't see such a system lasting for more than a couple of years before corruption and regionalism start to break it down. The universal state in the US is fragile and without the imperial drum, which our generation seems fairly inoculated against, it can't hold. Of course as Bill says, who knows what will happen with the next generation.

By the way I'm supporting your prediction for a hiccup in the economy this year. Those points that ventriloquist brought up are just a handful of issues that are going to strain the system. Add in the beginning of Pakistan's counter-insurgency efforts, the upcoming US elections, and the instability in Thailand and we're going to see the boat being shaken. One really interesting note is that those droughts that are popping up all over the place are pushing governments to use desalination technologies, which are massively energy expensive as you all know. If the energy producing states start redirecting their supplies toward producing drinking water for their citizens it's gonna tighten the energy markets something fierce.

Gah, I was hoping to get my article on the rise of the right-wing in Europe done today but looks like it'll take at least another day. I'll keep you all posted.

Varun Bhaskar
Chief Administrator
View on The Ground

2/20/14, 4:11 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Gregorach, that's enough fodder for an entire post all by itself.

Phil, thanks for the tip -- I'll take a look at it.

Bard, I'll consider it. Many thanks!

Fidelius, it's precisely because most Americans think they're invulnerable to fascism that a fascist movement is so likely here. They'll have no problem at all convincing themselves that the movement they join isn't fascist, despite the banners, armbands, and prison camps, since after all, this is America and it can't happen here!

Has anybody else reading this, by the way, ever read -- or even heard of -- Sinclair Lewis' novel It Can't Happen Here? I may just have to make that required reading...

Richard, I take it you're not a businessman. Their opinion tends to be different.

Johannes, I beg to differ -- Hitler's regime wasn't dependent on the big industrialists at all. If any of them tried to pressure the regime, they'd have had their corporations seized by the SS -- which ended up with a huge industrial empire of confiscated enterprises by the latter part of the war -- or simply handed over to somebody more reliable. As for social conservatism, that's another matter -- but social and political conservatism are not at all the same thing.

Nestorian, as I just noted to Johannes, big business wasn't a junior partner in the Nazi system -- it did what it was told or it got expropriated. Did those who did what they were told rake in big profits? Of course -- like any successful dictator, Hitler knew that rewarding loyalty is at least as important as punishing dissent. As I've noted in discussing contemporary America, profiting from the system and controlling the system are not the same things...

Yupped, I think it's a philosophy as well as a disposition -- though the same is true of every other approach. As for the uniforms, they won't be the same kind of uniforms, to be sure. Stay tuned!

Nathan, as I've indicated, I disagree -- and I think a definition of fascism that focuses on a surface issue, such as militarism, misses the deeper dynamic we're likely to see in the American future.

Andy, exactly. The elites forget that the levers of power they're pulling depend on the implicit obedience of a lot of people who don't share their values or goals at all.

Phil, 1914 hasn't quite arrived yet, so no, that watershed still has to be crossed. It's after that, I think, that the armbands will come out.

2/20/14, 4:31 PM

onething said...
I believe K dog has a point - with the corporate lock on the media, the charismatic leader would probably be an orchestrated rather than a truly spontaneous event, perhaps to be brought forth if society gets unruly. Either that, or s/he would come out after much collapse has already occurred.

2/20/14, 4:33 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Brian, don't be consoled. Hitler's Germany had no shortage of first-rate scientists; the believers in intelligent evil don't need to be scientists when they can hire scientists.

Ice Torch, he did it because by 1938, Mussolini's regime was internationally isolated and increasingly aware of the rise of the Nazi colossus to its north. The 1938 race laws were an attempt to placate Hitler -- yes, you could as well call it appeasement, as that was a popular term that year. Nor, of course, was anti-Semitism enforced German style until the Germans actually occupied the Italian peninsula.

Nathan, I think Long could well have become America's Mussolini, except that Roosevelt beat him to it.

Mortal, yes, I know -- a lot of people these days seem to need a scapegoat figure representing absolute evil. If "the corporation" is yours, hey, whatever turns your crank.

Bruce, "preservatives" is funny! Still, most of the pseudoconservatives I know these days aren't into preserving anything that actually exists -- they've got an imaginary golden age stuck in their heads, having convinced themselves that that's the way things really were before those awful liberals, women, etc. messed things up, and are trying to impose their fantasy of the past on the present world in much the same spirit that radicals on the other side of the barricades try to impose their fantasy of the future.

Twilight, I can identify, I think, at least two parts of the center in question -- first, hostility to economic globalization; second, standing down from America's global empire. Those are very much desired across a wide range of Middle America, and completely absent from the political scene. The rest? An interesting and very important question.

Jasmine, no argument there at all.

Eddie, see my comments to Johannes and Nestorian above. As for "power-grabbing thugs," er, were you under the impression that the people in power anywhere, under any conditions, can be described in any other terms?

Ángel, fascinating. I wasn't familiar with the sources of Falangism, but I'm not at all surprised.

Io, that's a useful distinction -- you're quite right, of course, that political and social conservatism aren't necessarily related at all.

Goldmund, the GOP's eager embrace of a "populism" that involves starving the working class is right up there with the Dem's support of "health care reform" that deals with the fact that people can't afford health insurance by requiring them under penalty of law to buy it anyway. These days, there's no absurdity too vast for our politicians to support!

Troy, it seems to me that the thing to do about it is to start relearning democratic process, and the skills needed to make that process work, and get that in process right now. Anything else is a bandaid on a cancer.

2/20/14, 4:59 PM

Richard Larson said...
I am a business owner. And I have never directed any busines money towards politics nor have ever accepted any government help. Guess that is why it is always a struggle...

2/20/14, 5:22 PM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
I have long discarded the simplistic "Left - Right" view of politics. I find your view of the neglected center intriguing but I still cling to a more complex topology.

When taking care of my father in Georgetown Kentucky, I attend the monthly meetings of Kentucky 9/12, a Glenn Beckian group just to understand them better (nothing like them in New Orleans).

On one minor point, I am not sure that a new fascist movement will come with a uniformed party militia. Otherwise I tend to agree with the list.

2/20/14, 5:33 PM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
Given the financial roots of the Tea Party, and the cost of media today, I can easily see a "chosen leader" being selected and supported by someone like the Koch Brothers et al.

2/20/14, 5:38 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

Thank you.

I've finally posted the lemon cider recipe on the Green Wizards website here:

Lemon cider - An absolute must

I've tried to make the recipe entertaining, whilst not skipping over the basics.

In reality, the recipe is a sugar wine with fruit added. But if people understand the basics, they could swap sugar for honey (which is 80% sugar anyway, just add extra honey), lemons for apples etc. Please people, go ahead and experiment as fermentation is a very ancient method of food preserving, plus the products are very useful.

Hi Bill,

As you are interested in all things birds, I'll tell you a funny story. Today and yesterday, a wedge tail eagle has been scouting out the place. The bird was only a few metres off the roof of the house. I reckon the eagle may have been trying to take my crusty old fox terrier? The funny thing was yesterday, the eagle landed at the very top of a very tall eucalypt tree. Unfortunately for the eagle the weight of the bird was too much for that dead branch and the bird had to make a quick and ungraceful exit (very unlike their normal modus operandi) as the branch fell to the earth! hehe!

Oh yeah, I reckon you and your neighbours won't be in any trouble as long as you can feed yourselves. In Greece, parties such as the Golden Dawn are worming their way into the community because they are simply feeding people. Is this not the same strategy tried by some religious organisations in the US? I'm a bit dubious of the motives of some aid work, missionaries etc. for much the same reasons.



2/20/14, 6:21 PM

Twilight said...
Given what is happening in the Ukraine, perhaps 1914 is not as far in the future as it seems.

2/20/14, 6:44 PM

Luckymortal said...
JMG, "a lot of people these days seem to need a scapegoat figure representing absolute evil."

No, not just these days. All the days.

I don't think you believe that our current state of affairs represents something somehow morally superior to historic "fascism." Nor that this hobgoblin will return to give us all nasty wedgies and ruin our great progress.

Could things be worse? Sure. Ask the people of the Niger delta, or Aceh. Oh wait, you can't. Shell killed them.

There are always some number of beings who get an extra helping of suffering. Resource depletion, climate change, war, ecosystem collapse... will increase this percentage for a while.

Politics is just fighting over who gets served the dish. The silly names of such movements seems irrelevant to me.

2/20/14, 7:04 PM

Nathan Donaldson said...
Love your comment about FDR, but I'll still contend that there's a difference between one who lead his nation into war and another who lied his into one.

2/20/14, 7:08 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Oog, I'll be talking next week about this notion that the US is already a fascist society.

Steve, good. Yes, 2009 was too early -- there were still plenty of people who believed they had something to gain from the existing parties, and the existing system. The window of opportunity for a fascist movement is when the legitimacy of the existing system collapses, but the current holders of power have themselves too tightly wedged in to be removed by any ordinary means.

RJ, there again, it's a matter of language. A future American fascism won't talk about "the state" -- it'll talk about "the American people," because that's the phrase that gets the warm fuzzy emotions.

Ray, excellent. "More spiritually progressed than others" is the latest way to pronounce "Herrenvolk." I discussed that at some length in a critique of Korten's The Great Turning here, here, and here early on in the history of this blog.

K-dog, by the same logic it was utterly impossible for the Soviet Union or any of the other eastern bloc states to collapse. When I hear the repeated complaints that the government is just too good at marginalizing dissent, I recall two things: first, the embarrassing lack of basic political and media skills demonstrated by most radical groups in today's America, and second, the awkward but inescapable fact that a very large number of Americans are still doing very well by the standards of the rest of the planet, and aren't interested in messing with the goose that lays the golden eggs. As for the notion that we already live in a totalitarian society, I'llbe discussing that next week.

John, and then they try to conserve things in that condition.

Latefall, you're most welcome.

Fire River, I didn't know that Kirk wrote ghost stories! I encountered him via The Conservative Mind. The religious question you've raised would require about a year worth of posts to address with any clarity, so I'll pass here. As for A World Full of Gods, you might tell your Catholic friend that one of my friends, who had a Catholic education (though he left the church later), used to refer to it as the Summa Pro Gentiles...

Marcello, to my mind you're misstating the case considerably. Conservatives backed the National Socialists when it looked like a choice between Hitler and the Communists, take your pick, but that hardly justifies claiming that the two are identical. As for the fact that you can cite a few individuals who cooperated more enthusiastically than others did, well, data isn't the plural of anecdote, you know.

Latefall, good. I'd also strongly encourage reading popular fiction from that period -- Hesse's Demian is especially good at catching the attitude among the young in those years, and with hindsight it's not hard to see how that attitude would be exploited.

DeAnander, most human societies have some set of interconnected metaphors that provide the global framework within which thinking takes place. Ours is money, the way that medieval Europe's was feudal relationships -- look at old accounts of Christian theology in which God is the overlord, the angels his vassals, etc. What usually drives totalitarian schemes is when a political movement tries to break out from its culture's core metaphors in order to replace them with another set -- consider Hitler's attempt to replace money with race, or the attempts of the great Communist dictators to replace money with Marx.

2/20/14, 7:19 PM

Enrique said...
Chris said:

"In Greece, parties such as the Golden Dawn are worming their way into the community because they are simply feeding people. Is this not the same strategy tried by some religious organisations in the US? I'm a bit dubious of the motives of some aid work, missionaries etc. for much the same reasons."

This is actually a very old tactic among radical and insurgent groups seeking to undermine the status quo by providing services the government either cannot or will not provide in times of trouble. Middle Eastern insurgent groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army in Iraq were able to gain quite a lot of popular support amongst the downtrodden simply because they provided food, medical care, loans and other basic necessities of life for the poor when the authorities wouldn’t. The German National Socialists used the same tactic in the 1920’s and 30’s as well.

