Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Strange Bright Banners

The transformation of money from a pragmatic measure of wealth to a metastatic abstraction that threatens to devour the economy of real wealth that created it – the theme of the last three posts here – has, as my readers have been quick to point out, political implications. The conventional wisdom these days ignores those implications; the consensus among alternative thinkers, which I suppose could be called the unconventional wisdom, deals with them in a stereotyped manner. I find it increasingly hard to accept either viewpoint.

The conventional wisdom, like most great fallacies, begins with a truth and stretches it until it becomes for all practical purposes a falsehood. The truth, one of the great achievements of the last three hundred years of thought, is the recognition that human life comprises a number of separate spheres that overlap solely in the life of the individual. Most of us have learned, for example, that when a religious leader makes statements concerning matters of scientific fact, those statements deserve no more (albeit no less) respect than those of any other interested layperson, and if the religious leader claims divine sanction for his opinions, he has overstepped the proper bounds of religion. (We are still in the process of learning that the reverse is also true, and a scientist who attempts to claim the prestige of science for an attack on religion is equally out of line.) Literature and the arts define another such sphere; so does politics; so does the realm of production and exchange of wealth summed up imperfectly in the word economics.

The separation of these spheres, important as it is, can never be total, because each human being participates in all of them and must balance their claims against one another. For this reason it’s entirely appropriate, say, for religious leaders to raise questions about the moral dimensions of the economy, or for a painter such as Picasso to deliver a devastating critique of a political act with his brush, and in the process create one of the great works of his career. In the same way, the political and economic spheres interpenetrate in significant ways, not least because money (the currency of economics) and power (the currency of politics) can often be traded in for one another. Thus it’s reasonable to discuss the ways that the distribution of wealth in a society intersects with its distribution of power.

This is what the conventional wisdom refuses to do. It’s acceptable nowadays to argue about whether government ought to regulate business, and in what minor ways; it’s very occasionally acceptable to talk about the corruption of government by business, though usually only when some egregious example of this standard practice is selected for pillorying in front of the public. It’s not acceptable anywhere in the American mainstream to talk about the extent to which the entire political process from top to bottom has been skewed by economic interests to the point of absurdity. The current “health care reform” farce is a case in point; most of the plans being discussed in Congress just now deal with the fact that half the American people can’t afford health insurance by forcing them to buy it anyway under penalty of law, funnelling tens of billions of dollars out of the pockets of struggling families – in the midst of a recession, no less – into the coffers of a health insurance industry that is already one of the most overfunded and corrupt institutions in American public life. (If this seems as wrongheaded to you as it does to me, dear reader, a letter to each of your congresspersons might be in order.)

It is to the credit of what I’ve called the unconventional wisdom, the consensus viewpoint of critics of the current system, that they recognize this overlap. What makes the unconventional wisdom problematic, here as elsewhere, is that so much of it redefines such overlaps in terms so extreme that a valid insight is once again falsified. It’s unquestionably true that business interests exert undue influence on the American political system, but this does not justify the wild claims so often made about the extent, centralization, and evil intentions of those interests and their influence.

Take the insistence, so often heard from radicals of the left and right alike, that America is a fascist state. If America were a fascist state, those on both sides of the political spectrum who currently exercise their freedom of speech to call it that would long since have been dragged from their beds in the middle of the night by uniformed thugs, never to be seen again – at least until their bones are pulled from a mass grave and identified by dental records decades from now. That is how things happen in a fascist state, and for today’s smug and pampered American radicals to wrap themselves in the mantle of victims of fascism, while relying on civil rights no fascist system grants its citizens, displays a profound disrespect for those who have actually suffered under totalitarian regimes.

To some extent this habit of flinging around extreme claims is simply the normal rhetorical extravagance of those who know they will not be held accountable for their words. Still, it is far from helpful to insist that because American democracy is troubled, corrupted by economic interests, and increasingly dysfunctional, it ought to be equated with the worst examples in our culture’s political demonology. It is even less helpful when this sort of thinking leads to the assumption that anything that replaces it must be better than the system we have now. That’s a common assumption in troubled times, but it’s also one to which history delivers a devastating reproof.

Imagine along these lines, dear reader, that sometime in the next year or so you start hearing media reports about a rising new figure in American politics. He’s young and charismatic, a military veteran who won the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery under fire, and heads a vigorous new third party that looks as though it might just be able to break the stranglehold of the established parties on the political system. Some of his ideas come straight from the fringes, and he’s been reported to have said very negative things about Arabs and Islam, but he’s nearly the only person in American public life willing to talk frankly about the difficulties Americans are facing in an era of economic collapse, and his party platform embodies many of the most innovative ideas of the left and right. Like him or not, he offers the one convincing alternative to business as usual in an increasingly troubled and corrupt system.

Would you vote for him? Millions of Germans did; replace the Distinguished Service Cross with the Iron Cross and Arabs with Jews, and the parallel should be self-explanatory. That parallel is anything but unique, for that matter; swap out a few details and you have the early careers of Mussolini, Salazar, Peron, or any number of other dictators of the same era. One of the problems with the continual use of fascism as a bogeyman by political extremists is that it becomes far too easy to forget how promising fascism looked in the 1920s and 1930s to many good people disgusted with the failings of their democratic governments. It’s not the “cornpone Hitler” James Howard Kunstler has predicted that we have to fear, much less the imaginary conspiracies that occupy so much space in today’s alternative discourse, but a suave, articulate, and charismatic figure who harnesses the widespread assumption that anything must be better than what we have today, and replaces a dysfunctional democracy with an all too functional tyranny.

Such a figure, it bears remembering, could as easily emerge from the left as from the right. One popular DVD that circulated widely in the peak oil scene a few years back was called The Power of Community, a documentary about how Cuba survived its own equivalent of peak oil when Soviet fuel subsidies stopped at the end of the Cold War. It’s a worthwhile case study of how a society can weather an extreme energy shortage, but it finessed one of the key points that enabled the Cuban response, namely, that Cuba is a dictatorship. To impose the draconian restrictions on energy use that got his country through its “Special Period,” Castro did not have to mobilize public opinion, placate powerful special interests, and shepherd legislation through a fractious Congress riven by ideological splits and determined to defend its prerogatives; he simply had to impose them, and those who disagreed were welcome to spend the next few years discussing the matter at length behind bars with their fellow political prisoners.

A great deal of the American left seems to have seen nothing wrong in this curious definition of “community.” This in itself is troubling, as is the enthusiastic reception of David Korten’s The Great Turning, among the most antidemocratic books of recent years, by the same circles. Korten argues that certain people – essentially, those who share his background and values – are at a superior “developmental stage” to others and are therefore better suited to rule, and the only way to survive the spiralling crises of the present and near future is to take power away from the “developmentally inferior” people who now hold it and give it to the gifted few. The idea that these few might need to be subject to checks and balances to keep them from abusing their power, it hardly need be said, finds no place in Korten’s book – a point that has done uncomfortably little to decrease its popularity.

It’s from sources like these that a neofascism of the left could quite readily emerge on American soil. Of course a neofascism of the right is equally possible, and the most dangerous possibility of all – because the most likely to slip past social critics unnoticed – might well be a movement that places itself in the abandoned middle ground of American politics. There is a great deal of empty space where common sense and compromise once bridged the gap between the major parties, and those parties themselves have become increasingly detached from the values and needs of the people they claim to represent. That space could offer an unparalleled opportunity to an astute and ambitious demagogue. It’s not exactly comforting that Nick Griffin, the head of Britain’s neofascist British Nationalist Party, is now using images of Churchill and the Battle of Britain in place of the Nazi regalia his followers once sported; Griffin is no fool, and where he goes, others will likely follow.

The crucial point that has to be recognized, and is too little recognized just now, is that it’s quite possible to replace a bad system with one that is much, much worse. Historians generally agree that the Weimar Republic was a failure, but I know of none who would suggest that the regime that followed it was an improvement. In the same way, those philosophes who criticized the Ancien Regime in its last years were quite correct to point out that the French monarchy and government were dysfunctional, corrupt, and wildly inefficient. Still, their guiding assumption – that what replaced it could only be better – was brutally betrayed by the Terror, the imperial tyranny of Napoleon, and a quarter century of bloody warfare, leading to no better end than the devastation of France and the restoration of an even more feckless monarch than the one they hoped to see overthrown.

The collapse of American democracy, or what is left of it, into one or another form of autocracy may be a foregone conclusion at this point. Certainly Oswald Spengler, whose ideas continue to land solid hits on a future his critics just as consistently miss, considered it that. He argued that the great struggle of the century or two ahead of his time would pit failing democracies corrupted by wealth in a long but ultimately losing struggle against the rising force of what he called Caesarism – the rise of charismatic leaders who would finish destroying crumbling democratic institutions and rule by a combination of force of personality and raw physical violence. The first round in that struggle began during Spengler’s own lifetime, though he did not live to see the first generation of Caesars fall; it seems unwise to dismiss the possibility of an imminent second round out of hand.

Still, the last word in all this probably belongs to an unlikely but eloquent spokesman, whose name I do not know. He was an elderly man, a Navy veteran with grandchildren, waiting for his laundry to finish at a laundromat here in Cumberland when I arrived there this morning on the same errand. Passing the time as the dryers tumbled, we talked about the weather and the misbehavior of politicians downriver in Washington DC. Then he shook his head and said, “I feel sorry for my grandkids. Me, I’ve had a good life, and my sons all did pretty well, but my grandkids and other people’s kids, they’ll never have what we had.”

For more than two centuries, the glue that has held American society together has been the hope – often falsified, but more often fulfilled – that each generation, no matter how difficult its own life might be, could hope for better things for its children. That faith is breaking apart where it has not already shattered. In its wake, strange bright banners are all too likely to be unfurled, and I suspect that a great many people who imagine themselves immune from the temptation of simple answers will end up marching beneath those banners toward some terrible destiny.

97 comments:

Arabella said...

I have been tempted to learn more about "The Great Turning." Now I'm very glad I haven't. Thank you for writing the truth and your profound, if troubling, insights, JMG.

mageprof said...

Let me offer a story from my own past in support of what JMG says here. In 1960, in California, when I was about to start college (UC Berkeley), my father took me aside, saying that he wanted to tell me something about American history that he was certain would not be mentioned in any college course I might take.

Before I tell you what he told me, I should give a little background. He was a mechanical engineer, and had worked all his life on weapons systems, first for Naval aircraft, then in the aerospace industry. He had played a significant role in the development of the Norden bomb-sight, an early analogue computer developed for Navy fighter planes. (It was a Norden bomb-sight that targeted and delivered each of the two atom bombs used during WW2.) He had a very high security clearance, indeed, for a civilian. His grandparents had all immigrated from Denmark to California, back in the years after our Civil War, and he was very proud of the Danish efforts to thwart the Nazi occupation of his ancestors’ homeland. A great many of the people, civilian or in uniform, with whom he worked most closely in the weapons industry were Scandinavian-Americans, Dutch-Americans, and German-Americans.

Now here is what he told me. He wanted me to know something about the years before we entered WW2, that (he said) every American who lived through those times was ashamed of and wished to forget. He reminded me that we had come to that war late in its course, only after the attack on Pearl Harbor toward the end of 1941.

Before Pearl Harbor, he said, political opinion in the United States, in the circles in which he moved, seemed to him to be divided pretty equally into three camps. About a third wanted to enter the war on the side of England. These, he thought, were by and large people who had been born and raised on the East Coast. Another third wanted to remain neutral, like Switzerland. And the last third greatly admired German science, German culture, and German military prowess; they very much wanted to enter the war on the side of Germany. Many of this last third were themselves engineers and scientists; many others were military men. (Some of them, he said, were also enamoured of eugenics and racial science, so called, which had been a growing field of research in the USA in the 1930s; and these enthusiasts also hoped that the Germans would apply eugenics to the world’s population.) These last two thirds, he said, both thought of England as our ancient enemy, from the Revolutionary War onward. They very much mistrusted the “East Coast elite” that had been “cozying up” – as he saw it – to the English aristocracy and the governing classes of Great Britain ever since the Gilded Age, establishing business and family ties with them.

What he particularly wanted me to know, and thought no one else would ever tell me, was how very touch-and-go it had seemed to everyone he knew at the time, as to which side we would take if we ever did enter the war. Had the Japanese not attacked Pearl Harbor, he said he thought the most likely outcome would have been for the United States to enter WW2 on the side of Nazi Germany, which would have ensured an Axis victory. And he hated to think what sort of a world the Nazi Party would have made after that victory.

Of course, that was just one man’s opinion, based only on the circles in which he moved. Dismiss it, if you will, as his mispeception of the political relaity of the time. I, however, know that he was telling it just as he had seen it, and that he wanted others to know how very close the world had come to what he regarded as an age of unspeakable horror.

So I tell this story whenever the moment seems right. Generally it is met with scorn, and perhaps it will be met with scorn here. Even so, JMG’s post impels me to tell it here.

bryant said...

All I can say is "Wow"; that is a powerful piece of writing, and one I fear will be all too prescient.

Bryan Allen said...

Thank you, Mr. Greer, for another lucid and sensible post.

I'm sure it was not original to him, but I attended a class once where the speaker pointed out that the far left and the far right were much more similar to each other than to the moderate middle, and he proposed a good way of visualizing this was to see humanity's political spectrum not as a line (as "Left" and "Right" suggests) but rather bent around as a circular bracelet, with one end nearly touching the other. Your essay suggests a similar viewpoint.

