Longing for Childhood
The subversive American writer Norman Mailer lived up to Antonio Gramsci’s exhortation that the left wing dissident remain a “pessimist of the intellect and an optimist of the will.” Mailer hit the head of the Golgothan nail in his remark on the true motivation of the fascist: “I really am a pessimist. I’ve always felt that fascism is a more natural governmental condition than democracy. Democracy is a grace. It’s something essentially splendid because it’s not at all routine or automatic. Fascism goes back to our infancy and childhood, where we were always told how to live. We were told, Yes, you may do this; no, you may not do that. So the secret of fascism is that it has this appeal to people whose later lives are not satisfactory.”
And yet most public conversations about democracy in 2015 seem to be discussing regression: in countries that have recently seen election periods, there are parties that want to erode and junk much of their democratic constitution, or otherwise subvert it. Opposing voices try to insist that the constitutional framework be enacted, reinforced or lived up to. The conversation about the democracy seems to exclude most political goals other than a debate about whether the democratic political structure should be eliminated or preserved.
Perhaps the legions of disaffected people are looking to regain an infancy, to become again little rascals and delinquents while also being handed down clear rules, boundaries and Manichean notions of good civic duty versus evil-doers from above. The era of intellectual void just after the end of the historical Cold War that was celebrated by Fukuyama and others as ”the End of History” was actually merely the indulgent peace of an inter-bellum, a period between cold wars that allowed much fanciful optimism of the intellect among the political classes of the great powers. Fukuyama declared the brainwashed, hare-krishna-like shibboleth ”End of History,” meanwhile the humanities departments of universities around the world busied themselves celebrating the Death of the Author and an academic philistinism spread among the young. A form of impulsive consumer democracy and neoliberal cultural values came to the fore not only in the affluent countries of Cold war victors: the defeated former East bloc, as well as Latin American countries all embraced the culture of impulsive decadence, consumerism, middle class ascendancy and violent cynicism along with the accompanying intellectual, political and aesthetic void that has remained since.
Now it seems the interbellum ended too quickly.
Another Cold War has started, strongly resembling the old one; but the old arsenal of ideology, like old weapons that were not maintained during a decade, have all oxidized and fallen out of use from indifference.
A massive regression to a state of infancy welcomes authoritarian and disciplinarian rule. Available in many thinly veiled ideological packagings, authoritarianism becomes ever more attractive to the inhabitant of a steadily more uncertain world of liquid.
The late political theorist Sheldon Wolin advocated that the radical left maintain a commitment to democracy and humanism, as the latter are not to be merely the province of liberals. In his theories about ”inverted totalitarianism”, a term he preferred to ”fascism” when describing the degeneration of democracy in the United States, he argued how the manipulation of a form of democratic theory permits the political class to enshrine its commitment to militarism as if it were acting on purely democratic principles.
Eliminating specific groups of humans is almost always popular, and so is applying a minimalist pen to the constitution of a country to make it more ”modern” or ”postmodern.” The cumbersome constitution must be edited, have brevity and quick flashiness of consumption, like a snappy email up to date with liquid modernity.
Many political swindlers amble on the horizon, and the promises a fascist Return are abundant. They form a Right wing International, a diverse and successful group. Any more success for them might be cataclysmic. Here is a list, by no means comprehensive, of the rising stars:
Viktor Orban in Hungary wins by promising to murder more gypsies and eventually the remaining Jews. Marine Lepen, new front-woman of the party for the ovens, openly anti-semitic and anti-Arab, grows more roots in France. Her solution to the refugee crisis is bacteriological and more eloquent than Trump’s: “let them have their ebola” she says, as her popularity sky-rockets.
Erdogan wins in Turkey in 2015 on the first day of November. Part of his success is owed to having indirectly supported Is/Daesh’s murderous assaults on the Kurds, getting his crimes behind the backs of his Western allies in order to satisfy the extreme-right in his country—a secular nationalist extreme right that deemed itself in the opposition to the AKP before Erdogan demonstrated a capability for desired ruthlessness towards the Kurdish question.
Jarosław Kaczynski of the Law and Justice Party wins in Poland in October 2015: Kaczynski, an illiterate village lord, alleged to never have slept with a woman (he is pure), allied to a rebel faction of the Catholic church that stands to the far right of the present Vatican. (Kaczynski is less worried about his dissension from Pope Francis than about the KGB, who he purports is still after him in 2015)
Donald Trump, rodeo clown of the Republican Party in the United States, threatens to deport 10 million Latin American immigrants already in possession of US citizenship. The contempt for democracy was made clear when Jorge Ramos, a journalist for Univision and US citizen, attempted to ask a question exceeding allotted sound-bytes: “How do you plan to deport 10 million citizens?” “By doing it,” answered Trump. When Ramos insisted on elaborating his question (if the constitution of this country forbids it, how do you plan on eliminating the constitutional barriers?) he was thrown out of the press conference by bodyguards. Both Republicans as well as Ramos’ defenders described him as an impassioned activist or a radical, rather than a journalist who attempted to ask a serious, intelligent question and was violently removed.
