Monday, 4 December 2017

Ideology, the Neoliberal State, and the Social Contract

(This short essay is the second part of  NEOLIBERALISM AND THE SOCIAL CONTRACT)

Neoliberalism and Fascism

a. The role of the state
Unprecedented for a former president, on 10 December 2017 Barak Obama warned Americans not to follow a Nazi path. A clear reference to president Trump and the Republican Party leading America in that direction with rhetoric and policies that encourage ‘culture war’ (kulturkampf – struggle between varieties of rightwingers from evangelicals to neo-Nazis against secular liberals), Obama made reference to socioeconomic polarization at the root of political polarization.

“The combination of economic disruption, cultural disruption ― nothing feels solid to people ― that’s a recipe for people wanting to find security somewhere. And sadly, there’s something in all of us that looks for simple answers when we’re agitated and insecure. The narrative that America at its best has stood for, the narrative of pluralism and tolerance and democracy and rule of law, human rights and freedom of the press and freedom of religion, that narrative, I think, is actually the more powerful narrative. The majority of people around the world aspire to that narrative, which is the reason people still want to come here." germany_us_5a2c032ce4b0a290f0512487

Warning about the road to Nazism, Obama drew distinctions between the Democratic Party’s brand of pluralist neoliberalism and Trump’s rightwing populist model. Naturally, Obama did not mention that both models seek the same goals, or that policies for which he and his predecessor Bill Clinton pursued drove a segment of the population toward the authoritarian neoliberal model that offers the illusion of realizing the American Dream. Distancing themselves from neo-Fascists, mainstream European political leaders embracing the pluralist model under neoliberalism have been as condemnatory as Obama of rightwing populism’s pursuit of ‘culture war’ as a precursor to Fascism.
 Accusing Trump of emboldening varieties of neo-Fascists not just in the US and EU but around the globe, European neoliberal pluralists ignored both the deep roots of Fascism in Europe and their own policies contributing to the rise of neo-Fascism. Just as with Obama and his fellow Democrats, European neoliberal pluralists draw a very sharp distinction between their version of neoliberalism and rightwing populism that either Trump or Hungary’s Viktor Orban pursue. Neoliberal pluralists argue that rightwing populists undercut globalist integration principles by stressing economic nationalism although it was right nationalists Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan that engaged in wholesale implantation of neoliberal policies.

Rightwing populism under Ronald Reagan as the first president to implement neoliberal policies emerged as a reaction to the prospect that the Western-based core of capitalism was weakening as a result of a multi-polar world economy. Whereas in the middle of the 20th century the US enjoyed balance of payments surpluses and was a net creditor with the dollar as the world’s strongest reserve currency and the world’s strongest manufacturing sector, in 2017 the US is among the earth’s largest debtor nations with chronic balance of payments deficits, a weak dollar with a bleak future and an economy based more on parasitic financial speculation and massive defense-related spending and less on productive sectors that are far more profitable in Asia and developing nations with low labor costs. (Jon Kofas, Independence from America: Global Integration and Inequality, 2005, 40-54)

Exerting enormous influence by exporting its neoliberal ideological, political, economic and cultural influence throughout the world, the US-imposed transformation model has resulted in economic hardships and political and social instability in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Institutionalizing neoliberalism under rightwing populism and using Trump as the pretext to do so, the US is leading nations around the world to move closer to neo-Fascism, thus exposing neoliberalism as totalitarian. The recognition by the political class and business class that over-accumulation is only possible by continued downward wage pressure has been a key reason that a segment of the population not just in the US but across EU has supported populist rightwing and/or neo-fascists.

Rejecting the claim of any similarities between neoliberalism and Fascism, neoliberal apologists take pride that their apparent goal is to weaken the state, by which they mean the Keynesian welfare state, not the ‘military Keynesian’ and corporate welfare state. By contrast, Fascists advocated a powerful state – everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state. American neoliberals of both the pluralist and rightwing camps have created a societal model not just in one nation like Mussolini and Hitler but globally with the result of: “everything within neoliberalism, nothing against neoliberalism, nothing outside neoliberalism.