When it comes time for a certain rival power (I think we all know which one) to foment a color revolution in the United States, I don’t doubt for a moment that’s one of the tools they and the groups they bankroll will use. There are a awful lot of people slipping through the cracks in America due to decades of misguided economic and social policies, and people who are starving, have sick kids to take care of and are out of work with no prospect of finding a job will be inclined to be sympathetic to insurgents or subversives who were willing to help them out when the government and Corporate America told them to go jump in a lake…

2/20/14, 7:39 PM

John Michael Greer said...
PhysicsDoc, what I tried to point out is that what you're calling "conservative" isn't the same as the political conservatism I've been discussing. Io's comment earlier introduces a nice clarification: social conservatism (for example, the belief the women and men should both remain in traditional roles) is not the same thing as political conservatism, and the former very often extends to groups that reject the latter.

Shtove, fascinating; I managed to miss that. Thanks for the heads up!

Latefall, hmm! What you're suggesting has much in common with Alasdair MacIntyre's virtue ethics -- he points out, for example, that virtues are independent of one another and quite readily come into conflict. Rather than an N-dimensional set of Cartesian coordinates, why not envision the whole as an ecological space in which values are resources, and each political "species" finds its unique niche in relation to various values?

Charlie, no, I haven't -- thanks for the heads up! He's quite right about gasoline, of course.

Varun, I don't see it sticking, but I can readily see the thing being tried, and getting at least temporary ascendancy -- which is as much as Hitler or Mussolini managed, after all.

Onething, again, by that same logic the Soviet Union could not possibly have fallen.

Richard, well, there you are. I can assure you that the heads of Fortune 500 corporations don't share your scruples.

Alan, it won't be an early 20th century European uniform, granted. A brightly colored t-shirt, on the other hand...

Cherokee, excellent! I'll give it a try.

Twilight, well, we'll see. The same claims got made about the mess in Syria; before that, the one in Libya; before that -- I forget where it was then, but every international crisis during my adult life has been described by somebody or other as 1914 all over again. My guess is that when the global political balance comes apart and another round of major wars begins, nobody will see it coming at all.

2/20/14, 7:44 PM

John Franklin said...
You know, I was going to add a sentence to that effect, but I withheld it for fear I would insult one of the other readers. Well said.

2/20/14, 7:44 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Mortal, is our current situation here in America superior to historical fascism? Well, perhaps you can tell me how many people you know have been arrested for criticizing the government, or dragged out of their beds in the middle of the night by the secret police, shot, and thrown into a mass grave. For the pampered and privileged radicals of today's America to claim to be suffering under a fascist government is, to my mind, a profound act of disrespect toward those who actually have to deal with autocracies.

Nathan, like all metaphors, it can be taken too far, granted.

2/20/14, 7:49 PM

PhysicsDoc said...
JMG: Ok so if social, cultural, and maybe fiscal conservatism (but not the pure political conservatism) is consistent with fascism, then modern conservative political parties like the republican party have at least that in common with fascist regimes like the Nazis. Having said that and maybe pissed some people off I think that all the established parties are corrupt. The idea of some third party entering the scene and offering to clean things up and "restore order" is very plausible especially when things get more out of control. This third party could also be a splinter movement derived from one of the established parties.

2/20/14, 8:55 PM

Mark Rice said...
If I squint a little The "Tea Party" and the "Occupy Movement" both look the same. These "extreme" groups are in the radical centre abandoned by the mainstream parts of the two parties.

Both want to see the Banksters suffer consequences for their misdeeds. Both groups see the political system as too corrupt to do anything that helps. Occupy attributes more power and control to the plutocrats, while the Tea Baggers attribute more power to the Government.

I see signs that the Tea Baggers are losing their Laissez Faire Free Market religion. I also see signs that the Plutocrats are trying to reign in the Tea Party. But they seem to be having a hard time putting the toothpaste back in the tube.

2/20/14, 10:38 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

I hope that you enjoy the end product and also that you have fun making it too. It is very easy.

You somehow managed to get my brain working today as I was doing work about the place here. I'm preparing another area for a second strawberry bed. Of course that meant that yet another trench had to be dug to install a permanent pipe for the transfer pump from the reserve water tank to the main water tanks. The steel pump cover also had to be modified. Oh well, that's life.

Anyway, I was thinking about a fascinating graph I spotted recently:


Then I remember you writing something a few weeks back about feudalism possibly providing social services at a much lower cost than present arrangements. Interesting stuff.

It seems that groups such as Golden Dawn in Greece are also following a “services at a lower cost strategy”.

Then Derv (word up for the mention of the debt crisis in this context, although I don't necessarily agree with the rest of your post, sorry) mentioned the debt crisis and I saw it in a new and totally different light. It is actually an attempt by the existing government to maintain the services and benefits to the population at a price lower than the real cost of those services and benefits. From that perspective it looks a little sad and perhaps a whole lot scary.

It may end up being a possible wedge that a new player uses to get their foot in the door and start kicking heads. It all hinges on whether other countries accept the magic IOU's. Certainly not a gamble I would make.



2/21/14, 12:13 AM

das monde said...
A conservative aspect of fascism is that it is generally not threatening (and is even convenient) to society alphas - in sharp contrast to communism. There are caveats, surely: fascism vigorously serves activist alphas (thus eager corporatists rather than aristocrats) and asserts a dominant alpha standing itself (hence totalitarianism). Not to everyone's taste, but fascism apparently resolved progressive pressures of industrial realities in an alpha-agreeable way. Fascism will be even more useful in the age of decline, as the natural way for us to circulate limited resources is the alpha-beta-... hierarchy, ditching some deltas.

The scenario of totalitarian center is a fruitful perspective. The political circus today tries hard to try everything else before doing right things (to paraphrase Churchill), and there is certainly an inviting vacuum waiting for any party that would dare (or would be allowed to) to implement the reasonable policies. But this situation tells more about autocracy of current political manners. Recognizing fascism is becoming a mental masturbation, with increasing variety of disproportionate focuses on different aspects. To me, consistent hostility (historically or geographically, in action rather than declarations) against egalitarian-leftist initiatives and sharing this hostility with other powers is an important concern item
for any fascism.

2/21/14, 12:47 AM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

@JMG--I read It Can't Happen Here about thirty years ago.

@Derv--I would like to see some devolution of power and autonomy back to the states because I think the US has become too large to be governed effectively from the center. Unlike you, I don't expect that stronger states' rights will lead to greater freedom for most people; more likely the reverse. We will have authoritarian and perhaps totalitarian regimes; none of them will cover the entire country.

Consider the social and political arrangements that prevailed in the Deep South between Reconstruction and the Lyndon Johnson
administration, when states' rights meant something.

I think those societies were as close to totalitarianism as we have seen in America since the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Every part of civil society--church, business, schools and most of the press--was required to give active support to the maintenance of a racial caste system. The smallest details of behavior of people of all classes and races were regulated for compliance.

Deviance was punished by violence from the courts, police, paramilitary groups like the Klan, vigilante mobs and freelancing individuals, all of whom literally got away with murder as long as they acted in the name of keeping black people in their place and protecting Southern (white) womanhood.

It took a military occupation by Federal troops to give African Americans the rights of citizenship in the first place. It took the National Guard and two decades of activism by three branches of the federal government to restore those rights. That is one reason why political liberals (in the modern sense of the word liberal) still favor a strong central government.

2/21/14, 1:43 AM

ed boyle said...
So faking all govt. stats (unemployment, inflation, deficits, poverty), ignoring imperial spread with corresponding military spending as an issue, massive control of government through lobbyists, the destruction of the environment (growth is no.1), bankers controlling the high ground as you spoke of and letting the ancient rule of property law(basis of democracy) in the property market (deeds sliced and diced-who owns the property?) be destroyed,are all signs of a gradually developed post-war military-banking-industrial-advertising complex whose sole interest is the enrichment of certain classes of Americans and other "westerners" against against other classes whoi would then be included if they could gain enough leverage. Unions were destroyed by Reagan and industrail anti-strike tactics and by factory removal. Public unions remained. Chinese and Japanese and Europeans came back in the post-war and post-Reagan age but USD(petro-based), US military power remain dominant. SO we have an anglo-saxon empire with shifting ground. The EU/NAto expands eastward perhaps to Russian border. China becomes an economic partner and competitor.

The middle ground you speak of shifts when a new interest group or technology is introduced. Suddenly Bill Gates or Mark Zuckkerberg become billionaires or OPEC or Putin`s Gazprom take on the world. The Arab and other springs based on tech influence roil the waters of the stiff postwar order (borders drawn between WWI and WWII by French, British in Middle East or say In Pakistan, India, Afghanistan by British in 1949 or in Africa in 1960s all start to dissolve).

The "people" and their interests against a vague "they" is hard to defend or create a "populist"(i.e.fascist in your terms) movement as things are moving too fast to get a grip on what is really going on, in say the mad variety of the Syrian resistance to Assad regime and the influences of in anyone helping from Al-quaida to Chechen fighters or in the technical language of new smart-phone messaging Apps.

Klitschko is a very good example of a "fascist(not totalitarian)" = populist here. He got 13% in elections then after a while starts demonstrating against the govt to overthrow it as it presumably does not represent the people's will but rather represents corrupt interests (janukovich billionaire sons) and foreign interests(Russia). Instead of waiting a year to up his poll numbers internally, organically and make a coalition govt. as would be the case in Germany the US govt. brings bundles of cash(probably kliscko was a trojan horse from the start) to finance a blockupy movement over many months with military style tents, generators, tons of food and warm clothing and constant bussing of fresh demonstrators. So Anglo-American empire expands its markets. Klitschko has his main residence in Germany, speaks practically no Ukrainish, was born in Khirgizian(lived in Ukraine between 14th and 24th years of age before going to Germany to become a boxer). The Germans sent Lenin and America funded Bin Laden. BLowback is a very dangerous problem nowadays. You would think someone had learned a lesson at Langley.

The interests of Americans and people in Ukraine or Germany or Russia or Syria, etc. are hardly served by those who have or get into power after a putsch or whatever you call it. Better the devil you know.

2/21/14, 2:29 AM

Kutamun said...

Thanks For This  Cloudbusting Cloudburst
I think you are quite right , Fascism is less a political movement , less an intellectual idea than a sexual impulse or imbalance being expressed  , as espoused by Wilhelm Reich ( Kate Bushes Cloudbuster- revealing lyrics) in his seminal  1931 work " The Mass Psychology of Fascism" ..

Fascism is simply a collection of Fascist individuals , who arise synonymously with the advent of certain conditions

This Hamlet- esque impulse has its roots in the famous Oedipus Complex, which contrary to popular belief is more to do with tension between child and father figure  ( especially if he is emotionally and or physically absent ) than mother.

The impulse tends to appear en masse in times of economic trouble , and following on from periods of military activity .
Example - Germanys absent Imperial legions  of Ww1 gave rise to an entire generation of " mummys boys " who became " the man of the house , at least until daddys return and ensuing competitive conflict ..
Example - baby boomers , children of  absent ww2 legions ..

John Fowles in " The Magus " saw a narcissistic Oedipus epidemic as being an inevitable outcome of the isolation and easy living involved with industrial society ( cheap highly concentrated energy) enabling the rise of the cult of the  materialistic isolated narcissictic individual.

