Is the US heading towards Fascism?

By Joost Douma, April 6, 2018

The Charlottesville rally

The Charlottesville rally

Joost Douma looks at recent political events in the United States and grapples with the question of whether Fascism will take hold or if we will witness a breakdown in government and the rule of law.

If the use of the word “Fascist” is just meant as a smear, than I think, we can agree that it is meaningless just like the word “Nazi” (often mentioned together without any further distinction). If we use the term fascist or Fascism to weigh whether we will see a comparable development in the US as to what happened in Italy or Germany in the Thirties, then I think we should analyze what exactly Fascism encompassed. In terms of its (economic) policy, its relation to the Separation of Powers and with regard to truly open, independent elections as the hallmark of a democracy. My focus will be on Fascism or corporatism, since the Nazi’s never developed a coherent policy other than just to plunder the countries they had conquered as well as ethnic cleansing.

Italian Fascism involved a non-elective, corporatist political system in which society was collectively managed by employers, workers and state officials by formal mechanisms at the national level. A popular slogan of the Italian Fascists under Mussolini was “Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato” (“everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state”). This meant no elections and no Separation of Powers.

If we accept corporatism as the proper term to describe the current political situation in the US, then I think we can agree that the US is not a fascistic country. We have elections and the Separation of Powers is still intact (albeit both under attack through gerrymandering and the chaos at the White House).

The question then is does the current situation in the US shows signs of tendencies, which may ultimately lead to a kind of dictatorship equal to what happened in Italy or Germany?  I actually believe we have entered unchartered waters. As a European who has just recently moved into the US, I am astonished and alarmed about how much this country has fallen into the grip of corporations. Corporations have the same civil rights as persons. The war on unions, one of the pillars of Corporatism, has been very successful. Corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures—more than the $2 billion we spend to fund the House ($1.18 billion) and Senate ($860 million) [1]. The big five (Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Google) have monopolized the internet and work closely with the State Department and the Department of Defense. The banking industry just concluded a successful campaign to roll back regulations. The latest tax break is a handout to large corporations at the cost of investments in the public domain, while the deficit is growing faster than GDP. News hours have been degraded into sponsored rating shows, peppered with breaks for a pharmaceutical industry, which spends more money on advertisements than R&D in the midst of an opioid crisis. The demolition of ACA, the list is endless.

I am also deeply alarmed by the ideology of the radical right, which holds the GOP in its power. It seems to be based on the ideas of Ayn Rand who was influenced by a rather obscure member of the young Hegelians who went by the name of Max Stirner. He wrote a small treatise ‘Der Einzige und sein Eigentum’. He advocated egoism and a form of amoralism, in which individuals would unite in ‘unions of egoists’ only when it was in their self-interest to do so. Stirner considers the world and everything in it, including other persons, available to one’s taking or use without moral constraint. He sees no rationality in taking the interests of others into account unless doing so furthers one’s self-interest, which he believes is the only legitimate reason for acting. He denies society as being an actual entity. Nietzsche identified him as an example of the new man after God had died.

The upcoming attack by Paul Ryan on all the entitlements after creating the deficit in order to rationalize it seems to come straight out of Stirner’s playbook. Overall, I would classify the current state of the Union as a type of corporate controlled anarcho-capitalism. It is alarmingly irrational, ignoring the old wisdom that what may seem beneficial for one corporation, may be highly harmful for capitalism as a whole. The absolute belief in the efficiency of the market (see Alan Greenspan, another admirer of Ayn Rand) while the whole system was on the verge of a complete meltdown in 2007/8 is shocking as well as the promotion of supply driven policies in the face of declining or stagnant demand (war on the minimum wage). Opposed to any form of regulation, it follows only one rule: privatize profits, socialize risks and losses. Trump is not an incident. He is the ultimate personification of all the aspects of this type of destructive, amoral, irrational and most of all vulgar anarcho-capitalism.

So what are we heading for? Instead of moving towards a totalitarian society, I think we will see the opposite. A further breakdown of government and the rule of law. Fragmentation, series of financial shockwaves in the US and Europe, depressions, impoverishment (already the case in the UK) and violent social conflicts along with the rise of segregated, private enclaves in those regions that will benefit from the climate change. Elsewhere, large-scale environmental disasters with oceans as blue deserts filled with plastic and jellyfish. I foresee in China the beginning of the era of digital tyrannies as a seemingly rational alternative. Russia will descend into chaos after its current bandit state capitalism has collapsed and the “Stans” east of the Urals have begun to throw off the Russian yoke, resulting in a protracted civil war that will outdo Chechnya in sheer violence and cruelty. Putin’s ultimate legacy.

And in the long run? Humanity has faced a number of existential crises and each time we came out stronger. We will see, but this time it is going to be tough one.


Joost Douma

March 2018

New York

[1] See Atlantic, Lee Drutman, 20 April 2015

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