Neoliberal totalitarianism finds different expression in the US than in India, in Hungary than in Israel. In “Neoliberal Fascism: Free Markets and the Restructuring of Indian Capitalism,” Shankar Gopalakrishnan observed that exclusive Hindu nationalism has been the catalyst for rightwing neoliberalism to mobilize popular support. “Hindutva [a term coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1923 to assert exclusive Hindu dominance] is seen as an effort by neoliberalism, or perhaps more broadly by capitalism, to divert attention from class conflict, to divide and weaken working class struggles and to deflect class-driven anxieties on to minority communities.  This approach is problematic in two senses.  First, it does not explain why Hindutva organisations are able to develop a mass base, except to the extent that they are seen to be appealing to “historical identity” or “emotive” issues. The state exists only as the expression and guarantor of a collectivity founded around a transcendent principle: The ideal state is the guarantor of the Hindu rashtra, a “nation” that exists as an organic and harmonious unity between “Hindus.”

Whereas under Ronald Reagan’s neoliberal populist policies (Reaganism) under a rightwing political umbrella the state structure was strengthened in the US, in the process of implementing neoliberal policies state bureaucratic functions have been outsourced to private companies thus keeping with the spirit of corporate-welfare goals. Other countries followed a path similar to the one of the US. Contrary to the claims of many neoliberal scholars, politicians and commentators, neoliberalism has not weakened the state simply because the ideology lays claims to a hegemonic private sector and weak state. It is true that the Keynesian-welfare state structure has been weakened while the corporate-welfare-militarist-police-state structure has been strengthened. However, in the less developed capitalist countries the public sector has weakened as a result of the US and EU imposing the neoliberal model which drains the public sector of any leverage in stimulating economic and social development investment because of the transfer of public assets and public services to the private sector. (; Monica Prasad, The Politics of Free Markets, 2006)

Gaspar Miklos Tamas, a Romanian political philosopher of the George Lukacs-inspired Budapest School, argues that global division of labor in the neoliberal era has not only resulted in wealth transfer from the bottom up but it has diminished national sovereignty and citizenship for those in less developed (periphery) nations. “The new dual sate is alive and well: Normative State for the core populations of the capitalist center, and another State of arbitrary decrees for the non-citizens who are the rest. Unlike in classical fascism, this second State is only dimly visible from the first. The radical critique protesting that liberty within the Normative State is an illusion, although understandable, is erroneous. The denial of citizenship based not on exploitation, oppression and straightforward discrimination, but on mere exclusion and distance, is difficult to grasp, because the mental habits of liberation struggle for a more just redistribution of goods and powers are not applicable. The problem is not that the Normative State is becoming more authoritarian: rather, that it belongs only to a few.”

If the normative state is the domain of the very few with the rest under the illusion of inclusion, Miklos Tamas concludes that we are living in a global post-fascist era which is not the same as the interwar totalitarian model based on a mass movement of Fascism. Instead, neoliberal totalirarianism categorically rejects the Enlightenment tradition of citizenship which is the very essence of the bourgeois social contract. While the normative state in advanced countries is becoming more authoritarian with police-state characteristics, the state in the periphery whether Eastern Europe, Latin America or Africa is swept along by neoliberal policies that drive it toward authoritarianism as much as the state in Trump’s America as in parts of Europe to the degree that in January 2018 Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) faced the prospect either of new elections or entering into a coalition with the neo-Nazi Alternative fur Deutchalnd (AfD).

The rightwing course of the Western World spreading into the rest of the world is not only because of IMF austerity used as leverage to impose neoliberalism in developing nations. Considering that countries have been scrambling to attract foreign investment which carries neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatization, weak trade unions and low taxes as a precondition, the entire world economic system is the driving force toward a form of totalitarianism. As Miklos Tamas argues, this has diluted national sovereignty of weaker countries, allowing national capitalists and especially multinational corporations to play a determining role in society against the background of a weak state structure. Along with weakened national sovereignty, national citizenship in turn finds expression in extreme rightwing groups to compensate for loss of independence as the bourgeois social contract presumably guarantees. (Aihwa Ong, Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty, 2006;

It is undeniable that there is a qualitative difference in Berlin and Rome under neoliberal regimes today than it was under Fascism. It would be a mistake to lump a contemporary neoliberal society together with the Third Reich and Fascist Italy, a dreadful and costly mistake that Stalinists made in the 1930s. Interwar totalitarianism existed under one-party state with a popular base operating as a police state. Although many countries under varieties of neoliberal regimes have an electoral system of at least two parties alternating power, the ruling parties pursue neoliberal policies with variations on social and cultural issues (identity politics), thus operating within the same policy framework impacting peoples’ living standards.

