RIGHTWING POPULISM. CAN MORE MADNESS CURE THE MADNESS?
Rightwing populism. Neoliberal policy was always mad or insane. But an even greater madness now occurs with rightwing populism instead of ending the madness at last
By f.s. montanus
[This article published in October 2018 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.freitag.de.]
People seek their salvation in the loud rioting of the dumbest possible folly instead of turning to the few voices of reason.
The earth seems to me more and more like a giant madhouse spinning aimlessly through the universe. Now, the earthlings madness is limited to the earth. The human madness on earth is in a natural quarantine. But I fear it is only a question of time until technology gives our limited minds the means to spread our madness to the rest of the universe.
We struggle worldwide with the consequences of an insane politics. Politics is mad because it writes off large parts of the population. It has thrown people into a radical competition where the strong end up on top and the weak are cut short. In its core, this competition is Darwinian through and through. A performance ideology, an ideology of the economically strong, underlies this competition. Darwinian terms are certainly avoided. Instead, the market and competition, supply and demand are the themes. Basically, it is an economic surviving of the fittest. Supply and demand are variation and selection transferred to the economic realm. All market actors must constantly vary their offer to survive the selection of other market actors. This economic Darwinism has nested and established itself as market ideology in the brains of people.
This market ideology means the world to leading politics. Politicians did not invest it. “Economists” told the fairytale of the free market to unsuspecting persons. This fairytale tells of invisible hands that allegedly ensure a free market with free competition benefits everyone at the end. Believing in Santa Claus is nothing compared to this. I am not sure whether politics is really so dumb to believe free market interactions really benefit everyone. Rather, it believes the free market benefits a majority. Everything is just fine when a minority of the weak go up in smoke in competition with the strong. This is called “democratic.” Politics assume the strong deserve the largest piece of the cake in its glorification of the performance principle.
In any case, everything and everyone must submit to the market according to the dominant ideology. People must be market-conforming and face the competition. Whoever drowns has not concentrated enough and is responsible. Democracy must be market-conforming. The state is bad in economics and in organizing. This should be left to businessmen who are supposedly better here. Therefore, state spending was privatized for a long while. No one asks what happens with vital public necessities when these businessmen go bust (which certainly can happen). This is the policy of the total market and is a monstrosity of market-radical policy. From citizens who have the same rights and duties, we become customers, consumers and entrepreneurs in unequal competition with each other who produce nothing but inequality.
Where will people seek their refuge in view of the striking market- and political failure, the growing poverty in many countries and the social cohesion that has become ever more fragile? Will they stop and think honestly and rationally about what has gone wrong and what must be improved? The human spirit is simply not knit for honesty and reason. Instead of turning to the few voices of reason, people seek their salvation in the loud rioting of the dumbest possible folly. Reasonable people are not heard, only the loud cry of populists is rewarded with attention.
Populists are on the advance worldwide. With nationalist and autocratic tones, they propagate the strong man at the top and the strong nation that together should solve all problems. These popular seducers tell the people what they want to hear and then they vote for the parliament delegates. They are never at a loss for answers to all questions that should make sense to everyone dumb enough to believe them. They operate with resentment and strengthen resentment for their own purposes. They use lies to seduce people and appeal to the dark side in people and to rage, hatred and hostility toward everyone who thinks differently and is different. They feign understanding for the situation of people and know exactly the supposed enemies who should be blamed for everything. The enemies are quickly found among minorities, foreigners, leftists, do-gooders and the governing. Nothing welds people together more than the supposed enemy against whom people must fight.
The Internet develops more and more into a means of encapsulation from reality. The Internet generates a virtual, alternative “reality” that has less and less to do with reality. People live in their filter bubbles in which they only accept what fits their worldview as “truth” while the real truth that contradicts their worldview is dismissed as fake or a lie. They regard themselves as critical spirits and forget that a really critical stance assumes a self-critical questioning of one’s own ideas and is not limited to criticizing others. Criticizing others is not a great skill and is not a sign of a critical spirit. Capability for honest self-criticism is most important.
The pendulum of world history now strikes in the other direction. What is against the madness breaks forth from the darkest corners of our spirit and is ready to throw a punch. Madness and counter-madness fight for hegemony in the planetary madhouse. The few intellectually rational stand perplexed on the margin. They call and wave but are not heard. These are little signs for people who use their heads for more than hairstyles, sunglasses and simple knitted worldviews.
BRUTALITY AS A REASON FOR THE STATE
By Georg Rammer
[This article published in the Ossietzky journal 16/2018 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.ossietzky.net.]