In Argentina, the right wing Macri’s Cambiemos party showed itself to be a more serious contender than previously imagined, though it did not get sufficient votes to secure a victory. Among the political hopes of Cambiemos are promises to restore the Amnesty towards the generals and officials of the 1970s.
These stunning persistent victories for the right were as unexpected as the self-humiliation of Greece’s Syriza, which promised in the words of ostracized minister Yannis Varoufakis to be an alternative to ”the misanthropy, the racism and anti-democratic practices” that had gained power in much of the European Union.
Provincialist, xenophobic and anti-humanist parties are undergoing a global revival. Thanks in part to the economic system and its accelerated privatization, the world becomes more homogenous in a farce of Marx’ prophecy of ”history becoming world-history” in time.
Most of the right wing parties can thank their ascendancy to television (as well as mass internet media) evoking Pier Paolo Pasolini’s comparisons of the effect of Mussolini to that of television on the Italian culture: the years of fascism barely affected the surface of the Italian people, Mussolini had failed during his lifetime. Within a decade of postwar democracy, television was able to deploy the passivity and delinquency that are at the heart of fascist culture. The evisceration of democracy can be democratically fulfilled if the media pull the constitutional filaments, and democracy itself, like a bull by its nose-ring to the abattoir.
When powerful political parties openly campaign on promises of exterminating another population, they are aided by the colossal media groups, guaranteeing enthralled supporters.
Hopefully the triumph of the authoritarian, right-wing International is not so far down the road yet, and it is too soon to speak of fascism in grand narratives and global terms without specifying a country.
Argentina at the Crossroads
October’s elections resulted in an unacceptable draw. For an election to be won in Argentina, either one party has to attain more than 45% of the vote, or one party has to be ahead of the others by 10%.
The populist party known for its leadership by Nestor and Cristina Kirchners, Frente Para La Victoria (FPV) chose an unattractive candidate, Scioli, who only got 7% more votes than did the right wing technocrat and long-standing mayor of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, winning 34% in the presidential run with his Cambiemos party. The Macristas expressed surprise by their own front-runner’s likelihood of national electoral popularity, revealed in the draw.
Critics on both the left and the Peronist movements have accused Macri’s party of being entreguista or ”deliverationist” : he might quadruple the national foreign debt with the kind of loans he made as mayor of Buenos Aires; he promises to cooperate with the hedge funds (popularly known as ”vulture funds” in Argentina) and will advance privatization and denationalization of industry. Immigration law would definitely be reformed under a Macri presidency, deporting immigrants from countries like Paraguay. Macri violated the constitutional rights of laborers to go on strike by devising a computerized system of discounting the hours of strike from the salaries of laborers. The right to workers’ strike is constitutional in Argentina, though it is not always popular among people on their way to an airport or among the business owners. The left and indigenous movements recently confronted him for having tried to legally define indigenous languages like Quechua, Mapundungun and Aymara as ”foreign languages” in Buenos Aires. His career as a mayor has consisted of trying imitate the Rudolph Giuliani-model in New York, despite the vast differences between New York and Buenos Aires. This amounted to privatization, tripling the police presence and imposing ”shoot first, ask questions later” policies, shutting down popular theaters and embattling tango concert-halls in court, and most comically, cultivating falcons who will attack the pigeons infesting Buenos Aires. In 2013 Macri dispatched the police to attack a mental hospital, La Borda, in response to part of the staff and the patients going on strike when the mayor threatened budget-reductions. Many of the patients were severely affected by completely unnecessary police violence.
Macri’s party, Cambiemos or Let’s Change (a right wing parody of the Spanish “Podemos”) also promises to revive the policy of Amnesty towards the war-criminals and former regime officials of the 1970s, excavating the legacy of president Carlos Menem in the 1990s, who pardoned the dictators, who generated a short-lived period of wealth and consumer-splendor by selling all Argentine industries—including the railways—to foreign investors. It was also Menem who looked the other way when the Amia Jewish cultural center was fire-bombed, killing a hundred Argentine jews—Menem’s tolerance for the perpetrators of the junta-era massacres extended to a 1990s necrophilia.
The Argentine experiment of nationalizing the economy during the Kirchner years has coincided with paying off many of the debts incurred by the 1970s generals and with assuring that Videla died incarcerated.
The example of Argentina’s electoral confusion raise many questions about the primitive and embryonic stage of democratic experiments. Is it necessary or part of democracy for there be a democratic discussion, a democratic right about whether or not to junk the constitution and democratic principles, or to permit amnesty for past war-criminals and founders of police state terror?
As the right to workers’ strike is part of Argentinian constitutional law, it is an absurd reduction for democracy to consist of a raffle as to how to rapidly erode constitutional freedoms long-since agreed upon without meeting more barriers.