Not just leftist academic critics, but even the progressive democratic Salon magazine recognized during the US election of 2016 that the neoliberal state would prevail regardless of whether Trump or Clinton won the presidential contest. “Neoliberalism presumes a strong state, working only for the benefit of the wealthy, and as such it has little pretence to neutrality and universality, unlike the classical liberal state.  I would go so far as to say that neoliberalism is the final completion of capitalism’s long-nascent project, in that the desire to transform everything—every object, every living thing, every fact on the planet—in its image had not been realized to the same extent by any preceding ideology.

In neoliberal society either of the pluralist-diversity or of the authoritarian political camp there are elements of polizeistaat though not nearly full blown as in the Third Reich. While conformity to the status quo and self-censorship is the only way to survive, modern means of communication and multiple dissident outlets attacking the status quo from the right, which is far more pervasive and socio-politically acceptable than doing so from the left, has actually facilitated the evolution of the new totalitarian state.

Whereas big business collaborated closely with Fascist dictators from the very beginning to secure the preeminence of the existing social order threatened by the crisis of democracy created by capitalism, big business under the neoliberal social contract has the same goal, despite disagreement on the means of forging political consensus. Partly because neoliberalism carries the legacy of late 19th century liberalism and operates in most countries within the parliamentary system, and partly because of fear of grassroots social revolution, a segment of the capitalist class wants to preserve the democratic façade of the neoliberal social contract by perpetuating identity politics. In either case, ‘economic fascism’ as the essence of neoliberalism, or post-fascism as Miklos Tamas calls it, is an inescapable reality. (Andrea Micocci and Flavia Di Mario, The Fascist Nature of Neoliberalism, 2017).

In distinguishing the composition and goals of the parliamentary state vs. the Fascist one-party state, Italian Fascism’s theoretician Giovanni Gentile characterized it as ‘totalitario’; a term also applied to Germany’s Third Reich the latter which had the added dimension of anti-Semitism as policy. Arguing that ideology in the Fascist totalitarian state had a ubiquitous role in every aspect of life and power over people, Gentile and Mussolini viewed such state as the catalyst to a powerful nation-state that subordinates all institutions and the lives of citizens to its mold. In “La Dottrina del Fascismo” (Gentile and Mussolini, 1932), Musolini made famous the statement: "Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state," although Hitler’s polizeistaat was more totalitarian because it had the means to achieve policy goals stated in Mein Kampf.

The convergence of neoliberalism and Fascism is hardly surprising when one considers that both aim at a totalitarian society of different sorts, one of state-driven ideology and the other market-driven with the corporate welfare state behind it.  In some respects, Sheldon Wolin’s the “inverted totalitarianism” theory places this issue into another perspective, arguing that despite the absence of a dictator the corporate state behind the façade of ‘electoral democracy’ is an instrument of totalitarianism. Considering the increased role of security-intelligence-surveillance agencies in a presumably open society, it is not difficult to see that society has more illiberal than classic liberal traits. Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, 2008)

More powerful than the Axis Powers combined, American “Inverted totalitarianism” was internationalized during the Cold War and became more blatant during the war on terror, in large measure used as a pretext to impose neoliberalism in the name of national security. As the police-state gradually became institutionalized in every respect from illegal surveillance of citizens to suppressing dissent to the counterterrorism-neoliberal regime, it was becoming clearer to many scholars that a version of fascism was emerging in the US which also sprang up around the world. (Charlotte Heath-Kelly et al. eds., Neoliberalism and Terror: Critical Engagements, 2016;

Almost a century after the era of Fascist totalitarianism that led to WWII, the transition of capitalism’s global structure with a shifting core from the US and northwest Europe to East Asia has entailed intense global competition for capital accumulation to the degree that the advanced countries have been pushing living standards downward to compete with low-wage global markets. The process of draining greater surplus value from labor especially from the periphery countries where IMF-style austerity policies have resulted in massive capital transfer to the core countries has taken place under the neoliberal social contract that has striking similarities with Fascism.