I started reading your blog through an interest in the Peak Oil topic, but find your writings to go far beyond that limited subject in a very thought-provoking and stimulating discourse, complemented by your very civil and responsive responses to comments. I find this blog to be fresh air for the mind and soul. Bravo!

Wild Gypsy said...

(If this seems as wrongheaded to you as it does to me, dear reader, a letter to each of your congresspersons might be in order.)


JMG, I have been a fan for several months now, as your blog comes highly recommended by many folks.


(I think the suggestion above is excellent. However, over the past decade on the internet I've come to appreciate the fact that technology lacks tangibility.

Abstract 0's and 1's are so easily deleted and letter writing is such a lost art. I say this remembering the "stop the bailout campaign."

Indeed, real concrete expressions of public sentiment must be dealt with logistically by a human being staring them right in the postmark.)


Thanks for all you do.

Richard said...

Thank you for pointing out the healthcare reform farce, I'm continually amazed at how many left-wing people I know who are rightly skeptical of claims made by the big oil industry and other targets of the left, then to see these same people blindly following every whim of the big healthcare corporations.

Also, I see many parallels between what's going on in healthcare reform and your discussion in this post about governmental changes, how they can go from bad to worse. The current healthcare system is certainly riddled with many problems, and I think many are supporting any and all reforms for the same reason you stated people followed Hitler and Mussolini at the beginning, the belief that any change has to be better than the current flawed system, a belief that many will likely come to regret.

John Michael Greer said...

Arabella, by all means read The Great Turning -- just be sure to think through the implications of its arguments. There's much to be learned from that.

Mageprof, no scorn here. It's well documented that many Americans, including such prominent figures as Charles Lindbergh, considered Nazi Germany the wave of the future and a model that America ought to follow.

Bryant, thank you.

Bryan, thank you also. It's quite true that at this point the far right and far left have much more in common than either one has with the mainstream -- for example, most current far-left talk about the Trilateral Commission and the like was borrowed from ideas originated by the John Birch Society -- just as it requires a micrometer these days to find a real difference between the actions (as opposed to the rhetoric) of the major parties. In effect, we have a two-party system that cuts at right angles across our official left-right division: there's the Demublicran party in power, and the Radical party out of power.

John Michael Greer said...

Gypsy, no argument there. A letter trumps an email every time.

Richard, I've noticed that also. We could all too easily replace our current bad health care system with a new one that's even worse. Let's not.

Bilbo said...

I've begun to worry about book burnings and that will be how much of our knowledge is lost. I haven't raised that topic on the Cultural Conservers for fear of being labeled as too pessimistic. Much of our digital knowledge could be subjected to a digital version of Winston Smith in his job to revise all knowledge to support the party line.

Do you think it is possible to have competing charismatic zealots from the right and the left who take advantage of the divides in the US to break up the country into warring camps? After all, Hitler had nearby neighbors to attack, who will the new Fuhrer attack when the military might of the US disintegrates? Mexico? Canada?

Kurt said...

Bryan, a visual example of "the bracelet":

http://tinyurl.com/continuumsocial

from the following blog post:

http://jessescrossroadscafe.blogspot.com/2009/05/update-on-political-continuum-obama.html

Mageprof, appreciate the story, it's all contextual and there's certainly no scorn from here either.

Patz said...

John as always a thoughtful, well written post on an important topic.

However I do take some issue with you regarding your comments about Cuba vis a vis the U.S. in terms of freedom of expression and incarceration. With a population of 11 million Cuba jails c. 297 persons per 100,000 population, for a total of about 33,000. Sadly, that’s high by civilized standards. Canada with nearly 3 times the population has about as many prisoners or 1/3 the rate. The European Union for the most part jails fewer than 100/100,000 and Norway and Sweden even less.

But more people in the United States draw the Go to Jail card than anywhere else in the world. The U.S. has nearly two million people in jail and an incarceration rate of 686/100,000. Put another way if the U.S. had the same rate as Cuba, there would be 1 million fewer people in jail in America. *

Amnesty International counts 58 prisoners of conscience in Cuba—that’s 58 too many. But can we really say that none of the 2 million prisoners in America are political prisoners? Why for instance are African-Americans so overrepresented in prisons? We may not jail people for the crime of speaking out but we certainly do for the crime of ‘acting out.’

As for Cuba, can you discount the longest and most onerous embargo in history against this little island nation as a factor in their political repression? Finally, even Cuba’s critics admit that their government has popular support—probably greater than the current and previous American administrations. The story of Cuba’s peak oil response was not one which was simply dictated from the top down but was as in much the Cubans have done a matter of pride and pulling together.

*Incarceration figures published by the Home Office, U.K. 2009.

ariel55 said...

Dear JMG,

Thanks for the post, as always! It's great to me to know that someone is still thinking "out there". And, I appreciated "mageprof" sharing the insights of his Dad. I hang on to the hope that like-minded people will gather together.

John Michael Greer said...

Bilbo, my guess is civil war. Still, we'll see. As for book burning, I doubt that will get much beyond editing the internet -- though it will probably get that far. Still, having your own library in the basement is probably going to be a very good thing.

Kurt, thanks for the link.

Patz, the Cuban dictatorship has a lot of support among its people, no question; most successful dictatorships do. Nor does it justify Cuba's one-party state to point out that there are abuses in the US, as of course there are. It's exactly this willingness to find excuses for dictatorship that makes me worry about a potential fascism of the left.

Ariel, thank you.

Dave Wahler said...

Thanks for another great post. This may not be the best venue for submitting a request, but here goes:

I would love to read your opinions about the future of public educational systems. I am currently studying for my secondary teaching license (with a mathematics endorsement) in La Grande, Oregon. From your earlier writings, I know that you share a teacher's concern for preserving the lessons of the past and passing them along to future generations. So, if we begin from the assumption that the global industrial economy will break apart, how do you think local schools will adapt to these changes? What trends should we watch for? And what advice would you give to a teacher preparing to pursue his or her calling in this brave new climate?

Naturally I will not expect you to publish this comment, as it does not directly relate to your latest post. But I thank you in advance for your consideration.

Patz said...

I am a U.S./Canadian dual citizen and I've lived for many years under both systems. I can tell you beyond doubt it would be very, very hard to replace the American system with a worse one. But it looks like Congress is trying to--forcing people to buy coverage from the same people who brought you the present calamity.

A few facts:
-Canada has as high or higher standard of care as the best in the U.S. (Canadian health outcomes outperform U.S. ones).
-Canadians chose their own doctors, most Americans with coverage have to pick from a list.
-Nobody in Canada has ever gone bankrupt from medical bills since the current medical care system was implemented.
-Canadians are never denied coverage for any reason, least of all "pre-existing conditions."
-the Canadian system is federal provincial partnership and is "single-payer," (something 80% + Americans have expressed a preference for).

Nelson said...

Mageprof, JMG, you neglect to mention that the fascists were welcomed as a counterbalance to communism and the worker's movements. Some of the most vocal and unabashed supporters of the Nazis were great American industrialists like Henry Ford.

Jan Suzukawa said...

Thank you for pointing out the elitism of some on the American left (i.e., Korten's book). I am tired of how so many liberal democrats seem to think they are unquestionably right and on the side of the angels, and everyone else is simply "uneducated" as to the "truth" (as they see it).

But I must say, I really don't see American democracy collapsing into an autocracy anytime soon. We'd be too suspicious of any potential leader who was that "charismatic," who tried to snow us under with persona and pretty words alone. Americans are too belligerent and cussed to be taken in by that kind of thing, at least for very long. And our Second Amendment guarantees that at least some of us would have a pretty hardcore answer for that midnight knock at the door. ;)

Sam Norton said...

The BNP are also the most explicitly up-to-speed on Peak Oil. You might find this post relevant for background on why the BNP are gaining support: http://revjph.blogspot.com/2009/10/socialist-elephant.html

Jason said...

I'm thrilled you think there'll still be dental records 'decades from now'. :)

To some extent this habit of flinging around extreme claims is simply the normal rhetorical extravagance of those who know they will not be held accountable for their words.

There's so much of this 'we all know' glibness now.

Yes, as you say, it's unfolding here in the uk. There has been great public repugnance amongst the military at the way the local thugs, who are very au fait with all things peak, use emblems of British military greatness (Churchill and the Spitfire seemingly) to brand their hate-filled power-grabbing as patriotic. I hope this is making some people think.

Tonight they are getting big exposure on national tv.

Now we will have to see how far this goes. Get caught up in the fingerpointing and the easy answers, and you flush your truth down the toilet.

Thanks to Mageprof.

tierramor.org said...

Hello-

saludos de Mexico-
for the first time commenting at this blog (but not for the first time reading it) just to let you know, that your insightful articles (and books) are also read south of rio bravo, where energy descent realities are already quite visible, as well as many of the (economical, political and social) consequences you describe.
For everyone interested in modeling Post Peak realities - keep an eye on Mexico !
HH

Twilight said...

Both parties presently represent the same wealthy groups, using marketing and propaganda to try to keep the masses distracted and passive, but this will not be stable long term. The combination of ignorance and anger is a powerful force that someone will want to use to create and new power base - probably in the manner you describe. As this present sucker's rally turns around within the next year or so and the people's anger builds, the stage will be set. Then it's just chance as to exactly what emerges and when, but whatever it is will probably be temporary anyway. It would be best to try not to get caught up in it - let them fly their flags and focus on making changes in our own lives.

rudolfc said...

Bravo! This should be posted on the wall (and seared into the cerebral cortex) of every social critic. My father survived the concentration camps of the Third Reich and ran for his life from the Communists after the Czech putsch; in one of his more philosophical moments he speculated that an ineffective and inefficient government might just be the best we could hope for.

Archmage said...

The kind of person you are describing has already come to Argentina in 2003. I don't know how much news do you get from my country, but at this moment we are living in the changing phase from subtlety to in-your-face corruption and tyranny.

His "party" lost the legislative elections of this year (even on the two states where they were most strong), but instead of accepting the mandate of the people he/she (because the president is his wife but he still pulls the strings behind the "throne") became more aggresive, they were able just a couple weeks ago to get a law approved by the congress that basicaly gives them the power to crush any dissenting opinion and now they are pushing for another law that would enable them the chance to win the next presidential elections by political fiat even when they have more than 70% of negative image.

And just last week their own equivalent to the brown shirts have prevented the president of the other big party from delivering a speech in a private meeting and another group (which they are theoreticaly from the "left") prevented the USA embassador in Argentina (who is also inclined to the left and hispanic in origin, but commited the "sin of being American") to do the same thing (and those in the governing party are those who in the 70ies were part of the extreme left that Peron created inside his party to attract the masses). So I can offer Argentina as the perfect place to see a possible tirany on the rise.

mageprof: I was aware of some part of that history, but it's the first time I've been able to read an insider story.

Bryan: your view on politics as a bracelet (I equaled it more to a ring) is was I've been thinking for a long time and that's why I digested myself from any sense of belonging to either side, it's too bad that most people are unable to understand it and see both sides as completely different when they aren't.

Weaseldog said...

Discussions of ism's tend to lead to confusion, as each person in a conversation on them, tends to have their own thoughts shouting louder than what is spoken by others.

As I started reading your article, I had to shut out my own thoughts, to understand what you meant to say.

And I agree with you, if I agree with you that fascism is not what Mussolini said it is.

He coined the term to describe a state, owned by corporations. In this view, you don't need a dictator. You don't need executions in the streets. What you need is a population that can be manipulated and controlled by the state. The public rapes, shootings, tortures, etc... are tools of state control. Other tools of state control are managed primaries, advertising, radio and television commentary, manipulated scripts in movies, etc...

I think that you're defining the form, by the tools used to shape it.

You used the words totalitarianism and dictatorships. I think those words are a good choice for what you were describing. But these are not necessarily hallmarks of fascism, though they are not contradictory.

You can have a fascist government with a limited democracy. For instance. you can also have a dictatorship, with continued elections for puppets in congress, mayor and local dog catchers.

You can also have elections, where you choose which banking concubines will make the most charismatic president. This would be kindler gentler form of fascism. You'd have elections, but all of your candidates would come from the private banking cartel party. I would label this a fascist democracy.

Governments and systems are not binary. They aren't hard coded to be just one thing. You can have a mix of them. And just because people aren't being executed in the streets, doesn't mean that our media and government aren't shaping public opinion as a means to control the masses.

In countries where there are public executions, the public tends to take to the streets to protest government excesses. Here in the US we are well managed by television programming. If Americans began overturning the cars of congressmen, and burning tires up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, then the government would begin responding with violence.

After all, what's the harm in us preacefully protesting and writing letters? That doesn't worry our politicians, so none need to panic and order crackdowns.

Blindweb said...

I wish I could find a certain quote; it was something like this: 'A majority of Olympic athletes would trade several years off their life in order to win a metal'. The callers to the sports talk show where this quote was stated were incredulous, even though the olympic athletes are not that far from the average callers cultural thinking. People of the world have wildly different ways of thinking, and wildly different ideas on what results in a high quality life. It's impossible to make a fair system. The best one can do is to maximize people's freedom, access to information/education, and ability to participate in the system. The more I learn the more respect I gain for the U.S. founders.