German society is developing in a pre-fascist direction for migration researcher Naika Foroutan, professor at the Berlin Humboldt University. “We are preparing for the moral squalor of fascism that could come” (Tagesspiegel 7/22/18). In their statements, the shock is manifest over a public discussion whether persons in flight drowning in the Mediterranean should be rescued. Isn’t a devaluation of life and dehumanization clear in the brutal attitude and conduct of politicians when refugees are declared invaders and enemies and whose death is used as deterrence?
The inhumanity and contempt for humankind exported for years by our “value community” in the form of wars and exploitation in the Middle East and to many countries in the South is incontestable. Walls and razor-sharp barbed wire fences should protect the Fortress Europe. Thousands of families are crowded together in camps and exposed to every form of violence and slavery. In the US, children on state command were snatched from their fleeing parents. The EU prevents the rescue of shipwrecked refugees and grants no help to the thousands of persons dying of thirst in the wilderness. Indifference to those consecrated to death became the reason for the state. Compassion and readiness to act became criminal acts and punished. Words to describe and judge uninhibited state brutalization and bureaucratic inhumanity are lacking. Politicians pretend to fight problems with their brutality – problems they constantly produced and reproduced themselves.
A well-founded analysis of the causes of poverty and flight by the EU Commission, the Federal government or the parties supporting the government does not exist. Planning papers of NATO and the German army reveal a strategy of military containment of the consequences of imperial policy. The search for state research on the backgrounds of growing hostility and “brutal civility” (Wilhelm Heitmeyer) and rightwing terror proves vain. Are there social reasons for this? A large majority of the population want affordable rents, good care, secure pensions and tax justice. A majority is against foreign deployments of the German army. This majority is ignored. The state and its supporting parties and pressure-groups prefer to fight rightwing extremism by adopting rightwing demands. The radical rightwing AfD (anti-immigrant party) takes over the neoliberal government agenda in its economic policy.
Now and then, a broad consensus exists that the neoliberal radicalization of capitalism creates a crass inequality. However, no change is in sight. Quite the contrary, austerity- and free trade policies, structural adjustment programs of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), investment promotion in favor of the agricultural-, chemical- and energy branches et cetera ensure more global inequality. Even initiatives of non-governmental organizations and parliaments are torpedoed and prevented through tricks. In his article, “Minister of Thieves” (Freitag 31/18), Wolfgang Michal describes a revealing example of the criminal energy of corporations in tax fraud with the active help of German politics. All current examples of political injustice cannot possibly be remembered, the state promotion of intrigues of the auto industry, preventing the financial transactions tax and drying up the tax havens or obligating corporations to observe human rights. In all these themes, the German government and the EU are acting against the interests of the population. Does this strengthen the democratic will or is the democratic will mocked? Can people feel they can influence fundamental themes?
Parliamentary democracy has long been brushed aside by and for the dominant corporate interests for whom democracy is only an annoying obstacle and to the neoliberal political elites as their allies and radicalized parts of the middle of society. They react to their fears of falling, their disappointment and powerlessness, the feeling of humiliation and devaluation in the form of hostility to foreigners and violence. The mood is increasingly aggressive and hostile and seeks enemies. The scapegoats are arbitrary and even fueled by politics and the media. As long as Muslims and foreigners are objects of hatred, the elites in the economy and politics have a free hand and need not fear being attacked for their neoliberal goals and resolutions.
The striking force of neoliberal ideology, its totalitarian claim, appears in the adjustment of souls. The daily routine offers enough examples and academic studies supply evidence. In their study, two British psychologists showed that neoliberalism as a driving force constantly increased competition among young persons born after 1989, prevents cooperation and ensures that self-worth depends on occupational success. For a growing sector, the feeling of worthlessness, shame, social estrangement and a neurotic tendency to constant self-examination dominates. The all-pervasive competition, the necessity of self-presentation, causes psychic sicknesses. In a climate of mistrust and hostility, no healthy self-perception is possible. Solidarity remains a foreign word.
Protecting the permanent competition of egoism can be seen as a consequence of the total penetration of all areas of life by the neoliberal marketing ideology. The widespread loss of trust and lack of empathy is deep. In a system where economic interests of anonymous capitalists and their associations sovereignly determine, they increasingly lose the feeling of living in a self-determined way. From childhood, there is a fundamental experience that communication serves the influencing, manipulation and exploitation of feelings for foreign interests and not interpersonal relations. Relations, feelings and truthfulness become means to an end. No child in school age can still think the pictures of advertising and the feelings shows in facial play, gestures and intonation like joy, love or intimacy are genuine and true. The average citizen hardly takes political statements of the parties that seek dominance over will formation at face value. So a fake reality determines our life, supported by the media that serve the manipulation of public opinion and not primarily comprehensive reporting.
