Today’s blog is a long essay on contemporary totalitarian monopoly capitalism, or what one might identify as the New Fascism. (I would say neofascism, but that term is taken to mean something like the old fascism dislocated in time. The New Fascism, while displaying some novel features, is more like old fascism than neofascism, which is more like petty white supremacy with a Nazi fetish. The New Fascism is systemic rather than idiosyncratic.) Transcending national boundaries, and representing a revolution-from-above, the New Fascism is the emerging social logic and political-ideological character of transnational corporate power and governance, represented in the United States by the Democratic Party and its establishment allies in the Republican Party (neoconservatives and neoliberals), the Big Tech oligarchs of Silicon Valley, the extended technocratic apparatus operated by the New Middle Class, i.e., the professional managerial strata, which includes cultural managers (such as academics), pushed by progressive policy and politics. An example of technocratic rule is seen in the medical-industrial complex—the dictatorship of the institutions of public health and associated regulatory bodies captured by the pharmaceutical industry.
Like the old fascism, New Fascist social logic is profoundly illiberal and undemocratic in character. Working in the manner of Gramscian-style hegemony, the New Fascism produces an authoritarian subjectivity that colonizes lifeworlds across the class structure. The imaginaries of this subjectivity have become so reified that reason and evidence no longer work to persuade those who “believe science is real.” This has been achieved by a constellation of mind control tactics: banning, blacklisting, cancellation, censorship, deplatforming, gaslighting, marginalization, othering, social distancing, stigmatization, and even violence. Corporations have cultivated an army of commissars, organic intellectuals devoted to political education and organization housed in academic, cultural, political, and social institutions. Crucial to this strategy of social control is the irregular army of activists, trained and guided by the progressive intelligentsia, who, on college campuses and across social media platforms, bully, dox, gaslight, intimidate, shame, and assault those who defend democratic and liberal values. In this “woke” view of things, reason and evidence are either indicators of forms of hate and oppression or claimed as the exclusive purview of the technocratic corps. Any tactic used against dissenters is fair game and are either explicitly or implicitly encouraged by elites.
After an introduction framing the problem in terms of group antagonisms functional to the redistribution of wealth, the essay is divided into three sections. The first section covers the United Nations report Agenda for Transformative Change Towards Racial Justice and Equity, a document condemning the trans-Atlantic domain as systemically and violently racist and effectively calling for the expropriation of the white majority. The second section is a critique of Sheldon Wolin’s arguments presented in his 2003 book Democracy, Inc.: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. I critique the book in order to adumbrate a framework useful for detecting fascism in contexts beyond its historical forms. Wolin is exemplary of a man willing to risk ridicule and marginalization to alert the citizens of the United States to the emerging totalitarian condition. The third and final section summarizes the Marxist theory of fascism, leaning in particular on Franz Neumann’s conception of “totalitarian monopoly capitalism,” presented in his landmark 1942 Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism. Working comparatively, I apply the Neumann conception of national socialism to the modern context in light of selected Wolin’s insights to sketch an analysis of the New Fascism. These sections are followed by a brief conclusion. The conclusion is brief because the foregoing makes the problem obvious.
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“All science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided,” Karl Marx reminds us in Capital (see The Trinity Formula, Volume III). His target of criticism is vulgar economy, but we can apply this truism to other domains of reality. In this essay, I apply it to totalitarian monopoly capitalism, the foundation of national socialism in Nazi-era Germany Franz Neumann conceptualizes in Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism but which has not perished in the interim only globalized. The fascism of today is distinguished from its past manifestations by dissimilarities that mask its presence but do not negate it. The way to see the current order of things for what it is really is is by critically examining economic foundation and political imperative, as well as cultural and social logics generated by political-economic systems. For this task I rely on the Marxist method of studying history and social structure, known as the materialist conception of history or historical materialism. (See Historical Materialism and the Struggle For Freedom; The Marxian Theory of History; The Problem of Scientism and its Solution in Historical Materialism.)
Given the unsubtle way fascism advances, there are surface tells that should immediately indicate its presence. One of the notable ways authoritarianism operates is by demonization and scapegoating, tactics that involve identifying an individual or a group in a population around which the state and corporation can generate moral panic and mass hysteria and on which it can blame the hardships of the vulnerable citizen. This way freedom can be exchanged for the illusion of security. To be sure, these tactics are found in other political systems. Theocracies, for example, demonize and scapegoat. However, fascism uses these tactics in a technologically-advanced bureaucratic order. (See The Metaphysics of the Antiracist Inquisition and Scapegoating in the Era of Inverted Totalitarianism for analyses of this in contemporary instantiations. For a conceptual overview of authoritarianism versus libertarianism left and right, see The Individual, the Nation-State, and Left-Libertarianism.)
In the case of Nazi Germany, propagandists of national socialism portrayed Jews as a privileged race possessing an outsized share of Germany’s wealth allegedly acquired through the exploitation of the non-Jewish population. This portrayal has become the paradigm tactic of manufacturing and leveraging tribal stigma. The Nazis rode antisemitism to power in 1933. A 1938 Nazi law, “Decree for the Reporting of Jewish-Owned Property,” compelled Jews to register their wealth with the state. “Aryanization” enabled the expropriation of European Jewry. In Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State, historian Götz Aly shows us that “Aryanization was essentially a gigantic, trans-European trafficking operation.”
