Greer returns to blogging this week after a six-week hiatus he announced at the end of The Time of the Seedbearers. To mark the occasion, I'm going to make good on the promise I made at the end of The Archdruid on Fascism, part 1 to post my observations on Fascism and the Future, Part Two: The Totalitarian Center. I kicked that down the road in On 'Weimar America' with The Archdruid and his readers. Now I'm ready to tackle it.
Greer argued that fascism isn't really a movement of the right or left, but of the disenfranchised center. In my first comment I agreed with him that fascism was a threat, but didn't agree with him about it being a movement of the center. Instead, I pulled out an observation of mine from my youth much like the one I recorded in Brooke Shields shows that fame can last, one that time has confirmed.
Decades ago, I decided that the radicals on the Right (note that I didn't call them conservatives, even if they call themselves that these days) were more dangerous than the ones on the Left. First, I figured out that there were a lot more of them. Second, I looked at the history of Communist vs. Fascist regimes. I can't think of a single successful indigenous Communist revolution that took place in a democracy. When the socialists take over a democracy, it looks like Sweden, not the U.S.S.R. Therefore, that wasn't going to happen to the U.S. On the other hand, I looked at all the fascist regimes and every one of them came out of a failed experiment with democracy. That could happen here.Follow over the jump for the conversation among Greer, me, and his other readers that ensued.
Also, you're not alone among Peak Oil thinkers in expecting fascism in America's future. James Kunstler has been predicting for more than a decade that we'd elect maniacs who'd promise to allow us to keep our McMansions, cars, and commutes long after Peak Oil made all of them untenable. After a few years, he changed "maniacs" to "corn-pone Nazis led by a corn-pone Hitler." He's been looking for that "corn-pone Hitler" since. The last time he identified one, it was Sarah Palin. That turned out to be a false alarm; women historically don't become fascist dictators. However, there are plenty of candidates for that role these days.
Greer acknowledged the first point, which confirmed what he already wrote, then elaborated on the second.
Pinku-Sensei, indeed it could happen here. To my mind, though, Jim's "cornpone Hitler" is more a reflection of his own prejudices against Southerners and working class Americans than anything else; what we have to fear, rather, is an earnest, passionate, appealing figure who doesn't trigger anybody's canned biases, who seizes the abandoned center and seems to be talking common sense, just in a somewhat strident tone.Greer made good on that description in Fascism and the Future, Part Three: Weimar America, but that's a subject I'll get to later.
I returned the favor by acknowledging his point, which I had first brought up on this blog in Joe Bageant is gone, then changing the subject to his main point.
I think you’re right about where Jim’s “corn-pone Hitler” image comes from. The man doesn’t hide his prejudices.Here's a Nolan Chart.
On an entirely different topic, you’re absolutely right that a simple linear model of Left vs. Right doesn’t fully describe political ideology. Calling that idea one-dimensional is both figuratively and literally true. The whole idea came out of the French Revolution and the seating of delegates with the conservatives on the right on the liberals on the left. That didn’t last, as the most radical group, the Montagnards, who unleashed the Reign of Terror, didn’t sit at either side, but instead high in the center. Given your description of fascism as a totalitarianism of the center, I find that quite fitting.
Now that I’m finished with the historical aside, I’ll point out that there are several models that incorporate two dimensions to describe ideology. The most famous is probably the Nolan Chart, which the Libertarians use. That one uses economic freedom and personal (non-economic) freedom as its two axes and has the advantage of separating three groups collectively considered the Right, libertarians, conservatives, and fascists. It will also map the fascists next to the communists as different kinds of Statists instead of at opposite corners.
The Political Compass is very similar, with an Authoritarian-Libertarian axis corresponding to personal freedom and a Left-Right axis corresponding to economic freedom. That will also separate out different political philosophies almost the same way that the Nolan Chart does. It also allows people to take tests to find their position and then graphs them on the chart. When done in the aggregate, it exposes a flaw in the model; the two axes are not independent of each other. There is a strong correlation between Authoritarianism and Right and Libertarianism and Left. There are relatively few people who score as Authoritarian Left or Libertarian Right; most fall on a main sequence that may as well be the traditional Right-Left axis, except that the Far Left is not Communist, at least as practiced in officially Communist countries, but Anarchist. That might be something to think about when one considers the failure of Left-leaning organizations during the past 30 years, something you wrote about during December 2012.Now the Political Compass.