The state and the middle class parties do not tire arguing that we live in a social constitutional state and work with all their strength for peace and the enforcement of human rights all over the world. In return, extensive monitoring and the military armament of the police are necessary. The reports about poverty, housing shortage, weapon deliveries to war zones and refugee misery give the lie to those who denounce the lies, are branded enemies of the state and act against state security and the police. The deep contradiction between the claims and personal experience recall the double bind theory of psychiatry. Contradictory measures create confusion and make the impacted persons mad. What part of the message should I trust? If I believe the official assurance, I deny myself. But if I take my experience seriously, I become the enemy. We know this. The complete investigation of murders under state authority is promised while in reality the deep state is being constructed again. While the German chancellor supposedly fights for humane principles, the military screening of the EU occurs in Africa and camps similar to concentration camps are erected in Libya.
Aggressive misanthropy is not a monopoly of Trump, Urban, Kurz or Salvini. They execute and intensify the market radical exploitation goal of the system. Neoliberal capitalism bears fascism in itself. The CDU (Mainstream German political party) knew this and warned of it in its 1947 Ahliner Program. In his article “De-civilization” (in: “The Great Regression,” Suhrkamp 2017), Oliver Nachtwey quotes from Norbert Elias’ “Studies about Germans”: “Therefore, power elites, dominant classes and nations in the name of their superior values and their superior civilization often fight with methods that are diametrically opposed to the values they claim to champion. With their backs to the wall, the defenders easily become the destroyers of civilization. They become barbarians.” Nothing less than this is at stake. Resistance in opposing this brutalization is vital.
THE POPULISM CUDGEL
By Andreas Bohm and Joachim Hirsch
[This article published in May 2017 on links-netz.de is translated abridged from the German on the Internet, http://www.links-netz.de.]
“Populism” has become one of the most common keywords in political discussion and is a combative term. The background is the change that liberal-democratic systems experienced in the course of the crisis of Fordist postwar capitalism and the subsequent neoliberal offensive since the 1980s. States are exposed to intensified competitive pressure with the deregulation of border-crossing goods- and capital traffic and the rise of international corporations to authoritative actors. As “competitive states,” they see themselves forced to offer flexible global capital the most favorable exploitation conditions. This includes various maneuvers for lowering wages, precarious working conditions, dismantling social security systems, relaxing environmental protection and much more. The goal was a massive increase in capital profits that was accomplished. Strong shifts of income- and wealth distribution from bottom to top were one consequence.
Dependence of governments on internationalized capital has often led state policy to be directed against the interests of broad sectors of the population. These sectors hardly feel represented by a coalition of the ruling German parties. The consequences of this crisis of representation are well-known: massive social processes of division and exclusion, a growing weariness with politics and growing mistrust toward “those above.” This development is felt deep in the middle class: status anxieties, economic insecurity and the threat to traditional ways of life through ever faster social and technical upheavals.
The rise and proliferation of rightwing populist parties and movements can be understood on this background. The former system of “People’s parties” that characterized the Fordist postwar phase has eroded. The followers of rightwing parties recruit from the traditional middle classes. “Rightwing populism” systematically emphasizes an opposition between the simple “people” and the ruling “elites, mobilizes with the construction of racist-anti-foreign scapegoats and nationalist slogans and propagated by a partly middle class picture of society that is backward oriented. They do not only recruit from the marginalized and socially uncoupled or degraded. Rightwing populists operate with a truth-claim that refers to an imagined “people’s will” and is not established academically or democratically (Stegemann) (e.g. The Front National in France, US president Trump, Wilders in the Netherlands, the FPO in Austria and AfD and Pegida in Germany).