I have no health insurance, by choice. To me the risk is worth it. I'm glad I have that choice. Although, I might be willing to give up that choice for a plan that was really for the benefit of the poor folk who can't afford it. I think most Americans are fairly charitable and are willing to compromise if they would just see some integrity out there.

Showing the gap between reality and the system of politics itself, Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul are considered extreme left and extreme right. Yet, I suspect if people were educated on the issues they would represent mainstream American. Of course with a declining country so declines education, which tends to support a move towards autocracy. We can always hope for a modern Marcus Aurelius :)

abner23 said...

Every week I read your post and every week it depresses me further.

Then, the next week, I come back for more. I wish you didn't write so well and I didn't agree with so much of what you say...

team10tim said...

JMG, I think I might have a possible solution.

Create a centrist political party with a platform consisting of two parts. One small group of goals that are broadly supported, but not politically viable, like campaign finance reform, financial reform, and a build out of mass transit. Everything else gets decided by polling the electorate in depth. By depth I mean that when a random selection of the electorate gets tapped to decide an issue, or a bill, they are notified and sent all of the relevant material, statistics, GAO reports, lists of experts, etc. Then they are given some time to reach a decision and report back.

The reasons I like this idea:

No spoiler effect, the party would in theory take votes equally from the two main parties. It is a third party that could conceivably compete in our two party system.

Perceived fairness, it eliminates excessive control by special interests and guarantees that representatives are in fact representative. It would also significantly reduce structural corruption in congress by taking the decision out of the congressman's hands.

Incentivises quality over partisanship, some percentage of the random sample will of course automatically default to their partisan or ideological position on any given issue. But, the all important moderate, undecided, swing voters will have a strong incentive to research the issue and produce a high quality decision because their decision has such great weight. For example: A random group of 1,000 people is selected, 20% automatically go with the democrat's position and 20% with the republican's. That leaves 600 people to decide how a vote in congress will be cast. That is a very strong incentive to look at it from multiple perspectives, call college professors, read up on the literature, see how it works in other nations, etc.

Problems with the idea:

Cost, it will doubtless be expensive to perform the polling.

Nonstarter, the idea might not have any traction. It might never get off the ground and thus no one would ever be elected to try it.

Lack of trust, people may not believe that their peers can make good decisions when given a chance. Of course that implies that the whole idea of democracy and trial by jury are also bunk.

What do you think? Does the idea have any merit? Is it conceptually sound? Will it work in practice?

Thanks,
Tim

Coy Ote said...

JMG - "Bilbo, my guess is civil war."

Great post btw!

One of the things that has puzzled me is this: although the increasing complexity of our problems in the economy, huge debt, peak resources, etc. seem to be taking us on a collision course with reality, how would a civil war materialize? Who would the combatants be? There are few coherent large entities in juxtaposition with other large entities! Everything is just such a mishmash of complication.

Your view?

LonerPhrique said...

"Would you vote for him? Millions of Germans did; replace the Distinguished Service Cross with the Iron Cross and Arabs with Jews, and the parallel should be self-explanatory."

I hope you rewrite this section to reflect the fact that Hitler was not elected.

This is a a common misconception.

One which is important to correct.

Hindenburg was elected president (Hitler never won more than 37% of the vote).

Hitler was subsequently appointed chancellor.

Things went progressively downhill from there.

See: How Hitler Became a Dictator (*)

--

(*) Understand I do not endorse the The Future of Freedom Foundation in any way, shape or form. In fact, I detest FFF but How Hitler Became a Dictator is a pungent piece which speaks to the matter at hand.

Raymond said...

America is not an active fascist or totalitarian state, at the moment. There is no great need as of yet for the pathocrats who rule us to implement Stasti or "Moral" police. The current System works quite fine at stifling or redirecting alternatives to debt-slavery.

Isis said...

JMG,

I'd be curious to know your thoughts on what might be the best *realistic* outcome for the US. You said (and I tend to agree) that "the collapse of American democracy, or what is left of it, into one or another form of autocracy may be a foregone conclusion at this point." The present system is too complex, too costly, and too dysfunctional to be maintained for too much longer. (The fact that whatever system replaces the present one is unlikely to represent an improvement is beside the point: unstable towers collapse because they're unstable, not because collapsed towers are prettier than shaky ones.) But even so, preventing the most egregious abuses would still be worthwhile. Even if autocracy is inevitable at this point, an American Auschwitz is presumably not.

So basically, I'd be curious to know your thoughts on mitigating the inevitable. Perhaps Dmitry Orlov was right to suggest that the best possible course of action is to diligently ignore the politicians and mind one's own business. After all, you don't get a Hitler without enthusiastic popular support.

The Lorax said...

Mr. Greer, thank you for another interesting and thought provoking essay. Your logic, based on the indisputable patterns of history, certainly is difficult to refute.
I can’t help but wonder, though… simply because the bloody banshees of history continually howl in our ears that democracy cannot grow stronger or even survive in the face of increasing political corruption and severe economic declines, does this necessarily mean that we should accept their prophecies without trying to alter the outcome?
There are certain realities we must accept – the laws of nature dictate that resource depletion and environmental degradation will drastically change the way our economies work and greatly reduce material standard of living. However, it requires acceptance of the philosophy that human behavioral patterns are as rigidly predictable as Newtonian physics to believe that “F = ma” (where a = accelerating corruption, perceived scarcity, and inequality, m= masses of disgruntled citizens, and F = Fascist dictatorship.) I’m not quite ready to subscribe completely to that belief.
I suppose one either believes deep in their essence that a future of justice and democracy is a realistic goal or accepts that they are swept up in an unstoppable tide of fate, and the best thing to do is enjoy the beauty of every day as it is.
Or, one is hopelessly capricious like me, and fluctuates between the two ideas on an hourly basis.

P.S. I was interested to hear that you’ve recently moved to Cumberland. I was born and reside in Fayette County, PA – just up the National Pike (Route 40). If I may make a suggestion (not to sound like too much like a brochure) – it is worth taking the short trip up Route 40 to visit Ohiophyle State Park. There are beautiful waterfalls and the views of the fall foliage in the Appalachians are fantastic this time of year.

John Michael Greer said...

Dave, it's relevant, but deserves a post of its own. I'm sorry to say I will be the bearer of bad news. Stay tuned for more details.

Patz, it would indeed be hard to invent a health care system worse than the one we have in the US right now. Still, Congress seems determined to give it the old college try, and I'm confident that if anybody can do it, they can.

Nelson, one of the things that made the fascists so popular is that they seemed to offer so much to so many people. Rich industrialists supported them; so did a vast number of working class people who felt they were the best hope for constructive change.

Jan, I don't expect all Americans to line up under the same banner. That's just it -- the cussedness and arsenals you mention are what makes the current situation so potentially deadly.

Sam, yes, I've been watching the BNP closely for quite a while. It disturbs me that so many people in Britain insist that they're no threat.

Jason, exactly.

HH, thanks for your comment! I think it was one of Mexico's presidents who said, "Pity poor Mexico -- so far from God, so close to the United States." That may be even more true than usual for a while.

Twilight, the two parties draw their support from slightly different wealthy groups, actually -- other than that, no argument. Staying out of the way of the banners is likely to be a crucial survival skill in the years to come.

Rudolf, thank you. If that government is best that governs least, as Franklin thought, then inefficiency may indeed be a crucial political virtue.

Archmage, I'd heard about that. Quite a few democracies are seeing the same sort of thing happening at one stage or another.

Weaseldog, you need to revisit the history of fascism. Mussolini's "corporate state" was not owned by corporations -- "corporate" means "in a body," literally, and the point of the term was that the entire state was organized as a single body. Business corporations under Mussolini were "coordinated" by the Fascist Party, which meant that all their decisions were subject to Party review, and they basically did what they were told.

Mussolini's regime, like the other fascist states that copied him, was in part a response to the unbridled capitalism that came close to wrecking the industrial world in the first part of the 20th century. Fascism borrowed from Marxism the idea of political control over the economy, while rejecting the abolition of private property. The Roosevelt administration here in the US was another imitator of Mussolini's, though Roosevelt had the grace to preserve much of the old machinery of constitutional government while covering it over with multiple layers of "coordinating" bureaucracy. He also managed to get along without brownshirts.

Blindweb, thank you. Your comment about the best we can do is exactly what I've been trying to get across here.

Abner, the best cure for depression is constructive work. If you're not already learning a skill relevant to the deindustrial world, may I suggest that as an option?

Tim, is this something you yourself are willing to try to make happen? If so, that's one thing. If not, find something that you yourself are willing to do.

Coy, I foresee civil war, if we get it, as a consequence of the loss of legitimacy of existing political parties and structures. It's precisely because nothing is ready to fill the void that the rise of contending power centers and their explosive collision seems likely to me.

Phrique, I didn't say that Hitler was elected. I said that millions of Germans voted for him, which is quite true.

Raymond, "pathocrats"? I don't find this sort of sloganeering a useful tool for clear thought.

Publius said...

JMG:
Concise and well argued essay.
I would like to agree with and add to Weaseldog's argument.
Unfortunately, I can't remember the political scientist (still alive at an advanced age) who wrote a book recently about how complete and insidious the control of democracy by corporate interests has become.

I tend to take Mussolini's definition of fascism at face value. When I do that, I see the USA as being almost all the way there. The level of influence and control of the state's institutions by corporations is immense, but far "softer" and more hidden than it was in fascist Italy or Nazi Germany.

Germany and the USSR went a step further than fascism with totalitarianism. In such a system, everything, even the corporations, are subject to the state, and the goals of the state are ever changing, except for the emphasis on chaos, crisis, and violence. In a totalitarian state, no institution remains to protect the individual. Italy never reached that state. In fact, they didn't even give up their resident Jews to the Nazis, even under direct orders. The Catholic Church was allowed to function as it had. The Nazis would never have allowed such independence. Hannah Arendt is probably the best author to go to on this subject.

I would say, based on the use of illegal and frightening crowd control weaponry against innocent people in Pittsburgh during the G20 protests, that our government is at the very least preparing for the possibility of moving from soft control to hard control. Then the inner reality of our political situation will become evident. I
I hope not. Well, I hope that people wake up while they are still allowed to protest and exercise free speech.

John Michael Greer said...

Isis, neither you nor I nor anyone reading this list is in a position either to cause or to mitigate a worst case scenario. History consists of the unintended and unpredictable consequences of human decisions. That being said, a studied disinterest in grand causes and glorious crusades is probably a good idea just now.

Lorax, I think there's much to be said for trying to preserve democracy. Just be sure you don't wreck it in the process by trying to force it to achieve a perfection no human institution can manage. Thanks for the travel tip!

Publius, you might want to reread the bit in my post where I talk about the wild claims being made concerning the extent, centralization, and evil intentions of economic influence over politics. I was talking about the sort of extreme accusations you've made here.

Ricardo Rolo said...

Well, I have to agree in most parts of the text... but there was one that made me cringe, as someone that lives in the country that was governed by that person: the fact that you associated Salazar with the description you put above. Salazar was neither young or charismatic ( believe me, he was as charismatic as any Economics teacher of any Uni ), was not a war hero or leader of a party (until after he grasped power ), never won a election( he came to power as Minister of Finances and got a way of getting that his office controlled all the cash flows of the government ) and had no public issues with any minority. In fact the only thing in your description that would fit was that he joined a lot of people that was discontent with the 1ª Republica( that , to be honest, in 16 years had 45 governments and was holed with corruption ... ) ... Just a reminder to all the Americans that fear/expect a military hero imposing a dictatorship: dictators can come from the Ivy league as well and grasp power in a shadowy way ( for a example neither Mussolini or Salazar were the highest power de jure in their country ).

Back to the main point: even in a country as mine, that had a recent dictatorship and where more than half of the people lived atleast their childhood there , everytime that the "economy" has a crisis I can hear people on the streets saying that atleast in Salazar's time there was ______ ( insert food, jobs, police, respect by the elders, security or some other thing ). And to say the truth I have already heard in here the exact same comment your Navy veteran said ( except the part that they lived well ... it is not uncommon to hear stories of a sardine divided by seven brothers in a meal from people that are today in the retirement age ). Said this, I pretty much expect some kind of dictatorship reemerging as soon as the memories of the old Lady ( the code name for the Salazar regime given by it's opositors ) fade, even if it is one with a face of democracy, where there are elections, but where the elections change little or nothing ( Salazar party never lost a election, neither his hand-man candidates to be the President... of course there was only a party that had full freedom to do campaign and that in some more tight elections even dead people voted ) and I don't think that any country of what people like to call "Western Civilization" will be immune to more or less pervasive attempts of power seizure by groups of people that think that some are more equal than others and that will be willing to use a no gloves approach. And probably the United states, with it's oversized military with a lot of esprit de corps and experience in occupying foreign lands with brutality ( see how Franco got to power ... ), intellectuals detached from the popular lines of thought ( like Robespierre was ... makes it easier to feel superior to those small people that never read Voltaire ) , dependence in energy from foreign fonts controlled/ threatened by hostile powers ( a thing that sooner or later will make the price of transporting bulk goods inside the United States ( just not to mention in/out of the country ) prohibitive, just because the size of the country and it's continentality ), the option that was made to deindustrialize and live from others works, and the complete lack of knowledge of what a dictatorship in the United States really looks like ( meaning that most of the people will not see it coming until it is too late to do anything and that most of people will not think that is really THAT bad after all until them or someone they cherish happen to be on the way of those who know better ) makes a very good candidate to go the way of a more or less covert, more or less benign tyrannical government ... and will probably be , to use the words of a character of a well known movie series , under a thunder of applauses that the remains of the Democratic ( not as in the homonymous party ) government will fall in the United States ( if there will be any united states at all in those days ... )

mageprof said...

