The Fascism that Won

Calling somebody a fascist tends to be a great way to end a conversation. First on the Left, and more recently on the Right, the abuse value of this term has been eagerly seized upon. Insofar as such usage merits the attribution of a ‘logic’ it is that of reductio ad absurdum — an argument or position that can be identified as fascist by implication is thereby immediately dismissed. Fascism is analyzed only as far as required to stick the label on the other guy.

Among the reasons to regret this situation is the veil it casts over the triumph of fascism as the decisive historical fact of the 20th century. While the defeat of the core ‘fascist’ axis in the Second World War left the ideology bereft of confident defenders, reducing it to its merely abusive meaning, it also fostered the illusion that the victorious powers were essentially ‘anti-fascist’ — to the point of extreme military exertion. The historical reality, in contrast, is described far more accurately by dramatic convergence upon fascist ideas, from both Left and Right, as exemplified by the ascendency of pragmatic nationalism over radical collectivism in the communist world, and by social-democratic state-managerialism over laissez-faire ‘classical liberalism’ in the West. With calm discussion of this ‘third-position’ formation rendered next to impossible, the crucial attempt to understand its socio-historical specificity is diverted into sterile polemics.

American Arch-Druid John Michael Greer is perhaps sufficiently distanced from predictable Left-Right controversy to make a difference with his three part series of blog posts on the historical reality of fascism. Rather than attack fascism (from the Left) for its residual capitalism, or (from the Right) for its innovative anti-capitalism, Greer prioritizes the philosophical task of a rectification of words:

When George Orwell wrote his tremendous satire on totalitarian politics, 1984, one of the core themes he explored was the debasement of language for political advantage. That habit found its lasting emblem in Orwell’s invented language Newspeak, which was deliberately designed to get in the way of clear thinking. Newspeak remains fictional—well, more or less—but the entire subject of fascism, and indeed the word itself, has gotten tangled up in a net of debased language and incoherent thinking as extreme as anything Orwell put in his novel.

These days, to be more precise, the word “fascism” mostly functions as what S.I. Hayakawa used to call a snarl word — a content-free verbal noise that expresses angry emotions and nothing else. … To get past such stupidities, it’s going to be necessary to take the time to rise up out of the swamp of Newspeak that surrounds the subject of fascism — to reconnect words with their meanings, and political movements with their historical contexts.

Greer’s discussion is so eloquent and penetrating that it would be redundant to repeat it here. It deserves the widest possible careful reading, and subsequent reflection. (Urban Future endorses the entire argument, with only the most marginal reservations on comparatively insignificant points.)

Instead of pointless repetition, a question. Given that history has conspired to make the word ‘fascism’ illegible, and has thus not only obscured the dominant trend in social organization worldwide, but also stripped away all effective antibodies to resurgent movements of classical fascist type, is there any realistic path to a restoration of political lucidity? Is the world doomed to persistent blindness about what it is, and what it might still more dismally become? If there are any grounds for encouragement in this regard, the evidence for them is thin.

Greer’s conclusion seems no less bleak. Approaching it, he comments:

The fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930s were … closely attuned to the hopes and fears of the masses, far more so than either the mainstream parties or the established radical groups of their respective countries. Unlike the imagined “fascism” of modern radical rhetoric, they were an alternative to business as usual, an alternative that positioned itself squarely in the abandoned center of the political discourse of their eras. … Antisemitism and overt militarism were socially acceptable in Germany between the wars; they aren’t socially acceptable in today’s United States, and so they won’t play a role in a neofascist movement of any importance in the American future. What will play such roles, of course, are the tropes and buzzwords that appeal to Americans today, and those may very well include the tropes and buzzwords that appeal most to you.

ADDED: (For the Fregeans out there) Different Sinn, same Bedeutung: ‘morning star’ and ‘evening star’; ‘Neoliberalism’ and The Fascism that Won.

5 thoughts on “The Fascism that Won

  1. “The historical reality, in contrast, is described far more accurately by dramatic convergence upon fascist ideas, from both Left and Right, as exemplified by the ascendency of pragmatic nationalism over radical collectivism in the communist world, and by social-democratic state-managerialism over laissez-faire ‘classical liberalism’ in the West.”

