The Last Wave


In a pretty good piece on Brexit and Trumpism, in Salon, Ben Norton writes:

Liberals smugly blaming the Brexit vote on stupidity, making fun of working-class Leave supporters for (falsely) googling E.U. after the fact and actively downplaying the serious economic concerns behind the vote only further plays into right-wing hatred of elites.

It also conveniently absolves establishment liberals of responsibility for supporting policies that fueled the rise of the far-right.

We live in an incredibly dangerous moment. It is not hyperbolic to say Europe is going through political changes similar to those of the post-Depression 1930s, when fascism was on the rise for the first time.

Brexit is a big victory for neo-fascist forces throughout the West — actual neo-fascist parties and politicians. And there is no sign that the far-right will decline anytime soon.

Demagogues like Trump in the U.S., or Marine Le Pen in France, or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, may lose the upcoming election, but there will be many more elections after that, and the far-right will only continue to gain strength — unless it faces a real challenge.

The problem is that neoliberals already know this – and don’t care. Austerity creates misery which in turn creates populism. Populism grows and splits into its left and right hemispheres, which buys the neoliberals more time (every moment of austerity makes them money, ratholed away in a Costa Rican bank). Eventually they will get their populist comeuppance, but all the neoliberals care about is from which direction; they’d of course like to never endure populism of any sort but they damn sure won’t tolerate it from the left.

Sanders was constantly smeared, roadblocked, cheated by the neoliberal centrists — and still almost won. Corbyn is getting the same treatment; his fate is unclear. Neoliberals consider populism of the left more dangerous than of the right, crushes or cheats it, allowing right populism to take root or even triumph. With Sanders out and Clinton’s victory in the general election highly likely, neoliberals have their preferred Worse Case Scenario: the only populist who could win is Trump, who is often described as a neo-, proto-, or crypto-fascist. It would be a major upset and neoliberals wouldn’t like it on cultural grounds, but they will make their deal with him and keep their precious low tax rates. Their bourgeois Lifestyle Liberal publicists in the media will be livid and histrionic, declaring every stupid-asshole thing Trump says the start of a pogrom, but they will get over it; after all, for the donor class these people are just the hired help.

Misery will deepen no matter who wins in November. Trump is a supply-side Reaganite with perhaps insincere Buchananite protectionist tendencies; HRC is a woke version of Thatcher, a warmongering austeritarian monster. Neoliberal economy will triumph either way. And the longer it continues, the uglier people will get. More and more will fall out of the middle class into poverty; more people will rob and steal from the remaining middle class just to make ends meet. More suicides, drug addiction, mass despair. Scapegoating, tribalism, and racism will be more extreme, widespread, mainstream. Terry Eagleton, a while back in The Guardian, described Zizek’s take on the same dynamic, though the context for them was the failed/thwarted Arab Spring revolutions:

One lesson of the Egyptian revolt, Žižek argues in Trouble in Paradise, is that if moderate liberal forces continue to ignore the radical left, “they will generate an unsurmountable fundamentalist wave”. Toppling tyrants, which all good liberals applaud, is simply a prelude to the hard work of radical social transformation, without which fundamentalism will return. In a world everywhere under the heel of capital, only radical politics can retrieve what is worth saving in the liberal legacy.

The neoliberal elite likes its cheap domestic immigrant help and social liberalism. They like the financial windfall from austeritarian policy more. They’d like to keep both and with HRC they will, but if they have to keep just one, their choice is obvious. And the people in another five or ten years of such conditions? Then will come the fascism, without any mitigating prefixes, nothing quasi about it – if, that is, we haven’t already all been killed in a war by then.

Purity Control*

A fantastic passage from Yukio Mishima’s Runaway Horses:

Isao looked into the inspector’s eyes once more, and the latter answered his unspoken question: “Yes. It’s a Red. Stubborn ones bring this kind of thing on themselves.”