Famous Examples of Individual Fascism
Kronos Who devours hus children ( wears a big watch)
Wilhelm Reich - father " a cold and jealous man who refused to raise the children as jews despite their being jewish"
Alois Shicklegruber ( Hitlers father) , son of a 42 yr old unmarried peasant mother
Nietzsche - lutheran pastor father died when toddler , raised by mother ,grandmother and fathers three unmarried sisters
Anakin Skywalker ( no father )
Antoine Saint Exupery - ( father died when a toddler , author of "The Little Prince) , ironically killed by other Fascists
Carl Jung - son of hyper rational pastor father and morbidly depressed mother
Jim Morrison - ( see The Oedipal " The End) - father a serving u.s navy admiral in vietnam war
Margaret Thatcher - born above her methodist preacher fathers store
Ronald Reagan - spent early life above a store . Father gave him the nickname " Dutch" because he looked  " like a fat little dutch boy" , stuck for life
John Howard - methodist family - father and grandfather WW1 vets
Kevin Rudd - son of a travelling salesman who died 3 months before he was born
Johnny Cash - religously wore panzer black
Bella from Twilight series - lived with her dad

From " the mass psychology of fascism "
" Suppression of the natural sexuality in the child, particularly of its genital sexuality, makes the child apprehensive, shy, obedient, afraid of authority, good and adjusted in the authoritarian sense; it paralyzes the rebellious forces because any rebellion is laden with anxiety; it produces, by inhibiting sexual curiosity and sexual thinking in the child, a general inhibition of thinking and of critical faculties. In brief, the goal of sexual suppression is that of producing an individual who is adjusted to the authoritarian order and who will submit to it in spite of all misery and degradation. At first the child has to submit to the structure of the authoritarian miniature state, the family; this makes it capable of later subordination to the general authoritarian system. The formation of the authoritarian structure takes place through the anchoring of sexual inhibition and anxiety.[5]" 

I worry for the current generation of youth , living in their parents basements until well into adulthood, uninitiated , disaffected , impoverished ..,

E.g - " you vaccinate your children , i shun you"
         " you used to be in the u.s armed forces, go away "
         " you , worked for a fossil fuel corporation ? Get him !" 

Cheers All 

2/21/14, 2:52 AM

latefall said...
@JMG and political ecosystems

Yes I like that idea a lot. The Cartesian stuff is really not my cup of tea. I was thinking more in "tag cloud"-clusters, but I really like the ecosystem image as well. In fact it is probably superior as important concepts like mutualism, competition, etc. are included. The Macentyre reference has already been immensely helpful. I am trying to cobble together a rough framework of correlating wealth flow and human interaction to produce slightly "better" outcomes. It seems to be a very good reference to peg much of the underlying assumptions to. But I'll have to take a closer look and see how flexible his values are assumed to be over time. It has always fascinated me that societies can do a 180 in less time than it takes to brake before they hit a wall.

The more I think about the ecosystem the more I like it. You could also apply it to different magnitudes such as your close social environment, cliques, parties, organizations that try to find reasons for their superiority (or existence). It ties in well with the impression that large organizations become very much like organisms, with their survival as their principal goal.
However, I would say these values fluctuate, repulse or attract each other (us vs them dynamics, narratives) quite a bit. The GOP may be a good example of an organism that is by now quite far removed from either its old ideals, or how their electorate makes decisions in real life. However everyone is afraid of their fate in the ecosystem if they were to admit the fact.
What I find a bit scary is the potential for a "meta-realpolitik".
Nowadays you can view potential for this in fairly high resolution on twitter, facebook, etc. NECSI does this already ( "Periodic patterns of sentiment fluctuate on both a daily and a weekly scale". I am sure they do on an annual scale as well. For example who would kick off a riot just before harvest vs pay-day for utilities? And once you looked long enough at the wobbly domino pieces, there's a good chance you can find/predict a point in the future where all you need is to slightly tweak the search algorithms for a week, or maybe only an hour or two. Hand out some more difficult captchas here, some more easy there, eat or delay a couple of thousand comments, et voila. If you feel like it, you can of course include the traditional toolchest outside of the NSA all the way to false flags, agent provos, relief efforts and armbands. Can this still be considered conspiracy or has inflation been to bad lately? My take is that it is not so bad yet - otherwise NECSI would not be championing "anti-fragility" (resilience), and you would not read who funds in their publicly accessible papers.
As much as I like the Chinese for many things, they can't easily claim the same thing here though.

2/21/14, 3:33 AM

Luckymortal said...
JMG, "here in America," don't that just say it all. So "fascism" depends on "who" it happens to and whether it interrupts American Idol?

But come to think of it, I know quite a few people--even here in America--who have been thrown in prison for criticizing the government, or are harassed by the police for political activities, or who have been attacked profoundly for exercising their freedom of speech... and yes, I even know of people who have been lined up and shot with the acquiescence of our Government, thank you Mr. Kissinger.

Is it disrespectful to dismiss the victims of our system because they weren't harmed under "fascism?"

Or is there a magic number, JMG? Some objective benchmark where political violence suddenly turns from banal necessity to monstrosity?

So, here's where I detect the logical error that rubs me wrong in this series.

"Hitler was a vegetarian + Hitler was evil = vegetarians are evil."

No, not unless vegetarians murder 6 million Jews.

You go to great lengths to define "fascism" so that you can use it: A semi-militarized, cult-like "tyranny of the majority."

But when pressed, you change the definition: night raids, killings, curtailing of freedom--you know, bad stuff, and presumably at some higher level than we have now.

Surely, in the coming years suffering and violence will increase here in America, purely as an ecological fact, an equation of population/resources.

If you had a super-computer and enough data points, you might calculate the suffering that will come.

Does it matter, dear teacher, what badge the executioner wears?

2/21/14, 6:15 AM

William Church said...
Very interesting John. A couple points:

I am gaining a lot of very interesting facts reading your take on fascism. And it is really helping to patch up some, admittedly, spotty history knowledge on my part. But my mind keeps bringing up one reason I don't think fascism stands a chance here: We are far too divided.

A military coup or something like that? Far fetched at this point in time. But maybe. Full blown fascism? I don't know. What do you think the "glue" needed to hold together a fascist movement would be? Economics? Because it sure isn't anything else I can see. This nation is hopelessly divided. To the point where I honestly don't think you could fight another secessionist movement from the south. Both sides would smile, wish the other side well, and be glad to see the other side go away.

I guess that is possible. But we have a history that shows us how to tame the out of control banking sectors, run a nationalistic trade/currency policy, and divide the pie a lot more equitably without plunging ourselves into a fascist movement. Wouldn't that short provide a route to short-circuit that tendency?

As far as the labor movement goes I agree wholeheartedly and have said so here. The biggest mistake the labor movement made was largely excluding minorities. Not always and not to the extent some pretend but the proof is in the pudding: the attachments were so weak that a Democratic party switch from labor to identity politics went almost totally unprotested from the minority community. It didn't have to be this way and it is a shame that it did.


2/21/14, 6:58 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
JMG -- of course that scenario you describe is something in between the two popular scenarios in the American mind. Half the people expect the Tea Party to rise up with Ted Cruz as their "corn pone Hitler," the other half expect Occupy to rise up, put the bankers in concentration camps, and install a dictator chosen from the "Liberal Elite."

Of course, whatever groups might actually grow in to this movement don't even exist yet; or if they do, the mainstream certainly does not know their names.

I am guessing you consider this to be a possibility, not an inevitability, and at some point in the series you will talk about ways in which this scenario may *not* come to pass? Otherwise, pragmatic as you are, I'd expect you'd already be planning your relocation to Canada.

2/21/14, 7:15 AM

Harry J. Lerwill said...
Why not envision the whole as an ecological space in which values are resources…”

Ecology is a great paradigm to use most places where you’re trying to model change. It works pretty well in business. Take, for example, advertising. For a long time a sere focused on producing and distributing paper products was dominant, with newspapers, magazines and directories being ubiquitous. Radio and TV added to that mix and made some changes, but the ecology changed radically with the introduction of a new resource, the internet. Paper has declined as digital has gained ground, and now the web is losing its preeminence to a sere focused on mobile content.

Each change sees a flurry of new ideas, which compete until the exclude or absorb the competition, while earlier dominant species of marketer decline until they are unable to support a viable business – or change.

2/21/14, 9:29 AM

Bob said...

For some reason, I keep thinking about parts of Namoi Klein's "Shock Doctrine" when I anticipate what fascism in the USA would be like. It also makes me realize how close we are to it.

On a related noted, it always confused me when Milton Friedman's economic/political school was labeled as "neoliberal". After re-reading your last two series, I'm a lot less confused...

...and reminded of an old Calvin and Hobbes strip where Hobbes ironically suggests that "maybe we can make language a complete impediment to understanding". :-)

- Bob

2/21/14, 9:31 AM

steve pearson said...
Hi JMG, Very good article today at, called The Rising of the Waters by Paul Kingsnorth of Dark Mountain Project. It is about the present floods in S. England and the slow descent future. He quotes you at some length. He also has an anthology open for submissions.
Regards, Steve

2/21/14, 10:59 AM

Mister Roboto said...
I'm having a difficult time accepting the idea of Naziism/ Fascism as "totalitarianism from the center" because as well reasoned as your post is, I'm just deeply in the habit of thinking of militant racial and national chauvinism as being the province of the far right. But it also occurs to me that I might possibly have that association because, when the world saw what Hitler did in the name of nation and race, a consensus developed that such militant chauvinisms should be consigned to the past by educated, enlightened people. And so because the far right is associated with wanting to go back to the past, that makes it easy for those of us born after 1940 to think, "Fascism/ Naziism = the past (and therefore far right)".

In fact, I read an article today that suggested that the black cloud of Naziism may have had a very major silver lining. This silver lining was making the world realize what a malignant nightmare the natural human tendency towards tribalism can become when it rages out of control.

2/21/14, 11:35 AM

Nastarana said...
An alarming harbinger of what might be on the way in the USA is the series of armed raids on farms, not excluding the peaceful Amish, and private food buying clubs. Such raids have taken place in blue California and New York and in redder than red Utah as well as states of every shade of purple, such as Missouri and Tennessee. At the present time, a farmer in the Midwest is refusing an order (NOT a court order) to put down his heritage breed pigs, on the bogus grounds that the pigs are "feral". Both major parties rely on support from interests and groups who themselves rely on mass consumption.

rj8957, the reason so many American small towns have no, or almost no, public transportation is that local govts. are dominated by a coalition of auto dealers, land owners and insurance and real estate interests who profit from private car ownership. I think it was such local magnates who instigated the so-called "tea party" in order to regain money and influence lost in 2008.

2/21/14, 11:47 AM

Sheldon Raiter said...
One of the best things I took from the 60's goes like this: be not too hard for life is short and nothing is given to man. Of course Burke too was only a man, but somethings should not be forgotten, like Ayn Rand applying for Social Security. This is from Corey Robin on Oct 24 of last year.

"Some day someone should write an essay on the struggles of Edmund Burke in his final years to overcome his considerable debts—some £30,000—by securing a peerage and a pension from the Crown.

Throughout his career, Burke’s financial state had been precarious. Much to his embarrassment, he was periodically forced to rely upon well timed gifts and loans from his wealthier friends and patrons.

So terrified was he of dying in a debtor’s prison that he struggled in his retirement to learn Italian. His hope, claimed one of the many visitors at his estate, was to flee England and “end his days with tollerable Ease in Italy.” (He also floated, apparently, the possibility of fleeing to Portugal or America.) “I cannot quite reconcile my mind to a prison,” he told a friend.

Thanks to the interventions of his well connected friends, Burke secured from Pitt in August 1795 two annuities that would wipe out his debts and a pension that, along with an additional pension and the income from his estate, would enable him and his wife to live in comfort into their old age.

Three months later, when Burke took up his pen against a proposal for the government to subsidize the wages of farm laborers during bad harvest years (so that they could sustain themselves and their families), he wrote, 'To provide for us in our necessities is not in the power of government.'"

2/21/14, 12:34 PM

Myriad said...
I might be jumping the gun here, but I'm thinking about the actual import of this information on my possible future decisions as an American citizen. It seems like you're suggesting that if a future political movement were to emerge with a platform I generally agree with (for instance, suppose they're calling for campaign finance and lobbying reform, outlawing predatory corporate practices such as "chargemaster" medical billing, standing down from costly foreign military adventures, dialing back on failed drug prohibitions, and changing the tax structure to promote domestic industry aka "protectionism"), I should consider opposing it, in my own (and humanity's) long-term best interest.

If it comes down to risking helping to tip the nation into fascism, or supporting (if only by default) the failure-bound status quo, I understand the cautionary logic of "don't make things worse trying to fix a system that's doomed anyhow." But I hope it doesn't come down to only those choices. In other words, I hope Part III will offer suggestions for steering clear of proto-fascist currents without poisoning the well for any effective reform at all.