Nelson, I was just re-telling what my father told me, and he didn’t emphasize the valid point that you raise. If you had asked him, he would have said that your point was one factor, but not the most important one.

What I wanted to stress by telling that story was just how broadly based the pro-German sentiment was at the time among the sorts of Americans whom he knew, and how very natural it might have been – had the attack on Pearl Harbor not taken place – for the United States to have entered WW2 on the side of Germany . . . with nightmarish results for the world, of course. We “dodged the bullet” of Naziism, he thought, more by chance and sheer luck than by our own virtue, wisdom or moral judgement. This is an important lesson (IMHO) for all of us who read the Archdruid Report.

He did know about the views of Henry Ford and his ilk, but he did not think their efforts were the principal cause of wide-spread pro-German sentiment in the US. It didn’t seem to him to be a matter of right-wing versus left-wing politics at all. There were about as many pro-German Americans, it seemed to him, on the left wing as on the right. It was the pro-English Americans who seemed to him to lean predominantly toward the right wing. (Think, for example, of the odd-ball Anglo-Israelite movement, which was wide-spread in the 1920s and 1930s, and which did receive considerable support from Henry Ford. It was not only anti-Semitic but also anti-German.)

Rather, before WW2 most Americans recognized the genuine achievements of Germany in science, technology and scholarship. For engineers like my father, German machine tools were the most precise and well-crafted tools available anywhere in the world. Also, German universities were thought to be the best that the world had to offer, setting standards of rigor and depth to which wecould only aspire on our side of the Atlantic. (Indeed, our entire system of graduate education was modeled on German examples, not English or French ones.) As he saw it, it was our wide-spread recognition and admiration of real German excellence in academics and technology that made so many Americans favor Germany over England in the years before Pearl Harbor.

E said...

Hi John,

I’m a longtime reader of your column who finds your insights on energy and economics exceptionally valuable, so I hope you don’t consider it heckling that my first comment takes a somewhat critical tone.

I'm not clear on exactly what it is you are advocating that might help protect us against what you are calling 'fascism'. On one hand you seem to be contrasting it with democracy as some sort of dichotomy, as if democracy is a tonic or repellent to 'fascism'. I'm not sure whether you believe that but if so it might be time to brush up on Plato or 2000 years of human history since his death for that matter. Checks and balances? Sure, any governing body must have a defined function and inherent to that are certain limitations, but history has shown bureaucracy, abstraction, ideology and the letter of law to be poor substitutes for nobility of character. No "system" of government remains good in the hands of evil men, and likewise people are not equally vulnerable to corruption. It is not power that is the enemy but power in the wrong hands / power without consequences. Perhaps vigilance? Knowledge of history? History is mostly a partisan narrative used for political control. Very few look at it critically. And what does the BNP even have to do with this anyway??? In the end there is only a token difference between their ideology and that of the status quo, speaking of course about the immigrantion issue. What makes you so sure that they would turn their country into an Orwellian nightmare and the mainstream parties will not?

Sxxxxxx said...

IF our grandkids don't have what we have, perhaps at least part of such denoument will be attributed to some retro-myth--like: we had too much; we were too greedy; we always wanted more.

The econo-techno-politico-(military)-cultural system greased the skids pretty well. Ahhh, yes--credit! And the leverage!: balance sheet type, trading-on-margin type, first car, first home, first vacation home types...

I wonder how many peeps reading & writing on this site leased a new (luxury?) vehicle thru a "professional corp." because, you know, with the taxes and all, it just "made sense".

How 'bout those tax shelters!

Now that the pendulum swings back and the system needs to be purged of its excesses and waste--for our grandchildren--NOBODY wants to book the losses.

Ben & Tim: "If we 'reflate' the economy, we can 'save' the system."

Nancy: We HAVE to do SOMEthing!"

Disney's Beagle Boys: "These companies are too BIG to fail."

The Joker to The Thief: "There must be some way outa here..."

JP Sartre: "No Exit"

Weaseldog said...

JMG, yes, I'm aware that under Mussolini, the state owned industries and controlled them. That's the official story.

If you'll indulge me, I have questions though.

What was Mussolini's relationship with the banks? J.P. Morgan backed his dictatorship. Did Mussolini nationalize their banks?

Did any banks in Italy receive special treatment, or see their competition destroyed by Mussolini's government?

Hasn't our own government taken some control of the automotive industry? Is this at all similar to the path that Italy took?

Is their an online reference to Benito's cabinet members that you can point me to, that describes their backgrounds? I'm curious as to what business interests that they may have been involved in.

Would it be your argument that Benito's government operated above the scope of business and finance, and ruled over them? Or would you argue that he had business interests that he served and used his government in their favor?

Would the US Government then differ because bankers are taking over the top positions in the government as politicians, instead of politicians taking over the banks?

Your arguments about lack of corruption in the government leave me wondering exactly what you're trying to express. We're seeing a steady stream of top banking executives flow into the top levels of our government. The latest being a Goldman Sachs Veteran being appointed to the SEC to be a watchdog for Goldman Sachs.

Obama has appointed a pack of wolves to guard the henhouse, and as we watch wolves rip the chickens to shreds, we're being told that there's no foul play... It's a bit like watching a bank robbery and having the cops tell you that they are simply making a withdrawal.

Now granted, the Obama dream team has tacitly legalized much of the behavior of GS and others, that used to be criminal, but that doesn't mean it isn't a symptom of corruption. If you make it legal for some entities to steal, it's still wrong. And so Goldman Sachs flash trades, are still front running, and though sanctioned by Turbo Timmy, they are still wrong, and it's technically, still a crime.

What I'm seeing is that the operatives of a few banks are taking over the Federal Government and using government resources to enrich themselves and destroy their competitors. And they are hiding by nationalism as they do so. Arguing that they need to enrich themselves to save the country.

I see similarities between what we are an what we are becoming, to the tenets of a less brutal form of fascism. I think you see a few differences and thus argue that there is a wide gulf between the two. Do I understand the way you see this?

"Comrades!" he cried. "You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well-being of a pig. We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organization of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples." - Squealer (Animal Farm)

“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power” - Benito Mussolini

Weaseldog said...

JMG Said, "Publius, you might want to reread the bit in my post where I talk about the wild claims being made concerning the extent, centralization, and evil intentions of economic influence over politics. I was talking about the sort of extreme accusations you've made here."

I see businessmen acting in their own self interest. Their self interest being aligned with the self interest of the corporations they represent.

I don't know that Publius accusations are that wild. I can think of a list of supporting stories that support what he's saying. I don't know that's within the scope of this blog post though. On Automatic Earth, Illargi and Stoneleigh have compiled a copious list of referenced articles, detailing what seem to be endless crimes and interference of the banking cartels and the US government.

Most of these crimes are well documented in the much maligned MSM, they just appear on page 12 instead of page 1. Check out the Wall Street Journal for instance.

John D said...

Currently the term fascism is used to describe the totalitarian cruelty of the Nazis. More traditionaly, the word refered to Corporatism where the state and the corporation are synonymous.

In 1944, the sitting Vice President of the U.S., Henry Wallace, wrote an article: "The Danger of American Fascism".

The article is easily found on the web and is a good read. Unfortunately, many of his predictions have come to pass.

Thardiust said...

Responding to Wild Gypsy's comment, I'd say that modern technology we call, "the internet," is still young and, for now isn't as strictly controlled or regulated by modern currency like TV and Radio media are. Though what worries me is, when you think long enough, it's much easier to change text or manipulate a whole language through computers than by changing what's already scralled and safely stored away in book pages or lined paper. This fact alone could evntually turn the now benevolent internet againgst its users in the not too distant future. If you want proof of this go to Youtube, Myspace, Facebook, or Twitter and read the spelling errors in the comments. Further proof of language manipulation and degredation can be seen when someone texts on their cellphone. Luckily for us though, I can't look into the futre to see wether webchat languate will harm humanity as a whole or not.

Half Empty said...

Is there a danger of getting into "generals always fighting the last war" syndrome here?

Likening the current state of government in the US to old-style jackboot fascism certainly counts as extreme, particularly if those making the accusation believe that heavy-handed police tacticts on the streets of Pittsburgh or London are comparable to the violent state-sponsored suppression of dissent that took (and takes) place under real totalitarian regimes.

And one cannot call the style of government currently practised in the US and UK "soft fascism" without depriving the word fascism of its meaning, since fascism is, by definition, not soft in the slightest, particularly in its policy of suppressing all expressions of dissent by individuals or groups.

At the same time, the US and, much more, the UK are less "free" societies than they were 25 years ago. This erosion of liberty seems to me to be facilitated (I don't say driven) by the large degree of overlap between political, corporate and media interests. Added together, this overlap sustains what Joe Bageant likes to call 'the hologram' - a simulacrum of actual society that is powerful and convincing enough for many people to accept as real, even though their own experience falls short of the projected image of normality, no matter how much debt they take on.

Maybe we need an entirely new word for this non-dictatorial version of societal management, which operates not by crushing individualism under booted heels but by ensuring a ready supply of cream with which people may be tempted to smother themselves.

Of course, that cream is now thinning as the cheap abundant energy from which it draws its richness starts to ebb away.

My dad (who, ironically, helped to fight fascism in the 1940s by digging coal to power Britain's war effort, as a 'Bevin boy') used to say that there are more ways to kill a cat than choking it with cream. However, the cream method does keep the cat purring and is less likely to attract the attention of the neighbours.

Finally, if anyone wants an eye witness account of life in Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s, I recommend Howard K Smith's Last Train from Berlin.

Thai Up said...

I have been a devoted follower of yours JMG ever since Adam's story. Since then I tune in every week, and have even researched the Druid Order, unfortunately I didn't find one in Thailand. If all druids are like you, then these are people I want to associate with. You generally adopt a perspective that demonstrates so much wisdom that I stand in awe of your knowledge.

This week is the first time in nearly 2 years where I find myself not quite understanding. It appears you are using the word dictator as a "snarl" word and unfairly associating that with totalitarianism. While extremely rare, there are historical examples of benevolent dictators. I am an American expat living in Thailand 10 years, so my view is slanted towards Asia.

I would classify Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore as fitting this description. He has nearly unlimited power in the island state, but uses it to enhance the rule of law, where all people are treated equally. Many people consider FDR's in the US to be similar to that of a benevolent dictator. There aren't many examples, but they do exist.

My point is, there are possibly better options than the current US government. Living in Thailand, I have been bombarded with corrupt politicians trying to say that they represent true democracy for the last 3 years since the coup ousted the supposedly democratic Thaksin regime. I would argue the Thai military actually acted as benevolent dictator during this period. What I have learned is that democracy is overrated. Freedom of speech and assembly isn't the most important thing. People evolve many mechanisms of communication to convey their meaning that doesn't require either of these.

There is also the opposite extreme such as present day Myanmar, but that is due the person more than the form of government. Cambodia is supposedly a democracy in name but is only tolerated because their recent history was so much worse. I have come to the conclusion that democracy is popular today because power hungry politicians have learned it is much less risky to manipulate a group of people than it is to rely individuals who might suddenly develop contrary opinions.

So while I appreciate that the odds are a dictator will not live up to expectations, I do not think it is an impossible dream to think they might, and I would not encourage anyone to eschew following that direction simply out of fear of getting another Napolean. In fact, I think the current situation in the US is much worse than you imply. Certainly, the recent examples of torture don't exactly paint a nice picture what the US has become. I think all the US needs is to go to war (a real, bloody war on their own continent), and all the ugliness of Nazi Germany will come bursting out between the shores of North America. From my perspective it is significantly more sick than you realize.

I will still follow you wherever you want to take us on this journey, but I find myself in a surprising state of disagreement with you, however minor it might be.

Publius said...

Dear JMG:
I found it! The compelling book I was trying to think of by the political scientists:

Title: Democracy Incorporated:
Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism
Author: Sheldon S. Wolin (Princeton University)

Winner of a 2008 Lannan Notable Book Award

Blurb (linked):
Democracy is struggling in America--by now this statement is almost cliché. But what if the country is no longer a democracy at all? In Democracy Incorporated, Sheldon Wolin considers the unthinkable: has America unwittingly morphed into a new and strange kind of political hybrid, one where economic and state powers are conjoined and virtually unbridled? Can the nation check its descent into what the author terms "inverted totalitarianism"?

Wolin portrays a country where citizens are politically uninterested and submissive--and where elites are eager to keep them that way. At best the nation has become a "managed democracy" where the public is shepherded, not sovereign. At worst it is a place where corporate power no longer answers to state controls. Wolin makes clear that today's America is in no way morally or politically comparable to totalitarian states like Nazi Germany, yet he warns that unchecked economic power risks verging on total power and has its own unnerving pathologies. Wolin examines the myths and mythmaking that justify today's politics, the quest for an ever-expanding economy, and the perverse attractions of an endless war on terror. He argues passionately that democracy's best hope lies in citizens themselves learning anew to exercise power at the local level.

