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Oh, those nasty Russians. Putin and his national-security advisers sitting around on Terror Tuesdays with their hit lists, planning drone assassinations thousands of miles away. Oh, those nasty Russians, with their black sites, renditions, and enhanced interrogation techniques of torture, water-boarding, sensory deprivation, rectal feeding, electronic stimulation, guided by blue-ribbon psychologists. Oh, those nasty Russians, their National Security Agency spying on the Russian people through the massive surveillance of their emails and telephone calls. Oh, those nasty Russians, their defense budget as large or larger than that of all other nations combined. Oh, those nasty Russians, forming regional alliances, providing military aid, conducting joint military maneuvers intended to confront-intimidate-threaten their adversaries both East and West. Oh, those nasty Russians, their Central Intelligence Agency functioning as a secret government engaged worldwide in regime change, subversion, sponsored-NGO propaganda activities. Oh, those nasty Russians, busily modernizing their nuclear arsenal in the name of nuclear reduction of forces. Oh, those nasty Russians, involved in two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, and numerous other skirmishes over the last several decades. Oh, those…. Hey, wait-a-minute, that’s us, not them—in every single particular, and then some, from the threatened veto in the UN Security Council to prevent the Palestinians from having their independent state to the Pacific-first strategy, battleships, carrier-groups, long-range aircraft, nuclear-capable, to contain, isolate, deconstruct China.
In an interview with Mimi Rosenberg on WBAI New York, Dec. 31, I discussed the topic, based on my CP article, “Turned Backs: The Mayor and the Police,” (Dec. 30), The Police and the Liberal Totalitarian State. We didn’t get very far (a 15-minute segment), but her very sharp knowledge, as an attorney for the Legal Aid Society, of New York police affairs, in our pre-broadcast conversation the night before, convinced me of the still further limits of liberalism, in this case, what de Blasio as mayor represents in the overall financial-and-gentrification picture of New York, particularly his appointment of Bratten as police commissioner, “Broken Windows” policy and all. This encouraged me to press my thinking further on the nature of the State in America. Originally, I saw the turned backs as a vivid image of fascistic tendencies directed against a liberal mayor whose rhetoric and policies offended NYPD. Now, more pessimistic, I conclude that even the local political-ideological spectrum, in conformance with the national, has shifted rightward, center-Right the best one can presently hope for to Patrick Lynch’s wannabe Gestapo, focused on the minor—if that—infractions of blacks as part of the “Broken Windows” strategy of zero tolerance to any and all misdemeanors, from riding a bike in the wrong direction on bike paths to spitting in public. ARREST: a totalization of social control in the name of Law and Order. This, with the good, compassionate mayor’s blessing.
Immediately I thought of Obama, with Brennan the functional analogue of Bratten, DCIA as titular head of the totalization of repression (sharing authority, of course, with the head of the NSA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, top Pentagon officials, FBI director, Members of Congress on a bipartisan basis who enable, support, and defend the militarization of American culture, and the president himself, busily multitasking in pursuing a menacing foreign policy, protecting the war criminals in his and in preceding administrations, authorizing the flagrant disregard of the rule of law, from prosecutions of whistle-blowers under the Espionage Act to keeping in place a detention system which creates an underclass (predominantly racial in character) while sabotaging the social safety net causing hardship enough to fill that underclass.
All this in mind, let’s look at liberal totalitarianism (as per Mitzi Rosenberg’s suggestion)—first, a brief definition: the pursuit of global hegemony under cover of humanitarian rhetoric, and the consequent realignment of domestic society, the social regimentation of the people to encourage complicity and noninvolvement, to that end, global hegemony abroad, its corollary, the stage of advanced capitalism at home, stabilized through industrial and financial monopolization of the economic system, enjoying the full protection of government. What has this to do with the police in New York and through much, but emphatically not all, of America? What I termed the percolation of tyranny downward, in the article, might best be termed here, the replication of authoritarianism at every level of American society, and its permeation of the entire culture, if the system is to be made to work. Sustained expansion, commercial-financial-ideological via the militarization of American life, requires nothing less or short of this.
To take a closer look: Government embodies the State (I speak not abstractly but with specific reference to the US), but when government can act with IMPUNITY, whether on behalf of perceived national-security needs or to further promote the business system, as in deregulation and a favorable tax structure, as well as the accompanying show of force in foreign markets, we have the context for and the seeds of Fascism. Impunity, the recognizable form primarily in foreign policy, but analysis cannot stop there and must reckon the impact of foreign on domestic policy, the two, I hold, being inseparable.
If government embodies the State, the CIA, especially from a moral standpoint, embodies government, is, by its very existence, made possible by the structure and institutional arrangements of government, which brings it into being, protects it, defines its mission, and provides it a REFUGE, free from oversight and scrutiny. Why would government, which spawned to serve the interests of the State and its ruling groups, want to restrain and/or supervise its activities? Concretely , we know that Brennan is among Obama’s closest advisers, and that the CIA enjoys his special affection—both seen in the way he has responded to the Senate Intelligence Report on Torture, at one, in his refusal to prosecute the culprits, “let’s turn the page” in the spirit of patriotism, and his longer-term refusal to prosecute those guilty of torture (and those authorizing it, beginning with Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld) in the previous administration.
