The Crisis of the Republican Party and the Danger of Fascism

The 2016 US Presidential Primary Election cycle has witnessed a new stage in the disintegration of the Republican Party.  Once the principal political vehicle for a visionary –if also deeply flawed– civilizational ideal which joined elements of the Puritan ideal of a Holy Commonwealth with a technocratic secular vision centered on pushing back the limits of finitude by means of scientific, technological, and economic progress, the party has degenerated into a loose coalition in which fascistoid right wing populist elements are increasingly dominant over religious social conservatives, neoconservatives, libertarians, and neoliberals.

 More specifically, the Presidential campaign of New York real estate magnate Donald Trump, with its fascistoid mobs and its charismatic leader who sets himself outside liberal norms and rule of law, raises the question of whether or not we face an authentic danger of fascism, and if so in precisely what form. If not, then what specifically is happening, what does it mean, and how should we respond?

We will begin with an analysis of the historic phenomena which constitute our points of reference: the history of the Republican Party and the history of fascism as a political trend. We will then situate both in the context of the broader global situation and the specific situation of the United States. This will shed important light on the significance of the Trump campaign and the situation in the Republican Party.  We will conclude with strategic, operational, and tactical directions.

 

The Republican Party

 One of the defining characteristics of the current political situation in the United States is the effective transformation of the Republican Party from a center-right “progressive-conservative” party linking neoliberalism with moderate religious social conservatism into something more like the parties of the European New Right. This is an especially dangerous phenomenon given the fact that the Republican Party remains one of the two principal political parties in the United States, controlling most state governments and both houses of Congress and with some remaining, albeit rapidly declining, possibility of recapturing the Presidency. In the light of these developments it is worth considering the evolution of the party and assessing its current social basis, political valence, and likely trajectory. In order to do this we will need to consider both political-economic and ethnoreligious factors[1], as both play a significant role in defining the US political party system.

The architects of the US political system were profoundly skeptical about political parties, which were only beginning to emerge in Europe and which they regarded as manifestations of the great evil of faction. They designed what might be called a “notables” system which encouraged the election of the most prominent citizens of each community while creating a complex of mechanisms, described in detail in Federalist 10, to discourage the formation of stable majority factions generally, and to ensure that the working classes in particular were never able to use the democratic element in the political structure to leverage their numerical majority in a way which might allow them to threaten the interests of the propertied classes.

Representative state structures are, however (as Madison himself recognized), fundamentally about representing contending interests in complex societies in which contending sectors of society are also sufficiently dependent on each other to make political monopoly unrealistic. The first US party system[2], which pitted Federalists against Democratic Republicans, was fundamentally defined by a contest between mercantile and manufacturing interests in the Northeast and agrarian interests elsewhere. But it also corresponded closely with the division between regions originally settled[3] out of Puritan East Anglia (and to a lesser extent the Reformed Netherlands) and those settled out of other parts of England or with non-English majorities. The Federalists were also inclined to support Great Britain in the global geopolitical contest underway at the time, while the Democratic Republicans supported the French –an alignment which, despite the fact that it put them on the victorious side of the Napoleonic Wars, sealed the demise of the Federalist Party in the United States.

This fundamental division was reproduced but also elaborated significantly, in both political-economic and ethnoreligious terms, in the second, third and fourth party systems, which stand in relation to the first like variations on a foundational theme which never quite achieved full sonata-allegro form. The Whigs and the Republicans represented both the more advanced sections of the bourgeoisie (first textiles, then steel) and successive manifestations of the Puritan project –the Second Great Awakening and its associated social reform movements– though with a gradually increasing capacity to recruit non-Puritan local elites outside the areas of East Anglian and New England settlement, especially Scandinavian as opposed to German Lutherans. Democrats represented agrarian interests and those of the immigrant working class not captured by the Evangelical United Front, including not only Catholics but also Southern Baptists, Methodists, and Episcopalians. German Lutherans leaned Democratic. Northern Episcopalians, Presbyterians and German Reformed, and Reconstructionists generally were more or less equally divided.

The political-economic and ethnoreligious definitions of the US party system were themselves intimately related to each other. The Federalist, Whig, and Republican Parties represented the “progressive” sectors of Capital not just in the sense of representing the technological cutting edge. They also represented a “national bourgeois” political project. Against the Southern landed elite, which sought to develop the United States as agrarian export economy, the Federalist, Whig, and Republican Parties envisioned an economy centered predominantly around domestic production for domestic consumption. The principled core of the Republican Party was, in fact, explicitly anticolonial and anti-imperialist. Indeed, it is not too much to say that the arc of development which led from the Federalist through the Whig and eventually to the Republican Parties was simply the political expression of the emergence of the US bourgeoisie as a hegemonic ruling class capable of uniting behind itself the majority of the diverse peoples of the United States in service to a civilizational ideal which identified industrialization and capitalist development with God’s own work of redemption[4].