Readers of this blog may recall an essay I penned last July titled Reparations and Blood Guilt, inspired by the brilliant young intellectual Coleman Hughes, wherein I noted the problem of attempting to account for the wealth gap between Jews and Gentiles in the present trans-Atlantic system. Try that today, I suggested, and see whether you escape suspicion of entertaining an antisemitic trope. Maybe not. Maybe the audience will understand your comparison as providing an explanation for why Jews, like the Chinese and the Koreans, are collectively successful compared to American Indians and blacks. But it is more likely that you will encounter raised eyebrows. To many ears, it will sound like an insinuation.
Yet there appears to be no problem with accounting for the wealth gap between whites and blacks by denying any cultural differences in attitudes to school and work and instead claiming that whites enjoy a racial privilege at the expense of black Americans. An appeal to average differences across a spectrum of economic and social indicators is the standard method of substantiating this privilege, although there is sometimes some extra effort made to reveal various institutional impediments to black wealth accumulation, what Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro characterize in their 1995 Black Wealth/White Wealth as the “racialization of state policy,” citing, for example, de jure segregation. Make these appeals in public and you will be safe from accusations of racism. Object to them and risk a white fragility diagnosis and quite possibility a racist reputation. (See For the Good of Your Soul: Tribal Stigma and the God of Reparations; A specter is haunting America—the specter of reparations. See also my most recent blog God is Everywhere—On the Ontology of Systemic Racism and the Faith-Belief of the Progressive.)
Often those who make these arguments, like the Nazi propagandists working the Jewish problem, locate the locus of injustice in the genes of the race accused of perpetrating a great injustice. According to critical race theory, an ideology meeting with opposition from citizens testifying at school boards across the nation, America is a racist country—institutionally, systemically, structurally, and apparently spiritually. Critical race theory conceptualizes the worldview that reproduces this racism as “perpetrator’s perspective.” This perspective is the outlook that embodies the enlightenment principles of reason and evidence in the adjudication of guilt and responsibility of individuals, in which there is a presumption of innocence in any accusation of wrongdoing with the accuser shouldering the burden to show that the accused is culpable and acted intentionally.
The word “perpetrator” gives away the game. The enlightenment principles are racist, CRT advocates contend, because they work to protect the interests of white people. Until whites publicly confess their sin and devote their lives to the cause of antiracism, living a life of staying in their lane and giving up their privileges, they remain racist. All this may not be enough (it certainly hasn’t so far). As Robin DiAngelo reminds us: “Racism comes out of our pores as white people. It’s the way that we are,” you know, in the same way Jews are greedy, lecherous, menacing, stingy, spiritually stunted. Jews built a world in which those racial traits are realized as power and wealth that accrues to their tribe. It’s just the way they are. It’s hard not to come back to the analogy. (No wonder some Jews are wondering whether they should self-identify as white.)
On the other side, those who see the world through the “victim’s perspective” remain victims until the legal system shifts the burden of proof and implicates an abstract and largely arbitrary aggregate, organized as a demographic category, as automatically and collectively guilty and responsible for their victimhood. The formula cannot avoid yielding the conclusion that all whites are perpetrators and all blacks their victims. This is what happens when those living in academic bubbles hypostatize abstract categories and subsume them into quasi religious theory of racial justice. It is an invitation to hate and violence.
Another of fascism’s surface tells is the presence of street gangs who bully those whose political opinions threaten the designs of the elites restructuring the social order. In today’s fascism, black-clad fascist street gangs go by the name “Antifa” (see The Problem with Antifascism). Admittedly, that the fascist thugs on the streets call themselves by their antithesis does reflect a desire to conceal the true character of actors and actions. But given how transparent their fascism becomes even upon cursory reflection (it helps to be deal with these matters forthrightly), antifascism, like antiracism, amounts to a rather explicit signal of fascism’s return.
All this is given cover by the extended state apparatus. Security state officials and corporate media personalities shower rightwing extremism with attention while shielding Antifa from criticism. President Joe Biden denies Antifa is an organization. They are an “idea,” he informs us. His Attorney General, Merrick Garland, presents the far right as the outstanding threat to American democracy. The US military is scouring its ranks to identify and root out white supremacists. The media generalizes this to conservative America. January 6, 2021 is the new 9-11. Worse, in the eyes of some. Forgetting Pearl Harbor, Oklahoma City, and 9-11, Biden characterizes 1-6 as the worst attack on American democracy since the Civil War. As a result, the public mind is rather unsure of the relative threats confronting them. (See Antifa, the Proud Boys, and the Relative Scale of Violent Extremism; Antifa and the Boogaloos: Condemning Political Violence Left and Right; Buried Lede: Biden Fails to Condemn Antifa at First Presidential Debate.) To make this clear in one’s mind, consider the dozens of dead, thousands of injured, and millions in property damage perpetrated by antifascists and Black Lives Matter rioters (see Gaslighting Last Summer’s Riots and the Law Enforcement Response). Also, United 93 was aimed at the Capitol.
In this essay, I go beyond the surface tells and show how today’s totalitarian monopoly capitalism, the identity of fascism’s deep structure analyzed by Neumann in Behemoth, despite differences compared to its historical forms, is nonetheless a species of the genre, replete with (albeit rejiggered) racial animosity. I argue that the current manifestation of fascism is a more insidious instantiation because dissimilitude involves a shift in hegemonic strategy that renders its character elusive. An elaborate racialist ideology has been constructed to blame whites for the problems of the modern world in order to rationalize a solution for these (often manufactured) problems: appropriating the wealth of whites and redistributing it to Africans and their descendants, a practice going under the name of, among others, “social justice” (see the World Economic Forum’s July 29, 2020 document The great reset must place social justice at its centre; see also Equity and Social Justice: Rationalizing Unjust Enrichment).
