Sunday, July 31, 2016

Neoliberalism and rightwing authoritarianism

Jonathan Chait gives a reliably conventional take on third-party candidate Jill Stein of the Green Party, Jill Stein Explains Her Plan to Stop Trump by Electing Him President New York 07/28/2016.

Someone on Facebook called attention in particular to this quote from Stein, "The answer to neofascism is stopping neoliberalism."

I try to be sparing in the use of the label "fascism" or variations like "neofascism." Chait sneers at Stein's comment as "jargon-laced evasion." Meaning evasion of Chait's assumption that a vote for Stein is effectively a vote for Donald Trump.

This seems like a modified version of a (relatively) famous 1939 quote from Max Horkheimer, "Whoever is not prepared to talk about capitalism should also remain silent about fascism." Horkheimer was the head of the Frankfurt School (Institute for Social Research), whose members had to emigrate once the Nazis took over. They were alert enough prior to 1933 to transfer most of the Instutute's assets to Switzerland because they were realistic about the chances for a Nazi takeover. Not incidentally, Horkeimer headed the studies on anti-Semitism sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, the most famous of which was the pathbreaking sociological study of The Authoritarian Personality, part of a larger project called Studies of Prejudice. The AJC website has the full text of all five published volumes of the Studies in Prejudice.

In other words, he was kind of an authority on the topic of fascism. The historical/poli-sci discussions of whether Hitler's regime should be called fascist or whether it was a distinct type of dictatorship came later; everybody took it for granted in the 30s and 40s that Nazism was a variation of fascism.

One of the important findings of The Authoritarian Personality study was that there was a significant amount of among white and black workers in America. And both that and the larger AFJ research project focused heavily on the role that authority structures in the family and childrearing practices play in producing authoritartian tendencies. Horkheimer and the Institute had previously done a major study based on survey results in Germany published as Studies on Authority and the Family. So that did some of the most important groundbreaking work on how family structures and psychological factors are important independent variables from economic ones in shaping people's political attitudes.

But Horkheimer's point about capitalism and fascism is still true, even when we attach "neo" to both. "Neoliberalism" is finally becoming a widely-used term in the US, at least among economists. And it has been the dominant economic-political ideology in the US and Britain since the 1980s. And it's an ideology that's very, very focused on letting corporations and especially banks run wild. And its political side has a very undemocratic tendency (to put it very mildly).

Citizens United is neoliberal political theory in action. Deregulating the banks including abolishing Glass-Steagall is neoliberal political theory in action. So is the push to privatize what is now public education. (Pioneered by the White Citizens Council back in the day.) So is the Flint, Michigan poisoned water situation. And private prisons. It's a toss-up for me which of those last two is the more obscene.

So are deregulation treaties like TPP dressed up as "trade" treaties that allow international corporations to override national standards on health and safety regulation, environmental laws and labor protections by going through a corporate-run court system. Germany dictating to Greece, Italy and Portugal is neoliberal governance in action.

There are two very descriptive sentences on neoliberal economics and politics. One is TINA, There Is No Alternative, a favorite slogan of Maggie Thatcher and Angela Merkel, meaning that governments have to do what The Market demands, not what the voters put them in office to do. Even more representative is what Angie's Finance Minister told Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis just after the Syriza government took power in early 2014, “Elections cannot be allowed to change an economic programme of [an EU] member state!”

I've paid hardly paid any attention to Jill Stein, and the American Green Party has never made much of an impression on me.

But, yeah, people who won't talk about the substance of neoliberal policies, even if they use other words for it, might as well not bother talking about fascism either. Because the social developments in the US and the EU that created the conditions for the current surge in rightwing movements have an awful lot to do with neoliberal economic policies and political practices. Not least of which is that center-left parties have largely embraced neoliberalism even to the point of, say, proposing to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits in the United States. To take a random example.

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