Backed by the state in the advanced capitalist countries, international organizations among them the IMF have been promoting economic fascism under the label of ‘neoliberal reforms’, thus molding state structures accordingly. Neoliberal totalitarianism is far more organized and ubiquitous than interwar Fascism not only because of the strong national state structure of core countries and modern technology and communications networks that enables surveillance and impose subtle forms of indoctrination, but also because the international agencies established by the US under the Bretton Woods system help to impose policies and institutions globally.

b. Characteristics of the Illiberal Neoliberal Society
The genesis of illiberal politics can be traced back to the end of WWI when Europeans witnessed the unraveling of the rationalist order of the Enlightenment rooted in Lockean liberalism. Influenced by the wars of imperialism that led the First World War at the end of which Vladimir Lenin led the Bolsheviks to a revolutionary victory over Czarist Russia, Joseph Schumpeter like many European scholars was trying to make sense of how capitalism’s forcible geographic expansion (imperialism) led to such global disasters that undermined the rationalist assumptions of the Enlightenment about society and its institutions. In his Sociology of Imperialism (1919), he wrote the following about the relationship of the bourgeoisie with the state. 

“The bourgeoisie did not simply supplant the sovereign, nor did it make him its leader, as did the nobility. It merely wrested a portion of its power from him and for the rest submitted to him. It did not take over from the sovereign the state as an abstract form of organization. The state remained a special social power, confronting the bourgeoisie. In some countries it has continued to play that role to the present day. It is in the state that the bourgeoisie with its interests seeks refuge, protection against external and even domestic enemies. The bourgeoisie seeks to win over the state for itself, and in return serves the state and state interests that are different from its own.”

The strong state structure of the imperial state that the bourgeoisie supported as a vehicle of expanding their interests globally while maintaining the social order at the national level held true only for the advanced capitalist countries eagerly trying to secure international markets at any cost including armed conflict. While essential for capital integration and expansion, the strong state structure was and remains an anathema to the bourgeoisie, if its role is to make political, economic and social concessions to the laboring and middle classes which are the popular base for bourgeois political parties. While classical liberal theory expresses the interests of capitalism its role is not to serve in furtherance of political equality for the simple reason that capitalism cannot exist under such a regime. Both John Locke and John Stuart Mill rejected political egalitarianism, while Schumpeter viewed democratic society with egalitarianism as an integral part of democracy. Rejecting Locke’s and Mill’s abstract receptiveness to egalitarianism, neoliberals of either the pluralist or authoritarian camp are blatantly adopt illiberal policies that exacerbate elitism, regardless of the rhetoric they employ to secure mass popular support.   

Characterized by elitism, class, gender, racial and ethnic inequality, limits on freedom of expression, on human rights and civil rights, illiberal politics thrives on submission of the masses to the status quo. In his essay The Political Economy of Neoliberalism and Illiberal Democracy, Garry Jacobs, an academic/consultant who still believes in classical liberal economics operating in a pluralistic and preferably non-militaristic society, warns that world-wide democracy is under siege. “Democratic elections have become the means for installing leaders with little respect for democratic values. The tolerance, openness and inclusiveness on which modern democracy is founded are being rejected by candidates and voters in favor of sectarian, parochial fears and interests. The role of the free press as an impartial arbiter of facts is being undermined by the rise of private and public news media conglomerates purveying political preference as fact combined with a blinding blizzard of fake news. Party politics has been polarized into a winner-take-all fight to the finish by vested-interests and impassioned extremist minorities trying to impose their agendas on a complacent majority. Corporate power and money power are transforming representative governments into plutocratic pseudo-democracies. Fundamentalists are seizing the instruments of secular democracy to impose intolerant linguistic, racial and religious homogeneity in place of the principles of liberty and harmonious heterogeneity that are democracy’s foundation and pinnacle of achievement.”

While neoliberals in the populist rightwing wholeheartedly share and promote such views, those who embrace the pluralist-identity politics camp are just as supportive of many aspects of the corporate welfare-police-counterterrorism state as a means to engender domestic sociopolitical conformity and to achieve closer global economic integration. The question is not so much what each political camp under the larger neoliberal umbrella pursues as a strategy to mobilize a popular base but whether the economic-social policies intertwined with a corporate-welfare-police-counterterrorism state is the driving force toward a Fascist model of government. In both the pluralist model with some aspects of the social safety net, and the rightwing populist version neoliberalism’s goal is rapid capital accumulation on a world scale, institutional submission of the individual and molding the citizen’s subjective reality around the neoliberal ideology.