Under the New Fascism, the reactionary and ultra-ethnonationalist traits of historic fascism are covered by a rhetoric of diversity, equity, and inclusivity that feigns an ethic of fairness, dress planners condition the populace to find favorable, even desirable. Beneath the cloak, however, authoritarian desire is realized, as it was in the past, by portraying as perpetrators and oppressors the desired targets of marginalization and oppression. The propagandists have prepared the world to see resistance to expropriation as the work of those who have ever always wanted to be, and who will forever always be, the fascist rabble. All this obfuscates, to lean on Aly’s phraseology, a gigantic, trans-Atlantic trafficking operation in which the wealth disproportionately held by the white majorities across the Europe-based system, but who nonetheless comprise less than ten percent of the global population, is expropriated by transnational political and economic elites who feign redistribution to nonwhites through the form of capital investments and entrenchment of technocratic modes of control.
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Understanding today’s fascist formation is pressing in light of the recent United Nations report praising countermovements progressives have organized against the working class in preparing the world for a transformational moment explicitly along racial lines. The June report, Agenda for transformative change towards racial justice and equality, builds on several decades of accumulating anti-white sentiment, attitudes that are currently being mainstreamed and normalized by critical race theory and the prevailing form of corporatist ideology generally, namely progressivism. The authors of the report, housed in the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner’s office, call on the West to “make amends” to Africans and their descendants, representing George Floyd, who died at the end of may of 2020 in the presence of police officers attempting to affect an arrest, as a martyr for the cause of the racial reckoning it envisions. (You may recall that Speaker of the US House Nancy Pelosi thanked Floyd for making his sacrifice to the cause.) Elites stage the moment by portraying whites as racist perpetrators and blacks as a sacred victim race called by providence to a historic mission to negate white supremacy, a task that requires the dismantling of the modern nation-state (see The Myth of White Culture; see also Crenshaw Confesses: Critical Race Theory is About Racial Reckoning).
“Stop denying and start dismantling” is step one in the report, a slogan that at once manufactures the sort of truth that only perpetrators deny (the confessional paradox) and indicates what’s to be dismantled. Describing the plan as “comprehensive,” the report calls for “‘whole-of-society’ reforms,” euphemism for revolution-from-above. Because perpetrators cannot be trusted to carry out the plan for social justice, elite planners call for establishing beyond those governments presumed to be white supremacist “independent institutions to monitor and report on how those commitments are met.” In other words, elites mean to sidestep democratically-elected governments and put the project in the hands of technocrats. Evoking the supernatural doctrine of collective epistemic privilege, the technocrats will be drawn from the subaltern strata of the Third World, who, the report tells us, have superior insight because of their existence as the victims of colonialism and history. Deny that and you are a racist. Put another way: subalterns dependably perform the collaborator role. This is not unlike the way a king secures hegemony. We saw this phenomenon during the colonial and imperialist phases of capitalist development. It is now shifting form with globalization.
Determination of inequities that will form the basis of redistribution will be reckoned using “comprehensive data disaggregated by race or ethnic origin, gender, age, and other factors,” which readers of this blog know predictably show group disparities that have no logical bearing on the matters of justice that necessarily exist at the level of concrete individuals and rationally-adjudicated personal accountability. Of course, the explanation for inequalities must already be determined since the “remedy” has already been announced. (See Awakening to the Problem of the Awokening: Unreasonableness and Quasi-religious Standards.) The explanation and the remedy are pushed out by the extended transnational state through its various organs—academe, the culture industry, mass media, etc.
The report advances its agenda under the cover of the myth of police violence, manufacturing the perception of unchecked violence against the descendants of Africans by calling for an “end of impunity” without any actual or adequate proof of unchecked racial violence. Authoritarianism proceeds by assertion and disinformation. For example, the report cherrypicks fewer that 200 deaths at the hands of police officers to illustrate a claim that law enforcement officers are rarely held accountable for rights violations and crimes against people of African descent. To give you a sense of the degree of selective generalization, keep in mind that police in the United States shoot roughly one thousand people every year. However, I have already shown that there is no systemic racism in policing shootings (see The Myth of Systemic Racism in Lethal Police-Civilian Encounters). My claims are supported by a wealth of empirical studies. Indeed, there is little evidence of racism in the greater criminal justice system (see Again, The Myth of the Racist Criminal Justice System).
Apparently unaware that black men in the United States, despite comprising only around six percent of the US population, commit more than half of all murders and robberies and more than a third of serious violent crimes overall, Mona Rishmawi of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, denounces the practice of “associating blackness with criminality.” I am not endorsing the view that this association should be made. But the way to change perception of the association between black males and serious crime, which is inferred from well-established empirical patterns, is not by censoring racial disparities in serious criminal offending, but by eliminating those disparities, in part through greater policing. Yet we are seeing a trend across Europe and North America to prevent disclosure and even collection of data indicating minority overrepresentation in crime. (See Mapping the Junctures of Social Class and Racial Caste: An Analytical Model for Theorizing Crime and Punishment in US History).
The report demands “reparatory justice” that involves not only “acknowledging the truth” (that, again, it does not establish) but “justice and reparations with regard to enslavement, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism and their legacies,” events that occurred centuries ago and were a regular part of the world at the time of America’s founding. Targeting of the Christian West is quite obvious in light of the facts of slavery in world history. (Ask yourself, will Muslims be asked to pay reparations for slavery and the slave trade? Do you know about the Islamic world-system and the creation of modern slavery?) The authors of the report call for the construction of an official account of history that justify its confiscatory agenda: “Create, reinforce and fully fund national and other processes to construct a shared narrative on enslavement, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism and their lasting consequences for Africans and people of African descent.” We see here the UN internationalizing Hannah Nikole Jones’ notorious 1619 Project, a project that revises history by centering blacks in the transatlantic narrative while depicting white Europeans as the great historic evil. The anti-European motive behind the project is obvious in the historical narrative it wishes to establish as the truth of the past. (See my Truth in the Face of the 1619 Project: The United States and the West Did Not Establish Slavery—They Abolished It and The Elite Obsession with Race Reveals a Project to Divide the Working Class and Dismantle the American Republic.)