Obviously the police intended to make him realize that, in contrast, he was being treated with the utmost gentleness, that the kindly law was showering benefits upon him. But it had the opposite effect. At that moment Isao felt a choking of anger and humiliation. “My ideas–what do they amount to?” he asked himself in a rage. “If real ideas have to be beaten like that, are mine supposed to be unreal?” Isao was vexed with frustration: despite the enormity of what he plotted, there had been no adequate reaction. If they realized the core of terrible purity within him, he thought, they would surely hate him. On the other hand, however, if their ignorance persisted, his ideas would never gain the weight of flesh, never grow wet with agonized sweat. And, as a consequence, they would never give out the loud cries of beaten flesh.

Isao glared at his cross-examiner and shouted: “Torture me! Torture me right now. Why can’t you do the same thing to me? Can you tell me why not?”

“Easy now. Calm down, don’t be foolish. It’s very simple. You don’t give us any trouble.”

“And that’s because my ideas are rightist?”

“That’s part of it. But rightist or leftist, anyone who gives us trouble is going to pay for it. Still, when all is said and done, those Reds…”

“Is it because the Reds won’t accept our national structure?”

“That’s it. In comparison to them, Iinuma, you and your friends are patriots. Your thoughts are in the right direction. It’s only that you’re young. The trouble is, you’re too pure, so you went to extremes. Your purpose is good. It’s your methods. What about making them more gradual, toning them down a bit? If you made them a little more flexible, everything would be fine.”

“No,” Isao retorted, his body trembling all over. “If we made them a little more flexible, it wouldn’t be the same. That ‘little’ is the point. Purity can’t be toned down a little. If you make it a bit flexible, just a bit, it becomes a totally different idea, not the kind we hold. So if our ideas can’t be watered down, and if they’re a threat to the nation the way they are, that means our ideas are just as dangerous as those of the Reds. So go ahead and torture me. You have no reason not to.”

“You’re quite a debater, aren’t you? Now, don’t get so excited. I’ll tell you just one thing that would be good for you to know. There’s not a man among those Reds who asked to be tortured, as you’re doing. They take it if they have to. They’re not like you, they don’t respond to us even if we torture them.”

The setting here is 1930s Japan. Mishima does two shrewd things in ideological comment: he shows the conservative nationalist interrogator’s relatively friendly attitude – even in the context of torture – to the fascist, Isao, as compared to the communists in the other room; and he shows that fascism is an idealistic, self-sacrificing death cult, its kernel a ruthless quest for purity. These are timeless truths.

Mishima ended his life – spectacularly – believing in an ideology very much like Isao’s. Every reference to Mishima in Vidal’s and Hitchens’s essays when I read them in my 90s youth were interesting so of course I saw Schrader’s excellent movie about the man; eventually I read The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, a stealthily creepy novel I more enjoy having read than I enjoyed reading. Coming across the above passage in the comment section of a shady blog (thus no link) reminds me that I should read more.

Obviously I don’t share his politics, but when my time comes (hopefully many decades in the future) I, too, hope to go out with an ostentatiously dramatic statement, a bang rather than a whimper.


War! What’s it Good For? Absolutely Everything!

….from the rightwing point-of-view. Consider the following, from the LRB. Labour’s Foreign Policy Quandaries:

The Labour Party has always been split over foreign policy. The Boer War, fought between capitalists and racists, made it difficult to choose a side; likewise the First World War (imperialism v. Prussianism); less so the Second World War, which divided the Conservatives more. The Falklands War was fought against a fascist dictator, but by the hated Thatcher and in defence of a colonial relic. And then there’s the Iraq War and the bombing of Syria.

All these conflicts have posed genuine moral quandaries for ‘progressives’, which is why they have been so damaging for party unity. Suspicious leftists have occasionally wondered whether they might not have been deliberately provoked by the right in order to have this effect, an idea that goes back to the mid-Victorian Liberal Richard Cobden. It seems unlikely, though Thatcher and Cameron have obviously been aware of the benefit for them.