Democracy Incorporated is one of the most worrying diagnoses of America's political ills to emerge in decades. It is sure to be a lightning rod for political debate for years to come.

Sheldon S. Wolin is professor emeritus of politics at Princeton University. His books include Politics and Vision and Tocqueville between Two Worlds (both Princeton).

Isis said...

Concerning the discussion of Cuba, the New Deal, autocracy and democracy: I can't help wondering whether democracies come with built-in flaws that do not allow them to survive prolonged periods of material stress and contraction (or at least not without some severe curtailment of civil liberties). I'm basically turning the statement that a famine has never occurred in a democracy on its head: it may be that the main reason that there's never been a famine in a democracy is simply that democracies collapse under material stress long before the situation gets so dire as to result in a famine.

Cuba managed to weather its crisis quite well, given the circumstances; had it been a democracy, perhaps Castro would've been booted out of office a la Carter, until the situation got so dire as to lead to civil war. In the world of shrinking pies, societies have to reorganize rapidly, to move resources from non-essentials to essentials in order to maintain a minimum of order. And it looks like autocracies can achieve that a lot faster than democracies can. If I'm right, then in the coming decades, we can expect democracies to be 'selected against' (in the evolutionary sense).

I'd appreciate other people's thoughts. Certainly, I'd welcome historical counterexamples, if anyone can offer them (I have to admit that my grasp of history is spotty at best...).

Theo Tiefwald said...

Greetings Mr Greer:

I am glad you incorporated some of the information regarding Spengler's ideas in to this post. It was me who, commenting in your previous blog post, left those links to the articles about Spengler and his ideas which do indeed seem to be mostly bearing out.

I notice that you recently left the semi-megalopolis of the PacNW for the megalopolis encompassing DC, Baltimore, Philly, NYC, Boston, etc. You seem to live on the periphery of it though there in Cumberland, quite near those expansive forests in WV and elsewhere, which is good.

If you have a copy of Spengler's DECLINE at hand, you ought to open it up and read Chapter XIII again -- that chapter is entitled "Cities and Peoples." A quote from it reads:

"The whole pyramid of cultural man vanishes. It crumbles from the summit, first the world-cities, then the provincial forms and finally the land itself, whose best blood has incontinently poured in to the towns, merely to bolster them up awhile."

I hope you are not one of the people with the "best blood" who has been lured to a megalopolis "merely to bolster [it] up awhile." Time will tell, I suppose. Cumberland does indeed seem well-situated geographically though compared to many others. I offer you a hearty welcome to Dixie, good sir.

Though I've only known of you for a few months now, I am increasingly fascinated by your work and ideas. You remind me a lot of Rasputin, so much so that I now view you in some sense as "America's Rasputin." I am not one given to 'guru-worship' in the least, just stating an opinion. I live down here in the forests of the central Piedmont of the Carolinas, so I am somewhat close to you. Might have to make a trip to speak with you someday.

Yesterday I spend a good solid hour updating your Wikipedia biography article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Michael_Greer -- how do you like the new version and the information I've added to that article? Have I made any mistakes in regards to the newly added info? If so, let me know here and I'll correct them.

I am also wondering: are you an astrologer too? If you confirm that here, I will add that info to the Wiki article as well. As you are, I am very interested in the esoteric, and I am especially smitten with Ebertin's Cosmobiology. Do you know much about it?

Many cheers to you Mr Greer -- thank you very much for all of your work and ideas in the furtherance of humankind's social, intellectual, and spiritual evolution.

+ GODSPEED,
- Theo Tiefwald

John Michael Greer said...

Ricardo, thanks for the clarification -- a useful reminder that there's more than one kind of dictatorship.

Mageprof, this corresponds to what I've read also.

E, democracy is one kind of governmental system; fascism is another; there are many others, but fascist states have tended to emerge out of democracies under certain conditions close to the ones currently in place, so I think it's reasonable to compare the two. Abuses of human rights happen in all political systems, democracy included, but I trust you've noticed that they occur a great deal more often under fascism. If that doesn't trouble you, I suppose there's not much more to be said.

Sxxx, that's not a bad description, you know.

Weaseldog, it's always possible to cherrypick history to make it fit a preconceived narrative, just as it's always possible to demand that someone you disagree with prove their case to a set of ever receding standards. I'm not greatly interested in playing either game, though. I've already discussed at length the fact that business interests have a great deal of undue influence in American government; that's not in question. My point, which you're free to disregard, is that when the unconventional wisdom equates that undue influence with totalitarian control by a unified conspiracy, they're out to lunch. 'Nuf said.

John D, see my earlier comment about the meaning of "corporate state" in Mussolini's thought.

Thardiust, true enough.

Half Empty, why is it so difficult simply to say that democracy is an imperfect system that is liable to a wide range of abuses, and most of today's democracies are demonstrating that fact in detail?

Thai Up, you're certainly welcome to disagree with me, and the viewpoint you've proposed here -- that a dictatorship might actually be a better choice than a really dysfunctional democracy -- will likely become a very popular viewpoint in the years to come. I would rather see democracies get their act together, but of course if Spengler's right, it's too late for that.

Publius, thanks for the link. My comment to Half Empty applies here too -- democracies are inevitably flawed, like every other political system, and in particular I don't know of a democracy at any point in history that wasn't at least partly managed by various unstable coalitions of power centers, which is roughly the situation we have now. It seems extreme to slap labels such as "totalitarianism" on this reality.

Isis, several ancient Greek thinkers argued that democracies always turn into tyrannies, tyrannies always turn into oligarchies, and oligarchies always turn into democracies, as each system solves the problems raised by the earlier system but then produces its own set of problems it can't solve. There's certainly a point to that.

Theo, I've got Spengler's volumes on a shelf six feet away from the computer where I'm typing this, right next to Toynbee's unabridged "A Study of History" and a couple of translations of Vico. Here in Cumberland, we're surprisingly distant from Megalopolis -- it takes nearly three hours on a train to get into the conurbation around Washington DC, and most of the way there is through forest, mountains, and scattered farms. (It's three hours the other way to the next city west, which is Pittsburgh.) I'm not an astrologer, though I have some very good friends who are -- thanks for asking! And thanks for updating the Wikipedia page.

Isis said...

JMG, you said:

"Isis, several ancient Greek thinkers argued that democracies always turn into tyrannies, tyrannies always turn into oligarchies, and oligarchies always turn into democracies, as each system solves the problems raised by the earlier system but then produces its own set of problems it can't solve. There's certainly a point to that."

That's really interesting! Do you remember which Greek thinkers those were? I'd like to read up on it.

Raymond said...

Grrr, the interwheb gremlins are eating up my posts, keep saying I have too many characters. *GrumbleGrumble*

"Sloganeering" if only it were so...

I'm surprised that you haven't come across discussions of Ponerology on the web, it's very active on (admittedly far-out) sites and forums such as Signs of the Times. There are of course, many eccentric topics discussed on these sites, which I have no opinion of one way or another since they are mostly based on "soft" data.

However, the nascent science of Ponerology is firmly grounded in observable situations and analysis
taken from the last 100+ years; with a lot of new insights collected within the last 30 years thanks to Dr. Hare.

The works of Andrzej M. Lobaczewski, Dr. Robert Hare, Dr. Martha Stout, Dr. Paul Babiak, Dr. James Blair among others are an invaluable resource in understanding the manifestations of psychopathy and why this disease qualifies as one of, if not _the_ primary causes of human suffering.

I would also suggest watching the movie Gaslight. Very interesting and quite close to what psychopaths do to normal people all the time, in various ways.

Utilizing this research helps normal people spot pathological deviants within their own institutions and personal lives. It can give you tools to "nip in the bud" various forms of ponerogenesis. That would be absolutely vital for communities that survive the coming Peak Fossil Fuel Epoch.

Be warned, these books offer privacy-altered case files that are not for the faint of heart. The most terrifying cases do not involve death, but truly horrific manipulations of normal human emotions and reasoning to further a pathological's agenda.

Another thing, I'm surprised you would state that agent provocateurs
are wild speculation when The Guardian and an on-going investigation into the UK G20 protests indicate otherwise. Not only that, but Quebec actually admitted that three undercover officers were dressed as "Anarchists" during the SPP riots.
These officers were caught out causing damage to property. What other reason for this than to incite police crackdowns?

Simply Google

:Agent Provocateur SPP

:Agent Provocateur G20

Sorry to disappoint you, but you are engaging in "wishful" thinking
by calling these incidents "wild speculation"

Happens to the best of us ;-)

To get back to my original reason for writing this long-winded post.
The people of this blog seem sincere about wanting to build sustainable communities for the long haul. These resources are simply yet another tool to be used for that most important of human endeavors, figuring out who is trustworthy and who isn't. Like all other knowledge resources, it's not a panacea, it's not a "guarantee", (what is in life?) however, it could mean the difference between life and death for your family and friends. It can help you figure out when to "Get the Heck outta Dodge" or stay and fight.

Hopefully this (revised) post isn't too long

Theo Tiefwald said...

Mr Greer:

Thank you for the rapid response, and again: a hearty welcome to the American Southland to you and your wife! Can we soon expect two or more new 'little Greers' in this world? Let us hope; this planet could certainly use more than a few people like you and your wife.

A few other more personal questions for you if you don't mind me asking (if you do not want to reveal so much info about yourself in public, then perchance I can email you and ask them?]:

+ 1 - You were born in 1962 -- but on what day? It didn't happen to be in early February 1962 during that massive stellium in Aquarius, did it?

+ 2: You say that you aren't an astrologer, but then again you have edited and/or written many encyclopedia articles on the subject, and you also you practice Druidry, geomancy, Tarot, and other esoteric practices which very often incorporates a lot of astrological wisdom; therefore you must at least be VERY familiar with astrology in general, right?

+ 3 - do you mind revealing your general European ethnic background to us? Are you mostly of Anglo-Saxon/Anglo-Celtic descent (English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, etc), or German/Teutonic, or Jewish, or Slavic, etc?

Someone really ought to write a biography and/or a Master's thesis on you and your work -- a big 'hint-hint' to the readers here. Or, alternatively, when can we expect the first installment of your autobiography?

---

In addition to reading Chapter XIII from Spengler's DECLINE that I mentioned in my last comment, I also strongly recommend most of the essays from the book I'LL TAKE MY STAND by Twelve Southerners to you, plus the closely related book WHO OWNS AMERICA? [edited by Allen Tate and H. Agar] -- those writers, today mostly known as the 'Southern Agrarians,' were critiquing the rise of mass-industrialism and ecologically-destructive anonymous mass-urbanism back in the 1920s/30s, long before many others. The brilliant introductory essay to the aforementioned book, which is a quick yet dense read with lots of excellent information and opinion, can be read @ http://xroads.virginia.edu/~MA01/White/anthology/agrarian.html -- that essay gets better with every subsequent paragraph...maybe you could do a post on it here someday and thus expose it to a wider audience?

+ GODSPEED,
- Theo Tiefwald

Theo Tiefwald said...

A couple last things:

Another recommended book that everyone reading and commenting here would likely enjoy is Lester Brown's just released PLAN B 4.0: MOBILIZING TO SAVE CIVILIZATION. He has graciously published the entire book for free online with much supplementary material @ http://www.earth-policy.org/index.php?/books/pb4/pb4_table_of_contents

Additionally, I recently came across a great website which contains A LOT of digitized books about small farming, eco-conservation, environmental history, preventing soil erosion, and so forth...numerous topics both intellectual AND practical -- see it @ http://journeytoforever.org/farm_library.html

Hope everyone here finds those links to be of as much use as I have. G'day, and GODSPEED to all.

Weaseldog said...

JMG said, "is that when the unconventional wisdom equates that undue influence with totalitarian control by a unified conspiracy, they're out to lunch. 'Nuf said."

I see where you misunderstand what Plubius and I have argued.

I haven't argued this, and I don't he has either.

Rather it's a conspiracy of self interest with parties working together to under a set of corporate umbrellas to grab all the slices of pie that they can.

Call it a business model. A business model designed at Timothy Geithners regular meetings with bankers, kept secret and implemented in full view.

I'm not trying to play a game of limiting the rules until we agree. I'm trying to understand your point of view. Right now, I can honestly say that what you write, still confuses me.

You argue there is nothing evil going on in the upper levels of government, just a lot of crime and a lot of stealing. I would define crime in this context as evil, in fact traitorous. They are stealing our future and accelerating our economic collapse. A person who wanted to stop the destruction of our economy might define what they are doing as economic warfare.

So at this point, I can't say that I understand what you define as evil. And on that note, I can't say that I understand exactly what you mean when you say there is no evil operating in the upper branches of our government. your argument that follow this point, then become vague for me.

I think that what you're trying to express is that they are destroying our nation of of greed and not out of malice. Much like a man would commit murder from malice, but a tiger would kill a man to eat him. And so the bankers are killing the USA because it is their nature, not because they mean us harm.

Do I understand you?

Weaseldog said...

JMG, I really am just trying to understand your position. I'm not married to the hypothesis that I've put forth. As I said, perhaps we need new words, to make our meanings clearer.

Have you read, "This Perfect Day" by Ira Levin?

If so, how would you classify the society described in the novel?

wylde otse said...

mageprof; vivid, and thought-provoking.

JMG, I just want to celebrate here the election of JOHN RALSTON SAUL to International PEN...