European politics is in deadlock because of the resistance to the refugee crisis. A prominent multitude of parties across the EU campaigned upon the promise to eliminate any support for weaker members of society and to permanently shut out immigrants and refugees—even if these refugees are fleeing situations that were partly created by those countries assisting the United States wars of counterinsurgency in the Middle East and East African regions.
So “democracy” has come to mean either the beating up of wounded shipwrecks, or giving them soup before deportation. The Dutch ministers of the ruling VVD party give public statements to the media, announcing that the refugees will not have their requests for free plastic and cosmetic surgery fulfilled by the Dutch state. It is the kind of paranormal statement expected by one of the camp guards in Primo Levi’s Se Cuesto E un Huomo (“If this is a man) who reminds the Jews in the camps that they cannot expect butlers or desserts, and to keep their voices low as they no longer in a rabbinical school. Before the arrival of the shipwrecks, campaigns were held to goad the television and internet subscriber into voting for an aerial invasion or bombing, so that one country may show its teeth in an enemy region.
Representatives of European parties who formerly rode on the coat-tails of Germany have suddenly entered a hallucinatory state, as they denounce the ”radicalism of Angela Merkel” after having egged her on in the robbery of Greece. Sophists appear in the Dutch and German newspapers, such as Paul Scheffer, the Dutch anti-immigration theorist who explains at length why more deportations are humane, how Holland has the highest population density in the world (a fictitious claim) and why Europe needs one unified, single border patrol beginning on the Greek shore.
But the sudden German leniency towards the refugees is not as it has been described–”compassion”, ”war-guilt” ”moral leadership”. It is a continuation of realpolitik. Without accepting the immigrants into Germany, there is the threat of war spreading to Europe, in the balkans and Macedonia to begin with. Merkel speaks Russian and is an expert in cold war relations. Unlike the Netherlands, Germany does not elect people of deficient or absent intellectual capacity into highest office. She is still realpolitik, but her underlings in the European parliament are punkish and pissy in the fits they throw, they want to benefit from wars, to ignore impending calamity in the Balkan countries and to be short-sighted, rather than realist, imperial players.
Greece, meanwhile, has at least shown it is not willing to fulfill its purpose as Europe’s bulwark and doorman, as it had during the Pasok rule and the 80’s junta years. Before Syriza, most of the refugees would have been shot in the water by Greek police and military. The Greek crisis is partly caused by the decline of conservatism among a very large young population: Greece was once a police station in the Mediterranean, with compulsory military service for its youth and a seemingly endless conflict on Cyprus with Turkey. Greek membership in the EU was useful in the Brussels’ initiative of blocking Turkey’s EU membership. Now that Greece does not show a willingness to return to its usefulness as one of Europe’s police-stations, it can be made expendable.
Intellectuals (including those of the articulate left) play a part in the erosion and degeneration of freedoms. Expressing contempt and cynicism for ”bourgeois” concepts like humanism and democracy and praising the general mood of the gallows has become the major pastime of intellectuals. “Fuck humanism!” is a popular cry in the academic bubbles, along with becoming gender-neutral (another form of regression to childhood) and finding justifications and other names for the act of censorship.
One major exception to intellectual self-defeat was American political theorist Wolin, who died in the sundry October of 2015. Wolin had coined the term ”inverted totalitarianism” for the nightmarish, currently widespread form of democracy that took root in the United States before it turned into a global export. Others would have recognized intuitively as “fascism” what he described in his book Democracy Incorporated: private tyrannies supported by an absolutist state that ironically declares the erosion of freedoms to be in the name of democracy.
Such inverted totalitarianism became the postwar alternative to fascist totalitarianism: fascism laid the foundations for massive privatization, but also claimed an anti-capitalist posture, bullying some of the German, Argentinian and Italian elites. The fascists built a welfare state, serving only their loyals and excluding all who did not fit the fascist ideal. But the fascist welfare states envisioned by Mussolini and Hitler were corporatist, resembling the private tyrannies of corporations who provide some services to their dutiful employees in the hierarchy.
Under inverted totalitarianism, the state becomes absolutist and mostly militarist, while democratic constitutions are reduced to merely the legitimation processes by which the rabble can voice either approval or passivity before the new, atrocious and undemocratic programs.
Fates of countries are advertised by political campaigners as being no differently than consumer services to be digitally delivered after a credit card swipe.
The only permitted freedom for the general public is a freedom that hovers, like a carrion bird that never nests or sleeps, between delinquency and passivity. An absolutist statism accompanies the free-market, and election campaigns adopt the language of competing telecom-service providers, who insist on savings by switching from one company to another: a party advertises itself to the small-business owner as promising to save him the tax-money that now goes towards supporting the arts, the social parasites, the ethnic foreigners or the Greeks.
Right wing parties allow a disaffected population to feel power in its class struggle, while bypassing the topmost elites in order to rob the ethnic foreigners, or the IMF-indebted foreign nation blamed for the crisis. The vulnerable parts of society and the arts and the scholars are dehumanized, presented as an elite pastime to be attacked by the disaffected.