Monday, June 16, 2014

The Archdruid on Fascism, part 2

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.

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.
Follow over the jump for the conversation among Greer, me, and his other readers that ensued.

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.

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.
Here's a Nolan Chart.

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.

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.
I'll have more to say about the second dimenstion of DW-Nominate later.  Right now, I'll concentrate on Greer's reaction.
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...
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
Brian Cady responded to both of us.
Thanks for the essay, JMG. Pinku-Sensei, thanks for the link to DW-Nominate; fascinating idea, wish I could get the movie to work.
    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
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!


  1. Heya Crazy/Neon -- just a generalised comment to give you kudos for the blog and your intelligent observations on Jim Kunstler's website. I used to rattle on a bit there because at the time, I was working a lot of midnight shifts on a hospital psychiatric ward in Vancouver, B.C. so I'd be on the computer at the moment CFN came up over the wires. I'd only post something if I could be amongst the first 10 or 20 comments, though, because it quickly devolved into idiocy with Vlad-Janos and the other obsessive, xenophobic fuckwits. And after Kunstler revamped his commenting system, he sent me several e-mails chastising me for my sarcastic neologisms and threatening to ban me. He's a prickly stickler for language, that guy. While I respect his intellect, have read "Long Emergency" (and given copies of it to several people, including my daughter, who unfortunately have not read it) and listened to a lot of his podcasts, I don't need to be slapped down for my non-obscene wordplay. So screw commenting there, as far as I'm concerned.

    Anyway, what prompted me to write is to thank you for posting that link last week to JHK's TED talk that touched upon the notion of "Is this country worth defending?" I think that has a lot to dow with the disintegration of the Iraqi government's army in the past fortnight. I can also see it happening in the U.S., as polarised people on the Teabagging Right, some on the alienated Left (like me) and the mass of morons who don't have any opinion at all except for "I'll have another beer and some Cheetos" won't give enough of a crap to do whatever work is needed to keep the States United. My (now-ex) wife and I reached that point the night that realPresident Cheney and his little dog Bush got another four years of misrule in November 2004 and decided to bail. For those who can't flee like me, I foresee a Yugoslavian/Ukranian-style future (unfortunately, not Czechoslovakian) as they retreat into their ideological/ethnic enclaves.

    Keep up your good work! Those who you teach are fortunate to have someone who will lead them to open their eyes, at least the ones who choose not to keep them glued shut. In addition to enjoying your perceptions about the overall state of the environment, the U.S. and other Big Picture topics, I dig your description of Michigan events. I lived in L'Anse, Manistique and Calumet there in the U.P. during the 1980s and still keep in touch with my Yooper friends. When you drop a description about something such as the Christian Arab population of Dearborn, I can envision what you're talking about. It's nice to read some truth amongst the bollocks on Kunstler's site. Keep up the good work.

    And P.S. -- Larry Niven was my favourite "hard-science" sci-fi guy once I graduated from the 1950s classic writers such as Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein. Him and Joe Haldemann. "Ringworld," yah sure!

    1. That's a great coment for a month devoted to comments. In fact, it's the comment of the month so far.

      Thank you for your praise. I'd like to think that I'm an eye-opening inspiration to my students, although sometimes I feel like I'm telling them ghost stories--scary and entertaining, but not very real.

      Also, Dearborn itself has a high number of Moslem Arabs--lots of Yemenis and Lebanese Shia live there. The rest of Metro Detroit, especially Oakland County, has the Arab Christians, especially the Chaldeans, who outsiders see as Arabs, but who don't self-identify as such. They are descended from the Babylonians with an admixture of Alexander the Great's soldiers from Greece. They share that attitude with the Berbers; I should know, I had a Berber roommate once and got an earful of his opinion of the Arabs.

      Finally, about Janos/Vlad--I've never much liked the guy. I have a post from 2011 called "Impaling Vlad, or with friends like him, Kunstler doesn't need enemies. You might enjoy it.

  2. Here via a general archive binge launched from your front page, and I'm sorry I missed this in real time. Alongside the political maps you show, I'd add the World Values Survey Cultural Map, whose axes are "Traditional/Secular-Rational" and "Survival/Self-Expression". Presumably, the countries shown have shifted position since the survey was taken, but I suspect it's still useful as a general guideline. Also, the path from the lower left to the upper right corner is the path that "progress" in our civilization has been seen following; Sweden has probably taken it as far as it can go before gravity kicks in.

    1. Thank you for reminding me about the World Values Survey. I'd seen it before, but had forgotten about it. I like the axes of "traditional/secular-rational" and "survival/self-expression." It shows the same kind of pattern as the Political Compass, with a positive correlation between the two factors, with the countries exhibiting the more modern traits in both dimensions clustering together and those having more "conservative" traits associated with each other as well, and the rest of the countries along a broad diagonal between the two. Note how the upper right hand and lower left hand corners are occupied, while the upper left and lower right corners are fairly empty. The closest any nation comes to either is Taiwan to the top left and the USA to the bottom right. And, yes, up and to the right is the direction of social progress. If we could keep this game going another century, I wouldn't mind shooting for Sweden as a goal.

      That written, this entry is about political parties in the same country. This survey might work for them, too, but I haven't seen someone apply it that way.

      Finally, glad to see you here from the Archdruid Report. Look forward to my mentioning your responses to me in future entries. Until then, enjoy your archive binge!