No sooner had the Republican Party triumphed in the 1860 elections and the Civil War, however, than the global situation of the United States began to change. Precisely because of the state led investment policies of the predominantly Republican governments in the post Civil War Period (the Homestead Act, the Morrill Land Grant Act, subsidies for the railroads, etc.) the United States was transformed, within less than 50 years into an advanced industrial economy subject to all the contradictions of advanced capitalism, including the tendency of the rate of the profit to decline as the economy becomes more technology and capital intensive, and a tendency for Capital to respond to this contradiction by redeploying to low technology, low wage regions and activities on the periphery. In the case of the US this meant the acquisition of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines from Spain and the transformation of the Monroe Doctrine from a doctrine of solidarity with other American national liberation movements into an alibi for emerging imperialism.

Under these new circumstances, with the United States now towards the top rather than at the bottom of the hierarchy of industrialization, the free trade Democratic Party became a more natural vehicle for the most advanced sectors of Capital, which were increasingly globalist in their orientation.  This was a good fit for the Democrats, who had largely captured the immigrant Catholic working class, partly by resisting Republican/Protestant  efforts to police personal morality, and partly because their support for Jim Crow in the South was seen as protecting Northern workers from the threat of African American competition. The alliance between the advanced sectors of Capital and the working classes took decades to negotiate, but was finally sealed in 1932 as forward thinking elements in the bourgeoisie recognized the need to address the profound underconsumption tendencies exposed by the Great Depression through public works, fiscal and monetary policy, carefully regulated unionization, and transfer payments. What remained of the Southern landed elite remained part of the coalition largely because the New Deal and the Second World War expanded state led investments in the South, providing an economic road forward following the mechanization of agriculture and the beginnings of the Great Migration. [5]

Significant elements in the Republican Party –especially those in higher technology sectors which benefited from free trade and those with investment abroad, which understood the need for a more globalist foreign policy– supported these developments. Indeed, by the 1950s it would not be too much to say that the United States was very close to a new Era of Good Feelings, with a broad social liberal consensus in favor of New Deal policies and the parties divided as much by historic ethnoreligious and regional cultures as by social base or public policy. Republicans from the Northeast, the upper Midwest, and the Pacific Coast were increasingly voting with the Democrats on almost all important issues.

In this context the Republican Party faced a profound crisis. It was not clear that the party had a distinctive vision, that it represented the organic interests of any particular sector or sectors of Capital, or that had a stable mass base. This crisis was brought home to the party when the Democrats, overcoming the objection of their Southern wing, threw their support behind at least the more modest demands of the Civil Rights movement.  What remained to define Republican identity except a commitment, which had to be articulated in increasingly subtle ways, to the ethnoreligious superiority of the old Puritan elites and their closest allies?

There were two broad approaches to this crisis[6]. On the Left a group of Republican leaders met in 1962 in Cambridge to found the Ripon Society. They articulated a vision which might have contributed significantly to the policy discussion in the US, embracing the goals of the New Deal and the Great Society, including support for Civil Rights, which they saw as part of their party’s abolitionist heritage, but arguing for an approach which was less bureaucratic and state centered, with greater focus on non-means tested income transfers such as a negative income tax and a greater role for what today would be called “civil society” organizations. In this regard they made many of the same points made by Christian Democrats in Europe and Red Tories in the UK. But they were also self-conscious advocates of what they called a “natural aristocracy” which they believed was based on authentic excellence and were largely oblivious to the ethnoreligious tensions and culture wars which were about to transform US politics.

At the same time, a well-defined right wing developed in the Republican Party based in lower technology industry (such as textile mills in the South) and extractive interests (mining and ranching) in the West. This group began to attract a wide range of right leaning intellectuals, from traditionalist –including Catholic– conservatives focused on the “threat” of communism, through Straussians, Austrian School neoliberals, Objectivists and other libertarians, and eventually Jewish scholars concerned about what they saw as soft Democratic Party support for Israel. This is the wing that captured the party briefly during the 1964 election cycle.