Illiberal politics in our time is partly both symptomatic of and a reaction to neoliberal globalism and culture wars that serve to distract from the intensified class struggle boiling beneath the surface. Rhetorically denouncing globalist neoliberalism, populist rightwing politicians assert the importance of national capitalism but always within the perimeters of neoliberal policies. Hence they co-opt the socio-cultural positions of nationalist extremists as a political strategy to mobilize the masses. Scholars, journalists and politicians have speculated whether the rising tide of rightwing populism pursuing neoliberalism under authoritarian models not just in the Western World, but Eastern Europe, South Asia and Africa reflects the rejection of liberal democracy and the triumph of illiberal politics that best reflects and serves the political economy. Unquestionably, there is a direct correlation between the internationalization of the Western neoliberal transformation model imposed on the world in the post-Soviet era and the rise of rightwing populism reacting to the gap between the promises of what capitalism was supposed to deliver and the reality of downward pressures on living standards.;;

Not just the US, but Europe has been flirting with ‘illiberal democracy’ characterized by strong authoritarian-style elected officials as Garry Jacobs has observed. Amid elections in Bosnia in 1996, US diplomat Richard Holbrooke wondered about the rightwing path of former Yugoslav republics.  "Suppose the election was declared free and fair and those elected are "racists, fascists, separatists, who are publicly opposed to [peace and reintegration]. That is the dilemma." Twenty years after what Holbrooke dreaded election outcomes in Yugoslavia, the US elected a rightwing neoliberal populist leading the Republican Party and making culture wars a central theme to distract from the undercurrent class struggle in the country. A structural issue that transcends personalities, this reality in America is symptomatic of the link between neoliberalism and the rise of illiberal democracy in a number of countries around the world.

Some political observers analyzing the rightist orientation of neoliberal policies have concluded that neoliberalism and Fascism have more in common than people realize. In 2016, Manuela Cadelli, President of the Magistrates Union of Belgium, wrote a brief article arguing that Neoliberalism is indeed a form of Fascism; a position people seem to be willing to debate after the election of Donald Trump pursuing neoliberal policies with a rightwing populist ideological and cultural platform to keep a popular base loyal to the Republican Party. “Fascism may be defined as the subordination of every part of the State to a totalitarian and nihilistic ideology. I argue that neoliberalism is a species of fascism because the economy has brought under subjection not only the government of democratic countries but also every aspect of our thought. The state is now at the disposal of the economy and of finance, which treat it as a subordinate and lord over it to an extent that puts the common good in jeopardy.”

It is ironic that neoliberal society is ‘a species of fascism’, but there no widespread popular opposition from leftist groups to counter it. People remain submissive to the neoliberal state that has in fact eroded much of what many in the pluralist camp hail as liberal democratic institutions. Most adapt to the status quo because to do otherwise means difficulty surviving today just as it was difficult to survive under Fascism for those in opposition; as Palmiro Togliatti noted (Lectures on Fascism, 1935) when he cautioned about castigating workers who joined the party simply because they placed survival of their family above any progressive ideology. Because evidence of systemic exploitation ingrained into society passes as the ‘norm’, and partly because repression targets minority groups, migrants, and the working class, especially those backing trade unions and progressive political parties, people support the neoliberal state that they see as the constitutional entity and the only means for survival.

The media, government and mainstream institutions denounce anyone crying out for social justice, human rights and systemic change. Such people are ‘trendy rebels’, as though social justice is a passing fad like a clothing line, misguided idealists or treasonous criminals. Considering that the corporate-owned and state media validates the legitimacy of the neoliberal social contract, the political class and social elites enjoy the freedom to shape the state’s goals in the direction toward a surveillance police-state. All of this goes without notice in the age when it is almost expected because it is defaulted to technology making easy to detect foreign and domestic enemies while using the same technology to shape the citizen’s subjective reality.