According the Associated Press, “The report, a year in the making, hopes to build on momentum around the recent, intensified scrutiny worldwide about the blight of racism and its impact on people of African descent as epitomized by the high-profile killings of unarmed Black people in the United States and elsewhere.” Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile and current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, hails the work of “advocacy groups,” for example Black Lives Matter, saying they provided “grassroots leadership through listening to communities” and that they should receive “funding, public recognition and support.” As we know, while it spread misinformation about the criminal justice system, BLM enjoys an embarrassment of riches in funding, recognition, and corporate support (see Corporations Own the Left. Black Lives Matter Proves it; What’s Really Going On with #BlackLivesMatter; The Mao Zedong Thought Shift from the Class-Analytical to Race-Ideological).
Commissioner Rishmawi, who practiced law from 1981 to 1991 in the West Bank as a senior member of the human rights organization al Haq, reported, “We could not find a single example of a state that has fully reckoned with the past or comprehensively accounted for the impacts of the lives of people of African descent today.” (Has there ever been or could there ever be a full reckoning with the past anywhere? What would that look like?) In what she characterizes as an “untenable situation, Rishmawi said Bachelet’s team found “a main part of the problem is that many people believe the misconceptions that the abolition of slavery, the end of the transatlantic trade and colonialism have removed the racially discriminatory structures built by those practices,” a belief, she claimed that, upon examination, was found not to be true. But it is a matter of fact the United States not only removed the racially discriminatory structures more than half a century ago, but it also embarked on an extensive program of reparations transferring trillions of dollars to black Americans. As Glenn Loury and John McWhorter explain, not only did the United States already do reparations, reparations is a bad idea.
For what purpose is all this? As if it is not already clear enough, Bachelet emphasizes in a video message the need for acknowledgement of injustices, apologies, educational reforms, memorialization, rehabilitation, and restitution. In other words, a world project to portray white people as a pariah, to demonize and scapegoat them, in order to advance an agenda of expropriation.
That the ambitions are greater than fleecing the white majority of the United States is obvious in a recent article in Time magazine, “Racism In America Should Not Take Center Stage in the Global Fight Against White Supremacy.” The author, Chandran Nair, is the founder and CEO of the Global Institute for Tomorrow. His latest book is Dismantling Global White Privilege: Equity for a Post-Western World (expected to be released December 2021). Imagining a surge of white supremacy across the West, Nair cites UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres characterization of white supremacy as one of the biggest challenges facing the world. According to Nair, the source of the surge is “the need to retain white global economic power at all costs.” “[D]ismantling these will not be easy,” he writes, “as they are the very same structures on which the modern world is built.” In other words, the West is inherently racist and must be dismantled and its expropriated by nonwhites.
Nair cites this as an example of the way racist views of Western leaders have factored into major decisions, including acts of aggression: “Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said ‘We think the price is worth it’ after being asked if the death of half a million Iraqi children as a result of sanctions was acceptable.” As detestable as Albright’s words are (and I have publicly criticized them), they have nothing to do with race. Iraqi is a nationality. (To learn about what Iraq was really about, see my War Hawks and the Ugly American: The Origins of Bush’s Middle East Policy.)
Nair feigns shock (or is he ignorant?) that “[g]iven the intensity of the race discussion in the U.S., it is surprising that critical race theory (which describes how social structures and cultural norms help perpetuate white privilege) is not applied at a global level.” He didn’t read the report I have been discussing? That is surprising. But it is also useful to his thesis, since he claims that race is rarely mentioned in “explanations as to why, even in the 21st century, leaders of the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund must be nominated by the U.S. and Europe.” Of course, this has nothing to do with race, either—except that Nair wants to dismantle the system of international finance for the sake of his racialist worldview. (I want to dismantle these institutions, as well, but not for the reasons Nair wants to.) Nair writes, “There is poor understanding of how white privilege operates outside the U.S. and Europe. In fact, there is a danger in placing American race-based oppression at the center of global discussions on white supremacy. Let’s be explicit: racial oppression in the U.S. is the tip of the iceberg of a much deeper and more harmful global phenomenon of white privilege that has for too long been conveniently ignored. The application of critical race theory and other insights into structured discrimination would help unravel much about how white privilege operates on the world stage.”
Nair is attempting to explain underdevelopment not on the basis of transnational corporate power and social class dynamics but on the basis of race. People outside the West do not have little because of the world capitalist system or because their cultural value are inadequate for progress, on this view, but rather people outside the West trail the West because they have been kept down by white supremacists who, on account of this, owe nonwhites reparations. I wrote about this in June, 2019, in an essay Reparations and Open Borders, in which I take to task Suketu Mehta who, in his The New York Times op-ed, affirms his support for reparations. It is crucial to the argument Nair and Mehta are making that the modern value of secular and independent nation-states be made the equivalent of white supremacy, since to recognize the intrinsic colorblindness of civil nationalism would be to have the actual explanation for the success of the West, which at once causes their argument to evaporate.
