C. Wright Mills and the New Fascism

C. Wright Mills, the author of The Power Elite (1956) and The Causes of World War Three (1959).

C. Wright Mills saw clearly the coming New Fascism, a growing threat I write about in Totalitarian Monopoly Capitalism: Fascism Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. For Mills, fascism wasn’t going to come in the form of demagogues. It wasn’t going appear as ethnonationalism. It wasn’t going to be obviously rightwing. These are historical features of fascism. The plain Marxist and bonafide liberal must ask: What is the foundational logic of fascism?

In his The Causes of World War Three (1959), Mills captures the spirit of the New Fascism (see also his 1956 The Power Elite):

“The atrocities of The Fourth Epoch are committed by men as ‘functions’ of a rational social machinery—men possessed by an abstracted view that hides from them the humanity of their victims and as well their own humanity. The moral insensibility of our times was made dramatic by the Nazis, but is not the same lack of human morality revealed by the atomic bombing of the peoples of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? And did it not prevail, too, among fighter pilots in Korea, with their petroleum-jelly broiling of children and women and men? Auschwitz and Hiroshima—are they not equally features of the highly rational moral-insensibility of The Fourth Epoch? And is not this lack of moral sensibility raised to a higher and technically more adequate level among the brisk generals and gentle scientists who are now rationally—and absurdly—planning the weapons and the strategy of the third world war? These actions are not necessarily sadistic; they are merely businesslike; they are not emotional at all; they are efficient, rational, technically clean-cut. They are inhuman acts because they are impersonal.”

I have written about Sheldon Wolin’s thesis of “inverted totalitarianism,” presented in his book Democracy Inc.: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Political scientist Bertram Gross anticipates Wolin by several decades in his 1980 Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America. His analysis finds corporations melding with centralized state power. He argues, moreover, because capitalism is a global economic system, this combination is playing out on the world stage. Fascism is not intrinsically nationalistic. I have written several blogs on the character of the moment (see Scapegoating in the Era of Inverted Totalitarianism; Why I am not a Progressive; The Social Character of the Trump Moment; We Have Become Eisenhower’s Worst Fears; Navigating the Spectacle). Until people see this clearly, we won’t save democracy, let alone make progress towards a more free and equal world order.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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