Partly because of the communications revolution in the digital age, neoliberalism has the ability to mold the citizen beyond loyalty to the social contract not just into mechanical observance but total submission to its institutions by reshaping the person’s values and identity. In this respect, neoliberalism is not so different from Fascism whose goal was to mold the citizen. “Neoliberalism has been more successful than most past ideologies in redefining subjectivity, in making people alter their sense of themselves, their personhood, their identities, their hopes and expectations and dreams and idealizations. Classical liberalism was successful too, for two and a half centuries, in people’s self-definition, although communism and fascism succeeded less well in realizing the “new man.” It cannot be emphasized enough that neoliberalism is not classical liberalism, or a return to a purer version of it, as is commonly misunderstood; it is a new thing, because the market, for one thing, is not at all free and untethered and dynamic in the sense that classical liberalism idealized it.

Although people go about their daily lives focused on their interests, they operate against the background of neoliberal institutions that determine their lives in every respect from chatting on their cell phones to how they live despite their illusions of free will. As the world witnessed a segment of the population openly embracing fascism from movement to legitimate political party in interwar Europe, a corresponding rise in racism and ethnocentrism under the umbrella of rightwing neoliberal populism has taken place in the first two decades of the 21st century.

Representing the UN Human Rights agency, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein stated that 2016 was disastrous for human rights, as the ‘clash of civilizations’ construct has become ingrained into the political mainstream in Western countries.  “In some parts of Europe, and in the United States, anti-foreigner rhetoric full of unbridled vitriol and hatred, is proliferating to a frightening degree, and is increasingly unchallenged. The rhetoric of fascism is no longer confined to a secret underworld of fascists, meeting in ill-lit clubs or on the 'deep net'.  It is becoming part of normal daily discourse.”

Because neoliberalism has pushed all mainstream bourgeois political parties to the right, the far right no longer seems nearly as extreme today as it did during the Vietnam War’s protest generation who still had hope for a socially just society even if that meant strengthening the social welfare system. The last two generations were raised knowing no alternative to neoliberalism; the panacea for all that ails society is less social welfare and privatization of public services within the framework of a state structure buttressing corporate welfare. The idea that nothing must be tolerated outside the hegemonic market and all institutions must mirror the neoliberal model reflects a neo-totalitarian society where sociopolitical conformity follows because survival outside the system is not viable.

Although Western neoconservatives have employed the term ‘neo-totalitarian’ to describe Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the term applies even more accurately to the US and some European nations operating under neoliberal-military-police state structures with as much power than the Russian bureaucratic state has at its disposal. The contradiction of neoliberalism rests in the system’s goal of integrating everyone into the neo-totalitarian mold. Because of the system’s inherent hierarchical structure, excluding most from the institutional mainstream and limiting popular sovereignty to the elites exposes the exploitation and repression goals that account for the totalitarian nature of the system masquerading as democratic where popular sovereignty is diffused. The seemingly puzzling aspect of the rise in rightwing populism across the globe that rests in marginalization of a segment of the population and the support for it not just from certain wealthy individuals financing extremist movements, but from a segment of the middle class and even working class lining up behind it because they see their salvation with the diminution of weaker social groups. This pattern was also evident in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and pro-Nazi authoritarian regimes of the interwar era.; Benjamin Moffitt, The Global Rise of Populism (2017.

Because of contradictions in bourgeois liberal democracy where capital accumulation at any social cost is the goal, the system produced the current global wave of rightwing populism just as capitalism in the interwar era gave rise to Fascism.  As one analyst put it, “The risk democratic formations continually face is internal disintegration such that the heterogeneous elements of the social order not only fail to come together within some principle of or for unity, but actively turn against one another. In this case, a totally unproductive revolution takes place.  Rather than subversion of the normative order causing suffering, rebellion or revolution that might establish a new nomos of shared life as a way of establishing a new governing logic, the dissociated elements of disintegrating democratic formations identify with the very power responsible for their subjection--capital, the state and, the strong leader.  Thus the possibility of fascism is not negated in neoliberal formations but is an ever present possibility arising within it.  Because the value of the social order as such is never in itself sufficient to maintain its own constitution, it must have recourse to an external value, which is the order of the sacred embodied by the sovereign.