“Ending white privilege can start only if we have a global debate about what has been a taboo subject in international relations and business,” writes Nair. He then reassures us that “Western institutions should not see this as an attack on white people or something rooted in anti-white or anti-Western sentiments.” Yet it is “necessary to expose white privilege everywhere, not just because it is an injustice, but because by working to dismantle it, we will be creating a post-Western world that is fairer, has less conflict, is more united and is better able to respond to the existential challenges facing humanity.” In the same breath, Nair tells us that there is no anti-Western sentiments in his argument but that the modern world, based on white supremacy, must yield to a “post-Western world.” He tells us that this world will be fairer, more harmonious, and more unified. Does anybody looking at the non-Western world today (or anytime in the past) see this utopia manifest? Will we elevate the rights of women by subordinating the modern world to or equalizing it with, for example, Islamic values?
Nair and his ilk are useful idiots. There is a much larger agenda here: a power and wealth grab by global elites, transnational corporations, and world financiers. These elites seek pools of public money to make investments in the third world in order to reap profits without risk or sacrifice. The rate of profit makes clear that capitalism not longer works, so elites have been moving to extract the wealth contained in the high level of economic and social development of western societies—built primarily from the value produced by the entrepreneurs and working classes of the transatlantic system, the vast majority of whom are white.
Elites are pursuing the managed decline of the West. This is a project to turn the citizen proletariat into subject serfs in a corporatist neofeudalist world order in which the global lords will possess their wealth (see Mao Zedong Thought and the New Left Corruption of Emancipatory Politics). Elites aim to make into modern-day dependents the descendants of those who brought the world out of serfdom. And it won’t only be the descendants of Europeans who will lose their freedom. It will be all those who have only their labor commodity to sell (see Systemic Classism: An Actual System of Privilege). There is another name for the emerging world order: fascism.
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“Fascism begins the moment a ruling class, fearing the people may use their political democracy to gain economic democracy, begins to destroy political democracy in order to retain its power of exploitation and special privilege.” —Tommy Douglas
Because so many people have been conditioned to hear descriptions of the world the Party of Davos envisions as the work of conspiratorial thinking (of course, there are conspiracies, but this is hardly a secretive cabal, as the audacity of the World Economic Forum makes abundantly clear), I want to assure you that I am not just some guy on the Internet telling tall tales. A tenured political sociologist with expertise in political economy and law and society, I am qualified to make this argument. In 2005, I published, alongside chapters by William Blum and Noam Chomsky, the essay “War Hawks and the Ugly American: the Origins of Bush’s Central Asia and Middle East policy,” in the book Devastating society: the Neo-conservative Assault on Democracy and Justice, carried by Pluto Press (my essay appeared also in the Germanic, Arabic, and Indonesian languages). I teach a range of political sociological courses, including Freedom and Social Control, Power and Change in America, and Law and Society. I have blogged extensively on the problems of corporatism, neoconservatism, neoliberalism, and technocracy here on Freedom and Reason. (See, for example, The Actual Bifurcation Points: Seeing the World in Real Terms; The Cynical Appeal to Expertise; Why I am not a Progressive.)
I am also not the only qualified person to see the fascist streak running through the United States and the world. Back in 2003, in his Democracy, Inc.: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, Princeton politics professor Sheldon Wolin described a system of managed democracy in which corporations effectively assume control of the US government and administrative state. The situation is marked by a shift from the “constitutional imaginary,” which “prescribes the means by which power is legitimated, accountable and constrained” to a “power imaginary” that strives to “override the boundaries mandated by the constitutional imaginary.” Wolin sees in these efforts the Hobbesian impulse of “rationalizing the quest for power and giving it political form.” He correctly sees contemporary establishment ideologies, for example neoconservatism, as operating from a Hobbesian worldview.
As with historical fascism, exceeding constitutional limits is accomplished in part through the identification of enemies and manufacture of fear. At the time Wolin developed his model (I was writing my essay on the neocons in the same year), the neoconservatives were obsessed with international terrorism and (selected) rogue nations. The strategy, Wolin explains, simultaneously constrained democracy domestically while projecting the United States globally as “Superpower,” a state that moved beyond the constraints of international law, operating, if you will, in a state of nature. “While the versions of totalitarianism represented by Nazism and Fascism consolidated power by suppressing liberal political practices that had sunk only shallow cultural roots,” writes Wolin, “Superpower represents a drive towards totality that draws from the setting where liberalism and democracy have been established for more than two centuries.” He contends that the situation “is Nazism turned upside-down, ‘inverted totalitarianism.’” “While it is a system that aspires to totality,” he writes, “it is driven by an ideology of the cost-effective rather than of a ‘master race’ (Herrenvolk), by the material rather than the ‘ideal’.”
“Inverted totalitarianism reverses things. It is all politics all of the time but politics largely untempered by the political. Party squabbles are occasionally on public display, and there is a frantic and continuous politics among factions of the party, interest groups, competing corporate powers, and rival media concerns. And there is, of course, the culminating moment of national elections when the attention of the nation is required to make a choice of personalities rather than a choice between alternatives. What is absent is the political, the commitment to finding where the common good lies amidst the welter of well-financed, highly organized, single-minded interests rabidly seeking governmental favors and overwhelming the practices of representative government and public administration by a sea of cash.” —Sheldon Wolin, Democracy, Inc.