I know, I know, just because he's Canadian I shouldn't make a big deal...because he is a writer first. It's just so unusual that the 'good guys' sometimes come through with their shining light :o) - to light up the whole world. He raises all writers to a place of hope.

wylde otse said...

Jan Suzukawa:

I respect innocence; it always touches my heart, but, don't look behind you :o)

John Michael Greer said...

Isis, Plato and Aristotle both discuss it, but the writer to read first is Polybius, whose theory of anacyclosis is in the sixth book of The Histories.

Raymond, well, let's just say that "ponerology" would be far from my first choice in sorting out which people I choose to trust.

Theo, a couple of the things you've asked about are not things I disclose publicly. Anything sent to info (at) aoda (dot) org will get to me in a day or so. In the meantime, thanks for the links!

Weaseldog, one problem with fixating on evil in high places is that it's usually an attempt to avoid noticing its presence at home. The decay of democracy is a process to which almost everyone contributes enthusiastically; the banker who bilks the government for billions differs only in the size of his bankroll from the ordinary citizen who cheats on his income taxes and votes for the candidates whose platforms will benefit him financially. Both betray the public trust and rot the heart out of the commonwealth; the fact that the ordinary citizen does less damage individually is balanced by the fact that there are so many more of them.

Another problem with fixating on evil in high places is that it leads to delusional predictions that the gloves will come off and those who have been labeled as fascists will start to act the part your narrative has assigned them. Such claims have been doing the rounds for decades, and they've consistently been false. Maybe it's time to recognize that a troubled and corrupt democracy is simply that, not the fascist state in disguise that the unconventional wisdom tries to make it.

Centrally, though, this notion that there's no real difference between what we have and a full-blown fascism is disastrously misguided in a very practical sense. The vast majority of people in America right now have a very wide range of civil rights and freedoms -- not as many as our grandparents had, and certainly not as many as we'd like, but compared to the situation of people in autocratic states, we've got it pretty good.

Of course things could be improved, and they should be, but that's not going to be furthered by feeding a climate of opinion that could very well legitimize a seizure of power by somebody who claims he's going to save us from those evil bankers and corporations, at the cost of what's left of our freedom. I see that as far and away the greatest danger we face right now -- not a fascist takeover by the people you consider evil, but a fascist takeover by those who insist they're fighting that evil.

Otse, I hadn't heard! That's good news.

Danby said...

It’s not the “cornpone Hitler” James Howard Kunstler has predicted that we have to fear, much less the imaginary conspiracies that occupy so much space in today’s alternative discourse, but a suave, articulate, and charismatic figure who harnesses the widespread assumption that anything must be better than what we have today,

I thought for a few days last year that we had found such a one. The fawning hero worship directed at Obama seemed extraordinarily dangerous to me. Then I investigated a bit and found that the man had no definable opinions and never once in his life ever took a political stand that defied the Elite Establishment consensus. Such a man is incapable of becoming a dictator because dictatorship requires a certain amount of decisiveness and willingness to offend. Those are sins of which Obama is immaculate.

Chesterton said that tyranny can almost be defined as the last stage of a corrupt and decadent democracy. While not quite true (Iraq and Albania come to mind), it has this kernel of truth; Democratic systems almost always end in tyranny. The reason is given by Hans Herman Hoppe in his book Democracy, The God That Failed. A democratic system can claim it's legitimacy directly from the people it rules. As such, there is no limit to what it can claim legitimacy for. Even in our own history, we have slavery, genocide, concentration camps, medical experimentation on unwilling subjects, etc, etc. Even today the Congress has authorized government to intercept the communications of American citizens without warrant, and detain people who are known to be innocent of any crime, without trial or Habeas Corpus, at the whim of the president. We even have extended arguments over the definition of torture, so that that might be excused as well.

No, we are not a dictatorship, but we are putting all the pieces in place so that when the full-on economic collapse comes, sometime in the next 3 months to 3 years, our future dictator will have no obstacles in his way.

The word fascist has come to be simply a term of abuse. When one says "Smith is a fascist", one means "I despise Smith."

Coy Ote said...

JMG - "...several ancient Greek thinkers argued that democracies always turn into tyrannies, tyrannies always turn into oligarchies, and oligarchies always turn into democracies, as each system solves the problems raised by the earlier system but then produces its own set of problems it can't solve. There's certainly a point to that."

That perspective seems to me to fit the present rather well
It does not take much imagination to see that we are already well into the oligarchy stage, with the Wall Street/Washington crowd running things as they see fit with little import from the people.

Whether we drift further into tyranny nobody can say, but the possibility--even probability--certainly exists.

I am wondering at this point what effect on this historical triad sequence of events our mass communication will play, especially of the interpersonal type (re: internet, mobilephone, etc.)

jagged ben said...

It has been interesting to me to see that "peak oil awareness" has been a trend that has brought in people from a surprisingly diverse set of political backgrounds. Despite such diversity, it is still rare that within that community there are recriminatory public disputes of a political nature. But this column has certainly provoked one, as evidenced by the fact that I noticed the response from Pat Murphy posted to Energy Bulletin before I actually read this blogpost.

JMG, I'm certainly on your side of these issues, in as much as I wish to choose between sides, which isn't much. I am glad you have placed democracy at the center of the value system here. (Even if Spengler is right, collectively we can defend our existing freedoms for a longer time if we are conscious about doing so.) That said, I think we all still have so much more work to do to educate the unaware about peak oil, and firing arrows at other "peak oilers" distracts from that endeavor. I hope this week's post will prove unusual in this respect. I've admired your blog in no small part because of the lack of that type of discourse.

Mark Stavish said...

Dear JMG,
After reading this week's post I am amazed at the number of people who are apologetic for the sins of Marxism/Communism. I must say jokingly, given the number of dead, I am less afraid of a Hitler taking over than I am of a Stalin or Mao.

Communism outlived National Socialism by decades and killed far more people in its wake. Starvation born of centralized authority seems to be a more effective way of genocide than gas chambers - quicker and cheaper too as China, Russia, Ukraine, Tibet (after its invasion), and others demonstrate. Let's not kid ourselves about this when talking about totalitarianism.

Too many members of President Obama's inner circle have openly praised Mao, a mass murder whose first act after consolidating control over China was to invade and destroy Tibet. This is also the man who said to the young Dali Lama, "Religion is poison." As an author of books related to spirituality and mysticism, this is far more concerning to me than lame cries about terror coming from America's Bible Belt. Kunstler is off his nut on the corn pone Nazi theme.

To be clear on this point, I do not think that Obama is dictator in the making, although no doubt he would accept the burden of the calling should it become his, but instead, that he is the appointed paving stone for a potential future one.

It is important to remember that the Cultural Revolution was an act of self-hatred, a desire to destroy all connections with the past and start anew. We see similar notions and actions in the West also done under the banner of 'cultural progress' only without the prisons, starvation and executions. We also see it in the New Age movement, a traditionally leftist or 'progressive' group of people, and the obsession with 'End Times' and some kind of Apocalypse scenario where the bad people disappear and we live in techno-spiritual bliss with a 15 hour work week - all with free energy of course. Utopian fantasies abound, and each turns into a nightmare in the end.

When I hear the Left in the West crying wolf about totalitarianism, I must quote Shakespeare, "The lady doth protest too much." Communism has been far more effective in the survival and mass murder game than the Right could have dreamed of.

However, given the notion that ideas regarding 'private property' being the only real difference between Left or Right totalitarianism, I think we can assume that we are heading towards a point where discussion over who has the right to own the boots that are kicking you in the head will be a mute point. In the end, dictators are all the same.

John Michael Greer said...

Danby, I think that we're a little further from fascism than that, if only because it takes a certain amount of time to recruit and train brownshirts. Still, you're right that the degree of wishful thinking piled onto the canny big-city machine politician who is now our President does not bode well.

Coy, the effect of today's fast communications is to enable the same sort of politics that went on in an ancient Greek city-state, where everyone could talk to everyone else in the agora. If anything, the old theories are likely to be even more applicable than they've been for the past two thousand years.

Ben, yes, I know that Pat posted an incendiary response to my comment about The Power of Community. I'm frankly baffled by the heat with which he responded to my words, and by the extent to which he accused me of saying things I didn't say. (I've contacted him privately about this.)

It may not be possible to discuss the political implications of peak oil and the broader predicament of industrial society without setting off the occasional explosion -- not, at least, unless one simply wants to rehash a set of common (and, as I see it, mistaken) beliefs. One of the reasons I rarely discuss politics at all on this blog is precisely because it seems to generate so much heat and so little light. Still, there are times the effort has to be made, and I can only hope that there are those who take the time to look past the stereotyped thinking so common these days and ask themselves some hard questions.

Mark, one of the pervasive problems with current political language is that terms such as "Left" and "Right" have essentially no meaning these days. In America, for example, there are effectively no conservatives at all -- nobody, that is, arguing for slow and measured change and a recognition of the value of systems evolved over time; instead, we have two sets of radicals trying to impose competing Utopian fantasies on the country. Each side of the widening cultural chasm beats up straw men of their own manufacture instead of dealing with the very real possibilities for compromise and cooperation that could exist if anybody took the time to notice them any more.

In that sense, all dictators are the same, in that the political differences among them tend to be pretty minor. More broadly, though, there are differences, as Thai Up pointed out; there are dictators whose prisons hold hundreds of political prisoners, and dictators whose prisons hold millions. The problem with dictatorship is precisely that you have no way of knowing which you're getting, and no way to back out of the situation if what you get is, say, Pol Pot.

Wild said...

This fact alone could evntually turn the now benevolent internet againgst its users in the not too distant future.

Thardiust, I take your point very well.

These are just two of the now manifold reasons I am choosing to walk away from the internet.

Jason said...

Exciting to preview the first few pages of 'eco-technic future' in the amazon reader.

I had just come to the conclusion that this week's post implies a view of political science that is more like gardening than the engineering model I would have had in mind five years ago. Essentially, 'preserving democracy' is rather like attempting to understand a succession of seres or how to maintain a climax community etc.

Then I looked at the contents pages for 'eco-technic'... :)

Christine Robins said...

(John--Forgot to sign post the first time).

John, thanks for another stimulating post. I haven't had time to do more than skim through all the comments, but they certainly look very thought-provoking.

My personal nightmare is that all the work my wife and I are putting into our 1-acre "urban homestead" will go for naught if facism takes over and it's confiscated by the government or other powerful interests.


Two novels come to mind about the possiblility of facism in America. The first, from the 30's, is Sinclair Lewis's classic "It Can't Happen Here." And a few years ago, Phillip Roth imagined a 30's America where the pro-Nazi Charles Lindberg had become president instead of FDR in "The Plot Against America". Both books are well worth reading, or re-reading.

OFF-TOPIC: John, I love to print out your articles and the responses, and read them in my easy chair, mark up, share with others, and save them in non-electronic form. But the narrow columns of this website make printing directly from it wasteful of paper.

Sometimes I've cut and pasted everything onto a regular document file, and them printed that, but it's awkward and time-consuming. Any way to make printing these valuable writings easier? (I keep thinking of your reminding us that electronic information won't be around at some future date--Richard Heinberg had a good recent article on this.)

Christine Robins

Mark said...

Very interesting perspective, and to some extent rather frightening. I read this, then stumbled across Pat Murphy's response... I'm still not sure how community could be considered neofascist, but the ideals held by a community surely could be.

One of my main concerns for the future, especially futures portrayed through some permaculture and most new age circles (they're not one in the same, but in my experience, overlap often); The bright and cheery fairytales of a world of absolute peace and tranquility -- and community. It's quite literally nonesense and I'd say our best efforts to steer clear of those images (especially as permaculturists) will help steer us away from the vortex of fascism.

The US govt. has been researching, funding, and experimenting with nazi technology since the end of WWII. There is no telling when/if there are plans on giving that up.

Patz said...

John, I’m finding the turn this thread has taken and some of the responses to it a little disturbing. Having made the comments I did and getting your response to them (which I did not agree with) I was not going to say more. Now in light of the references to Pat Murphy’s “incendiary comments,” I feel I should and must.

Reading Pat Murphy’s response to your thread I couldn’t find any “heat.” His response was, I thought, quite measured. He may have unfairly conflated some of the things you said but I didn’t find anything in his comments deliberately distorted.

However, what I really want to talk about is Cuba and what it represents especially in their response to their own peak oil. You can’t dismiss their accomplishment by saying it was primarily the result of a “draconian” dictator’s decrees followed out of fear of imprisonment.

Cuba’s oil supplies were cut by 50% suddenly and with no warning. There was no time to prepare a graduated response. A top-down dictatorial response simply wouldn’t have worked. Cubans immediately recognized they had to pull together or be pulled apart. Urban gardens sprang up; farmers everywhere shared what they could to prevent others from starving; the government bought 2 million bicycles from China; the government divided state farms into smaller private farms; Cubans walked, cycled and took the bus and through it all there was a sense of pride and shared purpose.

What one didn’t see was food riots or the kind of anger and desire to retaliate that is so common here. The US thought this would be a good opportunity to finally topple Castro with even more draconian embargos but as always they misinterpreted the real strength of Cuba—the people. And so it really was “community” and all that implies that got them through “the Special Period.”

I’ve never been to Cuba but I know literally dozens who have, including my wife who’s made several visits. They are a vibrant, intelligent people well aware of what goes on in the world. They are poor but they have one of the highest literacy rates in the world and their medical care is so good that Cuban doctors travel throughout Latin America teaching techniques they’ve developed.

