Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Crisis Is Moving The World Rightward

It's common to think that as populations get poorer, they will move to the left. History shows otherwise; World War One saw the rise of Bolshevism in Russia, while the Great Depression ushered in Fascism to Italy and Germany, and military dictatorship to Spain, Argentina, Japan and elsewhere.

In fact, history shows that economic disintegration leads to right-wing authoritarian reactionary regimes more often than not. It's true that America largely avoided this fate (barely, there was talk of a coup against Roosevelt by some industrialists), but it's difficult to imagine today how an America that's been getting steadily more reactionary and extremist for the past thirty years, even as downward mobility becomes endemic will escape this fate again. With the rich enjoying unprecedented power thanks to their absolute control over major media organs and both political parties, the American public is putty in their hands. It's doubtful that any resistance is possible. Rather, as the Tea Party showed, the rich can stir-up reactionary sentiment with a few well-placed phone calls to hold onto power and crush any reform movement in its crib.

As I've stated before, we're entering the era of authoritarian capitalism, and one piece of proof is the capture of almost the entire world by right-wing governments. See this map from The Guardian:

Left, right, left: how political shifts have altered the map of Europe. With 20 EU member states now under varying degrees of rightwing government, Europe has rarely been more blue (in contrast to the United States convention, The Guardian uses blue as a symbol for right-leaning parties).

If one slides all the way to the right, we see that almost all of Western Europe is in the hands of right-wing governments. Of course, this is relative - most European right-wing parties are to the left of our Democrats, but nonetheless, it's still instructive. Not really indicated on the map is that two countries - Italy and Greece, have essentially forfeited sovereignty for direct rule by the banking establishment, while Hungary seems to be moving towards something approximating a revival of 1930's-style Fascism. And extreme right-wing fringe parties are becoming more popular, not less (European right-wing parties tend to want to preserve the safety net for citizens by restricting immigration, in contrast to American right-wing parties which want to eliminate the safety-net entirely).

All this is prelude to this story in The Atlantic: Why America Keeps Getting More Conservative. Even as America sinks to the status of a third-world country, Americans keep getting more sympathetic to the Republican message, in contrast to those who think Americans will somehow wake up and start voting in their best economic interests. Sadly, that seems to be wishful thinking.

The article makes the standard points that are familiar by now: places in the United States were people are poorer, more religious, and less educated are far more conservative. I should point out that the term "conservative" is terribly misleading here. Places that are poorer, less-educated and religious are exactly the places where we would expect right-wing reactionary authoritarian politics to be flourishing; as I've pointed out many times, this is what the Republican party is today: a radical right-wing authoritarian reactionary movement, not a political party in the traditional sense. Thus, the word "conservative" has been incorrectly applied to this philosophy. "Conservative" in America really means "reactionary." And reactionary movements are the best way to understand things like Bolshevism, Fascism, dictatorship, etc. It should also be pointed out, as Paul Krugman did in his latest column, that these bastions of antigovernment sentiment receive far more in funds from the Federal Government than they pay in, whereas more "liberal" areas receive less back than they pay, even though antigovernment sentiment is less pronounced. But it is a key feature of the modern American reactionary movement to ignore inconvenient facts.

The essentially authoritarian nature of modern "conservatism" has been well articulated by Mike Lofgren, a former Republican operative who realized the altered nature of the modern Republican party and walked away, penning an excellent article entitled "Goodbye To All That", a must-read for anyone interested in what the modern Republican party has become. In an article titled, "The Right-wing Id Unzipped", Lofgren cites Robert Altemeyer's work on the authoritarian personality to understand the current republican party.
They are highly submissive to established authority, aggressive in the name of that authority and conventional to the point of insisting everyone should behave as their authorities decide. They are fearful and self-righteous and have a lot of hostility in them that they readily direct toward various out-groups. They are easily incited, easily led, rather un-inclined to think for themselves, largely impervious to facts and reason and rely instead on social support to maintain their beliefs. They bring strong loyalty to their in-groups, have thick-walled, highly compartmentalized minds, use a lot of double standards in their judgments, are surprisingly unprincipled at times and are often hypocrites.
There are tens of millions of Americans who, although personally lacking the self-confidence, ambition and leadership qualities of authoritarian dominators like Gingrich or Sarah Palin, nevertheless empower the latter to achieve their goals while finding psychological fulfillment in subordination to a cause. Altemeyer describes these persons as authoritarian followers. They are socially rigid, highly conventional and strongly intolerant personalities, who, absent any self-directed goals, seek achievement and satisfaction by losing themselves in a movement greater than themselves. One finds them overrepresented in reactionary political movements, fundamentalist sects and leader cults like scientology. They are the people who responded on cue when Bush's press secretary said after the 9/11 attacks that people had better "watch what they say;" or who approved of illegal surveillance because "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear;" or who, after months of news stories saying that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, nevertheless believed the weapons were found. Altemeyer said:
Probably about 20 to 25 percent of the adult American population is so right-wing authoritarian, so scared, so self-righteous, so ill-informed and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds. They would march America into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had improved as a result.... And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going away.
Twenty to 25 percent is no majority, but enough to swing an election, especially since the authoritarian follower is more easily organized than the rest of the population. As for Altemeyer's warning that such personality types "are not going away," the rise of the Tea Party after 2008 showed that he was a better prognosticator than Max Blumenthal, who thought the radical takeover of the GOP during the Bush presidency had "shattered the party."
Altemeyer cites clinical data to show us how certain people score high on psychological tests measuring authoritarian traits and that these high scores strongly correlate with right-wing political preferences. What Altemeyer is lacking is a satisfactory explanation as to why a significant percentage of human beings should develop these traits. 
The connection between the modern Republican party and past authoritarian movements is too striking to ignore. Most of the hard-core Republicans I know fit the above profile exactly (but not all conservatives, remember, these are in actuality two different philosophies). There are the, in James Howard Kunstler's memorable (and accurate) phrase, "corn-pone Nazis". Once we distinguish between Republicans and conservatives, we will have a much clearer picture of the political situation in America (in fact, true conservatives should be Democrats today).