This is a managed democracy, the application of illiberal and undemocratic managerial methods to the practice of politics. Managed democracy is a pathology of corporate governance. Progressives embody these politics and thus represent the party of technocratic command and control. Illiberal pronouncements and practices that mark COVID-19 pandemic provides ready examples of technocratic desire. That citizens have dutifully and unquestioningly obeyed the pronouncements of unelected officials in the institutes of public health is shocking not only in the way the latter’s edicts so obviously trampled liberty and thwarted democracy but in how many members of the public were so ready to organize and apply the techniques of social coercion to manipulate their fellow citizens. (Priming for Control: How Mass Psychology is Used to Transform Lifeworlds; A Dark and Authoritarian Path is Paved by Pathologizing Humanity; The Immorality of Vaccine Passports and the Demands of Nuremberg; What Lies Behind the Mask? Technocratic Desire; What’s the Big Deal With Wearing a Mask? Lots; The Communitarian Nightmare We Feared is Here; Somehow, a Bill of Rights got Locked into the Constitution.)
Wolin shows how elections in the United States are orchestrated stage-managed affairs, providing only the illusion of choice. Have you wondered why progressives are depicting challenges to the 2020 election as violative of the tradition of peaceful transfer of power even when Trump peacefully made room for the new occupant of the White House? (A Peaceful Transition of Political Power.) Because Trump was not a member of the establishment and his objections to the way the 2020 election was conducted cast doubts on the legitimacy of the status quo. The wrong man won. A populist and nationalist, Trump does not represent the transnationalist interests (The Rate Of Exploitation Under Trump). The establishment portrays him not only as standing outside the structure of global corporatism but beyond the moral pale (The “Fascist” and “Racist” President Trump; The Establishment Push to Derail Trump’s Re-election). And elites have moved to throw the tens of millions Trump fans beyond moral order, as well (Suppressing the Rabble: Portraying Conservatism and Republicanism as Fringe and Dangerous).
Life in a society organized by the imperatives of corporate bureaucracy means that the public is steered in politics the way it is steered in the consumption of goods and services. Market rationalization is reflected in the rationalization of social life. This is an administered life, bureaucracy made cozy even as neoliberal policies produce widespread insecurity, generalized anxiety from which fear and the need for secular religion (what you know as “Wokism”) is more easily engendered. In this scheme, corporations assume many of the functions of government, privatization effectively relocating political power from the citizenry to the boardrooms of large business firms, which, since transnational corporate power drives world development, allows for the social logic of control to globalize. The dynamic of corporate governance is moved by imperatives alien to the stakeholders, imperatives such as efficiency, calculability, uniformity, predictability, and control, all for the sake of stockholder profit. Society is largely managed by unelected administrators and expert managers. A technocratic system has no room for democracy. This is high-tech fascism. (Although he is responsible for much of the perversion of Marxism that marks the New Left and critical theory, the Frankfurt scholar Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man is a useful analysis of the way in which the masses are controlled by corporate technocratic power. You will find my critique in the following blogs: The Noisy and Destructive Children of Herbert Marcuse; Cultural Marxism: Real Thing or Far-Right Antisemitic Conspiracy Theory? See also the work of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno.)
There is a lot to Wolin’s thesis, but it is not perfect. His identification of Bush and the neoconservatives as the force “effecting the transformation to a fascist-like state” is too partisan. His essay, “Inverted Totalitarianism,” published in The Nation on May Day 2003, is a ready example of how political affinity can lead the smartest people astray. His characterization of Republicans as “a unique phenomenon in American history of a fervently doctrinal party, zealous, ruthless, antidemocratic and boasting a near majority” does not anticipate the populist grassroots revolt that would break out on the national scene with the Tea Party (granting some astroturfing*) and, later, with the campaign and election of Donald Trump and the America First movement. Clairvoyance was not necessary here. The signs were there for anybody paying attention during the 1990s (Ross Perot and others and even Trump himself). Charitably, this is at best, albeit useful, a woefully incomplete picture of the political reality. Moreover, albeit perhaps easier to see in hindsight, George W. Bush and the Project for a New American Century crowd (again, see my “War Hawks” essay) were part of the same establishment as Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama, which Bush’s rehabilitation by the Democratic Party and the woke media makes clear. After all, the neocons studied at the feet of Democratic Senator Scoop Jackson.
Wolin’s characterization of the Democrats as having “shrugged off the liberal label and their critical reform-minded constituencies to embrace centrism” doesn’t acknowledge the establishment of which Democrats had long been a part—going all the way back to the birth of progressivism, which, as I have shown, is the ideology of corporate governance (see Why I am not a Progressive; America at a Crossroads: Corporations Poised to Take Control of the Republic). “In ceasing to be a genuine opposition party,” writes Wolin, “the Democrats have smoothed the road to power of a party more than eager to use it to promote empire abroad and corporate power at home.” One often sees affinity in disappointment. I see it all around me in the academy among those who can still be critical of political power. For all their insight, they cannot see the Democratic Party for what it is. They still think of it as “their side.” It’s a reflex. Wolin’s disappointment is revealing.
Richard Grossman, director of Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy, understood inverted totalitarianism as progressivism’s triumph over populism, the latter an attempt to bring power back to the people, to make government accountable to concerns closer to them. Grossman lay out his argument in several talks available on the Internet (“Defining the Corporation, Defining Ourselves” and “Challenging Corporate Law and Lore”). In his account, progressivism, its institutionalization totalized under the Roosevelt Administration in the crisis of depression and war, vanquished populism, or, more accurately, banished it to conservative circles, and with it labor democracy. This was the roots of the war on labor and the left Robert F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson pursued in earnest, laying the groundwork for the aggressive transnationalization of the corporate establishment, successive administrations moving farm and factory overseas and drawing cheap labor here to replace American workers, ceding national sovereignty to the international order of financial innovators. In a word, globalization. (Go back and look at that world rate of profit chart.)