2/21/14, 12:37 PM

Phil Harris said...
Early 20thC Europe was not that decorous, but it might help to understand something of what was lost in the way of expectation.
I wrote recenly the following account. (My father btw did not die in WW1 like the classes immediately above him in the boys' grammar school - he missed it by about a year.)

"Not long after the fall of East Germany, I took time out from a work meeting to make a brief excursion in the Harz. I put on my running shoes and jogged across where the fence had been. What I had not expected were the extant remnants of a pre-WW1 prosperous tourist culture; utterly familiar to similar scenes that I had taken for granted in my childhood near London. Goethe and Heine Weg (we had different names) still rambled through conifer woods to rustic seats at view points: a clock had stopped for the scenic mountain railway. In my imagination the hands pointed to the exact hour.

I remembered that my father’s Aunt had been a children’s nurse for a bourgeois family here and might have married and stayed but for the need to return to England to look after her mother. The beloved Herman was left behind; in her 80s Aunt told my mother that perhaps it had been for the best; otherwise her children might have been fighting her nephews in the trenches."

Phil H

2/21/14, 12:48 PM

Richard Clyde said...
The sense I get from someone like AJP Taylor is that German conservatives-- and their leaders-- supported Hitler because they thought they could control him, and Hitler's talent as a political leader had largely to do with patiently exploiting mistakes of that kind. Habermas did a statistical analysis that he thought showed conclusively that the voters who gave the Nazis their decisive plurality in 1932 were the voters who elected Hindenburg in 1925: that is, the (conservative) military establishment, Prussian aristocrats, and the pillars of the middle class.

At the same time, for a sense of how deep and thoughtful and visceral the conservative hatred of the Nazis could run (and for some unsettling insight into the Nazis as our contemporaries), I strongly recommend reading Reck-Malleczewen's Diary of a Man in Despair.

2/21/14, 1:03 PM

Glenn said...

Recently you either engaged in Socratic dialogue, or asked a rhetorical question. "What nation holds trillions in U.S. currency that may soon become worthless, and would benefit by reduced U.S. influence in the world?" This was in answer to the question of which country might wish to subsidize a "Colour Revolution" or civil war in the U.S.

In a similar vein, I ask. "What large, powerful, oil dependent nation with a history of undermining and overthrowing other countries governments might benefit by a regime change in it's near neighbor, Venezuela?"

Looks like someone is intent on playing the Empire Game to it's last throw.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

2/21/14, 1:26 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

Your essay has stirred up some interesting comments.

The social structural dimensions of this series of essays, has not been lost on me. I reckon in times of crisis and change, a leader promising stability (or a return to the time of plenty) - at whatever expense - will find a willing horde of followers. Why else would both of the main parties here be riding refugees like a Bronco?

Is not this the same political tactic that swept Reagan and his cohorts to power, thus setting the future course of events in the US in cement?

Just sayin...

Please indulge me with a truly shameless plug for a recent essay I wrote about apple trees and climate change deniers. Yep, you wouldn't reckon that anyone could possibly link the two topics, but there you go:

Opinions are not facts - Failing the aircraft test

Please everyone, if you get a chance, click on the link and either have a read or have a look at the nice photos!

At least I trust that peoples curiosity has been engaged and they might just learn something about fruit trees too! hehe!



2/21/14, 3:25 PM

John Franklin said...
Oh, given, Mr Raiter. That said, the fallibility of man was central to Burke's whole way of thinking. That doesn't necessarily invalidate his later policy critique. Though, since I don't know the specific and probably varied circumstances of the policy referred to in the final quote (I don't claim to be an expert on the old buzzard), I'm unwilling to add that I think his critique was valid. It may not have been. I don't know.

2/21/14, 3:30 PM

John Michael Greer said...
John, thank you.

PhysicsDoc, no argument there at all. In a democratic system with a money economy, it's normally a safe bet that every political party is corrupt, and ours may just be the paradigmatic case.

Mark, give it another decade and the two will probably have fused. That won't necessarily turn into a fascist movement -- there are many different ways things could turn out, some more useful than others.

Chris, you get tonight's gold star -- that's a very cogent analysis. The inability of today's industrial societies to provide services and benefits to the people at a cost people can afford is political dynamite.

Das Monde, that's a workable analysis -- put another way, fascism offers industrial societies the benefits of socialism without the class warfare.

Unknown Deborah, good. Can you encourage half a dozen people to read it this year?

Ed, Langley is very well insulated against the lessons of its mistakes. Sooner or later one of them is going to blow up in a way that can't be ignored -- that was the premise of my series "How It Could Happen" in October 2012, and my forthcoming novel Twilight's Last Gleaming -- but until then, it's going to be the same ol' same ol'.

Kutamun, the problem with Reich's analysis is that it could be applied to most people in Europe for the last two thousand years or so, and yet fascism as a historical phenomenon is a much more distinctive factor. I find Reich interesting, that is, but far from convincing in many places, and this is one of them!

Latefall, one of the many reasons I don't do social media like Twitter -- if a potter makes pots, what does a Twitter make? -- is that it makes it much too easy for that kind of meta-realpolitik. Of course, as you point out, manipulating such a system is also very much an option.

Mortal, every government that's been in power for more than a few years has committed abuses, and most have committed atrocities. Every government that pursues overseas empire has killed people in that process. I'd argue that there's an important difference between those governments that kill some people now and then, on the one hand, and those that engage in mass murder -- say, ten million political killings in twelve years -- as a normal part of governing. I'd also suggest that obscuring that difference does nobody any good. You're free to disagree, of course.

Will, the best glue for a fascist movement, as history reminds us, is rejection of the status quo. It's amazing how many people will accept the claim that anything other than the current system must be a change for the better. Once the fascist system gets in place, of course, it can enforce conformity, and to the extent that it succeeds in giving people what they want -- for example, jobs -- a very large number of people will fall in line.

Bill, you're quite correct that I see it as possible rather than certain -- or even probable. My guess is that the way this country is going, fragmentation is more likely than fascism. Still, there's so much protofascist thinking in various corners of contemporary American culture that it seemed worth saying something about the risks.

2/21/14, 6:24 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Harry, exactly. I'll see if I can work up a more detailed analysis along those lines one of these days.

Bob, Calvin was behind the times!

Steve, yes, I saw it! I'm considering an entry, time permitting.

Mister R., now think about where that habit of thinking about fascism came from, and who benefits from it.

Nastarana, standard common or garden variety authoritarian abuses, of the sort that can be found in most societies. That's one of the reasons it's important to recognize just how much worse things can get.

Sheldon, it's surprisingly hard for anybody to live up to their best ideas. You could equally well have cited the considerable number of activists on the far left whose bills are paid by trust funds invested in the corporate economy these same activists claim to hate; they were common enough in the Pacific Northwest when I lived there that there was a slang term for them -- "Trustafarians."

I trust you realize that the personal failings of one individual associated with a way of thought doesn't disprove the validity of that way of thought. That's why, for example, my critique of Ayn Rand's belief system in a previous post focused on the failings of the belief system, not on her personal problems living up to her beliefs.

Myriad, good. The crucial thing to keep in mind is that every change is not necessarily for the better, and a movement that seeks change may replace a bad system with a worse one. The cure for that is to support movements that embody such old-fashioned values as civil rights and the rule of law, even in dealing with the other side.

Phil, true enough. A really close look at the world before the Great War reveals some very unexpected things.

Richard, it was a common mistake, and was motivated -- as I've suggested -- by the belief that the only choice left was between the Nazis and the Communists. I'm far from sure which would have turned out worse, given that the KPD was a puppet of Stalin...

Glenn, true enough. The game will be played right down to the last chip on the table.

Cherokee, excellent. Got it in one.

2/21/14, 6:47 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
So now I am imagining a scenario (not a prediction, just a thought)...

The proto-neofascist movement indeed does begin to take root in college campuses, and spreads to urban centers. Down here in Dixie, the conservative tendencies are disturbed by all this talk about strong central government and a shocking lack of mentions of god. Remember, we are a generation removed from the present-day, so these are not your father's southerners. But they still retain their suspicion of government, and their trust in religion. The schism grows deeper, and in a backlash against the increasingly intrusive moves from the federal government southern culture becomes ever more focused on personal liberty. Finally there is a split, and the Free States of America break away, persuading a substantial chunk of the U.S. military to come with them. After all many of the largest bases are down here. In an effort to separate as far as possible from the authoritarian north and west, they adopt a constitution with strong guarantees of privacy, absolute religious freedom, and personal liberty as it defining value. This goes so far as to embrace high-profile freedoms their grandparents were shocked by, such as same-sex marriage and almost no drug prohibitions. New Orleans is the new Amsterdam, though the shadow of war looms large. The inevitable military conflict follows, and the remaining European democracies join forces with the Pacific and Islamic nations to support the FSA against the totalitarian USA and its aggressive moves beyond its borders. The war is horrific and costly, but eventually the USA and its puppet states are brought down. The FSA and is allies begin the long and difficult process of reconstruction and reconciliation. And, of course, the FSA has to return to the harsh realities that it cities are running out of water, its agriculture is failing, its coastline is sinking, and most of the resources that could have been used to help with this situation were consumed by the war. And so it goes...

2/21/14, 8:35 PM

Tom Christoffel said...
Good posts and interesting discussion. I recall a documentary about Il Duce that, since people were at their best in war, constant war was part of the strategy. This in that vein from "The Truth Will Make You Mad” blog - Darwin’s Holocaust? (Part 2 of 3):
As early as 1939, philosopher Judah Rumney wrote about Darwin’s influence on both Hitler and Mussolini. In an article called “Biology and War,” which Rumney wrote shortly before Germany’s September 1939 invasion of Poland (and the start of World War II), he noted that the German and Italian dictators were both influenced by the philosophy of social Darwinism:
Both Mussolini and Hitler avow their adherence to this philosophy of war. Hitler in Mein Kampf argues that the world must be ruled according to the natural law of the survival of the fittest: “In constant war mankind has become great — in eternal peace it must perish.”12
Rumney added that Hitler saw war, first, as a “biological necessity,” part of a Darwinian “struggle for existence,” and second, as a means of natural selection, in which the weak and inferior would perish and the strong and superior would be selected for survival.
Perpetual war is a feature of life in Orwell’s, “1984” a fiction no more.
The factors that enabled the rise of Adolf Hitler have not yet included the WW-I reparations treaty intended to cripple Germany economically, which it did.
How did the Nazi’s manage to keep the good people of Germany on board? This review of the book “Hitler's Beneficiaries” by Gotz Aly - 2005 was a shocker.
As it rearmed, made war, and sought to keep the social peace, the regime went into massive debt so much so that it faced eventual financial collapse. The Nazis borrowed from domestic and foreign sources. Eventually, they would strong-arm occupied countries into “loaning” the regime large sums. The Nazis had no intention of paying these sums back and entered them as revenue in their books. (266) The Nazis used whatever financial tricks were available to hide the true extent of their borrowing. In 1938, Göring stated, “I know no other way to keep my Four Year Plan and the German economy going.” (45) The borrowing reached a point where the only solution to keeping the German economy afloat was to cannibalize the Jewish population and, eventually other peoples. The cannibalization of Jewish assets was referred to as “Aryanization.” Aly writes:
“Forced to come up with ever more creative ways of refinancing the national debt, they turned their attention to property owned by German Jews, which was soon confiscated and added to the so-called Volksvermogen, or collective assets, which by no means restricted to German society, implied the possibility of dispossessing those considered ‘alien’ (Volksfremden) or ‘hostile’ (Volksfeinden) to the ethnic mainstream.” (41)
Then there is Edwin Black's history of the involvement of IBM and Ford in supporting the eugenics program in Germany which came from the States. His 2009 book the "Nazi Nexus" connects the dots.
Here’s Black’s presentation on CSPAN

This need not be added to the que.

2/21/14, 8:49 PM

Tom Christoffel said...
Your exploration of the term is interesting and useful, but does the "money power" live by political theory of academics or the people?