    Let’s see, what’s happened over the last forty years? Almost all the communist nations are gone, and with them that pragmatic nationalism. Under the Carter Administration, the airline cartel in the United States was eliminated; under Reagan, the trucking cartel was eliminated and the railroads deregulated. By the mid-90s the Interstate Commerce Commission no longer existed. All across Europe, one industry after another has been denationalized and/or deregulated. So there really isn’t much in the way of state managerialism left in the West, either.

    If pragmatic nationalism and state managerialism are supposed to be the non- or less-totalitarian version of fascism, then it sure does look like there’s been a wholesale abandonment of that sort of fascism. What’s more, there isn’t anybody that can be seen through the Overton window at the moment that’s advocating a return to those policies. There’s nobody out there that anybody takes seriously that wants that version of fascism back (if fascism it is), let alone the classical versions. How is this even a Pyrrhic victory?

    • “Managerial capitalism” seems totally triumphant to me. The macroeconomic / state fiat monetary model has utterly vanquished market money, the proportion of economic activity directed by government is exceeding 40%, regulatory saturation of ‘private’ economic activity is deepening through a ratchet, and corporatist assumptions viz the ‘national interest’ in business activity have been thoroughly normalized. Classical Fascism, I agree, has been discarded as a defective beta version (despite its recrudescence in a number of European countries).

      • This.

        “Middle of the road policies” are never really “middle” of the road. Mises had an essay on that.

        But more importantly, how can anyone say that there is no state-managerialism when we have the FED continuing to manipulate interest rates, rampant QE, gold price manipulation, bailing out big businesses, etc, etc. And the whole housing sector boom bubble was initiated by the government (to cover the dotcom bubble) in the first place. Not to mention the bubble we are currently in…Well if that ain’t controlling the economy, we are probably speaking different languages here.

        No one advocating a return to more state regulation? I beg to differ. The immediate mass reaction to the 2008 crisis was “we need more regulation” fueled by the Cathedral (because duh, that’s what it wants) media propaganda of “Wall str. is so evil, we need to give USG more power to ‘control’ them”. Which is just another freedom for safety blackmail, same as the one with the faux war on terror. What was the whole Occupy Wall Str. movement about? Moar regulation. (and more free stuff, for the “99%”) Because duh, government never has enough power (especially when it is giving us free stuff). At the same time while some random college kid doing a liberal arts degree is being inteviewed on the joys of communism, the Tea Party and people like Ron Paul were marginalized as much as humanly possible by the media (because raycisss).
        I’d say that an even more tightly controlled “managerial capitalism” is actually seeing a resurgence in popularity in recent years.

        Pyrrhic victory? What are you talking about? There was never even a serious battle. Fascism has been winning all along…

  2. Can’t you sum up the contemporary fascist trend with the words “centralization of authority”, and doesn’t this work effectively as “fascism minus the militarism and antisemitism”? I think most people acknowledge the concentration of executive power and the increasing control it has over the economy, rather than remaining ignorant due to words being removed from rational discourse.

    More broadly, what is your objection to centralized executive power, other than the near certainty that in its present manifestation it will govern poorly? I understand your self-cannibalizing dark enlightenment argument but wonder if it would still be a problem absent universal suffrage. More importantly, I wonder if you think the formation of a near universal post-industrial proletariat is avoidable, and if so, what your alternative to centralization of political authority is for averting it.

    • I’m not sure “centralization of authority” fully captures the fascist principle, since it excludes the essential demotic aspect. Centralized authority in the name of the people is a better description, with the imposition of collective imperatives upon private initiatives through state-enforced regulatory coercion as the dominant method employed.

      Can there even be such a thing as a “post-industrial proletariat”? The political tendency is surely leading away from class politics, and towards “intersectionalist” coalition building, based upon the use of ever more cynical populist redistribution promises to buy vote blocks. The only controls on this that I’m noticing are Exit pressures.

      As the cost of pacifying degenerating populations grows — “degenerating” as indexed by their voracious hunger for public largesse — the productive fraction of society finds ways to get out. What would a government have to be and do to stop it packing its bags? It’s worth studying real world examples of stuff that works to harvest some clues about that.

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