The future of the Republican Party was, in fact, written by a leader who embraced much of the Ripon platform, including establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, a negative income tax in order to provide everyone in the country with a Guaranteed Minimum Income, and rapprochement with both the Soviet Union and China. That leader was Richard Nixon. But he also embraced an electoral strategy –the so called Southern Strategy developed by advisor Kevin Phillips, which took as its point of departure Goldwater’s unprecedented 1964 victory across the Deep South and the effective schism in the Democratic Party which resulted in George Wallace’s victory in the same states in 1968.

What Phillips pointed out was that with the Democrats taking the lead on Civil Rights, the African American vote was more or less permanently theirs. Republicans needed to focus on disaffected white southerners. Gradually the strategy was extended to appeal to others alienated by the new social movements of the 1960s: a counterculture which questioned “traditional family values” and an antiwar movement which, for the first time, named US imperialism and questioned the simple identification of the cause of “truth and justice” with “the American Way.” At the ethnoreligious level this meant aggressively building a base outside the old Puritan elites among both Catholics and historically Democratic Southern Evangelical Protestants.

The Southern Strategy was modified in the 1980s when elements in the party attempted to draw on F.A. Hayek’s evolutionary theory of social forms[7] to build an ideological bridge between neoliberals and social conservatives. Hayek regards what he calls “the extended order of human cooperation” as the product of individuals competing to survive and thrive under conditions of scarcity. In this process they develop practices (technological, economic, political, and cultural). Some work and become part of an enduring tradition. Others do not and are discarded. Language, the family, religion, and the market system are all among these “spontaneous” forms of organization, which he sets apart from rationally appealing but ultimately doomed attempts at social engineering and central planning.

This discourse was powerful enough to temporarily unite the ideologically diverse elements in the Republican cadre core, which was otherwise no more cohesive than any of the numerous left wing “United Fronts” formed by the sectarian Left in the same period, and more specifically to convince religious social conservatives, nationalist and racist populists, and neoliberals that they were all on the same team. It helped that this came at a moment when anti-imperialist victories in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau, Ethiopia, Iran, and Nicaragua, convinced much of core Capital to abandon its geopolitical caution and support a more aggressive political-military policy. This was the “Reagan Moment,” which the Right believed represented a fundamental realignment, but which was really just a tactical alliance catalyzed by conditions which were conjunctural rather than periodic or epochal.  By the end of the 1980s the Republican Party had returned to the odd combination of racist innuendo and talk of a “kinder gentler America” in which a “thousand points of light” would join to address social injustice with the assistance of streamlined but much more efficient welfare state which had characterized Republican politics since the time of Nixon.

The evolution of the Republican Party since then has been driven by two main dynamics. The first of these is the increasing dominance of the “imperial management” function of the US presidency over its function as Chief Executive for specifically US capitalist –or any other– interests. This is a shift that the Democratic Party has fully embraced. And effective leadership of the Imperium often means taking a less aggressive political-military stand than suits the interests of the US defense/aerospace sector and, more generally, sacrificing the interests of specific sectors of Capital, including US Capital, to those of Capital and Empire generally. This has won the Republican Party support from a much wider range of capitalist sectors than the results of its first turn to the Right in 1964 would have suggested was possible. At various times defense/aerospace, energy, commercial banking, retail trade, and even such historically Democratic sectors as real estate, construction, and investment banking have swung behind the Republicans as the Democrats took seriously the responsibility of managing the Empire for Capital as a whole, even when this required sacrifices from one or another capitalist interests.

One might think that this was bringing the Republican Party back to its roots as the party of the national bourgeoisie, except under conditions when this class stance is no longer progressive. But this would be a mistake. There is no true national bourgeoisie, at least in the US at this point in history. While it has been largely the less technologically advanced sectors of Capital which have supported the Republicans, this is by no means uniform and in fact many sectors have shifted their support around quite a bit through the last several election cycles. It would be more accurate to say that while Republicans retain a core constituency among the least advanced sectors technologically, they have positioned themselves as the party of the immediate interests of a collection of shifting capitalist sectors as opposed to a party of long term imperial management.

Their focus on imperial management has meant that the Democrats, for their part, have gradually lost the support of workers who have seen their position eroded by technological progress and globalization. In accord with their integrative and ameliorative strategy the Democrats have not entirely ignored the concerns of the working classes, but what they have offered –very modest support for education and retraining—has made it clear to the working class that they will not be released from increasing market pressures. This has in turn left “white” workers increasingly receptive to appeals based on racism, religious social conservatism, nationalism, etc.