Comparing the 2008 financial crisis lack of banker prosecution to the 1990’s savings and loan crisis, where over a thousand bankers went to jail for fraud, demonstrates how the lawyered up financial predators have learned to manage governments, both their own and others in many cases.

We have a mental environment where lying is an accepted business and political practice. If you want to come out on top, get the best liars. Even video does not keep these folks from taking a position the opposite of what they'd once said. The wonks have fun, but Nowspeak wins in the news cycle, though the charge of conspiracy grants eternal life to some ideas. The more drama the better. There is always a defender, a troll.

In 2009 I used this article for my Regional Community Development Newsletter: "Acquiring political points on quarrels" About the Balkans, it concludes with this:

"A sociologist from Novi Sad and expert on regionalization Jovan Komsic warns in an interview for “Blic” that the paradox of democracy is ruling this region, because “through democratic procedures politicians don’t have victories based on rational interests, but on emotions and passionate advocacy of nationalism.”

“All leaders from this region are excellent allies, because instead of solving far more difficult problems of the borders, unemployment and of attracting foreign investments, they give each other a chance for opening old battlefields. Thus they cover up their inability to solve real life problems. This will be a problem for a long time in the region and the real solution lies in Brussels,” said Komsic."

The Balkans solution is the need to respond to a greater reality. The EU is that compared to the Balkens, though it is just a larger region. If only humanity had to respond as a people to other intelligent races where nations are planetary!

2/21/14, 10:01 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

Thank you for the gold star.

I wish that there was no truth behind that insight - which is really part your thoughts too - because all of the bluster, noise and verbiage coming from within and without the system now looks differently to me. I see it clearly for the magic that it actually is and I sort of now feel sad (and perhaps a touch of pity too) for the lead actors in that decline. Perhaps someday the tale will read in a similar way that the Greeks morality tales can be read by us today?

Insight comes at strange times, but most often I find my brain in the best meditative and/or receptive state when performing manual labour. Slowing that monkey brain is a serious challenge for me and takes training and a whole lot of practice and I'm not there yet!

The trench was finished today. It was a real eye opener because the trench passed through an area that has never had any soil magic worked on it (i.e. had massive amounts of organic matter applied to it). It was a sort of time travel event for me because the clay was like concrete, which is what the entire farm was like only a few years ago. It is little wonder to me that the area looked a bit dead! That however, can be rectified. I'm not so sure about the issue raised in the earlier paragraph though.



2/21/14, 11:55 PM

hadashi said...
This and last week's post have been absolutely riveting reading for me. You see, my parents are Dutch, and on one side the family ended up supporting Hitler. I believe that free farms were promised to young Dutch men who signed up for the Germans (instead, I never met two of my uncles, as they died in action). I was always told that in those days Hitler's party was simply another one to choose from. Your term, salonfähig from last week, clanged a bell of understanding for me in that regard. My parents understood one another, and each other's families very well (on the other side, the family hid an entire Jewish family in a secret underground cellar room - which I saw in person at the age of 6). So thank you JMG, as always.

2/22/14, 1:09 AM

KL Cooke said...
"...standing down from America's global empire...very much desired across a wide range of Middle America, and completely absent from the political scene."

The problem, however, can be characterized by a Chinese proverb. "He who rides the tiger cannot dismount."

2/22/14, 1:16 AM

sgage said...

Happy Ragnarok Everyone!

"The Norse pantheon’s Ragnarok begins on 22nd Feb 2014 and once more hilarity prevails in the UK’s popular press as another apocalyptic flag lands in our time period[1] but the world doesn’t come to an end."

2/22/14, 4:46 AM

theartandzen said...
Robert Paxton argues that fascism is "a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

2/22/14, 5:16 AM

Nestorian said...

You are obviously better-informed about the relationship between the Nazis and Big Business than I am. As such, I would be much obliged if you could let me know what your sources are with respect to this issue. This is an area that I am interested in researching further myself.

2/22/14, 6:26 AM

Nestorian said...
Also, your point to Mortal about the difference between governments that engage in atrocities every now and then versus those that do it routinely and on a much larger scale is well-taken.

However, I think a crucial and fundamentally important further distinction that needs to be made is whether such differences (e.g., between Nazi atrocities and U.S. government atrocities in any given period you care to look at) are differences in KIND, or rather they are differences merely in DEGREE.

I believe in absolute moral truth; as such, I would argue that, insofar as the U.S. government (or any old-fashioned European imperialist/colonialist government - no particular anti-American animus is entailed by my argument) engages/ed in atrocities, it fundamentally differs from the Nazis merely in degree, but not in kind. The kind in question in these sorts of comparisons is always the same: Murderous evil on a larger or smaller scale, usually cloaked in deceit and hypocrisy.

The distinction between kind and degree is of practical importance, I believe, because if e.g. what the U.S. government has done to date since, say, 9/11 differs from what the Nazis did merely in degree, and not in kind, then there is no longer any difference in kind that we might rely upon in coming years to prevent the unfolding of a slippery slope in coming years where, e.g. the U.S. slowly but surely does come to approximate Nazi-scale atrocities in degree.

I would say that both the Edward Snowden revelations themselves, and the way he is being treated across the entire political and media establishment, serve as two among many indicators suggesting that the U.S. is upon just such a slippery slope towards the most brutal form of totalitarianism/authoritarianism in the present epoch.

2/22/14, 6:41 AM

onething said...
JMG I am surprised by your response regarding armed food raids as being status quo for most any govt. Yes, there have been some such abuses in the past, such as armed raids on doctors trying to provide natural forms of healing, but it seems to me it has stepped up quite a bit, and isn't that alarming? Those armed raids and legal proceedings against doctors were because they were cutting into the uniformity whose purpose was monopolization of medical care on offer. Now, those food raids and laws against raw milk or laws against seed saving (!) in Europe and so on are for the same reason - Big Agra and the processed food giants are now in a similar position regarding food production in this country, they have it almost locked down and don't want the alternative to grow. At the same time that it is true enough that we still have a fair amount of freedom and of course it can get much worse, there is something in the air, and I see it affecting my daily life in my job, in air of intransigent rules and the fear of breaking them. The daily performance of my job it utterly changed from what it was 8 or 10 years ago. It was once fairly relaxed and open, and now is controlled by regulations,rules, computers to the minute. Everything must be locked up that a few years ago no one worried about.And vaccinations are more and more forced; if things continue on their current trajectory the entire population will be forcibly immunized. Then there are the various "zero tolerance" rules. It seems to me that you can have a quick fall into totalitarianism, or a slow and gradual one, and should I not consider these signs as possible points in a slow slide?

2/22/14, 7:22 AM

Karl said...
I wish them luck but even with a billionaire backing them its doubtful.
Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper got the go-ahead this week to collect signatures for his "Six Californias" plan, according to the California Secretary of State's Office.

Draper needs more than 807,000 signatures of registered voters by July 18 to get his proposal on the November ballot.

With 38 million people, California is too big and diverse to properly represent all of its residents, according to Draper's plan.

"Vast parts of our state are poorly served by a representative government dominated by a large number of elected representatives from a small part of our state, both geographically and economically," the plan says.

With the current structure, California is "ungovernable," Draper told USA TODAY Network.

2/22/14, 8:19 AM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
OT but my sustainable Mardi Gras parade tonight

Somehow, I do not think New Orleans will succumb to fascism.

2/22/14, 8:50 AM

Janet D said...
I appreciate the education last week and this week. I read both to my 11-year-old son (he loves your columns, but I don't let him read them himself....he is only 11), and we had a really good talk about socialism, communism, fascism, etc.

I find that the Comments this week and last have largely served only to confuse me again about the definition of fascism. Not quite sure what to do about that, but I'm hoping it will become more clear as we continue.

The other thing that has struck me is the number of commenters who seem to indicate that the coming changes are likely to bring them more of what they want and less of what they don't. Kind of like "all the protections of the United States, only better."

I don't share that optimism, regardless of where one is on the political spectrum. Some of it is being a parent who has to participate in various parent-run organizations, most of which are complete disasters. When the average person has a chance to grab some power, things get ugly fast. Real ugly. By people you would swear would behave better beforehand.

What I see coming with "regionalization" (if that occurs) is like a gigantic parent group, with every sub-group (radical or not) and reformer coming out of the closet, all of whom would like nothing more than to remake their local societies in their own image and have the full-on power they've been denied for years, willing to do away with a number of those protections we take for granted today (freedom of press, religion, no cruel & unusual, etc.) Double-that if people feel justified by their religion.

Perhaps I'm just being pessimistic, but I sure don't like what I see when any kind of power is up for grabs, and I can't imagine what it will be like when real power in a region is opened up.....

2/22/14, 12:01 PM

Marcello said...

"Marcello, to my mind you're misstating the case considerably. Conservatives backed the National Socialists when it looked like a choice between Hitler and the Communists, take your pick, but that hardly justifies claiming that the two are identical. As for the fact that you can cite a few individuals who cooperated more enthusiastically than others did, well, data isn't the plural of anecdote, you know."

Things is, they kept backing
them once the communists had been eliminated, they kept backing them as increasingly brutal orders and directives were issued one after another. They kept backing them and reaping the rewards under the forms of profits, awards and promotions. Only when it became blinding obvious that they would have been dragged down with them a small number made some attempt at discarding them.
That otherwise they perhaps called them nasty names when in company of trusted friends may be worth noting but how much weight should it carry?

2/22/14, 12:53 PM

DeAnander said...
"Langley is very well insulated against the lessons of its mistakes."

well put, and isn't being well insulated against the lessons of one's mistakes a pretty good working definition of "learning disability"? the famous OODA loop fails when there is no "orient", no reassessment of position based on incoming data.

2/22/14, 2:25 PM

Nastarana said...
Dear Mr. Greer,

As to the raids on farms and food buying clubs being standard "garden variety authoritarian abuses, I do take your point that things can get much worse. I also do realize that none of these raids is comparable to the terrorist violence which was inflicted on African Americans in the years since the Civil War.

I have always supposed that totalitarian parties were a phenomenon of the 20thC and not likely to be replicated. For one thing, totalitarian control of every aspect of society, if it can be accomplished at all, is surely very expensive. The totalitarian parties came about during a time of relatively cheap energy and raw materials--I think maybe the rising slope of the Hubbard Curve?--can their success be repeated in a time of diminishing energy resources?

2/22/14, 3:03 PM

Renaissance Man said...
George Orwell invented NewSpeak (along with his very cogent essay on the drab paucity of modern English) to demonstrate that if one removes the vocabulary, one removes the ability to conceive of or describe undesirable ideas.
I see how, post 1945, jingoistic, anti-communist McCarthyism redefined and conflated the feel-good word "freedom" with "America" and therefore, by extension, every criticism of Free-market, industrial capitalism was un-American and therefore equated to the misery of Soviet Communism, since that was the only defined alternative. They did the same.
Everyone else was the bone between the two big dogs (and we all know what happens to THAT).
That is what I grew up with, the simplistic dichotomy of: America Good, Soviets Evil. Pick one. (No, no! Not that one! Socialism equals Communism lite!) We were supposed to overlook any egregious political misbehaviour because the only alternative was worse. (And the Berlin Wall helped a lot with that.)
But the problem was, I was never an American. Canadians defined ourselves as "not Americans and not British and not French". So, if we weren't Soviet Communists, what were we? America Lite? The unacknowledged 51st state? (It's only in the past 20 years that we have begun to define ourselves in positive terms of who we are, rather than are not, but you're right, we're a client state on our way down.)
I was a still teenager when I realized that the left-right description is quite inadequate, but had only the most rudimentary way to try and express that. But I did experience the cognitive dissonance between what I saw and experienced and what I was told I was seeing and experiencing. (I've lately concluded that even a plane is too simple -- maybe we need a 3 or 4 dimensional space.)
So the connection between this week and last week is quite clear. When Fascism comes to America, it will not be called so; it will be called something else and, just as the various political parties that seized power in the 1930s in Europe, it will be born of frustration, and powered by anger, and created from the cognitive dissonance created by the legacy of the Cold War, that is, the inability to describe political reality in useful terms.