A third model is that of science fiction author and Ph.D. in Political Science Jerry Pournelle. In his dissertation, he came up with his own axes for what is now called the Pournelle chart--rational vs. irrational and acceptance or rejection of government authority. The rational vs. irrational dimension was basically a conservative vs. liberal dimension, with the conservatives being exactly as you described them, but also irrational. The liberals were the rational ones, as they were trying to do what you described the reformers doing by imposing an ideological model. Remember that Pournelle considers himself to be a conservative, so being irrational is not a bad thing to him, nor is being rational necessarily a good thing. The attitudes toward government would separate out the two authoritarian types (Communist and Fascist) from the two anarchist types (Libertarians and Anarchists) on opposite sides of the chart, with most political philosophies participating in democratic politics in the center of the chart.
This should look familiar, as I've used it several times here, most recently in The Archdruid on Objectivism as civil antireligion.
All of those are theoretical constructs. There is another model that has the advantage of being derived empirically, DW-Nominate, which Voteview computes. That one takes the votes of U.S. Representatives and Senators and determines the independent axes that best describe their votes. Ever since the beginning of the Republic, there has been a Left-Right axis, with votes on the left being in favor of redistributive policies and those on the right being against redistributive policies. The second axis has changed over time. For most of U.S. history, it was about race relations, which supports your point about racism being independent of left and right. Since the 1970s, that version of the second dimension has collapsed into the first axis, with race-related issues also become economically redistributionist issues. That would also explain the current state of thinking about left vs. right and racism; now they are correlated. The second dimension is now about insider vs. outsider with the insiders in favor of the U.S. as an imperial power with all of the military, intelligence, and policing apparatus that entails, while the outsiders are questioning the idea of empire and think that the costs, both financial and social, are too much. That’s what united Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders, the most Right Representative and the most Left Senator, until Paul’s retirement last year.I'll have more to say about the second dimenstion of DW-Nominate later. Right now, I'll concentrate on Greer's reaction.
That graph doesn't have the advantage of distinguishing Fascists, as there aren't any in Congress, but it will separate the libertarians from other Republicans and the populists from the Establishment Democrats. Based on what you wrote about advocating the abandoned center, maybe what DW-Nominate sees as the second dimension is starting to pick that up.
Pinku-Sensei, what all those schemes leave out, to my mind, is the dimension I discussed in last week's post -- which class has its interests catered to? -- which can't be tracked by any simple linear scale or set of scales, since in any society there are a good many classes with their own distinct agendas. I may have to brood on that and propose my own scheme one of these days.This was when I should have brought up the scheme of Michael Lind, who explicitly used class interests. Unfortunately, I pooped out. Fortunately, Greer's other readers stepped in, beginning with cafesneinton.
That would be interesting to hear...Brian Cady responded to both of us.
My perspective comes from study of plato. He looks at classes of society
when classifying regimes. From rule by philosophers to fighters, the rich, the masses to the tyrants...I think it might be possible to site these under two dimensions
Thanks for the essay, JMG. Pinku-Sensei, thanks for the link to DW-Nominate; fascinating idea, wish I could get the movie to work.Brian couldn't get the video to embed (that works in Wordpress comments, but not Blogspot comments), but I can. Here is Ideology and Congress, 1789-Present. Enjoy!
JMG the breadth of your analysis reminds me of Hazel Henderson, who's a bit more optimistic, Lewis Mumford, who interspersed the last stuff I read of his with so many literary references I hadn't read that I was befuddled, and Norbert Weiner, who, as I remember it, claimed science is aided by a little monotheism, but hindered by beliefs in actively intelligent evil. Thus the power of science is lost to the paranoid persecutors. Somehow I'm not consoled much. Wonderfully disturbing article JMG