The second dynamic has been more subtle. While Republicans in office have delivered for their capitalist constituents, even where it has hurt the long term interests of the Empire, they have not delivered for the “white” working class base they have courted, even on such issues as race, immigration, trade, or abortion. There simply isn’t any sector of capital which has a strong interest in limiting immigration or abortion (which facilitates work force participation). Capital has a political interest in the continuing racial division of the working class but not in white supremacy or a violent race war. And only a few sectors have an interest in a more restrictive trade policy, and even then not one which would save very many jobs. This has meant that in order to continue to make the “Southern” strategy work, Republican candidates have had to intensify their racist rhetoric at a time when the social sectors towards which it is directed have become more and more desperate economically.

Both of these dynamics have been strengthened by a liberal campaign finance regime and democratized party structures which makes it possible for self-funding candidates and rogue funders to disrupt long standing institutional structures. Reagan’s victory represented a decision on the part of key elements in core Capital to accelerate the collapse of the Soviet Union and the implementation of a global neoliberal regime. Recent developments in the Republican Party have, on the other hand been driven by the largely autonomous interventions of individual and highly idiosyncratic funders such as the Koch Brothers or by self-funding and self-promoting candidates such as Donald Trump.

 

Fascism

 All of this brings us to the question of fascism. Has the degeneration of the Republican Party created a real danger of fascism? Or is it simply complicating the business of imperial management and siphoning off working class resistance to technological change and globalization which might otherwise be more easily captured by the Left? In order to answer this question we need to understand exactly what fascism is.

This question must be answered at a number of distinct but related levels: ideological, psychosocial, political, economic –and grand-strategic. At the ideological level fascism is a variant of what we have called populist secularism, which seeks to forge the people as ethnos into a political subject which will make humanity the master of its own destiny. But it defines ethnicity in a distinctly racist and antisemitic way.[8]  Fascist ideology serves to hegemonized and mobilize a mass base in the working class and petty bourgeoisie in order to serve the interests of Capital under very specific social conditions. At the psychosocial level, fascism is defined by an authoritarian personality which seeks to escape from the freedom –but also the egoism and anomie– of bourgeois society in submission to a leader who represents a higher national or religious identity[9]. At the political level this social psychology is captured by a disciplined cadre party built on a model borrowed from Lenin. At the political economic level fascism is a mass movement of sectors of the working class, petty bourgeoisie, and small capital which feel left behind by the course of development of actually existing capitalism but for whom socialism does not represent a credible alternative, but seems, rather to promise only further proletarianization and instrumentalization. And at the grand-strategic level fascism militarized and mobilized this  population in service to an attempt on the part of the ruling class of a late industrializing capitalist society to secure a colonial empire which will allow them to ameliorate the internal contradictions of advanced capitalism. [10]

Let us consider each of these elements in turn.

While there have been a number of very different fascist ideologies they all derive from a common lineage: the populist secularism which emerged in the nineteenth century with the emergence of the nation-state, which looks to the people as ethnos or cultural unity (as against the rationally autonomous individual, the people as demos or body of formally equal citizens, or the proletariat and its vanguard party), to create the political subject which makes humanity the master of its own destiny. In this sense it is quite different from any sort of authentic conservatism rooted in the traditions of great axial ways. This is because it proposes to solve the fundamental problem of human existence –that while finite and contingent, we seek to Be necessarily, and thus to be God– through innerworldly political action rather than through spiritual self-cultivation. It also has nothing to do with free market capitalism of any kind, liberal, neoliberal, libertarian, or Objectivist (though it does share with Objectivism an obsession with unique, “superior,” individuals).

While this ideology can be traced back to thinkers like Herder and others and while it drew significantly on Romanticism and on Nietzsche’s philosophy of power, it was, above all Heidegger who gave the doctrine its classic statement. Being, for the later Heidegger, manifests itself in a people. It does this through and only through the voice of the few who help it to discover its “god,” a sort of mythos under which Being is revealed.