This exemption of torture from the law, international and, hopefully for those in power, national, raises it to a higher realm of authority, immaculate, untouched or rather unhampered by human hands, once more State impunity so far in defiance of moral understanding and the Social Good as to signify a central place in government. Torture, in strict logic, given its status, itself accorded through non-recognition of its illegitimacy (since already its existence is well-known), is emblematic, along with the American eagle, in representing the American people and society. Some things which should be thought verboten, yet torture is not one of them.
Who, aside from the Executive branch (including DOJ) and the military and intelligence communities, accords these traits—torture, assassination, etc.—a higher authority? Well, for one, the people, who remain complicit in their practice, astonishingly, not even guilt-ridden, which speaks volumes about the moral vacuum now characterizing the American polity. But in addition, there is the history of the nation, which legitimates intervention, covert operations for regime change, political-ideological-commercial-financial penetration of other nations and whole regions, all of which necessitate the formal or informal use of force As A NATURAL RIGHT, to which one inescapably must add a tincture of racism, certitude, and arrogance as self-justifying psychological tools for assuring self-righteousness in the promotion of hegemony abroad, quietude at home.
The political culture, history, but the further element according not only the aforementioned traits but America itself a higher authority, not often identified as such, part of the protective cultural obfuscation growing exponentially out of America’s needs and conduct, is the national political economy: capitalism. Capitalism, perhaps to heightened degree in America, given its puristic systemic form (uncomplicated by feudalism, unlike Europe and Japan in its historical development), breeds through its workings, as in the unrestrained accumulation of capital, a certain cynicism toward the law unless working to the advantage of the society’s ruling groups, themselves making and interpreting the laws of the land consistent with their propertied interests and status concerns. In this case, privatization trumps not only regulation but the health and environmental needs of the community. (Pairing privatization and torture in a modern dialectic of forces would be an interesting subject of study.) In so doing, we see age-old constitutional standards thrown to the winds, no longer honored, no longer able to withstand the pressures of private interests.
Capitalism, too, is a highly relevant starting point for viewing the nature of the American State, beyond its nurturing requirements of markets, inordinately determining the international financial structure, etc., and providing the military underpinnings for these and other goals, often counterrevolutionary in spirit and character because required to fend-off challenges to US capitalist supremacy. For capitalism also breeds a condition of alienation and moral EMPTINESS, its commodity-structure both obliterating intrinsic human regard for others, even their—and one’s own—defining characteristic of humanity, and, on the behavioral level, prioritizing self-interest, self-indulgence, and material success (as the test of human character and standing in the community), in each case anaesthetizing the individual and leading to the denial and disavowal of the general good. Not the happiest historical-social context for bringing a society under the rule of law, and more particularly, the rule of law as defined, codified, enforced by a democratic people. Torture, accorded place in the American value system and ideological arsenal for the perpetuation of its hegemonic place in the world, is therefore not happenstance, but follows almost prosaically.
A final question: what is the glue which holds together this nation, possessed of its own importance (to the extent of claiming Exceptionalism as its national/natural birthright), as a social system, integrating it for further systemic tightening and development? First, on political-economic coordination, a structural point, the interpenetration of business and government. To this extent, both government and the State are misnomers, because their inner core, for America, is in fact capitalism, neither of the other two even intelligible otherwise. Here we see the process of economic concentration (which also comes down to the concentration of wealth and, in America its corollary, POWER) administered by and realized through a compliant government which sees its first and primary obligation not to the people but to the business system, its not their welfare. Monopolism, deregulation, the imposition of foreign trade agreements, manipulation of financial and industrial assets, all familiar tools in the government’s basket of support for US business interests. But more, interpenetration inclines government, in its service to business, to adopt militaristic ways both in pushing outward and in ensuring internal stability. We have not seen the last of strikebreaking at home, especially where the national interest–defense industries–is concerned. Nor, the more generic form of strikebreaking, where popular movements, whether of antiwar or racial empowerment, are involved.
The militarization of the police, which led me to the present topic, provides illustration of the repression furnished by government in the name of Order. And Order, to move from interpenetration to a second integrative factor, is intimately related, still speaking of structure, to hierarchy, both conditions of which suggest the thrust toward Fascism, as clearly evidenced in the historical-structural development of Germany and Italy, the line all but erased between the State and business, and the role of hierarchy in defining class arrangements, deference to authority, and the general culture. In practice, the people are habituated to thinking and behaving in terms of graded rankings, superior and inferior, which undergirds racism and, as well, respect to be shown to authority figures and to the wealthy of society. Habituation is perhaps another name for societal glue and structural integration. This helps to account for everyday disciplining of the lower classes (the US is not a middle-class society, by any stretch of the imagination), and also serves to explain the general mood in society of complacence, apathy, surrender of one’s life and future to the wishes and dictates (here, read “guidance”) of others. Societal regimentation, in broad, keeps society functioning, allegedly prospering, and in good order—and keeps Authority on its toes.
This I believe takes us full circle to NYPD officers with turned backs, even on one close to them on all essentials.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at email@example.com.