War is always favored by the right for the psychological dividend it pays: nationalistic sadism, surrogate testosterone, war porn. These people are political – and often literal – sociopaths. War is also favored by the right as a means of social engineering. And I’m sure “suspicious leftists” are correct about its tendency to split the left being a permanent part of wingnut political strategy. Wingnuts love war for its own sake; plus, it injures the political enemy – what’s not to like, from their point of view?


Not mentioned, though, is a fact of war just as crucial for, and attractive to, the right: its economic effect. The grocery list of government spending programs acceptable to the rightwing is short; at the top is military spending. The pattern for the last 35 years has been that when the rightwing is in power, it increases “defense” spending while either cutting or maintaining existing tax rates. The result is a ballooning deficit that is either ignored or falsely blamed on social programs. When the right loses power it leaves a fiscal mess for the other party to clean up, often at the budgetary expense of social programs – war as a sort of prophylactic against useful public works, even when the other side is in office. Heads, the right wins; tails, the left loses. Viewed as such, war is an irresistible tool for the right. That’s the real and only reason why its party establishment purged its (relative) peaceniks, the paleocons, while with careful dishonesty publicly stating that the rationale was cultural. They won’t be denied its use if they can help it.

American Freikorps

A Pre-Sith Christopher Hitchens in good form at 1hr 6min 30 sec:

….these rebels as they call themselves, these anti-establishment figures — they are nothing of the kind, they say they are against the government, they are lone pioneers and frontiersmen — who are they? Where’s Gordon Liddy come from if he isn’t a pimp of the state, an incubus of the National Security System? Where does Oliver North come from? Who dares say this man is a rebel or dissident? He’s an outgrowth of the government…..What’s anti-government about these extruded forces of the state? They will when the time comes — if it does come…..if the time should come when push came to shove — these are the people who would be the freikorps, these are the people who would take orders, these are the people who would be the disciplined and docile forces of the government who would of course always regard them as deniable — and we have been warned. When Picasso was visited in his studio in occupied Paris by a Gestapo officer who was told to make nice with him, there was a sketch of Guernica on the wall and the Gestapo critic rocked on his heels in front of it and said, “that’s very good, did you do that?” And Picasso said, “no, you did.”……. We ought to earn the title of anti-fascist for ourselves… ought not to be scared of the alleged fighting words of others, of the scum of the earth, of the fat fucks like Rush Limbaugh, and the pimps and pensioners of the state like Oliver North and Gordon Liddy.”

Pop Will Eat Itself

It’s a familiar pattern: visionary figure is eventually harried out of his position — expelled, really; bought out or pushed out — as leader and creator by purist fanboys.

“Purity Control” was a brilliant name for an alien MacGuffin in the X-Files because it’s also, as a concept and mindset, the kernel of fascism. Maintaining purity is by definition reactionary and totalitarian and delusional, because nothing can be pure — not even Ivory soap, which is 56/100% “other.” And therefore it’s doomed to (often violent) failure.

The same process happens in pop culture. Here’s poor George Lucas, who’s anything but poor in the literal sense after the four billion dollar sale of his franchise to Disney, openly bitter about the way he was besieged for years by fanboys who felt that the creative direction of Star Wars wasn’t true to the real Star Wars story and aesthetic, under his — the creator’s — control:

Watching the above reminded me of something Eddie Vedder said years ago about hardcore “ideological” fan(atic)s:

VEDDER:….[Laughs] Yeah, to them I’m the Antichrist. I think when Jello [Biafra] got his leg broken and beat up by those punkers in San Francisco — they were calling him a sellout and kicking him in the head — I think that was almost liberating. I said, “I don’t give a fuck anymore. If they’re fucking kicking Jello, how can I worry about what anybody thinks? How can I expect to still have someone’s respect on that end?” That guy lost his empire, his future, battling that censorship thing [over the H.R. Geiger poster for Frankenchrist]. He ran for mayor. You couldn’t write a movie script with a more ethical antihero. And yet here he is getting the shit kicked out of him.

You were rich, Mr. Lucas; now you’re rich and free.