 … the essence of the people is its “voice.”  This voice does not, however, speak in a so-called immediate flood of the common, natural, undistorted and uneducated “person.”  The voice speaks seldom and only in the few, if it can be brought to sound …

 A Volk is only a Volk if it receives its history through the discovery of its god, through the god, which through history compels it in a direction and so places it back in being.  Only then does it avoid the danger of turning only on its own axis …[11]

Populist secularism comes in both left and right varieties. Michael Millerman[12] has tried to distinguish between these, or at least between left and right variants of Heideggerianism, arguing that left Heideggerians define identity in terms of difference (as a struggle to conserve their own distinct identities against the cosmopolitanism promoted by an expanding imperium)  while right Heideggerians define it in terms of event (a founding event which defines their identity by revealing their “god.”). There may be some merit to this argument as a way of distinguishing deconstructionist Heideggerians from Heidegger himself and his followers on the New European Right. But this grants both the deconstructionist claim that ethnicity is a pure social construct constituted by pure difference and what Millerman frankly admits is a semifoundationalist theory of ethnicity that while acknowledging that ethnogenesis is an historical process, seeks and accepts a single canonical founding event which defines what it means to be a member of a specific people once and for all. Both of these approaches are oversimplifications.

We cannot consider the question of ethnicity in detail here. At the most basic level, however, ethnicity is a particular way of being human, rooted in definite material conditions (the geology, ecosystem, and demographics of a particular land), ordered to a specific variant of a broader civilizational ideal, and lived through a definite complex of institutional structures. Because all of these elements are themselves contested and changing, ethnic identity itself is also, always changing. But it is not simply an arbitrary boundary. It is an actual way of life.

Distinguishing between fascism and other populisms requires that we consider a variety of economic, political, and ideological factors. Populism developed along with nation-states and like this process its political valence was ambiguous from the beginning. Nation states did create a vehicle through which democratic aspirations could be expressed, but they also fractured broader identities with a strong cosmopolitan element, such as Christendom and Dar-al-Islam and always involved some element of what today would be called ethnic cleansing. In Spain and later in Latin America for example Reconquista and Conquista mobilized ancient antisemitisms and emerging concepts of whiteness and sangre azul to differentiate the emerging Spanish nation from the Jews and moriscos of al-Andalus and later to create a complex hierarchy of castas in the New World. In England, on the other hand, the concept of race initially helped constitute the popular subject of the English and Glorious Revolutions, and pit the English people against the Norman monarchy and aristocracy. In France philosophers of the Ancien Regime argued against the emerging concept of a secular, democratic French nation by imagining the aristocracy as the descendants of (racially superior) Frankish conquerors whose rights they defended against a “nation born of slaves.”

Antisemitism has often been closely connected with populism in Christendom. This was especially true after the Augustinian reaction of the thirteenth century and the emergence of a concept of divine sovereignty –reflex of the emerging absolutist state—made the Jewish refusal to submit to the Christian God an intolerable mark of rebellion. Later Jews, always carriers of a strong tradition of critical rationality rooted in Talmudic scholarship, were rejected because this rationality undercut romantic identification with emerging nationalities.

In the United States, constituted not just by waves of immigration from diverse parts of the planet, but also by foundational settlements from diverse parts of England, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain –and by the African slave trade and the conquest of the northern part of Mexico– the concept of peoplehood has been especially problematic. New England, settled out of East Anglia, was the font of a variant of American identity defined by Puritanism. As Weber pointed out in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Calvinism forced on its adherents an intense introspection focused on ascertaining whether or not one was among the elect. Hard work, saving, and investment were regarded as signs of election, and Puritanism thus encouraged capitalist development. What Weber misses is the fact that those left behind by the process of capitalist development found their own ways of asserting their elect status, something reflected in multiple waves of evangelicalism in “left behind” regions, especially Greater Appalachia, and of variant ways of demonstrating usefulness to society –for example through social reform efforts—in the metropoles. The Tidewater and Deep South, on the other hand, was settled by elements of English society with strong Cavalier and even Norman identities –with a younger son, gentry ethos dominant in the Tidewater, given a Catholic inflection in Maryland and an Anglican inflection elsewhere, and a full blown aristocratic ethos, further deformed by the fact that many of the original settlers came by way of the brutal slave colonies of the West Indies, in the Carolinas. Here feudal ideals of right by conquest mixed the Lockean argument that slavery was permissible only as punishment for a crime which would otherwise deserve death and fantasies of a restored “classical” republicanism to legitimate a system of chattel slavery. Ideas of a single American identity remained very weak.  In between the strongly commercial identity defined by early Dutch settlement and an ethos of tolerance encouraged by Quaker and German pietist settlement set a tone which created space into which diverse new waves of immigrants could move and carve out their own variants of an American identity.