While technically America is now governed by it's "leftist" party (again, keeping in mind the relativity of these terms), as this article from the Independent points out that the majority of governorships are right-wing, and it is at the state level where they are implementing their agenda in force: stacking courts with supporters, attacking unions, slashing the safety net, lowering taxes on wealth, disenfranchising voters and removing regulations. And the Republican party has shown a remarkable ability to control the terms of the debate in Washington, forcing Obama to cave in time and time again in negotiations over issues of taxation and legislation (we must 'shrink' government and pay down the debt).
...The states turned alarmingly red during the 2010 elections, and they continue to throb an ominous shade of crimson. There are 29 Republican governors and 20 Democrats, and the former are all pursuing radical right-wing agendas, nigh-on unchecked. Even a governor as unpopular as Scott Walker, who is currently in the throes of a historically unprecedented recall election for his union busting attempts, still clings fairly handily to power.

The fact that these red governors, and their red state assemblies, are still in power shows that the right is not losing the argument on the ground, no matter how wacky their marquee guys may be. They still get voted in and they are still empowered to enact all manner of destructively ideological far-right policies.

The House of Representatives has a huge Republican majority, which they use to thwart all progressive policies. It would take a massive turnaround and significantly higher poll numbers for Obama to even dent this majority. Meanwhile they’ll vote in near lockstep on anything that will hurt their foes and keep the economy faltering on the president’s watch.

The Senate may enjoy a slim Democrat majority, but rightwing obstructionism has choked it into uselessness. Without a ‘supermajority’ of 60 senators, the minority party can and does filibuster with impunity, making it another major thorn in the side of the liberal cause. More blue seats are in play in 2012 than red ones, and many of them are potentially vulnerable – because the GOP still retains credibility in the states that it lacks on a federal level.

On top of all that, the third branch of government, the Judiciary, is also hamstrung by an obstreperous Senate. Obama is struggling to appoint judges at any level in the face of an activist conservative bloc willing to put a filibuster-shaped kibosh on any of his nominations.

He’s not helped by the 5:4 conservative-liberal split in the Supreme Court, which puts a cherry on the eye of this perfect storm. The majority of the court is now openly hostile to liberal democratic aims and lawmaking, making another huge obstacle in the left’s already treacherous path.
As someone living under Scott Walker in Wisconsin, I can attest to the veracity of this.

Canada is also in the grip of one of the more extreme right-wing governments in its history under Stephen Harper; legislators have recently introduced domestic spying bills, and have been accused of muzzling scientists who come to conclusions the business community does not want to hear. Australia seems to be an exception for now, and I do not know enough about Japan to comment accurately. The other major world economic powerhouse, China, is of course ruled by a one-party authoritarian system. Russia, while not strictly one-party, is politically very similar to China - essentially a lawless autocracy under the thumb of Vladimir Putin and his ruling party, where elections are largely a sham.

This we see North America, Europe and China all in the grip of right-wing governments determined to impose 'austerity' on their peoples, and dismantle their societies to pay off the banking class. These societies are also willing to use lethal force on citizens who resist and implement widespread domestic spying on their citizens. Who would have thought that only a relatively short time after the death of Communism when "liberal democracy" was seen as the final phase of human evolution, that it would be entirely vanished from the world's major industrial powers, replaced by absolute rule by economic elites under the false guise of pretend democracy?

We seem to be repeating history - an economic depression, right-wing reactionary parties becoming ever-more extreme and a world increasingly on the verge of war. a recent address here before the liberal John Reed club said that Hearst and Coughlin are the two chief exponents of fascism in America. If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any "shirt" movement, nor with an "insignia," but it will probably be "wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution."
- James Waterman Wise, Jr.


  1. I read the "Washington Blog" linked to with "world...on the verge of war." Very scary; the religious fanatics can not listen, think or give up, ever, on irrational fantasies. There are a good many right in my neighborhood, who seem just like the ordinary people in 1920s and 1930s who cheered fascism into complete power. Some are in their 80s and lived through that, but didn't learn a thing.

  2. Scary indeed. It seems to confirm the bleak conclusion Norman Mailer came to at the end of his life, that "fascism is the natural state of man." I might argue that it does seem to be the default state of industrial cilization.