“Bear in mind,” Wolin writes, “that a ruthless, ideologically driven party with a mass base was a crucial element in all of the twentieth-century regimes seeking total power.” This is true. But it misidentifies the “ruthless, ideological driven party.” It’s not the Republican Party. Certainly not any more, Mitch McConnell not withstanding. The Democratic Party is the tip of the spear of the totalitarian thrust. Wolin’s error here is also one of disciplinary myopia. He is bringing political science to bear on questions that require that tools of critical political economy and political sociology. I am referring to the methods of historical materialism (classical Marxism) of which I earlier spoke and the lens C. Wright Mills focuses on such problems, found in his landmark The Power Elite.
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“Fascism should more appropriately be called ‘corporatism’ because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” This quote is often attributed to Benito Mussolini. I have found no evidence that Mussolini actually said this. Perhaps it doesn’t matter whether he did. As I will show, the corporatist approach that marks fascism also marks social democratic governance and it always rests upon the foundation of monopoly capitalism. Crucially, fascism is distinguished from other corporatist forms by its erasure of effective multiparty and local democracy, advocacy for and implementation of social policy prescriptions based on ethnicity, race, religion, and other identitarian categories, and aggressively censorious and illiberal attitudes towards speech, through, and association.
What do we mean by “corporatism”? The concept of corporatism in European political thought apprehends and advocates a system in which groups, drawn from various sectors of society (academe, agriculture, banking, clergy, industry, labor), organize society on the basis of their common interests. The idea is that the emergent order will be organic and focus ethnic or national essence. There is a progressive version of this, wherein business, government, and labor are drawn into a tripartite power arrangement. This arrangement is usually referred to as social democratic corporatism or simply social democracy. Technically, then, corporatism does not refer to corporations in the sense of a particular form of business entity, distinguished by legal personhood and limited liability. The terms “corporatocracy” or “corpocracy” are suggested instead to describe a society under the thumb of corporate power.
The terms “corporatocracy” or “corpocracy” are seldom heard, for one thing, because they are hard to pronounce and sound like so much jargon. So people more often refer to corporate rule using the term “corporatism.” This is not necessarily lazy or sloppy terminology. When fascism and national socialism are examined using the materialist conception of history, again, a method in which the ideological, legal, and political components of the superstructure are conceptualized as emergent from and taking a form necessary to secure and advance the interests of economic elites, one can show that corporatist society is at the same time corporatocracy. As I have suggested, this is also true of social democracies. Corporatism is the merger of state and corporate power, with corporate power representing the locus of command and control. We may therefore dispense with cumbersome vocabulary.
In Fascism: What It Is and How to Fight It, Leon Trotsky describes fascism as an attempt by monopoly capitalism to organize in totalitarian fashion the whole of society. The fascist imperative is to disorganize the proletariat in order to weaken class consciousness and political organization, break labor’s resistance to exploitation, drive down wages, raise the rate of profit, and restore high levels of capital accumulation. Franz Neumann, in Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, makes the point that, in a monopolistic system, totalitarian political power is necessary to sustain high levels of profit. He describes national socialism as “totalitarian monopoly capitalism.” (This is why conservatives are so confused about fascism’s character: they do not, or perhaps can not distinguish corporatism and socialism. They are especially thrown by progressive or social democratic corporatism. And they cannot see the People’s Republic of China for that it is, not a communist society but a society organized by totalitarian monopoly capitalism. The left is also confused, seeing progressivism as standing across from fascism, but progressivism is the chief illiberal and technocratic political force in the West of the moment.)
The totalitarian mode of capitalism is marked by the centralization and concentration of capital, organized by a network of banks and corporations supported by the administrative apparatus of the state and major societal institutions—the academy, media (real and make-believe), and religion. But it is also marked by a definite subjectivity. Erich Fromm (in Escape from Freedom) and Theodore Adorno (in The Authoritarian Personality) identify the development and proliferation under these circumstances of an authoritarian personality type that socializes illiberal attitudes and suppresses criticisms of corporate state power, thus facilitating the entrenchment of totalitarian social relations. It is important to grasp this to understand the agency-structure dynamic. (See Living at the Borderline—You are Free to Repeat After Me and A Fact-Proof Screen: Black Lives Matter and Hoffer’s True Believer for analyses of this tendency in contemporary society.)
Crucially, while national socialism, by encouraging resentment of others, draws disaffected labor into its ranks on the basis of racist and ethnic appeals, it is neither proletarian nor peasant in character. Organized by industrial and finance capital, its popular base is the middle class and the petty bourgeoisie, flanked by disaffected workers and peasants in subordinate roles. These popular forces are reactionary in character, opposing liberal values of freedom of association and assembly, cognitive liberty, and the right to privacy. Fascism stands up a force opposed to the proletarian movement that seeks to expand democracy, deepen positive freedom, and develop more fully the human personality. Fascism turns worker against worker.
Working through the dominant cultural, political, and social institutions, banks and corporations are organizing the whole of society in a totalitarian fashion. However, this time, it is not working from a nationalist basis. Transnational capital, that is, global corporate power and high finance, is reordering the world. Centralized political power, which characterized historic fascism, has been dissimulated through neoliberalism, pushing state functions out into the private sphere where they are controlled more directly by corporations, entities that are bureaucratic and undemocratic by nature. Through corporate governance the totalitarian logic of undemocratic bureaucratic organization is pressed more deeply into the system. The fascists have dispensed with dictator and one-party rule and moved to directly control the people, who are, in turn, no long citizens but consumers. (For the importance of the nation-state to human freedom, see Capitalist Globalization and the Promise of Democratic-Republicanism.) Wolin’s argument captures well this aspect of the problem.