It was part of the evil genius of Kevin Phillips’ Southern Strategy to link an understanding of American identity rooted in the Protestant Ethic but increasingly embraced in the postwar period by the second and third generation descendants of Catholic immigrants in the Northeast and Midwest with an understanding of American identity as fundamentally “white” –a negative identity indicating freedom from the caste stigma and menial labor burdens inherited by African Americans– which derived from the Tidewater and Deep South, and used as a linking ideology in the years following Reconstruction to draw Greater Appalachia into its political orbit. The result was a distinctive form of racism which stigmatized the most exploited sectors of the population, African Americans, incorrectly identified as making up most of the recipients of social welfare transfer payments, and new immigrants, especially from Mexico and other parts of Latin America as lazy, indolent, “takers,” and which identified both as congenitally criminal, even though their only conceivable collective “crime” was precisely that committed by Catholic immigrant and Appalachian workers and farmers, or at least their ancestors: resistance to or flight from statebuilding, capitalist or protocapitalist conquerors, whether in Europe, the United States, or both.

That the single largest and most militant sector of the Republican base has embraced a racist form of populism as defined above, even more so than fundamentalist variants of evangelical Protestantism or reactionary variants of Catholicism now seems clear. The Hayek inspired neoliberal-religious social conservative definition of the Republican Party has given way to the Phillips inspired definition of the party as racist, nationalist,  productivist, and populist.  And the movement clearly draws on the classic fascist strata: historically privileged workers and members of the petty bourgeoisie and small capital threatened by technological change and globalization. Finally, the Republican base clearly exhibits strong signs of an authoritarian personality disorder is fairly clear, as evidenced by the great pleasure taken in roughing up protesters and the willing denial of the obvious faults in their Leader. This point has, indeed, been documented by a recent survey-research comparing Trump’s supporters to those of other Republican candidates.[13]

But this is not by itself sufficient for fascism. Two elements are still in doubt: a cadre party, and an attempt on the part of some significant sectors of capital to militarize the population in order to secure a colonial empire.

It might be argued that the NAZIs and other successful fascist parties developed much of their organizational capacity after coming to power. This is true. But the attempt to build a cadre organization in nearly all cases predates the ascent to power and we as yet see no such organization forming around Trump and it is not at all clear that we will. And without a disciplined cadre party, the basic design of which fascism borrowed from the communist movement, it is not at all clear that the movement would have been especially effective.

The final feature which distinguishes fascism is the fact that the mass fascist movement is mobilized by bourgeoisies anxious to either defend or create a colonial empire the super exploitation of which can help ameliorate the contradictions of capitalist development, providing super profits which can finance both support for effective demand on the part of their own working classes and investment in the military spending which is the principal source of scientific and technological development in advanced capitalist countries. As such, it is a phenomenon of late rising imperial powers (such as Germany, Italy, or Japan) or of imperial powers in decline (such as Portugal and Spain).  Left wing populism, on the other hand, is a phenomenon of colonized peoples seeking independence and self-determination.

It is not at all clear that this is the situation of the United States. While it is certainly true that the United States has acted, in the absence of a global state structure which can attend to the interests of Capital globally, in loco imperium and the President of the United States, in loco Imperator, and while the US is broadly identified with and resisted as an imperial power, the long range trend is neither towards the consolidation nor the erosion of a specifically US imperialism, but rather towards the transformation of Capital into a fully autonomous global power separate not only from any national interests but even from the bourgeoisie as a social class. Globally, the interests of Capital at this point are not in expanding competing colonial empires but rather in continuing its emancipation of at least partially democratized nation state structures altogether, so that it can continue the downward pressure on the value of labor power exerted by technology and globalization, while creating global mechanisms better capable of managing Empire than the current ad hoc structure built out of nation state and international organization elements.

The specific challenges faced by Capital, are, however, daunting and present both authentic opportunities and grave dangers for humanity, in the context of which the rise of authoritarian populism is significant indeed. Capital will have to find a way to contain and manage climate change without compromising its basic interests and to determine whether or not, as technological progress drives the value of labor power towards zero, it has to reach an accommodation with an increasingly impoverished and marginalized global proletariat, and share the enormous wealth which of the planet, if only to contain underconsumption and social pathology or if, instead, it can emancipate itself from consumer demand –and thus from the constraints imposed by a massive global surplus population.

The first of these options could, as technological progress approached the elimination of scarcity, actually constitute a form transition to communism, skipping a socialist stage –though not class struggle– entirely. This is a scenario which merits further investigation, but it is outside the scope of this investigation.

The second option, on the other hand, raises the prospect of Capital undertaking mass annihilations, as it struggled to contain mass unrest and social pathology which became increasingly explosive precisely to the extent that human labor power became redundant.  Such a process would, undoubtedly, have to be carried out piecemeal, with racist and anti-immigrant pogroms alternating with Earth First antinatalism and “triaging” of “hopeless” Third World populations.