The “elites,” the leaders of the established parties, large parts of the manager class and liberal intellectuals are agreed in the struggle against the threat to the political, social and cultural order starting from rightwing populism. A remarkable shift in the discourse can be recognized. The vagueness or sponginess of the term makes this possible. As a rule, very different phenomena are summarized under this term. They give simple answers to complicated questions. But aren’t simple answers often right? Isn’t the repeated reference of the ruling elites to unquestionable market pressures a simplification on the basis of unprovable premises? Therefore, Bernd Stegemann speaks of a “liberal populism.”… Neoliberals certainly do not urge an anti-institutional policy “from below”… Ralf Dahrendorf said populism for one is democracy for others. Regarding rightwing parties and movements, “populism” is used to show the difference to the conventional rightwing extremism a la NPD. Whether this new rightwing understands itself as populist does not seem important… As a rule, the indeterminative word “populism” is used to link a series of position s that one rejects…
The vagueness of the populism term allows diverse applications in the political debate. Because it is very undifferentiated and is used in a generalized way, it can be used for more democracy… Democratic populism is different than populist extremism… The populism discourse can be an instrument so everything remains as it was. Democratic efforts are fought. That can be called the populism cudgel. Thus, the dominant populism discourse is an element of authoritarian neoliberalism. At the same time, the vague use of the populism term helps trivialize rightwing radicalism that marks rightwing populist parties and movements…
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§Is President Trump Fascist?
by Jason Stanley
Wednesday Oct 24th, 2018 8:12 AM
New books on fascism are popping up everywhere, from independent presses, former world leaders like Madeleine Albright, and academics like Jason Stanley, Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. Stanley’s latest book, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, has been described as a “vital read for a nation under Trump." And yet, as The Guardian’s Tom McCarthy writes, one of the ironies Stanley points out is that—despite the widespread currency of the term these days—fascism succeeds by making “talk of fascism… seem outlandish.”
The word has certainly been diluted by years of misuse. Umberto Eco wrote in his 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism” that "fascist" as an epithet was casually thrown around “by American radicals… to refer to a cop who did not approve of their smoking habits.” When every authority figure who seems to abuse power gets labeled a fascist, the word loses its explanatory power and its history disappears. But Eco, who grew up under Mussolini and understood fascist Europe, insisted that fascism has clearly recognizable, and portable, if not particularly coherent, features.
“The fascist game can be played in many forms,” Eco wrote, depending on the national mythologies and cultural history of the country in which it takes root. Rather than a single political philosophy, Eco argued, fascism is "a collage... a beehive of contradictions." He enumerated fourteen features that delineate it from other forms of politics. Like Eco, Stanley also identifies some core traits of fascism, such as “publicizing false charges of corruption,” as he writes in his book, “while engaging in corrupt practice.”
In the short New York Times opinion video above, Stanley summarizes his “formula for fascism”—a “surprisingly simple” pattern now repeating in Europe, South America, India, Myanmar, Turkey, the Philippines, and “right here in the United States.” No matter where they appear, “fascist politicians are cut from the same cloth,” he says. The elements of his formula are:
1. Conjuring a “mythic past” that has supposedly been destroyed (“by liberals, feminists, and immigrants”). Mussolini had Rome, Turkey’s Erdoğan has the Ottoman Empire, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban rewrote the country’s constitution with the aim of “making Hungary great again.” These myths rely on an “overwhelming sense of nostalgia for a past that is racially pure, traditional, and patriarchal.” Fascist leaders “position themselves as father figures and strongmen” who alone can restore lost greatness. And yes, the fascist leader is “always a ‘he.’”
2. Fascist leaders sow division; they succeed by “turning groups against each other,” inflaming historical antagonisms and ancient hatreds for their own advantage. Social divisions in themselves—between classes, religions, ethnic groups and so on—are what we might call pre-existing conditions. Fascists may not invent the hate, but they cynically instrumentalize it: demonizing outgroups, normalizing and naturalizing bigotry, stoking violence to justify repressive “law and order” policies, the curtailing of civil rights and due process, and the mass imprisonment and killing of manufactured enemies.
3. Fascists “attack the truth” with propaganda, in particular “a kind of anti-intellectualism” that “creates a petri dish for conspiracy theories.” (Stanley’s fourth book, published by Princeton University Press, is titled How Propaganda Works.) We would have to be extraordinarily naïve to think that only fascist politicians lie, but we should focus here on the question of degree. For fascists, truth doesn’t matter at all. (As Rudy Giuliani says, "truth isn't truth.") Hannah Arendt wrote that fascism relies on “a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth.” She described the phenomenon as destroying “the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world.... [T]he category of truth verses falsehood [being] among the mental means to this end.” In such an atmosphere, anything is possible, no matter how previously unthinkable.
Using this rubric, Stanley links the tactics and statements of fascist leaders around the world with those of the current U.S. president. It’s a persuasive case that would probably sway earlier theorists of fascism like Eco and Arendt. Whether he can convince Americans who find talk of fascism “outlandish”—or who loosely use the word to describe any politician or group they don’t like—is another question entirely.