2/22/14, 3:20 PM

Matthew Lindquist said...
" My guess is that the way this country is going, fragmentation is more likely than fascism."

Could the two not be mutually exclusive? Since the problems facing our civilization won't exactly go away if we're suddenly a bunch of smaller countries, couldn't a few of the smaller countries develop their own flavors of fascism, made easier by not having to bridge the culture war chasms of north vs. south, etc?

Also, thank you for the discussion re: empires in the deep future. "Interesting speculation" is high praise from you, indeed! I suppose I have more minor quibbles, but you called my theory "plausible", and that's good enough for me!

2/22/14, 3:30 PM

Marc L Bernstein said...
I have decided to read this twice, something I rarely do. I'm more of a numbers and science guy and grasp historical ideas more slowly.

A new age totalitarian movement of and for the disenfranchised middle sounds exactly like what is in the future for the USA. A celebration of emotion, the gun culture, general militancy, bigotry and other dark forces are likely to be included along with resentment towards the status quo. A backlash against intellectuals, artists, writers, compromise and piecemeal reform can also be expected.

The so-called "tea party" represents the 1st rumblings of what might become a far larger movement. This time it might not be backed so readily by the Koch brothers and other elements of the corporate industrial community, who perhaps have wised up to the fact that such movements are hard to control.

A full blown neo-fascist movement does not seem to be imminent though. It might be another decade or 2 before things become so acute. There are simply not enough persons in the USA, particularly young ones, without jobs. Furthermore, there are so many different kinds of entertainment available even to relatively poor people. If people have a job, even a repugnant and poorly paying one, and can go home to a television, drink a beer and eat fatty foods until they have a pot belly, they are unlikely to go out into the streets and join a fascist movement.

Persons in the USA are also poorly informed, especially on historical and cultural issues, much more uninformed than a typical European, or so I've heard. As such, US citizens are likely to belong to a movement only for a short while because they lack a deep understanding of the issues, and have no ideological base that is self-consistent. Once the hatred, passion and resentment fades a bit, most US citizens can be expected to shuffle back to their televisions, internet sites , baseball games, drugs or other forms of entertainment.

2/22/14, 3:37 PM

Shane Wilson said...
@ Bill & others
Having returned to the South after an extended absence, having traveled extensively in the US, I am amazed at just how culturally homogeneous the US is now. It may have taken 150 years, but the South and Southern culture is dead. In the mid sized upper Southern city where I live, impatience and rudeness rules, slow paced Southern gentility, manners, & hospitality is gone. The accent is all but dead except for some older people. The old money, social register, first families of the Southern aristocracy that ruled and controlled the South since colonial times is dead. The redneck culture that people outside the South consider Southern has nothing to do with the traditional South, as it's just a Yankee, Deliverence caricature/stereotype of poor Southern whites that has just become a cultural shorthand for disenfranchised whites to adopt, regardless of their region, much the same way" gangsta" culture is adopted by disenfranchised people of color. Indeed, how Southern is a culture that is claimed by the descendents of Polish immigrants & Union soldiers in the rust belt of the North?
Regionalization is in our future, but we've never been more culturally homogeneous than we are now. There's precious little that separates the "blues" of my mid sized city's trendy neighborhoods from their counterparts in San Francisco, likewise for tea partiers in Montana vs Tennessee...

2/22/14, 4:55 PM

Robert Mathiesen said...
Nestorian and onething, my take on the coming future is cut from the same cloth as your takes. Alas for us all!

Nastarana, you really don't need a lot of cheap energy and advanced surveillance technology to impose control over a society that is close to total.

Stalin rose to power because he understood better than others the advantage he could gain over his fellow bolsheviks by amassing detailed information about each of them. He used handwritten filing cards to do so -- lots and lots and lots of filing cards. Before he rose to absolute power, his fellows mocked and scorned him as *tovarishch kartoteka*, that is, "Comrade Card-File." I dare say he had the last laugh on the mockers.

And it's worth remembering that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge did not need advanced technology, just a great many sledgehammers, to kill their millions in the camps they ran.

2/22/14, 5:29 PM

Robert Mathiesen said...
For whatever it may be worth:

During my college years, 1960-1964, I traveled a little in Europe, and as it happened, I lived for a number of weeks in the family of a former member of the Nazi Party. When I knew him, he was the chief surgeon in a Westphalian village hospital. He seemed to me, when I knew him, to be a thoroughly decent man. In those years my German was fluent, and I could even get by a little in Plattdeutsch (Low German), so I could also hear what was said in unguarded moments when my presence was overlooked. My host had been quite young when he was an officer in the German Army under Hitler, and he had had a couple of decades, I suppose, to learn from the consequences of his actions in his youth.

As a professional Slavist, I have also been acquainted with a few people who were loyal party members under Stalin. It was much the same with them. When I knew them, they seemed to me to be decent people -- with a few exceptions. (Here my sample was larger.)

I suspect it is the same in most totalitarian regimes, whether Fascist or Communist. People are more or less decent in and of themselves, or some of them are not -- most are a complex mix of the two. Under extreme circumstances they just do what they can to the best of their abilities and inclinations -- like Hadashi's kin did.

Most of the truly evil things that have ever happened in this weary old world of ours have not been done by inhuman monsters, but by ordinary humans of the sort I just described, acting without much forethought, or even much thought of any sort. Later many of them become sadder and wiser.

2/22/14, 5:46 PM

Grebulocities said...
Your most recent response to Luckymortal makes me wonder: is it possible for a movement to be "fascist" if, when it takes power, it does not kill, torture, or imprison (without due process) political opponents en masse?

It could arguably be possible for a state to be totalitarian by trying to control the totality of its citizens' lives with less crude means, such as extensive surveillance, targeted propaganda toward possible dissidents, freezing the funds or otherwise confiscating the property of dissidents, selective enforcement of laws written so broadly that they could apply to anyone, publicly visible blacklists to exclude people from jobs and social approval, etc.

If a new movement that fills all the other criteria for fascism were to become popular enough to take over the United States government, it might find it more convenient to use and extend the existing "softer" methods of control rather than crudely making people disappear in midnight raids. This would allow it to keep up a pretense of "freedom", which it will probably claim to be promoting. To what extent is overt physical violence necessary for a regime to become fascist?

2/22/14, 7:24 PM

Charles Justice said...
Whether or not certain phenomena are technically fascist or not, it’s a kind of convenient hook to group certain distressing political practices that resemble what occurred with the German Nazi party’s rise and seizure of power.

Scapegoating certain convenient ethnic groups such as Jews and Gypsies, for instance. There are a number of reasons why this is both effective and dangerous. It can create a sense of solidarity amongst the in-group against the out-group. Hatred and fear of the other is a great motivator. It can also be the basis for mass manipulation and coercion, as those who go along are now caught in a kind of trap because they’ve participated in the scapegoating process. Also, when you are talking about hatred and prejudice, you are talking about states of mind that lend themselves to manipulation, leading to, in the U.S. - race-riots, lynchings, klu-klux-klan, and the numerous assassinations in the American South.

The more people are suffering, the more they are willing to blame some other group for their problems. In America people blame the poor and the homeless, blacks, mexicans, communists, homosexuals, etc. The whole effect can be amplified by political propaganda and clever use of the media. The Nazis under the guidance of Goebbels, were masters at this. In the US we have Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, etc.

There is a direct line between The John Birch Society and the Tea Party. Both exhibit the same intolerance for minorities, reliance on conspiracy theories, open contempt for government, indiscriminate tarring of moderates and left-wingers as communists, etc.
One of the original prominent John Birchers was the father of the Koch brothers, the present bank rollers of the TP.

The problem is that these techniques work, and the worse-off people are, the better they work. I think it is vital to realize that the whole Reaganite Republican shtick about government being the problem plays into this because it creates an atmosphere of mistrust and disrespect for the rule of law. And that atmosphere is fertile ground for fascism. A very similar attitude towards the government of the Weimar Republic helped contribute to the rise of the Nazi party in Germany.

2/22/14, 9:18 PM

Lugh said...
Superb summary. Fascism is neither Left nor Right - both being philosophies of economic materialism. Fascism is a philosophy of Man - and can use any economic system or combination of them that serves the good of the Nation. And yes, the most powerful and cogent critiques of Fascism come from the Traditionalists or True Conservatives.

2/23/14, 1:19 AM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

@Shane Wilson--Regional accents are fading among younger generations everywhere.

I see differences in outlook and habits between the people who live in trendy neighborhoods in and near San Francisco and their counterparts in the Northeast, but the differences are subtle. For example, I think trendy urbanites in San Francisco are more likely than trendy New Yorkers to have a spiritual practice, to go somewhere outdoors and wild for leisure activities, to be obsessive about what they eat, to lack political party affiliation.

I'd like to qualify my remarks about the Deep South in the Jim Crow era by acknowledging that the South had strong civil institutions with some independence from the government in matters not relating to race, and its culture respected the family.

2/23/14, 2:12 AM

YJV said...
On a slightly unrelated note, I found this rather interesting article in comparing the impending collapse of the US to previous lessons learnt in the collapse of the Soviet Union. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the author.

I'm sure you'll tie in economic and social collapse to the emergence of future fascism sometime soon in any case.


2/23/14, 3:40 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Shane -- I am curious where you live. Because in Nashville and middle Tennessee, the southern culture is still very much alive in the original sense, not just the stereotype. Even the young people have strong accents and are obsessively polite and deferential to elders; I am so used to being "sir"ed that it surprises me when I am not. Some transplants from other regions can hardly even understand the locals on first arrival. Many of the kids really do still grow up spending their free time in the woods and at the lake. And Momma still reigns supreme.

This is true in Nashville also, outside of the upscale neighborhoods. In Atlanta (where I grew up), everyone is now transplants from other cities. And it is culturally a horribly "normal" place. But in Nashville, they are all from small towns and rural areas of Tennessee.

Charles Justice -- and as you talk about other people scapegoating, you are presenting your own scapegoat...

2/23/14, 5:06 AM

Shane Wilson said...
I have heard people who visited the former Soviet Union in the 70s and 80s marvel that it was able to hold together/function at all. I'm in the same position regarding the US today. I marvel that all the Jerry rigging of the US and its allies manages to still function...

2/23/14, 6:09 AM

Nastarana said...
Janet D, Please accept my commiserations; I think I know exactly whereof you speak, having been involved with mini sociopaths mal eleve myself (apologies to French speakers, my computer doesn't have the accents).

I think we Americans, and I cannot entirely except myself, have gotten ourselves boxed into some atrociously bad mental habits.

Such as supposing that expensive turnout, in terms of clothing, hair and cosmetic enhancement, is a qualification for leadership rather than a sign of selfishness.

Such as not thinking about first principles: what is the purpose of the parent/teacher organization or the non profit organization? I have been involved with effective and corrupted non-profits, and the effective ones had a clear sense of their mission and were so organized as not to be a platform for personal advancement.

Such as valuing the charming stranger over the loyal workers who have kept your organization or business going for years.

There was a good series of articles at a site called Orcinus about sociopaths; the good news is that they are not so difficult to take down, as Ms Robinson stated, they leave clear trails behind them because really don't care "who got hurt, where the bodies are buried, or where the money went." I have found that all it really takes is for honest people to tell the tinpot dictator no a few times, and he or she begins to lose support, because those who have been hurt are emboldened to speak up. Unfortunately the good and decent people, the stalwarts who have kept the business or organization going for years will have also left.

One of the most precious things we can give another is the gift of our loyalty; I think we all need to start being a lot more careful about how and where we bestow that gift.

2/23/14, 7:18 AM

thrig said...
Imagine a large tree, outsized. This tree will dominate the local ecology, altering wind patterns, creating shade, supporting or destroying possibilities by its mere presence. This tree must perforce die, though will take its sweet time in doing so, and must remain an influence even well past its death. Short-timers may not even notice it passing, their attentions too narrow to notice the illusion of permanence, the tree most often being no more or less grown or decayed through their lives. Limbs will come crashing down, from time to time—punctuated equilibrium—but don't hold your breath. Given this model, most will live on or under the tree, and make do, or must instead live far enough away to largely escape its influence, a tricky proposition, given the reach of modern technology. Fascism, then, might be termites, or a dead rot that causes the untimely and accelerated death of a portion of that tree: woe to those on or under that limb.