The real question is what was their alternative once their revolution had succeeded? Could they have brought in a multiparty democracy? If they had how long would it have taken for the U.S. to subvert it and turn it into the brothel and gambling den of the Mafia once again?

Castro has been Cuba’s leader for 50 years. 50 years of living next door to the world’s greatest economic and military power who’ve tried to bring him down with the gun, the exploding cigar and the power of the dollar. Do you really think that’s possible through draconian measures? Or do the Cuban people truly wish to live poor but free of the dictates of their generous uncle Sam?

John Michael Greer said...

Wild, I use it only as a temporary convenience.

Jason, exactly. (Heh heh heh.)

Christine, I wouldn't worry too much about having a one-acre plot confiscated. The Soviet Union had far more casual ideas about private ownership than any American fascism is likely to, and it generally left people's garden plots alone -- not least because they kept people fed, relieving the government of that burden.

Your best bet for reading these posts in print form, by the way, is to buy the books of which they're the first drafts -- The Long Descent, The Ecotechnic Future (which has just been shipped), and (expect this one in the fall of 2010) The Wealth of Nature.

Mark, I didn't say that the concept of community was neofascist; I suggested that a high tolerance for authoritarianism under the banner of community might foster fascism. You're quite right, though, that images of a society of perfect peace and tranquility too often veil cravings for absolute power.

Patz, it amazes me how much that wasn't there you've managed to read into a single brief comment. All I said is that the Cuban response to the cutoff of Soviet fuel subsidies was made a lot easier by the autocratic nature of the Castro regime. Of course the vast majority of Cubans in Cuba support the government -- nearly all those who don't now live in exile -- and of course their efforts also played a major role in the response to the "Special Period." All I was saying is that (a) that response was massively facilitated by edicts from Havana, and (b) the extent to which the leftward end of the peak oil scene has done its best to ignore this point troubles me. By all means disagree with those points if you wish, but you know, it would help communication if you could refrain from insisting that I said things that I didn't.

wylde otse said...

JMG,

I notice from time to time that you regroup your mental warriors, step back, and with a broad sweep of noble regard, survey the field of future battle.
To destroy may indeed be easier than to re-build; you wonder perhaps(?) whether a little bit of wisdom now, might not save many a back later (or head).

- No need to throw the bathwater out with the baby...we may need it to grow vegetables - ?

And yet, my gut tells me we are nearing revolution. I believe that the looting of worker's pension funds was not accidental; that the bail-out for the corporate looters was as deliberate, as was its ommission (foreclosure) for common citizens. (If one can no longer grow taller, why not cut off the legs of one's rival.)

The wealthy-class assault on workers/common people was brazen; the bribery of congress and senate by big business is open and undeniable, although the contemptuous way it is displayed portrays less of an arrogance than it reveals a genuine lack of understanding of simple functional common sense/intelligence.
(How smart was Marie Antoinette, really... - "What, they're being kicked out of their homes? - let them live in their Lear Jets !)

J Gav said...

John,

You do well to point out that rising authoritarianism is a concern in the USA, just as it is in Europe. Whether or not that will lead to full-fledged clamp-down stuff down the road depends on what happens now and in the near future. 'Events' can occur to sway opinion more or less toward acceptance of a heavier hand in such matters. We'll see. 'Public opinion' up to now in the country has been notably sluggish in catching up with the situation. That's hardly surprising but it's not a good sign.

John Michael Greer said...

Otse, bingo. The reason plutocracy turns into tyranny, as Spengler argues it always does, isn't that the plutocrats become tyrants; it's that the pursuit of private gain by the plutocrats at the expense of everyone and everything else finally becomes so blatant that it sparks revolution, and provides tyrants with their window of opportunity.

Gav, I think what keeps public opinion sluggish is the lag time before events impact the daily lives of the majority. As that happens -- and it's beginning to happen now, here in the US -- I expect dramatic shifts. Still, we'll see.

Thardiust said...

Getting back to my conversation about the internet's future with Wild Gypsy, I don't think it would really hurt or help for anyone to simply walk away from the web. This is becuase, the internet is actually a universe that exists parallel to our own because we acknowlegedge it's existance. In a broader sense, because you, me, and,everyone else that gets online are outside of this universe, anyone that uses the web plays a role in shaping it. Web users and code makers are pretty much digital gods which means, even if some kind of tyanical force begins censoring web pages, people will find ways to overcome that as new media formats continue advancing and developing. I imagine by the time some future regime shackles the internet, another person, or group of people, will have developed ways to simaltaneously run it and store it in a flash drive. Another method of saving online data may be by running certain web pages off a closed network that requires passwords to acess. Anyways, both of these methods would probably lead to some kind of INTERNET UNDERGROUND if website censoring takes us all into a new dark age which, in the end, will force people to get more creative and eventually come up with somethning better than what's already there. The current recessoin has shown us beautiful examples of creativty in dark times with websites like My Space, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Pirate Bay, and Rapidshare coming online then allowing millions to share free content. I'm also pretty shure, the internet wouldn't have come back so stong after its 2001 bust if not for the fact that people who've quit their jobs now have enough free time to just think and live.

Danby said...

JMG said:
I think that we're a little further from fascism than that, if only because it takes a certain amount of time to recruit and train brownshirts. Still, you're right that the degree of wishful thinking piled onto the canny big-city machine politician who is now our President does not bode well.

All the pieces are in place. All we need now is a trigger, and that is provided as well. I think we are on the brink of a currency collapse that will wipe out the savings of the American Middle Class, and will at the same time destroy a huge number of jobs in the finance and services sectors, and force the end of a great deal of government spending. When 25% or 50% or more of the families in this country have no job, no savings, no prospects, and they know these things were stolen from them, it will be quite easy to put a dictator in power.

I've been following the economic indicators pretty closely. I'm certain the collapse will happen. The financiers and regulators thought in 1929, just as in 2008, that they had dodged a bullet after the stock market crash. Just as is now happening, the stock market regained a substantial portion of it's lost "value". Just as now, a huge number of banks, including many of the largest in the country, teetered on the brink of collapse. The depression didn't start in earnest until 1932. On that timeline we have about a year. There is plenty of reason to believe that the next depression will be much deeper and more entrenched than the Great Depression, including the 15,000,000,000,000 in bad debt that the banks and quasi-governmental agencies (FRMC, FNMA, Fed) are holding. They are hoping that if they can hide the bad debt long enough, the economy can grow to the point that new profits will cancel out bad debts.

Unfortunately, they have no leverage anymore to generate new profits, except by inflating the stock market (the source of G&S and Citi's "record profits" this last quarter). They are like a person who can't pay their credit-card bill who opens a new account every month to transfer the balance. At some point the Chinese bankers will stop issuing new cards.

So yes, I think we are that close. Of course it could devolve into a shooting war instead, which would lead to a semi-military dictatorship. But I'm an optimist, so I tend to discard that future. Either way, we are in for a load of trouble.

Vic said...

The "Strange Bright Banners" I fear haunt many of us. A cursory reading of the last two hundred years of western history should make one wary of any sort of banner. The powerful will continue to promise utopia if we "shoot the people they point to or vote on this or that colored paper" and many people will do just that. But there are those who will not and for them a quote from David Ehrenfeld's "The Arrogance of Humanism" might offer some modicum of sanity:

The non-humanist starts with the honest admission of human fallibility and limitations, and from this realistic base rises to a challenge--not the humanist challenge to control the world, for in this there is no hope;rather a challenge to construct a good life for one-self, one's family,and one's community, and to avoid successfully those buffets of chance and nature that it is possible by skill and effort to avoid. This challenge can occasionally be won, and even losing it is possible to fight a good,even enjoyable fight. Humanists boast often of their freedom, freedom to shape human destiny.This is ironic, for they have lost whatever freedom of this sort they had, being locked by their lie into a tragic struggle that can never be resolved in their favor.

Let me say, these thoughts are small consolation if the tyrant's jackboot is on your throat but it does offer some plain thinking.

Jason said...

Jason, exactly. (Heh heh heh.)

It's only taken me about 2 1/2 years to work out what you've been talking about. lol :) :) :)

In that case, could we say Hermetic/magical herbology, or the kind of practice employed by Matthew Wood for example, is Spenglerian 'physiognomy' applied to plants?

mmm said...

If it is pertinent to this discussion, I would like to get some opinions of a presentation on YouTube entitled "Is Obama Poised to Cede US Sovereignty?" (link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMe5dOgbu40).

On October 14 2009, Lord Christopher Monckton gave a presentation in St. Paul, MN on the subject of global warming. In this 4-minute excerpt from his speech, he issues a dire warning to all Americans regarding the United Nations Climate Change Treaty that is scheduled to be signed in Copenhagen in December 2009. Monckton says that the Copenhagen Treaty would cede US sovereignty.

How can we determine whether he covertly represents the corporate elite in resisting change or is a voice for maintaining the basic freedoms and sovereignty for the United States?

Isis said...

JMG,

Thanks for the Greek reference, I'll look it up!

I had two additional thoughts I'd like to share.

First, concerning dictatorship: as has been pointed out, not all dictators are made equal (Castro is neither a Hitler nor a Stalin). But even when you strike it lucky and get the most benevolent dictator possible, sooner or later, the person dies, and his crazy/incompetent/you-name-it son comes to the throne. (Or alternatively, you get a battle for power, frequently involving a civil war.)

Second, concerning plutocracies and tyrannies. Perhaps the real dynamic goes something like this: the elites get greedy until the masses start rebelling (engaging in relatively minor acts of violence and threatening much more serious violence). Then the elites either get their act together, sacrifice a few of their own, reign in corruption, and hopefully things go back to normal; or else they respond with violence or they more or less ignore the threat, and in either case, you get a good deal of disorder and possibly massive bloodshed (frequently leading to tyranny).

Jacques de Beaufort said...

I just finished reading "America 2.0" by Jay Hanson over on TOD:
http://campfire.theoildrum.com/node/5859#more

He describes what might be considered a "benevolent totalitarianism" as the best response available to the problems presented by the Tragedy of the Commons, aka Capitalism in a resource abundant world.

Whether you consider Hanson's America 2.0 as a type of fascism or not, it occurs to me that the resource scarce world that you and other thinkers have been articulating by necessity would demand a new political reality. Our current system worked well during the "Century of the Self" when the human project was enraptured by the novel stimuli that cheap energy provided, but in a world of scarcity its clear that the center will not hold. Its a shame that our cherished democratic system will probably suffer, but its true that there just will not be the same opportunities for personal self-actualization and self-deterministic "freedoms" that existed during abundance. Short of strict social control mechanisms, I'm afraid we would witness widespread violence and crime.

A loss of political freedom is something we probably have to start getting used to.

Vic said...

One of the most thought provoking and amazingly concise historical interpretations of the rise of fascism in Germany is given in William Catton's "Overshoot". He cleverly explains the event in ecological terms. As he points out,"...an economic interpretation (by minds unaccustomed to an ecological perspective)enabled us to miss the point." He then proceeds to explain events from an "ecological paradigm". The point becomes clear and one gets a palpable sense of what the term "resource drawdown" and "occupational niches" means. Most historical texts dealing with WW II (arguably one of the most cataclysmic events of human history) do not see things in this light. And I'm sure most historians would completely ignore his analysis. I say ignore because they could not produce an intellectually sound rebuttal. Or maybe they don't get the "metaphysics"?

Suzanne said...

Bright Banners

The money situation is now one very few in the western World will admit, a set up. Mr. M. King of the U.K. made the statement of the crisis, one that Rossevelt's best men made into law and made sure were done and with care and vigilance, leading to fifty years of properity. Remove the casino type investments from the banks entirely. Melvin is right on! My grandfather, picked by Roosevelt for the most important city in the U.S. to stabilize the money system, did this immediately. Where as Gordon Brown and various other heavyweights cried foul at the very idea of quiet probity. This time is worse than the time of the Great Depression by far.

Kevin said...

JMG, you've mentioned civil war as a distinct possibility. Have you speculated, or would you care to speculate, about which are the likely contending power centers and their potential fault lines of conflict, geographic and otherwise?

Kiashu said...

It's interesting to read a less-than-praising view of Cuba. I wrote about Cuba's experience of peak oil here.

The drop in fossil fuel supply was not as great as The Power of Community presents; they said "nearly half", but in fact oil supply declined by 20%, and other fossil fuel use has risen, so that overall they use just 10% less than their peak use in 1989.

This both shows how small the drop can be and still cause a lot of disruption, and how Cuba has not changed terribly drastically. We still don't have an example of what happens when the tap is turned off entirely.

Most of the useful innovations in response to the crisis came not from Castro and his government, but from the people, and were initially opposed by the government. They supported it out of necessity rather than kindness - they wanted to stay in government.

The Power of Community overstates both the level of the crisis and the popular adaptations to it. But it's fashionable in the West to speak well of leftist dictatorships. I have at dinner tonight a young Venezuelan woman who had an Australian tell her how free and equal her country was, and got angry when she disagreed.

juantblanco said...

Re: Civil War II thinking.

I think there could be more that two sides if things go even farther in the pear-shaped direction. Its not a happy thought, and we should pray (to whatever concepts or gods or God you choose) that it doesn't happen.