What this suggests is that the Trump campaign is probably not a step towards classical fascism. But it could very well be part of a process which prepares some sectors of the population to participate in genocidal activities which support a hidden global aim of annihilating the working classes. We thus prefer to stick with the term “fascistoid.”

This said, our strategic, operational, and tactical response to the Trump campaign should not be too different than it would be if the danger it presented was of a more “classical” fascism. This is not the time for socialist maximalism of the sort represented by Bernie Sanders, much less for left-wing communist attacks on the “social fascism” of the more progressive elements in Capital. On the contrary, we must build a broad popular front of all those forces which stand for humanity and for civilization, however conceived, and whatever their social base. This means, at present, supporting both Hilary Clinton’s campaign for President and any credible effort to salvage the Republican Party from its fascistoid self-destruction.

Within the context of this popular front we must struggle to help the more visionary sectors of Capital realize that the only human future for this planet consists in sharing the wealth made possible by technological progress and globalization –and we must compel those that cannot see this to yield. In the short run this means reducing the intensity of market pressures which are driving privileged workers in Europe and North America towards authoritarian populism.It also means struggling to demilitarize the police and bring an end to the mass incarceration of the African American and other historically oppressed communities as a first step towards disabling what has become an increasingly autonomous repressive state apparatus which operates more or less without reference to the explicit directions of the more democratically accountable aspects of the state structure.

In the longer run it means the creation of a restored Commons from which all can draw freely in order to survive and prosper. This route crosses the boundary between reform and revolution not with the seizure of state power or the expropriation of Capital, but with the decommodification of labor power and the redefinition of a post-scarcity society as one of asymptotically unlimited creativity rather than asymptotically unlimited consumption.

This process will be a difficult one.  As we have argued elsewhere, industrial technology, which is focused on the combustion of existing forms of organization, physical, biological, and (metaphorically) social in order to release the energy necessary to do work cannot transcend scarcity and will in fact ultimately destroy the ecosystem which makes human life possible, destroy the social fabric which nurtures us, and alienate humanity from its creative potential. Only a new technological regime focused on cultivating the potential latent in existing forms of matter, what we have called an hortic or neoalchemical technology, can lead to a world of authentic flourishing for all forms of complex organization, life, intelligence, and sapience. Such a technology is, at best, in its infancy.

But if the technological conditions for communism are difficult to achieve, the spiritual conditions are more difficult still. This is because, as Marx himself recognized implicitly, communism … understood as the resolution of the contradiction … between existence and essence” is nothing less than an attempted theosis. And yet asymptotically unlimited creativity is not the same as the power of Being as such. Ultimately our nature as human beings, not because it is ineradicably selfish, but precisely because it aims at divinity, points us beyond any possible innerworldly fulfillment. We will, in other words, always and only want to do more. The material condition for communism is the transcendence of scarcity, and this condition can be realized only asymptotically. The spiritual condition for communism requires that we realize that the power of Being as such is not something we can ever have, but rather something to which, in relational, transformative generativity, we contribute.

This opens up the possibility for a constructive engagement with authentic conservatives and a sharp struggle with populist secularism. By authentic conservatives I mean those who root themselves in the practice of primal or axial spiritual disciplines, and for whom the basis of their conservatism is not an infatuation with one set of secular idols –the marketplace or the race/people/nation- as opposed to others (the individual, the citizen, or the proletariat) but rather an affirmation of the priority of the spiritual over the temporal. A restored Commons is possible only with a restored Sanctuary, a complex of institutions, reflecting the full and rich diversity of humanity’s spiritual ways, which can ripen Being along multiple pathways, transforming our constitutive desire to be God into an authentic participation in divine creativity.

This means struggling against the residual patriarchy which still darkens our sanctuaries as well as a struggle to break the de facto alliance with the more backward sectors of Capital which has characterized even most authentic conservatives. The principal reason why primal and axial spiritual traditions and the ethnic identities with which they have become associated are so susceptible to mobilization by the Right is their failure to address humanity’s true “original sin,” the patriarchal appropriation of female generative power which accompanied the development of metal technology, the advent of war as an economic development strategy, and the emergence of slavery and tributary social formations. Our engagement with conservatives must be a critical engagement with patriarchal structures and ideology. Not until we have wiped the ba’alim forever from our lips will we be able to achieve authentic sainthood, sagehood, or enlightenment.