2/23/14, 9:44 AM

Shane Wilson said...
3 hours NE of Nashville. Lived in Southern Calif. (Long Beach) before that. Lived in Seattle & Ohio before that. Work in a local credit union, so see the local public daily. Manners, as well as accents, are not appreciably different from Southern Cal. I don't consider Southern Cal. particularly rude--fairly middle of the road. People here, tho seem as crass & crude & oblivious in public as people in SoCal. I remember traveling to Ohio and other Yankee states as a child and marveling how crass, crude, inconsiderate, & oblivious people were in public, smacking gum, yelling/having loud arguments w/out regard to those around them, now I look around and "us is them" here in Lexington. I marvel at how members of my own family have lost their upbringing and manners.
It's interesting, because Lexington & Kentucky always had New South aspirations, but seemed to have missed the boat compared to high growth Southern states like GA, NC, & VA. We used to always joke that we were competing with Miss. to see who would get 49th & 50th place. To see the cultural death take place in the 30-40 years I can recall, as well as to compare the cultural loss over the 100 years since my grandfather was born, is painful.
Thankfully, I speak somewhat fluent Spanish, and am fascinated by Latin American culture. Contact with local migrants is a bright spot for me: being around people who were raised in a culture that is still gracious, self-aware, and instinctively conduct themselves courteously with manners is very rewarding.

2/23/14, 11:12 AM

progress4what said...
OK, JMG - I've now read both of your most recent essays twice, which is a complement to you, and very rare for me. And you've done a thorough and accurate job with the definitions and history of fascism, liberalism, and conservatism.

"Snarl words!" I like it. And my overriding take-away is that the vocabulary word "fascism" now and forevermore will function only as a snarl word. I suspect that the derivations of "liberal" and "conservative" may be soon to follow.

My point is that no one can yet predict the political future of the United States. (Although you're going to try this coming Thursday. And I look forward to it.) BUT, whatever happens as the US descends into stress and privation, it is likely to be a cobbled together amalgam of things that work - with little regard for purity of definitions. And furthermore, that labeling a political initiative "fascist," whether by friend or foe - is going to lead to that initiative's certain defeat. IOW, no matter what it is in reality - fascist or not - "they" are going to have to call it something else besides fascism.

And, here's a question that I don't believe you've addressed yet.
Fascism is "groupism," right?
Therefore, doesn't it and/or wouldn't it require both an in-group and an out-group. And the in-group would be some faction loyal to some surviving or evolving system of government of belief, right?

But - what would the out-group be. Since history rhymes without repeating; let's argue that the out-group is unlikely to be defined based on sexual orientation or traditional minority status. So what's left? I can think of two possibilities.

One is age. We're hearing a lot (much of it self-referential, no doubt) of disparaging remarks about "selfish baby boomers," and other groups who - - have all the money/won't pay taxes/belong to the Tea Party/etc/etc. Some could argue that age discrimination already takes place. Could it get worse, and then find the Boomer elderly codified into an official out-group? I hope not, but I can see where those lines might be drawn. And it could happen very quickly, given sufficient stress on society.

The other potential out-group could not be attacked now, but might be singled out for out-group status within 2 to 4 decades from now. This out-group would be the new white ethnic minority - who would likely still own many of the worthwhile assets still extant in the United States, and perhaps be vulnerable to scapegoating for that reason alone.

Just some thoughts.
Thanks for allowing dissensus, JMG.

And I've created a new blogger ID handle. The old one was "progressorconserve," which apparently had implications that I did not intend. Plus, it was sort of boring. Everything else about my login here remains the same.

2/23/14, 12:54 PM

john john said...
Near the top of the comments Derv said, " we cannot escape human nature. The general structure of society that we see, even under various political systems, is an inevitable outcome of human nature writ large."

I think what we describe as "human nature" is a particular cultural response to the ways in which we are socialized. It is not universal.

It appears to me that every one is doing the best that they can with the information they have available to their consciousness at every given moment. We are all making decisions and acting, from our heart of hearts, with the intention of making the world a better place. We act more or less selfishly/selflessly depending on how we got hurt. In our taker culture we get hurt by agism, sexism, racism, classism and speciesism early and often. We carry these distresses by contagion. The following link presents an insight into small groups that have never come under the influence of our culture, where food is locked up and people have to work beg or steal for it.

2/23/14, 2:26 PM

Tony f. whelKs said...
This whole topic has got my head spinning now.... once you take the lid off things and start re-examining your pre-conceptions who knows where you'll end up?

I'm beginning to think fascism isn't the worst thing that can happen to a polity after all, but I'm still pretty sure I don't want to live anywhere that fascism happens, however much I may have to reshape my working definition of it.

@Nastarana - part of your comment sparked off some thoughts:

"One of the most precious things we can give another is the gift of our loyalty; I think we all need to start being a lot more careful about how and where we bestow that gift."

I'm now thinking that one of the most *dangerous* things to give is loyalty. It strikes me as something of a fascistic virtue. I think perhaps we should give 'loyalty' to principles, not entities. When it comes to persons, 'loyalty' is too strong, 'relationship' I feel contains enough commitment and flexibility.

One phrase that has always rubbed me the wrong way is 'My country right or wrong'.

No, frack it, no! I expect, I exhort, I demand my country to be right. When it is wrong, it abjures my loyalty. Surely this is what it means to be a citizen? To hold ones country to standards rather than accept it, warts and all? Is not the uncritical patriot the greatest traitor of all?

Of course, I also accept lines on the map are pretty arbitrary except as congealed history, countries are pretty weird things to align with. I'd rather identify as a human being first and foremost, a biological being embedded in an ecosystem which is embedded within a planetary supersystem. Any identity beyond that must remain negotiable and revokable.

--... ...--

"rainless" in the captcha.... ho ho ho ;-)

2/23/14, 5:18 PM

onething said...
Charles Justice worries that people will lose their respect for the rule of law. Well, a big problem is that our governing bodies no longer respect it. As someone else further up in the comments mentioned, during the savings and loan crisis, 1,000 bankers went to jail, this time we have Bernie Madoff. And some of the recent banking crimes have been truly flagrant. When the common people see all that, what's to respect?

2/23/14, 5:45 PM

Mark Rice said...
I want to add to what Charles Justice wrote. Two people in my life have experienced living in a country going insane.

My mother spent part of her childhood and youth in Germany in the 30's and 40's. When she first heard Rush Limbaugh on the radio she flashed back to her youth where the principal of her school made everyone listen to the radio broadcasts of Goebbels. Limbaugh had the same schtick. The whole Fox News pseudo-conservative thing has her very frightened. She is starting to give me advice on how to survive living in a totalitarian state.

I had not realized how totalitarian the Third Reich was until she told some stories. One time she was visiting an a great aunt and uncle. Either Hitler or Goebbels came on the radio. Her Uncle said turn that (common German expletive) off. Then they both looked at the children with a look of fear. They were in fear of the children telling the authorities about this.

Her mother was getting awards for bearing such perfect Aryan children. The authorities wanted to send my mother off to a camp where they want the young unmarried ladies to get pregnant and create more perfect Aryan children. It took some moving and manoeuvring to avoid this.

An acquaintance lived through the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. While he had been a registered republican for years, he is also repelled by the Fox News style pseudo conservatism. More than repelled. The vibe reminds him of what happened in Cambodia.

2/23/14, 7:42 PM

Janet D said...
@Nastarana, thanks for your thoughts. You summarized what I run into weekly. The thing that is so surprising is that so many of these parents involved in whatever leadership positions (various sports, PTAs, Scouts, non-profits, 4-H, etc.) are educated and often highly-trained professionals. Yet, with far too many, you give them an opening to power and they morph into egotistical, top-down, hell-bent-for-leather behaviors. I wonder why we think executives and politicians should be better than they are when the average educated, trained adult is all-too-likely to fail the basic ethics-and-some-humility test when running the local high school lacrosse team.

Didn’t mean for my words too sound too harsh toward anyone. I am just so discouraged by the lack of so many to rise to any kind of higher-level leadership that I fear what a true need for leadership (the Long Descent) will result in. History bears me out in this.

@Tony. “I'm now thinking that one of the most *dangerous* things to give is loyalty. It strikes me as something of a fascistic virtue. I think perhaps we should give 'loyalty' to principles, not entities. When it comes to persons, 'loyalty' is too strong, 'relationship' I feel contains enough commitment and flexibility.”
Interesting. I see what you are saying, but I also see the downsides to giving loyalty to ‘principles’. To me, the Nazi Party had loyalty to a set of ‘principals’ (although perhaps you see that as loyalty to a person). (The Tea Party also comes to mind, with them being all-too-willing to throw anyone under the bus who does not vote 100% with them, 100% of the time.) Yet I also see the pitfalls of being too loyal to a person. Perhaps the loyalty needs to be to one’s own principals, and, I would argue, one of those principals should at least take into account the effect on those affected by the ‘principals’. Interesting food for thought, anyway. Agree with your thoughts on country.

2/23/14, 8:26 PM

Agent Provocateur said...

Great essay. I was hoping for some sort of DSM IV type definition of fascism along the lines of: If the presenting organization exhibits at least 3 of 4 of the symptoms from List A and at least 2 of 12 of the symptoms from List B, it may be diagnosed as Fascist. I wasn't disappointed. This may be the start of a full taxonomy of political diseases ;-)

More seriously, I wonder how predetermined the rise of fascism in the West is as a consequence of peak oil. I realize you are mostly defining your terms at this point. I don't think you have definitively answered this one way or the other though perhaps you have hinted.

What I've had trouble grasping is why countries that had political systems that gave their governments the power to act decisively in the face of economic crisis (like Germany and Italy early last century) failed to create political parties that seizes the abandoned middle ground of politics, take up the popular causes that all other parties refuse to touch, and impose run of the mill democratic governments of the center. Instead they chose totalitarian governments of the center.

Of the first three of Nolte's criteria, it is totalitarianism that is clearly the most problematic.

After reading your essay twice I think I finally got it. Things got so bad politically and economically in Germany and Italy that it became plausible that no mere tweaking of the system was likely to solve these problems. A non-totalitarian party of the center is still quite possible up until the point that a critical mass of people have lost complete faith in their civic religion. After that point, a total remaking of society from its fundamental myths (in the sense of unquestioned narratives) on up through the embodiment of these in its institutions seems the only option left. So voila: totalitarianism.

The subversive nature of fascism is that there is nothing wrong with the aim of remaking a dysfunctional society per se. The problem is working outside the rule of just laws and using extreme violence (as opposed the normal violence implied, by definition, in any polity) to accomplish this aim. Given the culture of violence in the USA and the fact that the USA in particular also has a government structure that was pretty much designed (due to a deep distrust of central control i.e. monarchy) not to work, I would guess the USA is a top candidate for fascism once things get bad enough. By no means certain though. Feudalism initially funded by vestigial concentrations of great wealth as big business bites the dust is perhaps another possibility? Perhaps feudalism is more likely much later after we give fascism a whirl first. One political disease at a time.

Thanks for taking the time to respond to all the question and comments put to you including mine

2/23/14, 8:29 PM

audaxity said...
@Robert M.

Your observations on human nature are such that Derv might agree with -- human history forever has seen good people doing what they believe to be good works involved in fascist or totalitarian or authoritarian movements that are very very bad.

And it's not that people like the good German doctor cannot change -- by all appearances and actions years later he appears good and does good for the people in his community.

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, not between classes, nor between political parties, but through every human heart”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I suspect your German doctor knew of this this line and he knew of good people who had "changes of heart" during and certainly after WWII.

Thousands of loving and caring and "good" Germans contributed to the rounding up and killing of European Jews. Most probably did not realize they were doing evil -- Jonathan Haidt's recent writings on the Hive Switch and the Euphoria of Groupism illustrate how this works. Group morality of our tribe is powerful and "Binds and Blinds us" to objectivity. This is an evolutionary development and Derv is right to caution us against enduring human nature -- we are tribal and cannot be trusted !