The ethnic and racial character of the new fascism is very much evident in ideology and practice. In the current fascist moment, state monopoly capitalism is not appealing to the racial or ethnic majority, but rather to a constellation of racial and ethnic minorities it has assembled and courted over several decades and from whom it foments and expects resentment against the majority. Just as with historic fascism, the new fascism condemns the liberal and uniting ethic of colorblindness for the illiberal and divisive tactic colorfulness (Colorblindness versus Colorfulness and the Big Trick; The Elite Obsession with Race Reveals a Project to Divide the Working Class and Dismantle the American Republic). Weaponizing the subaltern is not a new fascist tactic. Marx and Engels warned the working class of risk of the lumpenproletariat being pressed into reactionary service (Marxist Theories of Criminal Justice and Criminogenesis; Demoralization and the Ferguson Effect). We see this in the high proportion of the violent Antifa and BLM who have criminal records.
Today’s fascism has jettisoned the petty bourgeoisie; since it is globalist, it needs the nationalist attitude no longer. Indeed, nationalism is a fetter on the expansion of corporate power and logic. The nation-state and the international system, depicted as moribund, the nationalist attitude portrayed as at least backwards and chauvinistic, are disintegrating in a project of managed decline. In a delegitimizing move, the new fascism portrays the nationalist as racist, the source of obnoxious white supremacy. Conservatives, nationalists, and populists are portrayed as the irregulars of domestic terrorism force (Suppressing the Rabble: Portraying Conservatism and Republicanism as Fringe and Dangerous). Today, the power elite manufacture enemies not merely by fear mongering over domestic terrorism, but by representing those who do not align their consciousness with the political goals of the establishment as among their ranks. They have transformed the patriot as the enemy of the people. Globalism and multiculturalism are represented as enlightened attitudes ushering in a just and progressive world. The strategy of appealing to the Herrenvolk is jettisoned in favor of one that flatters the “other.” (Zombie Politics: the Corporatist Ideology of Antiracism; Mao Zedong Thought and the New Left Corruption of Emancipatory Politics.)
Transnational corporate power and its functionaries are denationalizing the world while retribalizing the masses (The New Left’s War on Imaginary Structures of Oppression in Order to Hide the Real Ones). It has retained the middle class, the professional-managerial strata that runs the administrative state, the corporate bureaucracy, and the culture industry, including the intellectual and propaganda services, in order to manage the masses. The Democratic Party in the US, the Labor Party in the UK, and labor parties throughout Europe have shifted their focus from working class politics to the progressive politics of the middle class, shifting the rhetoric of diversity, equity, and inclusivity. As with fascism of the past, the middle class is crucial to fascist politics. (See also The New Serfdom and its Useful Idiots: Boots Waiting to Stamp on the Face of Humanity; Nationalists and Patriots: Revisiting Orwell’s Worst Essay; The Greater Evil Facing Democracy.)
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The economic elite situated to shape the apparatus is comprised of one or more capitalist class fractions. Because of the complexity of the system—for example, uneven development across geography and history, cyclical character (business and Kondratyev waves)—there are forces that push against and push around these fractions. Along with periodic crises of cultural-political legitimacy, tied in part to cycles and waves, but also to permanent revolution in the mode of production (driven by, among other things, technological change), state and government under capitalism change appearance. In the current period, transnational capitalist fractions represent established power. Populist-nationalist resistance to globalism is gaining momentum. The latter is portrayed as the fascistic force. But this is not so. It is rather the other way around.
The free market rhetoric of globalism and neoliberalism is the grand deceit of the period. It makes little sense anymore to describe corporate capitalists as bourgeois in character. Marx admired the bourgeois values of the Enlightenment save the institution of private capital, which he regarded as preventing the full realization of the self-actualization of man. Corporations and the new middle class of the professional-managerial strata collectively represent the antithesis of the humanist and liberal values of the bourgeois middle classes, including competitive markets. Intellectuals organic to the corporatist order are authoritarian. In academe, the professoriate is only traditionally intellectual in form. In substance, it moves among the cultural managers in the new fascist order.
Seeing fascism for what it is is useful for exposing the false equivalency between fascism and socialism. We hear this charge from conservatives all the time. It’s what causes them to misapprehend state capitalism as socialism, even communism. Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene regularly appears on Steve Bannon’s War Room describing the corporatists as “communists.” But fascism and socialism are not the same animals. This is not because of the location of either along the left-right continuum (really more of a result than a cause). Fascism is corporatism with an illiberal character. This illiberal character now includes progressivism. Fascism now appears as leftwing. Don’t let the historic images of the demagogue mislead you. The New Fascism appears leaderless.
Fascism does not represent a popular revolutionary break with the capitalism. If it is revolutionary at all, it represents revolution-from-above. Socialism, in contrast, is a radically different social organization in which those who produce economic value in society own and control the means of production. Socialism is a popular revolutionary break with capitalism, or revolution-from-below. What we seek is economic democracy in order to elevate the working family and make possible access to the freedoms the bourgeois order correctly holds up as universal rights. But until we can move that agenda forward, we must prevent the corporate takeover of Western republics. This means forming a coalition with those capitalist class fractions that defend nationalist values. The New Left has chosen a different comrade. It stands with the fascistic order of totalitarian monopoly capitalism. The real left cannot afford to make that mistake.
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Note: The Tea Party has astroturf elements. Many of its campaigns were organized and paid for by big industrial and financial interests, funneled through basically three Washington organizations: Americans for Prosperity is run by Tim Phillips, a partner in Ralph Reed’s lobbying firm Century Strategies. FreedomWorks, headed by Dick Armey, and American Solutions for Winning the Future, headed by Newt Gingrich. Gingrich.