Special attention must be devoted to practitioners of the European neopagan ways, many of whom have been won over to or are increasingly conciliating the fascistoid right, drawn by the analyses of thinkers such as Collin Cleary, Pierre Krebs, and Alexandr Dugin who, while rejecting any identification with historic fascism, have linked a critique of market  cosmopolitanism with an ethnic particularism which strongly invokes themes of “white” and European identity.

At the same time, we must challenge the claim of populist secularism to represent a conservatism of any kind and make it clear to those tempted by it that its promises are just as false, and its invocation of authentic primal and axial spiritualties just as opportunistic as that of other secularisms. We must shift the allegiance of those drawn to populism from an identity embraced as an “escape from freedom” to an ideal and a practice which cultivates authentic spirituality.

These are difficult tasks. Becoming a mature leader means having a longue durée perspective. We must think, in terms of addressing the most immediate problems, such as climate change and the impact of globalization and technology, in terms of centuries or millennia, not decades. The longer range aims of humanity will be realized over a far longer time than this. Indeed, the journey is endless. But it is our journey, the journey which defines us and in which we find our only possible fulfillment.

Let us continue …

 



[1] That political parties represent, among other things, social classes and class fractions as well as different sectors of the economy, while associated with historical materialism, is a point already acknowledged by Madison in Federalist 10. Open Secrets, which tracks political contributions by sector, shows that both parties in the US continue to be parties of Capital, though they represent significantly different, and somewhat changing sectors of the economy.  The ethnoreligious dimension of party affiliation was first analyzed in depth by L. Benson. The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy. Princeton, 1961 and Samuel Hays. “The social analysis of American political history,” Political Science Quarterly 80.

[2] The idea of a series of distinct US party systems is due to Walter Dean Burnham, who first laid out this thesis in The American party systems: Stages of political development edited by William Nisbet Chambers and Burnham (1975). Later theorists have identified up to six separate stages in the development of the US party system, depending on whether the 1968 or 1980 general elections are viewed as “realigning” or simply as marking a minor adjustment in the fifth party system which emerged during the New Deal. L. Sandy Maisel; Mark D. Brewer (2011). Parties and Elections in America: The Electoral Process (6th ed.). Rowman & Littlefield

 

[3] The claim that social patterns in regions which were previously uninhabited –or were effectively cleared of their indigenous inhabitants– are driven significantly by which groups first established an effective and enduring settlement was first advanced by Wilber Zelinsky in The cultural geography of the United States, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1973. It was applied specifically to understanding the impact of settlement from different regions of England by  David Hackett Fischer in  Albion’s Seed (Oxford University Press, 1989). Colin Woodward’s   American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, Viking, 2011 brings the analysis up to date by considering the role impact of French, Spanish, and Mexican settlement.

[4] The formation of this synthesis is amply documented by Howe, Daniel Walker in The Political Culture of the American Whigs.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1979

 

[5] See Mike Davis’ Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the U.S. Working Class (1986, 1999).

 

[6] For an interesting account of the degeneration of the Republican Party from a perspective sympathetic to the party’s left and center, consider  Geoffrey Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party. Oxford University Press, 2012. For the classic statement of the Southern Strategy, see Kevin Phillips’ The Emerging Republican Majority, Arlington House 1969. It is worth noting that Phillips has become quite a critic of the direction the Republican Party ultimately took and is an important source for understanding the current situation in the US.

[7] F.A. Hayek. Fatal Conceit. London: Routledge: 1988.

[8] For a more detailed discussion of populist secularism see Mansueto, Anthony. The Ways of Wisdom. Eugene: Pickwick, 2016.

[9] The most important source on the social psychology of fascism remains Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom. New York: Holt, Reinhardt, Winston, 1941.

[10] On these latter points see Poulantzas, Nicos. Fascism and Dictatorship. London: Verso 1974 and Laclau, Ernesto. Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory, London: Verso 1977.

[11] Heidegger, Martin. Beitrage sur Philosophie (“Contributions to Philosophy”).

Frankfurt-Main: Klosterman, 1937/1989.

[12] Millerman, Michael. “Heidegger Left and Right,” in The Fourth Political Theory, http://www.4pt.su/en/content/heidegger-left-and-right

[13] MacWilliams, Matthew. “Donald Trump is gaining authoritarian primary voters,” LSE US Centre. 2016.01.27. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/usappblog/2016/01/27/donald-trump-is-attracting-authoritarian-primary-voters-and-it-may-help-him-to-gain-the-nomination/

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