2/23/14, 9:17 PM

Tony f. whelKs said...
@Janet D - thanks for your feedback -- by 'principles' I had in mind whatever forms an individual's particular moral compass - ie principles in the stronger sense of morals, ethics etc rather than simply ideas or concepts.

Audaxity's Solzhenitsyn quote is very pertinent.

2/24/14, 3:21 AM

Master Oogway said...

Here is an essay that I believe is well worth reading before the next JMG entry. I regard the obsession with establishing a precise definition of fascism to be a mistake and is simply a means of convincing ourselves that we are not ourselves, already fascists.
It's a long essay and may seem unrelated but the central them of "tyranny of models" is a valid addition to the current arguement.

2/24/14, 5:50 AM

Nastarana said...
Tony f, It has been my experience and observation that, lately, petty tyrants of all genders and ethnic and political persuasions demand, expect and too often receive a kind of (IMO) unhealthy emotional subservience from their foolish followers. They also brutally attack any who don't care to behave in the manner of a liveried retainer. This goes way beyond the normal respect one would have for a supervisor or organization.

Janet, maybe the increasing practice of hiring domestic help, which is often undocumented and easily exploited, is having a corrupting effect on our professional classes?

2/24/14, 9:11 AM

onething said...
The sad fact is most people are morally undeveloped and unsophisticated. They fall for manipulation and propaganda because they want to. Many people do evil in a confused state, but the fact that they cannot discern the difference between good and evil is due to them not being ready to make that distinction. And that in turn is partly due to evil having its beauties and rewards, that are enticing and even addictive until you are at last utterly sick of them.
Some Christians worship God and some the devil; most worship both but they don't know it.

2/24/14, 10:16 AM

DeAnander said...
“If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."

-- E M Forster

Loyalty to persons? to the pack? to that strange symbolic abstraction of the pack called "nation"?

deep subject.

2/24/14, 11:50 AM

KL Cooke said...
Now that the Olympics are over, it's worth noting that Russia took all the marbles. The U.S. came in second in the overall medal count, and fourth in the Gold-Silver-Bronze equation. Either way, the Ruskies cleaned our clock.

This will prove to the world that their fascism is better than our fascism.

2/24/14, 3:03 PM

Shining Hector said...
Kind of ironic how fascists usually end up being some other group to which the individual does not happen to belong. Lots of ominous mumblings on the threat of the Tea Party and racists in general in this thread, and not by what I would presume to be self-hating racists or Tea Partiers. That might be my own filter showing, though, I don't discount the possibility.

You want to know the only way to fight fascism that I can think of at the moment?

Walk up to a mirror. Look at yourself. Concentrate. Tell yourself, "This is the face of a potential murderer."

Next, close your eyes. Imagine all the ills of the world. Somewhere in you is a little crystal that knows what group you hold responsible for at least a good part of it. Identify it. Get angry. Wish that it was gone. Now open your eyes. See yourself in full SS dress uniform, sinister hat and armband and all the trimmings, and scream, "I hate the [group of your choosing]. The world would be a better place if they would just GO AWAY!"

If you can remember that moment, maybe when that smooth-talking demagogue rolls by and simply tells you everything you want to hear and asks for your support, you'll take that necessary pause and reconsider.

If you see that the fascist is potentially YOU rather than some "other" to be smited with the wrath of the righteous, you've taken the first step to guarding against it.

2/24/14, 4:13 PM

steve pearson said...
This has obviously nothing to do with fascism per say, but with where the Nazi road led. I had an older friend who was a dentist in the Wehrmacht on the eastern front and said, unbidden, that,if he hadn't gone, they would have killed him and possibly his wife.
Another younger Austrian friend confronted his father about about going in the army when called up in WWII, and was told" If I hadn't, you wouldn't be here"
Maybe justification in retrospect, maybe where these roads lead. Even in the west, you would have gone to prison for refusing.
Hi Chris, I was going to talk to you more about templates or the lack thereof but this week seems to be sticking pretty close to topic. I can wait for a more related post or email you direct. My email is [email protected]
Regards, Steve

2/24/14, 9:31 PM

Redneck Girl said...
@ Cherokee Organics, a tribe may regulate the lives of tribal members but tribes split quite a lot in the past. In my tribal ancestry, the Cherokee split off from the Iroquois nearly a thousand years ago. The Huron much more recently. Tribal life was not 'set in stone.'

Perhaps I'm kidding myself in that I don't believe I could fall to the allure of a fascist movement. But my first thought when viewing and understanding the events at the World Trade Towers was less hatred or fear of people who could perpetrate such an obscenity, as sorrow at the havoc that event would wreak on the personal freedoms of Americans and as it has happened upon the loss of those freedoms that many Americans have been stampeded into giving up. And apparently none of them have stopped to wonder why we haven't had at least some of those freedoms returned.

I've too many obligations and I'm likely too old to do it but I like to tell myself that if push comes to shove there's a lot of empty back country and I have two good horses to get me there when the nation finally redlines.

As far as the break up of the nation goes, I'm with Glen, GO CASCADIA!


2/24/14, 9:40 PM

steve pearson said...
@ K.l.Cooke, Sorry mate, but on a population weighted basis, both the Ruskies & Yanks got their clocks seriously cleaned by Norway, Canada & Holland, especially Norway with 5 million people.

2/24/14, 9:40 PM

Shane Wilson said...
Interesting how you state in your post that fascism is totalitarianism of the center, and then commenters go on to talk about fascism arising from the Tea Party as if they'd never read the post. Interesting. I thought it was settled here that pseudoconservatives/Ayn Rand are Satanists, not fascists. :)

2/25/14, 5:36 AM

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...
Fascism/Socialism may definitely get another hearing from the disenchanted young.


"The conduct of life must rest upon three great unalterable principles, Fascism maintains; namely the principle of Unity, the principle of Authority, and the principle of Duty. They are the basis of Society, the foundation of Law and the essence of the moral order. Upon them it is possible to raise the edifice of a stable human life rule by Justice and inspired by Ethics. Without them there cannot be anything else but anarchy, wantonness and chaos.
The Renaissance had its day of glory and then, as all mortal things, it became a thing of the past; but man, drunk with his newly discovered freedom, driven onward by his instincts and his physiological needs, carried on the daily business of living more and more relentlessly, ruthlessly, trampling, over the bodies and the souls of his less endowed, less powerful fellow beings; satisfied with the existing order of things, fashioning for himself materialistic, positivistic, pragmatic theories, to explain facts as he desires them to be explained."

2/25/14, 5:51 AM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
And five Russian gold medals came from athletes that were not Russian citizens four years ago. Subtract out those, and it is clear that Norwegian Social Democracy is the BEST system in the world (and it may very well be, sarcasm turned off).

2/25/14, 2:54 PM

Glenn said...
Redneck Girl said...
As far as the break up of the nation goes, I'm with Glen, GO CASCADIA!

Thanks Redneck Girl. We've got a few open boats and friends on islands in the Inside Passage.


In the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

2/25/14, 3:05 PM

KL Cooke said...

Since it looks like this is pretty much the end of the thread, maybe JMG will indulge one more of these.

I like to watch Russia Today, because it's fun to catch virulent anti-American propaganda delivered in the style of Steve Martin's "Wild and Crazy Guy (if you're old enough to remember that).

But since the Olympics started I turned it off. I don't mind hearing about how the U.S. is an imperialist, hypocritical, war-mongering, human rights abusing Great Satan (Where would they get an idea like that?), but I'll be d*ed if I'm going to listen them running they mouths about how they whupped our hoo-hoo at curling.

2/25/14, 3:29 PM

DeAnander said...
The Olympics as a modern institution reminds me irresistibly of the feudal tradition of the King's Progress -- a series of royal visits around the realm which (intentionally) bankrupted the barons and lords who had the *honour* to host His Majesty.

2/25/14, 3:45 PM

Ruben said...
@steve pearson and K.l.Cooke

Then it is settled. Our socialism is better than their fascism.

2/25/14, 7:28 PM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

OT but not an instance of Godwin's Law.

"MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered massive exercises involving most military units in western Russia amid tensions in Ukraine. . . A senior Russian lawmaker on Tuesday told pro-Russia activists in Crimea that Moscow will protect them if their lives are in danger."

"Anschluss: the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938."

Is NATO willing to go to war to preserve the independence of Ukraine? Putin's been humiliated.

2/26/14, 1:03 PM

Frosty said...
Thank you for a wonderfully absorbing and well written series. It's distressing though that you continue to mock italian fascism as not very dangerous, which would have been news to the resistance fighters who died to break of it. Respect please.

2/28/14, 5:54 PM

Dolores Moser said...
I agree that....
Now that the Olympics are over, it's worth noting that Russia took all the marbles. The U.S. came in second in the overall medal count, and fourth in the Gold-Silver-Bronze equation. Either way, the Ruskies cleaned our clock.

This will prove to the world that their fascism is better than our fascism. dissertation services uk.

2/28/14, 9:15 PM

Ien in the Kootenays said...
OMG. Thank you, thank you for this thoughtful and knowledgeable article. I have been struggling with a blog on political labels, starting with the questions "conserve What?", "progress to What?". Before I tackle that blog, there will first be a prequel on the evil of binary thinking in general. Whatever I end up with, it will contain a link to this series.

3/1/14, 8:13 AM

Kutamun said...
So i am sitting here pondering my low tech but sustainable, simple future. Awareness is growing that i am the biosphere and i am not leaving , and that the planet just " is" , is not "evolving". I sense by being conscious of my body , my dreams and being in nature i can connect to my earth roots and experience profound peace . Humans then , are an exothermic reaction of the watery , gassy , ball. Individuation then , not evolution is the goal . What passes for materialistic " individualism" often amounts to little more than narcissistic isolation . Indidviduation , that curious ideal of the philosophers , magicians and jungian analysis . Like a droplet extending from a larger pool to take on an individual shape , yet straining not to break the connection back to its source , which would cause " the fall" . Do you have any posts that explore these images ? , like a cave sealed with an ancient spell, google is refusing to yield up your treasure . Individuation ...a game she plays with herself for her own amusement ? Perhaps she is made richer by our little delineations ok with that somehow . We can be animal fauna , as we seem to be sliding now, though if we struggle to form our droplet , we can exert the mysterious " choice " . Sexuality seems to play a big role in this , the process that facilitates the exothermic reaction that is us . It can be used as a conduit to maintain the connection as an elegant droplet , or in a frenzied orgiastic animal rutting to further shrink and reduce oneself back to brine in the primal sea of planetary consciousness , as can be prsently observed occurring on a large scale.
I am probably harking back more to " paths of wisdom " here i guess ...
Sorry to drift so randomly , but here i am

Kuta '

3/9/14, 6:04 PM

Zack Lehtinen said...
But this time it's different...

; )

A recent (well, Sept. 2013 article in the UK Independent:

“Many scientists are concerned that developments in human technology may soon pose new, extinction-level risks to our species as a whole,” says a statement on the group’s website."

Or this one, from just-yesterday, also in the Independent (though I saw it in other sources as well...

Sudden Collapse, Imminent Extinction, Doomsday List...

And this is the Independent-- not the environmentalist "fringe"...

This time it's Different...?

The Mantra continues.

3/21/14, 12:06 PM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
One modern example of a population under repeated stress is Russia (although they just picked up 3 million more citizens).

Many of the "population stressors" hit men harder than women. The Ukrainian famine hit children hardest.

Just to list some of the disasters

Civil War
1930s Purges
Ukrainian famine (perhaps 8 million)
1950s purges (smaller)
Breakup of Soviet Union

plus the general trend to smaller families.

A 2009 graph of Russian population by age and gender. The current flat population will shift to losses and the women in prime child bearing ages will soon decline sharply. Other effects can still be seen.

3/25/14, 6:52 AM

Peter Rogers said...
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4/24/15, 12:16 AM