Maybe even fly a dark green flag of conservative--as JMG has described it earlier in the thread--greenism. Such a thing would be non-utopian, of course, thanks to its reading of Burke. Various cultural differences would have to be checked at the door or a least set aside for the moment (much harder than it sounds, sometimes). It would have to somehow have both a warrior spirit to fight for what's right in the Republic but also be willing to toss the sword aside when things have settled down.

I'm not sure how the heck to get there, so I've taken to joking about King Arthur coming back -- such things, of course, would play into the hands of a tyrant that spoke the right words to get me out there on the barricades praising whatever Dark Lord and passing the ammunition.

John Michael Greer said...

Thardiust, the internet exists only because huge corporations and governments plow billions of dollars into it annually. Your thumb drives don't grow on trees, you know.

Danby, well, we'll see.

Vic, I don't think humanism has to start from an assumption of human infallibility, but I grant you far too much has done so. More generally, of course, your point stands; the assumption that it's possible to create a perfect society has produced more human misery in the last two centuries than any other single factor I can think of.

Jason, excellent! Yes.

Mmm, we can't know. This is why I encourage people to pay less attention to distant abstractions and more to making changes in their own lives that will help them deal with a deindustrial future.

John Michael Greer said...

Jacques, I have to disagree. Representative democracy is well suited to an age of strict energy limits, like the ones in place when our current system was established; it's the imperial opulence of the recent past that's all but gutted it. As for Hanson's latest, well, all I can say is that I wish him luck finding a benevolent despot.

Vic, no argument there. Catton's ideas remain central to my own analysis of history and the future.

Suzanne, there are plenty of reasons why today's US and British governments are unwilling to accept reforms to the financial industry, but I suspect the most important is that if either country reins in the manufacture of worthless IOUs by their banking sector, they won't have any economy left. Neither the US nor the UK produce anything like the amount of goods and necessary services that they consume, and for decades now the difference has been made up by hallucinatory finance. That wasn't the case during the last great depression.

Now of course sooner or later the uber-bubble of paper financial assets is going to burst, and both nations (and a number of others) will be left essentially bankrupt, but the political implications of that will be cataclysmic enough that all parties are working all out to postpone the day of reckoning.

Kevin, one of the factors that distinguishes Caesarism (to use Spengler's term) from the politics of plutocracy we have right now is that the power centers form around personalities, rather than (say) regions or ideologies. Thus it's almost impossible to guess where the lines of fracture will form, because they'll form around individual leaders who are probably all but unknown just now. (How many people had heard of Robespierre in 1789?)

My prediction of civil war is more a reflection of the general tone of political noncommunication in this country than anything else. It's a useful rule of thumb in organizational theory that when the tensions in an organization reach the point that making the other side lose is more important than achieving any positive goal, the organization is headed for total failure. We have long since reached that point in the US. The current economic crisis has kicked open the powderkeg, and all that's needed now is a spark. I doubt it will be too long delayed.

John Michael Greer said...

Kiashu, the left tends to be fond of socialist dictatorships, and the right of military dictatorships. I wish there were more people fond of civil rights and the rule of law, but there it is.

Juan, I could certainly see things splitting along multiple fault lines, with anything up to five or six competing banners being raised. I doubt anything Burke would have recognized will be among them, though; his ideas have dropped entirely off the political radar screen, even among those who claim to be carrying his legacy.

John Michael Greer said...

On consideration, I've gone back and deleted the last half dozen rounds between me and Weaseldog. I allowed him to keep beating on points already addressed at length, which is a violation of one of my personal rules for this blog, and I let myself respond to him while irritated, which is a more serious violation of those rules. (Yes, archdruids get exasperated from time to time.) A couple of other comments relevant only to that debate have also been cut. We now return you to your regularly scheduled Archdruid Report.

Jacques de Beaufort said...

JMG:
Representative democracy is well suited to an age of strict energy limits, like the ones in place when our current system was established...

Well back then we didn't have "energy slaves" we just had....um...slaves.

Democracy can exist along side mechanisms of social repression quite comfortably. Sort of like it does now. It matters little to a slave whether the government of the day is representative or not.

guamanian said...

As a red-card toting 'revolutionary leftist' from way back, I have to say that I can't see the potential for anything resembling left-wing fascism in the US... no doubt some small percentage of the left would be so inclined, but the chance of fascism in leftist drag achieving power is vanishingly small.

It is not due to a lack of bad ideas, or even to an unwillingness to inflict said ideas on on other people, as it is to a lack of pretty much everything else needed to build a fascist movement in a failing state: No legitimacy, no constituency, no organizational capability, and -- very much to the point -- no guns.

The left is least armed sector of the US political spectrum, and the clash of banners would be accompanied by a great deal of applied violence. Not our forte. Even during the Vietnam era the extreme left had only a minuscule cadre of a thousand or two under arms, with a political base that probably never topped 5% of the US population... and that was at the most recent 'Peak Left'.

I'm afraid your neofascist choices in the US will pretty much be limited to Right, Righter, and Rightest.

The left has far more utility as an incubator of diverse alternative ideas, as you were describing in your 'Distributist' post, than as a potential contender for authoritarian power... and that suits me fine!

J Gav said...

Jacques,

Interesting to hear a new voice here.
Your latest comment brings to mind my reading of, among others, (alternative) economist Michael Hudson when he speaks of "debt peonage."
How many will be able to escape it? Will you? Will I? Does it not seem to be the chosen route to social control? We'll see what the Archdruid has to say about it but when you've got people by the wallet and bank account, by the pension, by the mortgage, where do they realistically have to turn?

Nevertheless, on the subject of democracy (still sort of there for the time being in the west), much of the world would still prefer to go with a top-down, corrupt US system than venture beyond to some unknown, perhaps even more corrupt,territory.
Gloating? Hardly. Shakespeare saw all this long ago. So did Shelley (Ozymandias).

The present situation will all no doubt change in the coming decade, no-one knows exactly how and that understandably scares a lot of people. But fear (mixed with what? Anger? A profound sense of injustice? Spiritual yearning?) need not always paralyse, it may also be a catalyst for new beginnings. NB - I'm not implying that you are writing in a 'fearful' mode but the misgivings as regards the question "Which way out?" do come through in your comment.

I'm not sure, however, that even slaves fail to notice who pretends to represent them ... and how, but that would no doubt take us off topic.

Jacques de Beaufort said...

hey J Gav
I'm not new to the Archdruid Report, I just haven't raised my voice in a while.

As for the changing fabric of our polity, its probably true that many variations and subsets of left/right/center totalitarianism will emerge even while relatively tolerant states and communities preserve a semblance of the egalitarian heritage of the Enlightenment. I say this because it seems that the Federal govt. will probably not be intact within 100 years, and as Orlov and JMG have suggested, the USA will fracture along regional and ethnic lines, with each region adopting a different form of governance.

I would guess that some regions will prefer more autocratic regimes than others, or at least get them by default. And I would maintain that one of the hybrid arrangements that we will observe will be a representative democracy in which only a small and privileged group will have the right to participate in.

guamaniam, your assertion that the left is incapable of extremist and totalitarian behavior strikes me as the type of partisan self-righteousness that leads directly to fascism. The Cultural Revolution in China was one of many 20th century movements incubated in the thicket of Leftist ideology. To recuse the left from any future or past culpability is more or less a recipe for a reign of terror in which the in group claims some sort of moral high ground, even while committing "roundups" and "cleansings" that end with mass graves aforementioned dental records.

All political factions are capable of treachery. Politics is about power, and the acquisition of power is often a brutal and merciless affair.

das monde said...

Some things have changed remarkably in the last two decades. When I moved from East Europe to the Netherlands 15 years ago, the energy, transportation and communication services were still governmental there and in most of neighboring countries. The forceful privatization drive was a mixed success - it certainly worked for wireless communication, but there were visible pains with “more effective” train services. But I am not here to argue how good or bad are public services. The remarkable thing is that privatized services are now universally seen as the only possibility - you can’t raise a discussion of what else is possible, or how things worked not that long ago. There are only invisible but bright banners: “Government is only a problem”, “The left are fascists also”.

The hight of expressive scorn against social welfare is also something not normal for a long time. The fact is, the not-so-ancient Western social-financial arrangements were quite an achievement of Western social democracy. The taxes were high in Eisenhower or Nixon times, laborers were getting decent wages, good insurances - and the economy was growing without much pain. All this was achieved without any dictatorship in the US or Europe - yet now the same ideas are met with allusions to fascism.

Again, I am not going to argue here how superior a “welfare state” might be. Not long ago people would argue for ages about that. What I want you to notice that there is no real discussion like that anywhere, anymore. Even with the collapses of financial capitalism that we see, there is no political representation of simplest social-democratic ideas. I don’t have to follow Obama and the US Senate much to feel certain, that there is only posturing of “leftish” strategies. The current debacle on health care is a good example of that farce. Looking at the disarray of European leftish parties it is easy to start “trilateral” wonderings. I really get set-up impressions in already routine electoral dramas (a-la-Gore) and rather expertly failing policies, especially when I come back to Eastern Europe.

I have more to say in that “extreme” direction, but is there a point here now? I will only put briefly that the “soft” abuse of democratic institutions has evolved impressively fast the last decades. We may not have straight dictatorship, but a kind of financial totalitarism (at least) is running wild. Just as you can run Windows XP on a Mac computer, so high tycoons can dictate now their power through acceptable means of free sway. The wealth or power elites may be allowed for more self-righteousness than punk protestors. But leaving them completely unquestioned is not that far from consenting to a dictatorship.

Heck, I will not resist an illustration by the same Nazi fascism. One remarkable think about it is how much corporate support was ready there for the Nazi party. Hitler was one of the first politicians to enjoy breakthrough communication technologies (radio, film, even TV). Cutting edge industry and “public relations” were there for him - neither he or his closest cabal knew much about chemistry or machinery. His campaigns were well financed and organized - way ahead of competition and time. The German recovery from the Great Depression was remarkably easy - perhaps courtesy to rare financial liberty or inattention of shark investors. It is one thing to wave enthusiastically to a Nazi parade - common people usually just follow what is apparently endorsed by the “respectable” society. It is other thing to supply Zyklon B, up-to-date vehicles and shiny uniforms to a barely born regime. Hitler would had gone nowhere without that exclusive financial and corporate aid. And let’s not forget: Hitler was on trial for a coup attempt, no less. How much did he spend in a jail? Tell me that Hitler was not a convenient fool favorite in high circles very early.

guamanian said...

Jacques -- I think you are inadvertently misreading my comment.

I did not say the left was incapable of atrocity, but merely that the conditions within the US probably will not allow for fascism to develop from the left in that specific country.

I WAS awake during the 20th century, and did notice that this was not true elsewhere!

Antony said...

We're starting to see the 'Strange Bright Banners' here in upstate NY right now. The Republican candidate for Congress was just forced to drop out, due to national support of a third party 'Conservative' candidate. She resigned on All-Hallows-Eve, which was probably the scariest thing that has happened so far this year. The newcomer is an out-of-town carpetbagger with all kinds of Right wing extremist support who nobody knows anything about. He is, quite literally, a manufactured candidate, with no voting record, and almost no public information available on his pre-campaign life. His local Congressional campaign has been run as if it were for a Nationwide office, with most funding and support coming from out of state. Pundits are saying that this election is going to re-manufacture the Republican party along extremist lines.

Ian Welsh said...

The primary legacy of the French revolution was actually a complete rationalization and overhaul of the administrative systems and geography of France, which is something which had to be done and which could not have been done by the Ancien Regime. France after the revolution and Napoleonic period functioned much better for the majority of the population than France before it.

As for "fascism of the left", while left totalitarianism is certainly possible, the number 1 skill of the revolutionary is the ability to count. And when I count in the US, what I notice is that the people with the guns who are willing to use them are overwhelmingly right wing. Looking at the makeup of the US military is also... instructive.

Then there's the idea that the great center has been abandoned: please. There are two right wing parties in the US, one of which has a very slightly left-of-center wing (most of whom would be considered right wingers in any country other than the US.)

Discovered your blog recently (through druidry, actually) and there's some brilliant insight here. Don't mind my nitpicks, keep up the good work.

Jim Brewster said...

Hi all,

Jumping on this thread very late, as I am catching up with the archives. This post jumped out at me particularly, because this is very close to the topic I have been mulling for a blog post at Chickens of Mass Destruction. Consider this response to be a first formulation.

My basic idea is that what may look for all intents and purposes like a conspiracy of politicians and corporations is a prime example of corrupt influence in concert with the SNAFU principle, that is the tendency for authoritarian hierarchies to favor a distortion of communication through the chain of command, so that final decisions are hopelessly out of touch with reality. I'm particularly interested in how this plays out in the bureaucracies of executive branch regulatory agencies such as the USDA and FDA and their cozy relationships with big ag and big pharma.

In arguing for this explanation, I want to offer some hope that politicians are still people who can be moved by empassioned pleas from their constituencies instead of puppets of some huge conspiracy. So maybe we'll waste a little on stamps, but at least we'll be trying instead of whining.

Maybe somewhere in there too will be a pipe dream of making bureaucracies more democratic, and of replacing executive appointment with some kind of citizens panels or suchlike to choose and/or advise regulators.

Regarding the proximity of extreme right and left positions, I touched on that in a post I called Moebius Politics. I suspected this idea wasn't original, but I had never heard it articulated before.