Public opinion surveys of a number of countries around the world, including those in the US, indicated that most people do not favor the existing social contract rooted in neoliberal policies that impact everything from living standards and labor policy to the judicial system and foreign affairs. Instead of driving workers toward a leftwing revolutionary path, many support rightwing populism that has resulted in the rise of even greater oppression and exploitation. Besides nationalism identified with the powerful elites as guardians of the national interest, many among the masses believe that somehow the same social contract responsible for existing problems will provide salvation they seek. While widespread disillusionment with neoliberal globalization seems to be at the core in the rise of rightwing populism, the common denominator is downward social mobility. (Doug Miller, Can the World be Wrong? 2015)

As Garry Jacobs argues, “Even mature democracies show signs of degenerating into their illiberal namesakes. The historical record confirms that peaceful, prosperous, free and harmonious societies can best be nurtured by the widest possible distribution of all forms of power—political, economic, educational, scientific, technological and social—to the greatest extent to the greatest number. The aspiration for individual freedom can only be realized and preserved when it is married with the right to social equality. The mutual interdependence of the individual and the collective is the key to their reconciliation and humanity’s future.

Just as in the interwar era when many Europeans lost confidence in the rationalism of the Enlightenment and lapsed into amorality and alienation that allowed for even greater public manipulation by the hegemonic culture, in the early 21st the neoliberal social contract with a complex matrix of communications at its disposal is able to indoctrinate on a mass scale more easily than ever. Considering the low level of public trust in the mainstream media that most people regardless of political/ideological position view as propaganda rather than informational, cynicism about national and international institutions prevails. As the fierce struggle for power among mainstream political parties competing to manage the state on behalf of capital undercuts the credibility of the political class, rightwing elements enter the arena as ‘outsider’ messiahs above politics (Bonapartism in the 21st century) to save the nation, while safeguarding the neoliberal social contract. This is as evident in France where the pluralist political model of neoliberalism has strengthened the neo-Fascist one that Marine Le Pen represents, as in Trump’s America where the Democratic Party’s neoliberal policies helped give rise to rightwing populism.

As the following article in The Economist points out, widespread disillusionment with globalist neoliberal policies drove people to the right for an enemy to blame for all the calamities that befall society. “Beset by stagnant wage growth, less than half of respondents in America, Britain and France believe that globalisation is a “force for good” in the world. Westerners also say the world is getting worse. Even Americans, generally an optimistic lot, are feeling blue: just 11% believe the world has improved in the past year. The turn towards nationalism is especially pronounced in France, the cradle of liberty. Some 52% of the French now believe that their economy should not have to rely on imports, and just 13% reckon that immigration has a positive effect on their country. France is divided as to whether or not multiculturalism is something to be embraced. Such findings will be music to the ears of Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, France’s nationalist, Eurosceptic party. Current (and admittedly early) polling has her tied for first place in the 2017 French presidential race.

Similar to deep-rooted cultural and ideological traits of Nazism in German society, there are similar traits in contemporary US, India and other countries where rightwing populism has found a receptive public. Although there are varieties of populism from Lepenism (Marine Le Pen’s National Front) to Trumpism (US Republican Donald Trump) to Modism (India’s Narendra Modi), they share common characteristics, including cult of personality as a popular rallying catalyst, promoting hatred and marginalization of minority groups, and promising to deliver a panacea to “society” when in fact their policies are designed to strengthen big capital.

Rightwing populist politicians who pursue neoliberal policies are opportunistically pushing the political popular base toward consolidation of a Fascist movement and often refer to themselves as movement rather than a party. Just as there were liberals who refused to accept the imminent rise of Fascism amid the parliamentary system’s collapse in the 1920s, there are neoliberals today who refuse to accept that the global trend of populism is a symptom of failed neoliberalism that has many common characteristics with Fascism. In an article entitled “Populism is not Fascism: But it could be a Harbinger” by Sheri Berman, the neoliberal journal Foreign Affairs, acknowledged that liberal bourgeois democracy is losing its luster around the world. However, the author would not go as far as to examine the structural causes for this phenomenon because to do so would be to attack the social contract within which it operates. Treating rightwing populism as though it is a marginal outgrowth of mainstream conservatism and an aberration rather than the outgrowth of the system’s core is merely a thinly veiled attempt to defend the status quo of which rightwing populism is an integral part.

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